Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Blast from an Unknown Past, pt. 3

[Here's yet another entry that I'd prepped for the old blog, but which never quite made it online before now. Bill Baker, 9-12-06]


"sing your life "

I caught the premiere on PBS of the excellent bio pic Tintin and I a few nights ago. I've got to say I was mightily impressed.

I'm certainly no expert on Hergé as he's generally known, much less his perennially popular creation, but I feel that I got some essential insights into the personal and professional life of the man, while also gaining some real perspective on where he and his work fit into the larger social, political and artistic scheme of things. Even more telling, I really felt for the man, his trials and triumphs both large and negligible. And while it is a very easy film to watch, creatively shot but with nary an unnecessary frame seen. Better still, this is a film which I firmly believe will reward repeated viewings.

In sum, Tintin and I isn't just a good comic book biography, it's a great film about an artist...who just happened to have made comics for a living. This one's worth watching and buying, people.

But enough about what I've been watching and raving about on TV, because it's time for...

What's Bill been reading this week?

7-5-06 to 7-11-06

Showcase Presents: The Haunted Tank volume 1

For some reason--quite likely the incredible talents of Robert Kanigher, Russ Heath, Joe Kubert, and company--this WW II strip was always one of my favorites when I was younger. Which is actually a little bit odd, as I wasn't a really big fan of war comics, per se. However, I vividly remember reading and rereading a number of the installments reprinted in this first volume featuring the adventures of tank commander Jeb Stuart and his crew, to the point where every panel was burned into my memory. These are comics that, despite adhering to the Comic Code, still pack a real emotional punch while delivering an important message about the cost of conflict in believable, human and even humane terms. OK, so I might be a bit biased when I state that this is required reading for anyone wanting to understand How to Do Comics Right, and should also be on the shelf of anyone with even a passing interest in the combat genre. So sue me. But don't let that stop you from at least cracking the cover of this well-wrought war tales and giving these comics the fair reading they deserve.

And, just in case I haven't said it here before, I have to say that I am incredibly happy that DC has decided to start releasing the Showcase Presents line of clearly printed, extremely thick--500 pages plus per volume is typical--black and white omnibus compilations featuring both iconic and cult characters from their Silver Age roster. Even if you're not familiar or a huge fan of that particular era, a particular character or even genre, every one of these books is a joy to read. And with each volume boasting of 500+ pages for well under $20, these collections are incredible bargain, and one which delivers hours of quality, all ages entertainment.

My only real problem, and it is minor, is the tendency for the graphics on these editions to run too far into the binding; this makes clear viewing of an entire page difficult, and sometimes even dialogue and art is lost in the depths of the central gutter/spine. A very, very small thing, it's true, and one which shouldn't stop anyone from buying any of these reprints. Moving the each image perhaps an eight of an inch outwards, towards the outer edge of either page and away from the spine, just might alleviate this irritant.

Regardless, Showcase Presents: The Haunted Tank volume 1--in fact, this entire line of affordable and satisfying reprints--has my highest recommendations Great "beach reading" and perfect for the kids. [And they make great coloring books, folks.]

First volume of reprinting the stories featuring the wartime adventures of The Haunted Tank
DC Comics


Dawn Brown is a set designer for Hollywood by day who, having been inspired by meeting with Bob Kane while working on one of the Batman films, began to do comics in her spare time. Her first efforts resulted in a pair of fun and smart miniseries featuring the adventures of Chane, otherwise known as Little Red Hot, who just happens to be the ex-wife of the Devil. And, yeah, the execution more than lived up to the book's premise. Ravenous is her first original graphic novel, and it's another supernatural-tinged thriller, this time focusing on the efforts of a group of detectives trying to stop a decidedly deadly serial killer. The conceptual twist here arises from the fact that the tale was inspired by the work of Edgar Allen Poe, with several of that worth's stories and poems having a particularly strong influence on the shape and themes and settings of Ravenous. And I've got to say that I really enjoy the results. This is, despite its being rooted in well-known ground, a largely original and quite engrossing rollercoaster of a read. Even better, both the obvious and oblique Poe references actually strengthen or add a new flavor to Brown's work. And her art style serves as the perfect compliment to her baroque narrative, a pleasing mix of expressive yet relaxed cartoony rendering set against backgrounds with just the right amount of detail and visual information. There's a whole lot of fun, thrills and chills between these pages--and that's before you even get to the five Poe tales reprinted at the back of the book. Really fine work, well worth checking out.

An original graphic novel by Dawn Brown inspired by the works of Poe
Rumble City Graphics

Marvel Omnibus: The Eternals

I missed the original run of this series when it first hit the stands thirty years ago, so I was really looking forward to reading it in its entirety. I would have been thrilled with this even if it appeared in the cheaper Essential, black and white format. Luckily, Marvel chose to release it in their oversized full color hardcover format. This is a size which serves creator Jack "The King" Kirby's energetic, wide-screen approach to comics. This is an epic tale, one with so much energy, high drama, overblown conflict and page-busting visual power that it's easy to just speed through the proceedings, carried on the incredible wave of creativity captured on these pages. But slower, careful reading is also rewarded, visually if nothing else. I know that a lot of critics dismiss this work, claiming that it's flaws cancel out anything good in it, classifying it as "second rate Kirby" and other demeaning terms. Very little of which I agree with after reading this collection. The tale holds together far better than most give it credit for, and aside from a few bits of slang and continuity gaffs, reads very well. In fact, in some ways, this might hold up and have more resonance in today's world than some other work done in Kirby's later years.

I did have one small problem, though. And, yep, it's the same one as with Showcase Presents: The Haunted Tank collection noted above--story pages running into the gutter. Again, this is more of an irritant, and a simple shifting of the story page images about an eight or so of an inch away from central gutter would have take care of this problem. Certainly not a fatal flaw, just a noticeable one.

Regardless, I found this book to be entertaining, illuminating and an utter blast. And while its high price [$75 US] might make some pause, for hard core Kirby fans and Silver Age junkies, it's probably worth every penny.

Oversized archival quality hardcover collecting the entire original run of the series by Jack Kirby
Marvel Comics

And now, as if that wasn't enough, here's the final installment of What's Bill been reading... for the period between:

6-28-06 to 7-11-06

Anansi Boys

I can't believe it's taken this long for me to get to this book, being such a fan and sorta-scholar of all things Neil Gaiman. Guess it goes to show just how crazed this year's been so far. All of which actually helped me appreciate the basic premise and ensuing action of this exemplary novel. I really don't want to give much away, but let me say that the title of this entire entry really does sum it up nicely. A rollicking, wild and deeply, darkly funny novel about the centrality of family, how traditions have lives of their own, and the importance of expressing and living dreams no matter how impossible they might seem. Neil's turned into a truly fine novelist, one who is fully capable of weaving a wonderfully entertaining frolic about unknown mythical brothers and absent father-gods that rests upon the very bedrock it sends up. I really can't recommend this bighearted and wicked and wise book highly enough, particularly to those who want to become writers or those who love first rate fiction.

The latest novel by New York Times bestselling author and comics writer Neil Gaiman
William Morrow

Can't Get No

I did a fairly involved review of Rick Veitch's disturbingly brilliant 9-11 OGN for my most recent gutterslut review over at http://www.bookslut.com/. So if you need to know more that this is probably the best book about the effect that terrible day has had on US as humans, or that this combines a visual narrative concerning a postmodern Everyman's Pilgrim's Progress through the socially and psychically shattered territories in the NYC in the days following 9-11 to great effect and stunning purpose, or that this is probably the first book I've run across this year that I think might be necessary reading, well, I guess you need to go read what I say over there.

Otherwise, just vow to buy this sadly beautiful masterpiece now.

Rick Veitch's original graphic novel dealing with the emotional fallout resulting from the terrorist attacks of 9-11-01

Sin City box set volume 2

I could rave about how nearly, impossibly perfect each and ever one of Frank Miller's hardnosed noir tales are here--hell, I could dissect just about any page or panel via well-deserved accolades--but I won't waste my time with that here. Others have extolled the virtues or lack thereof of these books elsewhere, to good and bad results. But I do have a this to say...

In my opinion, if you don't like violence, sex, drugs, hard language and harder choices in your entertainment, you probably shouldn't even crack the covers of any of these well crafted, and often simply brilliant examples of the medium. I'll mourn your loss, though, for what it's worth. I mean, either you get what Frank's doing in these tales of shattered people living their fractured lives against the backdrop of a city which celebrates and eagerly embraces humanity's darkness and depravity--or you don't. Either you understand that there's more to these tough-minded odes concerning the cost of survival in a world without a moral compass or ready hope--or you don't. Which is fine.

However, if you are a serious fan of Frank Miller, his art or the Sin City series of books, this is a reading experience that at times approaches the revelatory, particularly if you are familiar with the works beforehand. These oversized volumes captures and clearly, cleanly presents Miller's superb line work and storytelling, as well as an eye for detail that was obscured or even lost in the trade editions. Yeah, both this and the first box set presenting the initial graphic novels in the series, cost a bundle. But every penny is right there, on the page and in the presentation. Worth it for some, however few, but probably out of the price range of most folks, even with the addition of an expanded version of the Sin City art book.

Second box set collecting all of Frank Miller's existing Sin City stories in oversized hardcovers
Dark Horse

And that's it for this week. Hey, I know what we should do--let's go outside and get some sun! And have fun, dammit!


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