Sunday, July 29, 2012

Peter & Max: A Fables Novel

Title: Peter & Max: A Fables Novel
ISBN: 9781401215736
Price: $22.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2009
Artist: Steve Leialoha
Writer: Bill Willingham

Rating: 4/5

This story stars Peter Piper and his incorrigible brother Max in a tale about jealousy, betrayal and revenge. Set in two distinct time periods, prepare to travel back to medieval times and learn the tragic back-story of the Piper family, a medieval-era family of traveling minstrels. Then, jump into the present to follow a tale of espionage as Peter Piper slowly hunts down his evil brother for a heinous crime, pitting Peter's talents as a master thief against Max's dark magical powers.

Based on the long-running and award-winning comic book series FABLES, PETER AND MAX is its own tale. Readers don't have to be familiar with the comics to fully enjoy and understand this book.

As you all know I love, love, LOVE Bill Willingham and his Fables! When I heard Bill Willingham had another piece of literature coming out I was very excited. Upon further reading I found that this was a novel set in the Fables land and that it would provide some background to different characters such as Bigby wolf and Frau Totenkinder so clearly I had to own it!

Peter and Max is the story of two siblings, Peter and Max Piper, the sons of a traveling family of minstrels. The story alternates between the present, where Peter and his wife Bo Peep are living in a quiet area of Fabletown and the past, where both Peter and Max partake in many adventures and trials that mold them into the adults they become. In the present day, Peter gets word that his evil brother Max has resurfaced in their world and takes off to find him and kill him once and for all.

The flashes from their childhood shows the friendships between the Piper and Peep family, especially the close ties between Bo and Peter. One evening, Peter’s father gives him the magical flute, Frost that has been handed down to the eldest son in each family for generations. The only problem is that Peter is not the eldest brother, Max is. Peter is the best musician, which is why their father deems him worthy to wield Frost, but Max becomes extremely jealous and soon hatred starts to eat away at him. Soon, the families are forced to flee due to the Adversary’s men infringing on their land and the families become separated in the Black Forest. Peter grows into a courageous, well-rounded man and eventually finds some sense of peace. Max, on the other hand, meets up with an ally who gives him his own flute, one he names Fire, becomes the famous Pied Piper of Hamelin and seeks to kill both Peter and Bo.

One of the best things about this book is the way in which Willingham takes what would be considered nursery rhymes and twists them into something dark, mysterious and epic. Willingham manages to re-write Peter Piper, who both eats a pickled pepper and stuffs his wife in a pumpkin shell, the story of Little Bo Peep, who does lose her sheep in a rather dark way, and the Pied Piper, who rids the town of more than rats; while also introducing new plots and background stories for beloved Fables characters before they changed their ways to fight on the side of good and not evil!

Though I don’t think Mr. Willingham should put aside his Fables and work strictly on novels I have to say that I loved this book and I believe that it would be enjoyable to readers who haven’t read and loved his Fables series. However, for those of you who have read Fables and are picking Peter and Max up for the first time you should know this book fits in right after Fabletown’s attack on The Adversary and Peter and Bo both play their own parts in the war by the end of the novel. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Sandman Volume 10: The Wake

Title: The Sandman Volume 10: The Wake

ISBN: 1563892790
Price: $19.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1999
Artist: Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth, Charles Vess
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: Sandman  #70-75

Rating: 3.5/5

In the final installment in Gaiman’s Sandman series, we read the story of Dream’s wake. Or at least, the three first chapters are about Dream’s wake. We meet up with a number of people who we were introduced to in previous installments, and even get a few cameos of other DC comic book characters (Clark Kent, Batman, etc.).

The last three chapters in the book are all stand-alone stories in the Sandman universe. I think this book was one of the stronger ones in the series… but that said, it wasn’t without its flaws. I really wish the three standalones had been included elsewhere in the series, because the series ended so perfectly after the wake. SO perfectly – normally, I hate the sort of endings that implies everything was a dream, but since the series is about Dream of the Endless, WELL, it was so very, very fitting.

I also quite liked the fact that we got to see other characters again – though I have to admit that because there are so many characters and it’s taken me so long to read through the book, I forgot who half of the characters were… Whoops.

I feel like I have to go back and reread the rest of the series again.

As for the last three chapters… well, they could not capture my interest. It felt as if the story was over before reading them, so even though I tried to get into them, I already had that sense of closure and they felt… well… unnecessary for me.

Wish that this had ended after the third chapter, In Which we Wake…. it was a perfect ending to the series right there. The rest seemed like “oh yeah, I forgot to tell you this story.” Anyway, other than that, was totally a solid ending to a wonderful series.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Kurt Busiek’s Astro City Family Album

Title: Kurt Busiek’s Astro City Family Album

ISBN: 1582400342
Price: $19.95
Publisher/Year: Image, 1998
Artist: Brent Eric Anderson
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Collects: Kurt Busiek’s Astro City Volume 2 #1-3 & 10-13

Rating: 3/5

This trade has four distinct stories and their only connection is that they happen in Astro City.

In the first story, a man and his two daughters move to Astro City from Boston. They are trying to get used to seeing all of the super folk and the super level fighting around them. The man, Ben Pullam, and his daughters are all normal people and Ben feels quite inadequate compared to the super people, at least at first.

The second story centers, finally, around actual super people: Astra who is the 10-year old, super powered girl of the First Family. Astra and the rest of the First Family live in their own place with lots of technological gadgets and away from other people. Astra wants to know other kids and to play ordinary kids’ games, so she decides to go on her own adventure in a nearby school. Unfortunately, her parents are worried sick about her and think that she’s been kidnapped. We also get the First Family’s brief background story.

Then another one issue story which is about supervillain called the Junkman. He was a successful toy designer until he was put on retirement and decided to design gadgets for his own good. His first robbery is a success but somehow that’s not enough for him.

A bit longer story centers on Jack-in-the-Box. He meets his three sons which have all come from a possible future. One of them has modified himself through cybernetics in order to kill his father. The son is embittered and somewhat insane because his father died before he was born. The second son is also just as embittered and somewhat insane. However, he has studied Jack, and what Jack has said and done has become a religion to him. The second son is out to bring bloody justice to every law breaker and when he realizes that Jack doesn’t want him to kill anyone; he teams up with the first son and tries to kill their father.

Jack realizes that his eventual death will have dire consequences to his family and has to re-think being hero all over again.

The final short piece is about an animated cartoon character Leo and his sad story in Hollywood and outside it.

All of the stories were at least interesting. I enjoyed especially Astra’s tale because of the obvious parallels with Fantastic Four. I was a bit surprised that she looks completely like a human, though, when her grandfather is the prince of Animal-Men and her father looks like Ben Grimm. Then again, all comics’ women look the same, even when they aren’t mammals.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Marvel Zombies Return

Title: Marvel Zombies Return

ISBN: 9780785142775
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2009
Artist: Nick Dragotta, Andrea Mutti, Jason Shawn Alexander, Richard Elson, Wellinton Alves, Scott Hanna
Writer: Fred Van Lente, David Wellington, Jonathan Maberry, Seth Grahame-Smith
Collects: Marvel Zombies Return #1-5, Marvel Spotlight: Zombies Return

Rating: 3/5

After disappearing for the 3rd and 4th series, the original Marvel Zombies return for this series Marvel Zombies Return. This series takes place right after the events of the story in Marvel Zombies 2 when the infected superheroes are thrust through the time and space gate. They now find themselves displaced on Earth-Z in different times - past, present, and future. This new development gives the series a new sense of vitality as a whole group of writers and artists have been brought on board to craft each of the series individual chapters which each focus on a different infected Marvel character (Ch. 1 - Spider-Man, Ch. 2 - Iron Man, Ch. 3 - Wolverine, Ch. 4 - Hulk, and Ch. 5 - the Avengers).

Although each individual chapter focuses on a different character, there is a unifying story to be told as zombie Spider-Man tries to redeem himself by ridding the world of the zombie plague once and for all. As written by Fred Van Lente, David Wellington, Jonathon Maberry, and Seth Grahame-Smith, this story is as strong as the previous entries in the series. On board in the art department is Nick Draotta, Andrea Muth, Jason Shawn Alexander, Richard Elson & Wellington Alves, and Scott Hanna whose artwork compliments each of their assigned chapters. This is a series that could have easily gone wrong but the final product is one that the Marvel Zombie fans should be proud of.

This graphic novel collection is also one of the best as it not only provides all the covers for the individual issues but also has extensive interviews with many of the creators behind the series which include Van Lente, Mark Millar, Victor Gischler, and Grahame-Smith. Whether Marvel continues to mine the fertile franchise or not this would be a great way to go out on a high note.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Death: The Time of Your Life

Title: Death: The Time of Your Life

ISBN: 1563893339
Price: $12.99
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 1997
Artist: Chris Bachalo, Mark Buckingham
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Collects: Death: The Time of Your Life #1-3, A Death Gallery, Sandman: A Gallery of Dreams

Rating: 4/5

Neil Gaiman has a wonderful gift of taking the profane and giving it life.  I have been slowly making my way through Gaiman’s Sandman graphic novels thoroughly enjoying the rich and mystical world he has created.   

One of my favorite characters in his series is the Sandman’s older sister Death.  Other personifications of Death have been of a man in a dark cowl carrying a scythe.  Many stories about Death are of how the Grim Reaper was outwitted, as death is something to avoid, escape and cheat.

As he has done time and time again Gaiman takes the myth and turns it on its head.  Gaiman’s Death is a perky, optimistic and loving woman.  She dresses like a goth but does not have a gothic temperament.  Instead of being menacing she welcomes you into death with a loving embrace and a smile.  It is odd to describe the character of Death to be as full of life but she is

The Time of your life is a spin-off from the Sandman comics focusing solely on the character of Death.  Foxglove and Hazel, other characters from the Sandman comics, appear as well.  In this issue Foxglove has become a famous rock-star and Hazel is a stay at home mother, pretending to be Foxglove’s secretary rather than her lover.  Hazel's tries to make a deal with Death to extend a life and Foxglove travels to the shadowlands save Hazel.  This issue takes the reader through a journey of life, death and dreams.  It is explained that there is no balance to death, no taking of one life for another, as death is inevitable.

The graphic novel is illustrated beautifully and it is easy to see how Gaiman and his team have created a series that is widely praised and timeless.  I thoroughly enjoyed the deeper exploration of Death’s character with an issue to herself and no Sandman.  Four out of five stars.