Monday, August 29, 2011

Nine from the library

1. The Walking Dead volume 12
By Kirkman and Adlard

The 11th volume of Walking Dead turned out to be something surprisingly powerful, with one of the most disturbing torture and murder scenes I’ve ever seen in a comic book, and I was keen to check out the next book.

But I’ll be less eager for volume thirteen, because by the end of this one, I just didn’t care that much any more.

I guess I just have too much trouble trying to identify with the main characters any more. Like everything else in the Walking Dead, a Big Ass Point has been made, then made again, then pushed down into the dirt, then dug up again and flung about like a desiccated corpse.

I know I’m not supposed to identify with the main characters in the Walking Dead, because they have been through so much horror and trauma. But by the closing pages of the long and drawn-out twelfth volume, they have lost so much of their humanity that I don’t care what happens to them any more. They can’t play with normal people, and are full of so much rage and despair that they’re almost totally lost.

If Rick’s a dick, making the same mistakes over and over again and blaming the whole world for it, then that might be the way he survives, but it’s a rapidly monotonous story.

Charlie Adlard is as solid as ever, though, and handles the introduction of a bunch of new characters with characteristic aplomb. His consistent and understated art brings a welcome continuity to the story, but it really might be time for the Walking Dead to shamble to an end, because they’re shambling away from anything human.


2. BPRD: Hollow Earth and Other Stories
By Mignola, Golden, Sniegoski, McDonald, Sook, Smith and Thompson

I keep reading BPRD completely out of order, but there is always something worthwhile in every one. In this one – which I think is the first BPRD book, but I can’t tell because the library always slap dewy decimal numbers all over the volume on the spine - it’s the Hellboy scenes. A demon’s humanity punching scientific indifference in the face. That stuff is fucking brilliant.


3. Northlanders
By Wood and Gianfelice

Davide Gianfelice draws a mean Viking and some terrific empty desolation and Brian Wood has some brilliant ideas for comics, but I always find the writer's stuff so po-faced and devoid of any kind of humour that they just seem to drag.

There is nothing wrong with having a mean, selfish and unappealing main character like Sven if they show the barest sign of humanity, but the main character in ‘Sven The Returned’ is just so self-righteous and serious that I honestly wouldn’t have minded it if he got his head lopped off by some mad berserker.

It’s not even an outrageous seriousness, when things get so damned important that they cross back over the line into silliness. It’s just a blank and dead-faced as a polar wind.


4. American Vampire vol 2
By Snyder and Albuquerque

This actually has a bit of a sense of humour, and is just outrageous enough. In the wake of Preacher, there have been a few Vertigo series that tried to tell another vast and sprawling American Epic, but most of them disappeared up their own arses before they were two years old. American Vampire is built on a foundation of cliché, but there are enough sly winks to keep things moving along nicely.

It’s also quite well told – it wasn’t until I finished the book that I realised it was actually volume two of the series, because I’d had no trouble following it. The ability to pick up a random book in a series and still follow the story is one of those things in modern comics that is much rarer than it should be, so it’s worth following.


5. Dong Xoai, Vietnam 1965
By the Kubert

Joe Kubert is a goddamn legend, and even though he is well into the twilight of his career, he is still picking away at the art and producing thoroughly decent books like this one.

Kubert’s deliberately rough pencils tell the story of one little skirmish in the vast clusterfuck that was the Vietnam War. The artist sensibly bypasses all the politics and goes straight to the meat – the men on the sharp end of an escalating war, thrust into a terrible battle and desperate to keep the man beside him alive.

It’s not just the pencils that are raw and bleeding, there is some clumsy narration and the barest stab at actual characterisation, but then the battle begins, and all politics and all justifications and all that shit doesn’t matter anymore. It’s Kubert war comics, about brave men dealing with extraordinary circumstances, and that never gets old.


6. Buddha vol2

Slowly getting through the Buddha series, but I read the first one months ago, and have absolutely no idea what’s going on.

Doesn’t matter, all good, happy here.

Can’t wait for volume three.


7. Vengeance of Moon Knight: Shock and Awe
By Hurwitz and Opena

I was going to give this a miss altogether, because all those grimy Moon Knight comics put me to sleep, but then I ended up enjoying the first 50 pages enormously, because Moon Knight took that baton out of his arse for once.

It’s the same thing that’s so appealing about the latest iteration of Daredevil. Nobody likes a moaner. And after years of standing around in the rain and excessively violent breakdowns, it was nice to see Moon Knight taking down the bad guys without moaning about how shit his life was.

But then some guy with no face was brought back from the dead and started doing horrible things and I ended up skim reading to the end of the book.

It looked like it was something different, but it wasn’t.


8. Avengers vol 1
By Bendis/Romita

I always thought people who moaned that time travel stories were too confusing and made their head hurt were old and stupid.

This means I have officially crossed the line into old and stupid, because I couldn’t follow Avengers - the first story arc in the recent re-launch of Marvel’s mightiest super-team - at all.

Bendis’ Avengers comics can be horribly clumsy and genuinely offensive, but these are side-effects of a powerful energy that often lashes out all over the place. While Bendis often comes across as the last person in the world who should ever be writing the Avengers, it’s that clash that generates the spark of his stories, and makes them compulsively readable, no matter how silly they get.

Fortunately, John Romita Jr has been doing superb action comics for decades now, and while this Avengers book ties itself up and knots that strangle the plot to death, there is always this raw and colourful punch that the artist offers up.


9. The Saga of the Bloody Benders
By Rick Geary

Rick’s Geary’s Victorian murder treasuries are some of the most entertaining and solid factual comics that you could ever hope for.

It’s largely due to Geary’s choice of subject matter – murder stories are some of the oldest stories, and there is something immortally fascinating by real-life tales of unimaginable callousness.

But Geary also puts these eternal murder mysteries in their proper historical context, telling stories of murder mansions in new cities that are growing at a ophenomenally dangerous rat, or in sparse communities far from the rest of the world, where it takes days to ride between properties.

And then he slathers these tales with his own recognisable art style, full of pinched and evil faces and genuine terror on the faces of the victims.

The Saga of The Bloody Benders is as entertaining and invigorating as any of Geary's other Treasuries of Victorian Murder, and there really is no higher praise I can give.

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