Wednesday Comics Woundup: The Great Depression, and Dragons

Four Eyes Vol. 1: Forged In Flames by Joe Kelly and Max Fiumara. Published by Image Comics.

4 Eyes

6 eyes actually, but who's counting

Yes, that Joe Kelly. Deadpool Joe Kelly. Action Comics #775 Joe Kelly. Superhero workhorse Joe Kelly.

It was with some reluctance that I picked up Kelly’s I Kill Giants last year. It had gotten LOTS of positive reviews, but I’ve never warmed to Kelly’s supehero work, and for better or worse I’ve always considered him to be not much more than a poor man’s Chuck Dixon. To my pleasant suprise, I liked it quite a bit, and it made me think that there might be an actual writer underneath the superhero shlock he had been peddling for years. So when Newsarama posted the first issue of his latest series for free, I was happy to give it a shot, and was more than a little shocked to find myself ordering the trade about 5 minutes later.

Four Eyes is the story of Enrico, a boy living in a Great Depression era Manhattan very much like ours, but with one exception: Dragons. They’re an endagered species, and as with anything that’s illegal, there’s a huge black market business to be had regarding the exploitation of said creatures. Enrico’s family is inextricably tied to these creatures, in more ways than one.

This is a character story. Archetypical characters, to be precise, and a case could be made for some of them bordering on stereotype. There’s the plucky young hero looking to avenge the death of his father, as well as  the grief-consumed mother, oblivious to her surroundings. We also have an  honour-bound mob boss, and a wise old black mentor. Schlocky? Not on your life. These familiar characters are what makes this story work so well. I can’t say there are a lot of surprises, and the story progresses pretty much the way you think it would. It’s not the twists and turns that impressed me, it’s how artfully Kelly steers the ship. I couldn’t believe how sophisticated his pacing has become, and he always spends exactly the right amount of time on each character or story beat. While you might read a more original story this year, I doubt you’ll read one that’s laid out any better than this.

Enrico is in a lot of trouble

Which brings us to the art. Although I’ve seen Max Fiumara’s stuff before, I had no idea he was capable of work like this. His human characters have a slightly cartoony feel that reminded me a little of Jeff Smith’s work on Rasl, and while I could see his style not working in other settings, it sets a perfect tone for this story. And then there’s the dragons. My god, the dragons. Fiumara has created some of the most beautiful monsters to be found outside of a Hellboy book. 

This is an excellent adventure story, with great character motivation, and a unique setting. The first four issues stand well on their own, but I can honestly say that I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m also glad to rediscover a writer I had previously dismissed, and I’m looking forward to going back giving his previous work another shot. And possibly hating it even more, but there you go.
Rating: A

Wednesday Comics Woundup – The best book about a mute Sasquatch you’ll read all year.

The Abominable Charles Christopher HC by Karl Kerschl

 I found this in a round-about way, and I’m glad I did. Karl Kerschl is the co-writer and artist of a fantastic Flash story from last year’s incredible Wednesday Comics experiment. I loved it so much, I tried to find out more about him.

 Turns out that he’s the writer/artist of a weekly web comic that just put out a hardcover collecting the first 2 years of the strip. Since most web-comics look like they were drawn by an armless 6-year old , the beautiful art caught my eye immediately. It only only took reading 10 strips or so before I ordered it from TX Comics  (the only way you can get one), and although it was pricey, it was worth every penny.

 Charles Christopher is a mute Sasquatch who is very strong, lives in a forest with talking animals, and uses a  soother. He’s on an epic quest of sorts, though we still don’t really know what it’s about. We alternate between the story of his quest, and that of the day-to-day trials and tribulations of the denizens of the forest he lives in. It’s mostly a humour strip, but with hints of questing epics such as Narnia or LOTR. If I had to pitch it all high-concepty (and I would pay a gazillion dollars in Wakandan currency to watch one hour of this on TV), I’d say it was a cross between Bone and Bloom County.

 One of the things I like most, is one of the things I liked least. This doesn’t have the intricate plot-lines that we’ve come to expect from things like Bone or LOTR, and while this allows the strip to keep a very fresh and spontaneous feel (Kerschl apparently doesn’t plan that far ahead with his plots, and only works on this one day a week), it also occasionally has a “hurry-up-and-wait” feel about it. There are occasional mentions of a larger purpose for Charles and his friends, but just as soon as they show up, they are dashed in favour of little bon-mots about an alcoholic bird, which are usually quite funny. As far as complaints go, it’s very minor, and might say more about my personal tastes than it does about Kerschl’s talent.

 The art is  stunning. Absolutely beautiful, and one of the main reasons I had to have this in print form. Reaction shots is what Kerschl specializes in (as well as his gorgeous backgrounds), and often a character’s reaction to a particular plot point has more impact than the plot point itself. His animals definitely have a slight exaggerated anthropomorphic feel about them, but there’s a naturalistic realism in there as well.

 To sum up, this is a unique and engaging work by one of comic’s serious up and comers. Although it might be a little “cutesy” for bitter and unhappy souls, I’ll recommend it to those looking for a unique fantasy experience.

 Rating: A

P.S. Although this doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the book itself, I would strongly encourage the fine folks at TX comics to seriously look at alternate shipping methods. I paid $18 to ship this book from Montreal to my home in Vancouver. $18. You could buy a pair of shoes for $18. Not a good pair, and you’d have to buy them at Wal-Mart, but still. I understand the difficulties of self-publishing in Canada, but if you want to move units, you need to figure out a better way to get this to your customers.

New Music Review – Lansiné Kouyaté & David Neerman

The greatest Vibraphone/Balafon duet album in the history of the world.

Lansine Kouyate is arguably one of Mali’s premier balafon (West African keyed percussion instrument, similar to a Marimba or Vibraphone) players, which is a little like being one of Canada’s premier beer drinkers.  This is a duet album he did with the French vibraphonist David Neerman a little while back,  and it’s going to be a while before I take it out of my playlists.

To begin with, you’re talking about 2 incredibly rich, but dense instruments, so prepare for your head to buzz for a while. The basses are VERY deep, and the trebles will shriek in your skull for hours. That being said, the dual attack never seems overbearing at all, and it’s always fairly easy to tell where Kouyate’s ostinato starts and Neerman’s melody ends. It’s a beautifully recorded album.

It’s also an album with purpose. There are so many albums out there with two melodic lead instruments that just trip over each other, that it’s refreshing to hear two masters actually LISTEN to each other, and work well off of each other rather than just trying to overpower the rest of the group. Not only that, but even though the timbre of each of their instruments is relatively similar, it’s always easy to tell which of them is playing, as both their stylistic approach is quite different.

Although Malian music is the starting point of this album, they never stay there for long, and there’s lots of jazz, funk, and psychedelia mixed throughout. In fact, I could see this album appealing to fans of modern funk and jazz more than to traditional “world” music afficionados. It’s a modern groove classic, and fans of the Beastie Boy’s In Sound From Way Out, or the Meter’s Struttin’ records would be well served to give this a shot.

Highly recommended for fans of instrumental African music in the mood for something a little different.

Rating: A

Reissue Review: Otis Redding – Live At The Sunset Strip

Live on the Sunset Strip

Otis Redding, Live On The Sunset Strip.

Live albums are like your girlfriend’s hot sister; tempting, but rarely worth the risk. The past few years have been EXTREMELY kind to Otis Redding fans in terms of reissues and unreleased live material, but this might be the coup-de-grace. Some of the material from this now legendary 1966 performance at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go has been released before, but never all at once like this, and never with this quality.

Quite simply, Otis Redding was the greatest rock or soul singer of his generation, and quite possibly the greatest entertainer, and I’ll play Crazy 8’s to the death with any man or woman that thinks differently. This record is a document of a master at the height of his powers. There aren’t many live albums that I would consider to be essential to the discography of the artist that produced them, but this record is the rare exception, and a STRONG case could be made that the live selections here outshine the original source material.

Bob Holloway leads a 10 piece ensemble of some of Stax’s finest, and their virtuosity shines throughout the record. These guys could burn a hole straight through to China. But Otis never lets his band outshine the songs, and this album is a perfect example of how instrumental prowess and great songwriting can fit together.

I’ll ask you to pay extra attention to the version of Security that opens the first disc.

If the sheer power of this band doesn’t overwhelm you, and if it doesn’t quite literally bring you to your feet, I have some very bad news for you, because you’re dead.

Rating: A+

Wednesday Woundup: Batman by Neil Gaiman, Depressing WW1 comics, and a hungry mountain

More recent reviews that I’ve posted elsewhere. New comic stuff starts next week.

It Was The War Of The Trenches By Jacques Tardi. Published by Fantagraphics

Despressing WW1 Comic that you can impress your friends by owning.

Tardi is one of the most respected comic book creators on earth (think a French Kriegman, Eisner, or Spiegelman), but due to his work not being translated into English, is pretty much unknown in North America. So I was excited when Fantagraphics announced they were going to start translating his work into English. This is the first book of his that I’ve read, and I can say without hyperbole that it’s magnificent. It’s the story of WW1. Not THE story, but many stories. Lots of horrible little stories that serve the purpose of reminding us of the futility of War. If this book doesn’t turn you into a pacifist, then you’re beyond hope. Or your name is Sarah Palin.

This book depressed the shit out of me, but I’m glad I finally got to read it. Incredible work by a true master.

Rating: A

Batman: Whatever Happened To The Caped Crusader by Neil Gaiman & Andy Kubert. Published by DC Comics.

The funeral of Batman, just in time for the return of Batman.

I picked up the 2 issues of this when it came out, but I liked it so much that I bought it in TP. This isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it’s a nice little tribute to one of his favourite characters by a consistently creative writer. I can’t say it’s equal to Alan Moore’s ‘Man Of Tomorrow” that is the obvious template for this coda , but the circumstances here are very different that they were then. I will say that Andy Kubert’s pencils are incredible here. Some of the best superhero work I’ve seen recently. I’ve always liked Kubert, but this is one another level from previous work of his that I’ve seen. How he’s not doing all of DC’s big event books is beyond me.

They pad out the TP by adding a couple of other Gaiman Batman stories. Only one of them is good. It’s a Batman/Joker story Gaiman wrote for Batman: Black & Night. If you’ve never checked it out, it’s also currently available for free on the DC app for iPhone/iPad. Awesome little Joker and Batman story.

Rating: B+

Flight Vol. 7 by various  artists and writers.

I hate it when the mountain tries to eat me.

This is an annual anthology of stand-alone comic stories by young unknown creators. The focus for this anthology has always been more about art over plot. As such, it’s visually stunning, but I’d like to see different people involved next year so we can get a more well rounded view of what’s happening in the indie comics world. That being said, there’s enough about this volume to recommend it, but if you have other previous volumes, this might be one to pass on.

Rating: C+