Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1

December 8, 2011 | Trades

Trying to fill the shoes of comic book legends like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would be a daunting task for any writer/artist team. But for just one man to take on the Fantastic Four? The legendary duo's first Marvel Comics book? The series they spent the longest on? And to do arguably as good (or dare it be said better) job? You might say that's impossible. Until you read Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics, 1,096 pages, $140). Byrne, a former Calgary resident and a member of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame, spend a year as the artist on Marvel's flagship book beginning in 1979 and drew good reviews from fans. However, it was when he took on both the writing and illustrating duties, beginning with the July 1981 issue, that he really began something special. What followed was a six-year run filled with epic adventures, intense and moving stories with dynamic art that pushed the series' heroes — Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Thing and the newly renamed Invisible Woman (nee Girl, a defining moment in Marvel and feminist comics history) — to new heights. Fantastic Four by John Byrne Omnibus Vol. 1 is a whopper of a book that collects about half of Byrne's work on the series, along with some nice bonus art pages all on crisp, clean high-quality paper in favour of the original newsprint (creating an experience not unlike listening to a CD after years of hearing the same tune on scratchy, old vinyl). (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades Omnibus

March 20, 2011 | Trades

They are strong, confident, capable and often complex - not a damsel in distress in the bunch. They stop bad guys, save lives and sometimes even the planet. They're the mighty female heroes of Marvel Comics and they'll take a backseat to no man - although they just might be taken a little more seriously if they didn't always charge into battle sporting leopard-spotted bikinis, skin-tight (and often low-cut) spandex and occasionally nothing at all. As the topselling comic book company around marks a milestone anniversary, graphica and comic book fans get to enjoy a rather intriguing look back at some of the most notable (and truly obscure) female characters it has spawned in Women of Marvel: Celebrating Seven Decades Omnibus (Marvel Comics, 1,160 pages, $140). First, let's be clear: Amidst the 48 issues collected in this whopping 3.3-kilogram (7.5-pound) tome there is just one issue from the 1940s, one from 1991 and everything else is from Marvel's most prolific era from the 1960s through the '80s, so the "seven decades" part of the title might be a tad misleading. What does make the cut is an interesting cross-section of comics - many long overdue for reprinting. Most significant are three short-lived series from the early 1970s that prominently featured female creators and were spawned in a fairly transparent effort to try to lure female readers: Night Nurse, The Cat and Shanna the She-Devil: Night Nurse follows the lives of three young nurses at Metro General Hospital in New York City, far outside the super-hero-filled Marvel Universe. It was among the leading edge of comics that took aim at social issues in a rapidly changing America - touching on such subjects as class warfare, feminism and race. The debut issue - the entire four-issue run was written by Jean Thomas (then married to then-Marvel editor Roy Thomas - thoughtfully hones in on a heart-wrenching dilemma as one nurse is forced to choose between her career and the man she loves. The Cat makes its mark for being both written and illustrated by women. Linda Fite, whose work pops up in several places in this volume, pens the adventures of young widow Greer Nelson, who becomes a costumed adventurer after volunteering to be the guinea pig for an experiment designed to help women reach new heights of mental and physical acuity. Marvel legend Marie Severin illustrated the first two of this four-issue run, while Patty Greer drew No. 3. Carole Seuling plotted the first four of the five-issue run of Shanna - the leopard bikini-wearing heroine - who was on the leading edge of animal rights and environmentalism as she helped protect the jungles of Africa from poachers, warlords and other ne'er-do-wells. While the early 1970s introduces us to these strong female characters that reflected the growing strength of the women's rights movement, Marvel also took the liberty of pushing the notion to its extreme with such characters as the Cat antagonist Man-Killer - the embodiment of radical feminism, who turned evil after crashing in a ski race against a cheating, sexist male and utters such gems as: "He's a man, baby - and men are dirt!" As the work in this omnibus moves into the 1980s, we get three noteworthy graphic novels and a memorable limited series. Up-and-coming actress (and sometimes super-hero) Allison Blaire is outed as a mutant in Dazzler: The Movie, a poignant look at the fickleness of fame and the lengths people will go to achieve it. A young girl teams up with four of Marvel's premier heroines - Storm, She-Hulk, Tigra and Wasp - to teach the people in her small town a lesson about faith and determination in The Aladdin Effect. The Sensational She-Hulk, written and illustrated by Canadian comic book hall of famer John Byrne, is still widely considered one of the best of Marvel's graphic novels and the seminal work on the character, though it's startling, 26 years later, to encounter a number of unpleasant number of racist remarks directed at the mighty green heroine's aboriginal boyfriend. Rounding out the best of this volume is Firestar, a four-issue series illustrated by Mary Wilshire that shows what can happen when someone with sinister intent manipulates a person with great power. Women of Marvel is a bit of wrist breaker (do yourself a favour and employ an ottoman to hold it for you) and can be a tad disjointed, but when paired with the recently released Girl Comics (Marvel, 136 pages, $22.50), the first-ever mainstream book entirely crafted by female creators, it is a refreshing tip of the hat to the past, present and future of women in comics. (This article was first published in the Toronto Star)

MAD’s Greatest Artists: Sergio Aragonés, Five Decades of His Finest Works

January 16, 2011 | Trades

Sergio Aragonés has made a living for almost 50 years off the idea that a picture is worth 1,000 words. This is perfectly illustrated (pun intended) in MAD's Greatest Artists: Sergio Aragonés, Five Decades of His Finest Works (Running Press, $36, 272 pages), a breathtaking and gut-busting collection of the Mexican pantomime master's output.

Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 1

October 17, 2010 | Trades

Reading Chew will turn your stomach. That's not exactly the ringing endorsement the hottest new comic of the past year deserves, but it's the honest truth for this delightful hybrid of Fear Factor and Law and Order. Having to witness U.S. Food and Drug Administration agent Tony Chiu noshing on everything from a decomposing finger to a cremated human being to a serial killer's face is enough for the hardiest stomach. The twist in Chew: The Omnivore Edition Vol. 1 (Image Comics, 264 pages, $36.95) - a deluxe hardcover collection of the first 10 issues of the series that claimed both the 2010 Eisner and Harvey Awards for best new series - is that Chiu has the rare ability to get psychic visions about everything he consumes. This makes him the perfect man to solve crimes no one else can. In a world where 23 million people have died from avian flu, eating chicken is a crime and the black market for eggs and poultry is booming, he's got a lot of work on his plate. The talented tandem of writer John Layman and artist Rob Guillory have served up something special in Chew. It's worth skipping lunch for. (This article first appeared in the Toronto Star)

The Astounding Wolf-Man Vol. 3

May 10, 2010 | Trades

The Astounding Wolf-Man Vol. 3 Robert Kirkman, Jason Howard Image Comics $17.95/$16.99 US (Paperback) *** 1/2 (out of five) Benecio del Toro’s critically panned new film, The Wolfman, may be inducing howls of pain, but celebrated comics writer Robert Kirkman’s take on the legendary character continues to be a real scream. The Astounding Wolf-Man Vol. 3 sees the would-be hero’s life go from bad to worse as he’s hauled off to prison after being framed for murdering his wife.

Haunt Vol. 1

April 26, 2010 | Trades

Haunt Vol. 1 Robert Kirkman, Todd McFarlane, Ryan Ottley, Greg Capullo Image Comics $9.99 U.S. (Paperback) **** (out of five) Masked hero? Check. Urban environment? Check. Dark tone? Check. Wavy goop flying in every direction? Check. Look’s like Todd McFarlane’s really back doing comics again — and using a lot of familiar elements. The lauded Canadian creator of Spawn, also well known for his landmark run on Amazing Spider-Man (remember those wild and wavy webs?), has partnered up with all-star writer Robert Kirkman (Invincible, The Walking Dead) and the dynamic art team of Ryan Ottley (Invincible) and Greg Capullo (Spawn) as co-writer and inker in his long-awaited return to monthly comic books (though, to be fair, he’s also recently rejoined Spawn, too). Haunt revolves around Daniel Kilgore, a disgraced priest who bonds with the spirit of his dead brother (a former secret agent) to form a powerful meta-human being. It’s a simple, yet effective, idea that delivers some highly entertaining (if gory) results, as all parts of this four-headed creative beast pull their weight. They may even have started something that could last a while. The question is how long McFarlane, not necessarily known for his longevity on comic series, will last?

Star Wars: Legacy Vol. 7 — Storms

April 19, 2010 | Trades

Star Wars: Legacy Vol. 7 — Storms John Ostrander, Jan Duursema, Omar Francia, Dan Parsons Dark Horse Books $17.95 U.S. (Paperback) *** (out of five) Cade Skywalker got what he wanted — Darth Krayt is dead. Now it’s just a question of whether this descendant of a Jedi hero can live with the high price vanquishing his Sith enemy has cost. After the explosive action of the epic Star Wars: Vector crossover storyline that resulted in Krayt’s death, Cade and his ragtag band of space pirates are headed home to lick their wounds and perhaps to say farewell to a comrade. Cade’s former love, Imperial Knight Azlyn Rae, is dying and her only hope of survival threatens to change her life, and the way she feels about Cade, forever. The unfolding future of the Star Wars universe (set about 137 years after the destruction of the first Death Star), told primarily by talented comic veterans John Ostrander and Jan Duursema, slows down a fair bit from its usual breakneck pace in this seventh volume, but Storms does set the stage for plenty of interesting conflicts to come.

Superman: Nightwing and Flamebird Vol. 1

April 15, 2010 | Trades

Superman: Nightwing and Flamebird Vol. 1 Greg Rucka, Eddy Barrows, Diego Olmos, Pere Perez DC Comics $29.99/$24.99 US (Paperback) *** ½ (out of five) Nightwing and Flamebird are back and soaring once again. Of course if history holds true, there’s a mighty fall in their future. It’s just a matter of when. Spinning out of DC’s epic New Krypton storyline comes this titanic new tandem, Nightwing, a.k.a. Christopher Kent, the one-time adopted son of Clark Kent and Lois Lane and actual son of the nefarious General Zod and his second-in-command, Ursa, and Flamebird, a.k.a. Thara Ak-Var, former head of security for the city of Kandor, now capital of the reborn world. Award-winning writer Greg Rucka teams up with a bevy of talented international artists —Eddy Barrows, Diego Olmos and Pere Perez — to deliver a fast paced and action-packed adventure, featuring a Kryptonian plot against Earth, Nightwing going toe-to-toe with his birth mom and the surprising truth behind how this powerful pair were united and how they’re destined to meet a tragic end.

Planetary Vol. 4: Spacetime Archaeology

April 11, 2010 | Trades

Planetary represents everything that is both exceptional and awful in comic books over the past decade. On the positive side, the unorthodox adventures of a trio of “archaeologists of the unknown” — written by Briton Warren Ellis — are visionary, erudite and absolute page-turners. Homage to over 100 years of comic history, this series has covered everything from science fiction and superheroes to Westerns and jungle tales, all with highly realized and complex characters. The sleek, sexy art of American John Cassaday is the perfect compliment for Ellis’ epics, as is the lavish colouring of Laura Martin. On the negative side, this series — a total of just 27 issues — began in 1998 and finished in 2009. Originally slated to be a 24-issue, bimonthly book, it came at a shameful six years overdue, reflecting a tragic ongoing trend throughout the comics industry of keeping faithful readers waiting around for delayed titles. Sure, there were excuses, both good and bad. Ellis, best known for penning groundbreaking comic series like The Authority and Transmetropolitan, got seriously ill for a couple of years, as did his father, and the book was placed on hiatus from 2001-2003. And Cassaday put the book on the back burner for a long stretch to team with Hollywood writer/director Joss Whedon on the bestselling Marvel Comics series, Astonishing X-Men. So the question is: After all this time, is the payoff worth the wait? Planetary Vol. 4: Spacetime Archaeology (Wildstorm/DC Comics, $29.99, 224 pages), which collects the series’ final nine issues, unfolds in surprising and gratifying ways as Planetary leader Elijah Snow plots to take out the group’s villainous nemeses, The Four (unmistakably modelled after Marvel’s Fantastic Four), and on a rescue mission for a dead man. While you can certainly argue these delays diminished the impact Planetary could have had (it’s a no-brainer that fans will have to go back and re-read the first three volumes after all this time before diving into the finale), there is no denying it is a truly unique comic series and Spacetime Archaeology is a near-perfect capper.

The Unwritten Vol. 1 *UPDATE*

April 11, 2010 | Trades

Christopher Robin Milne really had good reason to loathe his father. As the lone human featured in A.A. Milne’s 1926 classic, Winnie-the-Pooh, and its 1928 follow-up, The House at Pooh Corner, alongside the titular teddy bear and a slew of other timeless characters, Christopher Robin was thrust into a spotlight that he, by all accounts, grew less and less fond of as he grew up. The unceasing attention and occasional taunts from classmates and the public at large were an unwelcome byproduct of having a fictional character based on a real person. Now imagine his exquisite hell if he’d lived in the information age. This is the life of Tom Taylor, protagonist of The Unwritten Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity (Vertigo, $12.99, 144 pages), a man whose father, Wilson, wrote the most successful series of fantasy novels in history, featuring a boy wizard named Tommy Taylor. Having spent his first 20-plus years basking in the warm glow of fame, Tom finds himself shunning its scalding spotlight after allegations surface that he isn’t actually the son of the famous author, who disappeared shortly after releasing his final Tommy Taylor book. Tom could, in fact, be the son of Serbian-English immigrants, “loaned” to Wilson Taylor for promotion of his books and never returned. Or perhaps he’s something more shocking. After Tom survives an attack by a crazed fan, some among the legions of Tommy Taylor fans begin to suspect there may be a strong connection, perhaps even a magical one, between the real man and his fictional namesake. The ensuing quest for the truth, courtesy writer Mike Carey and artist Peter Gross, the talented tandem behind Vertigo’s acclaimed series, Lucifer, is inspired and thoroughly compelling. These first few steps on a journey that connects the world of fiction with reality are comic book gold that shouldn’t be missed.