Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review on The Comics Alternative

I'm very pleased to announce that I've had a review posted on The Comics Alternative, a site and podcast I've enjoyed greatly for the past several months. I'm looking forward to writing more reviews for them in the future. In the meantime, check out some of the great stuff these guys are covering.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Flying Beaver Brothers and the Evil Penguin Plan (2012) Maxwell Eaton III

Ace and Bub, the flying beaver brothers, are always up for some adventures. Well, actually that's not true: Ace is ready for any adventure, especially those related to extreme sports, but Bub is, unfortunately, addicted to napping. All. The. Time. When a group of penguins seeks to freeze Beaver Island to make a polar resort, the brothers have to come up with a plan to stop the penguin shenanigans in time for the Beaver Island Surfing Competition. 

The Flying Beaver Brothers is extremely goofy, but lots of fun. Some of the panels may be a little confusing to young readers; many are from the point-of-view of the beavers while they're underwater looking up, but it's pretty easy to figure out. Good transition graphic novel to get younger kids interested in reading. Check out Eaton's website for more on this series. 


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz (2013)

Although it's not completely graphic novel-related, I'm including posting this here anyway:

Star Trek: The Art of Juan Ortiz (2013)
Oversized hardcover (14.3” x 10.5”)
Titan Books, 112 pages
ISBN 9781781166703
Retail $39.99

Juan Ortiz was first and foremost a fan, which comes across in each of his retro-style posters based on the 80 episodes from the original Star Trek television show (1966-69). Many of these works are absolutely stunning, some of them humorous, all of them interesting. If you grew up in the late 60s/early 70s, you’ll recognize the styles represented here, some borrowed from German Expressionism, comic book, pulp and magazine covers, and other examples of period pop art. 

Making things even more authentic, Ortiz has given many prints a worn, discolored look around the edges. Many of them even have built-in creases in their images. All in all, the retro-style is a perfect fit for Ortiz’s art. 

The Starship Enterprise features prominently in most of the prints, usually to great effect. I find it interesting that some of the most stunning posters are based on some of the show’s weakest episodes. In the Index and Commentary, Ortiz gives brief thoughts on each of the prints and how they were created.  

Poke around on Ortiz’s website and you’ll find even more of his work. He’s also working on posters for the animated series (1973-74) and much more. 

Even if you’ve seen every episode many times, these artworks will give the stories a fresh, unique flavor. This book instantly jumps to the top of the gift list for any Star Trek fan. But buy it soon before it goes out of print. 


Monday, September 9, 2013

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics Vol. 1 (1965-66/2013)

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Classics Vol. 1 (2013)
IDW Publishing
Trade paperback, 235 pages
ISBN 9781613776896
Retail $29.99

Although it was published around the same time I was reading comics as a kid, I’d never read T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents until last week. Maybe the reason it wasn’t on my radar was because it wasn’t a Marvel or DC title. It was published by Tower Comics, a company that published 64-page comics at 25¢ an issue, while most of the other publishers were sticking to 32-page comics at 12¢ an issue. 

Tower didn’t last long, starting in 1965 and going defunct four years later. But they did manage to snag the extraordinary Wally Wood to draw T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents. I don’t know much about the history of Tower or of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, but I imagine that 64 pages (even bi-monthly) was too much for Wood. That idea is further evidenced by the appearance of several other artists in this volume (which covers T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1-4), including Reed Crandall, Gil Kane, George Tuska, Mike Esposito, Dan Adkins, Dick Ayers, Joe Orlando, and a whole plethora of others. 

Writing assignments are also all over the place. The first story is penned by Larry Ivie, followed by other writers, mostly Len Brown, Bill Pearson, Steve Skeates. A great number of the stories here are simply credited as “unknown.” 


In a way, this works to the comic’s strength, since the characters/teams of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents rarely work together. Instead, each character is initially given his own complete story within each book, starting with Dynamo, an ordinary man named Leonard Brown who wears a Thunder belt, giving him incredible strength and making him invincible for short periods of time. Then there’s NoMan, an aging scientist who transfers his mind into the body of an android. (NoMan also has an invisibility cloak.) And perhaps the most interesting character, John Janus, who becomes Menthor when he puts on a special helmet, giving him extraordinary mental powers (including mind control). But Janus is actually a double-agent, working for the evil Warlord. There’s also a T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Squad, a team of superagents tracking the location and activities of the Warlord. 

Of course with names like those, you know the stories are likely to be goofy and/or hokey. Yet you might be surprised....

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents clearly jumps on the spy/espionage bandwagon, following the lead of the James Bond 007 movies (only four had been released by this time) and the hit TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It doesn’t take long until you realize T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents isn’t sure whether it wants to be a spy comic or a superhero comic, so it does both. It doesn’t always work, but it’s surprising that it works so often, especially considering all the hands that were involved in creating it. 

Part of the appeal of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (besides Wally Wood) is stepping back in time to an era when espionage was fun, dangerous, and silly. The comic goes back and forth between taking itself seriously and poking fun at itself, sometimes in successive panels. Here’s one such exchange when the evil Iron Maiden tries to seduce Dynamo into joining her:

Iron Maiden: “Don’t be insolent. Team up with me and we could rule the Earth:”

Dynamo: “Sorry. I’d rather not rule the Earth. I just want to marry the girl next door and live in the suburbs.”

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents is a great example of Silver Age fun, something I’m sorry I missed out on the first time, but am glad to have a chance to experience it now, thanks to IDW. T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents has had other incarnations including the current new series, but personally, I’m looking forward to the next volume of the classic series. 


Monday, September 2, 2013

Graphic Novels Read in August

Hawkeye: Little Hits (2013) Matt Fraction, David Aja, et al. 


Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Big Bad Ironclad (2012) Nathan Hale


Rust Vol. 1: Visitor in the Field (J-Fic 2011) Royden Lepp 


10 Little Insects (J-Fic 2009/2012) Davide Cali, Vincent Pianina 


The Sleeper Omnibus (2013) Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips


Saucer Country Vol. 2: The Reticulan Candidate (2013) Paul Cornell, Ryan Kelly

Cancelled after fourteen issues (and collected in two trade paperbacks), Saucer Country had a lot of things going for it and a few that were ultimately going to kill it and did. The story of New Mexico Governor Arcadia Alvarado’s campaign for President is compelling. Is she or isn’t she the first Presidential candidate ever to have been abducted by aliens? Is she still being contacted by aliens? 

I’m afraid and saddened to say that most readers probably were not willing to follow such a story. Maybe they believed one of the cover blurbs that the comics was a combination of The X-Files and The West Wing. (It’s not.) Maybe they didn’t want to read anything political. Maybe they didn’t like a Hispanic woman running for President. Whatever the reason, Saucer Country didn’t sell, which is too bad. What those people missed was a compelling, fun story.   


The Doom Patrol Archives, Vol. 2 (1964-65/2004) Arnold Drake, Bruno Premiani

I had so much fun with the first volume of The Doom Patrol Archives, I had to pick up the second volume (collecting Doom Patrol #90-97), which is just as much goofy Silver Age fun. I hope to eventually read the Grant Morrison reboot of the series after I finish the remaining three archive volumes. 


Daredevil, Volume 5 (2013) Mark Waid, Chris Samnee

Waid and Samnee show no signs of slowing down with this title. You’ve got to hand it to ‘em: they’ve taken a character that’s been around for 50 years and made his current adventures fresh, exciting and often funny. Daredevil and Hawkeye are the best things Marvel has going right now. If you aren’t on board, you should be.