Another week has gone by and I’ve knocked out another pile of comics, most of which came from my local library system. As you can see, we’ve got a mix of amazing indie artists, classic comic visionaries, crossovers and newer books. Hit the jump to see what I had to say on this batch! Continue reading Trade Post: Frank, Midnighter, Constantine, Spirit & Batman/TMNT
John Constantine, Hellblazer, Vol. 1: Original Sins (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jamie Delano with Rick Veitch, drawn by John Ridgway, Brett Ewins, Jim McCarthy, Veitch & Tom Mandrake
Collects Hellblazer #1-9, Swamp Thing #76, 77
At the beginning of October I had two ideas that turned out to be pretty good ones: first, I should read some of the Hellblazer volumes I had sitting around and, second, I should see if anyone wanted to pay me money in conjunction with the first idea. As it turned out, I came up with an idea to run down John Constantine’s most dastardly moments from the early days of his solo series and it ran over on Topless Robot. It worked out well because of the premiere of Constantine on NBC, though I haven’t actually watched more than a few minutes of the show.
What I soon remembered after diving in to these books is something I noted when I reviewed Jamie Delano’s “The Fear Machine” arc as well as the more recent graphic novel Pandemonium and that is just how rich, robust and literary Delano’s text boxes are. Comics just don’t have that quality anymore and it took me a little while to adjust, but once I did, I realized I was reading something dark and special. As my list notes, Constantine makes some very difficult and awful decisions, but the more you read of him, the more you understand that no one else will make those choices and they weigh heavily on him.
Specifically speaking, this first batch of issues might seem like a series of one-offs, but they’re building off of themselves and each other leading towards the larger story coming to light in the next volume. The first two issues deal with an old friend accidentally unleashing a hunger god that leads John to NYC where he visits franchise stalwart Papa Midnite. From there you get a Yuppie-loving fart demon, a child murderer, a town that gets its boys back from Vietnam in a very unexpected way, a multi-armed soccer hooligan, a cyber mage, a deal with a demon, a terrible 35th birthday and a crossover with that other Vertigo mainstay Swamp Thing where the title character borrows John’s body to have sex with his lady Abby.
This volume is the perfect example of what Hellblazer was in its early days and not just because it’s the first. You get the sense of humor Delano instilled in the character as well as his intrinsically tragic nature. Plus, while you might not see them on the first read, there are a lot of seeds being planted that grow and bloom as the series progresses. I should note here that I haven’t read Constatine’s first appearances in Swamp Thing yet, so I’m sure some of that came from Alan Moore, but I credit Delano with creating something truly wonderful here in these issues.
Hellblazer, Vol. 2: The Devil You Know (Vertigo/DC)
Written by Jamie Delano, drawn by Richard Piers Rayner, Mark Buckingham, Bryan Talbot, Dean Motter & David Lloyd
Collects Hellblazer #10-13, Hellblazer Annual #1, The Horrorist #1-2
After all the build-up in the previous volume, issues #10, 11 and 12 hit like an atom bomb. #10 features an issue-long astral plane trip while Swamp Thing’s using John’s body. #11 explains why Constantine’s been having such a rough time in one of the most disturbing comics I’ve ever read. By #12, everything comes to a head, characters come crashing together and Constantine comes up with a particularly devious way of dealing with his nemesis.
The last regular issue of this collection is one of the craziest, dream sequence things I’ve ever experienced in any medium. Set against the looming threat of atomic mishaps, John deals with everything he’s caused and gone through leading up to this point. It’s not the easiest thing to understand, but then again, neither is the annual which switches time between John looking for a tape of his band Mucus Membrane and a past/future version of himself intertwined with Arthurian legend. It’s a lot to take in. The book closes out with the mid-90s two issue mini The Horrorist which finds Constantine drawn to a woman from a photograph who is wreaking havoc across the country.
Altogether these first two volumes don’t just set up the groundwork for a series that would go on to last 300 issues, continue on in a different form in the New 52 and make the jump to the big and small screens. One of the things that surprised me most about these two books is that Constantine doesn’t use magic in the way you might expect having seen things like Harry Potter films. He knows all about demons and monsters and angels, but instead of casting spells, the action is far more physical and more in line with a detective story. I like that take because it grounds the supernatural elements which can be off-putting at times.
Before closing out I want to say a few things about covers. First off, the ones for these trades are amazing. Getting Jim Lee and John Cassaday to do these covers is ingenious because they might help bring in new readers, but also because the original series covers are pretty insane. I mean, just look at them. These might be the most surreal, difficult-to-describe covers I’ve ever seen. It’s actually kind of shocking that they were used to try and sell a book back in the day.
I read a lot of trades in a week. In addition to the bursting-at-the-seems shelf of things I’ve read at least once, I also have two long boxes full of books I need to work my way through, plus things I borrow from other people and work. It’s a lot to get through, but with my train ride and nightly reading, I’m at least putting a dent in those boxes.
So far this week I’ve finished two books I started reading a while ago, read three complete books, started and quit one and and halfway through two others. That’s a total of 8 trades this week on top of Gulliver’s Travels which I’m slowly getting through. Anyway, here’s a few brief (I promise) thoughts on these books).
NORTH WORLD VOL. 2 (Oni) by Lars Brown
I haven’t read the first volume of this book, but I enjoyed this one enough to go back and read te original. The idea is that the main character used to be a fighter in the vein of World of Warcraft or something and has since settled down to do taxes with his dad. I’ve heard the first volume gets a bit mired in the MMORPG in-jokes, but Volume 2 doesn’t have those pitfalls. There are definitely aspects of the story I wasn’t very clear on, but I’ll chalk that up to me coming in part-way through the story and not as a fault of the author for now. Aside from entertaining me on the train ride home, I also used Brown’s book as a reference for how to draw cartoony figures and had some success. Figuring out how he drew his main character lead directly to the creation of the nameless party guy I drew yesterday.
THE BIG BOOK OF BARRY WEEN, BOY GENIUS (Oni) by Judd Winick
I hate to double link to the same post, but I mentioned yesterday that I’ve been reading this brand new collection of all things Barry Ween from Oni for the past few days. I’m about halfway through and I’m loving the foul mouthed adventures of the smartest kid (person, really) on earth, his friend Jeremy and his love interest Sarah. If you liked Dexter and have no problem with a deluge of profanity and pop culture references (some of which have gone completely over my head), then you should definitely check this book out. I haven’t enjoyed a reading experience this much in a long time.
LIGHT BRIGADE (DC) written by Pete Tomasi, drawn by Peter Snejbjerg
AS anyone who read my review of the Nightwing Freefall trade knows, I really enjoy Pete Tomasi’s writing. So, when I was offered someone’s copy of his first(?) comics work Light Brigade I jumped at the chance. I’m also a big fan of Peter Snejbjerg because he was involved with the second half of James Robinson’s excellent Starman run (and the artist behind two pieces of original art I have from that last issue). The story focuses on a group of soldiers during World War II who get mixed up in the war between the renegade angels and God. I’ve seen a lot of stories like this (try and find a Hellboy comic that doesn’t mention deities and Nazis), but I liked the yarn Tomasi wove here, especially the character who’s a fan of DC comics of the time, going so far as to give their group a team name and make them shirts with a logo. Definitely worth checking out if anything above sounds even remotely interesting. Also, this is the best I’ve ever seen Snejbjerg. The colors really seem to leap off the page. Good stuff.
HELLBLAZER: THE FEAR MACHINE (Vertigo) Written by Jamie Delano, drawn by Mark Buckingham, Richard Piers Rayner, Mike Hoffman, Alfredo Alcala
I first got interested in Hellblazer back when Brian Azzarello started writing the title. At that point I was heavily into 100 Bullets and would read pretty much anything with his name on it. Those were good comics, but I had trouble getting a grasp on exactly what John Constantine could do. I knew he had some kind of magical powers, but beyond that? No clue. I’m still not really sure about the dude’s powers even after reading this arc which comes from his earliest adventures (Hellblazer #14-22), but I still really like this enigmatic character. The funny thing about jumping into any Constantine story is that you have no idea if the old friends/acquaintances/enemies/lovers he runs into have been established in previous comics or just made up by the author. This story surprised me because of how far away from the John Constantine rubric it runs. You’ve got John joining up with some hippies, liking it, trying to find a missing girl and sporting (get this) a BLACK trench coat and even sunglasses, instead of a tan one. Remember how angry people were when Keanu wore the black coat in the movie?
Apparently it has precedence.
The story is very deep and involved and it took me quite a while to get through it because of waning interest and the absolute literariness of the whole thing, but by the end I had a great time and really enjoyed this seemingly atypical Hellblazer adventure. I’ve got one more Delano trade I’m interested to burn through now (PUNS!). I also want to get my hands on the Ennis/Dillon books.
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (Marvel) By Jim Valentino
If you’re like me, you’ve been enjoying the hell out of Guardians of the Galaxy which spun out of Annihilation Conquest’s Star-Lord miniseries. That got me curious about the previous incarnation of the Guardians of the Galaxy, so when it popped up on someone’s Sequential Swap list, I swapped for it. And man, there’s no more 90s story than this one, which collects the first 6 issues of the series. The idea is that this is set in an alternate future where War of the Worlds happened on the 616 and wipes out all the heroes. This is way in the future and the Guardians end up fighting a group called The Stark who, through means I care not to spoil, evolved with full-on Tony Stark technology. I liked the “what happened to THIS character” feel of the story and would definitely read an Essential volume or two to see where the full story went, but, like I said, it’s very 90s. In addition to briefly explaining every team member’s origin, powers and home planet with almost the exact same wording every issue and coming in that same weird size as the Armor Wars trade I read, there’s also Taserface:
CLASSIC G.I. JOE VOL. 1 (IDW/Marvel) Written by Lara Hama (mostly), drawn by Herb Trimpe (mostly)
I really, really wanted to love this book, but just couldn’t. The book collects the first 10 issues of the series originally done by Marvel, but IDW put out the particular volume I read. These aren’t bad stories, they’re just not all that interesting, which goes for both Hama’s stories and Trimpe’s art. Maybe it’s that I’ve seen so many spy/military-based stories that almost anything feels been-there-done-that. I had high expectations because I know a lot of people who sing the praises of this comic, including Kiel, so hopefully they’ll jump on to let me know what it gets really good.
BAT LASH: GUNS & ROSES (DC) Written by Sergio Argones, drawn by Peter Brandvold
I got interested in this book after reading the latest issue of Jonah HEx which features a very well spoken Bat Lash. Unfortunately, this mini doesn’t really pick up on any of those themes and just came off kind of boring to me. How cool would it have been if Sergio drew this bad boy though? That being said, I still really liked Bradvold’s art, though I’m not familiar with him at all. This is the book I didn’t get all the way through.
TOR: A PREHISTORIC ODYSSEY (DC) by Joe Kubert
This is the other book I haven’t finished yet. That’s because the entire story is told in text boxes instead of dialogue balloons. It fits the story just fine, it just takes me longer to read. Tor’s a prehistoric character who got kicked out of his tribe for being smart and awesome and is having crazy adventures in parts unknown. So far I really like this book, it’s a great showcase of the senior Kubert’s style, which is one of the most recognizable in comics (I bet he could draw a stick figure and you’d still know it’s him). He definitely hasn’t lost his touch.
Anyone else read any of these books? Thoughts? If not, what are you reading and digging right now?