Monday, August 01, 2005

Best of July

In this post I'm reprinting reviews of items for which I gave a rating of 4 or better in the month of July:

The Surrogates #1
by Robert Venditti & Brett Weldele

Top Shelf are mostly known for publishing indy comic anthologies and B&W OGNs, so what are they doing publishing a scifi noir as a glossy color limited series? I don't know, but since the results are so good, I don't really care about the reasons. Fifty years in the future, a couple on their way home from a bar are attacked and electrocuted in an alley. But it turns out that these aren't people who have died, but rather their surrogates. In this future world, 'surrogates' are artificial bodies employed by people to interact with the real world while they sit around all day in their crummy little apartments. Yeah yeah, it's a metaphor, but it serves to put a twist on the murder mystery. I don't recall ever encountering work by either of the creators before, but what I see here impresses me. The art by Weldele is a simple pen-and ink style that echoes somewhat Bill Sienkiewicz or Ben Templesmith, colored in a moody Vertigoesque palatte. Author/creator Venditti & Weldele create a world and give us the parameters of its functioning within the confines of the story; they never stop to explain something but rather let the explainations come about naturally and as needed. (Although a text piece posing as a faux-academic article at the end fills in some of the background, it is not necessary reading for the story.) All in all this is a promising start to the series; I just wish it was being published more frequently than quarterly.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Gotham Central #33
by Greg Rucka, Ed Brubaker, Kano & Stefano Gaudiano

A kid in a Robin costume shows up dead in an alley, apparently haven fallen from the rooftops above. We know it's not the 'real' Robin, and to their credit most of the GCPD think that it probably isn't either, but they have to go through the motions anyway, treating this as a redball case and working around the unwanted participation/interference of a certain caped vigilante. This is Brubaker's swansong before he goes off to waste his talents in an exclusive at Marvel, and he and Rucka have chosen a doosy of a premise to run with. They make lemonade out of lemons, using the stupid post-War Games status quo between Batman and the police to come up with a plot that could only work if they're not talking to each other. This is also the debut of the 'new' art team as Kano & Gaudiano switch duties; it works well: Kano provides clean layouts, good figurework and strong storytelling while Gaudiano's inks give it all a gritty edge. This continues to be one of the best comics published monthly by DC.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

by Sara Varon

Sweaterweather is a collection of mostly wordless short stories about a bunch of little anthropomorphic animals (and a snowman) going about life in the city. Most of the stories take place during the cold months of late autumn to early spring, hence the title. It may not sound exciting, but the stories have a certain sweetness and Varon is an excellent storyteller. It many ways this comic reminds me of Andy Runton's Owly, although the stories in Sweaterweather have a bit more of an edge. Most of the book is in black and white (well, actually black and navy blue) but in the back there's a color section with cleaver paper dolls, stamps and postcards. This is a fun book that can be enjoyed by comic readers of all ages.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Freaks of the Heartland
by Steve Niles and Greg Ruth

Several years ago in the small farming community of Gristlewood Valley, several gave birth to severly deformed--some would say unnatural--children. Some were killed, while others were locked away, living all of the existance in cellars or barns. Young Trevor knows that his younger brother Will is different, but he also knows that Will has a good heart and its not fair for Will to be locked away, never able to play in the sun. But this secret is eating away at the people of the valley, and when events build towards a violent head Trevor decides to break Will out and they make a run to escape the valley. Although there are monsters in the story (and not all of them are the deformed children) this isn't exactly a horror story; it falls into a traditio nof stories that I've always refered to as 'American Gothic'--tales of secrets and evil and things not quite right in small towns and rural communities. There is violence in Freaks of the Heartland, but it mostly occurs just off panel. Niles isn't going for shocks here, but rather trying to disturb. What really makes this work is the art of Ruth; detailed pen and ink drawings combine with the earthy computer color pallate to create an environment that evokes the warm heartland in which this disturbing tale is set. If you like your horror stories to be about events and characters and mood rather than blood and guts, you'll find Freaks of the Heartland quite to your liking.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Banana Sunday #1
by Root Nibot & Colleen Coover

Kirby Steinberg is the new girl at Forest Edge High School, but she's not just any new girl. Kirby comes with three talking monkeys in tow: Chuck, the super-intelligent orangutan ego; Go-Go, the always hungry gorilla id; and Knobby, the sensitive babe-magnet monkey superego. Kirby claims that her three talking monkey companions are the results of her scientist father's experiments with accellerated leaning abilities, but Nickels, Kirby's new best friend and reporter for the school paper, suspects that may not be the whole truth. Add in Martin, the cute boy photographer who comes to Kirby's aid when her clutziness gets the better of her, and you have the makings of a fun series. There's a general atmosphere of fun and the humor is often gentle and subtle, except for Go-Go whose antics at times are downright laugh-out-loud funny. The big attraction for this book of course is the wonderful art from Colleen Coover, stepping out from the erotic-comix ghetto to prove that she can do high school situational and physical comedy for an all-ages audience. It's all there: figures, backgrounds, storytelling, and a sureness of line; Coover makes it look easy, and gets to draw plenty of cute girls and talking monkeys. I'm sure you'll be tempted to wait for the trade, but there's plenty enough story and fun here to justify spending $3 on each individual issue; then you can get the inevitable trade when it comes out and share it with all your friends.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Desolation Jones #2
by Warren Ellis & J. H. Williams III

While the first issue led us to believe that this was yet another take on the usualy Ellis archetypal main character, this second issue explores Jones further and proves him to have greater depth than we might have previously realized. Namely, this protagonist has something that other Ellis types do not: empathy. He also has a sense of compassion, all expertly realized in the extended scene between Joens & Emily Crowe, the woman whose body has been modified to produce fear and revulsion in every person (except for Jones). It's downright touching, something I wasn't expecting. If Ellis can keep playing against expectations, combined with the superb art by Williams (which I could go on about, but I don't have to since Jog does such a good job of praising the art on his blog) we might have another winner on our hands.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

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