Archive for the ‘Comics & Graphic Novels’ Category


Book Review: Pretty Deadly, vol 1: The Shrike – Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Pretty Deadly is a western, but different from what you’ve read before. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Emma Rios team up to bring a sort-of fairytale about Death’s daughter Ginny, a vengeful beauty with a face that bears the skull marks of her father, riding on a horse made of smoke.

Plenty of female heroes and villains in this one, so it is safe to say Pretty Deadly isn’t your typical Western with male gunslingers having a shoot-out at the climax of the story. Apart from guns being drawn, the protagonists are very capable with swords as well, bringing some samurai action within the setting of the old West.

Besides being a metaphysical Western, Pretty Deadly is also a story about storytelling. The tale is narrated to us by a butterfly and a dead rabbit, or rather a rabbit’s skeleton. Also, the comic begins with Sissy, a young girl dressed in a vulture cloak, and her blind companion Fox. They are beggars performing cantares de cego (“songs of the blind”) in the middle of town: a beggar song about Deathface Ginny – born from a woman who is kept prisoner by her husband, a Mason, because he is consumed with the idea that other men admire her. Feeling desperate, the woman prays for her death and when Death enters her prison, he falls in love with her. After he grants her her wish, Death is left with their daughter. He raises her in the world between the living and the dead, to be a spirit of vengeance, to punish those who would do wrong by the innocent.

Interestingly, Sissy and Fox tell the story aided by a banner filled with sequential images, like a comic, each panel introducing the main characters of their little tale. The banner is of course another storytelling device within the story.

After the performance they collect their money from the crowd and one viewer, by the name of Johnny Coyote, pulls Sissy towards him. He gives her some money and allows her to steal a very important piece of paper. This gets Alice on their trail: a female gunslinger/samurai who is anxious to get the binder back in her possession.

Later on we’ll discover there is a lot more to Sissy and Fox than meets the eye.

In the action sequences, artist Rios combines long shots with inserts of close ups, as if she takes her cues from fast-paced action sequences in films. In an interview with Paste Magazine she said she took a lot of inspiration from motion pictures and manga comics:

‘Yup, I watched and re-watched a western movie once per day for months. I also watched samurai films. My particular muses here were (Sergio) Leone and (Masaki) Kobayashi, because both of them work with very particular aesthetics and tempo, close to the oneiric. Also, books: classic European stuff like The Bouncer or Blueberry, recents like Gus & His Gang by Blain, or poetic manga like Matsumoto’s Takemitsu Zamurai or Igarashi’s Witches.’ (Source: Paste Magazine)

An original and interesting comic, with Rios’s great-looking artwork and DeConnick’s prose with its poetic quality, makes Pretty Deadly vol.1: The Shrike an even more enjoyable read.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.

Book Review: Rocket Raccoon and Groot – Bill Mantlo, Dan Abnett, Mike Mignola and others

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

With the movie The Guardians of the Galaxy hitting theaters in the Netherlands on August 14th, this summer there is no way around the little feisty Rocket Raccoon and his buddy Groot, so you might as well pick up this collection of stories to get yourself acquainted with their back stories and adventures. You will be in for some fun and loony adventures.

After reading the Rocket Raccoon and Groot trade paperback, I can’t help wondering what writer Bill Mantlo and artist Keith Giffen were smoking when they conjured up the character. No doubt they were listening to The White Album by The Beatles, because the first real story in which Raccoon plays an important part, which happens to be an adventure with the Incredible Hulk, is full of references to the song Rocky Raccoon.

Rocket Raccoon is an intelligent, anthropomorphic raccoon, an expert marksman, master tactician and pilot. He’s also an inhabitant of a planet called Halfworld. Half of this planet consists of an insane asylum called Cuckoo’s Nest, which looks as cosy as the garden of Eden, while the other half is an industrial wasteland where robots are producing toys to keep the insane entertained and happy. It’s Rocket’s task to protect the inmates from killer clowns and the Black Bunny Brigade, and guard the loonies’ ‘Gideon’s Bible’, which contains everything one needs to know about the history of the planet – if only one would be able to decipher its text.

If this sounds a bit corny or loony, you’re quite right. Strangely enough I never had trouble believing stories about a guy bitten by a radioactive spider, nor about a Bat-Man guarding a major metropolis. However, it took me quite some pages to get into the groove of the nonsensical world of talking animals, with the likes of Rocket Raccoon and his side-kick Wal Rus, who has mechanical tusks that can blow your head off.

However, things start to get quite serious in the four-issue limited series by writer Bill Mantlo which is also a part of this trade paperback, when the two major toy providers, a mole and a big snake, start a trade war with one another. When Rocket’s girlfriend, a lovely beaver named Lylla, gets kidnapped in the process, it is up to him and his team to free her. They’ll change the fate of Halfworld in the process.

The fact that a young Mike Mignola, who later became famous for creating a certain character called Hellboy, drew these four issues of Rocket Raccoon made the story that more interesting to me, especially since you can clearly see Mignola still trying to find his typical expressionistic style. (The cover of the book is, however, drawn in that lovely Mignola style we all love so much; see picture above right.)

Oh yeah, even though Groot is not as important a character as the title of the book might make him appear, let me tell you a bit about him. Groot (also known as the Monarch of Planet X) was created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Dick Ayers. The character first appeared in Tales to Astonish #13 (November 1960), which is also contained within this trade. He’s an extraterrestrial, sentient, tree-like creature that originally appeared as an invader who intended to capture humans for experimentation. Later on, he was reconfigured to be a heroic noble being, and crossed paths with Raccoon.

Nowadays Rocket Raccoon and Groot are members of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and will star in the summer blockbuster by the same name. In the four part story Annihilators Raccoon and Groot take centre stage. Personally I enjoyed this adventure written by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning and drawn by Timothy Green II, the best. The story starts with the Guardians of the Galaxy disbanded, and Rocket working as a mailboy at the offices of Timely Inc. (Note that Marvel Comics used to be called Timely Comics.) He doesn’t remember a lot about his past, but when Rocket is attacked by a killer clown, it is time to visit his old buddy Groot once more and travel back to Halfworld to discover why Rocket had to leave his place of birth in the first place. It is a fun read, event though this adventure sort of rewrites the events of the four-part story of Mantlo and Mignola that came before.

I loved certain running gags in ‘Annihilators’. For instance, to the untrained ear Groot’s vocabulary seems quite limited, for all he seems to yell is ‘I am Groot!’, but that’s just because you and I don’t speak tree. Rocket does, however, and luckily for us his responses to Groot make clear what his wooden ally is talking about during the comic.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.

Book Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past – Chris Claremont and John Byrne

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

A while ago I wrote about writer Christ Claremont and his contributions to the X-Men universe. Since the new X-Men film, Days of Future Past, is partly based on Claremont’s story by the same title, I thought it would be nice to read the comic before watching the movie.

Days of Future Past was originally published in The Uncanny X-Men #141 and #142 in 1981. The storyline alternates between the (then) present year of 1980 and 2013, at the time a date far into the future. 2013 is a dystopian future in which mutants are incarcerated in internment camps. A lot of the X-Men have lost their lives fighting the Sentinels: enormous robots that have the North American continent under complete control. Originally activated by the American government to eliminate the mutant menace, the Sentinels hunted not only mutants but all superheroes and villains. Now the rest of the world threatens war against the Sentinels, which could mean a nuclear holocaust and the end of the world all together. An adult Kate Pryde transfers her mind into her younger self, the present-day Kitty Pryde, who tries to convince the X-Men to help her prevent a fatal moment in history that triggers anti-mutant hysteria and will lead up to the dystopian future of 2013. Rachel Summers, who played a major role in X-Men: Ghosts, plays a small but instrumental part in this adventure.

It was great revisiting this classic and well-written storyline from the early eighties. Especially since Canadian comic book artist John Byrne was the artist to bring Claremont’s scripts to life at the time. Later on Byrne would write and draw highly regarded stories about The Fantastic Four and revitalise The Man of Steel. At this juncture in his career he and Claremont worked on The Uncanny X-Men, then one of the most if not most popular superhero comic book. Soon the team split because of creative differences: Byrne didn’t like Claremont’s characterisations of the characters. In Days of Future Past however, none of the animosity is noticeable.

Another treat when it comes to reading old comics is to see the fashions of the time, be it in the decors or the way people dress.

The story is collected in a trade paperback containing Uncanny X-Men 138-143 and X-Men annual #4 which is illustrated by John Romita Jr. The collection starts with the funeral of Jean Grey, moving on to an interesting story of the X-Men and Doctor Strange being trapped in a dimension quite similar to hell. Then Wolverine and Nightcrawler team up with Canadian superhero team Alpha Flight to capture the Wendigo, and… Well, why spoil all the storylines in advance? Needless to say: this trade is a must-read if you like the X-Men and want to see how the movie differs from the original comic, which it does quite a lot judging by the movie trailer, which shows it is Wolverine and not Pryde who tries to save the future by travelling to the past.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.

Store Bits: Free Comic Book Day, Ziggy Marley, Power Couples and Spotlight on Romance

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

Were you one of the people that came by our stores on May 3rd as part of Free Comic Book Day?  Our Luke snapped a few pictures of the ABC Amsterdam First Floor Crew getting into the spirit of things…  :-)  If you missed it, no worries: the next one is on May 2nd, 2015!

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Our Rick got Ziggy Marley to sign his copy of I Love You, Too (ebook available here).

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Luke spotted Batman and Cleopatra on ABC Amsterdam’s Film & TV shelf.  I think he’s spot-on in thinking this could be the perfect power couple!

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And not one but two Romance tidbits!  First of all, I have to blush a little bit because Suzanne from Kattebelle.com wrote a lovely blog post about one of the Blind Book Dates from my Romance section at ABC The Hague.  So fun to read the book’s journey, and I really hope she’ll enjoy the incendiary book…  ;-)  (There’s an ebook here, although we can’t quite wrap those up, so it won’t exactly be a blind date!)

Also, at ABC The Hague there’s a bit of a spotlight the coming month on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  If you’re like me you’ve been impatiently awaiting the new instalment, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood.  It’s due out in June, so that’s just enough time to complete your series, reread all the previous titles or else get someone else hooked, don’t you think?  The first part of the series, Outlander, is now only €8,99!  (Ebook available under its UK title, Cross Stitch.)

Book Review: Doctor Strange the Oath – Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Once upon a time Doctor Stephen Strange was a brilliant surgeon and an arrogant man-of-the world seduced by material wealth. One fateful day, a tragic car accident deprived him of his surgical skills. After hearing rumours of the mystical Ancient One, Strange went to the East to ask this mystical master to cure his hands. The Ancient One refused and instead offered to teach Strange in mysticism. Stephen Strange became the Ancient One’s student and later the Sorcerer Supreme – earth’s first line of defence against magical menace.

I know, all of the above sounds a bit corny. Frankly, until recently I wouldn’t call myself a Doctor Strange-fan. Since Strange is one of the residents of the Marvel Universe, he frequently guess-starred in comics I read, be it Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four or Avengers. However, the fair Doctor did make an impression in those stories, and maybe that’s why I picked up a big pile of Doctor Strange-comics when I came across them in a sale at a local comic book store last year. After reading a couple of these comics from the late eighties, early nineties, written by Roy and Dann Thomas, I was hooked on the wonderful mystical world in which Strange operates. I also grew fond of his interesting and weird supporting cast: his apprentice is a green alien bull and his brother a vampire, to name just two oddities that stand out. Also it seems that the mage has become quite a nice guy and seems a total different person from the selfish surgeon he once was.

Currently the good doctor doesn’t have a series of his own, but every once in a while Marvel Comics publishes a limited series, like The Oath: a five-part story that got collected in one volume in 2013. The Oath is written by Brian K. Vaughan, best known for intelligent and entertaining series like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Saga. The artwork is by Marcos Martín, who uses a wonderful personal style that looks a bit retro while still feeling contemporary.

In The Oath, Doctor Strange’s servant Wong is suffering from a brain tumor. Medical science may be unable to treat it, but the master of the mystique knows of an elixir, which is kept in a deadly dimension, that might cure his good friend. After fighting a monstrous entity that guards the elixir and returning home, they soon discover that there is more to this elixir than meets the eye. When a burglar is hired by a big pharmaceutical company to steal it from Strange’s house, the Sorcerer Supreme gets shot during the robbery.

Vaughan treats the reader to an interesting and fast-paced story that has a couple of unexpected twists and turns, and ties Doctor Strange’s past to current affairs. He also manages to put forward an ethical dilemma within the relatively limited confines of the superhero comic book, which makes it even more interesting.

Two things bothered me a little bit, though: knowing Strange from the stories by Roy Thomas, Vaughan’s characterisation of Strange seems a bit off when he lets the doctor curse and swear. I am not against swearing in general and in the past I have heard the mage exclaim stuff like: ‘By the hoary hosts of hoggoth!’. But hearing mundane curse words coming out of the mouth of Stephen Strange seems a bit out of character. Another thing that bothered me is this: in the past there were stories in which Strange’s hands were cured and he could operate again. In The Oath the fact that Stephen’s nerve endings aren’t fixed is an important part of the story. This could be an error in continuity, but since it is not clearly stated when The Oath takes place within Doctor Strange’s history and it therefore could be a tale from the early days before his hands got fixed, I am willing to turn a blind eye.

Since I probably sounded like a total continuity nerd just now, I will stop rambling, and leave you with the recommendation that The Oath is a pretty good start if you want to get to know the wonderfully groovy world of Doctor Strange.

Michael Minneboo is a journalist specialised in comic books and visual culture. Read more of his work on his website, www.michaelminneboo.nl.

Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martín also work together on digital comic The Private Eye.

Image credit:  panel taken from forum.marvelheroes.com.