Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children: A Cotton Candy Autopsy Trade Paperback Review

Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children: A Cotton Candy Autopsy
DC Comics - Piranha Press
Softcover Trade Paperback
112 pages
$12.95 (1991)
ISBN 9780930289898

Contributors: Dave Louapre and Dan Sweetman

Reprints: Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children #1, 13 + original final chapter

Synopsis: The big top is burning and the clowns are raging drunk, have stolen a car, kidnapped the two-headed lady, and are making a run for it.  Their journey from the circus is surreal and deadly.  These clowns aren't friendly or nice, but will play your kid's birthday party and steal all of your booze.  Watch out!

Bingo and his wife, Addy - the Two-Headed Lady, make a run south of the border to start over in a Mexican circus.  The two lovebirds (or is that three?) attempt to make a new life for themselves, but trouble has a way of catching up to people.  Will they be linked to the circus fire in America and what secret is Addy's 'quiet head' hiding?

Clowns and fire don't mix...with alcohol
Joey Punchinello is supposed to be dead, but somehow he's alive and starting over with the same mistakes.  Can a leopard change his spots and can a clown really change his stripes?   Joey will either get a new lease on life or suffer a final, fatal clown-beat-down - what sounds more likely?

Pros: Real clowns and really drunk clowns, harsh and honest portrayal of circus life - it ain't pretty or fair, unique story with some great insight into real clowning, highly disturbing, alt-rock band Mr. Bungle used Sweetman's clown artwork for some of their albums in the '90s

Cons: I'll never look at clowns the same way again (brrrrrr!), Sweetman's art reminds me of prison art - I bet he did time, kinda depressing, black and white, somewhat fanciful and unrealistic at times

The only good clown is a dead clown...
strapped to the hood of your car
Mike Tells It Straight: Real clowns and circus folk aren't all smiles and laughs for the crowd.  Have you ever seen a clown walking down the street in broad daylight?  It's freaky and there's something about clowns that makes normal people uneasy.  Who are they under that makeup and how can they live the clown life?  Now imagine seeing a falling down drunk clown after midnight?  Clowns get messed up in real life - either by self-infliction (booze and drugs) or other people (no one feels bad after hitting a clown).  The stories are sad, twisted and fascinating all at the same time.

This book is far off the beaten path and oddly compelling.  Classic reading for true alt-comic fans.

UPDATE 2013:

Director Derek Cianfrance has been attached to a film adaptation of A Cotton Candy Autopsy.  He directed Blue Valentine in 2010 and The Place Beyond the Pines in 2013.  Both starred Ryan Gosling, but only actor Ben Mendelsohn (who also starred in The Place Beyond the Pines) would be involved in this project.  I think this story would make a pretty hardcore film and hope it actually makes it to the big screen!

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Can't Get No Graphic Novel Review

Can't Get No
DC Comics
Graphic Novel
352 pages
$19.99 (2006)
ISBN 9781401210595

Contributors: Rick Veitch

Synopsis: Chad Roe has the perfect life - CEO of an up-and-coming company (which sells the first truly permanent marker, Eter-No-Mark), beautiful wife, great house, and enough pills to keep him comfortably numb through the whole thing.  His life turns out to be a fragile facade just waiting to crumble at the slightest touch.  It starts with a massive lawsuit threatening to bankrupt his company leading him to a drunken night of debauchery.  In the cold light of day he faces with unbridled horror the discovery that his companions from the previous evening have covered him in Eter-No-Mark from head to toe (even the little toe in his pants).

Chad Roe's life is in the toilet - things can't get much worse...or can they?
His world comes crumbling down on September, 10, 2011 and he flees to the streets of New York as a social pariah.  Suddenly the unthinkable happens and the world changes forever.  He makes his way along the roads of America and experiences the dysfunctional spirit of America - broken and warped by years of social disintegration.  Can he find salvation among the ashes of liberty and justice?

Veitch captures the horror of 9-11 with simple pictures
Pros: Massive page count, Veitch's art is simple yet persuasive, interesting story concept and presentation (landscape format with no word balloons for talking, just narrator text boxes)

Cons: Black and white, funky landscape format (I know, it's unique and outside of the typical comic book stereotype), surprisingly quick read despite page count, text and art often felt disjointed, a lot of pseudo-metaphorical/allegorical wordplay

 Mike Tells It Straight: Veitch is one of the great modern comic book storytellers and he crafts a truly unique experience both for the reader and main character of Can't Get No.  The blend of Chad Roe's misfortune against the backdrop of 9-11 was a remarkable contrast which turned into an allegorical ride through modern America.  The book is told in landscape format with simple art and simple text boxes, but Veitch is a master sequential artist and he makes difficult story composition look easy (it's anything but).

The recommended reading style of this book is to first view the art on the page and then read the text boxes superimposed over the images.  The words and pictures feel disassociated from each other and it's up to the reader to blend them together (if possible).

This book is definitely not for everyone and a lot different than I expected.  I felt the disassociated words didn't enhance my reading experience, but eventually found the groove Veitch intended to create for the reader.  It's an incredibly alternative format and story - not recommended for most readers except those looking for something very different.  If you hate reading poetry then avoid, but if you want a quirky tale light years away from mainstream comics then go for it.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Empowered Volume 4 Review

Empowered Vol. 4
Dark Horse Comics
Graphic Novel
208 pages
$15.99 (2008)
ISBN 9781593079949

Contributors: Adam Warren

Synopsis: Empowered is a self-conscious superhero with a fragile hypermembrane super-suit giving her enhanced abilities at the cost of her self-esteem. It's super-flimsy, becomes unreliable when torn and fits ultra-tight giving everyone a free peek at all her nooks and crannies.  She's a laughing-stock in the superhero community for being regularly captured and tied up. Despite her abysmal reputation she manages to keep a plucky attitude with the help of her former minion boyfriend, Thugboy, and her best friend, Ninjette. 

When Sistah Spooky loses her
powers she becomes
Lil' Spooky
Emp and Thugboy help Ninjette recover from the brutal beating she suffered at the hands (and feet) of her ninja clan members in the last volume.  They were trying to reclaim her after she ran away several years ago to avoid a dreadful clan life (it's in New Jersey).  The sexual tension between her and Thugboy heats up while she recuperates at the apartment he shares with Emp. 

Meanwhile Willy Pete pops up again to jam his raging hot boner (literally hot enough to pop your skull like a grenade) into the skulls of more hapless victims. He's still pissed about losing to Thugboy and wants to make sweet love to his head.  Emp spends some time at the Suprahuman Medical Center and befriends a young boy who wants to be a supervillain. 

The superheroes have their own awards show and Emp is nominated for a Capey - 'Suprahuman Most Deserving of Wider Recognition', but something is fishy about the nomination - will this be a Carrie moment where everyone ridicules Emp? 

Pros: Warren's art is top-notch as ever, Thugboy and Ninjette being guiltily attracted to each other was hilarious, story was more coherent, nice ending, some color pages, Emp actually saves the day, and Sistah Spooky gets shown up

Cons: Digest-sized (like all those manga books filling the shelves at your computer programmer friend's house - you should tell him about the bald spot), black and white, price increase over previous volumes, Willy Pete is pretty disgusting

Mike Tells It Straight: I think this volume has been my favorite so far - Warren steps up his writing by giving us an actual story running through the separate chapters and resolving it at the end of the book.  It's a major improvement over the scattered storytelling of previous volumes and the slow progression of supporting character sub-plots.  Example is the Thugboy/Willy Pete showdown which has been agonizingly plodding along.  Willy Pete gets even more nasty in this book and it's time to give this loser his comeuppance already!

The sexual innuendo and beautifully drawn women are still a great draw, but Warren delivers a compelling tale to make this a successful series progression.   You'll need to be up-to-speed on the storylines from all the previous volumes in order to enjoy it, but Empowered continues to be an amusing read.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

100 Bullets Vol. 1 First Shot, Last Call Trade Paperback Review

100 Bullets Vol. 1 - First Shot, Last Call
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
128 pages
$9.95 (2000)
ISBN 9781563896453

Contributors: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso, Dave Johnson, Clem Robins, Digital Chameleon, Grant Goleash, and introduction by Jim Steranko

Reprints: 100 Bullets #1-5 + story from Vertigo: Winter's Edge #3

Synopsis: Agent Graves has an offer you can't refuse - he'll give you a suitcase containing all the evidence proving the person who ruined your life is guilty, an untraceable gun, one hundred untraceable bullets, and a promise you'll never be convicted.

  • 100 Bullets - Isabelle "Dizzy" Cordova just got out of prison and returns to her old neighborhood.  While she was locked up her husband and child were gunned down in a drive-by shooting.  Her brother is now a young OG running major deals on the streets.  Dizzy rides the train one day and meets a strange man with a suitcase.  The evidence points to two crooked cops, but the truth behind her family's murder runs deeper.  Will she choose revenge or make peace with her troubled past?
  • Shot, Water Back - Lee Dolan is a down-on-his-luck bartender in a rat-hole pub.  He used to be a hot-shot restaurateur with a bright future until some kiddie porn showed up on his computer.  Despite his pleas of innocence the media roasted him alive and his wife walked right out the door with their son.  Agent Graves shows up in his bar with the briefcase and points him in the direction of a beautiful socialite.  Seems she's hiding a nasty secret, but can Lee really commit cold-blooded murder?
  • Agent Graves
  • Silencer Night - It's Christmas Eve at the precinct when a sweet old woman walks in and confesses to murder.  Seems she was given a briefcase and the weight of her conscience has finally won.  Problem is there's no murder case to solve.  Does this sound familiar?
Pros: Decent writing by Azzarello, highly competent art by Risso, painted covers by Johnson, nominated for an Eisner award - Best New Series 2000, nominated for an Eisner award - Best Serialized Story #1-3 "100 Bullets" 2000

Cons: Typical crime noir, gang-member dialect doesn't sound authentic, short stories, some majorly implausible situations, high-concept

Mike Tells It Straight: This Vertigo series has gotten a lot of praise over the years and I finally decided to check it out.  It was decent, but didn't knock my socks off.  Decent crime noir with good art, covers were just okay.  I liked the plot twists at the end and the main characters had some depth, but all the other characters were flat.  Parts of the story just didn't mesh smoothly.

"Could you at least look at my
face, yeah, it's up here, if
you're going to shoot me in
the face?"
The story premise is set up with Graves giving people the suitcase filled with evidence and a gun/bullets to exact revenge on the guilty (who are untouchable by the due process of law).  It's an interesting premise, but I can see the novelty wearing off pretty quickly without some major continuing plot developments.

My take on this first collection is the creative team and story were still working out some kinks.  Subsequent arcs must get better or the series wouldn't have won three Eisner awards.  I loved Ed Brubaker's crime noir from Criminal and his superhero version in Sleeper, but this didn't quite hit the same level. I'll give the next volume a chance mostly because of the hype and we'll see what happens.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

2020 Visions Trade Paperback Review

2020 Visions
DC Comics
Softcover Trade Paperback
296 pages
$19.99 (2005)
$29.95 (2004) Hardcover
ISBN 9780973703993

Contributors: Jamie Delano, Frank Quitely, Warren Pleece, James Romberger, Steve Pugh, introduction by Richard Kadrey, and covers by John Eder, Stephen John Phillips

Reprints: 2020 Visions #1-12 (of 12)

Synopsis: The world of 2020 America is a fractured mess as corporate culture has run rampant and individual liberty is an afterthought.  Four tales paints us a distressing picture of our possible future:
  • Lust for Life - Alex Woychek at 70 years of age is a former pornographic book publisher put out of business by the female political ruling elite of New York City.  The privileged financial drones working in the global economic market have walled (Wall Street - get it?) themselves within bio-domes and shut out the poor underclass.  The mean streets of the city have become a hot-bed of fear and loathing as antibiotic-resistant viruses threaten to bring about a new century of plague.  If you've got the cold sweats and look remotely contagious, it's off to the Ellis Island containment camp and you're never heard from again.  Bad news for Alex when a pavement diver splashes him with a nasty bug.  Now he's got a fever, nothing to lose, and a raging hard-on.   
  • La Tormenta - Florida has seceded from America and is now run by Christian cartel families.  Pollution and disease have caused birth rates to plummet across the nation and Florida is home to a heavy trade in baby trafficking.  Meet Jack Atlanta, a sexually-ambiguous private investigator who likes to wear a bra and pencil-thin mustache.  She's also addicted to virtual porn and her dealer's sister has disappeared.  In order to preserve her kinky fetish lifestyle Jack must dredge up her buried past and go undercover to find the girl.  Too bad she falls right into the path of a serial killer named "El Escultor" - The Sculptor. 
  • Renegade - Ethan was born with a twin brother, Adam, who got the good looks and luck of the pair.  Adam was adopted while Ethan with his deformed eye was shipped out to a Christian work-farm.  He ran away to Islamic Detroit and eventually ran afoul of the law only to be shipped to a Montana militia.  Bad luck follows him and soon he's on a death march to save the ranch owner's son from a group of techno-Indians living in the hills.  Never fitting in anywhere, will Ethan find peace or die a lonely death calling out his brother's name? 
  • Repro-Man - Adam is a prize stud in antiseptic Southern California where sex is outlawed and rich women pay loads of money for his frozen loads.  He's a perfect physical specimen and owned by Nurtura Corp.  Only the rich can afford to finance offspring and it's illegal for the poor to breed (most of the men are sterile anyway).  M.A.M.B.A. are a female resistance force who spring Adam so he can impregnate the masses, but they're in for a rude awakening when Nurtura's armed forces come calling.  Now Adam and the surviving female guerrilla fighter are on the run.
Pros: Delano's writing is decent, art by Quitely and Pugh is okay

Cons: Black and white - the original series was in color, art is rough and gritty, covers are photo-realistic and not great

The only color is on the cover

Mike Tells It Straight: Delano paints us a four-part dystopian future where society has degraded into a socio-political nightmare.  The "Millennium of Women" has taken over a fractured America through secession and civil war.  Reproduction is a challenge both legally and physically (due to widespread male sterilization from environmental pollution). 

The main characters of each story are linked which makes the four stories mildly congruous.  It's an interesting read, but the art isn't great despite naming Quitely among the artists.  He rose to stardom after this series and his art just didn't shine brightly here.  The black-and-white format really killed this collected edition for me.  Obviously cost was an issue and full-color format was sacrificed to get this edition printed. 

I don't recommend getting this book unless you're a big Vertigo or Delano fan, but if you do - pick up the original color issues instead of the collection.

TO BUY and Recommendations:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The One Trade Paperback Review

The One
King Hell Press
Softcover Trade Paperback
192 pages
$14.00 (1989)
$17.95 (2003)
ISBN 9780962486456

Contributors: Rick Veitch

Reprints: The One #1-6 (of 6)

Synopsis: The world has teetered on the brink of nuclear annihilation for decades and is deep in the throes of the Cold War.  Itchy Itch, the world's richest boy grown up into a loathsome billionaire crackpot, tips the balance of power and the nuclear silos empty on both sides.  It looks like the end, but a miraculous intervention stops mutual extinction - The One! 

A mysterious being (or metaphysical concept) with the goal of helping all of mankind ascend to the next level of evolution, The One lives among us, but has its own enemies.  First and foremost is The One's opposite number - The Other!  Representing all the evil and greed within the collective mind of humans, The Other wishes to drag humanity back into a primordial debauchery. 

Smoke 'em if you got 'em
Both the US and USSR have covert superhuman programs ready to put into action, but the two countries bungle it through gross misconduct of the power elite.  Now superhumans threaten to destroy society where nuclear weapons failed and everyone must choose a side.  Join The One to gain spiritual enlightenment or join The Other to get earthly pleasures.  The world is doomed!

Pros: Great commentary on the cold war era during the '80s (self-annihilation of the world), beautiful satire on superheroes as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), Veitch's original covers are awesome (and thankfully in color for this edition), Ubermaus!

Cons: Black and white collected edition - the original was in color and looked better, Puzz Fundles stories are totally lame

Mike Tells It Straight: Rick Veitch is a master storyteller and one of the "Revisionist Superhero Movement" pioneers.  The One is his powerful first entry into the pantheon of stories (which includes Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Miracleman, Veitch's Bratpack) which brought the superhero into a modern light for adult sensibilities. 

Enjoy The One classic
The One is a fascinating look at the '80s when nuclear self-destruction was thoroughly embedded in the collective unconscious of the world yet culture was leaning toward opulent self-obsession.  I was drawn back to my early childhood when Coca-Cola, Nike, and Marlboro ruled the landscape.

This story is a must-read for fans of Veitch, Moore, Miller, Gaiman, and any of those other pioneers who looked at the pathetic state of corporate superheroes and thought things should be different.  I preferred the original color version, but the book is still a worthwhile read.  You consider yourself a mature reader - well, what are you waiting for then?

TO BUY and Recommendations: