Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

Title: The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes

ISBN: 1563890119
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1995
Artist: Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: The Sandman #1-8

Rating: 4/5

There have been some major, pivotal moments in the development of modern comics. One was when Frank Miller decided to do a set-in-the-future Batman story. Another occurred when someone at DC Comics asked Neil Gaiman to resurrect the Sandman.

The Sandman, pre-Gaiman, was a goggled hero who put baddies to sleep 'til the cops could show up. For some reason, the DC bigwigs wanted to bring him back into circulation. A lesser writer might have complied. But not Gaiman, who instead convinced the DC editors to let him devise a new mythology -- something related to the old Sandman in no way but name.

For 75 issues, Gaiman held his loyal readers spellbound as he unfolded the tales of Dream (the Sandman, a.k.a. Morpheus) and his Endless siblings: Death, Destiny, Desire, Delirium (formerly Delight), Despair and the missing Destruction. Most of the books in that series have been collected in trade paperback reprints, the first of which was dubbed Preludes & Nocturnes.

If you have any fondness for exquisite storytelling in a graphic medium, do not miss this book.

The tale begins in the England of 1916 when a group of would-be mystics try to call and capture Death. Instead, they get Dream ... and for the next 70 years, Dream -- an incarnation older than the gods themselves -- is held prisoner. Finally, someone is careless and he breaks free ... and the story really begins.

Taken from him when captured were three tools of power, three items which carry much of Dream's self inside them. To regain and rebuild the realms of the Dreaming, he must retrieve them, but of course they aren't going to be easy to find.

This is the only sequence within the Sandman series which freely, if briefly, interacts with the mainstream DC universe. Dream, in his quest, meets some members of the Justice League of America. He is led through Hell by the sometimes-hero/demon Etrigan. He enlists the aid of John Constantine, star of the popular Hellblazer series. We even pay a few visits to Arkham Asylum, the occasional home of Batman's arch-foes.

His first quest is in the company of Constantine, a hapless hero whose friends and lovers always seem to pay a heavy price for knowing him. In this case it's his ex-girlfriend Rachel, who has become addicted to dreams. Wait 'til you see her wallpaper....

Next, Dream is off to Hell, where a double-mouthed archdemon has acquired his helmet. To regain it, Dream makes a bargan with the devilish triumvirate, Lucifer, Beelzebub and Azazel, and contends in verbal competition with the infernal duke Choronzon -- a contest reminiscent of the sparring match between Merlin and Madam Mim in Disney's The Sword & the Stone.

It is the third quest which carries the heaviest impact of this book. An old DC madman, John Dee (a.k.a. Doctor Destiny), escapes from Arkham after an amusing encounter with Batman badguy Scarecrow, and sets out to take back the dream-filled ruby he'd stolen years before. The end of his journey, a passenger in a hijacked car, is shocking in its abruptness. Then, ruby in hand, he goes to an all-night diner ... and waits.

He knows, somehow, that the Sandman is coming. He passes the next 24 hours manipulating dreams and realities on a global scale, taking particular interest in the handful of diner patrons who had the bad luck to be there at the time. He toys with their minds and imaginations with increasing malevolence, and the reader is pulled along with morbid fascination in the same way it's impossible not to look when you drive past a car wreck. This isn't fun reading -- but it's powerful.

Dream and Dee finally contend, as we know they must. And the end, while inevitable, is still surprising in the way Gaiman gets us there.

The last chapter of this collection is the best story of the set. Dream, troubled by his long captivity and the events following his release, is passing an idle hour feeding birds in a busy roundabout on Earth when he is visited by his worried older sister, Death.

This is our first glimpse of the character who, more than any other in the Sandman series, made her way into public consciousness and developed her own mythology. Death, we learn, is an attractive young female, pale of skin and raven-haired, who has an endless fascination for life and a passion for living. She's more cheerful than anyone has a right to be.

She takes Dream with her during her rounds, and her interactions with the dying of many ages and lifestyles is touching in many ways. By day's end, Dream has learned a lesson about life -- and so, if they were paying any attention -- have the readers.

This initial run of the series introduces us to some characters who will play major roles over the next few years: Cain and Abel, the killer and victim of the First Story and now caretakers of Mysteries and Secrets in the Dreaming, Lucien, the gangly librarian of books never written. Unity Kinkaid, who slept her life away and whose granddaughter will have a significant impact on Dreams. And, of course, Death, the perky reaper herself.

Illustrations for this part of the series were provided by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III. It's not the best art I've seen in a comic book, but it's better than most, and it strikes a nice balance between realism and cartoony imagery. Frankly, if the art were any more realistic, there are pages here I wouldn't want to see.

Honestly, if I ever had to give a perfect 5/5 rating to any trade for the writing alone, The Sandman series would have it. That's all for now. But don't worry, there's more. The Dreaming, like Dream himself, is endless. I only wish The Sandman had been as well.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

John Constantine: Hellblazer – All his Engines

Title: John Constantine: Hellblazer – All his Engines

ISBN: 1401203175
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2005
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Writer: Mike Carey

Rating: 4/5

This trade is everything Constantine should be. There's a plague of inexplicable comas affecting children all over the world; when one of the afflicted turns out to be pal Chas's niece, John Constantine dons his stained and wrinkled trench coat and does what he does best.

But tracking down the solution to this little problem isn't easy, and the answer for once isn't in London. John and Chas head to Los Angeles to get the root of the dilemma, and soon find themselves in thrall to a powerful demon with oodles of power, a cunning plan and a little slice of Hell in a back room.

Very little is cut and dried when Constantine's involved, and in this case, the story develops into a gang war among demons and a fallen Central American god. As is usually the case, Constantine does little real magic of his own; he's a thinker and a planner, and at his best he sits back and lets others do the real work for him. Sometimes, of course, they die in the process.

Mike Carey is best known for his work on Vertigo's Lucifer series, and the similarity in atmosphere and the interplay between devils and angels stands him in good stead for a Hellblazer yarn. He doesn't let us down here, seizing on Constantine's character like a natural.

Leonardo Manco's art is well suited to the story; it's dark and gloomy, often in shadow, and even bursts of fire seem muted, somehow. Demons manage to look freakish and scary without sinking into goofiness, and Constantine looks exactly like he should; a lot of artists over the years haven't been able to get the character's appearance down right.

Constantine fans should love this latest installment of the Hellblazer mythos. People who've only seen the movie -- assuming they haven't been turned from the Constantine name forever -- will likewise enjoy this as an introduction to the far superior series in print.

It occurs to me that this trade would have made a far better movie script than the one that actually made it to the big screen. Hollywood could learn a lot if producers and directors paid occasional attention to writers and artists.

I only wish that Vertigo would have numbered the Hellblazer trades so that I could read them in sequence. Other than that minor annoyance, this is a trade well worth adding to your collection.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

John Constantine: Hellblazer – Empathy is the Enemy

Title: John Constantine: Hellblazer – Empathy is the Enemy

ISBN: 140121066x
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2006
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Writer: Denise Mina
Collects: Hellblazer #216-222

Rating: 4/5

John Constantine may be giving up on magic, but that doesn't mean he can resist a magical challenge when it falls in his lap.

There are two theories at work in Empathy is the Enemy: one, that widespread empathy for one's fellow humans would put an end to cruelty, murder and other nasty bits of work; or two, that widespread empathy would cause depression, despair and a good kick in the nuts for all of humanity. So, read the title again and have a guess which one author Denise Mina favors in this Hellblazer tale.

Constantine makes a new friend in a London pub, and the man's sorry tale of empathy run wild lures the former mage to Glasgow to sort it out. But things aren't quite as straightforward as Constantine believes, particularly when a renegade sect of monks raises its head with plans to save the world -- at the cost of Constantine's life, of course.

Thing is, given John's current state of mind, he might not mind all that much.

British crime writer Denise Mina has a knack for atmosphere, easily matched in the sullen, washed-out art produced by illustrator Leonardo Manco and colorist Lee Loughridge. The plot wanders a bit, but that probably suits John's mood just fine.

This trade is a dark piece of work, but no one opens a Hellblazer book looking for rainbows and sunshine. And the cliffhanger ending leaves you wondering just how Constantine will fix things in the next book. I only wish that Vertigo would have numbered the Hellblazer trades so that I could read them in sequence. Other than that minor annoyance, this is a trade well worth adding to your collection.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

ECCC 2011 - Meeting the artists

One of the main reasons I go to comic shows and con's are to meet and greet the artist's and writer's I enjoy. I've decided to offer my opinions on the artist's and writer's I was able to meet this year:

  • Max Brooks - Author of "The Zombie Survival Guide" and "G.I. Joe: Hearts & Minds". Great guy. Easy going and interesting to talk to. I think he may have been taken back a little (in a good way) when I asked him to sign my variant copies of the Hearts & Minds series.
  • Tom Feister - Artist for "G.I. Joe: Origins". He was fun to talk to, and didn't mind that I dropped the entire Origins virgin covers that he did to sign. I actually bought 3 prints from him of my favorite covers from the series. He also let me know that IDW is going to be publishing a book with his covers. I'm looking forward to its release.
  • Adam Hughes - Cover artist for titles such as "Wonder Woman" and "Catwoman". When I met him 5 years ago in Seattle, he was a nice guy and we had an opportunity to talk for a while. Seemed like a good guy then. I was looking forward to seeing him again. I even made a mad dash to find book's he had worked on so I would have something for him to sign and I could have some time to talk to him. I was very disappointed when he barely said 2 words to me. It could have been because he was tired after a long day at the con.
  • Mike Mignola - Artist, writer and creator of "Hellboy". I never got the chance to actually meet with him because there was a constant line at his table. I do regret not being able to see him.
  • Larry Hama - Writer of "G.I. Joe" from Marvel and writer for various Joe titles for IDW. As G.I. Joe was the series that got me started reading and collecting comic books, I was looking forward to meeting him more than anyone else. I packed-up so many books for him to sign for me. I had questions prepared to ask him. My inner fan-boy was going to be released. When I arrived at his table Friday afternoon, there was a sign proclaiming that Larry wasn't able to appear. I know that these things happen, but I was very disappointed. I hope that I will be able to finally meet him some day.
  • Mike Wolfer - Artist for "Lady Death" from Avatar Press. Not much of a talker or I didn't say anything really engaging. Seems like a nice enough guy. I wish Brian Pulido had come along with him.
  • Scott Lobdell - Writer for "Uncanny X-Men", "X-Men (Volume 2)", "Generation X" and many other titles. Nice guy and he was curious as to how/when/where I was able to get John Romita, Jr's signature on several of my Uncanny issues. He liked the idea of signing for charity... which the Portland Comic Book Show used to do many years ago... and also the fact that my LCS (Tony's Kingdom of Comics in Keizer, OR) always seems to be playing some part in the community by raising money for charity, or collecting food for the food bank. Seemed down-to-earth and willing to chat.
If I had a strong back and more patience, I probably would have visited more of the artists that were in attendance at this year's convention. Again, I am looking forward to next year's event!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Emerald City ComiCon 2011

I had a blast at ECCC and I'm already looking forward to next year. I was only able to take in 2 panels, but here are a few things I wanted to pass along from them, including YouTube links (Thanks for TFAW):

The Guild panel- (Felica Day, Amy Okuda & Wil Wheaton) Part 1, Part 2
  • "Cracks in my boots is my Lady Gaga cover band." Wil Wheaton
  • Felica & Wil drew penises.
  • "Dick is hot." Felicia (meaning Dick Grayson)
  • "Dragon Age is The Guild's Deep Space 9." Wil
William Shatner panel-
  • Someone just asked William Shatner if George Takei is a "giving lover".
  • Shatner's going to cover Iron Man in fall w/ Zakk Wylde.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lucifer: Children and Monsters

Title: Lucifer: Children and Monsters

ISBN: 9781563898006
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2001
Artist: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly, Dean Ormston
Writer: Mike Carey
Collects: Lucifer #5-13

Rating: 2/5

The second book in Lucifer's saga takes him to Izanami, an eastern death goddess and an afterworld very different from his own. The Fallen One seeks to reclaim his wings, severed from his back when he relinquished Hell and now reposing in a dusty collection of symbols and icons. But there are challenges that must be faced and conquered before he gains his prize, and the gods of that place are not eager to see the treasured wings taken.

Meanwhile, Lucifer's lover, the half-faced demon Mazikeen, is left to guard his Los Angeles nightclub and, more importantly, the mystical gate to the Void that Lucifer has opened. The gate is a great power, and it draws the attention of infernal and blessed beings from many plains who wish to steal it. (British bad boy John Constantine even makes a brief cameo here, but only as an amused observer.)

There are several cameo and guest appearances of interest in this volume, including a tarot-ridden sorceress, an angry seraph, a young ward of dead witches, a murdered schoolgirl's ghost, a maker of half-angels and a former handmaiden to gods who has miscarried every morning for 4,000 years. (If you want to see rage and destruction unleashed, imagine the spirit of an unborn fetus that's been miscarried more than a million times.)

The story is good, the art is alright, but my biggest issue is with the lettering of all things. I know that Vertigo wants to maintain a certain feel with this series, and I applaud the attempt. I sincerely wish that they would use better fonts so I would be able to clearly read the story and enjoy it for what it's worth. Because of this lone fact, I haven't given the Lucifer series much interest. It simply doesn't keep my attention or draw me in.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Emerald City ComiCon!

I'll be visiting Seattle this weekend. If you're interested, tickets are reasonable and there are going to be so many great guests. Check out the website for more details.

I have already written and scheduled reviews to post in March, so there will be no delay. If I get some good pictures either Friday or Saturday, I'll make sure to post them here to share and on my Facebook.

See you all later!

John "Zanziber" Rogers