My Favorite New Records Of 2013

Well, this list turned out to be easier than I expected. The way I compile these things every year is I go into my iTunes and organize the tracks by release year and then narrow down which albums deserve a spot on the list. 2013 was an interesting year because I not only cut back on my album purchases — almost all of which are done via Amazon’s MP3 site these days — but also apparently didn’t go for much in the way of new music because I only bought two records that came out in the 2013 calendar year! And, as it happens, I like them both very much. So, without further ado, here are both of my favorite records from 2013.

Volume 3 by She & Him (2013)

I feel like something of a broken record, but I’ve been a fan of Zooey Deschanel since I first saw her in Elf. Several years later she and M. Ward started a group called She & Him. I was sold already because a major reason I like Elf so much is because of her singing voice. Since then they’ve release two more regular records and a Christmas album, which is one of a dozen such records I praised last year. In fact, She & Him Volume 2 made my list of favorite new records of 2010-, so it’s not much of a surprise that their next effort not only made its way into my collection but onto my list.

I didn’t go back and listen to the other records, but after giving this one a more recent listen, I want to say 3 might be my favorite She & Him offering. Deschanel doesn’t seem to be singing as many songs that don’t do her voice any favors and M. Ward is in there creating tracks that feel like what they are: updated girl group numbers. I especially like when he gets kind of twangy and noodley on tracks like “I Could Have Been Your Girl.”

These are just fun, nice, breezy pop songs about all the best pop song subjects: love, unrequited love and lost love. If you’re looking for a mellow record to relax with, I think She & Him Volume 3 is a pretty great option. But, it’s not like this record is all fluff. I actually really got into the heart of “Together” and a few other tracks that have themes I can easily tap into.

This album does something I kind of love, it reminds me of a party. You know how parties kick off loud and great with everyone having fun, hit a crescendo at some point and then end with a few tired/drunk people sitting around talking quietly? I like when albums share that similar progression. You’ve got a lot of the peppier pop songs in the beginning and then end with slower, even more mellow tracks like “Shadow Of Love” that I can easily imagine playing in the background of a clean-up scene at the end of a party movie.

Save Rock And Roll by Fall Out Boy (2013)

My other favorite record of 2013 is another one that’s not much of a surprise. I’ve expressed my love of Fall Out Boy’s rock sensibilities before, so I was all over the idea of a new record from them after their hiatus (no one really believed they broke up, right?). Save Rock And Roll might have a pretty brazen title, but there is a bit of truth to it. I don’t want to be that guy, but as a very casual observer of pop music, I’m not seeing a lot of bands actually getting their music out between all the pop and hip hop tracks. And yet you’ve got FOB whose “The Phoenix” is already an instant sports stadium and commercial hit. How can you not get pumped up to this song? Between that and “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark” they’ve got two of the most prevalent guitar-based tracks I can remember in a while which is fantastic because I also happen to dig them both.

Also, I’m a huge sucker for songs about staying young and awesome like “Alone Together,” which clearly means there’s still a pretty large portion of my psyche that’s stuck in my more carefree days. But, hey, why not? Those days were a lot of fun and I like songs that remind me of them. I could easily go through track by track and talk about how I couldn’t stop stomping my foot while listening or how I love dancing around with the kiddo to this record, but I won’t (anymore than I already have, I guess).

Unlike the other records, this one actually features a number of guest appearances from Foxes, Big Sean, Courtney Love and Elton John. I don’t really know Foxes or Big Sean, but I thought they both worked well into “Just One Yesterday” and “The Mighty Fall” respectively. And, guys, Elton John and Fall Out Boy! It sounds crazy on paper but makes a lot of sense resulting in a pretty great title track.

My biggest problem with the record is that I really hate Courtney Love. I was far from excited when I heard she was on the record and while she’s as awful as always, she doesn’t really have much to do in “Rat A Tat” aside from some strange newscaster-esque rants and one bit towards the end that try to ruin the song, but don’t. I can’t tell you how glad I am that she’s not in the mix when it comes to that awesome chorus.

After a four year hiatus, I think FOB came out swinging with a collection of songs that stand up there with a lot of my favorites. Keep it up fellas! Aging dudes like myself still need music to rock out to and I hear the kids dig you too, so that’s good. While writing about Save, I was reading the Wiki page and realized I hadn’t picked up the short EP they did with Ryan Adams called PAX AM Days. I had some extra iTunes gift card scratch and picked it up, but haven’t actually listened to it yet, so maybe it’ll make next  year’s list!

Mage Trade Post: The Hero Discovered & The Hero Defined

MAGE VOL 1 THE HERO DISCOVERED Mage: The Hero Discovered (Comico/Image)
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Mage: The Hero Discovered #1-15

I’ve talked a lot about how influential  my time at Wizard was on my comic reading experience. That’s where I was finally able to read some of my all-time favorite comics like Preacher, Starman and Sandman along with plenty of others, too numerous to mention. Having access to what must have been one of the biggest, best and most varied comic book libraries around had plenty of advantages. As an intern I dug through books to read, but was also tasked with organizing the place. The problem? Too many comics and not enough space. The idea was that, every day, one of the interns would be up in the stuffy, hot windowless room, trying to make sense of poorly organized sections that sometimes had five copies of the same book. Keep two, get rid of the rest, that was our job. Whatever was deemed overflow, we got look through and keep.

Through that I got a box full of comics that included a big chunk of Abnett and Lanning’s original Resurrection Man series, a lot of Lobo comics that I still haven’t read and the majority of Matt Wagner’s Mage: The Hero Discovered. At that point I was mostly into superhero comics, though was checking out a few different things like 100 Bullets and other Vertigo titles along with some Cliffhanger books like Crimson, but I’d never quite read anything like Mage, which combined Arthurian legend with supernatural adventure in a way that was new to me (at least in the world of comics).

I’m not sure how or when I discovered that Defined was actually the sequel to an older series, but I eventually read that while working at Wizard, which kind of brings the whole thing full circle. In the past few years, I came across the hardcover collection of The Hero Discovered on Sequential Swap and did everything I could to get it (it’s one of the two worst Swaps I’ve ever done). I also found a copy of the Defined softcover at my local Barnes & Noble and after eyeing it for a while (and hoping no one else snatched it up between visits) bought my own copy. With both in hand it was only a matter of time until I read both books in relative proximity to one another (about two months, I believe).

The Hero Discovered — which Matt Wagner originally wrote and drew in the mid 80s at Comico — is the tale of how Kevin Matchstick started down the road of supernatural heroics. After stopping a strange creature from beating a guy up in an alley, he discovers that he’s actually the living embodiment of King Arthur complete with his own Excalibur (a glowing bat), Merlin (a wizard named Mirth) and squire (a young woman named Edsel). As anyone would, Kevin has trouble accepting this new world of monsters and magic, but eventually gives in to his in-born heroic nature and agrees to take on the looming threat of the Umbra Sprite along with his crew of supernaturally gifted pals. All of this leads up to a huge battle that not everyone survives. Truths are learned and at least some of the bad guys are beaten leaving Kevin to travel the world doing his hero thing.

In the post I wrote about Trinity and the Demon mini he did, I noted how you can really see Wagner’s evolution as an artist in those books. That is abundantly clear when you read these two Mage books. In Discovered he certainly has the beginnings of his style, but it’s not as detailed or refined. The characters all look a little more rounded-off than they do in the follow-up and his other work. I also noticed that the colors in the first book are often in the pastel family which adds a kind of cloudiness to the whole thing while Defined has a much more crisp, sharp color pallet. That sharpness caries over into the figures as well which have a lot more weight to them in this book. He also gets into more of the shadowy stuff seen in Trinity. Oh and every now and then he gives the characters Little Orphan Annie eyes which might sound odd, but they look perfect and evocative in his style.

MAGE VOL 2 HERO DEFINED Mage: The Hero Defined (Image)
Written and drawn by Matt Wagner
Collects Mage: The Hero Defined #1-15

A decade after creating the character, Wagner returned to the world of Mage in The Hero Defined, this time through Image. As I mentioned, this was my first exposure to this character. I like how Wagner doesn’t spend this entire book recapping where Kevin has been the last 10 years or so. It’s like he lived his life, took out some nasties, met some people, lost some friends and is now meeting new people and coming up against new challenges, you know, like a real person would. I liked how Wagner didn’t dwell on the past or use this story to hit the same exact notes as the first (though there are some similarities and call backs).

Kevin befriends a pair of other heroes who, like him, channel the energies and powers of classic figures of legend. Joe Phat’s a healer and a speedster a la Coyote while Kirby Hero has a Hercules thing going on, complete with required works from dear ol’ dad. This book really opens up the world of Mage as it features more heroes, more monsters and a potentially more dangerous threat.

As it turns out, something big’s going on in Canada, a confluence acting like a magnet for heroes and monsters. My only complaint about this book is that, there’s a lot of time spent building up the idea that all these other heroes are in town and not much is done with it. Kevin knows something bigger is happening and tries rallying the troops so to speak, but they’re not really into it. A few join his squad, but none go with him to the final battle aside from the pals who were on his side the whole time. I get that this is basically Kevin’s fight and the last issue really zeroes in on him, his destiny and his relationship to magic, but there was a part of my brain that kept wondering what the others were doing in that time.

When returning to a character like Kevin Matchstick and especially a book like The Hero Defined which happened to hit me at just the right time, I always wonder if the stories will hold up or if I’m looking back with nostalgia tinted glasses. I’ve got to say that, while there was definitely nostalgia involved in reading the latter book, these are still two very well constructed books that offer a lot for fans of superhero action/adventure/fantasy stories who might be looking for something a little more personal (Wagner has said that Kevin is based on himself in many ways).

One aspect that really struck me about both Mage books is how “realistic” they seem. Sure there’s ghosts and monsters and demons and whatnot, but there’s also a lot of humanity, heart and honesty in these pages. Kevin does not like his new life, but he deals with it as best he can. He and Mirth spend full pages talking about what he’s going through, sometimes with Mirth reading Kevin the riot act of the situation. While some of these text-and-balloon-filled pages might look intimidating, they feature the kinds of talks that people have with each other, even when the world is falling down around them. These talks offer our characters a few moments to slow down, take stock of what’s happening and often discover that they’ve been operating under huge misconceptions, an element you don’t find a lot in comics.

All of this points towards an idea I’ve been thinking about a lot lately which is that creator owned books have a lot more to offer than the Big Two superhero books (for me at least). I’m far from abandoning those concepts and comics entirely, but let’s face it, if a person is creating a comic from scratch and putting it on paper, there’s a creative intent there that’s admirable. That certainly happens with Big Two Superhero Comics, but there’s also a lot of filler material, books that are just there to sell, not necessarily tell the best story they can, though I’m sure the creators tried in most cases. It’s the difference between making something for creative reasons and making something to fill a space (let’s not be so naive as to say one is to make money and the other isn’t, everything that’s sold is intended to make money). Creator owned books also just have more room to flex and explore as they see fit, something that can get lost when working on someone else’s characters.

Ever since I first found out that Discovered and Defined were supposed to be part of a trilogy, I’ve wondered when Wagner was going to actually announce the third series. As far as I know, there haven’t been any updates in that field, but I hope he does get to it eventually. The second book does have a very satisfying conclusion as far as I’m concerned, but I’d like to pick back up with Kevin another 10-20 years down the line and see what he’s up to.

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 2

league of extraordinary gentlemen volume 1The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1 & Volume 2 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neill

Back in 1999, Alan Moore threw in with WildStorm, then still part of Image, and launched his own imprint called America’s Best Comics. His first three books were Top 10, Tom Strong, Promethea and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. The line took various other genres like pulp fiction, Victorian literature and crime drama and looked at them through Moore’s probably-snake-god-shaped-superhero-loving prism. At the time, this was a big deal because Moore had been doing a lot of random Image and WildStorm books just a few years before.

I don’t quite remember when or where I picked up the first LOEG trade, but I think it was in college. I do know that I wrote an extensive paper comparing Moore’s versions of these characters to their literary originals. I found the document and might upload a PDF along with my notes if its not too too embarrassing. Anyway, I believe the second volume was already out by the time I got into the series, but after getting caught up I had to wait like everyone else for Black Dossier, which, as I mentioned previously, spawned my re-reading of this whole franchise.

As I mentioned in that post, I wanted to see how the book’s two main stars Mina Murray (Dracula) and R. Rider Haggard’s adventurer character Alan Quartermain started their relationship, but I was also excited to see the book’s other stars Captain Nemo, Dr. Jekyll (well, really Mr. Hyde) and the Invisible Man (not really, but I’ll get to that). You could say that this book does not actually revolve around the burgeoning romance between Murray and Quartermain that the book’s latter installments focus on, but in addition to introducing us to the characters and pitting them against a nefarious Doctor, you still get to see how these two first met and hints at what attracts them to one another. This becomes much more the focus in the second volume, but the seeds are here.

That being said, it wasn’t the romance that made me fall for this series in the first place, it was Moore’s very simple concept of gathering together several characters from fiction and putting them together on a team to battle other characters from books. I love a good crossover/mash-up and this is a superb one. So, you’ve got me on one level just because I like the idea, but upon re-reading the series, I was impressed with how Moore made me care about dusty old characters whose books can by quite boring to read through. There are some really cool moments between characters that some writers would have gotten rid of in favor of more action scenes, but Moore balances these things well.

I will say that I had a bit of the problem with this first volume that I had when re-reading Moore’s Top 10 a while back: the journey isn’t quite as fun when you know the twists and turns. For Top 10, a lot of the stories revolved around “Whoa” Moments (when a detail is revealed to the reader and he or she does their most sincere Keanu impression), but those moments aren’t quite as interesting the second or third time around. For LOEG Volume 1, I had some of the boredom when the team was being put together in the first few issues. I’ve read these before (and seen the cover) so I know they get Jekyll/Hyde to join;, seeing it again feels a bit been-there-done-that. But, even those teambuilding scenes get peppered with some of those personal inter-character moments that I really like. For instance, when on a mission that winds up bringing the Invisible Man into their ranks, there’s a really cool moment between temporary roommates Nemo and Quartermain where they acknowledge they’re participating in this wild experiment because they both love adventuring even though they’re gaining in age.

loeg vol. 2

The second volume of League stories follows the same team on adventure that takes many of its cues from War of the Worlds. I wrote about this a while back when comparing it to the original novel, the radio play and the movies, but there’s a lot more going on here than just a take off on the heat gun-using walking milkstands first described in H.G. Wells’ novel. Again, it’s the character moments that I not only liked most but also remembered better. Mina and Alan in the woods sticks out, as does Hyde’s encounter with the Invisible Man, which happens to be one of the most disturbing and creepy sequences in fiction that I’ve ever experienced.

Here’s an interesting look into my own psychology and how I approached this first two volumes the first time around. As I said, I was in from the first description I heard of these characters. I hadn’t read most of their stories, but I also immediately liked them. But, these are not all very likeable characters, especially the Invisible Man. An interesting combination of my own misguided bias and Moore’s ability to make even monsters charming made me almost forget about some of the terrible things these characters have done. That’s an interesting trick.

Another interesting thing I realized on this second reading is that, by populating these stories with characters from existing fiction — including people seen in crowd shots — Moore and O’Neill actually make me think about every single character in every single panel. “Oh, I wonder if that guy’s somebody? What’s her story?” These are things I don’t normally think when reading a normal character because they’re “just normal people.” But if I’m under the impression that even a background character might have an existing literary history, I’m more intrigued. This also makes me worry about extras in dangerous scenes more than I normal would.

One of the interesting things that I noticed having read these books in the unconventional order that I did — Black Dossier, the Century books, Volume 1 and Volume 2 — is that certain things seemed to become more important. When Mina starts writing a letter to Campion Bond in the second issue of the first volume it wasn’t just a literary device used to convey exposition and remind readers what had happened, but also an actual document that was probably sitting in a folder somewhere. This along with the above comment about the book’s population add an extra layer that makes me want to dive in all the more.

I could probably go on and on about these book and how much I enjoy them or how many things I noticed in this reading that I hadn’t noticed before — like Mina being “treated” at the same hospital they found the Invisible Man in — but I want to bring it back around to one last element that I’ve kind of hinted at and danced around in both of these posts: Mina is a fantastic character. She’s so strong it’s ridiculous. Terrible things have happened to her in her life, not the least of which was getting attacked by Count Dracula and yet she perseveres and strives to utilize the opportunities given to her in an effort to make her life better and move on. She was a school teacher who would otherwise have no business working for the government, let alone leading a secret tactical group of freaks and ne’re-do-wells, but as Hyde points out in volume two, she’s seen worse than most of them can offer. Instead of letting her past destroy her, she’s embracing it and using it not only to her own advantage, but to the advantage of her country and the world. These are qualities that her teammates can sense in her and lead to them accepting her as their leader. She’s the human lynchpin that holds the monsters together, but also offers the example that allows them to have human moments of their own. She’s literally the key to the whole series which is why she’s not only the first character we’re introduced to, but also the focus of the rest of the volumes.

With all that being said, I’m really looking forward to whatever else Moore and O’Neill have in store for this universe. I remember reading they’ve got something with Nemo’s daughter in the works. I’d love to learn more about that family and what they’ve done over the years. Frankly, I’d love to read about anything set in this world. I’m hooked, keep the juice coming.

Best Of The Best Trade Post: The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen Part 1

league of extraordinary gentlemen black dossierThe League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Century 1910, 1969 & 2009 (America’s Best Comics/WildStorm/DC Comics/Top Shelf)
Written by Alan Moore, drawn by Kevin O’Neil

Any time we go away for more than a few days, I like to give myself what I call a project comic. This is where I grab a bunch of issues or trades of one series or a particular creator and dive in. For Christmas, we went to visit my wife’s parents in New Hampshire and after a lot of thinking (more than I like to admit, really), I settled on giving League of Extraordinary Gentlemen a read from Black Dossier through the last Century book, which I hadn’t read yet. After finishing Century 2009 I hadn’t quite gotten my fill of the series, so I went back and gave the first two volumes a read and had a delightful time with the whole series.I’m going to start off with this post focusing mainly on Black Dossier and the Century trilogy and then come back for the second part which will talk about the books and concepts in broader terms.

If you’re not familiar with the general concept behind League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, it started out as a Victorian superhero team of sorts that brought together Mina Murray from Dracula, Alan Quartermain, Captain Nemo, The Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde brought together by the British government to help them defeat extranormal threats. The bigger idea is that Alan Moore created a world inhabited by many of the characters we’ve read about it books for as long as the written word has been around. While introducing his versions of these characters and the kind of world that can hold them all, Moore also hinted at a much deeper and richer history to this world.

Black Dossier completely revolves around that history. The book works on two levels. First, it’s your average comic book showing the latest adventures of Mina Murray and Quartermain in 1958 as they steal the document you’re reading in an attempt to figure out what the government knows of their exploits since they severed ties. It’s also the aforementioned collection of documents all pertaining to the history of the League as if it were put together by someone in that universe. So, while you get your comic story, you’re also, essentially, looking at papers that are not for your eyes only, making it kind of fun and sneaky.

I’m impressed with how dedicated Moore was to the idea of this book. The documents he created range from forgotten Shakespeare plays and weird mod tales to journal entries and MI6 correspondences. From my limited experience with the types of writing Moore pays homage to in these stories, he does a solid job of matching them and utilizing them to convey information accurately in the style of the respective eras.

To be honest, though, reading through all those text pieces can be a slog. While I appreciate Moore’s attention to detail and ability to switch styles with the flip of a page, I wonder if the whole thing is a little more, “Hey, I bet I can do this,” than, “Hey this will serve the story really well.” I’m still on the fence with this point but think I’m leaning towards the latter. I like the idea of the format and maybe just wish there had been more image-oriented tales instead of page after page of dense text. I admit, I tend to have a problem getting interested in all-text pages in comics, so that doesn’t help. Still, I stuck with this one and read almost every single bit, skipping some paragraphs here and there to get to the point a bit quicker.

league of extraordinary gentlemen black dossier absoluteAs far as the references this series is known for, I liked seeing James Bond’s involvement. I mean, he’s not treated particularly well and seems more based on the movie version of the character than the one I’ve read about in the first few Ian Flemming novels (to my poor memory, at least), but it was neat to see Campion’s relative involved in the proceedings. I know there was a lot of problems getting this book published, I believe because Moore wanted to incorporate more overt references to pop culture characters but DC was worried about a legal backlash. I’d love to hear what those were, if anyone knows of a good interview on the subject — or LOEG in general — please drop me a link in the comments.

While I’m not 100% in agreement with the presentation of all the information conveyed to the reader in this book, I do really appreciate the lengths Moore went to to not only stick with his vision, but also give the reader a mountain of information and history to comb through and absorb. I forgot most of what was in the text sections after only reading this book one time previously, but it’s still amazing the way he weaves together all kinds of existing fictional elements into a brand new tapestry that has its own history. It does raise a few questions like how come no one seems to believe in weird stuff in this world that not only survived a Martian invasion but at one time had an England ruled by a faerie queen? But overall, I like the information, I like the intent and above all else I loved getting to see Mina and Alan together again doing their thing. I’m a sucker for that thing in fiction where you allow your characters to cheat death and be together, it’s the hopeless romantic in me I guess. Oh, minor SPOILER, but Mina and Alan found a fountain of youth in Africa which is why they’re neither decrepit nor dead.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1910Things were a lot less romantic in the Century volumes, at least as they progress. These three books were presented in prestige format with mostly comic pages and a few text pages in the back. I admit, after going through Black Dossier, I skipped all the other supplementary materials moving forward. Anyway, Century 1910 gives us a look at what the British government has dubbed The Mina Group, consisting of mostly new members, trying to stop the birth of an apocalyptic individual called the mooonchild.

The plot mainly revolves around that, allowing the reader to get their first real look at the team that now includes Quartermain Jr., Carnacki, A.J. Raffles and Orlando who becomes a major part of the next two books. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the giddy thrill of reading these new characters just because I’m nowhere near as familiar with them as the members of the first team, but it was still an enjoyable read with an intriguing story. We’re also shown what happens to Captain Nemo and the brutal, unfortunate tale that finds his daughter becoming the captain of the Nautilus.

Let’s call the next paragraph SPOILERVILLE. The most interesting part of this story is that, thanks to the soothsaying visions of team member Carnacki and the ensuing investigation by the team, they actually plant the ideas necessary to bring about the apocalypse in the villain’s mind. I thought that was kind of a brilliant and tragic kick off to a three part story. My only complaint about the book is that it seems a little bit preachy at the end. Actually, preachy’s probably not the right word, but the reason Nemo’s daughter decides to become the new Captain Nemo is because a bunch of drunks at the bar she works at rape her one night. She decides to bring down the thunder of the Nautilus on these people as revenge and then continue her father’s work. The very end of the book features a murderer and a barmaid sing a song about how terrible the world is and that the basic needs of the people need to be met if the higher classes expect things to get better. This is actually an opinion I agree with, but a part of me saw the brutality of Neo Nemo’s situation exploited to make this point. I know it holds with the history of the time and this is a fictional character, but that feeling still nags at me.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 1969This second volume of Century, set in 1969, follows the adventures of Mina, Alan and Orlando who have become an adventuring trio who no long work for the British government. Much has happened in the 59 years since the previous volume (and the 11 years since Black Dossier), but like all the other installments of this franchise, most of them are hinted at or further explored in the text pieces that remain half- or un-read by yours truly. I’m particularly interested in Mina’s superhero team, but will get to that eventually.

Anyway, it’s the swinging 60s in London and our heroes are reminded of the old case revolving around the moonchild and the apocalypse. This time, the nefarious plot revolves around the bad guy who hops from body to body and intends to take over the lead singer of a Rolling Stones-esque band.

Since I’ve already fallen hard for these characters, I think I’d enjoy seeing them in just about any situation, but I’m also fascinated by this era in history and love the way it lends itself to a visual medium like comics. I also really enjoyed seeing how this trio had progressed over the years and how they deal with their immortality in different ways, especially how Mina adopts the language of the times in order to not feel like a dinosaur.

I also like how I got a lot more of the references in this volume. I mean, the Ruttles are a big band in this world, which is hilarious and awesome. There’s still a lot that went over my head, but I’m used to that from every other volume. Speaking of references, this volume is basically one giant nod to Empire Strikes Back. You’ve got the heroes learning more about the villains, a battle between the main hero and the main villain and a super-downer ending that makes you salivate for the next installment. For what it’s worth, I don’t usually get emotionally worked up when it comes to comics, but I got pretty upset with what happened to Mina at the end of this book. I was even more upset when I read 2009, though.

league of extraordinary gentlemen century 2009Seriously, when I realized what had happened between 1969 and 2009 with these three characters I was heartbroken, or at least as heartbroken as I can get from fictional characters. It’s just so sad. Forget about losing a a hand and realizing your dad’s a galactic-level jerk, Mina, Orlando and Alan had it ROUGH.

This volume finally brings the promise of the first to a head as the apocalypse and moonchild are both confirmed unless our incredibly damaged heroes can stop them. This part of the story is not only about defeating what seems undefeatable in an external sense, but also getting over even the worst possible things done to you by others or yourself. It’s about triumph over adversity and for that it’s a positive and exciting tale, one that features a SPOILER Harry Potter analog fighting Mary Poppins…or god, or something, I’m not quite sure, but I liked it better than that weirdness at the London Olympic Opening Ceremony.

As you’d expect, I got WAY more of Moore’s references this time around, which always adds to the enjoyment of these books. The more you’re in on the joke, the funnier it is and all that. I also like how the mythology of this series kind of came to a head with several characters from other books, including Dossier, making appearances and playing important parts in the story.

Getting back to SPOILERVILLE, beware. Still, it’s not the happiest of endings, is it? While Orlando and Mina seem to get through the final battle relatively unscathed, poor Alan looks to have died. We see that he was taken back to their fountain of youth, but doesn’t seem to have made it. Here’s the thing though, we know that Alan’s faked his death before and it’s possible that Mina and Orlando don’t trust their new former government friends as much as they’re letting on. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more of him. I hope we do, I’ve grown quite fond of these characters of the years.

I’ll get into this in more detail in the next post, but one of the reasons I went back to read the first two LOEG volumes was because I wanted to see how Mina and Alan’s relationship started out. It’s much different than what we see in BD and the Century books. I like who Moore developed them both as individual characters and their relationship as its own kind of entity, not to mention how the inclusion of Orlando altered and augmented that union. At the end of the day, beneath all the literary characters and all the references and all the magic and sci-fi and fantasy, League is actually the story of two very extraordinary people not only teaming up but finding love in a world that never fails to surprise and accost them. That simple nugget in the center of this much larger thing is what readers can grab onto while being exposed to the strange, wonderful and horrible.

The Chronological Spielberg: Jaws (1975)

Jaws is one of my all-time favorite movies. It’s an amazing combination of real world drama and horror with so many amazing comedic and dramatic moments mixed in. I truly love this movie. So, why did it take me almost six months to watch after checking out Spielberg’s first two movies Duel and The Sugarland Express? No, it’s not because I didn’t particularly like Sugarland, but more so because I wasn’t as excited about watching a movie I’d seen before. I’ve talked about this here and there on the blog, but since graduating high school I’ve been really enjoying watching new things instead of rewatched movies I love. This actually worked in my favor as I sat down to watch Jaws today because it had been a while since I watched it (I’m shocked I’ve never blogged about it before, actually, but then again I’ve never blogged about The Usual Suspects, Reservoir Dogs or Lost Highway either and those were wildly influential on me).

Everyone knows the plot of Jaws, right? A great white shark starts terrorizing a New England island community in the summer. This presents a problem because the greedy mayor doesn’t want Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) to shut down the beaches for fear of losing tourist money. After more and more attacks, Brody teams up with out of town shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and off kilter local shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) to go out on Quint’s boat and kill the fish.

What makes Jaws such a great flick is that, in addition to having some truly scary moments (the underwater head in the boat still creeps me out on the same level that Michael Myers sitting up does at the end of Halloween), there are so many great moments with humor and emotion. That bit where Brody’s wife looks at the shark book and yells at her kids to get out of the water is fantastic as is the wonderful scar-comparison scene on the boat. Chills, you guys, chills.

Even better? The film itself has an equally epic behind the scenes story. It took forever to get some of the shots and the studio was freaking out. The mechanical shark — Bruce — didn’t work well which is one of the reasons you only see the shark briefly in the film. This bit might not have been in the script, but it certainly made the film more dramatic. After seeing just bits and pieces, can you get a better reveal than the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” one? I think not. And this goes to show that Spielberg’s not just a great technical director (as seen in Duel), but has also had great instinctual storytelling instincts.

I really can’t say enough good things about this movie, but I think I’ll just stop here. Gallons of ink both real and digital have been spilled about the movie. If you’ve never seen it, do so immediately. You will absolutely not be disappointed. And if you are? Well, I probably don’t want to talk to you.

Best Of The Best: Shaft (1971)

I’m by no means an expert on the subject, but I think Shaft is the best blaxploitation flick around. Most of the other ones I’ve seen look like they were thought-up, shot and acted all in one week (which was actually the case for a few of them). On the opposite side of the coin, this flick not only looks awesome, but also comes with a great script, badass hero played by Richard Roundtree and plot worth paying attention to. It’s the full package AND it holds up to modern viewings.

My love of Shaft (wow, that doesn’t sound right) goes back to when I was in high school. I don’t remember exactly what drew me to the movie, probably that killer Isaac Hayes theme song or kids talking about it at school, but I wound up renting it from my beloved Family Video at some point and soon after purchased my own VHS copy. I didn’t watch it so much that I wore the tape out or anything, but it was a movie I enjoyed.

I was glad to see that I still dug it today after getting the disc from Netflix. Between watching it in high school and today I’ve seen some pretty crappy blaxploitation movies and was worried that I was remembering Shaft with rose colored glasses. Thankfully that wasn’t the case. In fact, in addition to all the awesomeness I remembered, I found that it was actually a well made movie that didn’t look like a  bunch of friends making their first movie on he weekends. It’s legit, bordering on classy at times and holds up to the standards I have set by Dirty Harry as to how cool and fun a movie from the 70s can look.

At the end of the day, Shaft is just a great adventure film. The story’s about a gangster hiring PI John Shaft to find his kidnapped daughter. The mobster uses some trickery and manipulation, but Shaft winds up putting together a pretty solid team and leading to a pretty fantastic assault on a hotel at the end. Watching Shaft again was such an awesome experience that I wouldn’t mind finally adding the movie to my DVD collection. Maybe they have one of those 4-pack things with Shaft, Shaft’s Big Score, Shaft In Africa and the Sam Jackson one. I guess I’ll be watching those in the near future now too!

Best Of The Best Trade Post Preacher Vol. 7-9

PREACHER SALVATION (Vertigo)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Preacher #41-50
If you’re so inclined to check out my previous Preacher reviews, I wrote about the first three volumes here, skipped 4 and covered 5 and 6 here. If you haven’t read those posts, you should know that Preacher’s one of my all-time favorite comics, I first discovered it while interning for Wizard and am reading the whole series for the third time. Volume 6 was probably my least favorite of the group, though it’s still better than a lot of comics and this book is my absolute favorite. Salvation picks up with Jesse trying to figure out what to do with his life now that his girlfriend Tulip is with his best mate Cassidy. He finds his way to a small Texas town called Salvation where he meets a few people from his pasts, makes a few friends, becomes sherrif and makes a huge enemy in a small business man named Odin Quincannon (who seems modeled after Ross Perot). Jesse doesn’t take kindly to Odin’s workers tearing through his new town, so he kicks ass, takes names and locks as many of them up as he can.

Man, I love this book. It reminds me of one of my all time favorite movies, Road House. While thinking about that, I realized that, while I might not like classic westerns like The Searchers, I do like movies set in modern times that use western themes. Both Road House and Salvation are about upstanding men rolling into a new town and trying to make things right, all of which sounds very western to me. I also love how absolutely abominable Quincannon is as a villain. The dude’s not only a vile racist, but he also has “sex” with a giant woman made out of various kinds of meat. Ennis really went overboard this time around, but it’s a welcome change after all the intensity of the previous volume and the end of the book, which is fast approaching.

PREACHER: ALL HELL’S A-COMING (Vertigo)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon and John McCrea
Collects Preacher #51-58, Preacher: Tall In The Saddle
All Hell’s A-Coming is a rollercoaster of a volume. Yes, we get to see Jesse and Tulip reunited and get to learn more about Tulip’s past, but we also learn about how big of a bastard Cassidy really was as a homeless woman who used to know him back in the day regales Jesse with stories. I remember the first time I read these books, something about Cassidy’s jackassness didn’t click in my head. I guess it’s a trick of the writing and the character that Ennis created that he not only worked his charms on Jesse for a while, but me too. This time around though, it became very clear that Cassidy is not a good person to be friends with. He might not intend to leave a path of destruction in his wake, but boy, does he. Tulip getting a clear head one morning and leaving Cassidy actually goes to show how badass of a character she is, something that’s reinforced in the aforementioned flashbacks to her childhood.

This collection also starts what will become something of a theme in the waning issues of the book where Ennis gives secondary and tertiery characters a kind of send off. This issue shows us Jesse giving Bob and Freddy, Sexual Investigators a ride and also their send off from the series (he also gives Elvis a ride, which is kind of cool). The story also reintroduces Tulip and Jesse’s friend Amy who gets her swan song while bringing Herr Starr back into the fray and heaping even more degrading embarrassment on the character (after defeating his non-Jesse nemesis, a dog eats his junk).  The Tall In The Saddle one-shot is included at the end of this collection, which is nice because it not only gives us a look at Tulip and Jesse’s earlier days as outlaws, but also works to give Jesse a chance to talk about horses and show the old dynamic between them and Amy. It’s a nice little story that I actually read after finishing the final volume because I wanted to keep going with the finale. Past Ennis collaborator John McCrea comes in for the art chores on this one and actually does a pretty good job mimicking Dillon’s style, which is good for visual continuity, but kind of bad because I love how he drew Hitman and would have loved to see that version of his art in this book.

PREACHER: ALAMO (Vertigo)
Written by Garth Ennis, drawn by Steve Dillon
Collects Preacher #59-66
Oh man, what a finale. I kind of wish I had been paying attention when this book came to a conclusion because I’m curious what people thought of the ending. It’s not your traditional “main good guy faces off against his opponent” ending. Instead, uh SPOILERS I guess, Jesse and Cassidy beat the shit out of each other before Jesse gets shot and killed. But, hey, that’s not the actual ending because Jesse’s actually a pretty good strategist and has some damn good luck on his side. There’s a lot of planning and scheming to go along with the bigger action scenes (the fight, plus Tulip wrecking shop on some dudes). Like a true good guy, Jesse does his best to finish his mission and make right by as many people as possible before literally SPOILER AGAIN riding off into the sunset with his girl AND partner Tulip.

The first time I read Preacher, I was blown away not only by the solid storytelling and ridiculously good characterization, but also because I didn’t know that comics like this existed. I had read some other Vertigo books, but I hadn’t really experienced such a complete story told over 66 issues (plus some one-shots). Ennis has never been better than in Preacher. He’s maybe been more shocking in The Boys, a book I just can’t get into, but being shocking only really works the first time around (though I do admit the meat woman stuck in my head and I was weirdly looking forward to seeing it again, especially after all the in-story build up to what’s in that cold storage warehouse). Another rad aspect of the book is that pretty much everyone gets an ending. I’m not just talking about our leads, but Herr Starr, The Saint of Killers, Arseface, Featherstone, Hoover, Lori, John Wayne, the town of Salvation, Genesis and, of course, God. You might not get the God vs. Preacher finale you were thinking would take place, but the actual ending makes a heck of a lot more sense when you think about what all the characters have gone through and experienced. I think not going with the more obvious kind of ending was pretty brave on Ennis’ part. I can’t wait to read Preacher again in the near future, which puts it on an equal playing field with favorites of mine like The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, The Usual Suspects, Halloween and other Best Of The Best honorees.