Greetings, Rama readers! Your friendly neighborhood David Pepose here! We're coming to you with some reviews from the future, hitting up some advanced reviews from Vertigo, BOOM! Studios and Dynamite Entertainment. As always, if you're looking for more review goodness, check us out at the Best Shots Topic Page! And now, let's take a look at a gumshoe's walk through the streets of San Fran, in Vertigo's new graphic novel Fogtown...Fogtown HC
Written by Andersen Gabrych
Art by Brad Rader and Rivkah
Lettering by Sean Konot
Published by Vertigo
Review by David Pepose
For a book called Fogtown, this Vertigo crime saga doesn't so much lay out the architecture of the seedy streets of 1950s San Francisco as it does the personality of its scruffy protagonist. And you know something? That's a view that's far more intriguing than Chinatown or the Golden Gate.
From the very first page, writer Andersen Gabrych does something smart -- he lays out the voice of his lead, P.I. Frank Grissel. "People might'a come here for gold, but it ain't why they stayed. Or keep flooding in from all over," Grissel says. "Sure as shit it's not for the ballet or them cutesy-pie cable cars, neither. That bullshit's for wives." This is on the first page. Without even seeing your lead character's face, you immediately have his gravelly, hard-knocks voice stuck inside your head, the lead pipe baritone that gives this story its full weight.
And in a lot of ways, Grissel's personality is what keeps the energy of this book moving. There's plenty of tropes for the noir genre that come up -- particularly the dame in the P.I.'s office, asking for help; the initial humiliation by stronger thugs; the deeper conspiracy that forces the detective to learn something about himself. But where Gabrych really distinguishes Fogtown from his noir predecessors is not through story structure, but by Grissel's personal issues -- which, to be honest, I think dominate the first half of the book, and could have been taken even further in the second. And that's not to say that he's a nice guy -- far from it. But he's got his reasons.
With all this to say about Gabrych and Grissel, artist Brad Rader is likely to get overlooked. Which is a shame -- his work feels like Pia Guerra spliced with a hint of Eric Powell, making scenes like a P.I. sharing a cigarette with a streetwalker into some particularly moody stuff. A lot of times, there are artists who have these talky scenes -- particularly with a lot of letterbox panels -- and they can't make them work. Rader isn't one of those people -- he excels in plumbing emotion from those shadowy lines, to the point where the action at the end of the book almost seems superfluous. Frank Gissel isn't a superhero, he's just a man -- one with enough flaws and foibles to tell a hundred stories.
And I guess no matter what I say about Fogtown it all comes back to one thing: Character. This book has it in spades. And whether its sex, violence or the scars you carry on your soul, there's a lot that Frank Gissel has to say about this world. Believe me, he's worth the trip.
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Peter Krause and Andrew Dalhouse
Letters by Ed Dukeshire
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by Kyle DuVall
Mark Waid isn’t the kind of writer who likes to reinvent the wheel, but he’s always been one who knows how to make that wheel spin smoothly and in interesting directions. Irredeemable #16 is your textbook breather issue: the immediate follow up to a big plot development that brings things down an octave while simultaneously strumming out the first few notes that will build to the next resounding crescendo.
Issue #15 climaxed with the death of Paradigm member Volt, the destruction of an arch nemesis and a seemingly squandered opportunity to put down the off-the-hinges Plutonian once and for all. It was also revealed that the Paradigm’s resident super-genius Qubit is playing a dangerous long game with the berserk superman, and the seemingly resurrected sidekick of the Plutonian is actually a super-villain in disguise. All this unfolded in the midst of a roaring battle between The Plutonian and the Paradigm. It’s a tough act to follow. Issue 16 is a predictable exercise in narrative quiet time, but even while catching his breath, Waid is still pushing things forward.
Issue #16 gives us some new revelations about Paradigm member Kaidan’s powers and shows distraught powerhouse Survivor going even closer to the edge in the aftermath of the U.S. military’s attack on the Paradigm, Volt is mourned, The Plutonian does something really mean to some poor bystanders and Qubit smugly plays out his little strategies, giving the reader the queasy feeling that he is, perhaps, being a bit too clever.
This outing is mostly melodrama, but even when things are overcooked Waid hits the reader with little jabs that give the events impact. De-winged demigod Gilgamos mopes over betrayals both personal and professional, but his reveries are topped off by a bittersweet bit of irony when we learn the now earthbound divinity never condescended to learn something as simply human as how to book an airline flight. Kaidan weeps over Volt’s grave in overwrought comic book fashion, but there’s a bitter flourish when she mentions they can’t even put his real name on his tombstone for fear of the plutonian striking out at Volt’s surviving friends and relatives.
Issue #16 is solid stuff, although an exchange between Survivor and the acting Commander-in-Chief of the United States does reveal a weak thread in Waid’s plotting. Waid has concentrated so narrowly on the dilemmas of the former allies of the Plutonian that the sheer amount of havoc the mad super has wreaked on the governments and infrastructure of the world never fully comes into focus. This issue touches on the issue just enough to leave the reader off-balance and wanting to see more. Perhaps Waid needs to do a one-off story about living in a post-Plutonian world in the Kurt Busiek man-on-the-street style to add some apocalyptic resonance to the series.
Issue #16 is basically the bottom rung on another narrative ladder, but Waid knows just what he needs to do to get his readers to climb to the next peak. Despite its dark-age gimmick plot hook, Irredeemable continues to be a solidly crafted, structurally conventional book with a razor-sharp mean streak and a fine sense of balance.The Boys #45
Written by Garth Ennis
Art by Russ Braun and Tony Avina
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dynamite Entertainment
Review by David Pepose
Oh, man. What a trip.
Seriously, out of all the books you read this week, The Boys #45 is going to be the one that hits you like a sledgehammer (and then hits you in the gut a few times to make sure you don't get back up again).
After last month's cliffhanger, Garth Ennis proves that he's one heck of a craftsman -- because he manages to capitalize on it twice. If you thought the end of last month's issue was beautiful, wait till you see the intro, as Wee Hughie's worlds collide and his one true love turns out to be the thing he's been trained to kill... a superhero. There's a lot of intrigue that goes on over this plot thread, and even for new readers, it'll really make you feel the pain.
Of course, a lot of that impact comes from Russ Braun, who bombards you with horrific images and terrified expressions that make you almost ignore Ennis's words. That's just some great planning. He's got that expressiveness of someone like Kevin Maguire, but at the same time, he and Ennis come together to make these positively sick scenarios (seriously, a superhero gushing blood out of handless stumps? Man, that'll never go away). And as for the aforementioned intro -- it looks fantastic. It's a small thing, but Braun nails it. Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best.
Where this issue stumbles a bit is with the subplots -- only because they're dense to the point of being difficult to follow. Ennis makes it readable with his nasty streak -- seeing the Homelander and Oh Father talk about how Starlight made her way into superheroics is pretty crude with its imagery, but you can't say it isn't viscerally constructed -- but ultimately, that's some backstory stuff that's going to turn off new readers in a big way.
That said, moments pass, and there's enough universal issues here -- namely, what happens when the love of your life suddenly isn't the person you thought they were -- and the ending of this cliffhanger is so reminiscent of the last issue, that you have to stop and marvel at the craft a bit. While there's some bumpiness in the middle of the road, there's a lot to like about The Boys, as it looks like the divide between business and pleasure isn't just going to be blurred, Ennis-style -- it's going to be annihilated. With the biggest guns he can find.
Toy Story #5
Written by Jesse Blaze Snider
Art by Tanya Roberts and Mike Cossin
Lettering by Troy Peteri
Published by BOOM! Studios
Review by David Pepose
I think I'll start this review out with the obvious question: Why isn't Tanya Roberts drawing every issue of Toy Story?
Seeing the difference between this issue and the last is such a night-and-day experience that I felt compelled to write up a review after I saw this book. Last month, I commented on how the art just didn't have the emotion to back up Jesse Blaze Snider's slapstick two-parter. Roberts takes it in the other direction -- she doesn't try to emulate the round lines of Pixar, but instead goes for the full-on traditional animation look.
And it totally looks slick.
There's so much speed, and emotion, and even some experimentation to Roberts' work, and it's only aided by colorist Mike Cossin. There's some serious pop to these pages, whether it's Buzz taking flight, or even Bo Peep's reaction to when this contest of champions finally ends. (And seeing Woody's reaction. Jeez. Who'd've thought these pieces of plastic had this much heart to them?)
And what's best about all this is the fact that Jesse Blaze Snider isn't pulling the book by himself. No offense to any of the other artists on this book, but there's been a certain slavishness to the original Pixar designs, this push to make them look just like the computer-animated versions of the characters, even at the expense of the smooth lines and the sheer expressiveness of the characters. Snider has some funny moments in this book, and some surprisingly poignant ones -- and with Roberts' lines, he now has characters that are "acting" along with him.
In other words, this is not just an improvement for the Toy Story comic -- this is the best-drawn issue yet. There's finally a real spark of collaboration going on here, as opposed to any one team fighting against the other one's creative current. I know it's not the high-concept arc that you were expecting, but for once, it doesn't have to be. To come back to my original question: Why isn't Tanya Roberts drawing every issue of Toy Story? It's a question that'll likely haunt me, because if she stayed on board, I kid you not, that would make this book the kid's series to beat.
Green Hornet: Parallel Lives #2 (Published by Dynamite Entertainment; Review by David Pepose; Click here for preview): Out of all the various Green Hornet books that Dynamite is putting out, Parallel Lives is the one that'll likely get overlooked, with people like Kevin Smith and Matt Wagner taking on the other titles. It's too bad, because this is a fun-loving little book that turns Kato into a Spider-Man-type brainy figure. It's not the most original take in the world, but Jai Nitz still manages to make Kato a really likeable figure, and once our boy gets his fighting form, the turns of phrase come fast and furious -- and always interesting. Artist Nigel Raynor is one whose style really grows on you as you keep reading -- he's a little bit of Phil Hester, a little bit of Scott McDaniel, and he takes the occasionally silliness of Nitz's story (like learning martial arts from a teaching skeleton) and plays it up with only a hint of irony. But Kato himself is a fun enough character that this issue -- light as it may be when it comes to suspending your disbelief -- is a fun morsel to check out.What are you looking forward to?