Issue #230

REVIEW CITY: Doris Danger; Tsubasa; Guru Guru Pon-Chan; Love Roma; Nodame Cantabile; The Lone And Level Sands; Jeremiah Harm; Dead By Dawn; Write Now!; Holy ****; Tails; Good-bye Chunky Rice; Don Flowers; Ganges; Interiorae; Chimera; Meow, Baby!; lotsa Luba; Schizo; Testament; The Exterminators; Hellblazer; Stykman; Alan Moore Spells It Out; Comic Effect; Coshi

From Salt Peter Press:

DORIS DANGER SEEKS WHERE GIANT MONSTERS CREEP AND STOMP by Chris Wisnia, 56 pg b&w oversized trade paperback ($9.95)

Randomly ripped from the pages of TABLOIA! Literally. A few months back I raved TABLOIA, Wisnia's clever anthology of paranoia comics. "Doris Danger," purporting to be '50s reprints telling a "true life" story, was one of the better features, along the lines of what Alan Moore attempted with the aborted 1963, but envisioning Marvel's '50s monster comics if they'd been written in the same way as Stan Lee's later superhero collaborations with Jack Kirby. Doris is a tabloid reporter with a secret past and a burning need to discover the truth about the existence of Giant Monsters, which go by Lee-Kirbyesque names like Krakapoo! and Plopsplu!, and her eight page adventures are all rollicking elliptical balls of confusion highlighted by monster-fearing military men, monster-loving guerrillas, monster-hating spy organizations, monster-manipulating secret societies, and, of course, Giant Monsters, as well as robots, aliens, assassins, double-agents, triple-agents and hapless boyfriends, as Doris never finds out a damn thing. It's hilarious, and Wisnia (aided by old Marvel mainstay Dick Ayers on inks) gets the beats down exactly right, as well as doing a decent fanboy pastiche of Kirby's art. Also included are a funny history of the "Salt Peter Press," emphasizing their business mode was to copy whatever was successful elsewhere only doing it worse; monster pinups by a variety of stars like Mike Mignola, Bill Sienkiewicz and the Hernandez Brothers; a great old Marvel-style letters page ("Why... [do] the monsters seem to be different sizes from panel to panel?" "As our more experienced , careful readers might begin to suspect, this alleged "disparity" is factually documented...; and a very funny word search puzzle. A very good laugh.

From Del Rey Manga:

TSUBASA Vol 8 by Clamp, 202 pg b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

Continuing the adventures of five travelers as they wander time and space searching for fragments of a young girl's memories, and hit two worlds this time, one with talking rabbits and the next with a circus and monastery at war. This remains one of Clamp's better work, a gentle fantasy predicated on exploring variant cultures, with plenty of imagination and just enough action to keep it interesting.

GURU GURU PON-CHAN Vol 3 by Satomi Ikezawa, 202 pg b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

A dog uses a magical dog biscuit to turn into an adolescent human girl. Beyond the underlying perversity of the concept - her now reciprocated (but so far chaste) love for a teenage boy gets uncomfortably close to bestiality, especially when in this volume a fox tries to rape her while she's a dog - this time around was dislocated. The mechanics of the transformation have abruptly changed - she seems to no longer need to swallow the biscuit to change, and excitement brings out dog ears, tail, etc. in her human form - and she's now somehow living with her human lover rather than with her owners next door. It was either never set up or not memorable enough to register. This volume also brings in the cliché of the old, semi-hysterical girlfriend trying to drive a wedge between heroine and hero for selfish reasons misinterpreted as true love, and while a couple funny moments come of it, the routine's getting a bit tired. Art's not bad, though, but eh.

LOVE ROMA Vol 2 by Minoru Toyoda, 202 pg b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

Did LOVE ROMA steal its pacing and art style from SCOTT PILGRIM or vice versa, or is there some common ancestor I'm missing? This is an apparently much acclaimed series about two students in love, and it's not bad, but it's so sugary that after a couple stories (cutely called "tracks") it's more like reading Hallmark cards than comics.

NODAME CANTABILE Vol 4 by Tomoko Nonomiya, 202 pg b&w trade paperback ($10.95)

Adventures of a high school orchestra, particularly of a budding conductor and the eponymous pianist heroine Nodame who pines for him, and far better than that description makes it sound. The art's pleasant and sufficient, much more in the style of American alternative comics than anything generally associated with manga, and it's a good example of the breadth of material available in Japan, not just because it's a semi-humorous romance comic but because no one here would ever think to find stories in that milieu. Not bad.

From Archaia Studios Press:

THE LONE AND LEVEL SANDS by A. David Lewis, mpMann & Jennifer Rodgers, 152 pg color hardcover ($17.95)

A pretty good retelling of the Hebrew Exodus from Egypt, faithful to the Biblical story (though Moses comes off as considerably more jolly and entertaining than his Biblical counterpart, which can only be a blessing) but nicely fleshing it out by adding the Egyptian perspective. Lewis quietly turns it into an epic, almost classical struggle between gods, with humans hapless and ultimately damaged pawns of the game. The Mann/Rodgers art carries the story nicely on the backs of nicely evocative facial expressions and body language. A good read.

From Boom! Studios:

JEREMIAH HARM by Keith Giffen, Alan Grant & Rael Lyra, 32 pg color comic ($3.99)

Giffen & Grant, ultimately responsible for most of DC's Lobo stories, return to that milieu with decent art by Rael Lyra. Faced with a jailbreak, an alien warden trades Earthborn Jeremiah Harm amnesty for recapturing his former cohorts. He follows them to Earth amid semi-callous violence in the 2000 AD mode. Giffen and particularly Grant are really in their element here, and Lyra's storytelling improves by leaps and bounds over the space of the issue. The only problem with the issue is it's all setup and introduction, but it's not a bad setup and introduction, and the character shows promise. Check it out.

From Scar Comics:

DEAD BY DAWN 1 ed by Shane Chesbey & Andrew Richmond, 48 pg b&w comic ($10.99)

A horror anthology of sorts, and, as with most anthologies, the results are variable but at least most of these stories aren't merely riffs on the familiar; it's more Jorge Luis Borges than George Romero. Unfortunately, there's also little that's striking either, despite the presence of talents like Paul O'Connell and Chris Wisnia, whose entries are well done but elliptical. The best piece is the last, James Hodgkins' nameless military fable of men too long in the field; the art's terrific. I don't know if I'd say it was a good anthology, but it's no less than interesting.

From TwoMorrows Publishing:

WRITE NOW! 11 ed by Danny Fingeroth, 80 pg b&w magazine ($5.95)

Another solid issue of interviews, writing samples and professional advice. Most interesting are John Ostrander on creating character and Robert Tinnell's comparisons of writing for comics and Hollywood, but it's all pretty good. There's also a cross-section of creative and business advice from a slew of writers like Neil Gaiman, Joe Casey and Denny O'Neil. If you've got any interest in comics writing at all, get a subscription. WRITE NOW! remains the best regular venue for differing perspectives on the subject.

From Mike Luoma:

HOLY ****, OR... PAT ROBERTSON IS THE ANTI-CHRIST by Mike Luoma, 24 pg b&w magazine (no price given)

Wow, the art on this is primitive, but Luoma's comic isn't really about the art: it's a surprisingly respectful (to Christ, anyway) dissertation on how Christianity got twisted throughout history from the original teachings to the inane blather of televangelists like Robertson. It briskly covers a range of topics like unpleasant discoveries in Biblical scholarship, the latter day misguided origins of Christian fundamentalism, religious right wing misinterpretation of the Constitution and its historical basis, and suggestions for finding paths back to the real Jesus. And he backs up his argument; it's not simply a screed. The art's iffy at best but the book's pretty impressive.

From Bohemian Press:

TAILS 2 by Ethan Young, 32 pg b&w comic ($2.95)

Young's story of a Chinese-American couple as they try to survive their parents, working at an animal shelter in NYC and dreaming about breaking into the comics business proceeds nicely if uneventfully with good bits, good dialogue and good art. And unlike most slice of life stories, it feels like it's slowly building to something. One of the better new books of last year.

From Pantheon Books:

GOOD-BYE CHUNKY RICE by Craig Thompson, 125 pg b&w graphic novel ($12.95)

The original edition of GOOD-BYE CHUNKY RICE, Thompson's quasi-symbolist tale of humanoid animals trying to find love and a place in the world, garnered tons of critical praise, made alternative comics instantly worthy of widespread attention and turned Thompson into an overnight comics superstar, so it's no surprise that Pantheon Books, out to become the home of "intellectual" comics, is publishing a lovely new edition come May. Of course, none of this changes the fact that the book is empty, sentimentalized twaddle, but whaddaya gonna do? The steamroller rolls on...

From Fantagraphics Books:

DON FLOWERS ed by Alex Chun & Jacob Covey, 296 pg b&w trade paperback ($19.95)

The latest in Chun & Covey's "redemptions" of '50s girlie mag cartoonists, DON FLOWERS collects a slew of his panels, and they leave no doubt about why he should be remembered: even the sketchiest of them has a sharp, ultramodern line and great figurework (not to mention the jokes are consistently funny). Unlike most of the artists in Chun-Covey's series, Flowers, though drawing sexy women, didn't turn every (or even many) of his panels into smut jokes. This is a great tribute to a largely forgotten talent; worth a look.

GANGES by Kevin Huizenga, 32 pg tricolor magazine ($7.95)

Pleasant if not particularly compelling meditations on the nature of time, destiny, Beatles songs, and other tops. The stories are nice, Huizenga's cartooning is nice, it's nice. But just nice.

INTERIORAE by Gabriella Giandelli, 32 pg tricolor magazine ($7.95)

An unseen rabbit wanders through (and provides a Greek chorus for) the real and fantasy lives of various people living and dead while something unseen waits to eat their dreams. The light fantasy turns into a rumination on age, death and the true nature of houses while managing to steer between to reefs of pretentiousness and insipidity. Good.

CHIMERA by Mattotti, 32 pg b&w magazine ($7.95)

A mostly wordless collage of mutating imagery. As art it's pretty successful; Mattotti has a strong, distinctive style that equally capable of rapid mutation, from delicate cartoony linework to ink-heavy expressionism. Storywise, it's not quite so successful. It seems to posit the world as a succession of myth, sex, death and shadow but no payoff ever manifests, which is maybe the point.

MEOW, BABY! by Jason, 144 pg b&w graphic novel ($16.95)

Also mostly wordless, these stories and vignettes by European wunderkind Jason masquerade as funny animal tales but get Grand Guignol funny instead: Dr. Van Helsing finally destroys Dracula but ends up an alcoholic, angels and devils wrestle only to have God override the result of their contest, aliens invade Earth to steal women but are so impressed by Elvis that they steal him instead, and dozens more. As entertaining as Jason's morosely perverse funny animal art is, following the twists and turns of his unique psyche is even more fun. This stuff's a kick.

LUBA: THE BOOK OF OFELIA by Gilbert Hernandez, 248 pg b&w trade paperback ($22.95)

LUBA'S COMICS AND STORIES 6 by Gilbert Hernandez, 32 pg b&w comic ($3.50)

LOVE AND ROCKETS 15 by the Hernadez Brothers, 32 pg b&w comics ($4.50)

I'm getting kind of tired of reviewing Hernandez Brothers books not because they're a damn cartoon factory but because I've run out of new ways to praise them. Anyone who has read their flagship book LOVE AND ROCKETS knows how great they are not only with character and storytelling, following the lives of their characters from book to book in almost minute detail but keeping the material always accessible and open to newcomers, but how the stories don't so much build as accrue until whole worlds dance across the page. This is particularly true of Gilbert Hernandez's LUBA: THE BOOK OF OPHELIA, collecting the stories from various comics into one impressively cohesive graphic novel that follows three sisters and the people who orbit their lives, until everything disintegrates in a flood of betrayal, abandonment and violence. Like Gilbert's PALOMAR, it's an impressive achievement. The story of Luba and her sisters continues in LUBA'S COMICS AND STORIES 6, filling in hidden holes in the their lives prior to the climax of THE BOOK OF OPHELIA with a sort of stream of consciousness look at their relations with each other and odd sexual experiences. It's more painful than funny, but that's the point, and one of the reasons Gilbert's characters come across so well as people, always familiar and always surprising. LOVE AND ROCKETS is more of the same, with Jaime Hernandez providing a funny story of his heroine Hopey, who fears the past catching up with her as she starts her teaching career, a fictionalized memoir of haunting comics shows (it might not be fact but Jaime certainly captures the ambiance) and a funny Maggie short about baseball, while Gilbert continues his tales of Luba's world. These guys are masters of surreal naturalism. Do I really have to tell you to read their work?

SCHIZO 4 by Ivan Brunetti, 32 pg color magazine ($9.95)

People don't work enough in the tabloid format. Brunetti works great in it, opening with a wonderful PEANUTS (c. '60) pastiche that examines Charles Schulz's legacy and still fixating on Brunetti's cultural alienation, and the series of full page strips that follow, most 24 panels long, hit his past, his neuroses and his fixations with machine gun speed and often bitter humor. Not to mention the cartooning is flexible and flawless, shifting mercurially to fit the subject. My favorite bits, though, are his historical biographies of cultural oddballs like Harpo Marx, Mondrian, Kierkegaard, Eric Satie, Francoise Hardy, Louise Brooks, novelist Joris-Karl Huysmans and filmmaker Val Lewton, a stunning series piercingly portraying the traumas and pitfalls of the creative life. Brunetti's entire message could be summed up as "In general, artists don't end well," and certainly his other strips reinforce the notion. This is a terrific collection, and don't miss his "22 panels that always work* *sometimes," an amusing play on the famous Wally Wood piece.

From Vertigo:

TESTAMENT 1&2 by Douglas Rushkoff & Liam Sharp, 32 pg color comics ($2.99)

Bible stories from Vertigo. Rushkoff cleverly plays Biblical themes off on slightly futuristic "real world" and setting the whole thing against a philosophical backdrop of myth and freedom as a new youth underground surfaces to challenge a new draft and call to war that no one wants to fight, and Moloch patiently wars with Yahweh for control of the world. It's a little early to tell how successful the book is at blending all its themes and scenarios, but it's one of Vertigo's more ambitious and grounded series of recent years. Good to see Liam Sharp in action again; he's one of comics' most underrated artists. A series to watch.

THE EXTERMINATORS 1 by Simon Oliver & Tony Moore, 32 pg color comic ($2.99)

Another strong Vertigo entry. It's interesting how their best new books are veering far away from their ethereal fantasy baseline. THE EXTERMINATORS starts out with a bitter hard speech on the fall of the Roman Empire then turns into what's essentially a war comic, pitting a team of exterminators against the enemy of humanity: bugs. (They're not so good against other social poisons, like racism, sexism and addiction.) Problem is, the vermin have gone to war too, and we're running out of weapons. Still a little early to tell where it's going, but Oliver and Moore set up the characters and basic scenario well, and it reminds me a lot of really good but unjustly ignored series Vertigo used to publish, like Jaime Delano's 2020 VISIONS. Let's hope THE EXTERMINATORS isn't ignored.

HELLBLAZER 216 by Denise Mina and Leonardo Blanco, 32 pg color comic ($2.75)

HELLBLAZER's one of those books I'm surprised still exists - even when Alan Moore and Jaime Delano were writing it, the character never really seemed like he had legs - but somehow John Constantine has triggered the imagination of practically everyone who has worked on the series. Scottish novelist Denise Mina is the latest to sign up (with veteran artist Leonardo Manco, who was co-pilot on Warren Ellis' initial rise to fame on Marvel's old HELLSTORM book), the first woman to be a regular on the series that I recall, and she gets the HELLBLAZER patter down right away: having nothing better to do, John wastes an evening in the pub listening to some tosser's sob story, about an accidentally spoken magic spell that sets off a chain of horror and death and the trauma of the dead comes back to rest in him. Mina's still a bit unsure on the character, as if she's feeling her way through just what she can get away with, but it's a clever bit with the right tone and setting and a suitably Constantian solution, so all she needs to do is loosen up some and we've got us a new star horror writer.

From AKA Comics:

STYKMAN 1 by Jonnie Allen, 32 pg color comic ($2.95)

Superhero satire. Stykman is literally a stick in a very tight belt, taking on a skull-headed pirate with the aid of an alien sidekick. He narrates his adventures in unintentionally ironic counterpoint to what's actually going on (i.e. he interprets all accidents as strategy, and he has a lot of accidents. It's a bit familiar but it's done decently: inoffensive and unmemorable. It's okay. Nice production quality for an indie comic.

From Airwave Publishing:

ALAN MOORE SPELLS IT OUT by Bill Baker, 80 pg trade paperback ($9.95)

A lengthy, very entertaining interview with Alan Moore taped in one five hour session and covering his origins, development, creations and philosophies. Pretty much everything you wanted to know about Alan but didn't dare ask, for obvious reasons: over and over, Baker asks a two line question and gets pages and pages of response. The book design is adequate but perfunctory but that's not what's going to draw readers to this book anyway. If you've got any interest in Alan Moore, or in the creative process, get this. It's a good interview, but there's not much more to say about it.

From Comic Effect:

COMIC EFFECT 44 ed by Jim Kingman ($3.50)

The last fanzine. Kingman and company are old time comics fans, writing about the comics they love, and, as usual, it's lively stuff. Gene Phillips dissects the appeal of Lee & Kirby's FANTASTIC 4 and Batman villainess Poison Ivy, N. David Luhn recaps DC's abortive late '60s revival of The Spectre, and there are reviews of BROTHER POWER THE GEEK, a handful of alternative comics, Marv Wolfman's novelization of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, and Grant Morrison's 7 SOLDIERS OF VICTORY. It's light reading, but the magazine's love of comics is contagious. Good.

From Troll Talk:

COSHI 1 by Luis Torres & Andres Allocco, 24 pg b&w mini-comic ($1.75)

Sort of a fantasy comic: a barkeep's brawl-happy "pacifist" troll son does favors for "the Nightmare King" of the Dreamlands. It's a simple kidnapping with all kinds of strategic ramifications, and, of course, things go nuts. Not my favorite art style but at least it's clean, open and proportioned, and it's readable, though it falls back on commonplace toughguyisms and narration that's either just a little too purely expository or ends up reading like "Now, General Vox, the new warmaster of the Ivory Empire believes the Nightmare King has worn out his welcolm long enough." That's what they call unintentional humor. Not great, but not horrible either. (A color cover variant version can be had for $2.25, by the way.)

It's late and I'm out of energy for any extended political commentary today, but those who get peeved when I refer to our beloved president as The Hand Puppet should note that, during his annual propaganda two-step that we laughingly call The State Of The Union Address, the Hand Puppet calls for a weaning of America off the petroleum tit. (This at the moment when oil companies are declaring the biggest profits - that means profits, the money they're left with after they've figured all their expenses in and we're talking profits in the billions for just one oil corporation - of any company in history. Oil companies always claim they're raising prices due to increased costs, but that would suggests profits would stay more or less stable. What they actually figure cost on is futures, or predictions of how much gasoline will be worth due to usage, availability and other factors down the road, and the thing about that is that, for the oil companies, it essentially becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.) It's nice of the Hand Puppet to leap onto the conservation/alternative energy bandwagon (wasn't it not so long ago they were calling all that "bad science?") but it would have been nicer if he had done it before his administration gutted financing for alternative energy research and production and threw gilded gift after gilded gift to oil companies and traditional energy concerns. Of course, HP's family is all in oil and Vice President Cheney's wallowing in oil industry ties himself (which is why the oil industry basically got to write administration energy policy). It's the Petroleum presidency. But, even though people have been seriously calling for us to wean off oil for, oh, over three decades now, it's still nice to have the Hand Puppet come around. At least for a moment. He had barely finished his speech when others in his administration started clarifying. Which is to say recanting his proposals and stating a lowering of American dependence on oil is not on the administration's agenda? Was the Hand Puppet's mouth really moving on its own during the State Of The Union speech, at least for those few minutes? And whose words are coming out of his mouth now?

Catching up on my movies lately: saw FANTASTIC FOUR for my sins, where a decent performance by Michael Chiklis (though basically a nicer version of his SHIELD character Vic Mackey) and very Lee-Kirbyesque love-hate relationship between the Human Torch and the Thing were horribly undermined by really bad renditions of Doctor Doom and Mr. Fantastic. Jessica Alba's a much better actress than I gave her credit for, since she almost managed to imply without cracking up that her character could ever be interesting in a slug like the film's version of Reed Richards. But, really, what can you say about a superhero film where the biggest thrill is seeing Stan Lee play Willie Lumpkin? I did enjoy director John Dahl's docudrama THE GREAT RAID, with Benjamin Bratt and SPIDER-MAN's James Franco leading a squad of Rangers to rescue American POWs from a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines in the waning days of World War II, based on a true story. The style's old-fashioned war movie - no moral equivocation here, only a strong emphasis on duty, responsibility and hope - so parts are a little corny but only a little, and the film's only real misstep is a side love story that at least gives them the opportunity to look at the Filipino underground and has the only climax that would make it work. It's a pretty good movie delineating a much overlooked moment of our military history, with mostly straightforward writing, solid acting and good directing.

Congratulations to Greg Picken, first among many to realize that all the comics in last week's Comics Cover Challenge prominently featured characters with the name Steve, Steven or Stephen. See? It's all about me. Greg would like to promote his blog, so click over there and take a look.

And since it is all about me, this week rather than another Comics Cover Challenge, I'm running an odd little piece I did awhile back, during my brief stint replacing Howard Chaykin as writer on his famous AMERICAN FLAGG! This was a backup we ran, featuring a cartoon character whose show was occasionally mentioned in Howard's stories, Bob Violence, with art by Joe Staton & Hilary Barta (at least on this episode; later installments were drawn by Norm Breyfogle, though it seems to me the first one ran in the back of GRIMJACK, with art by Paul Smith, or was that something else?). This one was a little different for me, since it was not only a humor story (in name, at least; the final verdict is up to you) but done entirely in poetry, and I only screwed up the rhythm scheme a couple of times. Enjoy. I should mention that Bob Violence and all characters therein are ™©2006 Howard Chaykin.

I know there were other things I wanted to mention, but it's late and I'm tired and I don't remember what they were so check back next Wednesday. Hopefully none of them were time sensitive.

And don't forget my two books are available in pdf e-book form at The Paper Movies Store: TOTALLY OBVIOUS, collecting my Master Of The Obvious essays on comics, culture, creativity and the freelance life; and IMPOLITIC: A JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEARS, a running commentary on American life and politics in the first half of the Terror Decade. 250+ pages each, $5.95@ or both for $10.95. What are you waiting for?

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail me but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

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I'm reviewing comics sent to me - I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them - at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

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