Thursday, September 07, 2006

Blast from an Unknown Past, pt. 2

Submitted for your pleasure, here's the second of two completed Speculative Friction entries which didn't quite get posted at Speculative Friction's first home,


"summertime rolls"

This has been another jam-packed week, despite my purposefully making July 4th a basically "down" day. Ended up checking my email in the morning and, after doing a cursory surf to see if anything of note had occurred, shut down the computer until this morning. And, again purposefully, I didn't read or even sort any comics. Instead, I started reading The Gist Hunter, a really fun and fine short story collection by Matthew Hughes, published by Night Shade Books -- But more about that next week, once I've finished it.

But, really, this was a day of forced nothingness. I just spent some time outside, enjoying quite a bit more than the maybe a half hour of sunshine I've been allowing myself so far this year. And it was just about a perfect day, really, both weather- and activity-wise. And that's in what is proving to be an exceptional season for perfect and beautiful summer days.

Sure, it too a little bit to get back to into the flow Wednesday, but it was more of a well-rested lethargy than a "hauling your exhausted carcass to the office" kind o' thing. Which is good.

However, after an otherwise hectic and over full week, capped by a day of purposefully not considering anything even remotely linked to comics, I find that I've very little of any real import or complexity to say at this point, other than to share the following:

Sometimes, a day filled with creative loafing, and a good deal of creative playfulness, is exactly what you need to get the job done right. It's just not gonna be done until tomorrow.

All of which, of course, begs the question...

What's Bill been reading this week?

5-17-06 to 6-27-06 [part 2]

Phoenix: Nostalgia volume 6

Phoenix is considered to be Osamu Tezuka's masterpiece. An extended story, encompassing numerous volumes and seemingly-unrelated stories, this is the first time that it's been collected in English in its entirety. This particular volume, as it title suggests, seemingly deals with humanity's longing for roots, for family and, most of all, for a home of one's own. Of course, this being Tezuka, all of that's just part of what really happens in this book, which really concerns itself with the lengths that humanity will go to preserve its lineage and survive against all odds. Filled with radical solutions to seemingly-insoluble life-threatening problems, Phoenix: Nostalgia is a powerful and moving book. And while it's rendered with Tezuka's patented cartoony style, wit and brio which has made him so popular with fans of all ages, please note that this is a fairly mature tale.

This volume, and in fact the entire series, should be required reading for anyone wanting to understand not just manga and comics, but the human condition. As such, it's got my highest recommendations.

The 6th installment of the Godfather of Manga's magnum opus
Viz Media

Ju-On: Video Side

Takashi Shimizu's chilling story of angry and vengeful ghosts wreaking havoc in strangers' lives is effectively and evocatively rendered in manga by Miki Rinno. If you're a fan of The Ring, The Grudge and other classic tales of spiritual angst and possession, you'll be happily scared to death by the brutal, yet subtle horror found in this volume.

Manga adaptation of a modern classic of Japanese horror
Dark Horse

Reiko the Zombie Shop volume 1

Reiko is a young necromancer with a singular job: To raise and interact with the dead at the request of the living, sometimes to heal the wounds caused by the terrible things done to or by them, sometimes for "closure", and other times for less obvious or benign reasons. Regardless, this heroine will allow nothing to stop her from finishing her work. And I mean nothing stops her. A really different and thought provoking manga series, well rendered and written by Rei Mikamoto, Reiko the Zombie Shop is well worth checking out.

First volume of a series of collections featuring the adventures of a teenage necromancer in Japan
Dark Horse

School Zone volume 1

Kanako Inuki takes the increasing and multiplying pressures all children face in today's world and distills it all down into a series about the horrors visited upon essentially innocent and normal school kids. By turns darkly disturbing and blackly humorous, this book uses the anxieties we all felt as kids and might now feel as parents to power its story of the supernatural intruding upon the prosaic world of childhood and learning.

First volume of a series of collections featuring the travails of a group of kids under supernatural assault at their school
Dark Horse

Octopus Girl volume 1

This is a brutal, disturbing, and often disgusting series which has the strange power to make you look at things you really don't want to witness, and then laugh at the absurdity of it all, even as the reality of the situation presented weighs upon your conscience. Really effective and affective verbal and visual storytelling, combined with a totally nihilistic yet chipper positive outlook, I can safely say that this is unlike just about anything else I've ever read. Toru Yamazaki is sometimes referred to as a master of modern media in his native Japan, and this book provides ample evidence how he first began to get that reputation. Highly recommended.

First volume of a series featuring the horribly transformed titular heroine and her surreal adventures
Dark Horse

Batman Illustrated by Neal Adams volume 3

I typically avoid books like this, collections which gather the work of a single artist without regard to continuity of the serial tales included within, but happily decided to make an exception for this series of high quality hardcovers. Deny it as much as you will, but just as Curt Swan remains the definitive Superman artist today, so, too, can Neal Adams lay claim to a similar crown when it comes to the look of the Batman. But that's not the only, nor even the main, reason for buying this book. Rather, its for the storytelling and craftsmanship displayed in Adams' work generally, and in these tales particularly, that I bought it. Anyone who wants to understand where much of the visual vocabulary of modern comics first found its expression would do well to buy, beg or borrow this volume so they may learn from a true modern master of the art.

Final volume of a series reprinting all of the Batman tales by Neal Adams
DC Comics

Marvel Masterworks: Sgt. Fury volume 1

In his introduction to this long-awaited archival collection of these seminal war stories featuring Marvel's Howling Commandoes and their leader, Stan Lee notes that these are probably the tales that he and Jack "The King" Kirby produced of which he is most proud. And I gotta say, after reading these tales, that Stan's got good reason for that feeling. Quite simply, this is some of the better Kirby of the era--and, yes, I realize what that means and how much ground such a statement covers. And I'm as surprised as anyone by it. In the past, I've always preferred the superheroic side of the House of Ideas, but now have a new and growing appreciation for all of the other genres these two giants and their compatriots plied. Oh, and I'd like to go on the record to say that Dick Ayers, who took over from Kirby when his other duties drew him elsewhere, does a fantastic job on the book, as well. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of the medium, as well as those looking to learn how to better tell their own tales.

First volume collecting the celebrated war comic into archival quality hardcovers
Marvel Comics

Uzumaki volumes 1-3

I went on a bit of a Manga binge this last month or so, starting with this modern horror classic. Junji Ito effectively captures the atmosphere of accumulating dread, punctuated by incomprehensible and often terrible acts of violence, which makes the work of H. P. Lovecraft still so popular today. Ito's amazing rendering skills were really put to the test in this series, where the unnatural erupts from the natural world in a manner that seems real, and substantial. And especially harrowing. Simply one of the best examples of modern horror comics, and gets my highest recommendations for the prospective practitioner, along with the hard core fan and casual reader.

Three volumes reprinting the entire "Spiral into Horror" story

Loveless: A Kin of Homecoming volume 1

This collects the first six issues of the new, tough as rusty nails western created by Brian Azzarello and Marcello Frusin for Vertigo. Wes Cutter returns home from his stint on the losing side of the Civil War to discover that, well, he has wife and no home. His land's been seized by the new rulers of the south, part of that notorious group of folks referred to as "carpetbaggers", who will brook no interference from anyone, much less a dirt farmer. However, there's a lot more to Wes than meets the eye, and there's more than a few surprises in store for anyone venturing into this bleak, lawless and unforgiving landscape. As 100 Bullets was and remains unlike any other crime or suspense book around, Azzarello's put his iconoclastic stamp on the Western with Loveless. And its worth the cover price just to drool over Frusin's gorgeous art. I'm looking forward to seeing where this one's going now, and in the far term. Highly recommended.

First collection of the ongoing Loveless monthly comic

DMZ: On the Ground volume 1

In a future where a second Civil War has effectively divided the nation, a young inexperienced news reporting intern gets marooned in the modern "no man's land" we know as New York City. As he struggles to survive and do his job of reporting what life is really like in this war zone, he comes to understand some of the grimmer realities of modern existence. Mixing the sublime and the ridiculous, the deeply personal and largely polemical, Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli has wrought a really interesting and different kind of comic, one that maintains its humanity while dealing with violence, which is only one of the aspects that makes it well worth checking out.

First collection of the ongoing DMZ monthly comic series

Arsenic Lullaby: The Donut Cometh

The latest collection of Doug Paszkiewicz's very sick, decidedly twisted and defiantly anti-PC comic series is here, and there's real reason for celebration among those of us who love zombie fetuses, cursed voodoo masks and urban vengeance run amok. There is nothing else like this book out there, and probably never will be. And all I can say is "Thank the elder gods for Arsenic Lullaby." Oh, and thanks, too, for Douglas Paszkiewicz, amen.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy their laughs on the dark side.

The latest collection of the Arsenic Lullaby series
Arsenic Lullaby Publishing/AAA Milwaukee Press

Beneath the Moors and Darker Places

This is the second collection of Brian Lumley's Lovecraftian fiction, much of it long out of print, which was released by Tor a while back. If you've never read Lumley, and you enjoy well written, atmospheric and evocative horror tales that slowly build to mind shattering climaxes through the slow accretion of detail and impression, do yourself a huge favor and seek this and its companion volume out posthaste. And even if you're not a fan of that particular brand of terror, and are particularly interested in how writers who are celebrated and admired by their peers do the work, you will find these yarns to be well constructed and effective entertainment.

A collection of short stories and one short novel featuring Lumley's take on The Cthullu Mythos

Firesong: Book Three of the Wind on Fire Trilogy

I am stunned that the work of William Nicholson hasn't found a bigger audience in the US, or worldwide. This final volume of this too-short series [and that's something I rarely say!] realizes and manifests all wonder and loss that the first installments promised. A work of epic scope that, paradoxically, seems to be an intimate and ultimately humane tale of survival and transcendence in the face of overwhelming odds. I could write for hours about how good this "kid's" book is, and still never approach the simple eloquence and magic and wisdom contained in this volume. Highly recommended, along with the first two books, for everyone.

The third and final part of the award-winning "The Wind on Fire" trilogy of books

The Well of Lost Plots

Jasper Fforde's third novel featuring his metaliterary heroine Thursday Next continues in the vein of the first two--it's brilliant sci-fi satire masquerading as a chick lit mystery thriller. Filled with conundrums and paradoxes, peopled by unforgettable characters both original and nicked from other books, and following its own idiosyncratic path and rhythms, there's any number of reasons for this author's continued popularity and success directly on display here. If you've not had the sheer joy of encountering Thursday or her alternate timeline, you're cheating yourself of a great and entertaining read. Don't believe me? Just go to for a sampling of the inspired chaos Fforde has wrought.

The third of four novels featuring the adventures of Thursday Next, literary cop

And that's it for now. Next week, more reviews and thoughts on comics and literature. Until then, take care and go read something good!


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