Category: Reviews

Book-A-Day 2018 #79: Nat Turner by Kyle Baker

I am in great danger of dancing about architecture here, so I’ll acknowledge it, first, and then try to move on.

Nat Turner is a nearly wordless graphic novel: it contains only narration taken from The Confessions of Nat Turner (a contemporary account), and some sound effects. All of the characters in it are silent as we see them — for dramatic effect or because the vast majority of them were silenced at the time and by history, you can decide for yourself. So what I’m here to do is use words to talk about a story told only in pictures.

“Dancing about architecture,” as I said.

Nat Turner was written and drawn by Kyle Baker, and originally self-published by him as four individual comics. The book edition came from Abrams exactly a decade ago, in 2008. The copy I have in my hand has a slightly different cover than the one I’ve found online: there’s only a light spattering of blood drops over the word “Turner” and down the left side, connecting to a red-patterned spine and back cover. I light the brightness and visual metaphor of the version shown here, but maybe the bookstores of America balked at so much blood.

Nat Turner [1] was born into slavery in Virginia in 1800. His father is believed to have run away and escaped from slavery when Nat was very young. Nat was very intelligent, and self-taught as much as he could, learning to read on his own and devouring every book he could. He led a rebellion of local slaves in 1831, which had some immediate success but was quickly suppressed. And, of course, he was tried and killed soon afterward. (Depending on how cynical you are, it can be counted a victory that a black man in 1831 Virginia was actually tried and found guilty before he was killed by white people.) Those are the bare facts.

Baker takes that story and extends it, beginning with Nat’s mother, captured by slavers in Africa and shipped to America. That was the first issue; the second covers Nat’s youth, growth to manhood, and religious awakening. (Like so many others who led massacres, Nat thought God talked to him and made him for a special destiny. Unlike most of them, we still have sympathy for Nat.)  The third issue has the events of the rebellion, in all of their bloody, chaotic fury. And the fourth is the aftermath: Nat’s hanging and Baker’s notes and afterword.

Baker’s art is dark and moody, a chiaroscuro of browns and blacks. The faces are expressive and with just an occasional touch of cartooniness — much more realistic than most of his work. His choice of images and panel-to-panel storytelling is superb, and the whole thing — even told originally across four issues — is entirely unified. Nat Turner has a massive moral and imagistic power, even to this white guy whose ancestors were entirely Northerners.

I don’t see Nat Turner listed in those standard compilations of the “Best Modern Graphic Novels” much — maybe because it’s too raw, too shocking. It should be; it does stand that comparison and should be in that company. And it’s a good reminder to oppressors everywhere — even if they don’t think themselves oppressors, even if they think they’re the ones oppressed — that when there are people under you with no way out and no recourse, they will rise up eventually, and you may not survive the experience.

[1] “Turner” was the family name of Nat’s owners. It’s not clear to me if he ever used a second name while alive, or if that was a luxury held by white people.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #77: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now by Ryan North and Erica Henderson

Doreen Green is still cute, still a bit chunky, still indomitable, and still the most upbeat character in comics. But she’s now a second-year student in Computer Science at Empire State U — which state is weirdly referred to as a “second-year alum” more than once — which means she’s that much closer to actually being able to create {insert technical thing that I don’t really understand here}.

The “big” change in her status (oh, she’s also a New Avenger, which is mentioned in the first issue and ignored otherwise) is because this third collection starts up what was in late 2015 a new series of comics about Doreen, aka Squirrel Girl, after she was involved in whatever crisis was going on that summer. (I think it was the one where all mutants died, since there was a fourth-wall-leaning reference to her very definitely not being a mutant of any kind. But who can keep track of which money-grubbing Marvel Secret House Civil Infinity Age of Death Fear Chaos Shadow happened when?) It was the second issue #1 that year for Squirrel Girl, which game creators Ryan North and Erica Henderson mock here, but not so much as to piss off their Marvel overlords.

Anyway, it’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 3: Squirrel, You Really Got Me Now . Given the way Marvel keeps books in print, it’s probably impossible to find now.

It starts out with a done-in-one story re-introducing Doreen and her supporting cast — who knows! maybe there’s a substantial comic-shop-going audience that missed the first first issue that year! hope springs eternal! — and then dives into a longer story involving Doctor Doom, time travel, and fashions of the early 1960s. Along the way, there are lots of pseudo-alt-text comments at the bottom of the pages by writer North and extensive letter-column pages with responses from both North and Henderson. (Do most comics reprint letter columns these days? Is that a thing? Because it’s nice that people like the comics and send in pictures of themselves as Squirrel Girl, but it’s kind of a distraction from the actual story here.)

Reader, Marvel did not have to change the title to The Only Beaten That One Time Squirrel Girl after this volume. But you knew that already, if you know anything about how comics work. It’s a lot like the first two collections — see my posts on volume one and volume two , if you have some time to waste — showing that the relaunch was entirely pointless. This is sad, but reinforces what I already believe about big corporate comics, so it makes me Schadenfreudenly happy. If you think comics about a superhero with a great attitude, a realistic body, buck teeth, and the proportional whatever of a squirrel would also make you happy, for whatever specific reason, I think you’re probably right. You might as well try it.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #76: The Soddyssey and The Werewolf of New York by Batton Lash

I’m not a lawyer. But I’m a lot more familiar with lawyers these days, having spent the last three years working with a bunch of them (including more “recovering lawyers” than one would expect) and marketing things to lawyers all day every day. So maybe this time I came back to Batton Lash’s long-running “Supernatural Law” comics series with just a bit more understanding of who he’s talking about and what some of the jokes mean.

(The supernatural side of Supernatural Law is much simpler: Lash’s bedrock sense of the supernatural is pretty much that of monster movies from the B&W era, all Draculas, Frankensteins, and Wolfmen. There are no hot-to-trot young women with lower-back tattoos and complicated love lives, no modern wizards, no elves hidden in plain sight, no unexpected Grail quests. Actually, given that Lash isn’t a lawyer himself, his take on both sides of the equation come from similar places: general cultural knowledge. It’s just that lawyers are more common in everyday life and more apt to have complained to Lash about perceived slights.)

I read Supernatural Law back when it ran in CBG as Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre — yes, I am old — and I think I used to read it in floppy-comics form through the ’90s and early ’00s, too. (I gave up on floppies about a decade ago, and lost twenty-five years of accumulated comics in my 2011 flood, so I can’t check.) But, like everything else in comics, Lash has been moving his creations into book and webcomic form, since that’s where the readers are these days. (Some of the comics used to be available at supernaturallaw.com , but there’s just a single “cover” image there now.)

There were two Supernatural Law collections sitting on my shelf, for longer than they should have been: The Soddyssey and Other Tales of Supernatural Law and The Werewolf of New York . Since I’m doing Book-A-Day this year, I’m running through books more quickly and actually clearing out those shelves. (Stop me before I turn into an infomercial.)

Soddyssey collected issues 9-16 of the comics series — which I think I vaguely recognized from reading in the ’90s — while Werewolf was a brand-new graphic novel created for book publication and funded by a Kickstarter campaign a few years back. But they’re both the same kind of thing: stories about supernatural creatures in legal trouble, told mildly tongue-in-cheek but with realistic legal outcomes. Soddyssey has several stories; Werewolf one. But Lash was telling a soap-opera-style story to begin with, full of life and romantic complications for his series heroes and their supporting cast, and that continues throughout, even as one case ends and another starts.

Alanna Wolf and Jeff Byrd are the principals of a small law firm, one that concentrates not on a particular area of law — though they do end up involved in litigation more often that not, since that spells “law” to a non-legal audience — but on a particular kind of client. One might wonder how all of these diverse creatures know to make their way to Wolff & Byrd, or how likely it is that they all have legal troubles in a state where those two are barred, but that’s the premise. We’ll be here all day if we start to question premises.

Supernatural Law always felt old-fashioned to me, in the best way, as if it should have been a daily-comics strip like The Heart of Juliet Jones or Mary Worth — something more culturally central than it really was. These two collections give me that same sense: Wolff & Byrd do the kind of law you’d see on TV fifty years ago. They’re not brokering the merger of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, or negotiating the transfer of IP from a banshee to a hot new pop star, or handling the import paperwork on a half-ton of grave dirt. They’re filing briefs, traipsing back and forth to court to plead in front of a judge, and counseling their current client to keep his mouth shut. (Always good advice, from any lawyer to any client.) It’s the kind of law you recognize, even if you don’t know anything about law.

These are fun stories about that kind of law, with some inventive twists on the kind of supernatural creatures you know the same way. Creator Batton Lash has been doing this, off and on, for forty years, and he makes it all smoothly entertaining.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #72: Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Lands of epic fantasy have one big continent, with an irregular coast. There may be islands off the coast here and there, but there’s only one continent, only one world. There’s one kind of people on one side of the continent and another kind over on the other side. Those groups don’t get along all the time, of course — and, if we’re telling an epic fantasy story, it will be during a time when they’re spectacularly not getting along. Maybe there’s a big wall slicing across the middle of that continent, Robert-Frostly trying to make good neighbors out of warring parties. It won’t work, of course. We want our epic fantasy story, and that requires blood and death and devastation, pain and sorrow and misery, and heroic figures that feel all of that pain and yet find ways to transcend and transform their world, in the end.

But we’re not at the end. We’re at the beginning, with the one continent and the big wall and the two nations of very different people, about to go to war and kill untold numbers of both of them. And an epic fantasy war, like an epic fantasy story, can be expected to go on for a long time.

This particular example is Monstress, a stylish comic written by lawyer/novelist Marjorie Liu and drawn by manga-ka Sana Takeda. The first collection is called Awakening : it has the first six issues. The war hasn’t even started yet by the time we hit the last page in this book, which is also typical for epic fantasy. I’ve seen this world described as “Asian-inspired,” and it may be, but it looks like pretty standard to me: humans on one side, “elves” on the other. The “elves” are here called Arcanic, and are explicitly half-breeds of humans and the immortal used-to-be-godly Ancients, but they’re even divided into Seelie and Unseelie Courts — pardon me, Dusk and Dawn — to make the parallel more obvious.

There are also Lovecraftian Old Gods, who lurk in spaces between worlds and have bodies that don’t fit the humanoform plan. So far, though, while they may be called evil monsters who want to destroy the world, the one we see is in practice somewhat more reasonable and amenable. (And there’s talking cats, because epic fantasy.)

An epic fantasy heroine must be someone secretly special, but seemingly inconsequential. A young girl, perhaps, who lost an arm in a way we don’t yet know. But actually the daughter of a major figure in the world. But actually the keeper of huge secrets. But actually the host of an Old God. But actually possessing perhaps the most powerful magic of her world. But actually special.

This is Maika Halfwolf: she’s seventeen when the story begins. A major war between Arcanic and human forces ended a few years back with a huge magical event that the humans think the Arcanics deliberately triggered. The war was otherwise inconclusive — the borders are in the same place, and the humans are still pushing those borders, led by the obligatory all-female order of religious zealots who also have not-magical-via-a-footnote powers. And the Arcanics are much weaker, in many ways, than the humans suspect. Maika may have the key to winning a new war, for one side or the other. But, right now, she’s looking for revenge on the humans she blames for her mother’s death, and for a way to control that hungry Old God within her.

So: big continent with a wall in the middle, races ready to go to war again, lots of specific magic and looks-like-magic powers, decayed former gods and ominous forces from outside the world. Looks exactly like epic fantasy.

Liu musters the tropes well — Maika is a strong, interesting character, headstrong in all of the usual epic-fantasy-protagonist ways while still being an individual. The world around her is big and complicated, and even the minor “villains” have depth and quirks. Takeda’s art — I think she’s working in watercolors over ink, since she does the whole thing, pencils to color — is equally rich and detailed, with instantly recognizable people and amazing spaces and fantastic objects for them to fight with and race through.

This is a good epic fantasy, in a medium that hasn’t had much good epic fantasy. I personally have read more than enough epic fantasy in my day, but I guess there’s always room for a little more if it’s done with style and verve. Monstress does that.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

REVIEW: Justice League

REVIEW: Justice League

Justice League should have been the super-hero film of 2017 but instead, was deemed an improvement over Superman vs Batman but not the blockbuster fans hoped for and Warner Bros prayed for. While it’s incredibly sad why director Zack Snyder had to bow out in favor of Joss Whedon coming in to handle reshoots but the finished product is a much-needed course correction from the wrongheaded approach to super-powered people. By lightening things up, Whedon helped us welcome the new heroes and formation of a team.

That the threat was incredibly boring has to be laid directly at the feet of screenwriters Chris Terrio and Snyder. He feels straight out of central casting with nary a hint of the Jack Kirby bombast that was woven into his Fourth World. There’s nothing wrong with a CGI villain (Gollum, Thanos) so it comes down to writing and performance and in both cases, they fail.

The movie, out now from Warner Home Entertainment, is worth a second look because there’s a lot to admire, starting with the easy comradery between Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman and Ben Affleck’s Batman. By picking up in the wake of Superman’s seeming death, we see the need for a team, a new for positive energy. From there, we look in on Aquaman (complete with Amber Heard cameoing as Mera, a nice tease for their film in December), Flash, and Cyborg, each approaching the notion of a team from different perspectives.

After that, there are extended action sequences that all go on too long and three Mother Box McGuffins that we all know will be united for the climactic battle so the level of suspense is low. The same with the resurrection of the Man of Steel (Henry Cavill), which should have been epic but is oddly underplayed.

All in all, it’s a fine, but underwhelming outing, not at all living up to the hype when DC belatedly launched their shared cinematic universe. The transfer to disc is equally adequate, leaving you wanting more and better.

The special features found in the Combo Pack (Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD code) are a fairly typical and unexceptional collection of featurettes.

We start with Road to Justice (14:10) wherein Bruce Timm, Dan DiDio, Jim Lee, Marv Wolfman and others briefly walk you through highlights of the team’s comic book existence. In Heart of Justice (11:52), the filmmakers and cast extol the virtues of the trinity: Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. The rest of the team get their due in Justice League: The New Heroes (12:24), hosted by Ray Fisher but also featuring commentary from Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller. Technology of the Justice League (8:14) looks at all the new toys that were created for the film. Ciarán Hinds tries to make Steppenwolf the Conqueror (3:03) sound far more interesting than he appeared in the film.

While we all hoped to see more of what director Zack Snyder had trimmed out of the final cut, all we get in the way of deleted scenes are tow focusing on The Return of Superman, portions of one we saw in the trailer.

There are a series of Scene Studies (15:16) that look at how different set pieces were achieved including Revisiting the Amazons (the best of the bunch); Wonder Woman’s Rescue, Heroes Park; and The Tunnel Battle.

Suit Up: The Look of the League (10:21) shines the deserved spotlight on Costume Designer Michael Wilkins, who gives us a look at how each JL member’s look was created, crediting all the diverse hands that contributed to the process.

What’s missing? Any sense that Joss Whedon was involved in the film. He’s not seen in any of the BTS material nor is there any discussion of his contributions including just how much of the finished product was his. This explains, of course, why there’s no director’s commentary. Snyder is also absent as a talking head, letting his producer wife Deborah Snyder represent the pair.

With Shazam, Wonder Woman 2, and Suicide Squad 2 all shooting this year, the DC cinematic universe seems here to stay and we can hope things improve with each subsequent film. This is a stumbling step in that direction.

Book-A-Day 2018 #71: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

A family of six flees a war-torn country, after American troops abandon it and let “invaders” from the other half of what used to be the same country conquer the portion they used to protect. The family has to sneak out by boat, crammed in with others, across an open sea, and hope for help and refugee status on the other end. They make it to the USA, the country they picked, and assimilate as best they can, working hard, living in small spaces, getting spat on by the natives.

Three decades later, one of those refugee children is a doctor; the others all productive members of society as well. The parents are naturalized citizens, and separated. And the third of those four children — Thi Bui, who was only a few years old when they fled — is becoming a mother herself, and investigating her family’s stories and history to learn more about where she came from.

This is The Best We Could Do . It’s an immigrant story, which is to say the most American kind of story possible. (If you disagree with me about that, the door is that way. Don’t let it hit you as you leave.)

Thi Bui had a complicated relationship with her parents — they were demanding and tough the way a lot of first-generation immigrant parents were, trying to keep up the traditions of their homeland and be more American than anyone else at the same time. She was the third girl of the four kids — the youngest was the only boy — which means her sisters, nearly ten years older, got to fight the battles so that she could have it a little easier. This book is the story of those complicated relationships, through the life stories of those parents, all the way up to the present day.

The Best We Could Do is a graphic novel that took Bui around fifteen years to make — not the writing and drawing, or not entirely, but gathering the stories of her family and writing her way into them. She had to find this story, to make it out of the materials in front of her, and that took time. This may be one of the best examples of the maxim “everyone has one great book in them” — but I don’t want to jinx Bui. She may go on to tell other stories as well, and they may take less than fifteen years. (I hope so: it would be a shame not to have other books by her, when she can make books this strong.)

But right now we have this book, and it’s an engrossing, encompassing view of the lives of one Vietnamese-American family. A book of tradition and hard work and fighting against outside forces and leaping at a chance for safety and happiness. Again, a quintessentially American story, and a great one.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day #70: The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa

Once again I see that I read the first book of a trilogy nearly a decade ago (The Color of Earth, in 2009), carefully shelved the following two books, and left them there for “someday.”

Well, “left them there” is understating it: I had to move these books around repeatedly, looking at them over and over again, and somehow (I’m not sure how) saving them from my 2011 flood that destroyed so many other things I thought I wanted to read more quickly.

But every one of us has a million things we didn’t do, and far fewer that we actually did do. As we get older, focusing on the first makes less and less sense — those things are almost infinite.

So I finally did read The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven , the bulk of a trilogy by Korean manwha creator Kim Dong Hwa, retelling the story of his mother’s adolescence, nearly a century ago in sleepy rural Korea. (Dong Hwa’s note, I realize only now, does not say this is his parents’ story, so I wonder about the strapping young man who is the hero of these books, and how he relates, if at all, to the author’s actual father.)

Ehwa is sixteen, or so the flap copy tells us — the books themselves never mention her age. There’s a lot they don’t mention, though: this trilogy is set in a small village somewhere in Korea, and if we weren’t told it was the twentieth century, there’s nothing here to clue us into that. Life goes on here as it always has, in a quiet, pastoral way.

In the first book, Ehwa had crushes on two local young men — first the monk Chung-Myung, and then the orchard farmer’s son Sunoo. But this is a romantic story — Dong Hwa spent most of his career making romantic stories for young women — so we know it will end with a true love, even if there are a lot of tears and long speeches about emotions before then.

And there are plenty of speeches about emotions: from Ehwa; from her mother, a widowed tavern-keeper; from the men they both love; and from nearly everyone else in this small Korean town, who are all obsessed with talking about women as flowers and men as butterflies and other unsubtle metaphors. Each page is pleasant, and the dialogue is true, but a reader may begin to wonder if rural Koreans ever think of anything else, or if that’s why they are still so rural and backward in 1920ish.

I’m picking on these books, which are sweet and lovely — Dong Hwa is good at drawing expressions, and at showing character in his faces. And the dialogue, as I said, is true — it’s only that there’s so very very much of it in the six-hundred-plus pages of these books.

I suspect the natural audience for this trilogy is both substantially younger and substantially more female than I am, so my reaction doesn’t mean much. My sense is that these books are exceptionally good for their kind, and I did enjoy reading them. It’s only that sweet romances tend to bring out the Marvin the Paranoid Android in me….

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #67: Louis Undercover by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault

Children know more than adults give them credit for. They know huge things, things too big for words, things they try not to think about. As they get older, they can corral those huge things with words and tame them into the pieces of normal life. But kids can’t do that yet: the world is big and dangerous and surprising and entirely out of their control.

Louis is one of those kids: old enough to know things, too young to do anything about them. He’s eight or ten, maybe — old enough to be responsible for his kid brother Truffle (who is not really named Truffle). And he shuttles between his separated father and mother, when he wants to focus on Billie, the girl in his class who he thinks about all the time, but hasn’t quite worked up the courage to actually talk to yet.

Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault (writer and artist, respectively) tackle a different story from their first graphic novel Jane, the Fox & Me here — Louis is younger than Helene was, and there’s nothing he can do to solve his own problems. Well, there is something he can do to solve his problem with Billie, and we’ll see by the end of the book if he’s able to do that.

But Louis’s father has a drinking problem, the kind that starts with wine at 11 AM to quiet the shakes and goes on to mania and then depression from there like clockwork. Louis and Truffle seem to only live with their father on weekends, or occasionally — but this all new. Their parents were together not that long ago, and Louis desperately wants things to go back to normal.

Their mother is the one keeping things together: getting the boys to school, hiding her tears from them, working and cooking and mothering as hard as she can. She moved them from that big, now-mostly-empty house the father is still rattling around about eighteen months ago, to a small apartment in Montreal. The parents are not divorced. Nothing is final. But even Truffle knows, on some level, that something is wrong with his father.

Louis Undercover , if you want to be reductive, is the story of a family broken by an alcoholic, seen by a child, told in comics. But it’s so much more than an “issue” story, deeper and more resonant. We all worry about our parents. We all worry about our children. We all are in families that don’t work as well as we want them to. We all want to both go back to the good times in the past and move forward to new good times in the future.

Louis tells us this story: it’s all in his words, and Britt makes them cutting and true, every moment. Arsenault’s softly colored pages, with their fuzzy panel borders, draw us into that story, and make it real while keeping it from being so cutting we can’t stand it.

This is a lovely, true book. Like so many books made for younger readers, it should not be restricted only to them. And, frankly, an adult — a parent — will get a lot more out of Louis Undercover than even the most thoughtful and mature child. But that’s what great books do: they meet you where you are, and also wait for you to grow up, so they can meet you there as well.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #65: Kaijumax, Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly by Zander Cannon

It’s taken two library systems to get me caught up on Zander Cannon’s giant-monsters-in-prison comic series, and that seems a lot more complicated than it should be. But any system that gets books you want to read into your hands is, in the end, a successful system — so I’m not going to complain.

Cannon is following the Classy Cable TV style here: six-issue mini-series, each basically self-contained, coming out about the same time each year. I expect that gives him time to do some other comics work as well, and (more importantly) time to plan the next series and promote the book of the last series, as comics is getting more and more disconnected from the just-put-something-out-in-pamphlet-form-every-month business model. (And, let’s be honest: that model was good for the companies that owned the companies and characters, but not so good for anyone else in the pipeline.)

So: here is Kaijumax, Season Two: The Seamy Underbelly . Electrogor, the nice guy who looked like our main character back at the beginning of the first season, has broken out of prison with Green Humongo, and the two of them are hiding out with Red Humongo, who is Green’s brother despite their having completely different origins. But the cast of characters is much wider than just our two fugitives, and they’re scattered all over the place — I’d say “around the world,” but one of them spends substantial time on what I’m pretty sure is the moon.

Cannon has backed his way into something like a racial allegory, though he has an afterword where he denies that was the point, and explains that the parallels came as he turned “giant monsters in prison” into something more than just a joke idea by trying to take it seriously. I found it an interesting strand of the story — kaiju as a minority group, dispossessed and discriminated against, and the family dramas between the cop kaiju brother and the criminal kaiju brother. I’m not part of the racial group that the kaiju mostly reference, so I can point to that element and note it, but readers who are closer to a real-world version could have very different responses.

Anyway, there’s a big cast, sprawling around the world and elsewhere, of cops and criminals, jailers and jailed, corrupt and honest, and those who cross all of those categories. It’s a fairly dark moral universe for both the kaiju and those they call “squishies.” (Cannon plays it monster-movie style, but there has to be a lot of death in the background of Kaijumax. Every monster in prison represents at least a few thousand dead humans, maybe more.)

And it’s a noirish cartoon version of every monster movie ever, too: giant piloted robots and giant self-aware robots, lizards from the depths of the ocean and Lovecraftian beasts from between the stars, demons and mad scientists and scheming sons. It’s only because the monsters are so apt to get addicted (to nuclear power, to fictional monster-drugs) that this world even still exists.

Season Two is darker than the first one, almost paradoxically, since this is the storyline taking place almost entirely outside of prison. But prison is where things are relatively simple, right? You follow the rules (official and unwritten), you keep your nose out of places it shouldn’t be, you keep your head down, and you do your time. There’s no place to keep your head down in the wider world, and everywhere your nose is could be a place it shouldn’t be.

You have to be able to take Kaijumax seriously to enjoy it — to accept the premise, admit the science is severely bent at best, and appreciate the models. If you can do that, it’s a fine comic about loyalty and friendship, good and evil, what you have to do and what you can do, and, as the first book put it, terror and respect.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #64: Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner

If a webcomic is intended all along to become a book — if it’s being created as a book, and put up online as a teaser or buzz-builder along the way — is it somehow less of a webcomic? I’m sure there are webcomics purists who will insist it is: there are purists for everything, and we’re probably all purists for something. But, realistically, what difference does it make?

I discovered Andy Warner’s Brief Histories of Everyday Objects before the book came out, when he was serializing the individual pieces online . I read it like a webcomic, was happy when I heard it would be a book, and (eventually) found and read the book. That looks like success, from an ex-publishing hand and still-marketing professional. That looks like the way it’s supposed to work.

Warner’s introduction here doesn’t quite say either way: he developed Brief Histories as “an idea for a comic.” I think I’ve seen elsewhere that he had the book deal in place ahead of time…but maybe I’m making that up. (I like people to have book deals; it makes them happy, pays them for their work, and gets stuff for me to read. Win/win.) However it happened, Brief Histories was on the web, and it is now a book.

Warner gives the history, or a history, of forty-five random common objects, from toothbrushes to bicycles. Each one gets four pages, three and a half of them telling one main narrative, plus a few panels of “briefer histories” at the end for random fun facts that Warner presumably couldn’t fit into the main story.  These are not all necessarily the entire history of these objects, or even their original creation — it tends to be a funny story that’s reasonably close to the modern day, meaning a lot of 19th century and early 20th century inventors.

It’s all true, as far as I know, and it’s all pretty funny. Warner is an energetic cartoonist who uses a lot of blacks and tones, giving his pages vibrancy and depth. And, of course, they’re often about obsessed people talking about their creations in semi-anachronistic dialogue from Warner, which adds to the humor. (And will probably annoy purists, again — though purists are not likely to enjoy four-page quick takes on anything.)

To sum up: Brief Histories is funny, enjoyable, and, if you don’t watch out, you just might learn something.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.