Monday, July 29, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/24

Ghostbusters #6
Story: Erik Burnham
Art: Dan Schoening

Egon Spengler, the brains of the Ghostbusters, has always been my favorite of the legendary quartet of supernatural investigators, and the new issue of IDW's Ghostbusters series is a strong spotlight for Egon. Earlier in the series, we found out Janine Melnitz, the Ghostbusters' trusty girl friday, was a descendant of Beowulf, and had to take up the family legacy of fighting the ghost of Grendel. Even though she won, she had help, and her spirit ancestors took offense, so she was trapped between life and death, and now Egon and Janine's current boyfriend, Roger (who bears a striking resemblance to Real Ghostbusters Egon, by the way), have to voyage into her mind to save her. Not only do we get a great view of Janine's inner life, seeing her memories from the point of view of Egon and Roger, but we also see Egon having to deal with Roger, and how short his patience is when in an unfamiliar position. While there is plenty of action, as Egon fights the Viking ghosts that are currently inside Janine, the majority of the issue is dialogue between Egon and Roger, the two of them bickering as they voyage through Janine's mind. Erik Burnham is a dab hand at dialogue, and does a good job of making Roger likable, frankly more likable at times than the usually taciturn Egon, so the reader can completely understand what Janine sees in him. After an opening arc with  a temporary team of Ghostbusters, it feels good to be back with the originals, and this issue is a perfect jumping on point if you're a fan of Dr. Egon Spengler.

Lazarus #2
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark

After an outstanding first issue of world building, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's dystopic corporate future comic, Lazarus, spends its second issue character building, and introducing us to the Carlyle Family. Other than Jonah, who we met last issue, we meet the other Carlyle siblings, Steven, Johanna, and Bethany, as well as the family patriarch, Malcolm. The siblings seem to be as at war with each other as they are with any of the other families (except for Jonah and Johanna, who are very... close, in that creepy Game of Thrones sort of way), and we get hints of secrets, especially those about Eve, the family protector, the Lazarus, and our protagonist), and exactly what her relation is to the others. There is also a mention of the siblings' mother, although she isn't shown, which strikes me as something we're waiting for a big reveal on. Malcolm seems to be a cold, clever manipulator, who discusses Eve as simply "the Lazarus" when she isn't present, but treats her as a favored child when she is with him. None of the children seem to have his skills, and all seem to have something of a short fuse. Bethany launches herself at Jonah with murder in mind from his verbal barbs. Dr. Bethany seems to be the one who cares the most about Eve, but whether that is as a sister or the product of an experiment seems to be up in the air right now. The discussion about going to war with Family Morray is the driving force for this family meeting, but it seems Malcolm has his own way of dealing with that, as we see Eve go off on her secret mission at issue's end. This will give us a view of exactly what the other families are like next issue, continuing to grow this world. And be sure to check out the backmatter for the issue, which includes a timeline of the life of Malcolm Carlyle, full of interesting background information and I'm sure hints of things to come.

Star Wars: Legacy #5
Story: Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman
Art: Gabriel Hardman

The first arc of the new incarnation of Star Wars: Legacy wraps up with a big reveal from our mystery Sith Lord and Ania Solo standing tall. As Darth Wredd reveals himself to the public, showing his face on the holonet as he prepares to kill Master Yalta Val, the Imperial Knight he has been impersonating for the past few issues to show the weakness of the current government, Ania steps up to save Master Val. Ania's doubts about her fitness are assuaged by the assassin droid with a heart of gold AG-37, and so she steps up and faces odds that should mean her destruction. The little guy standing up to the big guy is a big part of the Star Wars mythos, and so Ania takes strongly after her ancestor, Han Solo, as AG reminds her, by getting involved in these kind of affairs with just a blaster and an attitude. But she also takes after Han in an even more important way; when the chips are down, she is loyal to her friends, willing to risk her life to save both AG and Sauk, her Mon Calamari friend. Artist Gabriel Hardman's art is top notch this issue, especially the art as the communications array comes crashing down, and our heroes make their escape. This is Star Wars as its meant to be: action, character, and a touch of humor. The final page sees Ania reach the attention of the Galactic Triumvirate, and especially Empress Marasiah Fel, her distant cousin if my reckoning is correct, so it looks like Ania's adventures are just getting started.

The Unwritten #51
Story: Mike Carey & Bill Willingham
Art: Peter Gross & Mark Buckingham

"The Unwritten Fables" continues, as this dark alternate world only grows, well darker. Its interesting to see Tommy Taylor and his friends in their full power, as readers have all heard about exactly how badass the fictional Tommy is in the books within the comic, and while Tom has worked some magic, its nothing on the scale of casual power that Tommy works here. Last issue gave us a somewhat chilling impression of what exactly Snow White and Bigby Wolf's cubs have become under the influence of Mister Dark, but seeing Dare, who nobly gave his own life in the "real" Fables timeline here casually attacking Tommy and his allies, while preparing to once again torture his father just shows how bad things have gotten. And Mister Dark casually killing three members of the witches council from the Fables without breaking much of a sweat once again reinforces what a threat he is. And the world seems to be reaching out to the children, as Sue Sparrow, the Hermione of the Tom Taylor books, casts evil spells and takes something from Mister Dark's treasure cache. And Dark's building of a new Boy Blue continues, which is just beyond creepy and wrong, and perfectly in character. I love the way that Frau Totenkinder conceives of Tommy and his crew, "stories told by stories made up by the stories to whom we are only stories." This sort of meta, wheels within wheels, storytelling has been what The Unwritten has been about since the beginning, and adding the extra dimension of the folklore Fables characters just gives Carey another mirror to reflect it all off of.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Recommended Reading for 7/26: JLA by Grant Morrison

With Grant Morrison's run on Batman ending this week, I felt like going back and revisiting his first longform work featuring Batman, and the book that turned him from a cult favorite into a superstar: JLA.

By the early 90s, the once venerable Justice League franchise had fallen on hard times. After the "Bwah-ha-ha-ha!" era of Giffen, DeMatteis, and Jones, the various Justice League titles had been returned to their traditional superhero roots, and the success had been mixed. And over time, more and more of the DC mainstays had left the teams, leaving three titles with only two or three real headliners split between them. So the decision was made to scuttle the entire line, and bring it back with the original League, the Magnificent Seven, comprised of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash (Wally West), Green Lantern (Kyle Rayner), Aquaman, and Martian Manhunter, and DC tapped Grant Morrison, at that point best known for his offbeat superhero work in Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and for a couple brilliant, but dark, Batman stories (Gothic and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth) to do it.

The book was like nothing Morrison had done before. It was full of wonder and big ideas. And not the big, completely crazy ideas of Doom Patrol, or the big, but very intimate, ideas from Animal Man. It was big villains, big fights, the perfect synthesis of Morrison's own brand of storytelling and the Silver Age stories that inspired much of the series. Batman was the smartest man on Earth, Superman wrestled angels, and Kyle Rayner matured into a hero who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the other icons.

Morrison opened his run with a four part story where a new team of extraterrestrial heroes calling themselves the Hyperclan appear on Earth and begin fixing all the world's problems. Of course, the Hyperclan are more than what they seem, and I don't think any reader is surprised when it turns out they have an ulterior motive and they begin to do battle with the Justice League. What was unexpected was that by the end of issue two, the Hyperclan has captured the entire League, except Batman, who they have seemingly killed by crashing the Batplane.

I'm drawing out this point because in issue three, we actually get the moment where Morrison revealed that he gets Batman better than pretty much anyone else. Because of course Batman isn't dead. And more than that, he has used his brilliant mind to figure out exactly what to do. Over the course of the issue, he takes out four members of the Hyperclan by himself, with nothing more than a little gasoline and a book of matches. The moment where three of the aliens confront Batman might be the most Batman moment in comics. After leaving one of them tied up and hanging from the ceiling with a note saying, "I know your secret," Batman stands waiting for the aliens to arrive. And when they do, he tells them exactly what they've been hiding, triggers a trap, and takes them down. While Morrison's Batman is often accused to being the gadget god, the Batman who has all the cray tech; and he is. But this scene proves that Morrison understands that those are all trappings. Batman's greatest strength is his mind, and anyone should fear that mind turned against them.

Morrison took joy in reimagining or simply playing with classic Justice League foes. The Key was a villain who had a big key prop and was good at opening doors and took chemicals to open his perceptions. Returned, he became a skeletal, creepy figure who now used his chemicals on others as well as himself, imprisoning the JLA in worlds of their own imaginings to absorb their psychic energies (of course, he was taken out by a boxing glove arrow fired by Connor Hawke, who was then Green Arrow, so he wasn't the most badass of villains). Morrison also told a couple great stories with Starro, although he more or less starts fresh, not acknowledging the League's previous battles with the giant starfish alien. The second of these stories is actually one of the uses of Dream of the Endless not written by Neil Gaiman, and that was pretty darn exciting when it first came out, especially as I was reading Sandman for the first time when that issue hit. He also takes tow distinct villains, The giant cybernetic Shaggy Man and the manipulative General Wade Eiling, and merges them, putting Eiling's military mind onto Shaggy Man's indestructible form, creating a new villain dubbed The General.

Morrison also created his share of villains and heroes. Prometheus was his major addition to the DC pantheon of villains, and while he was never really used well after Morrison left JLA, the concept, a guy who could learn anything by downloading it into his head through his helmet is very cool, and this origin, the reverse of Batman's where his criminal parents were killed in front of him by the police (basically the same as Mike W. Barr's The Wrath, currently appearing in Detective Comics), was very cool. This cold analytical villain basically took apart the JLA the same way Batman takes apart his foes, by out thinking them; I'm a sucker for any non-powered guy who can defeat uber powerful character by using their intellect, and I think Morrison feels the same way.

Morrison also created the angelic hero, Zauriel, which is something uncommon in most mainstream comics; while the forces of the devil are often presented, honest to God angels are much rarer. The initial origin, that of a guardian angel who gave up his place in heaven because he fell in love with a mortal, has a beautiful ring of tragedy and is something gran and mythological; this was explored in a mini-series written by Morrison's then regular collaborator Mark Millar. Speaking of Millar, he and Morrison also wrote a short lived series called Aztek: The Ultimate Man, featuring a hero with magical armor who was the tool of a secret society that planned to save the world from a coming doom, but the book was cancelled long before that doom could rise. Both Zauriel and Aztek joined the League, and were part of Morrison's long game, because let's be frank, this is Grant Morrison. He always has a long game.

Morrison's first long arc on JLA after the inital Hyperclan arc was "Rock of Ages," a six part arc featuring the Injustice Gang, Darkseid, and plenty of time and space travel. This is a story that is very Morrisonian, with lots of high concept diversions. What starts out as a simple battle between the League and a new Injustice Gang headed by Lex Luthor becomes something different, as Matron of the New Gods, a character Morrison has used often and who I often see as Morrison's proxy, or at least as the voice of the universe, send Flash, Aquaman and Green Lantern to Wonder World, a distant planet populated by idealized giant superhumans to retrieve the Philospher's Stone. They are told that Wonder World is there to protect the universe from a great coming threat. The three don't wind up returning to Earth when they came from, instead coming to a dark future where Darkseid rules. There are echoes of Morrison's Final Crisis here (or the opposite of echoes, I suppose, as this pre-dates the crossover by over a decade), with a story where Darkseid rules the Earth. The League defeats him cleverly, again re enforcing the brains over brawn themes that Morrison uses throughout the series. The JLA naturally defeat the Injustice Gang, but the threat that Wonder World's heroes are there to defeat remains unknown.

The next arc adds Orion and Big Barda, two of the heroic gods of New Genesis, to the JLA, and they are sent because something is coming, something evil. Over the next few arcs, hints are laid out, and a word appears on the Source Wall, the place where the universe talks to the New Gods. And that world is Mageddon. The final arc of the series is "World War III" where Mageddon, the Anti-Sun, the Primordial Destroyer, a sentient planet that is making its way to destroy Earth. Mageddon begins to influence humanity, drawing it towards destruction, and controls Lex Luthor to gather a new Injustice Gang, including two of Morrison's earlier villains, Prometheus and The General, and introducing a new incarnation of another Justice League villain, Queen Bee.

"World War III" is an intricate story, mixing this new Injust Gang's attacks on the League with the heroes of Earth preparing for the arrival of a force that the New Gods fear. Mageddon causes humans to fight each other by preying on their basest instincts, and causing despair and doubt. The battles of "Rock of Ages' were preamble to the Mageddon manipulated Luthor and Batman's chess game. The story ends with the League finding a way to jumpstart humanity, to give much of the human race superpowers to help buy the League the time it needs. The images of waves of humanity rising into space to stop the nearing Mageddon is stunning. But in the end, after Aztek sacrifices himself to wound Mageddon and Zauriel brings an army of angels, it comes down to two men. Superman has been taken by Mageddon, imprisoned in its heart, and Batman breaks through to him with a telepathic boost from Martian Manhunter, and convinces him to shake it off and absorb the solar radiation that powers Mageddon. The final triumph is more than one of man against man or planet, but one of the human spirit, the spirit that makes everyone a hero.

And while I touched on most of the tentpoles of Morrison's run, there were more stories as well. He did a cool team-up between the JLA and the JSA, hearkening back to the classic Justice League/Justice Society team-ups of the sixties and seventies. He also wrote a one issue story that introduced Tomorrow Woman, a heroine who joined the JLA only to be revealed to be a tool of the mad robot makers Professor Ivo and T.O. Morrow only for her to cast off their bonds and sacrifice herself heroically. If you look at the central theme of Morrison's JLA to be that of intellect over brute force and of humanity over the forces that would make us less than what we are, the Tomorrow Woman story is a perfect microcosm of everything Morrison did over the course of 30+ issues.

Grant Morrison's JLA is an excellent superhero comic, doing everything that genre can do best: big fights, big ideas, and big characters. Each member of the team gets a moment to shine. If you are a person who loves Morrison's recent work, you'll be able to see the seeds of much of that, and if you find Morrison's modern work a bit perplexing, try this and see exactly why he rose to popularity.

While the original run was collected in six trades, DC recently repackaged them as four trades, adding in the JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel and the story Morrison wrote for JLA Classified #1-3 as well, making these recent four trades the definitive Morrison JLA. The first two are now available in both hardcover and trade, while the third and fourth are still only in hardcover with trades pending.

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Monday Hodgepodge of Reviews and SDCC News

So, after spending a week in San Francisco (and alas not San Diego), I'm quite a bit behind in my reading, with a week and a half's books waiting to be read, but I will try not to leave the Matt Signal faithful without something to read. So, I'm tossing out three reviews for new Image Comics first issues from the past month, and then some of the news that got me the most excited from San Diego Comic Con this past weekend.

Lazarus #1
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Michael Lark

This book was one of my things to look forward in 2013 and it is as good as I expected it to be. Greg Rucka is a writer known best for his strong female protagonists, and our new lead, Forever Carlyle (or Eve for short) looks to be the next in a line that includes Kate Kane, Renee Montoya, Tara Chace, Carrie Steko, and Dex Parios. The world of Lazarus is a dystopian future ruled over by powerful corporate families. Eve is the Lazarus of the Carlyle family, a member of the family whose duty it is to defend the family interests, and has been equipped with extra normal abilities to do it, mostly the ability to heal any wound and to rise from the dead. The book opens with Eve being killed, and then returning to exact revenge on those who killed her. We see her relationship with one of her brothers, which is a cold one at best, and see him more or less sic her on the people who might have leaked family information with the same care that Montgomery Burns sics his hounds on any of the townspeople of Springfield. That might seem like a funny analogy, but this world is one where everyone who rules is a Mr. Burns, so it's more chilling than that. It seems that the series is going to be about Eve finding her way when she realizes just how corrupt the system is, and how unloved she truly is by her family, how she is simply viewed as a tool, which is a strong thematic core, but after only one issue there's only so much I can infer. Michael Lark is one of my favorite artists in comics, and his work here is some of, if not entirely, his strongest. The world is gritty, hard, and there is an edge of desperation to the common people that is so at odds with Eve's family that Lark makes so clear. The first issue of a series set in another time or another world is an exercise in world building, by both writer and artist, and Lark does a tremendous job, both in the intense violence of the early pages and the quieter moments as Eve does her job efficiently back with the family. The second issue of Lazarus arrives this Wednesday, and it is one of the most anticipated books of the week for me.

Ghosted #1
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Goran Sudzuka

Ghosted is a supernatural caper title, something like Thief of Thieves meets The Haunting. Jackson T. Winters is a master thief rotting in jail and waiting to die. The opening prison scene is brutal, showing rape, murder, and violence as if they are everyday occurrences in jail, which they are. But when he's broken out of jail by an eccentric rich man and his gorgeous fixer, he's given an opportunity to escape all that. But he has to pull off something he's never done before: he has to steal a ghost. Despite a firm belief that there's no such thing as ghosts, Winters takes the deal, assembles a team of expert con artists and crooks, picks up a psychic he doesn't trust, and heads to a big mansion that's about to be torn down to find a ghost for his benefactor. By issues end, the whole party has arrived at the haunted house, and are inside. We see through the eyes of the psychic that this house is indeed very haunted, although her response to that proves that she has her own agenda. While we haven't gotten to know any of these characters except Winters too well, there's great potential in this odd and diverse cast, and writer Joshua Williamson has done a great job of setting the scene. Goran Sudzuka, probably best known as one of the artists on Y: The Last Man, has done a beautiful job with this issue, and the spirits as he draws them are creepy and perfectly in tone with the horror end of the book.

Sheltered #1
Story: Ed Brisson
Art: Johnnie Christmas

At a survivalist camp, as the end times near (or so its inhabitants think), the children rise up and kill their elders, leaving them to move forward in what will be a new world. That's the premise behind Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas's Sheltered. While we don't get to the thrust of the arc of the series until the end of the first issue, we get a very solid issue, starting with a typical day in the life at the camp. We meet people, mostly teenagers, and see what it's like living off the grid. Only at issue's end, when a seeming attack from the outside turns into one from within, do we see what's really going on. Ed Brisson, whose Murder Book back-ups in Near Death fit perfectly with that neo-noir, and whose sci-fi mystery Comeback was one of my favorite Image minis of of late last year, does a great job of making these characters three dimensional; these aren't your stereotypical redneck anti-government whackos, but people who care about their families and children, only to have it go horribly wrong. Johnnie Christmas has an angular style, somewhere closer to realistic than a Bill Sienkiewicz or Ashley Wood, but still lanky and somewhat off kilter, which works for a story where the world is upside down. Next issue is when the series will really shift gears into what it promises, a story of youth trying forge a different world, something that I have a feeling will not end well.

Now, as for San Diego, well Marvel and DC didn't announce a whole lot of new comic related projects, and Image had talked about all their new projects during Image Expo, but still there were a few things to get excited about:

-  Firstly, we have a December release for the next of Darwyn Cooke's brilliant Parker adaptations, Slayground. New Darwyn Cooke is always something I'm excited for, and Parker is the height of his craft, so this is big news.

- Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner are going to be cowriting a Harley Quinn title. Frankly, DC probably doesn't need another Bat related title, but Harley is a fun character, and Palmiotti is one of their strongest writers. While I haven't read much Amanda Conner has written, the Supergirl short in Wednesday Comics, was charming and fun, so I look forward to seeing what she can do in a longer form. We don't know the artist yet, but the first cover at least is by Conner, and is her typical wonderful.

- Joe Hill's new comic project, his first after the end of Locke & Key, will be NOS4A2: Welcome to Christmasland, a prequel to his most recent novel, the brilliant and decidedly creepy NOS4A2. With art by Stuff of Legend's Charles Paul Wilson III, and with covers by Locke and Key's Gabriel Rodriguez (who did chapter art and the inside covers for the novel), this looks to be another great horror story from Hill.

- Marvel had a couple interesting X-Men items, and of special interest is Wolverine: Origin II, a project that I wouldn't be excited for except for the fact that Kieron Gillen is writing it, whose Uncanny X-Men run was one of the strongest in years, and it will feature Mr. Sinister, my favorite X-villain, and one who Gillen wrote masterfully. I also find myself curious about Amazing X-Men almost in spite of myself, since I don't want to buy another ongoing X title, but Jason Aaron and Ed McGuiness are a great team, and Nightcrawler's return is a plus, as I feel he has been missed more than any other character in the X-titles.

- Finally the superhero movie news. I'm curious to know where Thanos is headed, now that it's been revealed Avengers 2 is called Age of Ultron and there's no sign of him in Guardians of the Galaxy, which I'm feeling more confident about as more is revealed. But the big one is a Batman/Superman movie. That just speaks to my inner fanboy in ways that I can't begin to describe.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Recommended Reading for 7/9: Boneyard

Have you ever received a gift or an inheritance that you really wish you didn't get? And I'm not talking an ugly sweater for Christmas from your Meema or tickets to a concert that you couldn't care less about from a spouse. I'm talking something big, something life altering. That's what happened to Michael Paris when he found out his grandfather had died. He was told he was the heir to some property in the town of Raven's Hollow, and when he went to check it out he found out it was... a cemetery. And not just any cemetery. It's one populated by vampires, werewolves, merpeople, and demons. And after he found that out, things really started getting weird. That's the world of Richard Moore's Boneyard.

Boneyard is a black and white comic published from 2001 to 2009 from NBM Publishing. Richard Moore, Boneyard's creator, writer, and artist, has led a varied career, from works for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories to adult work through NBM's Amerotica. Boneyard falls somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, firmly in the darker PG, lighter PG-13 range. There's violence, but it's usually comical, and the sense of humor is bawdy, with a flirtatious and teasing edge, no matter how hard Nessie, the sexpot Merwoman, would like it to be more graphic.

The humor of Boneyard, and what it is at its heart is a humor comic, is in the characters. This is a sitcom with supernatural flavor, and with situations that you won't find on CBS Monday nights, although it might be a nice change. Michael Paris, or just Paris as he goes by mostly, is the classic fish out of water hero of many sitcoms and fantasy stories. He is unrelentingly normal. This is not a guy used to rubbing elbows with a talking skeleton or having a will-they/won't-they relationship with a sexy vampire, but that's the life he now leads. The joke of Paris's complete befuddlement at the Boneyard is pretty central to everything, and becomes a crux point in story when his purely ordinary dreams are the thing that protect him from a creature who preys on the sleeping minds of everyone else; it can't twist his dreams the way it can the monsters because he's just so darn ordinary.

The monsters, ghosts, demons, and the like that populate the Boneyard are not your usual assortment of creatures. They're friendly, good neighbors, and enjoy a good game of poker. Each of them are distinct and wonderful characters; Moore is a great character writer, and how distinct each of his monsters, who could have been simple stereotypes stapled over monster frames is a testament to that.

The principal monster character in the cast is Abbey, the vampire and the Boneyard's peacemaker and, for want of a better term, denmother. Abbey is ancient, having been turned millennia ago, but she still retains a lot of her good humor and friendliness. She is the person that everyone in the Boneyard listens to, the one they all respect, and she is the person who does her best to make sure everyone is alright and everything runs smoothly. She and Paris have a classic sitcom relationship, where they clearly have feelings for each other but neither are willing to admit it to the other. But Abbey is still a vampire, and when she cuts loose she is clearly a force to be reckoned with, something terrible in her power.

Nessie and Brutus are two of the Boneyard's other residents. Nessie is a merwoman, a female version of the Creature of the Black Lagoon type, and is on the, ahem, buxom side. She is a massive flirt, and seems to have no problem cheating on her husband, Brutus, who resembles Frankenstein's monster. She seems particularly drawn to Paris, partly because he resists her, and partly because it gets Abbey's goat. In one of Boneyard's darker moments, Nessie's history of abuse while imprisoned in a freakshow begins to explain her behavior, and also her seemingly strange relationship with Brutus. While he's huge, mute, and jealous, he honestly loves Nessie, and is gentle with her, something she has little experience with.

On the other end of the spectrum, from the serious relationship issues and broken character of Nessie is Glump. Glump is  a minor demon, and by minor I mean he stands maybe three feet tall on his tip toes. He was banished from Hell for being nice, and has been since attempting to earn his way back by proving how evil he is. Unfortunately for him, he's really bad at it. Glump is the regular comic relief for the series; when other serious events are happening, there can be a cutaway to a scene of one of Glump's hairbrained schemes (including the construction of the Apocalypse Frog) that safely breaks the tension and reminds the reader that at it's heart, Boneyard is a really funny comic.

These are just a few of the more featured Boneyard residents. Among the others, there is Ralph, the werewolf mechanic; Sid, the lecherous skeleton; Hildy, the wise old witch; and Mr. Vincent, the local mortician. These are three dimensional characters, each with their own foibles and virtues, and many seem to have a secret in their past that has led them to live in the Boneyard. One of the main themes of Boneyard is that family is what you make of it. When he arrived at the Boneyard, Paris seems to have no connection to anyone, having no idea why he was even chosen to inherit this property. Over the course of the series, he grows closer with the strange cast of creatures, and in the series' last arc, they take on a dangerous mission to save him. Paris has found a family, as have all the strange outsiders of the Boneyard.

While the characters of Boneyard serve as the backbone of the series, there is still a plot that drives the whole series; this isn't like a comic strip with a series of random quirky events. Much of the action of Boneyard has to do with different beings attempting to lay claim to the Boneyard for reasons unknown. Beelzebub, Lord of Lies, and Lillith, the ancient demoness who granted Abbey her vampiric abilities, have both attempted to convince Paris to hand over the deed. The IRS has come to collect back taxes, leading to a series of attempts to make money, including a swimsuit issue and a prize fight. The plots are often an excuse for Moore to do character work, or to draw interesting new creatures; one arc features Paris and Abbey investigating a slasher at a summer camp, and the final arc is Paris being taken by a fairy princess to be her groom, but they draw the reader in, and it feels like Moore knows exactly where he's going with the story.

Moore's art style is light and fun. The art is not overly realistic, clearly cartoony, but he has a good sense of proportion and movement. His characters are well designed, and he draws wonderful comedy. Glump is a perfect example of comedic gold, with his madcap dialogue working well with his goofy design and slapstick antics. His humans are distinct, and some of his female characters, Nessie especially, are clearly influenced by his time working on more, ahem, adult comics, although never graphic enough to cross a line to become offensive to certain sensibilities.

Boneyard is an odd mix of humour and horror, one that you don't see often. It's not a funny horror story, like some classic X-Files or Buffy episodes can be, and it's not an episode of The Munsters either, where the nature of the monsters is more or less ignored. It blends the two genres perfectly into something completely its own. It's something at times heartwarming, sometimes even a bit scary, but always something fun.

Boneyard's 28 issues were originally published by NBM Publishing, which traded all the issues in seven black and white trades. The first four volumes were reprinted and colorized as well. These can still be found at comic shops, and directly from NBM's website. This week saw the release of a Boneyard one-shot from Moore's more recent publisher, The Biggening.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 7/3

Batman Incorporated #12
Story: Grant Morrison
Art: Chris Burnham

As Grant Morrison's multi-year, multi-series Batman epic nears it's conclusion, Batman makes his move against Leviathan, the terrorist organization headed by Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra's al Ghul and mother to his now dead son, Damian. The Batman segments of the issue are mostly the Dark Knight in combat with The Heretic, the clone of Damian who killed Robin. This is the issue that most of the stories post the death of Damian have been leading to. This is a Batman at the very edge of sanity, one who is savage and brutal. But by the end, when the Heretic is unmasked, and Batman looks into the face of what Damian might have been if he had not come to his father, he stops, unable to take a life. This is juxtaposed against the new Knight, the former Squire, Batman of England. The previous Knight was also killed by Heretic, and she is more than willing to kill the Heretic. Meanwhile, much of the rest of Batman Inc goes to rescue Wingman, Jason Todd, and discovers the identity of the leader of Spyral, the superspy organization that has infiltrated Batman Inc. The final scene sees Talia going to confront Batman for one final fight. Morrison has set up a lot to pay off in his final issue, both between Bruce and Talia, but more with Spyral. There are references to a bigger game being played, of which Batman Inc and Leviathan are small parts. As Morrison has said this is pretty much the end of his run in the DCU, with the exception of Multiversity, I wonder if this is something that Morrison is just toying with or is something that he's going to fully address. But in the end, Morrison has spent this whole arc breaking down Batman and rebuilding him. So we have one issue until we see exactly what this new creation is going to be when he rises from the ashes.

Detective Comics #22
Story: John Layman
Art: Jason Fabok/Andy Clarke

The Wrath is a fairly obscure Batman villain. Created by Mike W Barr for the Batman Special in the early 80s, he has only appeared twice since; once in an arc of Batman Confidential, and once in an episode of The Batman. The Wrath is one of the characters who was created as an anti-Batman, whose origin is intentionally a mirror of Batman's; his criminal parents were shot and killed by a police officer (namely Jim Gordon) while he watched. This issue introduces this character into the New 52. He maintains the original modus operandi, targeting police officers for death, but seems to have a sidekick, Scorn, who appeared first in the cartoon. But there's more to this new Wrath, as he is cold and calculating, and seems to have no compunction about the death of allies in his crusade. We are also introduced to a new billionaire on the Gotham scene, E.D. Caldwell, a weapon manufacturer who also seems to be a humanitarian and who has his eye set of acquiring Wayne Enterprises. The end of the issue gives hints to a connection between Caldwell and Wrath, and while in most cases I would see this as a clear indication they are the same person, I wonder if John Layman, who is a craftier writer than that, has a surprise up his sleeve, and even if he doesn't, I'm sure he'll give a thorough and interesting background to this new vision. Layman has done an excellent job of fleshing out and creating villains in his run of Detective Comics, and this is another winner. Coupled with Jason Fabok's great new design, I'm looking forward to more stories featuring the Wrath.

Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files: Ghoul Goblin #5
Story: Jim Butcher & Mark Powers
Art: Joseph Cooper

Nothing ever really works out for Harry Dresden. He was called to the town of Boone Mill to deal with a series of mysterious deaths, and not only has he failed to stop them, but now he's locked up as the one who has done it. Despite all of this, Harry is willing to stand up for the little guy. This series has done a great job of demonstrating one of Harry Dresden's main character traits (or flaws, as some would have you believe): Harry is always going to protect the innocent, always going to do what is right. With the Talbot family caught between a Ghoul and a Goblin, and with the Naga that is refereeing the competition unwilling to step in, it's up to Harry, sick, wounded Harry, to protect the three remaining Talbots. Harry stands up to the Naga, a being that could obliterate him with an eyeblink, and tells her exactly what he thinks of her inaction. Harry has always spoken truth to power, and it has often gotten him into trouble, but this creature seems to respect him for it, and gives him a hint. By issue's end, Harry has learned the secret of Boone Mill's mayor, and might have an ally to help him make his stand. But the ghoul and goblin, two creatures that can easily take Harry physically, are preparing to make their final attack. Harry Dresden is at his best when the odds are stacked against him, and next issue, the series finale, those odds have rarely been stacked as high against him; let's see how he gets out of this one.