April 30, 2013

Review -- X #0

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
X #0
(Duane Swierczynski, Eric Nguyen; Dark Horse)
3/5 stars
So, in Dark Horse's newest release, X #0 (which collects three stories originally appearing in Dark Horse Presents) there's a masked vigilante cleaning up the streets of the town of Arcadia by spilling blood in the gutters and turning ham faced hoodlums into sausages. As far as I can tell, it is all because writer Duane Swierczynski and artist Eric Nguyen are full of hate. Serious and ugly hate. I can't think of any other reason for the existence of this book other than somebody's got a fat ax to grind.
Because all we got here is a vengeance plot. A masked guy is toting around some weapons and using them to splatter faces across the pavement. Swierczynski provides no insight into why this individual has chosen this course of action, except... you know... ham faced hoodlums are … what do you call it? Bad? And deserve to become sausage? Or something.
It's kind of hard to tell. 
I swear to you that there is even a moment in this book when a "sirloin of psychopath" is mentioned. You can't expect me to take that seriously? Can you?

April 28, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.
Daniel Elkin: There are just some things you can't shake, like the image of your child being born, the eyes of your first love, the smell of the hospital room where your grandfather died, a really good club sandwich, eczema. For me, Bill Sienkiewicz's Stray Toasters is one of those things. It haunts me.
Since 2008, I've been toting the Image Comics trade paperback of Stray Toasters through one failed marriage, two changes of career, and three apartments. Throughout all these permutations, this book has stuck with me as a thick mystery, deep in its intent, heavy in its import. Somehow, I've begun to conceive of this book as a fundamentally profound question whose answer, upon arrival, will solve a myriad of my life's issues.
For me, Stray Toasters has become a koan of sorts, testing my progress as a reader, as a thinker, as a seeker of truths. But as of now, the answers it contains have remained shrouded, viscous, fecund, unavailable, and frustrating. I return to this book over and over again trying to unpack its contents and put together its pieces, but time and time again I've only ended up with new questions, slanted thinking, or reverie askance.
Originally published as a four-issue miniseries in 1988 for Marvel's Epic line, Stray Toasters was one of the first books Sienkiewicz both wrote and illustrated. It came on the heels of his collaborations with Chris Claremont (New Mutants), Frank Miller (Elektra: Assassin), Andrew Helfer (The Shadow) and Alan Moore (Brought to Light). Working with these gentlemen seems to have taught Sienkiewicz how to tell a story. In Stray Toasters, he gets to tell his story.
But what is the story? Ostensibly it's a murder mystery. Eleven boys have been drained of all of their vital fluids and have had their brains liquefied and sucked out. These victims are then left in various locations around town, the latest being on the couch of Ed and Alice Crewel, propped up and watching reruns of Star Trek. In addition to these horrors, there's been a woman murdered. Her killer has drilled her eyes out and "wired her system up like a machine." As the officer on the scene says, "She would've worked … if the guy who did this hadn't crossed some wires."
Grizzly stuff this -- the murder of children and mothers is fraught with all sorts of emotional, psychological, and mythological resonance. In this, Sienkiewicz is not subtle.
Into the mystery of these murders comes criminal psychologist Egon Rustemagik who has only recently been released from the Bosley Mental Institution, having been put there by his former lover, Abigail, who claimed that he abused or killed their child. Rustemagik is also an alcoholic who has the requisite Pink Elephant hallucinations following him around.
From there the plot turns around and into itself, introducing characters like bondage fetishist (and shark enthusiast) Assistant District Attorney Harvard Chalky, a toe-headed lad named Todd, a bloated and festering Doctor Montana Violet, Rustemagik's current lover Dahlia, a lord of the underworld named Phil, mechanical butlers and crows, the aforementioned Pink Elephants, and Mona.
Stray Toasters is an art book. Sienkiewicz pulls out all of his tricks here and as a visual piece of storytelling it is unparalleled -- beautiful, horrific, confusing, stunning, enigmatic, uncanny -- in this Sienkiewicz shows his mastery, and this book is unquestionably his masterpiece. But it is the story that leaves me with that feeling that I can't shake. It is in this story that my answers lie. I just can't figure them out.
So after working on unpacking The Coffin and Eel Mansions with my fellow reviewers Justin Giampaoli and Keith Silva, I felt it time to turn to them to try and make sense of this book, and thereby, perhaps, make sense of my life.

April 26, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Jason Sacks: I love books that show me a place that I could never have imagined. I love meeting characters who are complex and intriguing and thoroughly unique.  And I love watching those characters solve their strange problems in ways that fascinate and spark an odd sense of recognition in me. 
Elijah, the lead character in this breathtaking new graphic novel, is a member of the "Philosophic Police," a force that must solve intergalactic crimes and, more importantly, determine if the events in question even constitute a crime. Elijah is a kind of celebrity or rock start of the Police force, constantly asked for his autograph by ordinary people and granted special societal privileges, because he has the preternatural ability to determine the reality of crimes and to push for peace between alien races.

April 25, 2013

Convenient Truths -- MEN WHO SWIM

This Column Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin.

Sometimes the most universal truths can be found in the smallest slices of life. That’s what makes independent documentaries so powerful, engaging, and entertaining. Not only do they show you little worlds to which you’ve never had access, but they oftentimes also tell the larger story of what it means to be human. Armed with this intellectual conceit, a bag of Funyuns, and a couple of Miller beers, Daniel Elkin curls up in front of the TV and delves deep into the bowels of Netflix Streaming Documentaries to find out a little bit more about all of us.
Today he and his friend Jason Sacks found 2010's Men Who Swim directed by Dylan Williams
Elkin: So, how's that mid-life crisis going, Sacks? Have you bought the red sports car? Have you decided to open up the vegan cocktail bar you've always dreamed about? Have you started hanging out in malls?
What is it about us men in our forties? Why do we become awash in the realization, suddenly, that the lives we are living are not the ones we expected – and, even more importantly, why does that MATTER so much? Perhaps there are those of us who lay awake at night tracing through our decisions trying to find the un-event that took us down the path away from our dreams. Perhaps there are those of us who, upon finding this moment, try to hit the reset button in hopes of starting anew. Perhaps there are those of us who, by trying to hit that reset, come to understand that the lives we have ended up with are actually where we are meant to be.
Dylan Williams is one of those men, and his film, Men Who Swim, documents that journey of discovery.
When Dylan Williams moved from Wales to Stockholm for love, his Swedish language teacher told him that the key to Swedish society was to join a club. As Williams finds himself pushing forty and settled down with a wife and two kids while working at a job that he feels is squandering his potential, on top of feeling like a true fish out of water, those words resonate even stronger for him.
The documentary Men Who Swim is about Williams' embracing his language teacher's advice. He joins a club called the Stockholm Art Swim Gents, a group of middle age men who want to master the complex and challenging sport of Synchronized Swimming.
That's right. Men synchronized swimming. Swedish men.
Men Who Swim is a Coming-of-Middle-Age documentary, and I gotta tell you, Sacks, this film left a big old cheese grin on my face by its end. It is a story that I connected to because it is a story about connections and how, in those connections, we find ourselves.
And sometimes by finding ourselves, we find our place in the world. Even if that place is exactly where we thought we wanted to get away from in the first place. Even if that place is in a pool, with a bunch of other men in Speedos, performing synchronized dance moves.

April 23, 2013

Review -- The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

The Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs
(Etienne Davodeau; NBM)
4.5/5 Stars
Like the rest of you, when I think of France I think of great wine and comics. Wait... what... comics? Yeah, comics. France has a vibrant and iconoclastic comics community producing ground breaking and entrancing books for all kinds of audiences. Since 1992, Etienne Davodeau has been producing best selling and award winning fiction and non-fiction books, and his latest one isThe Initiates: A Comic Artist and a Wine Artisan Exchange Jobs. This 272-pager follows the story of when Davodeau spent a year learning about biodynamic wine making from his neighbor, Richard Leroy. While learning about the process, he introduced Leroy to comics, both creating and reading them.
 This book succeeds on a number of levels. Its first success is in the amount of information it conveys about wine-making and comic book production. It's extensive and Davodeau is able to present all of it in an engaging and gentle manner. Secondly, there is Davodeau's art. His inkwork, especially when depicting the landscapes of the various wine-making regions they visit, is stupendous. Light, open, expansive – it is in the natural world that Davodeau's work shines brightest, bringing his readers along with him even in black and white.

April 19, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Paul Brian McCoy: For as long as I can remember liking movies, I've always had a fondness for the hard-drinking tough guys. When I was in high school, I had a poster of Humphrey Bogart on my wall and I added my own voice balloon with his famous deathbed quote: "I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis." The talk show tales of Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, and Oliver Reed were historic as far as I was concerned. 
So I was very excited to discover that Robert Sellers was adapting his biography of those four madmen, Hellraisers, into a graphic novel -- and even more excited when I discovered that JAKe was doing the artwork. However, for some unknown reason, rather than just stick to the biography format that works so well in prose, Sellers reworks his narrative to incorporate an A Christmas Carol framework that, quite frankly, didn't work at all for me.
The graphic novel tells the tale of drunken reprobate Martin, who on Christmas Eve has just cocked up his family's holiday. Later that night, he's visited by the ghost of his dead alcoholic father to tell him he is going to be visited by four spirits (pun whole-heartedly intended) who will show him the error of his ways. Then the ghosts of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Oliver Reed and the totally corporeal but still incorporeal Peter O'Toole, all take him on guided tours of their booze-besotted lives.
And even though none of them ever really regret the damages they've done through lives as Hellraisers, Martin somehow learns his lesson and returns home a better man.
What the hell?

April 18, 2013

Cheap Thrills -- GUY GARDNER: WARRIOR #35

This Column Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

In these economic times, finding inexpensive entertainment is difficult.  Thank goodness for the local comic shop and a slew of comics nobody cares about anymore!  Each week Daniel Elkin heads on out to Empire Comics Vault in Sacramento, CA and grabs a comic from the bargain bin (for 25 cents) to see what kind of bang he can get for his solid quarter.  These are those tales.
March 20, 2013 – paid 25¢ for:
Published by: DC Comics
Written by: Phil Jimenez
Pencils by: Joyce Chin
Inks by: John Stokes, Andy Lanning
Colors by: Lee Loughridge
Letters by: Albert de Guzman
Editor: Eddie Berganza

They warned me that if I kept diving into the bargain bin, sooner or later I would have to deal with this. Sure, they said, you can smile your way through all those old Valiant and Eclipse wonks and early Image splodges, for these are the staples of the bin. Sure, you can find lost gems therein that will cause you to question the nature of art. Sure, you can sort through the missteps of passionate independent creators with no discernible talent. You can do all of these things they said and make it out the other side.
But sooner or later, they said, sooner or later if you spend too much time in the bin you are going to have to deal with Guy Gardner: Warrior.
Today, my friends, is that day.
October 1995 found OJ not guilty, a Million Man March on DC, and the death of Kingsley Amis. Mr. Bungle released Disco Volante, Ubisoft released Rayman, and the Clinton Correctional Facility released Tupac Shakur (thanks to Suge Knights $1.4 million bail).
In October 1995 DC Comics released Guy Gardner: Warrior #35, the ramifications of which I now have to deal.
They warned me.

April 16, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin

Captain Midnight Special
(Brian Augustyn, Jay Piscopo; Moonstone)
4/5 Stars

In the name of full disclosure before beginning this review, I need to let you know that as far as I am concerned, Jay Piscopo makes comics just for me. I've never met the guy, but I swear he keeps having a hand in books that seem to come out of the daydreams of my childhood.  It's kinda creepy in a way, but I don't want him to stop.
The last Piscopo book I read was the wonderful Commander X All-Star Special #1. Now he's back with Captain Midnight Special. Though he's illustrating Brian Augustyn's story, the book's feel is all Piscopo and that's all right with me. 

April 11, 2013

Review -- MR. X: HARD CANDY

This review originally ran on Comics Bulletin

Mr. X: Hard Candy
(Dean Motter; Dark Horse)
4.5 out of 5 stars
Between 1984 and 1990, Dean Motter was stepping beyond everyone in comics with his pulp fiction dystopian world of Mister X. Today, Dark Horse Comics is going back to Radiant City, collecting a Mr. X story originally serialized in their Dark Horse Presents series, and have released it as Mr. X: Hard Candy. If you are a neophyte to Dean Motter's creation like me, let me orient you a bit with a quote by author and screen writer Phil Nutman from the forward to this book: "It combined so many of the things I love: Bauhaus design, art deco, hot babes, fast cars, new wave music, German expressionist cinema…" If you're a snoot or a hipster or a fan of great noir comics, how can you not be intrigued by a set up like this?

And Mr. X: Hard Candy lives up to this hype. While heavy on the exposition, the book tramps tight through its noir -- and what a place it is. In Motter's world, Radiant City was built by architects and engineers all gacked up on experimental psychotropics which causes the city itself to have "negative psychetectural effects" on the populace. In order to live in Radiant City, you have to anesthetize yourself or go mad, and right now, there's a "Pharma Famine." That's right. It's hard times in Radiant City. And this off kilter jig is the background for a kidnapping in this comic -- one perpetrated at a nightclub housed in a decommissioned glue factory none the less -- and Mr. X is on the case.
Oh yeah. It's all that going on.

April 9, 2013

Review -- Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1

This Review Originally Ran On Comics Bulletin

Five Ghosts: The Haunting of Fabian Gray #1
(Frank J. Barbiere, Chris Mooneyham; Image Comics)
So, how about this for a solicitation:

After a tragic encounter with an artifact known as "The Dreamstone," infamous treasure hunter Fabian Gray was possessed by five literary ghosts and has been granted access to their unique abilities. 

Five Literary Ghosts? Ooooh boy -- that's enough to get the English teacher in me all a'flutter -- I'm thinking Hamlet's father, Jacob Marley, Beloved, Madeline Usher, and some Turn of the Screwshit. 
But no.... that's not what we are talking about.

Rather, in Five Ghosts, Fabian Gray is possessed by The Wizard, The Archer, The Detective, The Samurai and The Vampire. As it turns out, he's not really possessed by Literary Ghosts, as much as by Literary Tropes. But hey, that's all well and good because, really, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because, as Image wants us to know, "A BOLD NEW ERA OF PULP ADVENTURE COMICS BEGINS HERE" and in Pulp Adventure stories, it's best to work with what you know.
All this aside, let me be straight with you: Five Ghosts is pretty great.

April 4, 2013


This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Todd: The Ugliest Kid on Earth #3
(Ken Kristensen, M.K. Perker; Image)
3/5 stars
So, here we are in the home stretch in this four-issue miniseries, and I'm starting to wonder if Kristensen and Perker have the stamina to keep the pace they set for themselves in issues one and two. Are they starting to get a little winded? Did they break too hard out of the gate?
I don't know, but issue three seems to point in that direction. Everything's getting pushed forward in this book, all the subplots are playing out, and there seems to be a rush to tie it all together. Gone is the pacing of the earlier two books and ease with which they played with their humor (although the Pervez Musharraf joke in this book almost made me pee a little in my pants -- not something I usually admit, by the way). Todd: The Ugliest Kid on Earth has started to smell a little like an old Mad Magazine, and I don't mean that particularly as a compliment (Yes, Me Worry!). The promise of the earlier issues seems to have been left between their pages.

April 2, 2013

Review: Digestate: A Food and Eating Themed Anthology

This Review Originally Ran on Comics Bulletin
Digestate: A Food and Eating Themed Anthology
(Jeffrey Brown, Renée French, Alex Robinson, James Kochalka, Marc Bell, Box Brown, Kevin Cannon, Noah Van Sciver, Josh Bayer, Danny Hellman, Sam Henderson, Josh Burggraf, L. Nichols, Al Ortiz, Sophia Wiedeman, Paul Hoppe, C.M. Butzer, Victor Kerlow, John Kerschbaum, Dan Piraro, Jess Ruliffson, Ben Snakepit, Cha, Adam Hines, Sungyoon Choi, Nate Doyle, Minty Lewis, Hawk Krall, Aaron Mew, Jonas Madden-Connor, Keith Knight, Pranas T. Naujokaitis, Tod C. Parkhill, Jungyeon Roh, Hazel Newlevant, J.T. Yost, Aron Nels Steinke, Gary Fields, Marek Bennett, J.T. Dockery, Jonathan Baylis, Anuj Shrestha, K. Thor Jensen, Nicole J. Georges, Jeremy Tinder, Darryl Ayo, Neil Brideau, James Turek, Jeff Zwirek, James Turek, Ayun Halliday, Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg, William Cardini, Liz Prince; Birdcage Bottom)
4/5 stars

In his "A Word From the Editor" at the start of Digestate: A Food and Eating Themed Anthology, JT Yost blames Berkeley Breathed's Bloom County for making him go vegan. Yost does so in order to inform you that yes, "comics CAN change lives!" Somehow, all this was the impetus for him to go gather the work of over 50 comic artists who have produced work focused on the theme "food and eating," and then layer them, slice by slice, into this anthology.
The theme of "food and eating" comprises a lot more possibilities than you might imagine. Digestate proves this.