Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Other Side Anthology OGN

When it comes to LGTBTQ representation in paranormal fantasies, not too many writers do it as well as Charlaine Harris. Never mind the stories draw you in, but then it showed the world as it really is, but with supernatural beings abound. Since she came onto the scene, there have been many writers and artists to enter the realm.  As far as comics go, there are more than a handful that fall within the supernatural genre, but even fewer that feature LBGTQ characters, which underwrites a bigger problem, where diversity in all its shades, from race, to sex to disability to sexual orientation, have felt the hush, when these groups ask if they are represented.

This is the reason when I heard about the The Other Side Anthology, a collection that focuses on “queer paranormal romance,” I was more than a little interested to know if these creators would do this genre justice within the comics medium. In the first story, “Black Dog,” a hunter reminisces of words by his father which makes him weary of a black dog, which has followed him every day, but little does he know, a surprise connection, awaits him. In “Enbae & Boo,” an online date at a convention for paranormal seekers, turns into a love match. In “Dive”, a grandmother’s tall tale ends up having more truth than she lets her grandchild know.

In “Emma FZR 400RR SP,” a ghost and human connected by a motorcycle start off as antagonistic, but soon fall for each other. In “Halo,” a chance meeting with an angel changes one man’s life forever. “In Beneath My Breath, above my Gaze,” one man’s hike turns into a lifelong love affair with nature. In “Ouija Call Center,” connection to dead people takes a hilarious turn.

In “Pulpit Point,” a love burgeons between a midshipman and a ghost in the most unlikely of circumstances. In “Rabbit Stew,” a woman makes her long dead husband, his favorite dish. In “Fifty Years,” one part of a vampire couple bestows their most rabid hunter as a gift their beloved. In “Shadow’s Bae,” a monster’s girlfriend shows them love knows no bounds. In “Third Circle Pizza,” one half of a couple breaks a centuries old spell on a family that curses their boyfriend.

In “Till Death,” the ghostly half of a couple, haunts a family moving their old house, so that the memory of their love is not lost. In “Tierra Verde,” a mysterious stranger gets hired to get rid of an ethereal being, but what starts out as a job, becomes more than either expected. In “Appliance,” a microwave connects the ghost of a man and his family with a total stranger. In “Airspace,” an unlikely love match occurs when a guitar lesson turns into a literal out of body experience.

In “Bare Bones,” a home improvement job awakens a ghost and saves a life. In “Yes, No Maybe,” a Ouija board leads one woman to a flirtation with a ghost and much more. In “Threnody,” an older woman ponders the need for her in the world, a question, a goddess was more than happy to answer.

The stories contained in this tome, more than shine, they offer light where other writers may be too shy to shed. The art by all the artists more than thrills it, exhilarates. Overall, a great collection, that shows each creator’s range and more than adds to the genre, it shifts the paradigm.

Story: Kou Chen, Mari Costa, Natasha Donovan, Kori Michele Handwerker, Gisele Jobateh, F. Lee, Kate Leth and Katie O’Neill , Sfé R. MonsterMargaret KirchnerAmelia OnoratoAatmaja Pandya, Fyodor Pavlov, Bitmap Prager and Melanie Gillman, Britt SaboBishakh K. SomSarah Winifred Searle and Hannah Krieger, Laurel Varian and Ezra RoseMary Verhoeven, CB Webb
Art: Kou Chen, Mari Costa, Natasha Donovan, Kori Michele Handwerker, Gisele Jobateh, F. Lee, Kate Leth and Katie O’Neill, Sfé R. MonsterMargaret KirchnerAmelia OnoratoAatmaja Pandya, Fyodor Pavlov, Bitmap Prager and Melanie Gillman, Britt SaboBishakh K. SomSarah Winifred Searle and Hannah Krieger, Laurel Varian and Ezra RoseMary Verhoeven, CB Webb, Mildred Louis

Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

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Review: Rapture #3

RAPTURE_003_COVER-B_JONES“Ninjak and Shadowman have launched an all-out assault against Babel – the ancient being determined to breach heaven – on the dark and decaying battlefields of the Deadside. But are the combined might of sword and shadow enough to stop this biblical force of nature…or will they need the help of an ancient and weary warrior whose power transcends their understanding? And as oblivion inches ever closer to Earth, Tama the Geomancer and Punk Mambo must step out of the darkness and halt Babel’s forces from infiltrating the land of the living as Valiant’s Shadowman-driven standalone event fight on!”

When you put a comic down and say “holy shit that was awesome” you’re usually referring to the writing, art or some combination thereof. Seldom do you put down an issue and say the same things about the lettering, because when a letterer does a god job you don’t notice it as you spend more time enjoying the issue in front of you; the sign of a good letterer is when you don’t notice their work. But with Rapture #3, and indeed the entire series so far, Dave Sharpe has been bringing to life Babel’s unique way of speaking with a surprisingly effective way of lettering his speech, which allows you to get a mere glimpse at the complex mind of the series villain.

Once again, Andrew Dalhouse‘s colouring is wonderful, and truly bring the Deadside to life (pun not intended). The art team of Cafu with Roberto De La Torre gave Dalhouse some fantastic virgin art to work with, and the end result is a comic that is utterly wonderful to look at. But it’s not just wonderful to look at; Matt Kindt once again delivers a solid script, driving the plot forward without rushing the development of the story – Kindt is truly a master of his craft.

Rapture #3 is another solid issue in the story.

Story: Matt Kindt Art: Cafu with Roberto De La Torre
Colour Art: Andrew Dalhouse Dave Sharpe
Story: 9 Art: 8.75 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Valiant provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review, but this review is based on the print copy I picked up from my LCS.

Review: Comichaus #6

I remember the very first time I picked up Epic Illustrated and how cool I thought it was. My Dad did not want me to read Heavy Metal magazine, because he thought it was crazy like the movie, and looking back he was right to some respect. This is where I first read Silver Surfer before he went on his galaxy trotting adventures in the Marvel Universe. He was a completely different character then, a much more serious figure that felt more like X-O Manowar of Valiant Universe, than his current incarnation.

There was something beautiful about how all thee creators brought their A game, and wrote stories like they had nothing to lose at the same time. In the sixth issue of their anthology, each creator reminds me of those writers/illustrators in Epic Illustrated, as thy thrive to write stories to evoke emotion. In the new installment, of Chalk, we get to see Jacqueline utilizing her full powers and up to no good, kind of like in the TV show, Angel, when he was Angelus. In the latest installment of Feather, Doug makes a promise to Sally, as each finds peace in their purpose and their eternal separation.

In Mandy the Monster Hunter, we get to see Mandy in action, as her training and instincts kick in full gear, as she destroys one monsters and recruit help to fight another. In MIA, a new story, a pair of hired guns, breakup an arms deal, which goes sideways quickly. In Cold, as our couple struggles to find a way out, the spirits within, leave a scary surprise, one that leaves them scarred. In Tipples I Time, a family gets transported back in time to the Old West but gets a little more, not only cowboys but also giant aliens.

Overall, all the new stories introduced has made this anthology series more than one to watch. The stories contained within, continue to get better. The art makes black and white panels look beautiful. Altogether, a great issue, where the reader finds a new reason to buy the next issue.

Story: Steven Horry, Dave Cook, Matt Warner, Chris Robertson, Simon Birks, Jimmy Furlong
Art: Catia Fantini, Norrie Millar, Ed Bickford, Vincent Hunt, Richard MacRae, Lyndon White, Andrew Hartmann
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Mini Reviews For The Week Ending 7/22

Sometimes, the staff at Graphic Policy read more comics than we’re able to get reviewed. When that happens you’ll see a weekly feature compiling short reviews from the staff of the comics, or graphic novels, we just didn’t get a chance to write a full review for.

These are Graphic Policy’s Mini Reviews.

Ryan C

RoyalCity_05-1Royal City #5 (Image)** – Jeff Lemire wraps up the first story arc of his long-form series with an issue that’s an almost unconscionably quick read given its $3.99 cover price, but the biggest blunder comes with the poorly-executed and clumsy double-cliffhanger, which actually serves up the most surprising revelation first and then follows it up with one that you already saw coming. Still, the art’s lush and beautiful, and the story at least moves all the major plotlines forward. Overall: 6.5 Recommendation: Read

Winnebago Graveyard #2 (Image)** – The second issue of Steve Niles and Alison Sampson’s fast-moving homage to ’70s cult horror is every bit as masterful an evocation of its various “source materials” as was the first, and while you can predict every beat in the story, who are we kidding? That’s a big part of the charm here. Granted, as sparse as the script is chances are this thing should simply have been released as a 64-page special (or, if you absolutely must pump the public for cash, a graphic novel), but Sampson’s art is so flabbergastingly gorgeous that I’m more than happy to shell out for bucks a pop for it in singles. Overall: 8 Recommendation: Buy

 Jimmy’s Bastards #2 (Aftershock)** – Garth Ennis and Russ Braun are the definition of a “known quantity” creative team at this point, and if you like their brand of irreverent, bordering-on-sick-and-wrong humor and cartoonishly exaggerated, but still very much grounded in reality, illustration, odds are you’ll get a kick out of this story about a James Bond stand-in being hunted down by his literally hundreds of illegitimate kids. Personally, I do like it, and so I’m having all kinds of guilty-pleasure fun here, especially since this issue kick-starts the plot into gear much better than the first did. Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Buy

Batman #27 (DC)** – It seems pretty early on for “The War Of Jokes And Riddles” to need an “interlude,” as this issue bills itself as being, but whaddya know — once again Tom King shows that his stand-alone stories in this series are so much better than his long-form “arcs.” The origin of Kite-Man is far from the joke one would expect, and King deftly handles some very sensitive and tragic subject matter with genuine skill and compassion — and that double-splash with The Joker saying “good grief” is the biggest laugh we’ve gotten from any Batman book in decades. Fill-in artist Clay Mann, for his part, does a pretty nice job with a style of illustration that falls somewhere in between that of the the series’ two regulars, David Finch and Mikel Janin. All in all a great read that’s nice to look at. Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Patrick

IHateFairyland_14-1 I Hate Fairyland #14 (Image)** – Skottie Young is back on story and art, sending Gert into the labyrinth of Loveth Lovelord to retrieve the Balls of Redemption. If she succeeds (naturally, defeating the dragon at the centre), she gets her wish to become good. If she fails, she marries the creeptastic LL. Along the way, she also makes any number of marriage deals and indeed faces a dragon. This issue just clocks along with a cocky skip in its step and is great, sour-candy fun. Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Lazarus X+66 #1 (Image)** – This is the first in what I take to be a series of standalone issues that explore Greg Rucka’s very complex world. Good idea! In this story, Rucka and artist Steve Lieber deliver the story of Casey Solomon’s training to be an ultra-elite Dagger. It’s a very solid basic training story, and Lieber does a great job on the art, but if you didn’t know it existed in the Lazarusverse, you would think it was taking place in today’s mundane reality. In that sense, although it adds a bit to Casey’s story, it doesn’t follow through on the promise of exploring and expanding the world. Overall: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

Bitch Planet Triple Feature #2 (Image)** – As I thought, the second issue of this anthology feature finds its feet: as Kelly Sue DeConnick points out, the tone is not “mercilessly bleak” but ROBOCOP. And I will always buy that for a dollar. Real quick: Che Grayson and Sharon Lee De La Cruz bring us the “Miss Tween Neck Competition” – but what price victory? And what other very precise anatomical competitions are also going on?… In “This is Good for You,” Danielle Henderson, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt make a very sharp link between “self-care,” “family values,” and “compliance.” And anchoring the pack, Jordan Clark and Naomi Franquiz’ “What’s Love Got To Do With it” brings us the story of Amaya, a nurse who, upon turning 30, needs to avoid the Old Maid Tax, receiving for her birthday a literal Biological Clock. This issue is the one you’ve been looking for, Kelly Sue. Overall: 6.5, 8, and 9. Recommendation: Buy

 Bettie Page #1 (Dynamite)** – The premise is that we are reading the secret diary of Bettie Page, who in 1951, in exchange for a lift to Hollywood, became a federal agent. Writer David Avallone gives us a tough-as-nails, sharp-as-a-tack Bettie, and Colton Worley nicely captures her look. But otherwise, it’s a bog-standard story of a secret cult plot that takes way too long to develop and does not otherwise require the presence of its protagonist. When you have an iconic character on your hands, I think you can do a lot more with it. Mostly it made me want to go back and watch Mary Harron’s excellent Notorious Bettie Page. Well-made and professional but missing heart and spark. Overall: 7 Recommendation: Read 

 

Well, there you have it, folks. The reviews we didn’t quite get a chance to write. See you next week!

Please note that with some of the above comics, Graphic Policy was provided FREE copies for review. Where we purchased the comics, you’ll see an asterisk (*). If you don’t see that, you can infer the comic was a review copy. In cases where we were provided a review copy and we also purchased the comic you’ll see two asterisks (**).

Review: Soviet Daughter

As a teacher once told me years ago in high school, “we are making history every day”. No one ever really understands when they are in the middle of history when most people think of history happening, as for most of us, we are just living.  For people in the middle of history, they are surviving, the amount of bravery that it takes to stand up in an insurrection, cannot be understated, as the many revolutions around the world, have shown it is equal parts faith and fortitude. It reminds me of my family and their reactions to when Ninoy Aquino got shot in the Philippines back in 1983.

Our family had left the Philippines two years prior, but still had extended family and friends there, as the country’s disposition towards the government became untenable, and eventually lead to the ousting of President Marcos. My generation, only knew of what our parents and their brothers and sisters told us, of how it was then and why they felt they had to leave, some of their answers more cryptic than others. Their disdain never quite followed us even though many of us has some of that anti-establishment fervor in our blood, but those ghosts not only haunted them, it haunted us as well. This is what Soviet Daughter reminded me of when I read Julia Alekseyeva’s graphic novel of three generations of her family from when the family was entrenched in the USSR to them finally arriving in Chicago.

In the first few pages, we are introduced to the author, who we find out was a very close to her great grandmother, who had died when was 100 years old, and left her with a memoir, which was not to be read until after she died. What Julia, has found was not only an autobiography of her great grandmother but the story of Russia. We are introduced to family members throughout, showing how difficult life was in Russia, before and after both World Wars. By the end of the book, the author is both devastated and lost when she learned what she did about her great grandmother, a woman though lose to her , she barely knew.

The heartbreaking story of anti-Semitism, World Wars, Stalinism, xenophobia, Communism, and resilience amongst these three generations of women will have you rooting for all of them. The story by Alekseyeva is heart wrenching, with moments of levity, but leave the reader besides themselves. The art by Alekseyeva is appropriate and feels more like a scrapbook for this family than sequential art. Overall, this is a story that will make you wish you knew more about those in your family who have ascended the earth.

Story: Julia Alekseyeva Art: Julia Alekseyeva
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Kahlil Chapter 7: Our Last Day as Children

Loss of innocence I something that has been examined as long as people wondered about the beauty of youth. The best analogy for the loss of innocence to me, is when I saw the Santa Clause for the first time. There is metaphor for this with in the whole film series, where onl kids who still believe can see Tim Allen as Santa Claus. I was still young enough when I saw the movie, to understand what his son in the movie felt when he saw him.

Years later, when I saw those movies with my daughters, I became the pragmatic person his son would become in the later movies, as he truly lost innocence, no longer a child. As we grow up, these things become less magical, as we look for things more tangible.  Within the superhero realm, the loss of innocence is more abrupt for them than us normal human beings. In this issue of Kahlil, we see how his father struggled with not only raising a son but one with superpowers and how his years of studying engineering made it even harder to comprehend.

We find Kahlil’s father, finding a holographic recording intended for Kahlil which gives him some guidance. We also catch up with Kahlil, as he has no idea to tell Lina that he likes the way he feels. She wants to know what exactly happened in Karachi, and how was he able to do what he did. By issue’s end, Kahlil’s father introduces Kahlil and Lina to Jor-El, Kahlil’s biological alien father.

Overall, a great installment that mixes, humor, teen angst, and mythology making into a great story. The story by Kumail Rizvi elevates in this issue, as his nod to the source material, with Jor-El is pure genius. The art by Rizvi is gorgeous. Altogether, another solid issue that continues to thrill.

Story: Kumail Rizvi Art: Kumail Rizvi
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Movie Review: Dunkirk

Dunkirk-IMAX-posterThe battle and evacuation at Dunkirk set the tone and narrative for much of the Allied response to the Nazi advances. Christopher Nolan‘s new ensemble war drama distills that heroism into a set of interweaving narratives, telling a powerful story with all of the technical prowess he is known for. While not the masterpiece some are claiming it is, Dunkirk is a great war film– and emphasis on film.

For those who missed that day in history class, (spoiler alert?) Dunkirk was the time the French and English armies found themselves surrounded and trying to evacuate from the Northern coast of France. Only 50 or so miles across the English Channel, almost half a million soldiers waited to be rescued– and British citizens took to their small boats to help bring everyone back.

Nolan tells us three main stories, focusing on a single person on the beach, a fighter pilot (Tom Hardy), and a British man help with the rescue (Mark Rylance). With typical Nolan panache, he mixes up the timelines and weaves them together thematically rather than by time, so Hardy’s heroic sky antics (in reality stretching across several hours) seems to stretch for the days that the soldiers waited on the beaches.

Beautifully filmed in wide-screen format, if you are going to see this in theaters, it deserves to be seen in a theater with the biggest, best screen and best sound system possible. While this highlights Nolan’s skills as a filmmaker, this timeline is also something that was incredibly distracting. When a scene changes from night to day to night again and then to day, it’s jarring, and not in a good way. This seems almost like Nolan trying to show us how clever he is rather than just focusing on telling a story. While this sort of temporal tomfoolery works in a story like Memento or Inception, it just seems out of place in a grounded war movie like this about actual events that transpired. I’d like to see a cut of the film with the story simply told in linear fashion– it would be better sans Nolan trying to show us how clever he is.

Speaking of jarring, (but this time in a good way)there’s also Nolan’s sound design. Every bullet, every bomb hits with an intensity that you feel. As they cross the channel on his boat, Rylance’s Mr. Dawson teaches his son and his friend George to tell the differences in engine sounds between the Luftwaffe and RAF fighters, and soon we as the audience can listen for the differences as well– and feel the dread that comes with the sound of an incoming German plane diving towards stranded soldiers on a pier or on the beach. A line of bombs explode on the sand in spectacular fashion, the final one hitting mere meters from one of our protagonists. It’s raw, it’s visceral, and shows just how good Nolan can be in delivering cinematic greatness– when he’s not busy trying to show off.

Nolan also chooses an intentionally bleak color palatte, helping to reinforce the dire situation. In fact, the only brief bright colors we get are some brief sunsets at the end of the film, as if to imply that their darkest hours were over. He also manages to use all of the real estate available to him on screen. Again, see this on the largest screen possible with the best sound system possible.

On top of its technical achievements, you also have some excellent performances. Mark Rylance delivers a perfect self-effacing Englishman charm, complete with stiff upper lip. On his way to Dunkirk, he picks up a stranded, shell-shocked sailor played by Cillian Murphy, whose performance is also one of the highlights of the film. But the best part here is Hardy– a major complaint with this is that his story is so strong and the stories of the people on the beach are far less compelling. It almost would have been better to just do a Tom Hardy RAF movie. (Although, there is always the possibility for a sequel. . . )

Nolan makes some interesting choices here, not the least of which is to ever mention “Germans,” “Nazis,” “Fritz,” “Jerry,” or any other name. They were simply “the enemy.” This is an interesting choice, as it begs the question why it’s necessary? When you have literally the most universally hated and recognizable modern manifestation of pure evil, why shy away from it? If there was a point, it was lost in the film, but it has the air of apologism.

In isolation, this wouldn’t be so disconcerting. But then you recognize that there is not a single woman or non-white male given any sort of speaking role in this film. It’s a historical fact, yes, that most of the soldiers on the beach at Dunkirk would have been white men. But when Michael Bay manages to make Pearl Harbor,  one of the most universally reviled war films of all time, more diverse and inclusive than your film. . .  well, that’s strike two. For an example of other types of stories that could be told about the heroism at Dunkirk, you can check out Their Finest from earlier this year.

Luckily Nolan never gets to strike three, but given his comments earlier this week about Netflix, and responses from directors like Ava DuVernay and Bong Joon-ho (who have released films through Netflix that otherwise wouldn’t get distribution) it’s clear Nolan is perhaps the least “woke” major director working today.

That is all incredibly sad, as the film on its own is quite good. But, with great filmmaking power comes great filmmaking responsibility. Doing another white man’s heroism war film seems really superfluous in 2017.

But if you do go see this (repeated for the third time because, yes, it’s the most important thing to know) go see it on the biggest screen with the best sound system you have access to.

4 out of 5 stars

Review: Alpha: The Exchange

The spy is one of those mysterious figures within book, tv shows and movies, which intrigues their audiences because no one knows their true motive, but a select few. You can take the recently returned Game of Thrones, whose Master of Whispers, Varys, started off as another bureaucrat in the King’s Court, but ended up becoming one of the most formidable figures within the series. Then there is Live Schreiber’s John Clark in The Sum of All Fears, a spy who the director relies on heavily, to carry out the tasks no one else will. Then there is Joe Morton’s Rowan Pope in Scandal, a focused spymaster and sometimes operator, who knows when to be pragmatic when others choose to be idealistic.

Let us not forget one of the most enigmatic figures in manga and anime, Duke Togo, better known as Golgo 13, who is more a hired gun than operator, but does offer his services to various organizations within the intelligence community. Then there is Cristopher Chance of Human Target, a character very much like Duke Togo, but not as covert, but just as skilled a tactician. The daily lives of most intelligence operators involve month and years working a job, most of which is boring and may end up fruitless, but also can end up in some sticky situations. In this first volume of Cinebook’s Alpha, the reader delves one such mission.

The story opens on the abduction of a banker’s secretary, as a fortuitous meeting in Paris, has led the Russian Mob, and some financial institutions. The reader is then introduced to Assia Donkova, an art gallery manager, who mundane life gets distracted by a painter by the name of Julian Morgan, who she falls in love with instantly. We soon find out she is being followed by multiple people, as her connections are more than dubious, as she gets caught in a crossfire, during this meeting. By the end of this first volume, Morgan is a spy for the CIA, that goes by the code name, Alpha, and Assia, is more than what she seems as well.

Overall, a fun romp through of a cold war spy thriller, which will leave the reader on the edge of their seat, wondering exactly who each person really is. The story by Pacal Renard moves at a pace slow enough for the reader to get invested but fast enough for you know you are reading a spy thriller. The art by Youri Jiguonov harkens back to a time when sequential art was trying to find its place between realistic and cartoonish. Altogether, this reminds me of the old spy thrillers, which defined the term, “slow burn” and for good reason, as the payoff is the least of the joys, it is about  how the creators gets you invested into story is what make sit shine.

Story: Pacal Renard Art: Youri Jiguonov
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review: El Peso Hero #2

One of the most underrated shows of all time, in my humble opinion, and probably one of the best shows to come from Showtime, is Weeds. It started off as a show about a newly widowed single mother in the suburbs trying to figure out a way to survive and raise her two sons. The show evolved to more than hat, as it challenged what society thought of gender roles and how much America had misunderstood the war on drugs until then. Eventually, the main character would deal, with Mexican cartels, and just how powerful they were.

They also got into money laundering and exactly how they hid the money and how they distributed the drugs. They also delved into exactly how the cartels got the drugs between both countries, and what has famously been made light of on the news because of El Chapo, the underground tunnels. This had a whole story arc within one of its penultimate seasons, and showed audiences how big these networks are. In the second issue of El Peso Hero, our hero stops some traffickers form traveling across to America.

Shortly after, he is recruited by his cousin to stop a large shipment of weapons by one of the drug lords. Little does he know it is a trap to lure him to in the open by Don Catrin, which ends in disaster. El Peso Hero, makes it his mission to find out who is responsible for the casualties. The issue ends with a fire fight on a crowded bridge between Don Catrin’s men and the police, which ends in a casualty of someone close to El Peso Hero.

Overall, an engaging second issue which takes the reader right in the middle of the action. The story by Hector Rodriguez continues to surprise, and steps up his game over the first issue. The art by Guillermo Villareal still resonates with the reader, leaving their eyes dazzled. Altogether, an excellent issue which pushes this narrative forward and sets up what look to be a major battle.

Story: Hector Rodriguez III Art: Guillermo Villareal
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Review : Songy Of Paradise By Gary Panter

I suppose it’s possible that I’m just showing my age here, but to me, the release of a new Gary Panter book still qualifies as a “drop everything” moment — especially when said book marks the concluding chapter of a long-running trilogy that’s followed a circuitous path from 1991 right up to the present day. So, yeah, when Fantagraphics Books dropped the long-awaited Songy Of Paradise this past Wednesday, it was indeed a very big deal.

Some quick background is no doubt in order for those not in the know : Panter began this story — or, rather, this series of interconnected stories — 26 years ago in the pages of his Jimbo series from Bongo Comics‘ one-off (as in, created just for him) Zongo sub-label, but nobody (probably including the cartoonist himself) knew it was part of a larger, sprawling epic at the time. Fast-forward to 2004 and the release of Jimbo In Purgatory under Fantagraphics’ auspices, which appeared to be a stand-alone Jimbo graphic novel — until 2006, when Jimbo’s Inferno (also coming our way courtesy of FB) was unleashed upon the world, featuring material re-worked from the two stand-alone Jimbo “floppies” of (then) 15 years previous, and placed those comics within the framework established by the 2004 book.

Got all that? Okay, good — we’re all up to speed, then, but with a caveat : it’s really hard to say what the “first” part of this unnamed trilogy is. You could make a convincing argument for either of the prior installments being the first and/or second chapter, it’s true, but for our purposes it doesn’t really matter which side you come down on — we know what the third part is, and that’s what’s important.

Enter a new protagonist — stereotypical hillbilly simpleton Songy — and yet another new physical format : at 14.75 x 12 inches this is a damn big hardcover book (although not as big as Jimbo In Purgatory‘s 17.5 x 12 measurements), but at 32 pages it’s not an especially long one (by contrast, the aforementioned Purgatory ran 36). Other key differences abound as well, of course — the purposefully busy and cluttered art of both prior segments has been abandoned in favor of a cleaner, more “polished” (relatively speaking, mind you) look in this one, but make no mistake : the visual density hasn’t been “dialed back” in the least, and there’s still a ton to unpack in each and every panel here — it’s just that there are a lot fewer panels to dig in and analyze this time out due to Panter’s newfound affinity for big, bold, and highly detailed illustrations, up to and including splash pages. Likewise, the script here is a much more straightforward affair, sticking to a nearly note-for-note re-vamping of Milton’s famous 1671 poem “Paradise Regained” (a literal and thematic sequel to the even more famous “Paradise Lost”), albeit with Jesus’ role being assumed by our titular backwoods nitwit. No wholesale “borrowing” from disparate sources ranging from Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake to a late-’60s magazine interview with then-contemporary supermodel Twiggy in this one — it’s all surprisingly, perhaps even disarmingly, straightforward stuff, at least at first glance.

All of which makes Songy Of Paradise something of a two-edged sword — it’s entirely accessible to “newbies” who haven’t read the previous two chapters, but one could also be forgiven, perhaps, for (mistakenly, as we’ll get to shortly) thinking there is less obvious “red meat” for long-time Panter readers/admirers to obsessively over-analyze. You can read this one without having your browser open to Google and get through it just fine — or so it would seem.

Satan, in his role as Christ/Songy’s great tempter, undergoes a slow and breathtaking visual transformation in these ingeniously-rendered pages, each new iteration littered with illustrative “clues” that are, in the best Panter fashion, head-scratchers to be sure,  but generally easy enough to pin down — until they turn out to represent something else altogether. The best example is probably the ever-shifting crossword-puzzle motif visible on his many and varied forms, but in a recent TCJ interview with Dash Shaw, Panter reveals that those aren’t standard-issue empty “down” and “across” letter boxes at all, but actually symbols common in ancient Javanese manuscripts. So, ya know, there’s probably no such thing as knowing exactly what’s happening in a Gary Panter comic after all.

Which is a huge part of their appeal, of course. At 35 bucks, a book this slender (if gorgeous) had damn well better give you plenty to mull over, and there’s no doubt that this does : I’ve read it four times since buying it just over two days ago, and new elements — as well as new ways of interpreting previously-noted elements — reveal themselves each time, and easy answers are not just in short supply, they’re downright non-existent. Is Songy’s dipshit dialogue and general obliviousness a sign of his pure-hearted innocence, or of contemptible ignorance? Is he simply a stand-in for Christ, or for the author himself? Are the subtle changes Panter makes to Milton’s conclusion meant to make his “happy ending” ironic — or anything but?

I don’t have the answers, of course — only questions, and lots of them. And those questions deepen with each successive re-read. Songy Of Paradise is certainly a book that can be marveled at for its beautiful illustrations (many of which openly contradict aspects of Panter’s visual philosophy that he’s expounded upon in the past) and the lyrical quality of its script, but if you want to give it your full attention — as well you should — it’s a veritable puzzle-box of challenging concepts, expansive philosophical concerns, and metafictional extrapolations that will provide plenty of fuel for internal debates between yourself and your own preconceived perceptions for years on end. Panter has a well-earned reputation for being a good couple of decades ahead of all his peers in both the “fine” and “underground” art scenes (which is probably why he remains the most influential of just about any of ’em and has been able to move so effortlessly between the two), but the illusory simplicity in which he packages the undeniable complexity of this new book shows that he may now be moving a decade or two ahead of even himself. Multi-layered without being intimidating, endearing without being cloying, precise without being clinical, Songy Of Paradise is as close a thing to a working definition of a comics masterpiece as you’re ever likely to find.

 

Story And Art : Gary Panter

Story : 10  Art : 10  Overall : 10  Recommendation : Buy — Immediately!

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