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Review: Cold Mountain: The Legend of Han Shan and Shih Te The Original Dharma Bums

I remember when I started to read books. Like most children, what the school assigned us to read and what we liked to read were often worlds apart. I was never in a class where they would recommend both The Great Gatsby and Fahrenheit 451. One is considered part of the great canon of American Literature while the other is considered radical in its thinking but is now considered one of he forefathers of dystopian fiction. It wasn’t until I got out of school before I read about any of the beat writers, including the oftspoken Jack Kerouac.

Kerouac’s seminal work, On The Road gives readers the best presentations of his philosophy and way of life. He’s one of the more well known writers of his decade and of this subset. Pop culture has gotten to know him from TV shows like Quantum Leap. Contrary to popular belief, this school of thought that the Beat Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, did not start with these young stallions, but with two “dharma bums.” Sean Michael Wilson, Akiko Shimojima, and J.P. Seaton’s have put together a rather ingenious take on the Chinese legend of Han Shan and Shih Te in the brilliantly told Cold Mountain: The Legend of Han Shan and Shih Te The Original Dharma Bums.

Within the first few pages, we meet Han Shan, who we come to know as “Cold Mountain.” He gives readers a brief history of who he is and his attempts at living a rather ordinary life. He’s a young man seemingly failing at everything from being a scholar, to a soldier, to a farmer, and even being married. This is until he receives an epiphany and finds the courage to stand up to authority, religious and secular, and to fight social injustice. Thus sparking a movement. We also meet Shih Te, Shan’s young protégé, whose undying loyalty leads to the two being coined “The Laughing Pair.” They leave their poetry on tree trunks and rocks. The graphic novel allows the reader to follow this duo and their many fabled tales and the poems they inspired. It gives readers a more concise view of these brilliant philosophers.

Overall, an excellent graphic novel about these almost mythical figures which may have very well birthed modern philosophy. The story by Wilson and Seaton is smart, funny, and engaging. The art by Shimojima is sophisticated and virtuous. Altogether, it’s an elegant tome which pays tribute to the godfathers of “dharmic bliss”.

Story: Sean Michael Wilson Translation: J.P. Seaton Art: Akiko Shimojima
Story: 10 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.7 Recommendation: Buy

Mini Reviews For The Week Ending 9/15

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.


Joe Hesh

WOLVERETURN2018001_DIGITAL_covAmazing Spider-Man # 5 (Marvel) Ok. I love Dan Slott and is still probably my favorite Spider-Man writer but Nick Spencer’s run is just plain fun. We have Pete and MJ back. A Spider-Man that cracks jokes and a mystery villian to top it all off! Great art by Ryan Ottley and no slowing down. The Peter/Spidey dynamic has been awesome for this arc and the resolution was priceless. I’m on for this thrill ride. Of course the fact that I picked up Spider-Man for PS4 helps a bit with Spidey Fever. It’s a good time right now. Not momentous issue but not cringe either. Right in the middle. Overall: Good read, plain fun. Score: 7.5 Recommendation: Read

Return of Wolverine #1 (Marvel)* Well nothing stays dead forever in the Marvel U, especially if it’s short, angry and can pop claws. Logan is back and the journey is fixing to be fun. Everything about this book grabbed me. The art by Steve McNiven is always crisp, the colors were vibrant, the script by Charles Soule and of course the violence. Logan is once again a man out of mind and he needs to find his way back. Sure he’s alive but how? Why? Well we are going to find out. Also if that wasnt enough we get a cool explanation for his classic yellow and blue and a new uniform to boot. Buckle up bub it’s going to be a bloody ride! Score: 9 Reccomendation: Buy 

Ryan C

Black Hammer: Age Of Doom #5 (Dark Horse)** – This is it, the issue when Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston reveal all — for now. Some nice surprises, and a jarring shift in the overall narrative through-line, promise to keep the momentum going here, and you may as well enjoy Haspiel’s always-terrific art, since he’s taking the next couple of months off. bhaod.jpgNormally I’d complain, but with Rich Tommaso stepping in, we’re in more than capable hands. We always are with this book. Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Batman #55 (DC)** – Tom King is joined once again by Tony S, Daniel on art, and the results are no more satisfying than their much-maligned Booster Gold/Batman team-up storyline. Batman and Nightwing beat up some zombies and an evil Pharaoh-wannabe, while some Russian bad-ass starts cutting a bloody swathe through Gotham for reasons that remain as unknown as the answer to the question “why the hell am I still reading this book”? Decidedly mediocre stuff. Overall: 3 Recommendation: Pass

Mister Miracle #11 (DC)** – With one issue to go, it looks like Tom King and Mitch Gerads are about to wrap things up quick and clean here — but behind Darkseid’s throne there lies an even more malevolent power that Scott and Barda (and me, I admit it)never saw coming. We all should have , though, because it all makes perfect sense — even if we don’t know what’s happening. Best art of the series so far in this installment, as well. Overall: 8.5 Recommendation: Buy

Days Of Hate #8 (Image)** – The art of Danijel Zezelj continues to impress, even to inspire awe, while the scripting of Ales Kot does anything but. I swear, it’s like he’s just stretching out a one-issue finale to fill up six issues. This series looked like it had some real potential at the outset but looks, as always, were deceiving. I don’t even think I’m gonna bother riding this one out to the end. Overall: 3.5 Recommendation: Pass 

Shean

Infinity Wars: Soldier Supreme #1 (Marvel)– In an amalgam of two heroes, we find ourselves in an alternate universe where we get a cross between Dr Strange and Captain America during World War II. In this universe, we meet Stephen Rogers, who is picked to become a super soldier, instead become a powerful Sorcerer what happens to be a soldier. We follow him through a very familiar origin story but with a few twists. By issue’s end, he faces an old foe, who works for Hitler. Overall: 9 Recommendation: Buy

Logan

Captain America Annual #1 (Marvel)– Tini Howard makes a fantastic Marvel debut with a story of Bucky and Cap rescuing 2 Romani women and a gay Soviet man from Nazis along with artists Chris Sprouse and Ron Lim, who provide some old school shield throwing, Nazi punching escapades. From the opening sequence set in the forests of Germany to the final iconic splash page, the comic is a tribute to Cap’s never ending fight against genocide and hatred. Along the way, we get to know Marta, Volya, and Iskra and have a real stake in their safety as Cap and Bucky hatch a plan to get them away from the pursuers. I will never forget the image of Marta wielding a pistol and defending herself; dtdoashe also has a sense of humor and roasts Cap’s costume. These small bits of humor are a good relief from the heavier subject material. Overall: 9.8 Verdict: Buy

 Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (Marvel) Saladin Ahmed, Garry Brown, and Lee Loughridge kick it old school in a story set in the 1980s from the POV of the alien symbiote. The symbiote sees that Spider-Man is a confident hero (“Full of meat”) while Peter Parker has anxiety about his job and personal life so it decides to “drive” for a while and fight crime as just the symbiote while Peter sleeps his life away. What follows is pretty chilling, body snatcher type story of the alien symbiote taking down Hammerhead’s organization sans the humanity of Spider-Man. He still has a little bit of a heroic side showing that Peter’s responsibility is still in there somewhere. Brown’s art is scratchy and fluid just like the symbiote, and Loughridge goes for a darker palette than the usual bright superheroics. This comic is evidence that continuity can lead to great stories. Overall: 8.8 Verdict: Buy

Venom #6 (Marvel)– Venom fights the symbiote god himself in the conclusion to Donny Cates and Ryan Stegman’s arc on one of Marvel’s best current series. It opens up with a 20 panel grid and doesn’t put on the brakes once as Eddie and SHIELD vet who is totally consumed by his symbiote host Rex push themselves to the breaking point to defeat a seemingly insurmountable threat. This book has all the man pain filled inner monologues and insane splash pages that characterized Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane’s work in the 90s without all the misogyny and terrible takes on human anatomy. And towards the end of the battle royale, there’s a surprising amount of character growth and emotion connected to Eddie Brock. I can’t wait to reread this in trade paperback Overall: 10 Verdict: Buy

Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1 (IDW)– Lee Allred, Mike Allred, Rich Tommaso, and Laura Allred turn in a refreshingly retro take on the classic comic strip crime fighter in Dick Tracy #1. He’s fighting corrupt politicians at every turn with old school sound effects and a bright pop art palette from Laura Allred in his wake. Tracy experiences several victories in the first issue, but corruption isn’t something you can take out with a well aimed shot of a tommy gun or an electric chair. This is great Prohibition Era period piece. Overall: 8.2 Verdict: Buy



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: Buffalo Speedway

Buffalo Speedway coverIn the biosphere of popular culture, the current range of visual artists capturing the attention of fans is pretty diverse. As the current climate has shown, geeks and everything geek related presently occupies most people’s “Reddit feeds.” It was not always like this, as there was a time before the internet when such things would looked at with ridicule. There was not one thing, movie, television show, book that changed it, it was the amalgamation of these things and the influencers behind them.

One of those influencers is Kevin Smith, whose films would portray those people who were enduring their quarterlifer crisis in a variety of ways. His debut film, Clerks, is still one of those movies that connected with people from that age group regardless of race and circumstance. It offered a raw uncut look into what it meant to be at a place in your life where you did not see yourself. In Yehudi Mercado’s Buffalo Speedway, we meet a group of characters much like those in Smith’s iconic film.

We meet Figgs, a pizza boy, who has worked for the same pizzeria, Turbo Pizza, for the last eight years, and though it seems he doesn’t have any ambition. In this world, pizza boys can become pizza men, where simple delivery drivers can become legends. This seemingly typical tale of underpaid daily workers is more like Mortal Combat meets Gone In 60 Seconds, as each driver has their own set of skills which makes extraordinary. Turbo Pizza and Pizzaurus are in constant battle to be the top pizzeria in town. Eventually Figgs and the rest of his cohorts get involved in Top Driver Race to boost the store’s sales where whoever delivers the most pizza gets the prize, a percentage of the bets.

Buffalo Speedway is a fun comic that’s both adventurous and epic. It feels like a movie lover’s dream. The story by Mercado is funny, engaging, and action packed. The art by Mercado is so detailed and vivid that it feels as though it could jump of the page. Altogether, it’s a rollercoaster of a comic that easily hooks readers with its easily likable characters, intertwining plots, and gorgeous art.

Story: Yehudi Mercado Art: Yehudi Mercado
Story: 10 Art: 9.0 Overall: 9.6 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Denver Moon #2

My favorite police procedural movies are when the undercover police officer is so deep in, they barely know who they are any longer. One of the prime examples, is a show I’m currently watching that comes on the BBC, called No Offence. One of the main storylines follows a detective who’s undercover in a Islamic hate group. She breaks off all contact with her superiors and becomes embroiled in the group to almost not knowing what her true purpose is.

The storyline and the way it plays out reminds me of my two favorite movies from the 1990s , Deep Cover and In Too Deep. It’s just pure coincidence that both movies features characters who gets lost in their undercover persona, to the point it is hard for them to disrupt their learned behavior. This obsessive behavior also extends to when characters walk the grey line in order to solve their cases. How far will you go if saving lives will cost you, your moral scruples? In the second issue of Denver Moon, our titular character looks within the tunnels of Mars for any breadcrumbs which may lead to our scythe wielding killer.

The key to cracking the case lies buried in the deepest tunnels of Mars. Denver Moon will stop at nothing to unearth the truth, even if it means digging up the demons of her past. As Denver walks the streets following a lead, she quickly lets the reader know that she’s like most private investigators where a majority of her cases involve infidelity. It’s a nice tip of the hat to a trope of the genre. But everything else is anything but. It involves religious cults and miners and leads to a very powerful climax.

Overall, this issue serves as the turning point for the series and it more than serves the story. The story by Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola, is action packed and intelligent. The art by Aaron Lovett, Brandon Bendert, and Matt Von Scoyk is vivid and elegant. Altogether, it’s another excellent installment in the sci-fi crime noir series which looks to keep readers glued to their seats to the very end.

Story: Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Art: Aaron Lovett, Brandon Bendert, and Matt Von Scoyk
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.3 Overall: 9.4 Recommendation: Buy

Review: Cemetery Beach #1

Warren Ellis and Jason Howard, the creators of the critically acclaimed Trees (currently being adapted for television), bring a high-speed, mind-bending new series in Cemetery Beach—launching this September.​

In Cemetery Beach, a professional pathfinder, his only ally a disaffected young murderess, breaks out of a torture cell in pursuit of his worst extraction scenario ever: escaping on foot across a sprawling and secret off-world colony established a hundred years ago and filled with generations of lunatics.

Review: Batman: Damned #1 Has Gorgeous Visuals, Overwrought Narration

Batman: Damned #1 is 50 pages of glorious and sometimes creepy Lee Bermejo as well as 50 pages of John Constantine yapping about theology, heaven and hell, religious things, and the like and occasionally displaying his snarky wit courtesy of writer Brian Azzarello, who returns to the character almost two decades after being the first American to write Hellblazer in 2000. Batman: Damned has the tailor made for an elevator pitch premise of the Joker mysteriously being wounded, and Batman mysteriously having no idea what happened to him and teaming up with John Constantine to get to the bottom of things. It’s equally parts gritty and Gothic thanks to Bermejo’s art and works best when it’s reveling in its spookiness and disorienting atmosphere instead of trying to be deep or give Bruce Wayne a screwed up childhood before his parents were murdered.

At times, Azzarello and Bermejo seem to be working at counter purposes in Batman: Damned #1. The comic is filled with brilliant and sometimes shocking imagery from Bermejo and then kind of ruined with the overwrought narration from Azzarello. Brian Azzarello definitely is having a fun time writing Constantine narration, and the lettering has a nice storybook flow to it, but it undercuts the art sometimes by describing what is on the page instead of creating an interesting juxtaposition or adding layers to characterization like in Watchmen or Kingdom Come, for example. Azzarello and Bermejo do nail Constantine’s character in a single panel when he’s smoking and refers to himself as “the unreliable narrator”, which fits the non-linear, yet non-confusing nature of Batman: Damned’s plot whose supernatural elements keep it from being a cut and dried “What If Batman killed the Joker” story.

Honestly, the most unsettling part of Batman: Damned #1 are the flashbacks to Bruce’s childhood that go beyond the typical Zorro, pearls, Crime Alley, Waynes getting shot, and I’m not talking about Lee Bermejo’s creepy girl from The Ring take on The Enchantress. There’s a scene where young Bruce is out with his father Thomas and his mistress and entertaining himself by spitting off a tall building and counting, and he almost falls off the building when his dad throws a penny for his spit to “race”. A lot of orphan superhero’s parents were at least some kind of moral paragon, like Uncle Ben or Battlin’ Jack Murdock refusing to take a dive for a mob boss, but despite being super rich, Thomas Wayne doesn’t come across as a great dad or husband. Having a near death experience while your dad is cheating on your mom is definitely traumatic and adds more tragedy to the Batman mythos.

Batman: Damned #1 is at its finest when Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo go away from the theological narration and hurl the reader forward in a story about Batman being on the ropes with a gritty, supernatural tinge to it like Zatanna being a street musician or an eerie, invasive take on the body possessing Deadman. The comic’s opening sequence is a perfect example this beginning with a nine panel grid of an EKG and cutting to a full page image of Batman bleeding out before having him beat up cops, EMTS, and random passerbys while being disoriented and falling into the open arms of Alfred, er, John Constantine. There’s a real feeling of peril like the guy who has extensive notes and solutions for each Justice League member’s weaknesses has finally screwed up and could actually die or fail. It reminds me a lot of the Batman: Arkham video games when your health is dwindling, and the world is all cloudy and blood filled.

As shown in a scene where he’s crouching naked in front of a Batsuit (A page or so after the famous full frontal nudity.), Batman is definitely in pain throughout Batman: Damned #1 as he spends the entire comic trying to retrace his steps and figure out if he’s responsible for killing the Joker. Brian Azzarello’s incessant John Constantine is both parts annoying and hilarious, insightful and overbearing, but Lee Bermejo’s gorgeous image composition and aforementioned Gothic grit make the first DC Black Label book worth a read.

Story: Brian Azzarello Art: Lee Bermejo
Letters: Jared K. Fletcher

Story: 6 Art: 9.5 Overall: 7.8 Recommendation: Read

DC Comics/Black Label provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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