Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Books you should read (a.k.a. catching up on the reviews)

It's always a busy time in the land of Devastation!, and sometimes that means deserving books don't get their proper dues come weekly review time. To fix this, here are some recently released books worth checking out:

The Amazon #3: In 1989 writer Steven T. Seagle and artist Tim Sale collaborated on a miniseries about a reporter who goes into the Amazon rainforest tracking the story of a missing logger. This just happens to coincide with a series of attacks on a logging camp attributed to locals by the Tanando, the spirit of the forest. What ensues is a Heart of Darkness-style trip down the river, where the reporter encounters the depths and riches of the Amazon, and finds the truth about his story is more complex than he’d thought.
For a work which is 20 years old, The Amazon feels fresh and current. Sadly, issues of deforestation and colonization are still present, which keeps the book from feeling dated. And while it does brandish its message a bit on the blunt side – the image of logging equipment overrun by foliage being fairly pointed – it still works as an examination of man’s interaction with (and exploitation of) both nature and fellow man.
Seagle uses an interesting and effective narrative device of using the reporter’s notes and story as narration. The contradictions and similarities give a rounded dimension to the action and character and give insight into the self editing that goes into making a story. Sale’s thin line work and use of shadow work well with the script, capturing the simultaneous vast expanse and claustrophobic density of the jungle. His art really brings the story to life, especially in scenes where the narrator interacts with the forest villagers. This book is a rare, if slightly flawed, gem that Dark Horse did justice by revealing.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #2: The first Phonogram series, Rue Britannia, was brilliant on many levels – not just in the way writer Kieron Gillen seamlessly interwove the worlds of magic and the Britpop movement of the 90s (as well as music in general), but also that it was filled with strong characters and an emotional depth that made the story satisfying regardless of whether you knew the music or not. Or so it seemed; having been– okay, continuing to be a huge Britpop fan, I really have no idea if someone not familiar with the intricacies of British guitar rock circa 93-97 would be lost or not. But Gillen did provide extensive liner notes and commentary in the back, which one would hope would be effective. Then there’s Jamie McKelvie’s art, which is clean and crisp and just about perfect in every way.
The new series, The Singles Club, takes place in – wait for it – a dance club, and chronicles one night from numerous characters’ perspectives. While the core elements of the first series are present – music, magic, hot young Brits running around – this series focuses more on the people involved, and benefits all the more for it.
This issue is probably the most accessible of all Phonograms so far, both in storytelling and subject matter. This issue introduces us to Marc, a.k.a. Marquis, who along with being young and hip is just (barely) getting over some girl. He and a pal end up in the club, and all is fine, until the Cursed Song comes on, and he comes face to face with the image/spirit of the vibrant, cute, Eastern European girl who broke his heart. Or so it seems, although his reminiscences seem to imply differently.
Everyone’s in top form here. Gillen’s dialogue is just great – from the (unnamed) ex’s accent (“They are nothing but bullshits with bad record collections” has officially entered the lexicon) to Marc’s pal Lloyd’s attempts at pop deconstructionism – and the interactions are revealing in what is and isn’t said. McKelvie’s art is stunning in this book, full of energy and motion, and aided greatly by Matthew Wilson’s colors. All around, this is one of the best books on the stands, and definitely earns the coveted

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #6: The second series featuring Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s dysfunctional family/super-team ends with a bang – several, actually. Picking up where the first series left off, Dallas finds the team in a collective state of despondency after one of their own tried to destroy the world. Each member is pulled – sometimes dragged – out of their individual states when a pair of sugar-addicted assassins with oversized cartoon-character masks try to track down UA member Number Five, whose future/past self (oi, time travel) is supposed to assassinate John F. Kennedy. Along the way, team member Séance meets a cowboy-on-horseback God, team leader Space Boy fights monsters during the Vietnam War, and the Earth blows up. And we learn the secret of one diner’s amazing apple pie.
With just his second series Way has proven to be a consistently talented and flexible writer, able to balance the sci-fi/fantastic elements with genuine emotion and a healthy sense of the absurd. Bá’s art suits the writing well, blending a Mike Mignloa-esque cartoonishness with a strong storytelling ability. While this series possesses a bit more of a downbeat vibe than the first, it’s a fun read, and bodes well for future installments.

The Unwritten #1: Tommy Taylor is a ridiculously popular series of books about a teenage wizard. Tom Taylor is the man who, as a boy, was the inspiration for the books. Or so the story goes. Except that a woman shows up at a press conference with evidence to the contrary. And one of Tommy Taylor’s nemeses shows up to take out Tom Taylor. And there’s still the mystery of why Taylor’s father, the author of the Tommy Taylor series, disappeared. And what does this have to do with a map?
Writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross have managed to interweave geek/celebrity obsession, the fantasy/reality overlap, the nature of stories, and a straight-up mystery in what is one of Vertigo’s best offerings in a while. The high concept of the central question – who is Tom Taylor, really? – is buoyed by various real world aspects, as shown by the IMs surrounding a life-feed execution of Tom Taylor by a real-life version of Tommy Taylor’s enemy Count Ambrosio.
It’s hinted that the true scope of the book will be far greater than just one character’s real identity, but even without that the book shows enough promise to warrant further reading. And the first issue’s only a buck, so you can’t go wrong.

I think that catches us up, and just in time for New Comic Day! Time to get back to my experiments of making compost out of all those old Youngblood issues.

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