Wednesday, July 22, 2009

BAG IT AND BOARD IT: Graphic Novel, Trade Paperback and Other Classy Collections Edition

Every week, Jon blows his rent money on comics. Here, he spills the beans on whether or not it was worth it. But to paraphrase LeVar Burton, don’t take his word for it--you should buy comics too. And then bag ‘em and board ‘em.

Huzzah, good readers--I say huzzah! The Danger Digest blog is now officially two years old! I’ve already done my brief think piece on how the site has evolved in that time, so I’ll spare the redundancy and move instead to the celebration. In honor of hitting the two-year mark, I’m going to briefly set aside Anything is Everything Else in order to revisit the columns I’d conceived for this site at its inception: “Bag it and Board it,” “Memories from the Longbox” and “Page and Panel.”

Evidenced by the title above, I’m kicking things off with “Bag it and Board it.” And as the italicized blurb (left as written two years ago) suggests, the column was intended to be a weekly review of new books--not a bad idea, albeit a bit derivative, considering how many other folks already do the same thing. However, despite the egregious amount of money I was in fact dropping on comics on a weekly basis, I only ever managed to put this column together once, for the week of August 1, 2007. I still have the Word documents in which I began drafts for a handful of other weeks, but alas, they’ve never known the light of day.

Anymore, there aren’t many monthly books I regularly read, so instead I’ll highlight the collected editions and whatnot that have graced my nightstand over the past two-plus months, the time since this blog was essentially resuscitated. And so, without further ado, here we go!

(Please note, this list is presented in alphabetical order except where multiple volumes of one series are presented; in that case, the volumes are presented chronologically. Also, credits are presented as they appear in the book.)

By Adrian Tomine

This is one classy way to collect a series of minicomics--in this case the first seven issues of Optic Nerve, which Tomine published himself during high school and college. That fact alone makes me wonder what I’ve been doing with the years, but the stories here collected remind me not to take myself too seriously. Tomine’s art goes through a marked evolution over the seven issues, but even the earliest, most raw pieces drip with enthusiasm for the medium, and their heartbeat should inspire anyone who’s ever considered telling a story in pictures.

Writer: Mark Millar
Art: Tommy Lee Edwards
Letters: John Workman

This was actually the first comic I’d picked up in a while, and boy did it scratch the itch, proving to be exactly what I needed to push me headlong back into sequential art. A child of--and consequently a sucker for--the ‘80s, I was immediately tickled by the time period, but Millar’s story will ring true for anyone whose childhood was propelled by his or her imagination. Furthermore, Edwards’ art is utterly engrossing, and I give the man a lot of credit for finding a unique way to represent Toby’s side trip through the actual Marvel Universe.

Writer: Paul Dini
Penciller: Dustin Nguyen
Inker: Derek Fridolfs
Colorist: John Kalisz
Letterers: Travis Lanham, Steve Wands, John J. Hill, Jared K. Fletcher

This collection of the Detective Comics story, which originally spanned issues 846-850, proves a fun Batman romp in the ultra-capable hands of Paul Dini, and an interesting--although not a fascinating--look beneath the bandages of the relatively recently introduced villain Hush. The story has its highlights--my favorites are Alfred kicking ass in three consecutive panels and Rexy’s brief appearance--but the obligatory reestablishment of the status quo in the final chapter left me unsatisfied. The artwork holds a lot of treasures, though, in particular the subtle use of reflections and shadows, underlining the “mirror images” of Bruce Wayne and Tommy Elliot.

By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
Colors by Val Staples

I’d read the first two Criminal story arcs in individual issues, and it was nice to experience this story in one volume, although I missed the letters and essays that backed up the monthly book. Brubaker’s love of the crime genre shines yet again in this story, presented from a different point of view in each of the three chapters. It’s not exactly Rashomon, nor is it supposed to be; instead, each character’s story serves to fill in the overarching puzzle, and the final picture is everything you’d expect from a book called Criminal. Phillips’ art is as dark as ever, perfectly matching the story’s tone and bathing the characters in shadows to wash away the light. The book’s only serious offense is not listing Staples alongside Brubaker and Phillips--his colors are brilliant, the final nail in the characters’ coffins.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencillers: Mark Buckingham, Jim Fern
Inkers: Steve Leialoha, Jimmy Palmiotti, Andrew Pepoy
Colorist: Daniel Vozzo
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original series covers: James Jean

Every time I return to Fables after being away for a spell, I ask myself why I ever took a break from the book--a few pages in and I’m once again in love with the entire cast of characters. That said, “Arabian Nights (and Days)” isn’t my favorite collection to date, although King Cole’s return to form was wonderful to witness. “The Ballad of Rodney and June,” the last two chapters of the book, feels rather tacked-on here, although it makes for a fine short story, and the ending is especially poignant--not a word I commonly associate with wooden soldiers.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencillers: Mark Buckingham, Shawn McManus
Inkers: Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, Shawn McManus
Colorists: Lee Loughridge, Daniel Vozzo
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original series covers: James Jean

Now, this volume just might be my favorite. It opens with Mowgli, in search of Bigby, sharing vodka with a Russian captain; then Bigby spends the middle wreaking havoc in the Homelands; and it all ends (more or less--there’s the final chapter with something of a throwaway story featuring Cinderella in the Cloud Kingdoms) with Bigby and Snow White getting married. That’s what I call a story.

Writer: Bill Willingham
Artists: Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Michael Allred, Andrew Pepoy, D’Israeli, Gene Ha, Joelle Jones, Barry Kitson, David Lapham, Joshua Middleton, Inaki Miranda, M.K. Perker, Jim Rugg, Eric Shanower, John K. Snyder III, Jill Thompson
Colorists: Lee Loughridge, Laura Allred, Eva de la Cruz
Letterer: Todd Klein
Original series covers: James Jean

About two-thirds of the way into this volume, I finally caught up with where I began reading Fables in individual issues--it sure makes a lot more sense now. I actually began reading the series a few years back because of Mike Allred’s contributions--I’ll devour any book bearing his name--and then stuck around for a while because I was so impressed with everyone else’s work. As a book, this volume suffers from having too many short stories that never really unite satisfactorily; of course, Willingham and co. are working toward goals within the ongoing series, but this collection played better in individual issues.

Writers: David Michelinie & Bob Layton
Artists: John Romita Jr. with Carmine Infantino
Inker: Bob Layton
Colorists: Ben Sean, Carl Gafford & Bob Sharen
Letterers: John Costanza, Irving Watanabe, Jim Novak & Joe Rosen

After years of reading and hearing about this story, I finally took the plunge and picked up this hardcover Premiere Edition. I was rather surprised to discover that Tony Stark’s renowned battle with the bottle was wrapped up in a mere nine issues, but I was impressed all the same with the storytelling--even with such off-spine story points as Iron Man fighting first against and then alongside Namor. In other words, there’s plenty of fat here, but the essential story satisfies nevertheless. Plus, Romita’s Iron Man simply cannot be beat.

Iron Man #225-231:
Plot/script: David Michelinie
Breakdowns: Mark D. Bright
Plot/finishes: Bob Layton
Letters: Janice Chiang
Colors: Bob Sharen & Nel Yomtov

Iron Man #232:
Script/plot assist: David Michelinie
Plot/Pencils/Colors: Barry Windsor-Smith
Inks: Bob Layton
Letters: Bill Oakley

Although this is a staple in the Iron Man canon, the premise is dubious, and the execution suffers from having Tony Stark dressed in perhaps the most ridiculous-looking armor Iron Man has ever worn. Fearing that his technology has and will again fall into the wrong hands, Stark sets out to shut down anyone wearing armor, be they good or bad--only he doesn’t explain himself to any of the good guys, and consequently comes across as a rogue and a jackass. There’s almost the stuff of a good cop drama in there, but it’s never fully realized. The final chapter, though, makes for a fascinating fever dream of a comic.

Writer: Len Kaminski
Pencilers: Kevin Hopgood, Barry Kitson & Tom Morgan
Inkers: Andrew Pepoy, Bob Wiacek, Mike DeCarlo, Chris Ivy, Brad Vancata & Steve Mitchell
Colorists: Mike Rockwitz & Ariane Lenshoek
Letterers: Michael Heisler, Chris Eliopoulos & John Costanza

This book has everything that was wrong with comics in the ‘90s: a weak plot dependent on often dicey artwork, ridiculous characters who all think they’re the cat’s meow, painful references to contemporary pop culture, steps in Rhodey’s haircut, and a prologue involving aliens from the future who worship Tony Stark. In short, it’s a pretty good time, in an opening-a-time-capsule-and-breathing-stale-air kind of way.

Writer: Warren Ellis
Art: Adi Granov
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Randy Gentile

This is a fun, fast read that nicely updates the Iron Man mythos. However, Tony Stark’s use (or, arguably, abuse) of nanotechnology to make his suit literally a part of himself either makes perfect sense or is even more ridiculous than having him carry the armor around in a briefcase--I just can’t tell which. Also, it disturbs me that Adi Granov draws Tony Stark to look like a goateed Tom Cruise.

By Michael Kupperman

I picked this one up for 4-Playo, “the amazing foreplay robot,” and then just had to stick around for Snake’N’Bacon, Fireman Octopus and Porno Coloring Books. These are mind-bending absurdist comics at their absolute zany best. And what’s more, it’s all for Pagus! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Written and drawn by Scott McCloud
Lettering: Bob Lappan
Plot assist (issues 26-36): Ivy Ratafia

This book is everything a collected edition should be. Throughout, McCloud offers notes that place the Understanding Comics author’s early work in context; the story can stand on its own without the notes, but the peek inside McCloud’s continually evolving creative process is illuminating, to say the least. His page layouts reveal his insatiable urge to experiment with the comics form, but already he had the discipline to keep the flare in service of the story--at least for the most part. Also, the story “Autumn” nearly brought my heart to a stop.

There we have it, friends. If you’ve read any of the above and would care to share your own thoughts, please make use of the comments section--I’d love to hear either why you agree or disagree. And look out for more of this column at some point down the road. I doubt it will become the weekly forum I once imagined, but I’ll try to update you all on the “classy collections” I’m reading every couple of months or so.

And again I say huzzah!

All images copyright their respective publishers. Text copyright Jon D. Witmer/The Danger Digest.

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