Wednesday Comics Woundup: Murder Book Vol. 3

Murder Book Vol. 3 by Ed Brisson, Johnnie Christmas, and Jason Copland

Full disclosure time. Ed is a friend of mine. Not a “Loan Each Other Money” type of friend, as much as I’m a “Watch Ed Get Really Drunk” type of friend. I know I’m that kind of friend, since I did it the other night. But I digress.

Up till now, Ed’s given away his Murder Book stories online for free, and then collected them as single issues. But with Volume 3, he decided to try something different, and used IndieGogo to fund the publication of his latest collection of crime stories in print first. It was a big success, and Volume 3 was officially released a few days ago

Now, if you’re saying “But you can’t be objective!”, I will say this….You’re probably right. But I think that once you read these mini-masterpieces for yourself, you’ll see that objectivity isn’t really a problem when you’re talking about storytelling as strong as this.

The Murder Book concept is simple: Unconnected stories about criminal events, all taking place in Vancouver. Or, if you prefer, terrible people doing terrible things to not-so-terrible people. There is somewhat of a shared world here, with characters in one story popping up in others, but you don’t need to read one volume to appreciate another, and they’re all of a stand-alone nature. Volume 3 features two separate stories: Fathers & Sons, pencilled by Jason Copland, and Midnight Walk, with art by Johnnie Christmas.

Fathers & Sons is starts out as a classic Murder Book story, in that the criminals here are of the mid-level, thuggish variety. They’re doing some collecting for Sandra, a crime boss we last saw in Volume Two. In Murder Books,  that the criminals usually accomplish what they’re trying to do. If they’re murdering, they murder. If they’re robbing, they rob. Fathers & Sons turns out to be a departure from that, and these two fuck-ups fuck up so fucking bad that you can’t fucking believe what they fucking did. Fuck.

The thematic concepts that Brisson is exploring in this aren’t exactly subtle (check the title for spoilers), but they’re brutally effective. There are at least seven different terrible things that happen in this 18 page story, but Ed’s methodical, deliberate sense of pacing ensures that things never get cluttered, and that we always have enough panels to be suitably horrified before the next awful piece of violence comes along.

Jason Copland’s work here was a pleasant surprise..not because I don’t expect great work from him (check out http://review2akill.com/2010/11/19/kill-all-monsters/ for more examples of his excellent work), but because I haven’t really seen him do anything this down to earth before. His style reminds me of a cross between Terry Moore and Carla McNeil, with a healthy dose of David Mazzuchelli’s early work thrown in. This was probably the most violent and despicable crime comic I’ve read so far this year. But then I turned the page.

Ed says that he’s never done anything to a character as bad as what happens to our “hero” in Midnight Walk, and I would say that’s an understatement. A drunken carouser named Ray is stumbling through Trout Lake on his way home when he comes across a dead body. And that’s the last good thing that happens to Ray that night. Midnight Walk is tonally quite different from Fathers & Sons, in that there’s a randomness to this story that is a little  atypical of most Murder Book shorts. It works on every single level, but there is definitely a tonal shift here, and because of that the stories complement each other nicely.

I first discovered Johnnie Christmas’ work in the first Exploded View anthology that came out a few years ago, and it’s nice to see how much his work has evolved since then. His backgrounds are absolutely creepy, and they sets a great stage for hyper-detailed, almost kinetic style. He seems to have shed some of the Paul Pope influence that I remember in the other work of his that I’ve seen, but that might just be the subject mater.

You know how when you discover writers or artists that you really like, like Ed Brubaker, or Frank Quitely? You try to track down everything they ever did. You keep going, farther and farther back. There’s some great stuff at first, but then you finally go back far enough and find their earliest work, until you can’t believe that someone whose work you love SO much could possibly turn out such dreck?

Well, that won’t be a problem here. It’s pretty obvious that all three of these guys are going to be talked about in the comics world for a long time, and if they’re doing comics at this level NOW, I can’t wait to see what they come up with when they’re grizzled veterans.

If you find a better crime comic in 2012, I’ll stumble around drunk in Trout Lake. After dark.

Rating: A+

Movie Reviews: John Carter, and Pina

John Carter directed by Andrew Stanton

When discussing the most anticipated geek-friendly films of 2012, there’s some pretty obvious talking points: Dark Knight Rises, Avengers, Spidey, Prometheus, etc. And while I’m definitely excited about all of those, there’s one more on the list that I’ve been looking forward to as much, if not more, than the rest: John Carter.

Why? Because in a lot of ways, a strong case could be argued that without Edgar Rice Burrough’s Barsoom books, those other films might not even exist. While H.G. Wells and Mary Shelley preceded Burrough’s novels by decades,  the influence of A Princess Of Mars is still keenly obvious in modern works like works like Avatar, or Star Wars. In a lot of ways, Princess (written in 1912) was the first science fiction epic.

And now, a century later, its a gazillion dollar movie made by the guy that directed Finding Nemo and Wall-E. Anticipation high, yes?

John Carter (played by B.C. actor Taylor Kitsch, who I had never heard of before but have been informed by my wife that he starred in Friday Night Lights, which apparently is a TV show about football that isn’t as horrible as it sounds like it would be) is a retired Civil War infantryman, just trying to make his fortune. The guy from Breaking Bad tries to get him back into the Confederate army, but Carter isn’t having any of it. He escapes, ends up in the desert, finds a magic amulet, gets transported to Mars, and discovers that while he’s there that he has gained the super power of being able to magically repel clothing from his body, since he spends the rest of the movie half-naked. He also has super strength and can jump pretty high.

He then gets kidnapped by Ewoks (in this movie Ewoks are green, 9 feet tall, and have 4 arms. But they’re Ewoks nonetheless), and then stumbles into the middle of a huge Martian civil war;  and by stumbles I mean he lets his dick lead him around for the rest of the film in as he chases after a Martian princess who seems to be as clothing-averse as he is, and who gets kidnapped a lot.

There’s a lot to recommend about this movie, but I can’t say that it’s the fantasy masterpiece that Stanton was obviously going for. It’s fun, with a solid script, and a decent cast. It’s got some great special effects, and the CGI is relatively clean. It’s also quite clunky, and tries to cram about 4 hours of plot into half that time. As a result, the film feels extremely rushed, and we never really get to learn much about any of the characters other than: Bad Guy or Good Guy. Now, that’s in keeping with the tone of the original novel. Not a lot of character subtlety going on there. But because we’re not given a lot of background on these Martians, it’s hard for us to figure out why John Carter ends up caring so much about them (other than the obvious answer that he really wants to plow the Martian crap out of one of them.)

But it’s entertaining as hell, with some amazing action scenes, and an easily accessible story. It’s a fun space fantasy a la Avatar, but it a) doesn’t take itself as nearly as that film did, and as a result, b) ends up being twice as fun.

Rating: B+

Pina directed by Wim Wenders

I know as much about modern dance as Republican women seem to know about trans-vaginal ultrasounds. But just like their ignorance about the basics of the human body doesn’t get in the way of their trying to regulate what medical procedures be done in the name of religion, my lack of knowledge about the intricacies of the world of modern dance didn’t get in the way of me enjoying this captivating tribute to the works of the famed choreographer and dancer, Pina Bausch.

Usually one’s interest in a documentary rests and falls on one’s passion for the thing that movie is about. It’s a rare documentary that transcends its subject matter, and that makes you care deeply about something you barely knew existed 5 minutes before the movie began. Pina is one such documentary. And that’s probably because it’s not really a documentary at all.

It’s a collection of dance pieces, planned well ahead of Bauch’s untimely death in 2009. The film cuts between said pieces, and the recollections of her dancers, reminiscing about their years with her troupe. These interviews aren’t so much about imparting information as they are about imparting emotional response, and those that are looking for a Behind The Music-style dish session should look elsewhere. This isn’t gossip, it’s creators missing a collaborator.

But it’s the dance pieces themselves that are the real story here, and Wenders manages to one-up Werner Hertzog’s beautiful Cave Of Forgotten Dreams with how effortlessly he uses 3D to capture the dancers performance. He’s not filming a dance performance here; this is a fully realized film, and his camera use and judicious editing manage to create something new out of already beautiful pieces of work.

If it sounds like I’m gushing a bit, it’s because I am. Pina is a truly beautiful movie, and one that must be watched by anyone interested in where 3D technology is taking film. But it’s also a loving tribute to a true artist, one that left her medium a better place than than when she found it.

Rating: A

Wednesday Comics Woundup: Near Death, Bulletproof Coffin, and The Silence Of Our Friends

 

Near Death by Jay Faeber & Simone Guglielmini (Image)

Faeber has been slowly gaining a rep for his interesting take on a dysfunctional superhero family in Noble Causes, but I never really thought him as anything other than a talented, underrated superhero writer…..until Near Death. It’s the story of Markham, a badass hitman who starts our story badly shot and….wait for it….NEAR DEATH. Heh. While under the knife, he has a vision of what he identifies as Hell, where his dead victims tell him that he needs to make up for what he’s done.

The beauty of Faebers’ tight scripting is that not only are we told all of this by page 12 of the first issue, but we’re well into Markham’s new mission of redemption by page 13. Faeber credits the TV work of Stephen Cannel for the inspiration behind Near Death, and while that shows, its other 80’s TV shows like The Equalizer that really came to mind while reading this. Each story is fairly self-contained to one or two issues, with a larger theme of attempted redemption being ever-present, but rarely an actual plot point. The TV feel is prevalent in the writing, but Simone Guglielminis’ fine, expressive artwork is what grounds this story firmly in the comic book medium.

This book was an extremely welcome surprise. It’s a well-crafted, exciting, and hard-hitting addition to the ‘hitman” genre, and fits well alongside books like classics like The Killer or Button Man. 

Rating: A

The Silence Of Our Friends by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, & Nate Powell (First Second)

This is the story of Jack Long, a white reporter specializing in “race stories” in 1967 Houston, and his family. It’s also the story of Larry Thompson, a black professor trying to organize SNCC campus marches, and his family.

Silence is an autobiographical account of how those two families came together, but it’s also a snapshot of one of several “ground zeros” of that era of American history. Co-written by Long’s son Mark, the script is an emotionally powerful one, but it never delves into melodrama. It’s the shades of grey that I particularly appreciated, with much care and detail given towards making the characters (and as a result the story) as well-rounded and objective as possible. Both men truly want to “do the right thing,” to steal a phrase, but they’re also not immune to societal pressures, and their motivations are not all together pure.

And yes, it’s that Nate Powell that handles the art chores here and he continues to showcase why he’s become one of the most distinctive voices in modern comics. The man captures movement more effectively, than almost any artist working today, and things as simple as weather, or a choir singing, become characters in their own right, under Powell’s hand. My only question would be how First Second could have possibly have allowed pages as beautiful as these to be condensed into a digest size book?

An early pick for “Best of The Year” consideration.

Rating: A

Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred by Shaky Kane and David Hines

This second volume of Bulletproof Coffin is a love letter to 1950’s and 1960’s comics, as seen through the eyes of Shaky Kane and David Hine. I find it ridiculously difficult to explain what BC is actually “about,” so I usually just say that  it’s about cliches…specifically comic clichés.

On its surface, the first issue is a typical superhero origin story, with the Shield Of Justice telling us exactly how and why he became a costumed vigilante. It’s only upon a closer look that we find that its really the near-terrifying diary of a crazy person using superhero trappings to disguise his ever-increasing paranoia.

The second issue continues along the same path, with Tales From The Haunted Jazz Club, an homage to not only EC comics but also the horror anthology books that DC made so famous in the 1970s. The issue contains three stand-alone horror stories, as told by patrons of a 1950s beatnik jazz club. The horrors here are all physical in nature, and are all variations of the “mad scientist going one step too far” genre.

These stories have been told a thousand times, to be sure. And that’s kind of the point. These talented creators show how even the most hackneyed of stories can read as eminently fresh, with Hine and Kanes’ absolute love for this medium shining through on every page.

Rating: A+