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Hollowspine

I'm Reading Comeeks

I dedicate this blog to comics in all forms, manga, autobio, superhero, art books, etc.  And of course, since I need a challenge, I've decided that I'll read and write (short) reviews for 365 comics during 2015.

Diverse Cast, Derivative Story

Crystal Cadets - Anne Toole, Katie O'Neill, Paulina Ganucheau

This is kind of a tough one.  I actually really enjoyed the character designs, the colors, the whole art style of this graphic novel series.  I think the diversity of the cast and the messages of the comic about friendship, not making assumptions based on stereotypes and skin color, cheating etc., are good for young kids to see, even as bluntly as they are made.

 

The story is basically Sailor Moon crossed with Captain Planet with a dash of Pokemon/Neopets thrown in for good measure.

 

Younger kids 10-13 will probably enjoy this more than teens or adults.  I truthfully was a bit bored by the predictable storylines and blunt moral messages, but still, I would definitely put this in the hands of younger kids.

The History of the Red Witch

Empty Graves - Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Peter Bergting

Some background stories are shared as the harrowed group prepare graves for their fallen fellows, two of which can only be filled with memories, the remains of their friends being lost, the state of their souls unknown.

 

Enter the Red Witch and the Red King.  The resurrection of the Red King means the failure of the group, unable to keep the ritual from taking place, and to add insult to injury he is resurrected into Thomas' body.

 

However, an opportunity also appears with this resurrection, the Red King is now mortal.

 

I think I've mentioned before that Baltimore is a more bleak worldview than Hellboy, there are very few jokes (in fact, I can't remember the last bit of humor, even black humor, I've seen in this comic).  I think that the Mignola, Golden, etc. crew have been moving in this direction in most of their works, from Hell on Earth BPRD, Abe Sapien's new series and Hell Boy in Hell, failures abound, the planet is not saved, the heroes do not come out on top, the monsters win.  But, we fight on.

Doom Doom Doom

Doomboy - Tony Sandoval

The story of a group of friends and scenesters, while there are a few scenes where adults are shown, mainly the comic focuses on the kids as they deal with their shit.  What is most interesting to me in this story is the weird things that are happening in the background that are never quite explained.  The squids in sky, the strange creatures lurking in the gray wind.

 

I really liked the subdued feeling of the whole thing, even when the characters have to fight, it seems like they see it as something inevitable they just have to get through.  Just the way life would seem after dealing with a tragic loss.

 

Which is what the story is basically about, a teenaged guy dealing with the death of a loved one.  When he channels his feelings into music and suddenly becomes the focus of a rock cult, it's not what he'd intended.

 

Interesting story, loved the artwork, overall, I'd recommend this for people who enjoy slightly weird, stories about young kids figuring things out, like Sam Alden.

The Quest is the Quest

Graveyard Quest - K C Green

Graveyard Quest is about a guy/kid/lump who works as an undertaker in his the family graveyard.  It's a family business.  Both his folks have died, leaving him to the lonely task of burying all the dead people (which turns out to be quite a few dead people).  But he's not really alone, his dead dad is there too, and he's never happy with the way things are getting done.

 

The dude takes solace in relating his troubles to his mom, whose skeleton he keeps in his nightstand.  But one morning he awakens to find his mom's bones gone.  Therefore to get her bones back and take revenge on his father, the lumpy, yet skeletal, hero must go underground...into Hell.

 

The story goes through a lot of increasingly strange scenarios as he searches for his mother's bones and eventually there is a healing, and he's able to reconcile himself to the fact that his mum has moved on.

 

It's a humorous story, with lots of weird crap going down, nice illustrations and a quick read.  Not really creepy in the slightest, the the dude's pasty white lumpy body is a little off-putting.  Fans of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim might find this similarly entertaining.

S'Noir White

Snow White: A Graphic Novel - Matt Phelan, Matt Phelan

Yep.  I'm standing by my bad pun.

 

This is a beautifully illustrated film noir take on the Snow White story and I liked it.  It was sparse with text and plentiful with panel after panel of gritty, dazzling art that spoke for itself.  

 

I'm not generally a fan of fairy tales, especially the ones that Disney has pretty much taken over, such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast and of course Snow White.  So, I don't often find myself picking up books that are interpretations or even inspired by these too often told tales. 

 

However it found it's way into my request list, I actually enjoyed the experience of reading this book, even though it really didn't bring anything new to the story, which stayed very true to the outline of Snow White, but the illustrations and the window into this Depression era world of street kids, follies, and abandoned buildings was very enticing and helped it to become more than just another Snow White.

Our Lady of Birth Control: A Cartoonist's Encounter with Margaret Sanger - Sabrina Jones

 

Do you know about Margaret Sanger?  Think again!  I was familiar with her from American history classes in high school, but the depth that Jones delves into her history here will keep even those who feel they know enough about the birth control rights pioneer interested.

 

Interspersed between sections of Sanger's biography the author goes into her own history with women's rights activism, protesting and struggles.  And, I feel it's especially interesting to consider these things and the history of women's battle over control over their own bodies now, when those rights have been brought up again and again in presidential campaigns.

America Sucks

Negative Space - Ryan K Lindsay, Owen Gieni We Stand On Guard - Brian K. Vaughan, Steve Skroce, Matt Hollingsworth

In these two comics we take a look at an alternate America.  

 

Negative Space conjectures that a tentacled...species of creature (which no doubt will be compared to genitals) are disturbed when man encounters them at the bottom of the sea.  These creatures feed off of negative emotions and they can't get enough.  In fear we decide to monetize this relationship by creating a company whose mission is to find 'empaths' (or emotional people...but seriously, who isn't emotional? Let me post a digression here:

I was recently at a speaker event where the speaker talked about how hard the world was on sensitive people.  The speaker compared themselves, and other sensitives, to the canary in the coal mine. While the rest of us non-feeling insensitive people go on with our lives unaware of turmoil, the canary withers, trying to warn us that the pain of the declining bee population will soon be our pain.  They suffer, while the 'normal' population is ignorant and happy.  Sensitives are necessary to show what poisons our world and get us to realize we need change.

 

I can't say that I was enamored of this theory,that, in my opinion, was very discriminatory.  I, personally, am the type of person who prefers to keep my emotions under the surface.  I am anti-canary, you'd never know by looking at me what I was feeling, my heart is decidedly not on my sleeve.  Does that make me the opposite of sensitive?  Does that make me insensitive?  Does that make me less likely to recognize things that are poisoning the world?  I don't think so.  I just means that I choose to feel things and react to things differently.

 

If I wail and cry about something, does that make me more emotional, or does it just make me more visibly emotional?  Do I need someone else to witness my emotions to validate them?  If I cry about the dying bees, does that help the bees?  What if I don't cry about the bees or the polar bears or the eagles or the whales, but instead donate time or money to causes to support changes?  While the canary sits in it's cage emoting, I elect to act instead.  End diatribe.

(show spoiler)

 

Sorry about that, that's been in my head for a while and this comic spurred it to come out, because I think many people have had a similar idea that informs the plot of this comic.  The idea that someone out there has it out for you.  That someone out there is causing crappy things to happen to you.  I think many people have had that thought.  I used to blame stupid crappy things that happened to me on a guy I made up called Hans, whose job it was to drive me insane.  In this comic it is only sensitive people who are targeted by a group that is quite plainly paid to drive people into despair.

 

That's the basic premise here, plus some tentacled monsters.  The tentacle monsters find human grief, depression and other negative emotions very tasty.  If we don't supply enough they will rise from the deep and wreak havoc upon the world.  So a company was created to find especially emotionally resonate people, empaths, and make them miserable, the desired end result to drive them to suicide.  Objects involved in emotionally fraught times, (such as means of suicide, bomb fragments, sunken planes, etc.) are valued by the tentacled beasts.

 

So our main character is a Native American guy, who is pretty depressed because among other things, his father killed himself, he's all alone, he hasn't written anything good, and his life is a series of bad jokes.  All, of course, caused by this unscrupulous company.  He's finally chosen to end his life, but of course, he's got writers block for his suicide note.

 

Then he gets caught up in a revolutionary group that wants to detonate a happiness bomb in the citadel of the tentacled creatures, thereby destroying them.  He just needs to think of one happy thought.  (Like Peter Pan).

 

It wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good either.  Also the design of the evil monsters was a bit insultingly a toothed vagina.  Can't dudes come up with anything more original?

 

We stand On Guard on the other hand was really more about an alternate Canada than America.  War has been declared on our neighbor to the north and Canadian citizens must flee into the Northern Territories to escape.  Our main character has been living in the woods on her own for years, ever since her brother saved her life by surrendering to American forces while she ran.  Living near Yellowknife (the capitol city of the Northern Territories) she's been left in relative peace, until now.  Now in a few short hours she meets up with the last of a rebel force and takes on the might of the American military forces.

 

What is this war about?  What is it always about?  Resources!  It turns out that the real reason behind the American invasion had little to do with terrorist threats.  And did I mention the giant robots?  There are giant robots, virtual reality torture and slavery is back!  Isn't the American future just the greatest...(too bad it's actually not that easy to emigrate to Canada, you actually need a reason beyond, "I don't like who got voted into the Oval Office.")

 

I loved the strong characters throughout, though the character development wasn't great across the board, but still most characters got at least some depth added to them.

 

Overall, very well done.  Something to read on Guy Fawks day.

Fantastic Kochalka

Fantastic Butterflies - James Kochalka

Fantastic Butterflies is yet another great comic from Kochalka, exploring themes of depression, friendship, women's power, illness and just figuring out how to enjoy life.  Highly recommended for those who enjoy original comics, that don't take themselves too seriously, yet have messages readers can take to heart.

 

I would use this telephone/future transportation thing all the time.

SPOILER ALERT!

Meh x 2

Mystery Girl Volume 1 - Paul Tobin, Alberto Albuquerque, Marissa Louise The Twilight Children - Gilbert Hernandez, Darwyn Cooke

I was really disappointed in Mystery Girl by Paul Tobin, having read some of his work in the past and been very impressed, such as with Bandette.  

 

And I really wanted to like Mystery Girl.  I liked the idea, I liked the first few pages I read, but everything went downhill pretty fast.  16% of this 100 page comic book featured nudity, stripping or character postures that looked straight out of porn.  Sure you could argue about that 5 page fight sequence when one of the police detectives, discovered passed out naked on his bed (with porn visible on his computer screen) and a fight ensues.  However, there was a narrative reason created in that scene for why the man was naked (how much sense it makes is up to the reader to decide), but in scene after scene women are depicted naked for only the reason that they're sex workers, so they're always naked.

 

Which brings up another interesting point.  Of the prominent characters in the comic who were women, half of them were sex workers.  And only background characters (often older women) did not conform to the body type of a model sports illustrated model.  Why were so many of the characters not only strippers, but also sex workers?

 

Ok, so let's just say that Trine has ties in that industry and so friends, but don't they ever just wear casual clothes?  Apparently not.  In another scene one of these women is drawn in a shirt in one panel, but in the next panel where she's sticking her body out a window to yell down at another character she has taken her shirt off.  The only conclusion is that the artist wanted to draw big pointy boobs and pander to the male gaze, while alienating and devaluing/dehumanizing women.

 

Add to that a ridiculous plot involving sociopath hitman (how original), a clueless scientist girl, and a plot to hide a secret diamond mine that was discovered when an expedition uncovered mammoth remains in Russia. (The diamonds were apparently discovered buried in snow, already cut and glowing).  The whole thing culminates with a woolly mammoth ride.  I'm being serious here.  Yeah.

Vampire Hunter D meets Claymore

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening - Marjorie M. Liu

Beautiful illustrations depict monstrous scenes. This comic drops readers right into the action, in a world torn by a war between humans and the Arcanic, creatures of various folklore, kitsune, vampires, cyclopian creatures and many others, some more human looking than others.  Maika Halfwolf is introduced in a slave auction where arcanic captives are sold off to the highest human bidder.  When the entire group is taken by a group called the Cumaea an order of women scientists/soldiers/...? 

 

It seems the group uses their arcanic captives to create something called lilium, a substance they use to gain powers...but what does it do to them, are they really still human?  

 

Maika willingly allows herself to get taken in order to find answers and get revenge for her mother's death by the hands of the Cumaea.

 

This would be a great choice for those who are looking for a world to really sink your teeth into, there is a lot here, and even though readers will start off a bit off-kilter, not knowing who the 'bad guy' is or which side of the war they're on, Maika is a sympathetic character readers will want to see through the end.

 

That said, for readers looking for a story that reaches a conclusion or something they can read and get in one sitting, this may not be their particular cup of tea, there are way more questions cropping up than answers and with text heavy pages, readers really have to invest time in if they plan to get anything out.

The Time Has Come...

Adventure Time Vol. 9 - Christopher Hastings, Pendleton Ward, Zachary Sterling

For Adventure!

 

In this volume Finn and Jake become secret agents and discover that "The One True King" of Ooo is raising an army of bears in a plot to overthrow Princess Bubblegum.

 

There is also some confusion caused by Magic Man, and some interaction for the reader, but it doesn't turn out how it usually does with Magic Man.

 

Keep your eyes peeled for Finn as a Candy Person, Jake's impersonation of Pepp But and Marci's most adorable bat creature form ever.

 

Lately I'd picked up the Sunday Comics section of the newspaper and been saddened deep inside for the lack of quality there.  Picking up any Adventure Time comic is like returning to the good old days of comics, only better.

 

I feel a little sad that newsprint is no longer a good source of comic goodness as it was back in the days of Calvin and Hobbes...but maybe that's just a nostalgia for a time I never really knew.

 

AT still provides me with that nostalgic feeling of reading with a grin on my face.  It doesn't follow strips like Calvin and Hobbes did, but the way Finn and Jake play off of each other and the adventures and scrapes they get into and out of remind me a lot of the young boy and his tiger friend.

Synths in Suburbia

Vision Vol. 1 - Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Tom King

Forewarned, I know absolutely nil about the Vision and his role in saving the world from Ultron or anything else.

 

For me, this was a comic about a super hero (really it could be any of them) trying to have a normal life.  The Vision feels it's a little different for him, though, because even his 'humanity' is in question.  Not just that he shouldn't be living with the normals as a superhero, but should he even be allowed to own property?  Are he and are his family members human enough to warrant a place at the table?

 

The Vision and his family's main goal is to become more like humanity, therefore embracing illogical notions and practicing other human traits as if humanity is a skill that can be mastered.  However, if you believe to err is human, then the Vision and his family already meet the requirements, as they make many mistakes in their attempt to assimilate.

 

The end of the comic features a character who'd looked into the future saying that Vision was going to be a problem, because from now on he'd do anything for his wife and children's happiness.  "He will kill you.  He will kill your families. He will raze the world."  What goes unsaid is that now the rest of the team of super heroes will be after the Vision to kill him and his family...because they will do anything for their families too.

 

For them protecting their families, which as super heroes could involve vendettas against them, casualties among their normal neighbors, destroying entire cities, would also come first right?  So why is it so terrible that the Vision would do the same?

 

I feel like this comic is both making fun of someone 'different' trying to have the same experience as the majority as well as labeling that attempt as dangerous to the majority.  It immediately made me think of the gay marriage debate, which also made fun of images of two people of the same gender marrying, as well as putting forth the view that somehow such a marriage would threaten and endanger the 'institution of marriage' for the majority of straight marrying people.  This feels like the same thing.  Because the Vision is different, he and his family should not be allowed to the same rights as 'humans.'  Many would think that putting a comic on the same level as the gay marriage debate is taking things too seriously, but comics are political statements just like everything else and this one is ascribing danger to difference and reading that gives it strength.

 

Don't subscribe. 

Motivations

Inuyashiki. 4. - Hiroya Oku

Inuyashiki is a really interesting series, I'd highly recommend picking it up if you enjoy complex, sci-fi driven series that explore the darker side of human nature.

 

The premise is that two people, who just happened to be standing on the same hillside, were killed (accidentally?) and replaced with robots by some unknown alien entity.  The two, one a middle-aged man prematurely aged by illness who is generally despised and treated poorly by everyone in his life and a high school student who is popular and well liked among his peers, continue on with their lives, soon to discover new abilities. 

 

Although his appearance hasn't changed Inuyashiki, the middle-aged man, is completely healed of his illness.  He also has the ability to heal others of any illness, wound or disease.  Shishigami, the young boy, takes the opposite path and uses his powers to kill randomly, invading homes and cruelly taking the lives of the inhabitants, be they young or old.

 

The two are complete opposites, one, young beautiful and beloved by all.  The other ugly, old and despised.  Then again, are they really so different?  Both are witness to bullying and each seems to grapple with the issues of why some people are given power while others are trod upon.  Inuyashiki breaks down when he is called a hero, feeling that he doesn't heal people as a hero would, just because it's the right thing to do, but because he needs to assert his own humanity, afraid that he is now nothing but a machine.

 

Shishigami too struggles with his transformation.  While he obviously feels superior to humans, when he finds out his mother has cancer his world is shattered and he starts to reassess what he wants, even dreaming about being human again.

 

Like Death Note, there is a fight between two forces, though it's less about morality/ethics and more about two flawed individuals given immense powers, but no direction or explanation.  It's an interesting and suspenseful story, can't wait to read the next volume. 

Deviations and Destinations

Deviations - Kelly Thompson, Paul Allor, Tom Waltz, Brandon Easton, Amy Chu Abe Sapien Volume 7: The Secret Fire - Mike Mignola, Scott Allie

Deviations - Kelly Thompson:

 

Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Fox had better protected his little sister and been abducted in her place?  What about if the Ghostbusters hadn't crossed the streams allowing Gozer (in Stay-puft form) to rule the world?  What about if the Teenaged Mutant Turtles all got brainwashed to work for Shredder?

 

Read those stories and more in Deviations!  I found the Ghostbusters deviation the most amusing, especially since I'm not as familiar with some of the others, like TMNT, GI Joe and Transformers, but it's worth a look for fans!

 

Abe Sapien Vol. 7 The Secret Fire - Michael Mignola:

 

Oh Abe.  You've been told by various people, over and over, again to go back to your team and yet you doggedly kept pursuing the truth further and further from it.  Finally in this volume a girl, speaking in an ancient language, convinces him to return.  

 

It's not that I haven't enjoyed Abe's adventures and the various characters he has met through his wanderings, and the creatures he's fought along the way...but I felt like the story was in stasis, neither Abe nor us readers was moving forward in the plot.

 

Here's hoping that we'll all be getting some answers in the next volume.

Attack of the Vampiric Were-Naked Mole Rats

Blood Feud - Cullen Bunn

Two Lovecraftian re-interpretations and a few deviating paths to familiar comics.

 

Blood Feud is the first of the Lovecraft inspired comics I read, and I was disappointed in that interpretation.  H.P. Lovecraft has been called the father of Horror, his stories influence the genre as a whole and some of it's most well known authors, such as Stephen King.  However, I've found that the closer one draws to Lovecraft's themes of cosmic horror the more most writers fall away, not realizing what really makes Lovecraft's world so horrifying.

 

Why is it that some horror writers want to switch out the uncaring universe of powerful alien entities for the staid and dull devils of human creation?  One of the most frightening things is that the horrors are cosmic not earth bound.  There is no way for humanity to control what happens, or hope to even comprehend it, we exist as a by-product, and our actions make little difference to our place in the greater scheme of things, we are small and insignificant.

 

In Blood Feud two clans, the Stubbs and the Whatelys have been at each others throats for generations.  No one can quite remember why or what started it, but the fight between the two families is well known throughout the Ozark town of Spider Creek. And now the mutated Whatelys are about to take it up a notch.

 

Our main character is just a regular guy, with his regular guy friends, and then there is the token girl, a grad student studying the ty-ran-tu-lah migration that happens in Spider Creek.  The action kicks off pretty quick in the story.  The boys are sitting around playing poker when suddenly token girl bursts onto the scene to report a wounded man in the woods. 

 

It's one of the Stubbs family and he's in a bad way, muttering about 'blood feuds' and everyone being dead.  So our MC and Jack (another guy who kinda shows up at poker night, and looks much more like a Football player than MC, but all we know about him is that he likes science fiction) head out to the Stubbs place to check on the family.

 

The entire family have become vampires, even the baby.  It turns out that the Whatelys summoned a 'master vampire' who went out and turned this entire family.  Even the baby.  What a monster.  Also, the vampires themselves have the comical look of killer naked mole rats, with their ridiculously exaggerated pointy teeth, gorilla arms and cankles.  There's a bit where they hide in the church and token girl sees that MC is desired by another female and becomes more interested in MC.  Of course the other woman is sweet, simple and chubby and wearing androgynous clothing, unlike token girl who wears skin tight pants and tank top on her improbably proportioned body.  Our MC is such a MAN.  All the token girls want him.  

 

Anyhoo, the MC takes care of it all and saves token girl.  The end.  Yeah, this comic is casually sexist, spat in the eye of Lovecraft and didn't make the most sense.

 

 

Our MC is the dude with the evil smile on the right.  Despite the fact that there are many poisonous snakes and some churches that still practice snake rituals in the Appalachians and the fact that some of the dudes do have a snake-like jaw and teeth, snakes are not mentioned in this story. 

 

 

 

There

Here - Richard McGuire

Not only have there been other people living in here (in this building, in this room) but before there was a house there were other things living in this space and afterwards there will be more people and other things in the space.

 

Here is a very interesting graphic novel looking through the same view of a living room and window from the beginning of time, through the ages, and into the future.  The 1960's and 8000 BC.  1990 and 2331.  All time periods exist in the panels showing a view into various time periods, often responding to a central theme.  A cough in one panel relates to the perked ears of a pet dog in the next, or a ringing phone echoes through time.

 

This is one of those works that, despite low word count, requires some concentration and critical thinking to get the most out of a reading.  What is the message?  That the human condition remains relatively the same no matter what time period one is in, no matter culture or creed, we all laugh, cry, become ill, avoid the neighbors?  Maybe.  Another interpretation would be to see how small our personal experiences are, just the blink of an eye and we'll be gone, and the world will continue without us.


Another message could follow the progression of the view through time, from the green spaces and forests before humankind's progress turns everything beige, then in the future, flooding and disaster seem to flatten everything.

 

An very thought provoking work, highly recommended.