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.

My 12 Favorite Trade Reading Experiences Of 2012

I write about a lot of trades on this site, about two a week if I’m on my game. But, I actually read a lot more than that. So, this particular list is the 12 books or runs that I enjoyed the most reading or re-reading this year. Most of them have been covered on the site, but others have not. I’ll give the latter a few more words than the former, but hope you enjoy.
outsiders looking for trouble  I read all of Judd Winick’s run of Outsiders this year, but didn’t write about it? Why? Well, it was a pretty big reading project, something that makes it harder for me to write about as a whole. But, I still really enjoyed this reading experience. Winick brings a realness to superhero comics without letting it get too in the way (if that makes sense). I know a lot of people think he forces issues into books, but I think these are the kinds of things that should be talked about and seen. Anyway, this was a fun superhero reading experience that made me remember how fun the DCU was back when this book and Geoff Johns’ Teen Titans launched. Good times. starman-omnibus-vol-3I haven’t written about James Robinson’s Starman because I haven’t finished the last omnibus yet. I haven’t finished it because I kind of don’t want to finish it and I also need quiet time to really sit down and finish it. This series is up there with Preacher and Sandman for me in my list of all time favorites. It lives in my heart and I was elated to discover that I still like it. This is what shared universe superhero comics could and should be. legend of grimjack volume 1I know I just read the first two volumes of Grimjack, but the experience has stayed with me. I love that world and keep thinking of great ways it could be interpreted for different genres. Right now I’m thinking about a Crackdown/Amazing Spider-Man style video game set in Cynosure where you take on jobs or just spend your day drinking in Munden’s Bar. If you dig Hellboy, B.P.R.D. or 100 Bullets, I think you’ll enjoy Grimjack. Frankenstein Agent Of S.H.A.D.E. Volume 1 War of the MonstersI’ve had a lot of different feelings about DC’s New 52. At first I was upset that “my” versions of the characters would only survive in my trade shelves and long boxes. Then I realized that I don’t really read new issues anymore and I still have my collection (and books I’ve never read from that era) to enjoy. I also realized that I’m almost 30 and have better things to worry about. With that behind me, I was able to dive into various trades with a mostly clear head and enjoyed them for the most part. I appreciate how DC was attempting to hit all different kinds of genres and audiences, of course, not all of those attempts were successful. The least successful tries in my opinion, though, were the books that just failed to set up a basic reason why that book existed aside from “to make money.” I still have a pile of them to read and am getting a sense of the new U, which is kind of fun. secret avengers vol 1 mission to marsEven though I read the second arc of Ed Brubaker’s Secret Avengers first and the first second, I had a great time reading this “black ops” take on superheroes. Bru writing Captain America/Steve Rogers is always aces in my book, but throwing in a lot of other street level-esque characters was even cooler. I’ve only read these first two volumes, but was satisfied with Brubaker’s ability to create an enjoyable sci-fi/spy mash-up story that felt well contained while still making me want to read more. the return of king dougReturn of King Doug came out of left field for me. It was gifted to me by a pal and I knew nothing about it, but Greg Erb, Jason Oremland and Wook-Jin Clark reminded me so much of the kinds of stories I love from the 80s, but while also doing all kinds of new, funny things I enjoy. Read this now. bprd hell on earth 2 new world gods And MmonstersI’ve said this before, but one of the things I miss most about not working at Wizard anymore is access to all of the Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics that came out. I’m super behind, but I did get my hands on some B.P.R.D. trades this year for a little catching up (Hell On Earth: New World and Gods And Monsters). That’s still the best damn comic series around and has been for a while. hulk red hulkI don’t mind playing catch-up on some books. I’ve been super happy re-reading things like World War Hulk and catching up on Hulk, Incredible Hulk and Red Hulk this year. Super fun, popcorn books mixed with well thought out ongoing superhero tales filled with monsters? Yeah, I’m all over that. izombie vol 2 uVAmpireI read the first iZombie trade in 2011, but was delighted to get my hands on the second and third volumes in 2012. I wrote about the second one here and have a post in mind talking about the third. Anyway, 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. So, so, so good. american vampire volume 1I’m pretty surprised there are two Vertigo books on here. It seemed like for a while I was reading nothing from them. Now iZombie and American Vampire are two of my faves. Then again Chris Roberson and Scott Snyder are two of the best newcomer writers around, so that’s no surprise. In this case, Snyder takes two things that have become old and boring — vampires and American history — and makes them both super interesting and intense. Can’t wait to see where the rest of this series goes.batman knightfall volume 1Batman: Knightfall Volume 1 was pure, nostalgic joy. All of the Batman comics that got me into Batman in one place in one fat volume? Yes, yes and yes. I have the second and third volumes waiting to be read. Maybe next month after knocking off a smattering of random trades I want to check out. lost_dogs_cover_sm_lgI don’t remember exactly why I didn’t write about Jeff Lemire’s Lost Dogs. It’s one of the few books I’ve bought through Comixology for my Kindle Fire. The long and short of it is that this story about a simpleton trying to save his family. It’s raw and rough and hits you in the gut. I don’t know if I liked the experience of reading this story, but it was certainly powerful. I can’t remember if it made me cry or not, but it came close.

I’m certain I missed a few books that I didn’t write about, but this is a pretty solid list by all accounts. I should probably branch out into more diverse trades and graphic novels — and I plan to — but what can I say? I love me some superheroes. I also happen to love all kinds of other comics, so let’s continue to make and talk about awesome comics.

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.

Books Of Oa: Rage Of The Red Lanterns & Agent Orange

GREEN LANTERN: RAGE OF THE RED LANTERNS (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Shane Davis & Ivan Reis
Collects Final Crisis: Rage Of The Red Lanterns #1 & Green Lantern #36-38
Okay, I know I said in my reviews of the Alpha Lanterns story line (which is also collected in this book) and the Secret Origins trade that I don’t like when comics are split up and not collected in actual order, but I’ve got to say that this one works out pretty well. As I mentioned in the Secret Origins review, that entire story takes place in the past with absolutely no mention of what’s going on in the present, so jumping from the end of issue #28–which turned Lost Lantern Laira into a Red Lantern–right to the poorly themed Final Crisis one-shot (which only briefly mentions what’s going on on Earth with the death of a god) and then into #36 because that’s basically the chronological story (in the DCU, not the real world). That’s a lot of parentheticals.

Anyway, the actual Rage Of The Red Lanterns story actually kicks off with the one-shot which is still rad, even if it probably never needed to be tied into Final Crisis. For whatever it’s worth, I love Final Crisis, but think it was a great story by one guy that got turned into an event, though it probably shouldn’t have been. So, FC: ROTRL turns out to be a kind of origin story for Atrocitus, the head of the Red Lanterns and denizen of Ysmault, the planet visited by Abin Sur in “Tyger” (see the above link). We learn that Atrocitus’ entire sector died thanks to something the Guardians did (we’ll find out more about this later), Sinestro is being escorted by a group of GLs to his home planet of Korugar for execution, Hal visits Earth and chats with Cowgirl, Ash finds the Anti-Monitor’s helm, the Controllers make an appearance a, Dex-Star makes his first (I think) and we get our first look of a Blue Lantern. It’s a LOT going on in one issue. The rest of the story has the Red Lanterns keeping Sinestro prisoner on Ysmault, Hal visiting Odym the base planet of Ganthet and Sayd’s Blue Lanterns and there’s a mini war of the light as Hal tries to save Sinestro from the Red Lanterns while the Sinestro Corps members have the exact idea in mind. Hal finds himself sporting the red ring after Sinestro kills Laira which only goes away when Saint Walker places a blue ring on his finger as well.

It’s kind of shocking how much is crammed into four issues. I say that as a compliment. A lot of comics feel too padded and lack action, but there’s so much world-building and a bevy of poignant character moments, that, had I bought these issues as they came out in monthlies, I think I’d be pretty happy with my purchase. The problem with reading comics that way–as I did at Wizard when the issues were originally coming out–is that it’s really difficult to absorb all that stuff. GL comics were a hot commodity while I was there, so you had to kind of burn through the issue so you could pass it off to whoever had dibs next. I think that’s why a lot of my memories of these comics are fuzzy and why I’m having so much fun reading these issues again altogether now.

GREEN LANTERN: AGENT ORANGE (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Philip Tan, Eddy Barrows, Ivan Reis, Rafael Albuquerque & Doug Mahnke
Collects Green Lantern #38-42, Blackest Night #0
Most of the action in Agent Orange takes place on a planet called Okaara which not only houses the orange light and it’s greedy bearer Larfleeze, but also was the place that Fatality trained to become the great warrior who traveled through space to kill Green Lanterns. I failed to mention in the Rage review that the Star Sapphire’s had rehabilitated her. That comes into play here as she confronts John Stewart and talks to him about love. It’s great to see John actually get a bit of the spotlight after being widely neglected since Rebirth. Meanwhile, Hal continues on his galactic tour that keeps putting new rings on his fingers. He’s got the blue one at the beginning of the story. Since the blue energy feeds off of hope (and also can’t do much but fly without a Green Lantern in close proximity), Hal needs to figure out what he actually hopes for in life to get it off his hand. It’s a pretty interesting mystery that gets pretty close to “JUST TELL ME ALREADY” territory, but didn’t quite get there for me. I was always interested, then something cool would happen and I would focus on that, then the question about hope would pop up and I’d be reminded of it again. Fun stuff.

Also fun and interesting is the big war between Green and Orange on the surface of the planet while Larfleeze tells Hal that he accidentally stole Parallax from someone which put him and his gang on the Guardians’ radar. In an attempt to escape, they wound up on Okaara where Larfleeze and one of his boys found the orange lantern. The Guardians said he could keep the lantern if he stayed in his sector as long as he never left. Larfleeze sees the Guardians as having broken the pact which brings things closer to the Blackest Night. Oh, at the very end, we see Ash and Saarek finally discovering the Black Lantern. CRAZY!

In addition to the action packed story, the collection also includes some of Philip Tan’s Orange Lantern character sketches–I didn’t remember liking his art very much the first time around, but this time around I really liked the textured elements it had–as well as a one of those Origins & Omens back-ups DC made everyone do at the time, the origin of Orange Lantern Glomulus and Secret Files-like run downs of all the Lanterns. I really appreciate them putting the extra effort into a book that felt thin, but still had five packed issues.

These being the last two trades leading up to Blackest Night, I figured it’d be a good place to talk about a few things that have been on my mind. First off, and this is something that’s always bothered me, I don’t understand how Hal Jordan can be in the Air Force and NEVER BE ON EARTH. I know some higher ups know his secret identity, but the military is all about accountability and it seems counter-intuitive to have someone as part of that organization that can’t be around. Maybe it’s that I don’t understand the Air Force as much as, say, the Army, but it just doesn’t sit right with me. Why he’s not still just a test pilot, I don’t know.

A few more quick complaints. For as much as Johns and company have paid attention to past Green Lantern continuity from the Alan Moore short stories to Kyle Rayner’s adventures, it confuses me that he has the Guardians talking like they’ve been around for millennia when they had actually been killed and either resurrected or recreated by Kyle Rayner. I don’t perfectly remember how they explained that back then, but it gives me a geeky twinge every time Scar says she’s been in the universe forever. It also seems like the Guardians are just making stupid decisions and are far too susceptible to Scar’s machinations. This is more going on in Green Lantern Corps, but it bugs me. I get that they’re anti-emotion, but them being so easily swayed seems a little ridic.

Okay, that’s all the complaints. I really dig the book otherwise and a lot of these are quibbles to be honest. I absolutely love how much thought Johns and his peeps have put into the different lanterns. All of this makes so much sense (aside from willpower being an emotion, or the fulcrum of the emotional spectrum in actuality). Of course the greed-based Lantern won’t let any of the rings go! Of course rage literally consumes the bearer! Of course love can be used as an excuse, well, anything! It’s all great in my book.

One of the things I wanted to really examine with this re-read project was to get an idea of Hal Jordan as a character. I think I’ve got that, but it more comes from how he interacts with his own corps and members of the others and much less from the Earth-bound stuff they seemed more interested in in the beginning of the book. Let’s be straight, it doesn’t make sense for a space cop to hang out too much on Earth. I get that Earth is important and it makes sense for Hal to stop home every now and then, but with Carol about to become Star Sapphire again, why not just let them be together flying around space and kicking ass? That’s what I’d do with the character and leave his Earth-based adventures up to the JLA. But hey, who cares what I say?