Thursday, August 18, 2011

A summer of amazing comics

I had some form of a breakthrough this summer. On June 30th, two days before I took off on a road trip to Canada's East coast, I went shopping. I'd received 70$ worth of gift cards to Chapters and figured they'd be put to good use by picking up several books for my trek. Scanning the comics aisle, looking for a reprint of Grant Morrison's New X-Men vol. 1, I came across a book called Reading Comics by Douglas Wolk. I was intrigued. I'd read and loved Scott McLoud's Understanding Comics but I was reluctant to read another explanation of how comics work. I thought: "I've got it, at this point". Instead, Reading Comics was a collection of essays on various authors of importance and their works, it had won an Eisner award and had high praise from a slew of worthy publications. I bought it.

It blew my mind. I knew there were plenty of good comics out there for me to read, I simply had no idea where to look, and this book told me. The chapters on Alan Moore and Grant Morrison were great reads about works I'd already read, but every other chapter offered an in-depth analysis of works I'd either heard of and written off or never encountered before. It also mentioned The Comics Journal, my new favourite website, where I've been devouring interviews, comic diaries and reviews I wouldn't find on popular sites like Comic Book Resources or Newsarama, which cater directly to the mainstream super-hero crowd.

Without further ado, here are my most recent reads, as recommended by Reading Comics.

Love and Rockets X by Gilbert Hernandez

The Hernandez brothers are legendary. Jaime and Gilbert started publishing their work together in the 80s, not collaborating, for the most part, mostly doing their own thing and then publishing it together in anthologies called Love and Rockets. I'd heard of them time and again, and one day picked up the first volume. I didn't get the fuss. I hardly got anywhere trying to read it, it was zany and all over the place, so I wrote it off. I figured, OK, maybe this is generally acknowledged as great but just not for me. Then I read Reading Comics and learned that their early stuff is where they learned the craft and honed their skills and, while it might be interesting for die-hard fans who want to see the steady evolution, the casual reader could easily skip to the good stuff without missing a beat. So I did.

Love and Rockets X takes place in Los Angeles in the early 90s, around the time of the riots, when racial tensions were at their peak. The cast of characters is quite large, mostly teenagers, who are all within one degree of separation from each other, despite the different ethnic and social-economic backgrounds. As far as plot goes, it's a little difficult to summarize. The crux of the story occurs when all of the characters end up at the same party, there to see a band play, but the show falls through and the party-goers scatter when a handful of black teens show up and the most prejudiced in attendance think it's a gang attack of some sort.

This book is great not because it deals with race, class, gender and identity issues, but rather because of how it does it. Nothing is black and white, no character is an archetype that the reader automatically "knows". The white supremacist punks turn on their leader when he goes too far, the cute and open-minded girl can handle everything except her father's homosexuality, the racist rich kid's mom makes him invite the black kids back to their house after they're chased off, etc. etc. The story flows organically, the characters are three-dimensional and the themes are their to be inferred so that nothing feels heavy-handed and preachy.

Side note: there is some sexual content and at some point the punks spray paint a swastika on a wall so you may not want to do as I did, i.e., read it while riding public transit.

Carnet de Voyage by Craig Thompson

First and foremost, if you've never read Thompson's Blankets, do so. It's a beautiful and heart-breaking story about his teenage love and his struggles with his Christian upbringing and subsequent guilt.

Carnet de Voyage, on the other hand, is exactly what the title implies. After the release and success of Blankets, Thompson heads to Europe for a promotional tour and keeps a comics journal of his travels.

As he tours France and Spain, you get a feel for how exhausting such an endeavour is. He's always on the go, with several bookings in one day, trying to keep up in his journal as well. It's interesting to see how the promotional machine works and how it feels for the artist going through the motions.

He takes a side-trip to Morocco, which gets more personal. Recently single, he finds himself heart-broken and lonely in a country where most people don't speak his language and where the tourist zones are full of people looking to take advantage of the ignorant. He does manage to meet locals who invite him into their homes, as well as fellow tourists with whom he can pass the time.

The real attraction of this book is the art. Morocco is vibrant and beautiful. There's an interesting dichotomy between how amazingly he draws the country and how little he's enjoying his stay. Even at his lowest points, he not only sees the beauty around him but captures it perfectly.

While the art is gorgeous throughout, another beautiful passage is his stay in the Alps, at a friend's cabin. This time, the art and narration suit each other perfectly, as he gets to relax, sleep plentifully and enjoy his surroundings which are lusciously rendered. The cabin looks cozy and warm, the food looks delicious and hearty and the wintery landscape looks peaceful and majestic.

The only thing that I didn't appreciate was the ending. Every once in a while, he'll mention his ex-girlfriend, getting an email from her, a phone conversation, and you get the hint that things aren't quite over. The end of the book isn't really the end of anything. His tour isn't over and nothing is resolved as far as the relationship goes, at least in regards to what the reader learns. Essentially, it ends because his publisher allowed him a set number of pages, which he himself admits, and that's it.

So, pick up this book for it's amazing art, for it's insight into this great cartoonist's head, but don't pick it up if you're looking for narrative that includes closure and finality. It's a slice of life, not a story in the traditional sense of the word.

High Society by Dave Sim

I'm definitely jumping on a bandwagon by talking about this one. Sim recently finished the insane task he'd set himself when he started writing Cerebus: to make it a monthly comic that would run 300 issues. With it's last volume wrapped up, several reviewers and columnists have undertaken a massive re-reading of the series, wondering whether to call it an accomplishment, a flop, or something in between. Wolk has a great chapter about the series, The Comics Journal volume 301 has a piece about it, and Timothy Callahan writes about it in his column for Comic Book Resources.

Unlike them, I've only read the second volume thus far, and that's what this review will dwell on.

After reading Wolk's piece, I was a little trepidatious about undertaking this series. Each volume is the size of a phone book, for starters, and its author apparently develops some bizarre social and political views that he hammers into his narrative as the story progresses (and by bizarre, I mean mysonistic and weirdly religious).

Regardless, High Society is fantastic. Having skipped the first volume, which like Love and Rockets is apparently a lot of trial and error, this second volume is a great read.

The main protagonist, Cerebus, is an Aardvark, meant as a spoof of Conan the barbarian. His father, Lord Julius, happens to look and talk like Groucho Marx. A deranged and hilarious vigilante with multiple personalities goes by the name of Moon Roach, a not-too-subtle mockery of Marvel's Moon Knight.

If it sounds silly, it's because it is. And yet, it's also very political, with a world so intricate you can't help but be drawn into it. Cerebus' main motivation is money and the primary plot consists of his machinations to gain power and therefore capital. He arrives in Iest as some sort of diplomat and as that position starts to slip away from him, he campaigns for and wins an election to become Prime Minister.

This book works on so many levels, it's astounding. The art is experimental for it's time (originally published in 1986), as Sim plays with panel sizes and alignment to shift the tone. As of page 373, the illustrations inexplicably start being horizontal, forcing the reader to turn the entire volume on its side to continue reading. On page 478, Cerebus drunkenly enters a room, and each panel is drawn at a different angle, mirroring the protagonist's inebriated stumbling. Four pages later, a bucket of dirty water is thrown on him and he has a moment of clarity where everything is back to vertical layouts, as he discusses the status quo with his aid. As other characters come in and the narrative continues, the panels start rotating and all of a sudden, the panels go back to being horizontal.

An other layer to be appreciated is the blatant mocking of mainstream comics. The most obvious and previously mentioned example is the lampooning of Moon Knight, but another one of note is "Petuniacon". In the book, a political convention takes place where admirers can come in and ask questions, there are panels and discussions on the state of the nation and people flock like sheep to get autographs and lousy sketches for their collections. Do I really have to make the connection here? Sim goes to town on comic book conventions and the result isn't only funny, it's painfully accurate.

I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next volume.

I think that's enough for one day, more soon!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Take that, hiatus!

A post! Indeed, this blog is not dead. All of April was spent reading for a course I was taking, involving 2 essays and an exam. The course is over and I'm free to read as I please, so on to some comics!

Garage Band by Gipi

As the list of comics I needed to read was getting shorter, I decided to spend some time going through the stacks at my branch of the TPL. Garage Band was one of the happy accidents that occurred that day.

Told in four parts, each of them referred to as "songs", Garage Band is about just that. Four teenage boys play in a band together. The story isn't a long or terribly complicated one; they rehearse, they get the chance to talk to a record producer, their amp dies and they steal one to replace it, then get caught and learn a valuable life lesson.

While the plot is pretty straightforward, the relationships between the boys themselves and between their respective parents is quite satisfying to read. These boys are restless and creative but still answer to the higher authority that is mom and dad. It's also a quick read, with sparse dialogue. The neat lines and watercolours tell their share of the story.

Notes on a War Story by Gipi

After enjoying Garage Band, I decided to pick up Gipi's best known book (which I hadn't even heard of - shame on me). It won the 2005 Goscinny Prize for Best Script and was proclaimed Best Book at Angoulême in 2006.

Much less innocent than Garage Band, Notes on a War Story follows three teenage boys as they set off on their own through an anonymous war torn country. As Gipi himself explained, “[in] the Italian version of the book, the name of the villages are Italian names, in the French version, French names. I didn’t want the reader to think, ‘This war happens elsewhere, far from me.’1

The boys don't really have a side in the war, until they're recruited by a member of the militia to carry out odd jobs for cash. They each feel quite differently about these jobs and an explanation is hinted at in their respective social-economic situations. Eventually, how far they're willing to go for money is put to the test, and they end up parting ways, losing sight of each other for the duration of the war.

I think what I enjoyed best about this book was how it juxtaposed class struggles with the reality of living near a war zone, one that might spread at any moment. One of the key exchanges in the book is when the scrappy, working class teen tells his middle-class friend that he can go home whenever he wants to, that he has something to fall back on. For the other two, this is it; this war means money for them and if they stop, if they don't enlist with the militia and go on fighting, they have nothing else.

20th Century Boys volumes 1-6 by Naoki Urasawa

After enjoying his series Pluto, I did a bit of research into what else he'd written and gotten praise for, and this series came highly recommended.

A group of young friends in the early 60s get together in their secret base to discuss manga, anime and girls. They decide to create a manga of their own, centred around defeating the league of evil. 30 years later, the league of evil's dastardly plans start happening in the real world and the gang has to get back together in order to put a stop to an unknown foe's scheme for world domination. From what I've read on Wikipedia, the series is over (in Japan, North America hasn't caught up yet) and there are 20 or so volumes. After two, I was hooked.

Like Pluto, the scope of the intrigue is one of the selling points of this series. It gradually introduces new characters but does so organically. While it does have its share of red herrings, they're properly explained and don't leave you feeling gypped. Also, one thing I wasn't expecting and found myself appreciating was a jump in time after volume 5. The initial arc comes to an end (of sorts) and volume 6 takes place a decade later, leaving us to fill in some of the blanks and picking up with different yet related characters.

If I had all of the volumes at my disposal, this is the sort of series that I would read in one sitting.

Girl Stories by Lauren Weinstein

Another random find on the shelves, this book is aptly named indeed. Its writer is also its protagonist as she ventures through high school, trying to fit in and be cool while secretly being a big dork and making funky clothes for her Barbie dolls.

Its message reminded me of Raina Telgemeier's Smile, that of being true to yourself and finding friends who value you you for who you are. Weinstein's story is much less structured in the traditional sense; rather, it's told through vignettes and anecdotes. I laughed out loud on several occasions and while it's not quite appropriate for young students, I would definitely recommend it to preteens (and up).


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Grant Morrison! Jeff Smith! Jeff Lemire! Plus much, much more!

Invisibles - Counting to None by Grant Morrison

For those not in the know, Grant Morrison is my comic book god. He's written the best Batman, Superman and Justice League stories I've ever read and his event comics are so dense that one reading is never enough. Years ago, when I discovered I could download comics and read them on my computer, I gave the Invisibles a try and decided it wasn't for me. It had no recognizable characters, didn't tie into the regular DC universe and, worst of all, it required me to pay serious attention to understand what the hell was going on. After a few years of graphic novel maturation, it occurred to me that I should give the series another chance, as it's arguably Morrison's masterpiece, and I'm glad I did.

The premise is a fairly complex one that I would summarize as : a secret society of rebellious malcontents fight a guerrilla war against the establishment that is trying to covertly control free-thought on earth. If that wasn't enough of a mouthful, add to it zany new-age magic, psychedelic drugs, sex, violence and British humour, and you've got one hell of a mind-fuck series.

Counting to None is the fifth book in and was a relief to read, after the fourth one had let me down. Books 1 to 3 had really gotten the ball rolling and 4 just seemed like filler to me. Counting to None had the story back on track and featured the most polarizing plot-device of them all; time-travel. I know of very many people who hate the concept in general and I can agree that a poorly written time-travel story can be pretty infuriating. For me though, if they're handled properly like this one was, they're the best kind of stories. Morrison plays it pretty straight. The time-travel happens because it did happen. They don't go into the past to change things, they go into the past because they know that they went into the past so they'll go do what they know they did. Makes sense, right? I love it.

There's more to the story than just the time travel but 5 volumes in, it seems like there's not much point in my trying to go into too much detail. If you're looking to read something trippy, smart and action-packed, this is the series for you.

Scalped vol. 3 by Jason Aaron

Another great volume of this intense series. Our hero's mom is shot and killed at the end of volume 2 and while the murderer isn't yet revealed, we find out more about how everyone is connected. The story moves along enough that it doesn't feel like Aaron's just delaying the reveal and we start to see cracks in the protagonist's hard-boiled cop facade. The pressure of being an undercover agent is getting to him and his mom's death is affecting him more than he lets on.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle by Michael Kupperman

What a weird comic. A collection of four issues, it's a hodgepodge of short strips, ads for products that don't exist and one page illustrated stories. A lot of characters or notions recur but it's all quite silly and nonsensical; by the fourth issue I had completely lost interest. There were a few good chuckles now and again but I can't recommend this book, unless someone were to ask me for the most random comic on the stands.

Achewood Volume 2 -Worst Songs Played on Ugliest Guitar by Chris Onstad,

Another comic I found on a Best of 2010 list, this one is a printing of an online strip I'd never heard of. It's the first volume of an anthology and was clearly designed for die-hard fans. There's a very long introduction explaining where each of the characters came from and for a new reader like me, there was little to no reason to read it. The strip itself was OK to start, but got better as I read through. I can't say I found it that funny, as it is supposed to be humorous, but it was an interesting read to see how it evolved over time and the author's commentary was an added bonus. I would definitely recommend it to an aspiring comic writer and by the end I was invested enough that I wouldn't say no to reading the next volume, if that counts for anything.

The ACME Novelty Library volume 20 : Lint by Chris Ware

Chris Ware wrote the acclaimed Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, which I couldn't get through. The main character was a total putz and he got himself in such awkward, uncomfortable situations, that I just didn't want to read on. Lint is similar in tone but it has more of a linear style and I found myself really getting into the story. It starts off with its titular character's birth and follows him all the way to his death. The book is sometimes funny but mostly sad and more than a little depressing, as we see him make one poor choice after the other. He bungles his career, his marriage and completely alienates his children. If you're looking for a realistic and unflinching portrayal of a life well wasted, this one's for you.

Rasl by Jeff Smith

His long-awaited series after he completed Bone, Rasl is a severe shift in tone and style, as far as the story goes. Rasl is the name of the main character, a thief for hire who has discovered a way to travel to alternate universes, which comes in pretty handy when he's on the run from the law. This volume collects the first four issues and it's over-sized and beautifully drawn in Smith's signature style of very expressive faces. A robbery goes awry when a lizard-like agent in black appears to apprehend Rasl. He takes refuge with a lady of questionable repute with whom he seems to have an ongoing relationship but she winds up dead when he comes back from a night of drinking in town. When he travels to a different universe to follow up on a clue to what's going on, he finds an alternate version of a woman from his past who ended up dead. She played a key role in him adopting his life of techno-crime, which we conveniently learn through memory flashbacks.

There's definitely a lot of setup in this volume but I'm hooked and looking forward to the next one, as lots of plot points are introduced and just waiting to be expanded upon. Unfortunately, with Smith's slow output, I may have to wait a while before I get to read more.

Essex County volume 1 - Tales from the Farm by Jeff Lemire

This is one of those comics that does everything right and has you taking it all in in one sitting, unable to put it down. Lester, a quiet, geeky little boy, lives on a farm with his uncle Ken whom he barely knows and has no connection to. He's taken in by his uncle after his mom dies of cancer and this first volume is about how Lester deals with his new living situation as Ken tries his best to help him through his grief.

It's a very quiet comic, if that can be said about something that sound doesn't usually emanate from. The sparse dialogue and the black and white art contribute to making it an introspective and melancholy story. Lester takes refuge in his imaginary world of super-heroes and aliens to avoid dealing with what he's been through as he steadfastly ignores his uncle's attempts at building some sort of relationship. You really get a feel for his crippling loneliness but as the volume ends, there are clear signs of progress and I'm eager to see how things develop in the next one.

The Nobody by Jeff Lemire

That's right, more by the same author! The Nobody takes the story of the invisible man, on the run from the law, and brings him to a small town setting, which Lemire excels at depicting. Told in four parts, it's fairly routine in terms of plot. The bandaged individual comes to town, is mistrusted by the people, they grudgingly leave him be, since he's doene nothing wrong, and then of course his past catches up with him and lo, their fears were warranted all along. The invisible man's interactions with a local teenaged girl, the only person he really talks to and bonds with, serve to humanize him enough that we can relate to him and care what happens next, even if we're pretty sure we know what that is. I wouldn't tell you to rush out and read this book but if it were to fall on your lap, you could easily find worse ways to spend your time.

Sweet Tooth volume 2 by ... Jeff Lemire!

Why am I starting with volume 2? Well, I read volume one before I started this blog and I want it to be about my ongoing reads, so there.

I heard about Sweet Tooth when Jeff Lemire was announced as the writer for the new Superboy series over at DC. The article explained that he got the gig after Sweet Tooth became a success over at their Vertigo imprint, so I decided to give it a try. Set in a post-apocalyptic earth, there are no Zombies in this one, for a change. Instead, a virus is killing people all over the world and the only people immune to it are half-animal, half-human mutants that have been born since its outbreak. The main character, Gus, is one such mutant living out in the woods with his father. Shortly after the latter dies, Gus is found by a man named Jepperd, who promises to bring him to a safe haven. The first volume ends with Gus being dropped off at what is in fact a military compound with Jepperd collecting some unknown package as a reward.

Volume two follows Jeppard and Gus as they each deal with their current situation. Scientists are experimenting on the mutants to try and find a cure for the disease destroying humanity and it turns out that Gus might be the missing link they've been looking for. In the meantime, Jeppard heads back to his farm where, we find out through flashbacks, he left with his wife some time ago to look for safety. Much of the story takes place in both of the main characters memories and a lot of flesh is given to what little we learned in the first volume. I'm really digging this book and I'm sad that the third volume won't be released till June; I really enjoy the different approach to the increasingly crowded post-apocalyptic stage.

That's it for this time, thanks for reading!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


Smile by Raina Telgemeier

This deserves a post onto itself, if only because I'm hoping to reach an audience of teachers. If at all possible, you need to get a copy of this comic for your classroom and school library, and here's why.

Smile is the autobiographical tale of 7th grade girl, Raina, who needs to get braces. Shock of all shocks, she's not looking forward to them and is very worried about how she'll look and what others will think. But it gets worse! On her way home from Girl Guides one night, she and her friends race to her doorway, only for Raina to trip and break her two front teeth. Thus begins her harrowing journey from 7th grade to high school, as told through the various operations, procedures and dental hardware she has to endure in order to regain a semblance of a regular mouthful of teeth.

The oral adventures (get your mind out of the gutter) serve as a frame for a story about a typical girl who wants to fit in, wants to be cool and popular and of course, wants to get the boy. Her friends are kind of jerks. Their jokes are always a little too mean to be funny but she keeps hanging around with them because, hey, what else can she do about it? When they decide to pants her as a joke, though, she decides they've gone too far and she comes to the conclusion that she's better off alone than with friends like these. The book ends with her making new friends that she really gets along with and finally getting rid of her braces once and for all. Also, she doesn't get the boy, which was a refreshing change from usual youth-lit endings.

I really identified with her decision to break out on her own. My circle of friends from grades 7 to 9 were similar in their insulting sense of humour, or rather, they were considerably worse and I was as bad as any of them. We constantly put each other down and even took turns voting out the "weakest" among us. Usually when we'd vote a guy out, he'd still follow us around and it just gave us an extra reason to pick on him. It wasn't quite so funny when it was my turn, in grade 9, but like Raina, it was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time.

If you can reach one kid with this comic and get them to see that they're never stuck with shitty friends and that what's in your mouth doesn't dictate who you are, then it'll be worth it.

Other important info for teachers :

-It is entirely child appropriate. No sexual themes, no cursing and no violence whatsoever.
- It is available through the Scholastic catalogue that most schools have access to.
- It is available in French (Souris!)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Oh broccoli, who are simple.

Tangles : A story about Alzheimer's, my mother and me by Sarah Leavitt

Every few days I look through the New Adult Graphic Books and New Teen Graphic Books list over at the Toronto Public Library to see if they've picked up anything I've been waiting for. Generally, the titles I add to my hold list are ones I've read or heard good things about. When I came across Tangles, it was completely unknown to me. I liked the title, so I decided to look it up. Turns out, it was included in the Globe and Mail's list of the top 100 books of 2010, as well as a finalist for several awards. Those seemed like good incentives for me to pick it up, and so I did.

Tangles, as the full title might imply, is about Alzheimer's disease and a family affected by it. Based on her own experience, Sarah Leavitt recounts how she, her sister and her father, coped with slowly losing their wife and mother, Midge. As you read the introduction, you realize that you are being allowed into something intensely private and personal. As the author describes it, " I often felt like Harriet the Spy, or in darker moments, like a vulture hovering and waiting for Mom to say something that I could record and preserve, even as she slipped away from me."

The story in and of itself is fairly run-of-the-mill. You may have seen movies like Away From Her or the considerably more saccharine The Notebook and, in comparison, Tangles doesn't add anything new to the genre, as far as plot goes. What is really remarkable about this book, what makes it an amazing and touching read, is its humanity.

Leavitt doesn't provide excessive amounts of back story but she chose quality over quantity. The characters are so well-rounded and real that by the end, you can't help but feel as though you know these people about as well as you know your own family. I often wondered whether the author's family might take offence to their portrayal at times. They get angry when they should be patient, they make bad decisions and they argue with each other when they should be supportive. In other words, they are real people with good intentions who get tired, emotional and upset, just like everyone else.

It's not all tragedy and sadness though. The book is filled with snippets of dialogue that, while sad in their depiction of someone drifting away, were also beautifully poetic and at times laugh out loud funny. Her family learns to appreciate the beauty in how she manages to express herself and take a great deal of pleasure in making her laugh and keeping her happy and comfortable. I can only hope to be so well surrounded when my time comes.

I leave you with two of my favourite passages.

For further reading in the "real people dealing with real things" genre, consider the following graphic novels:

Blankets, by Craig Thompson, about attaining sexual maturity in a very Christian household.
Epileptic, by David B., about dealing with, you guessed it, epilepsy.
Fun Home : A Tragicomedy, by Alison Bechdel, about dealing with repressed homosexuality and suicide.
Pedro and Me, by Judd Winick, about dealing with the loss of a friend to AIDS.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

February Reads - Part 1

I started writing this post Monday and was too distracted by TV so I stopped after the first two series, hence the shift in layout/tone.

Pluto vol. 6, 7, and 8 by Naoki Urasawa

Summary of volume 8 from
"Atom is back, and the fate of the earth is in his hands! Now that Atom has all the answers to the unsolved mysteries around Pluto, Bora and more, he's prepared to put everything on the line. With the memory of his fallen brethren--Gesicht, Mont Blanc, North No. 2, Brando, Hercules and Epsilon--etched deeply into his heart, Atom is headed for one last battle to save the world!"

This was a fun series. There was plenty of action and intrigue to keep me turning the pages and like most manga the entire series was a very quick read. The author manages to juggle a large cast while giving all of the characters the time they need and a unique voice of their own. The plot was intricate and intelligent though it seemed a little rushed at the end. There are no gaping holes left but it does seem like a few areas could have used a bit more explanation. All in all though, I would wholeheartedly recommend this series for someone looking to read an enjoyable and well written manga.

DMZ vol. 7 and 8 by Brian Wood

"Matty Roth redefines his role in the DMZ, rolling with a private security force and self-defined mandate to heal the city. But is this the start of a brand-new day – or will this "Rise of Matty" end with the fall of just another petty warlord? Collects DMZ #42-49!"

With Wood announcing that issue 72 would be the last, these volumes definitely step up the drama on the political scale. While I enjoyed them, I felt like Matty's shift from a non-violent observer to a heavily armed force for good was kind of abrupt. It reminded me of Anakin's sudden shift to the dark side. Volume 8 ends with Matty making a colossal mistake that leaves him in shambles and I'm looking forward to finding out how (or if) he'll bounce back from it.

The Walking Dead vol. 13 by Robert Kirkman

I have to admit, I'm having a hard time staying interested in this series. Now that they live in a gated community of sorts, it feels like the prison saga all over again, minus the convicts. Rick arrives, makes himself useful, goes a little crazy and then sees the error of his ways. I was happy when they left the prison and enjoyed the volumes afterward where they were back on the road, trying to survive. I hope volume 14 makes this community situation more interesting and fast.

King City vol. 1

A weird little American manga, King City does the whole dystopian future with underground graffiti culture quite well. It's very imaginative, well paced and pulls you in early on. It reminded me of Jet Set Radio Future, an XBox game from a decade ago where you ride around on roller-blades, marking your territory and sticking it to the man. There's more of a story to King City though, with spies, assassins and secret hideouts. Fun stuff.

Fables vol. 14 by Bill Willingham

The Fabletown Fables recently defeated the Adversary only to find their town destroyed by Mister Dark, an even more powerful foe. In volume 14, titled Witches, the magical community sets out to find a way to beat him while the rest of the townspeople try to mount a defence and cope with day to day problems such as finances. While it's mostly setup, with the payoff yet to come Willingham manages to keep the story rolling and the suspense building. He has a knack for portraying a micro-society realistically, which, when all of your characters are magical humans or talking animals (and sometimes both), says a lot about his writing skills. Now if only he'd leave his not-so-subtle right-wing messages out of it.

Spider-Man : Fever (unfinished)

I read about this title on a best of 2010 list as an honourable mention and decided to give it a try. Spider-Man has his soul kidnapped by some kind of mystical forager and Dr. Strange has to go into the magical underverse (or some-such) to find him. The art is really cool and trippy, I kind of wanted to get baked and read on, but the story felt like it was dragging on needlessly. Worse still, it felt inconsequential. Nothing new was being done here, and nifty pictures weren't enough to keep me reading until the very end.

N.B. I did skim through the rest of the story though to confirm that I did in fact know what was going to happen.

Never Learn Anything from History by Kate Beaton

I have a confession to make, I didn't actually read this one, BUT, there's a great explanation for that. This particular work is a collection of Beaton's online comic which I've read through in the past month or so. I picked up the trade from the library thinking there would be a few only-for-print comics, which there were, but only a handful. If you have never read Hark! A vagrant!, the online comic, get on it. Beaton is from Nova-Scotia and there's a very Canadian sensibility to her writing. She has a unique and simple drawing style that has got me laughing out loud on more than one occasion, mostly in her depictions of facial expressions. Her comics are history based, so if that's your forte, you're in luck, but even for an ignorant shlep like me, they're great fun.

Batman : Black and White vol. 2

Wow. This volume was miles above the first one. Superstar artists such as Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Gene Ha, Jim Lee and Paul Pope all illustrate a story in this volume, making it worth the read on looks alone. Its heavy on acclaimed writers as well, with stories by Warren Ellis, John Byrne, Paul Dini and Brian Azzarello. My favourite story was the very first, by Paul Dini and Alex Ross, where Arkham Asylum employees find an unpublished report on the Joker which argues that he is in fact sane and in complete control of his actions, meticulously portraying himself as crazy in order to stay out of jail. The explanation is brilliant and the reveal, that the report was written by Dr. Harley Quinn before she herself went insane, were masterful indeed. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I detested "Snow Job", by Bob Kanigher. I can handle a silly Batman story if it's done well but this one had little to no redeeming qualities. All mayhem and slapstick, the story about Batman and his son being attacked during a skiing competition (in costume!)had only one thing going for it, Kyle Baker's art. If you feel inclined to check it out, spare yourself from this one and read his Hawkman story from Wednesday Comics.

Scalped vol. 2 by Jason Aaron

While volume 1 threw you into the action head first, immersing you in the plots, subplots and plot twists, this volume contains 6 issues that basically retell the same 24 hours from the point of view of various characters. The overlap was just enough to keep your bearings while not enough to feel repetitive. Following these different people around meant seeing different aspects of the native reserve and how the construction of a casino was affecting those at opposite ends of the food chain. Through the use of flashbacks, it also served to characterize the relationship between the key players. Master of the cliffhanger ending, Aaron didn't disappoint with an unexpected murder to be followed up in volume 3.