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Review: Blackjack #3

Blackjack #3

“Vengeance is mine, said the Lord,” these are the very lines that Samuel L. Jackson utters in Pulp Fiction. The role is definitely one of his most brilliant portrayals and stood out in a movie that contained a multitude of stories while being interconnected. What’s most memorable about his role is that he gave the “everyman” aspect to what a hired gun usually is. Most of the time, these characters, are rarely portrayed as multidimensional.

His and John Travolta’s characters show us how taking a life is rarely trivial and much more calculated, it becomes especially complicated when feelings are involved. What constitutes a “righteous kill,” and who makes that call? Especially, when the matter becomes an eye for an eye. When does it become, resolved? In the final issue of this volume of Blackjack, our hero’s journey ends, but will revenge be as sweet as he wishes it would be?

We find Arron as he recovers from the attack, one that could have ended his life, as he realizes that sometimes no matter what we do, we cannot save everyone. As he holds up in Silas’s place, he reminisces about his father’s funeral, and despite the people he helped, how few people showed up, as his grief then drives his search The Cobra now. Meanwhile, The Cobra, readies his army for the final fight between him and Arron, as his faith drives him to this point. As Arron departs, Maryam wishes good luck but unbeknownst to everyone at Blackjack’s camp, the interloper was Maryam all along, as she kills everyone at the camp, but she soon has a change of heart and rides to warn Arron of the impending wrath headed his way. They all soon find out that the Cobra had sent a fighter plane to take them out, but Blackjack finds a way to hijack the plane. The issue ends with a face off you’d expect but results that are unexpected.

Overall, a powerful conclusion of this mercenary’s tale, one that more than satiates. The story by Alex Simmons is smart, well-paced, and still surprises. The art by Joe Bennett is spectacular. Altogether, a comic that any reader who loves a good story will go head over heels for.

Story: Alex Simmons Art: Joe Bennett
Story: 10 Art: 9.7 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Through the Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in Cubicles

habitrails_coverAbout a month and a half ago, a fellow reviewer wrote a positive appraisal of Nicholson’s Habitrails.  After reading his review, I wanted to access our digital copy to read it for myself, but for whatever reason I procrastinated, and never got around to it. Then yesterday, while picking up my stack on new comic back day–as I do every Wednesday–I also grabbed a hard copy of this graphic novel (after seeing it on the shelf, and having my memory jarred).  I read it on the train ride home from work.  That was a good thing, because, let me tell you, it would have sucked reading this on the morning train ride to work.

This well-produced paperback edition, by Dover Publications, partially collects the original graphic novella1, with a foreword by Matt Fraction (read it), a literary and academic introduction by Stephen R. Bissette (I highly recommend you do not skip it), and an afterword by the author (yes, read  that too). habitrails 001 1Bissette, in his introduction, categorizes this work as horror. I, however, was not horrified, but rather disturbed. Nicholson’s existentialist bitter and nihilistic novella metaphorically captures some of the darker moments of my own early work life. I’d like to think that my experiences are unique, but Nicholson shatters that illusion, and shows how eerily similar our corporate mandated work experiences are.  

Bisette in his introduction makes comparisons to Kafka, but I’d sooner compare it to my paltry Camus readings (The Stranger and Myth of Sisyphus)–our hero perseveres, despite of all the shit that is heaped up on him.  In the introduction and afterword, we learn that Nicholson, in his earlier years, tried to distance himself from this confessional work; but over time he has reclaimed its habitrails 003autobiographical aspects. In the end, he appears to have come to some sort of acceptance with a life best lived, than none at all.

The early chapters detail our younger faceless no-name hero’s beginning post-college work life in graphic design, for a “progressive” corporate slave master, who employs gerbils–housed internally in clear plastic tubes (thus the habitrails) within the dark gray corporate office space–as motivational empaths.  We watch in despair as he passively gives in to dehumanizing company cubicle life, and his creative juices are sucked out via corporate authorized neck taps. In dark inked black and white stupefying pictorials, together with Chad Woody’s singular lettering, we witness our faceless doppelganger live his life, and ours.

In later chapters we see our barely functioning hero navigate the absurdity of work-life friendships and relationships, under the numbing influence of alcohol and drugs.  He tries habitrails 002 (1)to escape, and for a brief moment almost succeeds, only to be betrayed, and led to the contemplation of suicide. This is followed by disastrous financial choices, marriage, divorce, and marriage again. In the end, there is no end–only acceptance. Our hero accepts life, and makes the best of it. This does not make for a wholly satisfying happy ending. At best it is a realization, one you may or may not agree with.

Myself, today, I am not so nihilistic (and in my younger years confess to have possessed the dubious faculty of positive self-delusion). There are a few of us who are lucky enough to be able to monetize what we enjoy doing, and work at a job we love. Others, unfortunately, fall on the left side of the bell curve, and toil at a hateful thankless job, trapped by a variety of circumstances that psychologically prevents them from moving forward; but most of us, I speculate, are able to find a job in our later years, that although we don’t love, is tolerable enough with like-minded peers, who together muster the strength to work through the day. And if you’re lucky, it also provides a modest income that allows you to raise a family, and support a side job or hobby you love, to make up the difference.

This is not an uplifting read, but nonetheless I highly recommend it. As Bissette urges, I would not read it on a Monday or the day before–nor on new comic book Wednesdays for that matter, since afterwards you will be in no mood to read anything else.  Find an empty slot midweek, lock up any firearms, keep some antidepressants on hand in case of an existential spiritual crisis, and cuddle up for Nicholson’s literary graphical trip down the “black spiral” of corporate mandated life.

Story: Jeff Nicholson  Art: Jeff Nicholson  Letterer: Chad Woody
Story: 9.1  Art: 9.1  Overall: 9.1  Recommendation: Buy

1At the publisher’s request it excludes the confessional story ‘Cat Lover’, lettered by Nicholson himself and not by Chad Woody, which was deemed to interrupt the flow of the current version.

Review: Through The Habitrails: Life Before and After My Career in Cublicles


Let’s face it : work sucks. In my experience, while not quite everyone hates their job per se (and about 99% of those who claim they don’t are actually lying), everyone certainly hates getting up in the morning and going to it, and why shouldn’t they? Every single worker on the planet is being played for a sucker, and on some deep, intrinsic level we all know it — after all, we’re trading away the time of our lives (and chances are we’re only going to get one of those) in exchange for little green pieces of paper that we’ll use, by and large, to keep on surviving so that we can keep on showing up for work. A rawer deal than this is, frankly, impossible to conceive of : work doesn’t ensure that we’ll ever “get ahead,” only that we’ll have to keep on working, and the folks who benefit from all of our labors are a fattened, greedy clique of corporate parasites who, by and large, don’t do any work themselves.

When you really sit down and think about this patently absurd set of circumstances, you come to realize that not only is it deeply tragic, it’s also deeply evil, and trust me when I say that’s not a term I use lightly. About the only thing remotely comparable to it is the wretchedly inhumane concept of schooling, which dictates that, at a given age, we have to hand our kids over to either a private or state-run institution in order for them to be “educated”with the “skills” it takes to achieve a “bright” future — as part of the fucking work force. As an old poster I used to have on the wall of my apartment back when I was a 20-something states : “If you liked school — you’ll love work.”

And since we’re on the subject of my early 20s, a time which I now look back on as being quite formative in terms of developing my overall misanthropic/nihilistic (in other words, highly accurate)  mindset, it was at about this time that I first discovered the writings of “anti-work” anarchist philosophers like Bob Black and, especially, John Zerzan, who were able to concisely, if depressingly, articulate the breadth and scope of the world-wide existential crisis that is labor and employment, and to point out in stark terms how, no, it absolutely doesn’t “have to be this way,” and, in fact, it’s only been “this way” for a relatively short amount of time as far as the whole span of human existence goes. And right around this same time, in one of those oddly perfect bits of serendipity that life sometimes throws our way, I first came across Jeff Nicholson‘s superbly bleak Through The Habitrails, then being serialized in the pages of Steve Bissette’s ground-breaking horror anthology series Taboo, and immediately fell in love.


Nicholson “gets it” because he’s lived it, apparently “doing time” in the advertising/graphic arts business, and while I’d been marginally aware of his earlier work on his self-published B&W series Ultra Klutz, the simple fact is that book, while equal parts amusing and tragic in its own way, was too steeped in a kind of loving-yet-somehow-resentful nostalgia for the old Japanese TV show Ultraman (a theme the cartoonist would return to with a more mature eye and better results in the sadly-truncated Lost Laughter, which I sincerely hope he’ll either return to, collect, or both, at some point) for it to really “hit home” for me the way Habitrails did immediately — and has continued to do for nearly two decades since.

Told through a series of vignettes that interlink to form a philosophically-unassailable whole, Through The Habitrails tells the story of a blank-featured, nameless protagonist, rendered in sharply-detailed-yet-appropriately-anonymous style,  who toils away at a drawing board inside of a cubicle at a typically gargantuan and generic corporate office where his “creative juices” (and, by extension, his very life essences) are drained in order to feed the gerbils running around in the habitrails that criss-cross the concrete tomb he’s whiling away his life within, hence the title. Each successive chapter sees the depth of his predicament deepen, to the point where he pursues dead-end relationships, “escapes” to the countryside, and even pickles his head inside a jar of beer, all in order to try to either numb the pain of, our outright forget about, a life that he’s literally selling away. The problem is, of course, that the reach of his corporate/gerbil overlords is so vast that they’ve managed to hollow out all of existence itself, and each of these temporary “solutions” proves to be an insidious trap in its own right — kinda like how you’ll go on vacation for a week and spend the last half of it dreading going back to work the following Monday.


Obviously, then, this is far from “feel-good” reading, but it sure as hell is essential, and while Nicholson — who would, believe it or not, go on to do an issue of the Sandman spin-off series The Dreaming for DC/Vertigo — actually ended Habitrails‘ initial run on an uncharacteristically optimistic note by having his stand-in meet the girl of his dreams and, apparently, live happily ever after, now that the entire series is coming back into print for the first time in far too long thanks to the superb Dover Books collection Through The Habitrails : Life Before And After My Career In The Cubicles, he’s availed himself of the opportunity to insert new material throughout and to modify his earlier conclusion in order to wrap things up on something of a different, and perhaps more accurate, note. Does our hero still ride off into the sunset with the love of his life? You’ll have to read it to find out.

And read it you most certainly should — okay, fair enough, Dover provided Graphic Policy with an advance digital copy for review purposes, but this is something I’ll be plunking down my hard-earned money for a physical copy of regardless, even though I’ve got Nicholson’s self-published original printing, simply because, in addition to the just-mentioned new material, there’s a new foreword by early-fan-turned-comics-superstar Matt Fraction and an absolutely exhaustive new introduction by Steve Bissette that’s worth the $14.95 price of admission alone. Those familiar with his work know that there’s no introduction like a Bissette introduction, and the agonizingly thorough blow-by-blow he provides of his struggles to bring Nicholson’s work to print in the pages of Taboo is a genuinely gripping read. Plus, his love for the material remains obviously undiminished even after all these years.


And while I may not have the physical package in my hands — at least not yet — my best guess is that Dover’s going to do a bang-up job on the production given the high standard they’ve set with works like their collected editions of Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli’s The Puma Blues and Sam Glanzman’s A Sailor’s Story. In short, a lot of work is going to go into presenting this story about just how demoralizing and draining work itself is. All in all this book gets a solid 9 for both story and art and a very strong BUY recommendation from your humble reviewer. Now quit reading this and GET THE FUCK BACK TO WORK.

Story: Jeff Nicholson Art: Jeff Nicholson
Story: 9 Art: 9 Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Dover Publications provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Sam Glanzman completes his final USS Stevens story!

Golden Age comic book legend, and WWII veteran, Sam Glanzman just finished writing, penciling and inking what he is calling his final USS Stevens story. A four-pager, in the tradition of those early USS Stevens stories he did in the 1970s for the war titles published by DC Comics.

The new pages are being sent off to be lettered and colored, per Sam’s instructions. This new story will, of course, be included in the upcoming USS Stevens collection being published by Dover Comics & Graphic Novels in March of 2016.


The Magician’s Wife: Back In Print After Almost 30 Years!

DOVER COMICS & GRAPHIC NOVELS LOGO ][The Prize for Best Album (Prix du meilleur album), also known as the Golden Wildcat (Fauve d’Or), has been awarded to comics authors at the Angoulême International Comics Festival since 1976.  Globally, it is one of the most prestigious and respected comic awards given out each year.  In 1986, The Magician’s Wife (Originally published in French as La Femme du magicien) won this award, helping to introduce important American author Jerome Charyn to French comic book audiences, and majorly propelling the career of the now legendary French comic book artist Francois Boucq. In 1988, an English edition of the book surfaced from a small US publisher, but only stayed in print for a few years before disappearing for almost three decades. With last year’s release of a new French edition by European publisher Lombard, Dover Publications‘ graphic novel editor Drew Ford decided it was finally time for the release of a new English edition.

Spanning multiple decades and continents, this phantasmagorical epic is the result of writer Jerome Charyn and artist François Boucq combing their talents to recount a surrealistic tale about the wife of a philandering magician and her struggles with terrifying demons, both real and imaginary. This new edition promises to mesmerize a new generation of readers for years to come!

Jerome Charyn, master of lyrical farce and literary ventriloquism, published his first novel in 1964. He’s the author of Johnny One-Eye, The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson, I Am Abraham, and dozens of other acclaimed novels as well as nonfiction works. His short stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Paris Review, American Scholar, Epoch, Narrative and Ellery Queen. He is also the author of eight highly acclaimed graphic novels.

Charyn’s popular crime novels, featuring homicide detective Isaac Sidel, inspired a new animated drama series. ‘Hard Apple’ debuts on the small screen early next year, helmed by Hollywood insider James Gray (The Immigrants) and illustrated by famed artists Asaf and Tomer Hanuka (Waltz with Bashir.) Charyn lives in New York and Paris.

David Michelinie at JHU Comic Books in Manhattan to sign copies The Bozz Chronicles!

bozzcover2Legendary comic book scribe David Michelinie will be signing copies of the highly anticipated Bozz Chronicles collection from Dover Graphic Novels at JHU Comic Books in NYC, Wednesday, September 16th, from 6-8pm. Check out the Facebook event below, and please invite everyone you know! Don’t miss this rare opportunity to meet the man who has written more than 600 mind-blowing comic book stories in which he created or co-created several characters who have ended up on the Big Screen, such as Eddie Brock (aka Venom played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3), James “Rhodey” Rhodes (aka War Machine, played by Don Cheadle in Iron Man 3), and of course most recently, Scott Lang (aka Ant-Man, played by Paul Rudd in Ant-Man)!!!

WHERE: JHU COMIC BOOKS, 32 E 32nd St, New York, NY 10016, (212) 268-7088

Review: A Sailor’s Story

A Sailor's Story CoverGolden Age comic book legend Sam Glanzman draws upon his own World War II experiences in this outstanding graphic novel. Glanzman wrote and illustrated this intimate account of his life aboard a Navy destroyer, the USS Stevens.

It’s been more than twenty-five years since these comics have been in print. This new collection unites both A Sailor’s Story and its sequel, A Sailor’s Story: Winds, Dreams, and Dragons, plus a never-before-seen ten-page story of the USS Stevens, Even Dead Birds Have Wings, as well as numerous tributes, a forward, introduction, and afterword.

I’ve never read the original material, so to get everything in one book is handy, and also helps put it all into context together. The numerous stories is Glanzman’s personal first-hand account of his experience during World War II. It’s an honest, raw portrayal, with both good and bad, taking us into the world of what it was like during the time, and what it was like as a sailor.

The graphic novel is adapted from Glanzman’s notes and other material, providing us his perspective of what it was like during the time. It doesn’t hold back at all, not just recounting events, but also goes into details of the ships and guns, so should be entertaining for those into that detail, as well as those who enjoy history. It’s education, and history, as entertainment, and that’s a fantastic thing.

A Sailor’s Story is a fantastic piece of history, giving us a first-hand account of what happened, and the sacrifice many made to defend freedom. A great example of using the graphic medium to capture and tell history.

Story: Sam Glanzman Art: Sam Glanzman
Story: 8 Art: 8 Overall: 8 Recommendation: Read

Dover Publications provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Dover to publish The Magician’s Wife by Jerome Charyn & Francois Boucq

TheMagiciansWifeDover Publications has announced their upcoming publication of The Magician’s Wife graphic novel.  Long out of print in English, legendary French comics artist Francois Boucq teams with acclaimed, surrealistic crime novelist Jerome Charyn.

The story is about “the adventures, or the anti-adventures, of the wife of a magician. The problem is that the magician has two wives – and that they are mother and daughter – who find themselves in an uninvited competition for the affections of the troubled conjurer. And, as the magician becomes increasingly attracted to the younger woman, she, in revenge for his lubricity, turns into a werewolf in Central Park threatening his life and that of several others involved in his lubricity. What evolves is not a Captain’s Paradise but a macabre battle of the sexes cum detective story with mystical overtones.”

Out of print in English for nearly three decades, the original 80-page story won two prizes (Grand Prix) in France where it was first published as a Bande Dessinée in 1986 and now appears here from Dover in a handsome trade paperback format.  It has been compared to a kind of film noir caught between the covers of a comic book, directed by Fellini.

Over the years, the book has won a powerful cult following, and has appeared on several critics lists of top graphic novels of all time.

The Magician’s Wife is scheduled for release in October 2015.

Dover Publications Brings Back Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz’s Civil War Adventure

From renowned comic book creators Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz (with a little artistic help from artists Esteve Polls, Enrique Villagran and Silvestre) comes Civil War Adventure! Here you will find ten exciting tales, collected in graphic novel form, that recapture episodes from both sides of the Civil War, meticulously researched, and enhanced through text pieces, maps and images from the period.  The stories feature a variety of the everyday experiences of men and women caught up in the war that decided the fate of our nation. Civil War Adventure will hit stores in May of 2015, from Dover Publications. The graphic novel features 144 pages of black & white art and will retail for $9.95.


Dover Launches a Line of Classic Graphic Novels

Dover-Logo_BlackAndBlueDover Publications, Inc. have announced that it’s bringing back classic out-of-print graphic novels for a whole new generation to discover.

Since 1941, Dover has been preserving important works of literature, fine art, the sciences, and much more, in affordable, high-quality paperback reprints. Now, the publishing house turns its expertise to the sequential art medium, rescuing out-of-print graphic novels. Long unavailable, these timeless works were often overlooked by the mainstream when originally released but have since developed serious cult followings.

The books were created by some of the most acclaimed names in the comic industry, artists and writers who have worked on such popular characters as Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Green Arrow, Captain America, Sandman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and others. Plus, since graphic novels are “creator owned” and not the usual “work for hire” comic book assignments, each represents a deeply personal project, passionately written and illustrated. As an added bonus, the books are being expanded with exclusive original material, including new covers and commentary by such literary and comic superstars as Max Brooks, Larry Hama, Scott Hanna, Brandon Graham, and Dave Sim. Many of the titles also collect complete, multi-issue runs for the very first time.

Dover will premiere the new graphic novel line in the Spring 2015 season, launching with six titles:

A Sailor’s Story (April 2015)
Written and illustrated by Sam Glanzman
Semi-autobiographical adventures of life aboard a WWII destroyer — includes new Foreword by Max Brooks, author of World War Z, new Introduction by Larry Hama, and new Afterword by Chuck Dixon

Civil War Adventure: Book One (May 2015)
Written by Chuck Dixon, illustrated Gary Kwapisz
Graphic drama of the War Between the States by writer of Batman and Green Arrow and the illustrator of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian.

Mercy (June 2015)
Written by J. M. DeMatteis, illustrated by Paul Johnson
Mind-bending masterpiece by Eisner Award–winning writer known for his work on The Amazing Spider-Man, Captain America, and Justice League of America — includes new Introduction by the writer and bonus “How It Was Made” material

Blackjack: Second Bite of the Cobra (July 2015)
Written by Alex Simmons, illustrated by Joe Bennett
Hard-hitting tale of vengeance by illustrator of Batman: Orpheus Rising — first time collected in a single volume. Includes new Foreword by Joe Illidge, new Afterword by David Colley, and new cover by Scott Hanna

The BOZZ Chronicles (August 2015)
Written by David Michelinie, illustrated by Bret Blevins
Cult classic by the writer of Iron Man & penciler of The New Mutants with new Foreword and pin-up by Brandon Graham and new Introduction by the creators — includes entire six-issue run

The Puma Blues (September 2015)
Written by Stephen Murphy, illustrated by Michael Zulli
Features new Foreword by Dave Sim, new Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette, and new Introduction by the authors: “Intelligent and urgent mythology.” — Neil Gaiman

Dover plans on releasing a total of 12 graphic novels each year, handpicked from the hundreds of in-demand titles available by well-connected editors with more than 20 years of experience in the comic book community. Future releases include other powerful stories of history, adventure, mystery, aliens, and war that reach far beyond the bounds of traditional superhero comics.

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