Vertigo Trade Post: iZombie Volume 3, American Vampire Volume 2 & Fables Volume 1

izombie volume 3 six feet under and rising iZombie Volume 3: Six Feed Under And Rising (Vertigo)
Written by Chris Roberson, drawn by Mike Allred with Jay Stephens
Collects iZombie #13-18

As I mentioned in my list of favorite reading experiences of 2012, iZombie has quickly become one of my favorite comic read experiences around (check out my reviews of volume 1 and 2 if you’re so inclined). I wrote in that post, “This series is the rare mix of intriguing characters, wacky situations, rock solid architecture and mythology I want to study PLUS one of the greatest artists the medium has ever seen.” That feeling continued into this third volume as all kinds of craziness goes down and we’re even introduced to a whole new team of characters called the Dead Presents who seem pretty important to the overall narrative. I think it’s a great sign when a book like this heading into its final arc doesn’t shy away from introducing new characters, especially ones that I’m so intrigued by.

One of the keys to this book, in addition to the mythology and characters is that Roberson does a great job of giving everyone a secret, one that you don’t necessarily learn the truth about for issue after issue. I mean, I’m introduced to Gwen in a broad way in the first volume and she explains what her deal is, so I’m on board. I like the character and I’m along for her adventures. But most of the give information at that point has very little to do with her pre-undead life. The realizations and reveals that come from that aspect of her were great and almost unexpected because I was so invested in this character that I forgot that I know almost nothing about her.

This volume is all about answers and reveals while still leaving plenty of large question son the table like what will happen between Gwen and Horatio now that he knows the truth about her? How will they stop the zombie outbreak? What’s the deal with the Dead Presidents?  What’s up with Gramps? Ahhh, there’s so many questions. Even though I read this book a while ago, I’m still excited about it and getting my hands on the last volume to see how everything wraps up.

American Vampire Vol 2 American Vampire Volume 2 (Vertigo)
Written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque with Santolouco
Collects American Vampire #6-11

Another favorite discovery of last year was Scott Snyder’s American Vampire (check out my review of the first volume here). This volume focuses on Las Vegas lawman Cashel McCogan in 1936. He’s a good man doing his best in a place overrun by bad folks. In addition to the run of the mill monsters you might expect, he’s also got a nasty vampire problem on his hands that will reveal dark secrets about Vegas and lead to dark personal realizations for McCogan himself. I don’t want to get too deep into the details for fear of spoilers, but the payoff to the second page in this collection that finally reveals whats in his backup is pretty amazing and disturbing.

The story also circles back around and shines the spotlight on volume one star Pearl and her man Henry who discover along with the audience that there’s an organization out in the world dedicated to destroying vampires. They actually want to test Pearl in exchange for supposedly never bothering her again, but Pearl is understandably wary. And, of course, we get more Skinner Sweet, the OG American Vampire.

Much like iZombie, this book is so great because the characters feel real and robust, the setting is intriguing, the action is intense, the art is rad and the horror fits with the subject matter. I want to dive into this world and soak up every drop of story. I’m excited to get my hands on the remaining books.

fables volume 1 legends in exile Fables Volume 1: Legends In Exile (Vertigo)
Written by Bill Wilingham, drawn by Lan Medina
Collects Fables #1-5

Fables is one of those Vertigo books that I’ve been hearing great things about for years. One of the guys I used to work with at Wizard would devour the new issues every time they came out and I was at a party once where a woman read through the first volume in a corner while everyone else stood around, drank and talked. I thought that was pretty weird, but I figured it indicated something interesting about the book. Even though I hadn’t read it, I knew the basics: all the storybook characters you’ve read about are real and in our world for some reason. Why did I finally decide to check the book out? Well, it’s mainly because of Once Upon A Time, a show I really enjoy that has very similar themes.

In fact, I think watching OUAT has gotten in the way of my reading of this book because I compared every character in the comic to their counterpart in the show. I wasn’t doing it in a “This was ripped off” kind of way but more of just a constant comparison which got kind of tiring.

I also wasn’t super interested in the story of the first arc which revolves around Fabletown’s resident PI Bigby Wolf trying ro figure out who killed Rose Red (Snow White’s sister). The whodunit is kind of a perfect way to introduce the reader to a group of characters who will go on to be major players in the comic (I assume), but I had two problems with this set-up. First, I didn’t know Rose Red at this point and therefore wasn’t really invested in finding out who killed her. Sure, her sister was upset and wanted to find out what happened, but something just didn’t land with me and get me super involved. The other problem I had was that I figured out the big twist pretty early on, so a lot of the procedural stuff wasn’t super interesting. To be fair, I’m not sure if I actually parsed out what was going on or had the answer rattling around in my head.

So, at the end of the day, I wasn’t super absorbed by this first Fables outing. I’ve got the second and third volumes thanks to a Swap, but I’m probably going to knock out a few smaller books as well as the next Y: The Last Man Deluxe hardcover before getting back to them. Maybe I’ll wait til Once Upon A Time‘s season ends to avoid some of the comparisons.

We Want Action: Cowboys & Aliens (2011)

Holy crap, you guys. I kind of loved Cowboys & Aliens and I didn’t really want to. First off, I have a problem with some of the shady dealings that went on in the making and “selling” of the original graphic novel of the same name. As such, I’ve never read it, so I have zero idea how much this film follows the source material, though I believe it’s more of an anthology kind of thing.

Anyway, I don’t remember hearing much of anything about this movie when it finally came out which was kind of surprising because it was Jon Favreau’s follow up to Iron Man 2, was written by Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman along with three others and has a cast that includes Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Clancy Brown, Keith Carradine and Olivia Wilde. What’s not to like?

Actually, I have no idea because I walked away really liking this movie. First off, it looks gorgeous. Favreau and his cinematographer really did a bang up job making this movie look fantastic. That actually includes the aliens too, when we finally do see them. The design is interesting and I thought they looked as good as CGI aliens actually could with a weird design that was both kind of gross and kind of familiar.

I also liked the plot which finds Craig waking up with almost complete memory loss. He wanders into a western town that’s basically run by the cattle guy played by Ford. As a war starts to erupt between Ford’s guys and the town, these aliens roll in and attack. This being a crisis, strange bedfellows are made, so the main characters join forces and go after the aliens. A lot more happens and I actually worried that the film would feel too long, especially when they joined up with the Native American tribe, but I wound up really liking those parts which also turned out to be important for the story, so it was a worthwhile tangent.

Cowboys & Aliens reminded me of a lot of Favreau’s other work where he does a great job of mixing the big, special effects heavy action stuff with personal moments that round the film out. I just looked and this movie opened two weeks after the last Harry Potter movie and one week after Captain America, so I’m wondering if people were just not feeling like seeing a movie. I also remember my wife’s friends being confused about what the movie actually was about so maybe the ad campaign didn’t really do such a great job. Whatever the reason, I think folks should check this one, it’s a pretty fun outing.

Halloween Scene Trade Post: American Vampire Volume 1

American Vampire Volume 1 (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Scott Snyder and Stephen King, drawn by Rafael Albuquerque
Collects American Vampire #1-5

Scott Snyder is a writer whose work I’m really enjoying. I haven’t even gotten into his Batman stuff, which I hear great things about, but I was a huge fan of his Image miniseries Severed. While reading this first volume of American Vampire, I realized that he does an amazing job writing fiction in a historical setting that not only captures what it was like living in that time, but also makes the people living in those settings not seem old and dusty. It’s not like he has people in the 20s saying, “Sup homes,” but he makes these characters very easy to relate to by making them real and not imitations of the kinds of people we were told existed in television and movies.

American Vampire exemplifies this by exploring the past century by way of blood suckers. The series shines the spotlight on a pair of characters — at least in this first volume — Skinner Sweet and Pearl and this is where the dual writers come in. You never really know with these kinds of things, but I questioned Stephen King’s involvement in this book. I don’t want to cast aspersions on him specifically, but I’ve heard lots of behind the scenes talk when it comes to celebrity guest writers not really participating and just putting their name on to help boost sales. I don’t feel like that’s the case here. King’s got a lot of cred in my book and he said in the foreword that he asked Snyder to write Skinner Sweet’s origin story, so I believe him. Plus, I just read that he was only involved in the first arc, so it’s not like they kept his name on the book for sales reasons. As such, the first half of the issue features Pearl in the mid-20s and is written by Snyder, then King tackles Sweet’s origins in the late 1800s in the second half. I like this set up, but do admit that I would have had a really hard time remembering all the details from month to month and am very glad to have read this book in trade form.

Anyway, Pearl’s story starts off like an E True Hollywood Story about an actress struggling to make it in the changing movie business (talkies are new at this point). She goes to a party only to discover that the big wigs are actually vampires. They intend to just feed on her, but Skinner turns her. He briefly explains that they’re a different kind of vampire from those old farts and then takes off. Fueled by rage and a thirst for vengeance (and blood of course), Pearl takes on the old vamps with a little help from a friend.

I’ve got to say, I fell in love with the character of Pearl. I love strong women and she’s about as tough a one as you’ll find without being too caustic or bitter. She doesn’t sulk about what happened to her, she gets pissed and goes off to take care of it. Skinner’s also an interesting character, one I assume we’ll learn more about as the series rolls on. I don’t really know where the book goes from here, but considering the two main characters are somewhat immortal vampires, I guess we’ll see them together again if for no other reason than to learn some of the rules for the new, American vampires.

I also have to talk about Rafael Albuquerque’s art. Holy crap is he great on this book. I’d seen him draw Blue Beetle and wondered if this book would share that one’s cartoony nature, but that’s not really the case. He seems to change his style a bit for the subject matter, but it’s still very much him. It’s not easy drawing a vulnerable woman one panel and then a giant-mouthed vampire the next and making them both look good AND real, but he nails it. He also keeps the “present day” section of the book cleaner and the flashbacks more shadowy, which is a cool technique I didn’t even notice at first, but is really evident when you go back and flip through the trade.

So, as you can tell, I’m pretty sold on American Vampire and want to get the rest of the trades. I just did some looking around and it looks like Snyder and company ended the book with the 30th issue. It’s funny, that seems to be the new number that Vertigo series’ aim for when it used to be 80. Anyway, I’ll be keeping this book and hopefully adding the other three to it in the near future.

80s Odyssey: Three O’Clock High (1987)

My pal Jim Gibbons asked me on twitter what some of my favorie summer movies were. That sent me to my 80s Odyssey posts, which made me want to watch another 80s movie. I hopped on Netflix and came across Three O’Clock High, a movie about a guy who runs afoul of a bully who wants to fight him in the parking lot at the end of the day. Our hero Jerry tries his best to either appease the bully or get out of Dodge, but nothing works and he has to face his parking lot destiny.

What I liked most about the flick is that it does an excellent job of mixing the feel of other kinds of movies while still feeling like a high school flick. The bully’s size and focus make him feel like a slasher, Jerry’s inability to escape adds to the already present in every high school idea of imprisonment.  The final showdown also felt like a cross between a gladiator flick and a western. Heck, there’s even a heist element to the proceedings.

But, at the end of the day, the film rests on the shoulders of some very interesting characters, Jerry’s a good kid in a bad situation who gets along with his level-headed sister. The two of them have to deal with an absentminded and possibly absent mother. His friends try their best to get him out of trouble, using at least one really good method that winds up backfiring. Some of the teachers are painted in really broad strokes, especially the principal who’s a bit reminiscent of Vader from Rock and Roll High School Forever, but I think that’s a bit forgivable considering the film is told from the POV of a kid in high school who probably doesn’t feel the need to examine his teachers for subtle character beats.

There’s a lot of other bits and pieces about this film that I really liked. There are two scenes at the beginning and the end that weave through different groups of kids talking about different people. Each group operates on one story while we benefit from hearing the whole thing. There’s also an amazing scene with Jerry trying to get detention for smoking and flirting with his teacher during a book report. Legendary stuff.

The most obvious film to compare this one to is obviously My Bodyguard, but I think they’re different animals. That movie has a much different and deeper emotional center that looks at a growing relationship over a good deal of time. This one shows what happens in the one day that a kid has to deal with a bully and examines the lengths he will go to get out of it and what eventually makes him accept his fate and face his enemy. If you like one, I think you’ll like the other so give Three O’Clock High a look on Netflix Instant!

 

Loveless Trade Post: All Three Volumes

After reading all 13 volumes of Brian Azzarello’s Vertigo book 100 Bullets, I decided to snag the second volume of his western series Loveless that I was missing and give the whole thing a read through. The book ran for 24 artists and included artists like Marcelo Frusin, Daniel Zezelj and Werther Dell’Edera. It’s a post-Civil War story about a husband and wife who both survived the war in a southern town called Blackwater, but each earning their scars. Wes Cutter saw all kinds of horrors and realized that many of the distinctions that men place on themselves don’t really matter worth a damn while his wife Ruth did what she had to survive which partially lead to a savage sexual assault at the hands of Union soldiers. Wes returns to Blackwater backed by a mysterious young man (SPOILER, it’s actually Ruth with short hair). The book also focuses on a freed slave turned bounty hunter who also happened to be one of Ruth’s attackers as well as some of the Union soldiers stationed in the south to help with rebuilding.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on in this book and, like 100 Bullets, the book is populated with some really despicable characters, though you wind up feeling for Wes and Ruth as the wronged couple trying to get their lives back on track even though the whole world seems dead set on keeping them off balance. Hell, off balance is an understatement.

But, even in the face of some really terrible stuff, Ruth and Wes are the kind of couple you just can’t help but root for. Even without all the bad things that happened to them, I just liked how dedicated and in love they were with each other. I’m drawn to couples that don’t fit squarely into the basic gender roles and all that where they really get a long and make things work. That reminds me of my relationship with my wife and I like seeing that reflected in fiction.

However, there are a few problems with the series. First off, I wish Marcelo Frusin would have been able to draw the entire book. The other artists do alright, but when reading a series like this that doesn’t last very long and is self contained, I’d much rather see one consistent art style throughout the whole thing. It doens’t help that Zezelj’s linework is incredibly thick and sometimes very difficult to read. I think they might have been trying to achieve the kind of dark shadows that can intensify a scene on TV or in a movie, but it just comes off as okay at best and unintelligible at worst.

My other major problem with this series is the ending. There’s an end of sorts to the Wes and Ruth tale that seems like it will continue on in some fashion and then you get a few more issues set much further ahead in time and deal either with brand new characters or tertiary-at-best ones. At first it seemed like the time jumps would show you what happened to the important characters in the series through these other people, but that’s not the case. And then it just ends. I don’t know if the book was cancelled prematurely or what, but it definitely feels like it. I wonder if he was going for a kind of Coen Brothers ending where the actual action of the finale is off screen and discussed later, but it doesn’t come off like that. Instead it feels like you get a somewhat satisfying ending and then teased with another potential group of story details only to wind up lacking.

So, while the ending fails to a great extent and the art is uneven, I liked this series as a whole and I think it all boils down to my like of Wes and Ruth Cutter as characters. I feel a strong connection to them and was right there with them as much as possible. There’s some lack of focus, but those two as well as all the other characters were rich enough to keep me engaged.

Anthology Rotation

At some point while burning through Stephen King’s gigantic Under The Dome, I thought it would be fun to switch gears for my next reading endeavor. It won’t be a tonal shift, necessarily, but more of a format one. Instead of hopping hack into the world of novels, I think I’ll tackle some of the short story and anthology books I’ve had filling up my to-read piles for ages. I don’t know about you guys, but I have a tendency to jump in and out of short story books at my leisure because I don’t feel that compulsion to finish them (unless there’s a theme or recurring characters or something along those lines).

Anyway, I dug through some of my boxes and assembled a pretty good line-up, if I do say so myself. I’ve got Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things (I read his Smoke & Mirrors over YEARS, but American Gods in a relatively short period of time), Elmore Leonard’s western collection Moment of Vengeance & Other Stories (big Leonard fan, but I’ve never read any of his westerns or any westerns for that matter), Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew (which I’ve delved into a bit), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button & Other Stories (also dipped into a little) and Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts (which I just got from Amazon).

The basic idea is to read a short story from each book and then move on to the next (to the right, in reference to the picture). I arranged them so the genres wouldn’t be back to back and will offer up a good deal of variety, though I’m sure the Gaiman book will be varied in and of itself. I’m excited because this not only will help me get through some books that have been sitting in piles for years, but also hopefully help me explore the short story genre better, something I haven’t really done since college and that was all stuff I was told to read. Anyone else forced to buy an anthology with their professor’s published story in it? Yeah, I’ve got a couple of those back home.

Anyway, it should be fun. I know with Christmas and New Year’s coming up, I won’t have a ton of time to read, so this will probably work out pretty well for me. It’ll be nice to feel some reading accomplishment while also attending to all my other duties. I think I’ll do a post on Fridays about what stories I read that week. That’s the plan at least. Anyone want to join me?

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.