Jan 072015
This hardback collection reprints a mini-series published in 2009 and 2010, a short time before I started reading comics again, but somehow I'd never heard of it until I came across a copy at the Half Price Books in Corpus Christi last summer. It's written by one of my favorite modern comics authors, Ed Brubaker, and drawn by one of the best artists, Steve Epting. Since those two were
Nov 102014
I've always liked a good post-apocalyptic yarn, and Chuck Dixon and Jorge Zaffino's WINTERWORLD is a very good one indeed. Somehow I missed the original three-issue mini-series when it was published by Eclipse Comics back in 1988, but it's been reprinted in a hardback edition by IDW, which as a bonus also includes the two-part sequel "Wintersea", also by Dixon and Zaffino, which has never
Oct 092014
I remember quite well reading the issue of THE INCREDIBLE HULK in which Wolverine made his debut, and I was there when the X-Men were relaunched with him as a member. So I've known the character for a long time and generally enjoyed reading about him. I haven't really kept up with him in recent years, though, other than seeing him played well by Hugh Jackman in various movies. Not long ago,
Aug 242014
Lord William Corrington, the second baron of Corrington and Knight of Christ is a warrior in the Holy Lands at the time of the First Crusade. Tired and disillusioned by years of war, William journeys home to his manor and village along with his squire, Pilsen, only to find the fields and hovels empty and his wife and children gone. A Dominican friar named Henri DuChamps is the only soul
Aug 182014
Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptations of Donald E. Westlake's Parker novels continue with SLAYGROUND. I actually haven't read all of the Parker novels (I know, I know, I should have by now), but I have read this one and remember enjoying it very much. It's the one in which Parker, after a botched armored car robbery, is trapped by gangsters and crooked cops in a deserted amusement park
Jun 122014
Let me start out by saying that I'm not overly fond of the manga format, especially for graphic novels that weren't published in Japan to start with. Doing a story that way strikes me as being almost as pretentious as not using quotation marks in fiction. That said, I can get used to it once I start reading, and as a result, ARKHAM WOODS turns out to be fairly entertaining. This graphic
Apr 112014
The Modesty Blaise series started as a British comic strip written by Peter O'Donnell and drawn by Jim Holdaway. But I didn't know that when I discovered the Modesty Blaise novels, also written by O'Donnell, in the mid-Sixties. All I knew was that they were marketed as secret agent adventures (which they really aren't) and had sexy covers, which meant that whenever I came across one of them I
Nov 292013
Joe Kubert is one of the first comic book artists I remember becoming aware of because of his distinctive style. Even before I became a comics collector (Christmas Day, 1963, almost fifty years ago), I read assorted comics, including some issues of OUR ARMY AT WAR, so I must have seen his work early on. Within a few years I was a regular reader of his Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace stories, although it would be a while before I discovered his earlier superhero work. Kubert kept writing and drawing for many, many years and became one of the first creators to produce original graphic novels.

I'd never heard of this 2005 graphic novel until I came across a copy of it recently. JEW GANGSTER, written and drawn by Kubert, is exactly what it says: the story of a young man, Reuben "Ruby" Kaplan, growing up in Brooklyn during the Depression, who falls in with some of the local mobsters and is torn between ambition and greed on one hand and his family and his own moral code on the other.

It's an excellent, fast-paced, noirish story that ultimately doesn't render any judgments. Kubert's black-and-white art is as stylish and effective as ever, with plenty of powerful images including a series of drawings depicting life in Depression-era Brooklyn that serve as chapter breaks.

If you're interested in crime fiction or in some fine work by a comics legend (and I fall into both of those categories), you should definitely check out JEW GANGSTER. It's well worth reading.

Nov 272013

I first encountered orcs in The Lord of the Rings novels, but as author Stan Nicholls points out in his introduction to this book, J.R.R. Tolkein didn't invent them. Instead, orcs, like goblins, trolls, etc., go 'way back in folklore. Nicholls has written a series of fantasy novels using a company of orc mercenaries as the protagonists, covering their adventures as grunt-level infantry in an ongoing war involving two different factions of humans and a number of races of supernatural beings.

FORGED FOR WAR is the first graphic novel set in this universe and serves as a prequel for Nicholls' prose novels. It's pretty good, too. This is grim and gritty fantasy, not the more sedate style of high fantasy I've never been able to get into. Stryke, the commander of the orc company known as the Wolverines, is a Sgt. Rock type, the world-weary soldier who just tries to get the job done and keep as many of his men alive as possible.

In this story, the Wolverines, who work for a cruel half-human, half-dyadd empress named Jennesta, are serving as bodyguard to a group of goblin scientists who are supposed to be testing a new sorcerous weapon of mass destruction. But there are all sorts of plot twists and double-crosses going on, so it's not surprising that eventually the orcs are just trying to survive when things start to go wrong.

As you'd expect, there's plenty of hacking and slashing going on, some touches of humor, and a nice, fast pace to the story. I'm not crazy about the art by Joe Flood, but it gets the job done. One problem is that so many of the orcs look so much alike, it's almost impossible to tell them apart. The only one who really stands out is Coilla, the lone female orc, who's smaller than the other Wolverines.

I enjoyed ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR quite a bit, enough that I'm going to look for the regular novels. If you enjoy graphic novels and dark fantasy, this one is worth reading.
Sep 022013
Scott Snyder, the creator and writer of the AMERICAN VAMPIRE series, has also been writing Batman stories for DETECTIVE COMICS in recent years. I recently read THE BLACK MIRROR, a collection of a year's worth of stories from Snyder's run on the Caped Crusader.

I'd gotten out of touch with the continuity in the DC universe (and still am, to a large extent), but this volume has a quick summary of what's been going on. Bruce Wayne has given up being Batman (what, again?) and left Gotham City. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now Batman. Tim Drake, one of the replacement Robins along the way, is now sort of grown up and is a character called the Red Robin. Bruce Wayne's son Damian, introduced in BATMAN AND SON, is now Robin. Luckily, the stories in this volume focus almost exclusively on Dick as Batman, so my confusion about the other two characters didn't really keep me from enjoying the four connected story arcs that make up the book.

The title story, "The Black Mirror", is actually the first one and concerns Batman's attempts to break a ring of black marketeers dealing in stolen supervillain technology and artifacts. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon takes center stage in the next arc, "Skeleton Cases", as his son James Jr. (I don't know where he came from, either, I wasn't aware that Barbara Gordon had a brother) returns to Gotham City. Problem is, James Jr. may well be a serial killer. "Hungry City" features the return of another new character from the past (if that makes sense), the daughter of the crime boss responsible for the murder of Dick Grayson's parents. She seems to have gone straight and become a very successful businesswoman, but is she really? A bizarre and almost impossible crime draws Batman into an investigation of her activities and naturally winds up with him almost getting killed a couple of times. Then the ongoing mystery of James Gordon Jr. comes to an end in "Skeleton Key", which also features the return of the greatest Batman villain, The Joker.

So, having read Batman comic books for more than fifty years, what do I think of this almost current version? Well, not bad. Snyder's scripts are pretty good, featuring some actual detective work on Batman's part, goofy touches reminiscent of classic Batman (a giant killer whale inside a bank lobby, for instance), an evocation of Gotham City as a gritty, noirish place, and a few nods to continuity and history. I wish I could say that I liked the artwork by Jock (Mark Simpson) and Francesco Francavilla in these stories, but I really don't. Francavilla's work is the stronger of the two, in my opinion, but to an old curmudgeon like me, the storytelling just isn't clear enough. Now, if you'd had Neal Adams or Jim Aparo illustrating these same stories, the way they did back in my day . . . (Yeah, yeah, that's a nice story, Grandpa.)

All in all, though, I found enough to like here that I'll probably read more of Snyder's Batman work. There are at least two more collections available.