Trade paperbacks, older editions, and miscellaneous for September 2012


Alien: The Illustrated Story by Archie Goodwin (writer), Walter Simonson (artist/colorist), Louise Simonson (colorist), Deborah Pedlar (colorist), Polly Law (colorist), Bob LeRose (colorist), and John Workman (letterer). $14.95, 61 pgs, FC, Titan Books.

As I mentioned, I didn't even know this book existed until a month ago, when Greg Hatcher mentioned it. So when I saw it at the comic book store, I had to have it! Come on, it's Simonson art, man! And Archie Goodwin can write a pretty good story, too.

This is quite a good adaptation, in case you're wondering. One thing I like about comics that I don't like about movies is the ability to linger on certain images. Sure, you can pause a movie, but who wants to do that? This is especially true about horror movies, where things are always jumping out of dark spaces into other dark spaces and you're wondering, "What the hell just happened?" Also, one of the problems I have with horror movies is the sound is often terrible, so the characters are often speaking and I miss words (and no, it's not because I'm old; I've always been annoyed by this). So with comics, you can study the panels a little more, and because the words are printed right there, you don't miss any. One of the problems I had with the original Alien, in fact, was that the creature kept leaping out of dark spaces (which is effective to a degree, but kind of annoying). That's not a big issue with this comic. Ridley Scott did a better job with the characters than many horror movies, but for me, at least, it was hard to care too much about the characters in the movie. Tom Skerritt, for instance, seemed really ineffectual. Plus, the sound wasn't great (and I never saw it in the theater - I was eight when it came out - so maybe it was the system I was hearing it on), and that's not a problem with this comic.

Goodwin does a little better with the characters - he doesn't have the advantage of actual people saying the lines, but he seems to get more into the class divisions on board the Nostromo* between Ripley and Parker (Yaphet Kotto). Goodwin can't do anything about the film's major flaw - the "big reveal" about Ash and what he's doing seems to come out of nowhere - but that's the way it is. Other Greg mentioned that Goodwin was working from the original script, so the characters are a bit more fleshed out, and that's obvious. The book doesn't have the mood of the movie, but it's a bit more interesting, character-wise. Meanwhile, Simonson is not as polished as he would later be, of course, but his artwork is tremendous. He and the other colorists make the book a bit brighter than the movie, which is a good thing (I also hate the general darkness of some movies, which has gotten worse in recent years but has been a trend for decades), and Simonson is able to pack quite a lot onto each page. As I mentioned above, comics' static images are superior to movies' moving images in some ways, because comics allow you to notice all the details, and while Simonson doesn't quite nail the scene where the baby alien bursts out of Kane's chest as well as the movie does (it's a nice drawing, true, but it's done too quickly, so the dread isn't as palpable), he makes up for it with the marvelous panel of Dallas encountering the alien in the tunnels, which is a brilliant drawing. We lose the sense of things jumping out at you from off-screen, but that's not anything to mourn, and we get really nice images that we can look at over and over.

I get that people who have seen the movie might want to skip this. But it's a very good adaptation, and it's easier to pull this out and stare at it than sitting down with the movie, right? Plus, the movie doesn't have Walt Simonson on art!

* I wonder why they named the ship after the book. If there was a reason or if one of the writers was just a fan of Joseph Conrad. There doesn't seem to be an explicit connection.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Bucko by Jeff Parker (writer) and Erika Moen (artist). $19.99, 142 pgs, BlW, Dark Horse.

Parker and Moen's webcomic gets collected in a nice hardcover, and while you can still read it for free, you don't get the fun extras you get in this edition. There are plenty of annotations, including the mystery of the hand ... solved!, a lot of information about the strip itself and how it came to be, and more pages! The extra pages include the "Juggalette's tale," plus a promised orgy page that is sheer genius.

It's tough to explain the plot of Bucko. Parker begins it with the mother of all MacGuffins - the title character finds a dead body in a bathroom and is arrested for the crime - but it's not about that at all. In fact, "Bucko" (not his real name) disappears for most of the second part of the book. Basically, this is a love letter to Portland and the people who live there. Parker and Moen both live in the Rose City, and they decided to do a book about all the weird people who live there and all the weird shit they get into. A lot of the plot revolves around bicycles (bike culture is HUGE in Portland), there's absinthe, there are coffee shops, there are ramshackle collectives of oddball people, and there are people who make a living in the strangest ways possible. Some of it is, honestly, a bit too insular - Parker and Moen have a lot of fun with their co-workers at Periscope, the studio in downtown Portland where they work - but that's really a minor point, because it certainly doesn't detract from the main narrative too much and, of course, the annotations sort it all out. Basically, this comic is an excuse for Parker to write all kinds of wacky shit and for Moen to draw it. A lot of what Parker puts in it is because Moen likes to draw wacky shit - I'm sure Parker put the cop's ass pressed against the window because he knew Moen would have a blast drawing it, for instance - but because both creators are good at what they do, the book is a lot more fun than you might expect. Parker and Moen just go for the funniest stuff they can imagine, and it works far more than it doesn't. If you've ever seen Portlandia and wished that 60% of it wasn't crap but you think the rest is funny, Bucko is for you. Yes, it might help a bit if you've been to Portland (I immediately thought of Rimsky-Korsakoffee House when the fake dead body showed up, and I'm glad Parker mentioned it), but even if you haven't, this is a blast - it's funny, it's goofy, it's not quite as filthy as Moen's DAR!, but it has its moments, and if you've ever wondered why more comics don't delve into the glory that is Faygo, well, this book is for you!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

The Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred by David Hine (writer), Shaky Kane (artist), and Richard Starkings/Jimmy Betancourt (letterers). $17.99, 188 pgs, FC, Image.

It's really almost impossible to write about the twelve issues of The Bulletproof Coffin. They're wonderful comics, but they're also examples of surreal storytelling that almost defies description. You can't really answer the question "What's the book about?" because that's not the point. Hine, who can be a very good writer when he's not writing Marvel superheroes, gives us a metatextual romp through superhero history, with characters who are real in one issue turning into children's toys in the next. Both volumes of this comic have been a take-down of the seriousness of superhero culture, but in true brilliant satirical fashion, they also celebrate the genre. This book isn't mean-spirited at all, but that doesn't mean that Hine and Kane don't poke fun at the conventions of the genre.

However, The Bulletproof Coffin is more an exercise in style, as Hine and Kane try many different ways to tell a story. The first issue is a strange detective story that somehow morphs into a superhero origin story, the second is a classic "people in a room tell stories about stuff" format, the third is a simple superhero story that blends the "reality" of the superhero story with the fact that a boy is making it all up using his action figures, the fourth is the famous (?) issue that features 84 panels that were cut up and randomly place in the publication order*, the fifth purports to be 22 different trading cards from a series found in bubble gum packages, and the sixth is a weird psychological drama. Every issue bleeds into others, with recurring characters and certain plot threads repeated, but it's not like the entire thing is a coherent whole. Hine and Kane are more about setting a mood and playing with conventions, and they do it very well. Kane's Allred-on-acid artwork works for a wide variety of genres, including horror and superheroes (the dominant ones in this collection), and his cheery coloring makes the creepy proceedings that much creepier. It's a very cool book to look at.

Hine and Kane leave the door open for yet another series, although perhaps the ending of this is where they plan to leave it, because it's sufficiently bizarre and also ties in with one of their main themes, which is an escape from one reality into another. Perhaps they have more in them. But even if they don't, The Bulletproof Coffin is a superb comic book. It takes all the chances you wish superhero books would take!

* Obviously, this is a famous Burroughs technique, although Burroughs borrowed it from Brion Gysin. The "cut-up" technique is wildly fun to do - I've done it myself! Oddly enough, I had never heard of Touché Turtle when I "wrote" that. Strange how the world works!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

American Vampire volume 3 by Scott Snyder (writer), Rafael Albuquerque (artist), Danijel Zezelj (artist), Sean Murphy (artist), Dave McCaig (colorist), Dave Stewart (colorist), Steve Wands (letterer), and Pat Brosseau (letterer). $16.99, 242 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

I've been critical of Scott Snyder because he has his issues as a writer, but his Vertigo book remains very enjoyable, and I happily keep buying the trades (especially, as I've pointed out before - this is 17 dollars for 12 issues, which is a wonderful bargain). In this latest volume, he sends Skinner Sweet, Pearl Jones, and Henry Preston to Taipan in 1943, where the Japanese are developing a secret weapon. We don't find that out until later, because Snyder takes his time setting everything up - Henry wants to fight and he's feeling old now that Pearl has remained young for years while he follows the normal course of life, so while he can't fight in the war, the anti-vampire organization - The Vassals of the Morning Star - enlists him to clear out a vampire nest on Taipan. So Snyder sets up the classic "group of warriors heading into a hostile situation" that is such a staple in fiction, and of course not all of them are coming out. Sweet, meanwhile, is following the group for some reason, and as no one knows what he looks like, he's able to find himself with the group when the island vampires - which are a nasty, new kind of breed - attack. Henry didn't tell Pearl what he was doing (she thinks the U.S. ended up wanting him to serve), but she does eventually and gets herself sent to Taipan to help out. And then everything hits the fan and lots of people die.

Meanwhile, in Survival of the Fittest, we get a story about Felicia Book and Cashel McCogan, who were in the last trade and are now working for the Vassals. The story is also set during World War II (1941, to be exact), and Felicia and Cash are sent to Romania to investigate a scientist's claims that he has a cure for vampirism. This is important to Cash, because as we saw in the last trade, his son was infected before he was born and is now a vampire. They head to Europe, where of course they find out that the Nazis have formed an alliance with a group of vampires. Plus, Snyder adds a new layer to his vampire mythology, introducing a new (or old, to be exact) breed of vampires who will surely cause problems in the future. The most interesting thing about the Nazi-vampire alliance is that the Nazis and vampires aren't exactly as synonymous as you might expect - they're uneasy allies at best. It's interesting that Snyder doesn't automatically associate vampires with Nazis, as some other writers surely would. It's a nice conceit.

Both stories are exciting and move the overall plot forward. Snyder seems to kill off a major character in the main title, but who knows, right (well, people who read this in single issues might, but don't spoil it for me!)? I still appreciate that Snyder is making Pearl and Henry such an interesting couple, because I love a good interesting couple in my comics! I will say that Albuquerque's art looks a tad rushed in this trade. I like it, but it does look sloppy in some places, and not where you might expect it to be sloppy (when characters are getting carved up, for example). Oddly enough, it gets slightly better as the arc goes along, so why it should look more rushed early on is beyond me. Murphy's art in Survival of the Fittest is just another example of why he's one of the best guys out there right now (despite his penchant for Bachalo-esque cross-hatching on the noses of characters) - his sinewy characters, fine details, and wonderful page layouts make the busiest pages easy and fun to read, and he brings a great deal of kinetic energy to everything he draws. Snyder has gotten some excellent artists to work on this book (Zezelj's guest stint to begin the trade is another example), which of course makes the story seem better. Writing and art, working in tandem!

I might not love much of what Snyder writes (of course, I'd still like to read a Batman trade, DC!), but I really enjoy American Vampire. I'm curious to see what happens when we get to the present day!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Baudolino by Umberto Eco (translated by William Weaver). 521 pgs, Harcourt, Inc., 2000 (English translation is 2002).

I'm a big fan of Eco, and as I mentioned last month, I have three (now two!) of his novels sitting on my shelf that I haven't read yet, so get used to me writing about him (I decided to insert other books in between reading the three of them, so my next book isn't an Eco book, but after that one, I'll tackle the next Eco book!). First up is Baudolino, which is about a dude named ... Baudolino. Baudolino is an Italian peasant in the twelfth century who one day meets and charms a noble in the forest ... and said noble turns out to be Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor. Baudolino goes on to have several adventures in the service of Frederick, and when the book begins, he's in Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (1204), which famously was diverted from fighting Muslims to fighting Christians - the sack of the city is one of the great crimes of history, and if you ever go to Venice, remember that the four horses at St. Mark's were stolen from Constantinople during the looting. Baudolino rescues a Greek nobleman named Niketas and spends the book telling him his life story.

I enjoyed Baudolino, but it felt somehow lacking. Eco is a wonderful writer, so the prose is lively, and he also has a marvelous sense of humor, so the book is downright hilarious at certain times. Most of the narrative is about Baudolino's attempts to find the kingdom of Prester John, a mythical land in the East ruled by a Nestorian Christian emperor that inflamed the imaginations of medieval Europeans. Baudolino eventually heads to the East and finds a strange land supposedly ruled by Prester John, but he also finds that things are not as rosy in this magical place as he believed they would be. Eco begins the book firmly in the real world, but once Baudolino heads East, he quickly moves into the realm of fantasy. It's interesting, because early on in the book, Baudolino invents a lot of stories about Prester John and the Holy Grail and other things, and Eco is blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, as it turns out that while Baudolino invented a lot, the "reality" of Prester John's kingdom is as fantastic, if different, from what he invented. Eco has always been concerned about the way fantasy becomes reality and vice versa, and with Baudolino, he simply takes an extra step and completely obliterates the line between the two.

The problem, as far as I can articulate it, is that there's nothing else except Baudolino's journey through life. Eco doesn't seem to making any big point about the way Baudolino's world becomes more "unreal" the further he goes East, and if he's making the point that faith makes things real (as characters mention more than once), well, that's not a terribly original point to make. Books don't necessarily have to have a big point, of course, but the basic plot of this book - as much as it's right in my wheelhouse - doesn't carry it. It feels like too much of a simple recitation of events in Baudolino's life, and while it's entertaining, it feels a bit lacking. This is the fourth Eco novel I've read, and in the other three - The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, and The Island of the Day Before - the stakes somehow felt higher. Perhaps Eco wanted to write something that was a bit more frothy, but I wish he hadn't. The prose in Baudolino is wonderful - Eco is a very good and very smart writer, so he always keeps you on your toes - but it does feel a bit lightweight. Maybe I'm just missing the overall point. It wouldn't be the first time!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Well, that's it for this month. I have three new CDs, but I haven't listened to them enough to give a good review. Plus, I'm anticipating getting another one in October (the new Marillion album, whoo-hoo!), so next month, I should have some of those. Plus, I'm currently reading another giant book, but maybe I'll be able to get through it and a second one by the end of the month. This month was strangely bereft of trade paperbacks and older stuff, so perhaps next month I'll get a whole bunch of them! Have a nice day, everyone!

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