The GeeksverseREVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: March 2013 releases

REVIEWS | Trades & Hardcovers: March 2013 releases
Published on Sunday, March 31, 2013 by
March saw some excellent trade paperback and hardcover releases from Dark Horse, IDW, and Image. If you have difficulty finding any of these books, don’t forget that they can be back-ordered through your local comic book shop or purchased directly from any number of online retailers. Unless otherwise stated, all books for review were provided by their respective publishers.

Dark Horse Books

Last Day in Vietnam

  • ldivtpbp0Written and illustrated by: Will Eisner
  • Format: 80 pages, black and white/sepia, hardcover
  • List price: $17.99
  • Sale date: 06 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Last Day in Vietnam recounts Will Eisner’s own experiences with soldiers engaged not only in the daily hostilities of war but also in larger, more personal combat. Some of the stories in this novel are comical, some heartrending, some frightening, yet all display the incredible insight into humanity characteristic of Eisner’s entire oeuvre. Introduction by Matt Fraction!
  • Click here to read the ten-page preview.

Contrary to what the book’s title might suggest, Last Day in Vietnam isn’t just about the late Will Eisner’s recollection of the time he spent in South Vietnam during the 1960s doing research for his work on the US Army’s PS magazine. Included in the volume are fictionalized, real-world accounts from the Vietnam War, Korea, and World War II. The story that lends the book its title rightfully earns its spot as the lead entry for its astounding detail and innovative storytelling—the whole episode is told from Eisner’s own first-person perspective, allowing readers to see the world through the master illustrator’s eyes like never before. Given Eisner’s long professional association with the US Army—he was drafted into the service during World War II, became a warrant officer, and worked as a ranking civilian employee of the Army for almost three decades after he completed his terms of service—one could be forgiven for assuming that the book provides an uncritical depiction of the military and armed conflict. Thankfully, this isn’t the case: While the focus of the book’s stories are on the soldiers and their day-to-day struggles, Eisner still managed to insert some subtle social and political commentary. The book closes with the short story “A Purple Heart for George,” a powerful piece that showcases Eisner’s unique ability to infuse somber themes with exaggerated, theatrical rendering, with an end-result that is truly affecting. Excellent stuff. Highly recommended.

Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 1

  • atlbtsv1p0Written by: Gene Luen Yang with Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko
  • Art by: Gurihiru
  • Format: 80 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $10.99
  • On sale on: 20 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: For years, fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have burned with one question—what happened to Fire Lord Zuko’s mother? Finding a clue at last, Zuko enlists the aid of Team Avatar—and the most unlikely ally of all—to help uncover the biggest secret of his life.
  • Click here to read the eight-page preview.

Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Search, part 1 will likely appeal more strongly over the long run to fans of Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender than the mini-series that preceded it, Avatar: The Last Airbender—The Promise. Part of that will be due to Eisner Award-winning writer Gene Luen Yang and the art team of Giruhiru growing more comfortable with adapting the characters and setting of the acclaimed animated series for comics, but the mystery at the core of The Search—the whereabouts and fate of Zuko and Azula’s mother—is the kind of canon-and-continuity mining material devotees of the property should go ape for, although this also makes it somewhat less accessible to readers just getting into the Avatar: The Last Airbender. It also helps that Zuko and Azula, two of the show’s most charismatic and dynamic characters, are apparently co-leads in this story, taking the focus off Aang who feels somewhat less interesting here and in The Promise now that the major tensions and struggles that defined his character arc in the source cartoon have been largely resolved. Yang worked with some fairly big themes in The Promise such as the complex morass of issues involved in post-war reconstruction and integration, while The Search seems to be headed towards a more personal direction for the characters, one that will broach questions of filial piety and the bonds between siblings. As in his previous work with the property, Yang has really nailed down the voices of the characters, creating the kind of drama and humor in their interactions that earned the show quite the large and ardent following. All three parts of The Promise wound up being some of the top-selling trades/graphic novels of 2012 and I see no reason why The Search shouldn’t find the same sort of success given the merits of this first installment. Recommended.

The Massive, Vol. 1: Black Pacific

  • massive1p0Written by: Brian Wood
  • Illustrated by: Kristian Donaldson, Garry Brown
  • Colors by: Dave Stewart
  • Cover by: Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson
  • Format: 176 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 20 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: In this first volume of Brian Wood’s new, sprawling postapocalyptic epic, follow the crew of the Kapital from the flooded remnants of Hong Kong to Unalaska, with stops in Antarctica and Mogadishu, as post-Crash ethics and economics are explored across a broken world. Collecting issues #1–#6 of the series, plus three eight page stories from Dark Horse Presents.
  • Click here to read the 26-page preview.

Known earlier in his career primarily as an “indie” comics creator specializing in hard-hitting, politically-charged, transgressive work such as Channel ZeroDemo, and DMZ, writer-artist Brian Wood has shown in recent years that he has the range to tackle more conventional action-adventure and superhero material and do it well: I’m enjoying Brian Wood’s run on Dark Horse’s ongoing Conan book and his plans for an all-female roster for the upcoming X-Men relaunch has me more intrigued by an X-book than I’ve ever been in almost two decades. Still, it is his collaboration with artist Kristian Donaldson on The Massive that holds most of my attention among his current work. Wood manages a neat trick in laying out the characters and circumstances of The Massive‘s post-environmental collapse near-future: The related causes of conservationism and environmentalism have often been stereotypically portrayed as liberal, left-of-center issues in the media, but by creating a cast of militant environmental campaigners who come from diverse backgrounds and hold seemingly varied inclinations, Wood successfully sets forth the proposition that the state of the environment is a concern that transcends national boundaries and broad-strokes socio-political differences—rising sea levels and the loss of fresh water sources affect everybody whether they are avowed pacifists or gun-toting reactionaries. Wood avoids lengthy expository dialogue despite the demands of world-building, instead choosing to cross-cut the action with extended flashback sequences that provide immersive context and detailed character sketches. The combination of Donaldson’s clean line-art, naturalistic renderings, and fundamentally sound visual storytelling makes for an engaging reading experience. Some of the visuals, particularly the ships and other large, engineered structures seem to have been created in Google Sketchup or a similar program, but they’ve been integrated seamlessly into the drawn art via what appears to be a creative use of Photoshop CS/Manga Studio filters and perhaps some manual/digital inking, unlike in some other books where the dissonance in the combination of 2D and 3D art assets is especially jarring. Besides the first six issues of The Massive, the volume also includes three prequel shorts originally presented in the Dark Horse Presents anthology alternatively available in a digital-only special, which should give many readers who already own the individual issues sufficient incentive to double-dip and pick up the trade paperback collection. Highly recommended.

R.I.P.D., Vol. 1, 2nd ed.

  • ripdp0Written by: Peter Lenkov
  • Pencils by: Lucas Marangon
  • Inks by: Randy Emberlin
  • Colors by: Dave Nestelle
  • Cover by: Dave Wilkins
  • Format: 104 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $12.99
  • Sale date: 20 March 2013
  • Publisher’s descriptionWelcome to the Rest In Peace Department—the devoted, yet dead, officers of divine law enforcement. Nick Cruz was gunned down in the line of duty at the height of his personal and professional life. Now he’s traded a hundred years of service to the R.I.P.D. in exchange for a shot at solving his own murder. Collects the original four-issue miniseries.
  • Click here to read the nine-page preview.

Originally published by Dark Horse Comics in 2000 as a four-issue miniseries, Peter Lenkov and Lucas Marangon’s R.I.P.D. can be described as “Men in Black-meets-Hellboy, with a little Ghost thrown in.” It’s a competently delivered and fairly entertaining tale, but comparisons to Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. will likely be inevitable due to the books’ shared publisher and slightly overlapping concepts. R.I.P.D. has neither B.P.R.D.‘s depth of backstory nor its fleshed-out mythology given that it was a new property when it debuted, but Lenkov—whose screenwriting credits include the Sylvester Stallone/Wesley Snipes vehicle Demolition Man and season four of TV’s 24—writes snappy dialogue and ensures that the action never flags, although readers’ tolerance for odd couple buddy-cop action movie clichés will be tested at times. Marangon seems like a strange choice for the book at first blush, but the stylistic fit starts making more sense over the course of the book as the writing’s cultivation of a more lighthearted feel develops a synergy with the somewhat child-like proportions of the artist’s figures.

Husbands

  • hsbands1p00Written by: Jane Esperson, Brad Bell
  • Illustrated by: Ron Chan, Natalie Nourigat, M.S. Corley, Ben Dewey, Talia del Rio
  • Cover by: Ron Chan
  • Format: 80 pages, full color, hardcover
  • List price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 27 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Written by Husbands creators Jane Espenson (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and Brad Bell, this is the comic-book continuation of the sitcom phenom. Husbands tells the story of famous gay newlyweds Brady and Cheeks, who sparked a media firestorm when they woke up legally wed after a drunken Vegas weekend. Now, a mystical wedding gift launches the couple on a series of adventures—a tongue-in-cheek journey through iconic genre realms—filled with obstacles that threaten to tear them apart. Follow Brady and Cheeks into a superhero showdown, a fairytale fantasy, a Holmesian mystery, an epic galactic battle, a madcap high school romp, and a saucy secret-spy thrill ride. Includes bonus “making of” material and a special introduction.
  • Click here to read the 13-page preview.

Husbands, the digital comics miniseries based on the popular webseries of the same name, is clearly meant to be a companion to the show and not a stand-alone adaptation or spin-off that can be fully enjoyed without a certain level of familiarity with the source material. On the plus side, this means that preexisting fans of the show won’t have to work their way through what they might find to be redundant, expository filler to get to the meat of the book. On the negative end of things, new readers stumbling onto the property via the comics might find it slightly difficult to get invested in the characters or the set-up with the book’s frame story providing little more than a perfunctory jab at establishing characterizations and some sort of context for its contents. This wouldn’t normally be a significant problem in a book built around a single major narrative thread, but the format of Husbands—which is sort of a quasi-anthology comprising a series of loosely connected vignettes—works against the volume’s coherence. The art by the book’s squad of artists looks quite good, though, with the chapters illustrated by Natalie Nourigat (Between Gears) and M.S. Corley (The Strange Case of Mr. Hyde) standing out as my personal favorites in terms of visuals. While the project doesn’t hang together too well as a whole, a number of the individual stories, brief as they are, do deliver fully-formed, self-contained narratives. The Archie-styled “Arch Nemesis” (featuring the art of Tania del Rio) in particular is quite an effective tale that should have been positioned as the book’s lead story given its focus on character development.

Dark Horse Manga

Blood-C, Vol. 1

  • bloodcv1p0Planning and presentation: CLAMP
  • Dialogue and art by: Ranmaru Kotone
  • Original production by: Production I.G./CLAMP
  • Format: 184 pages, black & white, trade paperback (NOTE: oriented in right-to-left reading format to preserve the original art)
  • List price: $12.99
  • Sale date: 06 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Saya Kisaragi is a kindhearted, if somewhat clumsy, student who trains by day to perform standard religious duties at her father’s shrine—but she becomes an unstoppable, monster-slaying swordswoman by night! The saga that began in Blood: The Last Vampire and the Blood+ anime series continues here!
  • Click here to read the nine-page preview.

Blood-C is a “reboot” of sorts of the Blood: The Last Vampire franchise. Since the story is basically starting over from scratch, readers new to the book need not be familiar with its history, despite the ad copy’s claim that it is a continuation of the “saga that began in Blood: The Last Vampire and the Blood+ anime series.” (NOTE: Blood+ wasn’t a continuation of Blood: The Last Vampire, either, it was a property reboot as well, not a sequel.) The setting and characters of Blood-C start out conventionally enough in terms of the tropes experienced manga readers have come to expect of books starring schoolgirls who are masters at killing things, but hints are dropped that things aren’t what they seem on the surface as the narrative progresses. As with many of CLAMP’s protagonists, Saya Kisaragi is absolutely adorable when she isn’t hacking monsters to death with her sword, and I found Ranmaru Kotone’s depiction of the characters much, much more aesthetically pleasing than the gangly constructions of Blood-C‘s anime counterpart. There isn’t a lot of overt story progression in the book, but that’s understandable for an opening volume in a series, and the strong and charming protagonist, the hint of an intriguing mystery, high-pitched sword-fighting action, and solid rendering and visual storytelling more than make up for it. Recommended.

IDW Publishing

The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom

  • Rocketeer_COD-pr_001Written by: Mark Waid
  • Illustrated by: Chris Samnee
  • Format: 104 pages, full color, hardcover (NOTE: All direct market copies will have an exclusive dust jacket, available only with the book’s first printing)
  • List price: $21.99
  • Sale date: 06 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Cliff Secord and the Rocketeer take to the skies once again as Mark Waid and Chris Samnee spin a yarn in the best tradition of Dave Stevens, bringing us a tale of great adventure, suspense, and humor! A ship docks in Los Angeles harbor from a far-off and exotic locale—with a big, mysterious… and living… cargo! Danger and mayhem abound as our hero leaps into the fray! Plus, the emergence of a lovely new character who will be vying against Betty for Cliff’s affections!
  • Click here to read the eight-page preview.

Just as they have done in Marvel’s Daredevil, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee show their expert skill at balancing pulp-styled action-adventure with well-timed humor in The Rocketeer: Cargo of Doom. Waid handles the late Dave Stevens’ signature creation thoughtfully and with deserved respect: There are no ill-advised attempts to “update” the characters and dialogue to align with modern trends, but the treatment still manages to feel fresh with the introduction of both more fantastical elements that are nonetheless rooted in the property’s pulp milieu and higher emotional stakes in the form of romantic conflict. Samnee does a solid job with the art, wisely going with his own style rather than trying to recreate Stevens’ characteristic fine ink brushwork. Entertaining from cover-to-cover. Recommended.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Animated, Vol. 1: Rise of the Turtles

  • TMNTAnimatedv1-pr_001Written by: Joshua Sternin and J.R. Ventimilia
  • Adaptation by: Justin Eisinger
  • Lettering and design by: Tom B. Long
  • Format: 112 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $7.99
  • Sale date: 20 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are coming out of the sewers and back to your TV screen! And TMNT Animated adapts these kinetic, fast, action-packed episodes into comic book form! Read along and re-live the cartoon action with Leo, Don, Mike, Raph, Splinter, April and Shredder in these young reader volumes.
  • Click here to read the eight-page preview.

If you’re wondering why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Animated, Vol. 1: Rise of the Turtles doesn’t have the usual “illustrated by” or “art by” credits, it’s because the visual art component of the book is adapted straight from the CGI art of the show’s first episode, much like how those old, illustrated Walt Disney children’s books from the 1970s and 1980s used animation cel art adapted from the feature films. The results leave me with mixed feelings: On the one hand, it’s an efficient reuse of existing art assets that could encourage young fans of the Nickelodeon cartoon to seek out more traditionally created comics. On the other hand, some pages look less like those found in a comic book than screenshots of the show hastily arranged and pasted together, with little regard for drawing the reader’s eye across the page, panel-to-panel flow, or storytelling continuity. As we’ve discussed before, comics can be so much more than just “paper movies” and this project is quite literally a “paper TV show” that neither functions as a full-fledged substitute for the real thing or a supplement that takes advantage of the strengths of the comic book medium to provide a new spin on the source material. Still, I can’t come down too hard on any project that has the potential to turn on younger readers to the comic book medium, and considering the book’s price point and the appeal of its characters, this licensed publication might very well do that.

Image Comics

No Place Like Home, Vol. 1: Home Again

  • noplacelikehome_tpb00Written by: Angelo Tirotto
  • Illustrated by: Richard Jordan
  • Format: 136 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $9.99
  • Sale date: 06 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Dee’s life is in turmoil when her parents are killed in a freak tornado. Returning to Kansas for the funeral after five years in LA, Dee discovers Emeraldsville is the same unexciting place it was when she left – until the bizarre unexplained murders begin. With an unknown killer closing in, the events of one night in 1959 begin to unravel as a portal to a world of horror opens, a portal paved with yellow bricks…
  • Click here to read the 20-page preview.

There’s a lot to like about No Place Like Home, Vol. 1: Home Again, Angelo Tirotto and Richard Jordan’s Wizard of Oz-inspired horror tale. There’s the wallet-friendly pricing, Jordan’s solid art, the book’s primary characters are given space to develop, and the premise as described in the copy is the kind of crazy-but-it-absolutely-works material a prime, cocaine-addled Stephen King could have come up with after a weekend reading nothing but L. Frank Baum books. A number of little details keep Home Again from crossing over from “decent” to “really good,” however. The already leaden pacing of the story is further undermined by ill-timed and lengthy exposition sequences and the abrupt cliffhanger ending is quite unsatisfying, even taking into consideration that the book is intended to be the first chapter of a much longer narrative. No Place Like Home, Vol. 1: Home Again reads like a sufficiently entertaining preamble to a better and more fully-formed mini-series yet to come.

’68, Vol. 2: Scars

  • 68_vol02_coverStory by: Mark Kidwell
  • Art by: Nat Jones, Jay Fotos, Jeff Zornow
  • Format: 178 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $19.99
  • Sale date: 27 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: THE GATES OF HELL ARE OPEN…AND THE DEAD WILL LEAVE THEIR MARK! Continuing the epic story of the rise of the living dead in the 1960’s, ’68: SCARS picks up right where the original sold-out comics mini-series left off. From a blood bath atop the US Embassy in Saigon to the churning waters of the Mekong Delta, the surviving US forces fight for their lives agai nst the malicious guerilla tactics of the Viet Cong and the endless surge of the cannibalistic dead. And within the enemy-surrounded perimeter of Saigon’s TAN SON NHAT airport, the scars of war reveal themselves as a festering evil tightens its grip. The war is over, but the battle for humanity’s survival has just begun…and some wounds never heal. Presenting an all-new, 178 page trade paperback collection of the ongoing “Zombies in Vietnam” comics series ’68, from creators Mark Kidwell, Nat Jones and Jay Fotos. This deluxe volume contains tons of specially selected extras from behind-the-scenes as well as the bonus award-winning ’68 one-shot comic: ’68 HARDSHIP with stunning artwork by Jeff Zornow.
  • Click here to read the seven-page preview.

’68, Vol. 1: Better Run Through The Jungle was a largely solid read, although one not without its problems and the same can be said of the follow-up trade paperback collection. With ’68‘s “Vietnam War + zombies” formulation, Kidwell manages to set his project apart from the glut of zombie-themed comics that have sprouted up on shelves in the years since Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead achieved breakthrough commercial success, but the dialogue can be especially awkward and clunky at times, in some instances failing to capture the tenor of the language of the era with characters using terms and turns of phrase that are firmly at odds with the late 1960s setting. The plot meanders, but zombie tales are never really about the “what” and the “why” as they are about the “who” and it is the characterization and character development that stand out as the writing’s best points. Nat Jones’ art is a bit hit-and-miss for me. I like the raw, energetic quality of his linework, but his (over-)reliance on straight-ahead, eye-level perspective—think early Steve Dillon—lends the pages a monotony that detracts from the storytelling. The inclusion of the ’68: Hardship one-shot is a nice touch; it is perhaps the strongest aspect of the volume in terms of technical execution and its self-contained, “one-and-done” nature provides a gratifying sense of resolution in a book that is otherwise a middle chapter in the ongoing ’68 story. The book’s premise offers variety to connoisseurs of all things zombies, but I hold reservations as to whether there’s enough going on in ’68, Vol. 2: Scars to hold the interest of more casual fans of entertainment featuring the living dead and the people who fight against them.

It Girl and the Atomics, Round One: Dark Streets, Snap City

  • itgirlandtheatomics_roundone_coverStory by: Jamie S. Rich
  • Illustrated by: Mike Norton and Chynna Clugston-Flores
  • Cover by: Aaron Conley, Michael Allred, Laura Allred
  • Chapter break art by: Mike Allred
  • Colored by: Allen Passalaqua
  • Lettered by: CRANK!
  • It Girl and the Atomics created by: Mike Allred
  • Format: 168 pages, full color, trade paperback
  • List price: $14.99
  • Sale date: 27 March 2013
  • Publisher’s description: Snap City is under new guardianship, but no sooner has It Girl decided that the streets are hers to protect than she and the other Atomics become embroiled in an inter-dimensional revenge plot. All-new adventures of MICHAEL ALLRED ‘s kookiest creations, with art from the Eisner-winning team behind Battlepug. Collects IT GIRL & THE ATOMICS #1-6.
  • Click here to read the eight-page preview.

Mike Allred’s Madman was a timely and much-needed antidote to the kill-first-ask-questions-later superheroes that were all the rage during the late  1980s and through the mid-1990s. While high-profile artist-writers were seemingly caught up in a contest to one-up each other in terms of adolescent grim-and-gritty excess and transparently derivative character designs, Madman offered minimalist pop art chic, smart humor, and a self-awareness that somehow avoided falling into cheap parody over the years. Jamie Rich has proven to be a worthy Allred contemporary and collaborator with his work on It Girl and the Atomics, a new Madman spin-off published by Image Comics—a property-publisher pairing that would have been ironic had Image not grown beyond its early reputation as a home for off-brand, “me-too” superheroics and become a purveyor of some of the most interesting and innovative comics of the past half-decade. Rich brings the same kind of freewheeling “mad ideas” sensibility, humor, melodrama, genuine sense of wonderment, and love for the quirks and conventions of the superhero comics genre that Allred infuses in all his Madman work. Eisner Award winner Mike Norton’s art is well-suited to the book and he does all right by Allred’s character designs. Allred’s fans might quibble about Norton’s more conventional stylistic leanings, but having the latter play to his own strengths instead of aping the former’s unique aesthetic flair is a sensible and ultimately more thoughtful approach that respects both illustrators. It Girl and the Atomics, Round One is all about playing up what makes superhero comics fun, and should remind older readers—perhaps weary of some of the goings-on at other superhero comics publishing houses—of what drew them to the genre in the first place. Recommended.

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