Archive for the ‘Comics & Graphic Novels’ Category


Book Review: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys – Gerard Way, Shaun Simon and Becky Cloonan

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Minneboo

Before we get down to the nitty gritty of The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, lets enjoy this video by My Chemical Romance first:

I hope you like the song and video, because the song, and the album that it is on, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys are actually the prequel to the comic, written by Shaun Simon and Gerard Way, who is the lead vocalist of My Chemical Romance and comic book writer of interesting stuff like The Umbrella Academy.

(Fun fact: comic book author Grant Morrison also makes an appearance in the music video. He’s the bald bad guy killing the Killjoys.)

The comic picks the story up a decade later. You see, the Killjoys were a team of revolutionaries who lost their lives while saving a mysterious young girl from the tyrannical mega corporation Better Living Industries. Today the Killjoys live on in memory, as BLI widens its reach and freedom fades. The girl is now grown up and in her late teens. A new group of revolutionaries, who live in the desert and get their inspiration from the original Killjoys, think the Girl is their saviour. It’s a role she doesn’t know anything about, but when the story unfolds she will play a pivotal role in the revolution against oppression. The group of outlaws consists of a bunch of narcissistic teens that seemed to be worried more about their hair looking good than the victims they shoot. As characters, these outlaws aren’t very interesting, and as a reader I didn’t care that much about their fate.

The trade paperback The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys collects all the six chapters of the story. Not knowing beforehand the comic was a sequel to a record, I felt kind of lost in the first two chapters, getting to know this Strange New World of Way and Simon, but I got into the groove of the story soon enough and especially enjoyed Becky Cloonan’s energetic art work. Cloonan seems to take some visual cues from manga comics even though she uses the grammar of American comic books.

Basically, there are three storylines that unfold simultaneously. The first storyline concerns the Girl coming of age and finding her destiny. The second storyline is about Korse, the Scarecrow that originally killed the Killjoys (Grant Morrison in the video). He’s a homosexual who has a secret relationship that gets discovered by his BLI employees. For Korse there is no alternative than to go head-to-head with the head of the company. The third story arc is about two porno droids trying to escape Battery City. I found their journey to be the most compelling.  Interestingly, it is the droids that show the most human emotions.

Stories such as these always call to mind outstanding literary narratives such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and 1984 by George Orwell. To me, Killjoys is just another modern-day, blockbuster variation on the dystopian future as depicted in these aforementioned classic novels. The BLI corporation on the surface seems like another version of Big Brother as it runs Battery City, in which regular citizens are like enslaved consumers, living in fear for breaking the law set by BLI. Draculoids and Scarecrows enforce this law. They are scrupulous and scary employees of BLI who wear white masks and heavy artillery. In Battery City everything seems easy and secure. People can erase their emotions through tablets and get off with porn droids. As BLI considers emotion to be a weakness, whoever steps out of line gets neutralised.

It’s not hard to recognize in BLI’s wish to strip citizens of their individuality and making them into mindless consumers, a nod towards the way the Western world is heading today, which makes this futuristic story quite relevant. Nowadays, big corporations seem to be more powerful than governments. Citizens are brought up to be compliant consumers. With our everlasting addiction to our smart phones, apps, the web and other consumer products, it seems that the vision of the citizen-as-robot the comic book makers present us doesn’t seem to be too far off reality as it is.

Having said that, even though the art work looks good and on the whole The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys is an enjoyable read, because it plays with familiar dystopian tropes I did feel like I’ve read this story already, many times before.

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

Book Review: Over Easy – Mimi Pond

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

Review by Michael Minneboo

Have you always wondered what sort of world is hidden behind the counter of your favourite bistro, bar or restaurant? Well, if you read Over Easy by Mimi Pond you’ll get a very entertaining and revealing look in the world of waiting.

Frankly I couldn’t wait tables if my life depended on it. I am simply too clumsy to be a waiter. Thankfully, Margaret Pond isn’t. When she is denied financial aid to cover her last year of art school, Margaret gets a job as a dishwasher in the Imperial Café and soon becomes a waitress.

Over Easy is Mimi Pond’s freewheeling graphic memoir about her life and times at Mama’s Royal Café in Oakland, California, in the late seventies. An era in which the sensitivities of the hippie movement faded away and were replaced by Punk’s angry outlook on life. It’s also the era in which the staff of the Imperial Cafe, besides having a coffee and a fag, take a recreational sniff of coke on their lunch breaks.

Pond is a cartoonist, illustrator and writer. She has created comics for different publications including the Los Angeles Times. Television credits include the first full-length episode of The Simpsons, and episodes for the shows Designing Women and Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.

On the menu we have an interesting collection of colourful characters, Margaret’s colleagues. There is the friendly Lazlo Merengue who runs the place – if you apply for a job and tell a joke he likes, you are hired. There is Sammy the cook and wanna-be poet, who marries one of the waitresses on a whim while they’re spending a drunk weekend in Reno. And then there are the lovely waitresses, each with their own outspoken personality. They all imagine themselves to be the stars of the little dramatic theatre that is the Imperial Café. All the regulars and the staff have pseudonyms and Margaret is christened Madge.

The book is filled with well-written observations, and I especially liked the way Mimi portrayed the characters. Her voice-over is very witty and light of tone. For instance, this is how she describes Helen, one of the waitresses: ‘Helen is tall, and without being what you’d call classically beautiful, manages to pull off this punk Lauren Bacall thing that drives men wild. She has deadpan delivery, and she hardly ever smiles. But when she does, all men become her slaves. And if you make her laugh, well, the clouds part, the sun comes out, life looks great again. I am determined to learn her secrets.’

The Imperial Café community seems to be as without direction as the plot of the book, which moves along at a slow, free-wheeling pace. The story climaxes at a poetry night on Halloween, if one could call it a climax. Actually the book is pretty much open-ended and on the last page the story seems to be far from finished. Let’s hope Pond will have a sequel finished soon.

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

You Review: The Forgotten Man – Amity Shlaes, Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche

Friday, September 5th, 2014

Reviewed by Nafmi Sanichar-van Herwijnen

Let’s be blunt here: I don’t read non-fiction. However, I am interested in history and I am an avid comic and graphic novel reader. So the graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’s bestseller The Forgotten Man certainly seemed interesting.

Amity Shlaes, with the help of comic writer Chuck Dixon and artist Paul Rivoche, attempts to streamline her own novel into something more accessible. The Forgotten Man chronicles America’s fall into the Great Depression and the failed attempt to solve it with the infamous New Deal.

The Forgotten Man tries to add a human story to the facts. These human elements, fictional of course, as there are no records of private conversations between men and their wives, add some much needed levity to the otherwise dry material.

Rivoche’s art doesn’t really help, as the artist, in an attempt to bring the 1930s to life, changed his art style to match the comics of that era. Now while that does inspire a somewhat nostalgic feel to the book, the static and posed quality of comic art in the 1930s just makes the book more of a chore to read after a while.

The book’s one major redeeming factor, however, are the facts, and most of them are successfully integrated into the story. I found myself pleasantly surprised after finishing the book when I realized just how much I had actually learned.

I struggled to finish The Forgotten Man. It’s a difficult read, but also a very interesting one.

You Review: The latest releases, reviewed by ABC customers.

There is no ebook available of this graphic novel adaptation, but there is an ebook for the original The Forgotten Man, as well as for another book by her, Coolidge.

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.