Saturday, August 28, 2010

Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention: The Mind Shattering Conclusion!

Well, here we are.

My last installment of Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention.

Over the last five installments, I've included a bunch of titles that I feel worthy of your said attention, while also kissing the asses of industry legends Warren Ellis and Frank Miller, but for this concluding installment, I'm going to be doing something a little different...

...these are titles that I myself wasn't too fond of at first, and are perhaps more outside the realm of mainstream comics than just about anything I've included here before, so strap yourselves in folks, this may be a bit of a bumpy ride...

Top Shelf Productions
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: Melinda Gebbie

What may be considered practically pornography, Alan Moore's "Lost Girls" is something that he and artist/partner Melinda Gebbie have been laboring over since 1991. Like he did with his "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" series, Moore takes characters from classic literature (in this case, Dorothy of "Wizard of Oz", Wendy of "Peter Pan", and Alice of "Alice in Wonderland") and inserts them into a world unlike they respectively inhabit. In this case, it's a Swiss hotel shortly before World War I where all three meet one another, and provide each other with wildly different, and sexual, takes on the stories from which they are from. Saying "Lost Girls" isn't for everybody is saying it lightly, but "Watchmen" and "V For Vendetta" scribe Moore manages to lace the story with so many themes of love, passion, and even loss, that it's just too hard (no pun intended) to not feel somewhat moved...even when it seems like everybody's shagging everybody else for two and three page spreads.

Image Comics
Writer/Artist: Joseph Michael Linsner

A horror anthology graphic novel featuring Linsner's "Cry For Dawn" stories first printed in the early 90s, albeit these horrors aren't such things as zombies and ghouls. Here, the monsters are human, and all too real as well while being shockingly poignant. Take a look at "Burns Brightest", in which a one night stand results in a young man contracting AIDS. Seeking revenge on the female population, he moves on from one girl to the next, infecting whomever he can on the way, with a shocker of an end result to boot. Other tales, involving lost love, obsession, and even a punk rock vampire, all end up being incredibly chilling.

DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Pia Guerra & various others

Yorick Brown is a dorky college kid who, alongside his pet monkey Ampersand, find themselves to be the only male mammals still inhabiting the planet after every other male mammal mysteriously and horrifically die. Soon after, Yorick and the mysterious female Agent 355 traverse the world as he searches for his lost girlfriend Beth and seek to learn just what happened, while dodging insane wanna-be Amazons and other obstacles along the way. A smash hit ongoing series during its entire run, "Y: The Last Man" is fairly well-known and revered, but the simple fact is that this is one comic series that should have attained an insane amount of popularity, simply due to the fact that it's just that damn good. Let's hope that movie adaptation with Shia LeBouf playing Yorick never ever materializes however...

Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Howard Chaykin

Other than having a knack for telling darkly comic and horrific stories, Garth Ennis also has a knack for telling some compelling war stories. With "War is Hell", Ennis re-invents a classic and forgotten Marvel character named Karl Kaufmann, an aviator for the French-based Royal Flying Corps. He's young, naive, and full of ridiculous ideals. As he takes flight in the heat of battle, Karl soon learns the horrors of war first hand. That, along with the horrors of prostitutes not loving you if you don't have the money up front. No, seriously.

Writer: Greg Hurwitz
Artist: Lan Medina

The Foolkiller is another forgotten Marvel character, this time revitalized by crime author Greg Hurwitz, who fashions him as being a Punisher-style vigilante. Bloody, bleak, and gritty, "Fool's Paradise" finds the Foolkiller being sought by a downtrodden gambling junkie whose family has just been butchered. Needless to say, things get pretty bloody pretty quickly. Entertaining and brutal, if you don't read this, you're a fool (sorry, I couldn't fucking help myself).

DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Artist: Daniel Zezelj

Eisner-Award winning "100 Bullets" writer Brian Azzarello resurrects the western comic genre with "El Diablo", in which bounty hunter turned sheriff Moses Stone finds his relatively tranquil life interupted by the arrival of the demonic fugitive known as El Diablo comes to town and leaves a bloody path in his wake, and a message for Moses as well. Soon after, Moses and his posse track him to the town of Halo, which holds a special place in Moses' past, and when secrets get revealed, the shit really hits the fan. Azzarello pulls no punches a la "Deadwood" style, and even if western-themed things aren't really your thing, you should definitely check out "El Diablo".

Dark Horse Comics
Writer/Artist: Eric Powell

Vulgar, hilarious, cynical, and incredibly enjoyable, Eric Powell's "The Goon" can't really be classified under any specific genre. Instead, Powell's "Goon" books are just a fun ride, in which the strongman known as the Goon gets into all sorts of mishaps and adventures, kicking ass the whole damn time. Practically frequently offensive, Powell makes no apologies, and that's what helps make "The Goon" so goddamn good.

That's all folks...thank me later :)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention, Part 5: The Frank Miller Edition

Even if you aren't a die-hard comic geek, chances are you've heard of Frank Miller in some capacity. Robert Ridriguez managed to successfully translate Miller's "Sin City" work to the film world, while eventual "Watchmen" director Zack Snyder tackled "300", all of which would set the stage for Miller himself to direct a take on his idol and mentor Will Eisner's "The Spirit" (the results of which are, well, not really worth mentioning...), even though years ago Frank had quite a bit of a falling out with the whole Hollywood scene.

It was in his mainstream superhero work that Miller really got noticed. After signing on as an artist for one of the "Spider-Man" titles, Miller eventually found himself writing and drawing "Daredevil". During his run on that title, Miller completely re-vitalized the character, as well as introducing the femme fatale Elektra, and came back a few years later to do it all over again with DD. In the meantime, Miller's real claim to fame came with his revitalization of Batman for DC Comics, with the classics "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One".

Though Miller's more recent work, namely "The Dark Knight Strikes Again" and "All-Star Batman & Robin" is far removed from his best material, the impact that Miller made not only in the superhero realm, but in the realm of crime, noir, and action-oriented works outside the mainstream, have cemented him as an industry icon.

Here's a best of list of some Frank Miller works that you may have missed...

DC Comics
Co-Artist: Lynn Varley

A pet project of Miller's which he wrote and drew that pretty much defies any sort of description. A failed samurai and his demonic enemy are resurrected in the future New York City to wage war on another all over again, but that sentence really only scratches the surface of "Ronin". Part philosophical allegory and part science fiction thriller, "Ronin" wasn't too well received when first released in the early 80s, but in the years since has developed a loving following. Rumor has it that it's due to be made into a film directed by the guy who made "Stomp the Yard"...Christ almighty let's hope not.

Avatar Press
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp

Remember when I said that Frank Miller had a bit of a falling out with Hollywood some time ago? Flash back to the late 80s. "RoboCop" was a big hit at the box office, and a sequel was naturally green-lit soon after. Miller somehow got comissioned to pen a script for the sequel, which he did. The final script used for the film however bears little resemblance to his original take, which for the most part is presented here. An ultraviolent take on the cyborg policeman fighting a neverending war on crime as well as taking on the corporation-controlled police force in Detroit rarely lets up in its brutality, but it's the political satirization (which the first "Robocop" film did so well) which really makes things all the more compelling. That and the artwork of Juan Jose Ryp, who never ceases to impress.

Dark Horse Comics
Artist: Geof Darrow

A "Blade Runner" style sci-fi opus, only all the more violent and occasionally hilarious. The story revolves around insurance investigator Carl, who comes to learn that he's actually a cyborg and is the last hope of an enslaved race of robots. Besides the many parallels to "Blade Runner", Miller pays some wonderful homage to its creator and science fiction legend Philip K. Dick, while consistently upping the ante in terms of just how over the top things end up getting.

Dark Horse Comics
Artist: Dave Gibbons

Once again satirizing political and corporate America alike, Miller presents a tale set in the future where the United States is split into several extremist factions. In this time, a young African-American girl named Martha Washington is born and grows up to become a war hero and eventual revolutionary leader. One of the biggest selling independent comics of all time, "Give Me Liberty", along with Miller's "Sin City", helped make Dark Horse a big time comic book publisher to rival Marvel and DC.

That's all for now, with the final installment of this blog series will be up next time...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention, Part 4: The Warren Ellis Edition

As I was gathering together what I wanted to talk about for this fourth part of me telling you what the best non-superhero comics are that you should be reading, I came to the realization that all of them are written by Warren Ellis.

Who the fuck is Warren Ellis you may be asking yourself? He's a crazed Brit comic writer who spends way too much time on the internet researching all sorts of weird shit that he somehow puts to use in his material.

In terms of more mainstream-aimed comics, he's responsible for stints on "Iron Man", "JLA Classified", "John Constantine: Hellblazer", "Thor", "Excalibur", and currently on "Astonishing X-Men". His limited series "Red" has been adapted into an action flick starring Bruce Willis and is on the way as well. His material, mainstream-aimed or not, is always popping with strange and brilliant ideas, and the comics that I'm going to mention here are no exception.

By the way, if comics still aren't your thing, he wrote a novel a year or so ago called "Crooked Little Vein", which you should Google right now and check out regardless...

DC/Vertigo Comics
Artist: Darick Robertson

In the seedy future, gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem is on the case as he gets himself into all sorts of mishaps and dust-ups, never forsaking his journalistic integrity...or something of the sort. Filled with equal amounts absurd hilarity and "holy shit" moments, Ellis' classic "Transmetropolitan" is a masterpiece of comic fiction, with more nods to Hunter S. Thompson than you can shake your schlong at.

DC/Vertigo Comics
Artist: Colleen Doran

A love letter of sorts to the space program and venturing into the unknown, "Orbiter" is a science-fiction mystery in which a space shuttle re-appears ten years after vanishing in deep orbit. Only one of the astronauts on board remains, and the ship itself is covered in an organic material and hastened with alien technology. It's only when a group is assembled to figure out just what happened that things start to come together, right before they take a left turn and you're left with an emotional, awe-inspiring conclusion. The stunning artwork of Colleen Doran only makes "Orbiter" all the more special.

Artist: John Cassaday

A pulpy, almost X-Files-esque ongoing series in which a whacky team of heroes learn some shocking truths about our world. Aliens, monsters, and various other sorts of unmentionable horrors are told with such deft precision and intelligence that you'll be surprised just how addicting "Planetary" ends up being. Plagued with shipping delays throughout its run, the series sadly came to an end a bit prematurely, but should be given a look regardless.

Avatar Press
Artist: Juan Jose Ryp

I'm cheating again a little bit here, because there are various types of superheroes and supervillains that appear in "Black Summer". However, when's the last time you saw a Superman-type hero murder the President and his top advisors? And that's just the beginning! "Black Summer" is fairly "Watchmen"-esque in terms of the world and costumed folk that it presents, and begs the question as how much power can one person have before it ends up corrupting them? The artwork of Juan Jose Ryp is some of the most detailed and graphic that you will ever see.

Avater Press
Artist: Raulo Caceres

Told from the prespective of a soldier during the epic Battle of Crecy (look it up), "Crecy" finds Ellis packing in so much information in terms of medevil weapon uses and battle strategies that you'll have a hard time not being impressed in some way, shape, or form. That, and the fact that Ellis draws so many interesting parallels between this war from centuries ago and the war in Iraq that your head will spin. Quite short, but the exquisitely detailed artwork of Raulo Caceres makes "Crecy" worth picking up by itself.

That's all the Ellis even I can handle for now, but more to come soon!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention, Part 3

This third segment that features comics/graphic narratives that deserve your time and attention is brought to you in part by...well, me I guess.

Anyway, here's some more comics of the non-superhero variety that you should definitely check out...

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips

Like noir-ish type comics like "Sin City"? If so, check out "Criminal", which much like "Sin City" before it, features a revolving set of desperate characters who either put themselves or are put in some dire situations. A creator-owned title from "Captain America" writer Ed Brubaker and "Marvel Zombies" artist Sean Phillips, "Criminal" found a new home under Marvel's indie imprint Icon, and is best enjoyed in the massive hardcover Deluxe Edition which collects all of the Icon storyarcs.

Writers: Sam Kieth & William Messner-Loebs
Artist: Sam Kieth

Originally published during the early days of Image Comics through the Wildstorm imprint, Sam Kieth's "The Maxx" focuses on a title character who believes himself a superhero, but in reality is a homeless vigilante, whose sole contact is his social worker Julie. In between all this is murder, rape, and salvation, as Kieth drops little visual hints that suggest nothing is what it seems in this world. While it lost steam by the time its thirty-some issue run concluded, "The Maxx" struck such a chord that it inspired a short-lived animated series on MTV, and remains a cherished comic work to this very day as well.

Writer/Artist: Charles Burns

A labor of love that took well over a decade to complete, Charles Burns' "Black Hole" is a metaphorical story that transports readers to early-70s Seattle. Among a group of teenagers is an STD known simply as "the bug", which leaves its victims with physical deformities ranging from grown tails to shedding one's skin like a snake to having a mouth form on your neck. Shunned by normal society, we witness how things go from bad to worse to total nightmare for all involved. By the end of "Black Hole" though, one cannot help but feel truly touched to a degree, as this is something you won't be able to get out of your head for quite some time.

Pocket Books
Writer/Artist: James O'Barr

"The Crow" is mostly known as the 1994 action movie in which star Brandon Lee was killed on set. With an added feeling of mourning thrust upon the film, it was a hit at the time and still remains a fan favorite, but what most people didn't, and in some cases still don't, know is that the film was based on a comic. Created by James O'Barr as a way of coping with the death of his girlfriend, "The Crow" is a harrowing and violent tale of the resurrected Eric Draven seeking revenge on his killers. Loaded with odes and nods to O'Barr's favorite music acts (Joy Division and The Cure among them, with Eric himself semi-modeled after Iggy Pop), "The Crow" set the standard for goth-themed tales of vengeance, and still strikes an emotional chord to this very day.

More to come soon...

Monday, August 23, 2010

Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention, Part 2

Last time around I named a handful of superhero-less comic works that wholeheartedly deserve your time and attention. This second part is no different, and features some titles that you may find yourself familiar with...or maybe you won't. Either way though, these works deserve to be checked out.

Thank me later...

Pantheon Books
Writer/Artist: Art Spiegelman

The Pulitzer Prize winning work from cartoonist Art Spiegelman details his struggles coming to grips with his holocaust survivor father's account of his time surviving Nazi-run Poland and the horrors of Auschwitz. Metaphorically illustrating himself and other Jews as mice and Germans as cats, "Maus" is a powerful tale that deserves to be read and cherished for generations to come. Originally published in two seperate parts, the complete story has since been collected in a handsome hardcover format. "Maus" is the definition of what the graphic/comic narrative is capable of being as it conveys to the reader such raw emotion that would be only be lost were it a more traditional, prose-driven book.

DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Alan Moore
Artist: David Lloyd

Forget the lame Wachowski brothers-produced flick from a few years back. Alan Moore's "V For Vendetta" is an epic study of a totalitarian world. A person known only as V who wears a Guy Fawkes mask uses a young girl named Evie to strike back at the dictatorship who for all intents and purposes made him what he is. But is V a freedom-fighting hero, or is he simply little more than a terrorist? One thing about the movie that royally ticked me off was that is completely missed the aspects of moral ambiguity that populates Moore's work here, made all the more vivid by the brilliant washed-out art of David Lloyd. This is truly epic storytelling, and once you open this graphic novel up and start reading, you'll forget all about the movie adaptation.

DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Weston & Gary Erskine

Greg Feely is a middle-aged man in a rundown city whose life is little more than caring for his ailing cat Tony and masturbating to porn. However, unbeknownst to Greg, is the fact that he is really Ned Slade, special negotiator for The Hand: a secret organization whose job is maintaining the social status quo by eliminating unhealthy variations of all sorts and kinds. Whether this ranges from pornstar Anders Klimakks, whose black-colored semen is being processed to fertilize women to death, to mysterious pocket worlds that threaten to overtake our very own, "The Filth" is definitely something that you won't soon forget. Not always the most comprehensible, and definitely not for everyone, "The Filth" is a total nightmare that should not be ignored.

Top Cow
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist J.G. Jones

I may be cheating myself here a little bit by claiming this list isn't including any superhero elements, but I just have to include this. Remember that "Wanted" movie from a while back with Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie? Well, the comic that it was adapted from is absolutely nothing like that piece of dogshit. Wesley Gibson is a down on his luck guy with a cheating girlfriend and a dead-end job. Then one day, Wesley learns he is the son of The Killer: the greatest supervillain who ever lived. That's right folks, superheroes and supervillains were real once, until the villains won and wiped any memory of superheroes away from history and reduced them to appearing in comic books. The villains rule, and with the recent demise of his father, Wesley learns his dying wish was to make his only son not be a pussy anymore and be made more like him. As Wesley joins the Fraternity, he soon comes to learn that he has the freedom to kill, maim, rape, and destroy whoever and whatever he wants to. But an uprising by the insane Mr. Rictus threatens to ruin Wesley's good time, and soon enough, he and his partner Fox are fighting for their survival. Unapologetic, sickeningly nihlistic, and loaded with dark humor, "Wanted" is simply a blast to read, and something that you'll have a hard time getting our of your head afterwards.

More to come...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Comics That Deserve Your Time & Attention, Part 1

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I'm a comic book geek. Always have been, probably always will be. Keep in mind however that by the term "comic book", I'm not necessarily talking about superheroes.

Superheroes have for the most part dominated the medium since its inception, and for the most part continue to do so today. What gets lost in the middle of it all however is the fact that there are so many intelligently written and incredibly compelling comic works out there that garner little to no attention, which in itself is a crying shame.

This first segment of this blog will focus on a collection of titles that deserve your time and attention, and will make you forget that comic books are loaded with nothing but spandex-clad people...

Image Comics
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Artists: Charlie Adlard & Cliff Rathburn

An ongoing series of zombie survival horror, Robert Kirkman's "The Walking Dead" is every zombie fan's dream comic come true. Main protagonist Rick is a cop who wakes up out of a coma to find that the world he knew is now overrun by a zombie apocalypse. As he scrambles to find his missing family, Rick soon learns that the worst thing about this zombie-filled world isn't necessarily the zombies themselves, but the human survivors who haven't quite coped too well in this new world. Horrific and gripping, "The Walking Dead" became a smash for Image Comics, so much so that AMC has been prepping a live-action prime-time TV adaptation set to premiere in October.

DC/Vertigo Comics
Various writers & artists

Forget that lame "Constantine" flick from a few years back with Keanu Reeves. The real John Constantine that we know and love is a blonde, British, chain-smoking, bad ass master of black magic and bad luck. Over the years that "Hellblazer" has had various revolving creative teams, the best that stand out are the titles written by Garth Ennis, whose deconstruction and rebuilding of Constantine rank among the pivotal chapters of the character. And speaking of Garth Ennis...

DC/Vertigo Comics
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Steve Dillon

An ongoing series that ran into the late 90s, mad Irishman writer Ennis' title ranks among the most prolific in Vertigo's stable. "Preacher" revolves around the ass-kicking Jesse Custer: a reverend who smokes, drinks, screws, and swears probably much more than he should. By the time we get to Jesse's origin however, you'll have quite the understanding why. Oh yeah, he also has the power to issue a command at anyone to make them do whatever he wants; which comes in pretty handy as he, his gun-toting girlfriend Tulip, and the Irish vampire Cassidy traverse America's heartland on a search to make God answer for what he has stricken upon mankind...all the while as they avoid government agents, religious cults, and a decent abundance of perverts. Laced with pitch-black humor and straight-out horror, "Preacher" remains a comic geek favorite to this day.

Image Comics
Writer/Artist: Jonathan Hickman

What happens when those brainwashed by the biased and corporate-controlled American media strike back at it? Nothing good for anyone involved that's for sure. Graphic designer Jonathan Hickman lends a unique art style on top of a conspiracy-laden story of a group of people that have been brought together to fight back. "The Nightly News" is definitely something that isn't for all tastes, but it is something that is shockingly introspective while at the same time equally mind-blowing.

That's all for now folks, but there will be more to follow soon...

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Unbreakable Eric Rothharpt

A week or two ago, I received an invitation over Facebook for a benefit show at the Silo, dedicated to none other than Eric Rothharpt. At that moment and time, all of the sudden a flood of memories involving the man ran through my mind, something that hadn’t happened since I heard about his tragic and untimely death, which had occurred quite some time before I was made aware of it. I wanted to take enough time to gather together the right words to express about Eric, and not just about what he meant to me personally, but what he meant to every single person he ever met.

When I left the area that my hometown resided in five years ago this month, I had fallen out of contact a bit with the people I grew up with and went to high school with and such. Sadly, Eric was one of them. The last thing I had heard about him was from my girlfriend at the time, who had heard that Eric joined the military. That in itself surprised the hell out of me to be honest. The Eric I knew was this short, scrawny kid with punked out hair and a kind of goofy attitude. However, one other thing Eric possessed was this universal appeal to everyone around him: everyone couldn’t help but love the guy. The whole time I knew Eric and went to Boone, I never knew anyone that didn’t like him. He was funny, smart, and knew how to make you laugh…to put it bluntly, he was just too damn cool. Memories of his coolness and all-around randomness are so vast and varied that it’s hard to narrow them all down. I remember how we had joked around about forming our own punk band called “Electric Kool-Aid” after coming across a pamphlet that detailed the slang terms for LSD and laughing about them all. I remember at a punk show at the firehouse how he jumped on my back for an impromptu piggy-back ride (that didn’t end well for either of us mind you) and more besides. Like I said, Eric was just too damn cool.

Having a universal appeal and overall coolness is one thing, but being a good-hearted individual is something else entirely. And yet, Eric was that too, and he was in spades. He was a good kid who grew up to become a good man, and was even a good soldier all on top of that plus. How one person could qualify to fit in all of these categories I myself will never know, but the one thing that I am damn sure of is that I am a better person for having known Eric. All of us who knew Eric, no matter in what sort of capacity, are better off for having known him. And the world as a whole is all the worse off for not having Eric Rothharpt in it.

Until I see you again brother, you’ll always have my undying love and respect.