Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dear Billy

Dear Billy collects the three issue World War II story that writer Garth Ennis and artist Peter Snejbjerg did through Dynamite Entertainment. Dear Billy is the story (fiction) of Carrie Sutton, who while nursing in Singapore, gets caught up in the Japanese invasion of that country and afterwards decides to enact her own revenge upon the Japanese for what was done to her.

Dear Billy is one of Garth Ennis' most powerful stories and doesn't have any of the gratuitous violence or over-the-top humor that for me mar some of his current work (The Boys and a lot of his Punisher). I don't think there's anything wrong with over-the-top humor or violence, but I've seen and read a lot of that already and have seen Ennis do it better in Preacher and Hitman (I understand that for a lot of people, The Boys and Punisher are their guilty pleasure titles and that's cool because we all have guilty pleasures). Anyway, by my measure, Ennis' best post Hellblazer / Preacher / Hitman writing has been when he does war stories and Dear Billy DEFINITELY is at the top of this group of books of his, which also include War Stories volumes one and two (eight excellent separate stories dealing with WWII), Enemy Ace, and 303 (a war story taking place in Afghanistan).

Why Dear Billy artist Peter Snejbjerg isn't a bigger name in comics has long been a puzzle to me. Snejbjerg has done some art on Vertigo titles like Preacher (the excellent Herr Starr backstory installment), Books of Magic, and Lucifer, in addition to The Light Brigade with writer Peter Tomasi. The covers of Dear Billy were done by John Cassaday (Planetary, Astonishing X-Men) and usually when he does just the cover for a title, the interiors can't help but fall short, but Snejbjerg, with great colors by Bob Steen, is easily the artistic match of Cassady (and I'd say that as good a story-teller that Cassaday is, Snejbjerg is better).

Dear Billy gets my highest possible money-back-guarantee and I'm sure that even people who don't like war stories will enjoy this book which illustrates how the horrors of WWII could transform people into doing things they wouldn't have done previously.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Photographer

The Photographer is the new (well new here in the U.S.) graphic novel by Emmanuel Guibert, chronicling photographer Didier Lefevre's stay with Doctors Without Borders in Afghanistan. Guibert's previous graphic novel, Alan's War, was my pick for best graphic novel of 2008, so when I'd read that his next book was about Doctors Without Borders, a nonprofit group of medicinal practitioners who provide their services to those in impoverished countries, I had been eagerly awaiting its arrival. In addition to writing and drawing The Photographer (full color, 270 pages for only $29.95), Guibert uses actual photographs taken by Didier Lefevre in Afghanistan of the country, it's people, and of the work that Doctors Without Borders did there.
Guibert was a friend of photographer Didier Lefevre and when Lefevre told him of his time in Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, Guibert thought his story would be a great one to share. Reading The Photographer just reinforced to me what an amazing group of people Doctors Without Borders are, because Afghanistan is a very harsh country, a very poor country, and a country in which many of its people were in dire need of medicinal attention even before the war there post 9-11, 2001 (The Photographer takes place during Lefevre's visit there in 1986). Doctors Without Borders, in countries such as Afghanistan, work in environments in which there is nothing in the way of the surgical technologies that we take for granted in our hospitals and they often have to improvise. Just getting from village to village with Afghanistan's rough, mountainous terrains is risky in itself (with the added danger of numerous land mines), so it takes people of extraordinary character to volunteer their services to Doctors Without Borders.

Although Lefevre and many of those within Doctors Without Borders repeatedly say how beautiful Afghanistan is and return there, having read The Photographer just reinforces to me that this isn't a country I'd put on my list of places to visit. Afghanistan truly seems to be like another world and not in a romantic sense, its people have what seems to me a very hard existence, most of them have no educational opportunities, and their devotion to their religion dominates just about every aspect of their lives. Most Afghans have little to no concept of people different from them, although certainly this is changing with the presence of troops from countries around the world post 2001.

I don't think that the people of Afghanistan should aspire to have the technological or material means that other countries have, but until they understand how that makes those countries different and we (those countries with technological and vast material means) understand countries without, the tensions between our countries is going to continue. But to me, the bigger cultural countries divide exists in terms of religious fervor - while many in the U.S. claim to be religious, the extent to which they practice said religion doesn't permeate their everyday existence as it does for most people in Afghanistan. This is just an example of cultural relativism and I'm sure that if I grew up in Afghanistan with little to zero education (amongst others with similar backgrounds) and lived in a culture that never questioned their religion, I would most probably think that people who lived in the "free world and or capitalist countries" were living lives that was going to doom them to damnation (that is if I ever even became aware of other different countries and its people).

I want to stress again that Lefevre (the photographer of whom this book is about and Doctors Without Borders) repeatedly say what a generous people the Afghans can be and what a beautiful country Afghanistan is, I was largely left with the impression that Afghanistan is a hostile place (mostly due to the terrain of the country) and that I would be unable to live there. I, being a person born in a "free country" (and living most of my life thus far in another "free country" the U.S.A.), really don't have a frame of reference for those that live in countries like Afghanistan, so when I read in The Photographer about how horses / mules, who have incredibly difficult lives as they are largely just the means that the people there use to navigate the terrain, are just left alongside "roads" to slowly die when they are no longer of use, my animal rights sensibilities are just sickened, but then I realize that I have the luxury of thinking of about animal rights when people in countries like Afghanistan have daily trials and tribulations that I couldn't even imagine (so sadly animal rights are very low on their lists of concerns and actually their religion probably doesn't much recognize animals beyond their servitude qualities).

After reading The Photographer, I am even more in awe of Doctors Without Borders, who find it within themselves to transcend the cultural differences that exist with the people they help and who manage to do this in desperate, horrific conditions (that often mirror the people they're helping) and cartoonist Emmanuel Guibert's amazing biographical communication prowess.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

T - Minus the race to the moon

This week, in addition to some fine superhero comics, saw the release of some big release original graphic novels. One of these was T - Minus the race to the moon, written by Jim Ottaviani and drawn by Zander and Kevin Cannon, published by Simon & Schuster, with 125 pages for only $12.99.

On the publisher information page there's a notation that T - Minus a race to the moon is a work of historical fiction, but the only fictional part of this graphic novel is some of the dialogue (because everything that was said by the various people involved wasn't recorded of course) and some of the characters are composites as there were too many people involved in making the landing on the moon possible to be included (as stated in the end liner notes, over 400,000 men and women worked on the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury missions!). I've got to think that it would be pretty difficult to produce any account of the U.S. goal to land on the moon before the 1960's closed (and before the Russians) that isn't exciting and the creative team of T - Minus manages to combine a narrative structure that isn't weighed down by the wealth of historical data that is also presented. I think T - Minus will be entertaining / informative to both those largely unfamiliar with the details of this historic event and those who've actually witnessed some of the actual events in some way as they were taking place (or have read / watched movies about the road to the U.S. 1969 moon landing). While reading T - Minus, I was reminded how amazing early space (and moon) exploration was in the days before computers had the processing powers they have today and just how many variables there were (and people) in making this happen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Superman / Batman & Supergirl

I haven't read Superman / Batman in a while, but I thought this cover was really striking so I started flipping through the issue and the interior art looked great as well. To my knowledge, artist Francis Manapul, is fairly new on the scene, but I think just based on this first chapter of this new story arc, he's going to be someone who is going to join the ranks of fan favorites very, very soon.

Superman / Batman is now written by Michael Green and Mike Johnson and their writing returns this title back to the over the top fun of the Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness period of this book. This storyline is called "Mash-Up" (think of this term in regards what people have been doing with different songs and you'll get an idea of what the this story is about) and I don't want to talk about any specifics of the story because it's better to experience the fun ride that is Superman / Batman #60 with very little fore knowledge. This title doesn't take place in current continuity (which is a plus or minus depending on how you feel about a title that isn't part of a shared universe), but I thought it was the most enjoyable superhero title I read this week.
Supergirl continues to be highly entertaining since the new creative team came on board with issue #34 (eight months now!) and hasn't been this good since Peter David's Supergirl years ago. Supergirl #41 concludes the "Who Is Superwoman" arc, with Sperling Gates writing, but artists Fernando Dagnino and Raul Fernandez are filling in for regular artists Jamal Igal and Jon Sibal. When I first saw that there was an artist change this issue I groaned, but got over that really quickly because the guest artists are really good and stylistically they are similar to the regular art team so green lights all the way for total superhero entertainment. DC has made this Supergirl title tie in more with the two Superman titles, but a person could read Supergirl unto itself (but even the two Superman titles have been pretty good lately even though they don't have Superman in them).

DC needs to hurry and get a Supergirl trade with the first arc by this new creative team in production, but I think a person could pick almost any issue of the new run and get caught up to speed pretty quickly as to what is going on.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Good-bye Hugo, hugs to Sierra

I never knew Hugo, but today my friend Sierra, who lives in Long Beach, wrote a blog entry that her friend and one-time fellow co-worker, Hugo had died. Hugo was only 26. I don't know how he died, but that's really none of my business and no matter how he died, 26 is waaaaaay too young to leave this mortal realm. Here's the link to Sierra's entry about Hugo:

Even though I never met Hugo, just from reading Sierra's writing about him, I'm really sad that he's no longer alive, because I've known Sierra since she was a baby and when she talks s vibrantly about someone, I know that person has to have had a magnetic personality. I usually like to read Sierra's blog entries early in the day because her colorful persdpectives on life gives my day that extra kick start. Reading about Hugo's death is going to make the rest of the day unfold in a very sluggsish manner, but I'm glad Sierra shared this because it serves as a reminder that life is fleeting so don't take it or people in your life for granted.

Sierra, hug Stella and Arlen for me and the next time you talk to David (even though I also don't know him), tell him that Kate and I will do everything in our power to make bullshit like Prop 8 go away and that Hugo will be in our thoughts.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Uhura, Ephemere Ale, & shiny!

Okay none of these three things in my subject header have anything to do with each other, other than they all are a part of my store this past week.

I had my friend, Rob, track down the four new Star Trek movie glasses from Burger King as I wasn't going to buy a meal there just to buy the glasses. The glass I'm drinking from features the lovely eye candy that is Zoe Salanda who plays Uhura in the new Star Trek movie. One of my favorite scenes in the aforementioned movie is when Uhura name drops my store name (grin)!
Rob bought this fine ale last week (he's such a spendthrift!) and we decided to to drink it from our new Star Trek glasses (see above photo). Before just now looking up what the difference between ale and beer (or lager) is, I didn't know what makes one beverage ale and another beer. Now that I've looked that up on the all-knowing interwebs, I know that basically it just depends on the fermentation process. From my reading on this, the terms "beer" and "ale" can be interchangeable so I'm just going to call "ale" "beer" from now on.

I'd recommend sampling Ephemere beer if you like beer that has a fruity taste (this has an apple presence), but not too fruity, while at the same time leaving a nice lingering buzz.
Last night, I finally got my store floors stripped and waxed. In the past when I did this to my floors I employed floor services to do this, but for various reasons I wasn't entirely happy with the various crews I'd used (mostly the finished result was always great though). So over a year ago I bought my own floor buffer.

Let me tell any of you who haven't used a floor buffer - you can't just turn it on and think it's going to work like a vacuum cleaner. Floor buffers seemingly want to go wherever they want to go. So I just tucked my new buffer away until I could find someone who could show me what the trick was to using them and every few months I would just use a regular mop and floor stripper to get the ground in dirt off of my floors (and that makes for quite the workout!). Doing the floors this way made them look better, but not as polished as stripping and waxing them with a buffer.
Rob, who's been helping me with some projects at the store, had experience with buffers in a couple of the jobs he's had in the past so he said he'd tackle my machine. After my floors being the worst they've been for too long, I decided that last night we'd just get it done. We got a little later start then we wanted to (long story, many x factors involved), but Rob took to my floor buffer like he knew what he was doing (which he did) and a few hours later, the floors at Alternate Reality Comics are as shiny as I'd like them to be. I didn't bother to learn how to use the buffer this time as the job was taking us longer because I should have had two buckets and an extra mop, but I'll have the correct tools on hand next time and then I'll give the buffer a spin (hopefully without it taking me for a spin!). Even with a floor buffer, as anyone who's cleaned floors can tell you, said job is still a good workout so Rob and I definitely earned our greens last night and as the two photos above illustrate, shiny has been attained!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Today's reviews: the letter U

Today's new comic releases number among them the debut of three titles starting with the letter "U", The Unwritten, The Unknown, and Unthinkable. The writers on these three titles also share the letter "M" on their first names. None of this really means anything, or does it!?

The Unwritten is a new Vertigo series by writer Mike Carey (Lucifer) and artist Peter Gross (artist on Lucifer and Millar's American Jesus). The first issue of The Unwritten is an extra-length comic for only one dollar. I really enjoyed the first issue, but I don't have a better description to sum this new title up than Carey's description, which is: "The Unwritten is the story behind all stories." Definitely a premise that opens up the series in regards to what kinds of stories can be told.
The Unknown by Mark Waid (who also writes the excellent Irredeemable for Boom Studios) was good, but not super strong out of the gate and it's not until the last page (actually the last panel) that we get the hook for what this series will b about. I think that that last panel will have readers coming back for the next issue, but I'm unclear as to how a whole series can be based on that (maybe it's just a mini series).

Unthinkable is also by Boom Studios and written by Mark Sable, who wrote a highly enjoyable superheroes in training mini series for Image a couple of years ago called Grounded. The art, by Julian Totino Tedesco, is the standout element of this new series and reminds me of Cliff Chiang (Human Target, Dr. Thirteen). This series is about a group of people brought together to think up terrorist scenarios which the government hopes to use to prepare for in the event that similar scenarios happen. That's a premise that wouldn't have sold me on picking up this series, but the execution is actually good and this is a title that I think will be one to watch as it unfolds in the next couple of issues.

Of the three "U" titles I've briefly talked about here, I'd say that The Unwritten has the biggest chance of being the break-through title and hopefully this will another Vertigo title that people actually look forward to month after month (and also reads well in collected form).

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Huge upcoming signing news!

Go over to your calendars and mark off Saturday, July 11th, as that will be the date for the big summer signing appearance of writer Greg Rucka and artist J.H. Williams III at Alternate Reality Comics here in fabulous Las Vegas (actually it's going to be a joint signing in conjunction with Comic Oasis - stay tuned for times)! Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III, are, of course, the creative team on the new Batwoman series that will be debuting in Detective Comics at the end of June. More details coming soon, but remember to clear your calendar for Saturday, July 11th, because how often do you get to meet fantastic creative talent up close and personal and they also appreciate ego strokes from their fans!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Romita Sr. & Romita Jr.

Last Friday night at The Palms, Derrick of Comic Oasis (another great comic store here in Vegas), hosted artist John Romita Sr. and his son John Romita Jr. for a benefit for the Boys and Girls Club (and he had them at his store last Saturday for Free Comic Book Day). I'd never met either artist and have been huge fans of their work since I'd first seen their art so being able to see both Romitas in a smaller gathering (because you can believe that their appearance at Comic Oasis last Saturday and at conventions draws long lines) was a chance I wasn't going to pass up.

John Romita Sr. is most known as the artist that drew Amazing Spider-Man for years after Steve Ditko and for many he is THE Spider-Man artist, but he's drawn many Marvel characters throughout his career (as well as being Marvel's art director and drawing romance comics for DC). John Romita Jr. first started drawing for Marvel in the late 1970's and is an amazing artist in his own right. Romita Jr. also drew Spider-Man for several long stretches, in addition to long runs on Daredevil, Hulk, X-Men, and several other Marvel characters and titles (as well as his creator owned title Kick Ass with Mark Millar, which really does kick ass).

All the stories you may have heard of what nice, gracious people the Romitas are, are very true. I'd brought my Daredevil Omnibus to get signed by John Romita Jr. (it includes his Daredevil Man Without Fear mini series that Frank Miller wrote). I was surprised to hear that Romita Jr. hadn't seen this book (how dos he not have a copy of this!?) so I was more than happy to let him look through it and all the extras it has (I'm so nice - ha!). Anyway, Kate and I had a great time - I only wish I'd thought to pimp this event here on my blog before it happened and I encourage everyone who gets a chance to see and talk to John Romita Sr. and John Romita Jr. to do so.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

LOEG Century: 1910

No spoilers following:

Today the new League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (LOEG) makes its glorious debut at most comic book stores across the land. This new LOEG is titled Century because its three volumes span a century, with this first volume titled 1910, the second will be 1969, and the third will be 2010. All three volumes will be fairly self contained and eighty pages for a mere $7.95.

The three central characters of 1910 are Murray, Quartermain, and Orlando (who we've met in Black Dossier). I enjoyed 1910 even though I don't know who all the other characters are or everything that happened during this period of history which frames this volume. I think that most people who may have been a little scared off from the density and non-conventional narrative structure of Black Dossier, will enjoy 1910, which I think is satisfying unto itself, even though I get the feeling a good part of this chapter hints at what will come in the next two volumes. I especially enjoyed the parts of 1910 in which various characters sing their dialogues (1910 and I believe all of Century is based on The Threepenny Opera) and hope that Moore's plan to someday actually make an audio version of Century happens.

Artist Kevin O'Neill, is the true star of 1910 for me and with every page you can tell that both he and Moore give their utmost attention to making every LOEG an entertainment vehicle that also says something about history without hitting the reader over the head. Each volume rewards re-readings that unearth new connections and discoveries to previous and future LOEG adventures and I know that I look forward to re-visiting 1910.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Star Trek - the movie; fascinating!

No spoilers following:

I just got back from a sneak preview of the new Star Trek movie and I give it the full Live Long and Prosper salute! I liked the original Star Trek television show when I wee lad quite a bit and enjoyed Star Trek Next Generation and Star Trek Voyager, but didn't watch any of the other television series and of the Trek movies I've seen, none of them have really wowed me. This new re-visioning of the Star Trek franchise is going to do really well with just about all audience demographics, including lapsed sci-fi fans such as myself. The cast and story are great(with humor, suspense, great motivations and good chemistry between the actors / characters), as are the special effects. This new Star Trek movie gets up and going from the very start and doesn't let up at all. I just saw it on a regular sized movie screen, but I'd say if you get a chance to see this in IMAX - go for it!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

People love free comics...

...well people who love the combination of words and pictures that takes their imaginations to new places and can also enlighten them as comics can tell any kind of story.

Free Comic Book Day was another resounding success here at Alternate Reality Comics. I haven't gone over all of my numbers yet and made comparisons to previous years, but early signs point to FCBD 2009 being my most successful to date. I know just looking at my sales transactions that I had more people buying books than previous years (all of which were strong in their own right) and that number doesn't include people who just came to pick up the free comics (of which there are many people who just do that and that's okay of course and I think this years' selection has a great chance for some of those people coming back for similar entertainment).

I'd like to thank everyone who showed up at my store for Free Comic Book Day 2009, my friends and helpers, Rob and Paul, and Kate (my wonderful wife who always has fun dressing up, today she came as her version of Delirium), and her (our) friend, Christie (also in the photo above dressed sharply as a Star Trek crew member) - FCBD at my store wouldn't have been possible at my store without their enormous help and entertaining of the masses.
I'd also like to send huge thanks out to the wonderful talented comic book creators who made the Free Comic Book Day comics this year such a great selection, Joe Field, the man who initiated this glorious day (also owner of Flying Colors in Concord, California), and Diamond Comics (distributor for all comic book stores everywhere) for all the behind the scenes work they do to get all of these books to our stores. For me, Free Comic Book Day is the official start of summer and I think summer 2009, in respect to the comic book portion of the world, is off to a great start.

Ich liebe comics!