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Movie Review: ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is a very big deal–and deservedly so! It exceeds the expectations of the most diehard fan with a heady mix of style and substance. I am so happy to have seen it and I would gladly go see it again and again. I was hoping for something special. I went in with thoughts that this could be a like a French Star Wars, perhaps divided by Star Trek, and then multiplied by Doctor Who. Something really special–and that it is!

My concern was that there might be some culture clash for some viewers: American tastes at odds with this Euro-movie based upon a Euro-comic book series. But, I conclude, that really is such a non-issue. There is a decidedly offbeat sensibility going on with this movie but isn’t that what we all love about the Star Wars franchise, along with other loopy and irreverent entertainment?

Another worry was that I had heard that this movie was too dependent upon CGI. Well, ahem, there’s nothing wrong with CGI when it works. Just think of “Avatar.” Much like “Avatar,” the CGI in “Valerian” is simply an integral part of the experience. There are so many iconic moments in this movie that are all about the CGI. For instance, the wonderfully elaborate sequence with Valerian (Dane DeHaan) running through a multitude of dimensions. Or Laureline (Cara Delevingne) arguing with some very dim servant creatures. Or, one of my favorite moments, Bubble (Rihanna) and her beautiful dance sequences.

Dane DeHaan, Luc Besson. and Cara Delevingne

There’s a very intriguing thing going on with the dynamic between Valerian and Laureline. The two are lovers but they have a lot of work ahead of them. They are intentionally distant in how they interact with each other, in an other-worldly comic book way. This disconnection between the two lovers leaves the viewer wondering about them. When Valerian repeatedly tells Laureline that he wants to marry her, it comes across as highly ironic. It would be wrong to dismiss the acting as wooden. It is part of what director Luc Besson intentionally wants. It is part of what the script aims for. I think some critics have unfairly expected more natural performances and gleefully found fault where there is none.

Given the surreal and whimsical elements in this movie, it remains a well-built and grounded piece of work. The opening sequence brings to mind the opening scenes to “Wonder Woman” set in the idyllic Themyscira. In this case, it is an ideal world of peaceful beings. The civilization depends upon little creatures who happily produce pearls that power their world. These beings, like the young lovers, Valerian and Laureline, are quite otherly. It is this otherliness that informs this rather sophisticated narrative that gently balances irreverence and idealism. Just the sort of thing you’d expect from the very best comics.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. Americans, in particular, have become quite reliant upon extra bells and whistles, even after they’ve just been presented with a formidable visual feast. No, it doesn’t seem to matter if they’ve just viewed a masterpiece–Where’s the gag reel?! they demand. And, with that in mind, you may love the video below that includes just that sort of bonus content:

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” is undoubtedly a joyride of a movie. You will love it. Visit the official Valerian movie website right here.

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Filed under Comics, Europe, European Comics, France, Movie Reviews, movies, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Wars

Review: MACARONI! by Vincent Zabus and Thomas Campi

MACARONI!

MACARONI! is a graphic novel involving three generations in conflict. And 11-year-old Romeo is caught in the middle. It seems that Romeo’s father has struggled to get to know his own father. The resolution to years of silence may be found in a week-long summer visit. Romeo’s dad wants him to hang out with his grandfather Ottavio at his rural home out in the countryside. Poor little Romeo reluctantly agrees to do it. MACARONI! is written by Vincent Zabus (Spirou et Fantasio), drawn by Thomas Campi (MAGRITTE), published by Dupuis, and available as a digital comic in French or English at izeno right here.

An agreement between father and son.

Zabus and Campi have collaborated on the one-shot “Les Petites Gens,“ published by Le Lombard, as well as “Les Larmes Du Seigneur Afghan,” written by Vincent Zabus in collaboration with the RTBF (Belgian television) reporter Pascal Bourgaux, published by Dupuis Editions and awarded the Prix Cognito for Best Graphic Novel at the Belgian Book Fair in 2014. For this story about a boy and his grandfather, you can easily sense a close connection between the writer and artist, as if they were one creator. The natural dialogue fits so well into the expressive artwork and vice versa. There’s a spontaneity running throughout, moving the story forward, embracing the reader. You instantly sympathize with Romeo.

“You’ll be fine.”

Romeo’s father assures him that he’ll be fine. And, in little time, Romeo knows visiting his grandfather is the best thing that could have happened to him. It won’t be easy. The old man is gruff and secretive. With a little help from Lucie, a neighbor girl Romeo’s age, Ottavio shares tales of his tumultuous life going all the way back to fighting in World War II. Peppered with insightful facts, the reader cannot help but get caught up in the emotional recollection.

Ottavio has a lifetime to share.

MACARONI! takes on the full breadth of a stage play as three generations come to terms with each other. The reader comes to see just how much of a burden Ottavio has had to bear: from learning why he lost his thumb to seeing what a struggle it was for Italian immigrants to start a new life in Belgium. This is an exceptional narrative that will appeal to any reader of any age.

MACARONI! is a 145-page full color graphic novel. You can read a digital version at izneo right here.

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Filed under Comics, Dupuis, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, izneo, Thomas Campi, Vincent Zabus

A New European Batman Graphic Novel: ‘The Dark Prince Charming’ by Enrico Marini

MARINI’s BATMAN!

French publisher Dargaud caused plenty of buzz when it announced last month a two-volume Batman graphic novel by legendary European comics creator Enrico Marini (Le Scorpion, Eagles of Rome, Gipsy). By itself, that is exciting news. But there was no news about a simultaneously published English version. Perhaps that was a secret that can only now be revealed. DC has just announced that it will be publishing this work, entitled, “Batman: The Dark Prince Charming.” Now, that’s some Batman news!

MARINI’s CATWOMAN!

With this work, Enrico Marini will make his American comics and mainstream superhero debut. If you’ve seen his work for “Le Scorpion,” for instance, you can expect some cool swagger. And Batman will need all his confidence for this new story as he confronts his arch-nemesis The Joker. According to the DC press release, what distinguishes this story from other Batman tales is that this time, “it’s personal!” When has it not been personal when it comes to these two characters? Whatever the case, this time, Batman is…European! And let’s not lose sight of another character in this tale: Catwoman! I will have more to say about Catwoman in an upcoming post.

MARINI’s BATCAVE!

Here is the official description of the story according to DC:

What secret connection do both Batman and The Joker share with a strange and mysterious young girl? After she’s kidnapped by The Joker, Batman must plunge deep into the underworld of Gotham City and race against time to find out where she’s being held. The stakes are high, and for Batman, it’s personal!

MARINI’s GOTHAM CITY!

Pretty cool news however you spin it! Book one of Batman: The Dark Prince Charming will be in stores on November 1, 2017. Look for book two coming in spring 2018!

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Filed under Batman, Catwoman, Comics, Dargaud, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, Enrico Marini

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Adapted as Graphic Novel

“Beatles: Yellow Submarine,” an official illustrated adaptation published by Titan Comics

What could be sweeter than a graphic novel adaptation of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine? Yes, Titan Comics has announced a licensing agreement with Apple Corps Ltd to publish such a work! The fan base for The Beatles is in a league all its own so this is a huge deal. If no Blue Meanies get in the way, the book will coincide with the animated film’s 50th Anniversary!

“Beatles: Yellow Submarine,” an official illustrated adaptation published by Titan Comics

The comic adaptation will be written and illustrated by Bill Morrison, Bongo Comics co-founder and creative director, as well as recently announced Executive Editor for MAD Magazine. The Beatles: Yellow Submarine official illustrated adaptation will launch in stores in 2018, to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the animated musical fantasy film released in July 1968.

“Beatles: Yellow Submarine,” an official illustrated adaptation published by Titan Comics

Directed by George Dunning, Yellow Submarine was an animated adventure inspired by the music of The Beatles. Band members Paul, John, George, and Ringo join Captain Fred in his Yellow Submarine to journey to Pepperland to help free the land from the music-hating Blue Meanies.

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Review: THE LEGEND OF PINKY (Book I of VI)

THE LEGEND OF PINKY (Book I of VI)

There’s a lot of thought and care that goes into a solid work of comics but the results should be magical for the reader. Within the multi-layered world of independent cartoonists there is a fair amount of intrigue mixed in with camaraderie. Creators can get lost in a fog of competing interests. The answer is to find your way and simply pursue your vision. Cartoonist Craig Johnson II has tapped a significant vein of New York City history to create a comic both purposeful and entertaining. THE LEGEND OF PINKY, an ongoing series ultimately to be a graphic novel, published by Carbon Age Comics, is set in the early years of gangsters (1920s to 1930s), specifically involving the interconnections between Jewish and African American players.

Harlem’s uneasy friendship with Pinky.

The main character is Irving “Pinky” Horwitz, a lean and mean trained killer in the Goldman gang. He is an exceptional assassin, when he bothers to do his job. Pinky’s biggest flaw is an utter lack of discipline. If there is a chance for him to feed his lust and ego, he will take it. And his favorite place to do that is Harlem. In that arena, reckless young women jump into bed with him and skeptical young men sometimes push back and sometimes accept him. With Pinky, and those in his orbit, Johnson has created one of the most fascinating comics currently available.

Pinky and his mom.

The story begins with a pivotal moment gone wrong. Pinky was supposed to report for an important mob hit of two rivals. Instead, he was in bed with his latest conquest. Meanwhile, Sam, his partner, attempted the complete the two-man job by himself but was only able to kill one of the two men. And so begins the conflict that demands resolution in the first issue of this comic. Pinky, no doubt, is due his comeuppance. But Pinky is not without some redeemable traits. Clearly, Pinky seeks approval. There are two women in particular that he cares about: his own mother; and Yetta, a union organizer of garment workers. He takes great delight in showing most people his disdain. But, for a select few, he values some connection, especially the friends he seems to have made in Harlem.

Pinky in his element.

I am often asked what it takes to create a graphic novel. Well, I like to add that this undertaking is, intrinsically (in the undertaking) and ideally (in the creator’s vision), a heroic work. And then I always say that a hero (or an anti-hero) is essential to the story. By and large, this is the model of the vast majority of successful graphic novels. Most of these works are biographies and borrow from history in one form or another. The fact is, to do this right, you don’t want to get bogged down by the facts. This is a work of entertainment, not a meticulous history. Johnson is spot on in how he incorporates history into the bigger picture of his narrative. Everything lifts off the page as we follow accessible characters and vivid action.

Pinky’s alright!

Graphic novels, when true to their original intent, are vivid works of sequential art that evoke the breadth of a prose novel within its own unique narrative structure. Johnson is sensitive to what is possible in the comics medium. He has done the legwork necessary to create a credible foundation as he goes about completing his full-length graphic novel. The artwork is dynamic and the pacing is compelling. Essentially, he has found something that can be quite daunting for many a cartoonist lost in a fog. Johnson has found something to care about. He is compelled to follow through on his vision. This first issue clearly demonstrates that.

Be sure to keep up with Craig Johnson II right here and THE LEGEND OF PINKY, and Carbon Age Comics, right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Craig Johnson II, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, New York City

Comics Focus on Everything You Need to Know About ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’

It all began as a French comic book series.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” will open in U.S. theaters on July 21st. It all began as a French comic book series. First published in Pilote magazine in 1967, the final installment was published in 2010. The science fiction comics series was entitled “Valérian and Laureline,” or just “Valérian,” created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières. The first volume in a complete collected works was recently published by Cinebook. “Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is now available from Cinebook. You can also purchase it at Amazon right here.

“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1”

This deluxe edition includes various supplementary material related to the movie. It starts out with an exclusive interview with the film’s director, Luc Besson (The Fifth Element). He shares his childhood adoration for the Valerian comics. He dutifully awaited each new installment in Pilote magazine, just like all the other kids he knew. The Valerian comics, with their mix of classic science fiction and whimsical fantasy, helped to influence Star Wars. And perhaps, only now, has movie technology caught up to do justice to a Valerian movie.

Drawing by Jean-Claude Mézières of Star Wars meets Valerian

All you really need to know to enjoy the movie is that it’s like Star Wars but with a distinctively French flare. The main characters are a couple of special operatives, Valérian and Laureline, on a mission to save the world, or should I say, the universe! It is in reading the actual comics that a reader quickly picks up on that refreshing sense of irreverence that is Valerian. Keep in mind that director Luc Besson worked with Valerian artist Jean-Claude Mézières on “The Fifth Element.” Indeed, this is a very special case of a major motion picture and its comics source material working seamlessly together.

Now, consider the significance of the Valerian comics because, make no big mistake, Valerian set the stage for much that was to come. Valerian comics, in their day, were groundbreaking. There was nothing quite like it in its scope and influence. These comics hit France in the Sixties during a major time of transition: a post World War II culture seeking out fresh new entertainment. To get away from the gray and the drab, the two French creators of Valerian went west to the U.S. for a time to get recharged. In fact, their first work together originated in Salt Lake City, Utah!

Panel excerpt from Valerian

In the U.S., Mézières, the artist, and Christin, the writer, were enthralled with wide open spaces, colorful B-movies, and great promise for change, as demonstrated with the Civil Rights movement. They honed their skills. Mézières focused on such artistic talent as Giraud, Jijé, Franquin, and Mad magazine. Christin focused on science fiction writers like Asimov, Van Vogt, Vance, and Wyndham. And, together, they created Valerian.

This first volume of the collection contains books 1 and 2 of the series: The City of Shifting Waters – in its original two parts, 9 pages longer format – and The Empire of a Thousand Planets. It also includes book 0, Bad Dreams, translated into English for the first time: the very first adventures of our two heroes, published after City and retroactively numbered.

And to really get a sense of what’s in store with the Valerian movie, check out this particularly informative trailer below that goes into the vital connection to the original comics. Yes, Valerian is a big deal. Consider it as big as Star Wars:

“Valerian – The Complete Collection Vol 1” is a 160-page full color hardcover suitable for all ages. Buy it on Amazon right here.

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Filed under Bande Dessinée, BD, Comics, European Comics, French Comics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Star Wars, Valerian

Kickstarter: VIRGIN WOLF Collection: The Hunt is Underway!

The Collected VIRGIN WOLF

Alverne Bell is a rising talent in comics, graphic novels, and prose fiction. He has proven himself many times over with such work as ONE NATION and VIRGIN WOLF. Now is a great opportunity to dive into the highly creative mind of Alverne Bell and experience a collection of his werewolf series, VIRGIN WOLF. A Kickstarter campaign is going on now, by July 15th, in support of collecting the first eight issues into trade paperback, hardcover, and PDF. To learn more, and join the campaign, go right here.

Don’t mess with Virgin!

***

A young woman and her Native American mentor are hunting the father of all werewolves in 1605 France!

Virgin Wolf is the tale of a woman struggling to put an end to her nightmares. With the help of Hania, her Native American guide. She has tracked her prey to France. Though little does she know the extent they have gone to or will go to see the world dominated by the Wolfen.

This book is the collection of the first 8 issues, plus a rarely seen in print prologue. The book totals 208 pages in full-color. Printed on a sturdy glossy paper it is available in both soft and hard bound.

***

Page from VIRGIN WOLF

This is a werewolf tale like you’ve never read before. Among the wide array of comics that I look over on a daily basis, this one definitely has gotten my attention. The title, VIRGIN WOLF, sticks in my mind, and it does not matter whether or not there is any tangible connection in this comic to Virginia Woolf. Alverne Ball is an award-winning writer who has built an impressive career. He knows how to tell stories. He holds an MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College in Chicago, which includes a Semester in Los Angeles, an intensive program focusing on adaptation of material to the screen. His writing runs the gamut from television and film to graphic novels and prose fiction. For VIRGIN WOLF, he has teamed up with Douglas Felix and Adriana de los Santos who both provide the artwork that makes this project a pleasure to read.

Cover from VIRGIN WOLF series

The collected VIRGIN WOLF will be published by Phoenix Dreams Publishing. Founded by Noel Burns, Phoenix Dreams Publishing is an indie comic publisher based out of Iowa. As an indie comic publisher, Phoenix Dreams Publishing hopes to help indie artists make a living through their creations and dreams.

Be sure to visit the VIRGIN WOLF Kickstarter campaign, on thru June 15th, right here.

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Filed under Alverne Bell, Comics, graphic novels, Horror, Kickstarter, Phoenix Dreams Publishing, Werewolves

Review: ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY

ROBIN HOOD: OUTLAW OF THE 21st CENTURY is a comic book series that is a fine mix of action and intelligence. There are so many comics that I could review at any given time so the one question that helps guide me is “Why does this comic exist?” In the Forward to the new book collecting Issues #1-4, Tyler Weaver (Coming to Quest Country) describes a unique and contemporary take on the Robin Hood legend. And, yes, that is definitely the case. Matt Dursin’s script invites the reader into what drives his characters to seek justice–and what happens when they cross the line. It all adds up to a compelling read.

Taking from the rich to give to the poor via pizza delivery.

The divide between rich and poor is handled brilliantly in a plot that focuses on issues of life or death, namely healthcare. Set in the near future, only the rich can rely upon medicine when they need it. So, the tacit understanding in society is that some people are expendable. If that sounds creepily familiar, it certainly is meant to be. A band of vigilantes conclude that there is a way out of this nightmare: take from the rich and give to the poor. That way of thinking worked for Robin Hood but it gets more complicated in the 21st century.

Panel excerpt: Robin and John

What is exceptional about this comic is that everything is alive and lifts off the page in the way you would hope a good comic would do. It’s not easy to achieve that energy and sense of spontaneity. Many creators miss the mark simply because, for various reasons, they lose sight of what they’re doing. For some, the reason for the work to exist has been lost. You sense with this book that the whole creative team loves what they do and are intelligently engaged with it. I’m not saying that you worship your characters and treat them as if they’re real people. No, it’s a dedication to craft. If the time is put in, then you do end up with a vivid story and vivid characters.

Panel excerpt: John is threatened by The Sheriff

The artwork by Mark Louie Vuykankiat has a lean and energetic quality to it with a manga vibe. In the character design notes, he describes the characters as “somewhere between ramshackle and military.” That fits the bill. I have to say, this is one very action-packed story. At times, it feels like a video game. These boys have got their toys, including an air-burst grenade launcher! All in all, this is a smart and heart-felt work and fans of the Robin Hood legend will get a kick out of all the references to the original 1883 novel by Howard Pyle.

Rounding out the creative team is an impressive job of letters & colors by L. Jamal Walton; spectacular cover art by Ray Dillon; and spot on logo & production by Rachel Chernick.

“Robin Hood: Outlaw of the 21st Century,” issues #1 thru #4, are now available digitally and in print and are collected in a trade paperback. For more details, and how to purchase, go right here.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Reviews, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Review: GLISTER by Andi Watson

GLISTER by Andi Watson

I’ve kept up with Andi Watson‘s work in comics over the years and maybe you have too. It’s upbeat, quirky, and decidedly dry wit. Kate Beaton comes to mind. A number of British sitcoms come to mind too. Anthony Trollope. Yeah, he comes to mind as well. But let’s get back to Andi Watson. Dark Horse Comics has collected in a deluxe edition Watson’s GLISTER series. This book revolves around Glister Butterworth who stumbles upon quite a number of strange things.

Page from Andi Watson’s GLISTER

One of the strangest things is the family estate of Chilblain Hall. Glister and her dad live there, which is all well and fine. But they also have the occasional ghost. And the estate itself is a living entity. Glister is always trying to maintain an upbeat mood. She even encourages the family home. “But,” as Watson writes in one scene, “the doubt had already seeped into the hall’s timbers like cold in an old man’s bones on a winter’s night.” Here is where Glister must really lay on the charm and persuade the old mansion that being rustic is cool!

As a cartoonist, I greatly admire Watson’s direct line. I would not call it “deceptively simple” as is too often said of clean work. It has more to do with a clear purpose. And it’s very important to have a sense of clarity as you have a main character traipsing through a variety of rather arcane terrain. And I wouldn’t necessarily call this book aimed at only girls. Boys can, and need, to be sensitive. They don’t have to say they’re channeling their feminine side if they’re not ready to. Anyway, most boys know that all rough and tumble can get boring. At the end of the day, we are talking here about a certain sensibility. If you like droll humor, you’ll like this book. Come to think of it, doesn’t Harry Potter have a good dose of dry wit?

GLISTER collects four stories which include the arrival of a teapot haunted by a demanding ghost, a crop of new relatives blooming on the family tree, a stubborn house that walks off its land in a huff, and a trip to Faerieland to find Glister’s missing mother. Whimsical, indeed! A contrarian friend of mine egged me on the other day as to why it is that kids read so many comics. It can’t be good for them, right? With GLISTER fresh on my mind, I pointed out that kids get to enjoy a complex plot, playful use of language, and exercise their imagination. The grounding that will stand them in good stead when they go on to read the biting social satire of Anthony Trollope!

GLISTER is a 304-page trade with color tints. This whimsical collection will appeal to all ages, especially ages 8 to 12. It is available as of July 5. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Andi Watson, Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels

Comey Testimony Brings to Mind King Trump

The Donald. cartoon by Henry Chamberlain

“Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?”
–Henry II

There is an artful moment during the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey. Sen. Angus King, (I) Maine, asked if Trump saying he hoped the Flynn investigation would go away was a direction. And Comey quotes the famous line attributed to Henry II, and which floats within Shakespeare’s Richard II: “Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?” The senator said he was thinking of the same quote.

King Henry II wished that a priest would go away. That was Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The next day, that priest was murdered, honoring the king’s wish. King Trump “hopes” for something, that the investigation of Michael Flynn would go away, an inappropriate suggestion, even for royalty.

That quote speaks volumes.

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Filed under Comics, Donald Trump, Editorial Cartoons, Humor, Political Cartoons, Russia, Russiagate