Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Sandman Omnibus: Volume 2

The Sandman Omnibus, Vol. 2The Sandman Omnibus, Vol. 2 by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Our internet was down for 24 hours so I decided to chew through this massive omnibus I bought discounted on Prime day as a birthday present to myself. I read the individual trades years ago but it's been a long, long time. I'm pleased to say it holds up.

I didn't review this as I went so I'll just touch on some things. I don't revere Neil Gaiman like I once did. Once you read some Ray Bradbury, Peter S. Beagle, and P.G. Wodehouse, you see where he draws a lot of his voice from and even some of his subject matter. That being said, Gaiman crafted something magical with The Sandman.

In this volume, Dream goes looking for a missing sibling and draws the ire of one Lyta Hall. There is also the tale of the Inn at World's End, where a lot of dreamers were stranded during a storm in the dreaming. A lot of other stuff happens too but this is a 1000 page kitten squisher of a tome.

Much like the last volume, this one just got better with age. I'm going to trot out my favorite Gene Wolfe quote now: "My definition of good literature is that which can be read by an educated reader, and reread with increased pleasure." Sandman is definitely that. I've read (and reviewed) a couple thousand books since the last time I read through this saga and I picked up so many more references this time around. I have to think Gene Wolfe's executioners guild in Book of the New Sun had to play a big part in inspiring the Necropolis, for instance.

I love how Gaiman pulled in a lot of characters that hadn't gotten much attention in recent years, like Prez, and built whole issues around them. While The Sandman was primarily about the nature of stories for most of its run, it was also a love letter to some forgotten DC characters.

Gaiman's worldbuilding is ingenious in that he only hints at things rather than beating you over the head with them. I feel like there could easily be a hundred more issues of The Sandman built just around the hints he lays down, like the construction of Dream's helm and the gates of Dreaming.

Since my last reading, I'd forgotten great whacks of this but there are clues to the ending scattered in earlier tales. I also didn't care for the ending the first time since it wasn't the great Smackdown between Morpheus and the Furies I was envisioning but it was the only way to stop the Furies and save The Dreaming. I'm glad the book actually ended rather than sliding into mediocrity and cancellation like so many others. It's a good stopping point but hopeful enough that you won't mind coming back to it in another decade or so, which I intend on doing.

Still one of the best. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

Ghost World

Ghost WorldGhost World by Daniel Clowes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've been aware of Ghost World since it was serialized in Eightball but never quite got around to reading it. Since I've been a comic book fan off and on my entire life, I figured I'd give it a shot.

The art is fantastic. My only previous exposure to Daniel Clowes was issues of Cracked where he drew the adventures of The Uggly Family, an Addams Family parody. Anyway, I love the art. It's done in black, white, and green, giving it a very odd feel. If I had to compare Clowes' art to something, it would be Love and Rockets, as opposed to his Cracked work that had more of a Basil Wolverton vibe.

As for the story, there's isn't much of one, Enid and Rebecca go through life hating on everything and making what passes for a profound observation when one is in his or her late teens. I guess it's a coming of age tale but nobody really comes of age. It's not even really about growing apart since that doesn't really happen until the end.

Honestly, I probably missed my window of maximum enjoyment on this. When I was young, uncertain of the future, and Clerks was my favorite movie, I would have enjoyed the shit out of this the same way I enjoyed Douglas Coupland's Generation X in my early 20s. All that being said, I do think this is an accurate portrayal of what it is like being a foul-mouthed, directionless teenager.

While I think I'm a couple decades past the maxiumum enjoyment of this book, Ghost World is still a good read. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Dear Justice League

Dear Justice LeagueDear Justice League by Michael Northrop
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With an Insectoid invasion looming in the background, the Justice Leaguers take the time to answer messages from their young fans...

The Dear Justice League special that came out for Free Comic Day was my favorite freebie this year so I pre-ordered this one immediately. Officially, it's for my newborn when he gets a little older but I had to preview it for him. Right? Isn't that what parents are supposed to do?

Anyway, this is a collection of short tales, each featuring a Justice League member responding to a message from one of his or her fans, culminating in a showdown with Insectoids in Washington DC.

The art is cute without being ridiculously so and the writing is clever and funny. Since it's a kid's comic, the characters aren't as nuanced as they normally are but Michael Northrop captures the essence of the characters.

Dear Justice League was a fun little read I'd recommend to parents of future comic readers. Now I'm chomping at the bit for Dear Super Villains, due out in the fall of 2020.

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Ranma 1/2 2 in 1 Volume 1

Ranma 1/2 (2-in-1 Edition), Vol. 1: Includes vols. 1  2Ranma 1/2 (2-in-1 Edition), Vol. 1: Includes vols. 1 2 by Rumiko Takahashi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Teenage martial artist Ranma has a particular problem: when he touches cold water, he becomes a girl! But that's not as big as his other problem: his arranged engagement to Akane, the daughter of a martial artist!

My wife bought this for me so I'd have something light to read while we were waiting for our son to be born. Somehow I didn't manage to get to it during the 40 hours of labor but I got enough sleep last night to finally read it in the aftermath just over a week later.

I've been vaguely aware of Ranma since the 1990s when the comic guy at the local flea market tried selling me on it. I bought Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes from him instead and never looked back. Anyway, this is great shit.

Ranma 1/2 is partly romantic comedy, partly martial arts fun. Ranma's affliction puts him in lots of precarious situations. Ranma's father is similarly afflicted, although he becomes a Panda. The sheer outrageousness of the premise lends itself to all kinds of comedy. When you throw martial arts into the mix, it gets even funnier.

The relationship between Ranma and Akane is the driving force of the story at this point. Forcibly engaged, they don't like each other very much at first. Ranma doesn't seem to be interested in sex at all and Akane is enamored with Dr. Tofu, the local physician. One of my favorite parts of the book is that Akane beats the shit out of a mob of potential suitors every day on the way to school.

While the comedy is front and center, the book is also decades ahead of its time in the treatment of the relationship between sex and gender, not as cut and dry as everyone once thought. Ranma acts like a man even when in his female body, raising all sorts of eyebrows, and Akane makes an effort to act more feminine to appeal to Dr. Tofu.

Ranma 1/2: Vol. 1 works on multiple levels. I don't plan on having another newborn in the house in order to read the next volume. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Friday, August 9, 2019

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book Five

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book FiveSaga of the Swamp Thing: Book Five by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book Five collects Saga of the Swamp Thing #51-56.

In this volume, Abbie gets hauled into court for crimes against nature for her relationship with Swamp Thing. Swampy takes his revenge on Gotham and he and Abbie have to deal with the fallout.

This volume feels mostly like the aftermath and consequences of the previous one. Alan Moore explores the depths of Swamp Thing's abilities and takes the book in another direction. His writing is as great as ever, proving that Alan Moore is more than a bitter old magus. The dude could actually write.

Stephen Bissette only providers the covers on these issues. Rick Veitch and Alfredo Alcala provide the art on all but one issue, that one done by John Totleben all by his lonesome. I'm amazed that Alan Moore's run has a unified feel despite the rotation of artists.

This volume felt like a transitional one more than anything else. I'm sad that there's only one more Alan Moore volume but I'm excited about Abbie and Swamp Thing's reunion. Four out of five stars.

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The Thing From The Grave & Other Stories

The Thing From The Grave and Other StoriesThe Thing From The Grave and Other Stories by Joe Orlando
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Thing From The Grave & Other Stories collects 33 EC tales illustrated by Joe Orlando.

When I think of Joe Orlando, I normally think of him in his capacity as editor of House of Mystery and Swamp Thing at DC. It turns out Joe knew his way around a drawing board as well, both late in his career as an artist on Daredevil, and in his heyday at EC.

While Joe wasn't as prolific as other EC artists, some of his horror and humor work from EC is collected here. Once I forgave him for not being Jack Davis or Wally Wood, I enjoyed this volume quite a bit.

The tales inside are penned by Al Feldstein, Carl Wessler, Jack Mendolsohn, Jack Oleck, Nick Meglin, Ray Bradbury, and Gardner Fox. They range from great to passable. I found the parodies from Panic tolerable but they are woefully dated. The standard EC surprise ending is in full effect in the others.

Like I said before, Joe Orlando is no Wally Wood but the guy could draw. He's great at setting the mood with his use of blacks and he's also great at drawing rotting corpses, a must for EC artists back in the day. The parodies from Panic! show Orlando's versatility.

While he's no Wally Wood, Joe Orlando could hang with the big dogs any day of the week. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

Crisis on Infinite Earths Deluxe Edition - The 2019 Read

Crisis On Infinite EarthsCrisis On Infinite Earths by Marv Wolfman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Walls of antimatter are destroying the worlds of the multiverse and it's up to the superheroes of many earths to band stop them and their maker, the villainous Anti-Monitor!

Crisis was created to get rid of the multitude of parallel earths and just have one DC earth in the name of simplification. In retrospect, I don't think kids had nearly as big of a problem with the multiverse as the adults. Anyway, the story had a lot of heavy lifting to do. How do you go about destroying universes, killing off characters, and telling a good story at the same time?

For some reason, I thought the impending birth of my son would be a good time to re-read Crisis. Instead of focusing on all the problems it caused and fun it eliminated from the DC universe, I intended on focusing on the story itself, the creation of a new universe from the ashes of thousands of old ones.

Thirty eight hours later, my son is about to be shot from my wife's loins like a cannonball, as I understand the birthing process, and I finished the story in a haze sometime early this morning.

Crisis is pretty fucking good if you like Bronze Age stories. Marv Wolfman had literally hundreds of characters to work into the mix and he did a fantastic job. The Anti-Monitor is a damn believable threat and the way the story unfolds is masterful. There is nothing I would call filler in this. The premise is worthy of a Doctor Who series finale. One godlike being is destroying universes and another godlike being is assembling a force of heroes and villains to oppose him.

Even with a premise like that, Crisis could have easily shat the bet without George Perez on the art. George Perez is the best artist of the Bronze Age and possibly of 1980 to the present. Every panel is crammed with characters and details and George doesn't skimp. Some panels have over a hundred individual characters in them.

Crisis reads like a loveletter to everything that came before at times. Wolfman and Perez work Anthro, Kamandi, Enemy Ace, and hundreds more characters into the mix, even to just show them in a panel or two. The character deaths that appear on screen are meaningful and powerful. THEY SHOULD NEVER HAVE BROUGHT BARRY ALLEN BACK!

One of the things I loved is that Marv Wolfman didn't build the story around the usual suspects of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Superman gets more screen time than the other two but it's the Superman of Earth-2 that gets his moment in the sun. The Monitor recruits people like Blue Beetle for his initial team rather than Batman and it isn't Batman that saves the day, which seems appropriate since Batman is a detective and not Reed Richards.

Anyway, at the end of the day, this should be the measuring stick for blockbuster events and I shouldn't hold it responsible for all the imitators. I'll go back to my wife's side and get ready to catch the kid as he comes flying out of her uterus.

I did not give Crisis a fair shake on my last read. It's the grand daddy of them all and should be treated as such. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book Four

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book FourSaga of the Swamp Thing: Book Four by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book Four collects Saga of the Swamp Thing #43-50.

In this volume, we finally find out what Constantine was grooming Swamp Thing for and it's a big hairy deal. A secret society is bent on summoning an ancient force to destroy heaven. There's also a junkie that finds one of Swamp Thing's tubers, a serial killer, the sprawling mansion of a firearms heiress, and Swamp Thing learns more of his heritage.

Alan Moore gets some serious mileage out of the Swamp Thing in every outing and this volume is no different. The Parliament of Trees is introduced, Crisis is touched upon, and even Mento gets his time in the sun as all of DC's occult characters unite to fight a menace older than time.

I'm impressed that with all the shifting artists in Moore's run that the series manages to maintain a unified feel. In this volume, art is handled by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, Stan Woch, Rick Veitch, Alfredo Alcala, Ron Randall, and Tom Mandrake.

Alan Moore delivers the goods as far as big confrontations go. At times, the final battle reminded me of one of the Doctor Who specials where multiple Doctors team up to face some universe-threatening villain.

I'm running out of ways to praise Alan Moore's run. Aside from Abbie Cable not doing much, the only thing I can gripe about is how out of place Batman was in the Bogey Man issue, although Batman not remembering being at Elasti-Girl and Mento's wedding was kind of funny.

I'm both excited to read the next volume and sad that I only have two volumes left. Alan Moore created a generational work with Swamp Thing. I can't recommend it enough.

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Captain Ginger: Volume 1

Captain Ginger: Volume OneCaptain Ginger: Volume One by Stuart Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a universe where humans have gone extinct, an evolved cat named Captain Ginger struggles to keep his ship of cats working together as they scour the universe for other evolved felines.

Stuart Moore and June Brigman served up this entertaining morsel. "What if cats ruled the world?" is the core premise. Except that the world is a starship built by humans.

One of my pet peeves about science fiction is when the alien characters are just humans with a lick of paint. Captain Ginger isn't that. The cats actually act like cats. They have petty spats, enjoying killing mice, and hate dirty litter boxes. Captain Ginger trying to herd the cats toward the same goal is the main struggle of the book, although his relationships with Deena and Sgt. Mittens also fuel the fire. Ginger tries to adopt the ways of the vanished Feeders, although his catlike nature still shows through.

Ginger's search for other cats will undoubtedly propel the series forward. June Brigman's art is perfect for the series. Her cats are cute but still believable as killers, much like real cats. It's not easy to convey emotion and individuality when all the characters are humanoid felines but June knocks the string across the hallway on this one.

On a side note, it was hilarious that our old lady cat, Cashmere, kept headbutting me and walking across the book while I was reading it.

Ahoy Comics has another winner on its hands with Captain Ginger. I'm ready for book two right meow!

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Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book Three

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book ThreeSaga of the Swamp Thing: Book Three by Alan Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Saga of the Swamp Thing: Book Three collects issues #35-42 of Saga of the Swamp Thing.

In this volume, Alan Moore and company set Swamp Thing against a toxic waste swilling wino, aquatic vampries, a were wolf, and zombies, all the while learning new things about himself and getting led around the nose by John Constantine.

I give Alan Moore a lot of flack for being a crabby old warlock but the man was great at writing comics. Constantine is Swamp Thing's disreputable tour guide as he goes up against some classic monsters reflected through Moore's imaginative lens. Old Swampy's abilities are explored and expanded, leaving me hungry for the coming cataclysm that's been hinted at.

Stephen Bissette, John Totleben, and Alfredo Alcala supply some great visuals, from rotting corpses to a werewolf to crazy aquatic vampires to British wizards who look like Sting of the Police. It feels like EC comics from grown-ups at times. My one gripe with this collection is that Abbie Cable doesn't do a whole lot, although she did have a hallucinatory sex romp with Swamp Thing in the last book so I'll cut her some slack.

This Alan Moore guy might have a future in the comics business. Four out of five stars.

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