Frank Santoro is an artist with a vision that can run counter to what some people expect in their comics. Casual, and more refined, readers alike tend to want their comics ink-rendered, bold, and grounded in a certain manner. Santoro’s work is often pencilled and it is experimental and has an ethereal quality. But a reader only needs to take a careful read to see that Santoro’s work has its own unique substance. In “Pompeii,” his most recent graphic novel, published by PictureBox, Santoro maintains the spontaneity of sketchbook drawings in a well orchestrated narrative. This is a story about learning how to see the world as it really is and perhaps gaining solace from how it may have been.
Tag Archives: Reviews
There are so many superhero comics out there but readers are always open to a new wrinkle. How about a comic that encompasses a world made up of trillions, a hundred times more populated than Earth? That is a world that we all live in now, inside our own bodies, made up of trillions of cells. Welcome to BIOWARS.
This is definitely something new within the superhero genre. What will first interest readers is how this comic engages with real biology. With a majority of superhero comics heavily tied to either pulp fiction or mythology, BIOWARS, published by Gabriel Creations, confidently goes deep inside a vast alien world with many possibilities. Creator Gabriel Shaoolian envisioned a comic that dove into a whole new terrain. With a story that literally takes place inside and outside, there is great potential here.
The story begins with a sounding of alarms in the first issue, aptly entitled, “Infection.” We see the emerging war take shape. Written by Mark Powers (Marvel Comics, Devil’s Due), we get a nice dose of action, and even humor. Microphage armies and B-Cell forces, given human-like form for the sake of more vivid storytelling, are deployed to subdue the enemy invader. The artwork (Lucius Cross, Joana LaFuente, and Gonçalo Lopes) brings it all to life with impressive results. The next time you get a cold, you can picture a war like this one raging through your bronchial passages.
But there’s far more going on. Whatever this virus or bacteria is, it is unlike anything the immune system A-teams have ever encountered. And things aren’t any less tense in the great unknown world outside. Out there, on the streets of New York’s Chinatown, there’s a young man, Alex Hawking, running for his life. Outside, danger looms even closer as Alex is being chased by a killer. The killer is quite familiar with what’s wrong with Alex from the inside.
The intrigue continues as more details are revealed in the second issue, entitled, “Revelations.” With two issues in, a suspenseful story has unfolded that carries the weight of a first-rate superhero tale. We know that Alex is in a lot of danger. And we have some clues as to what he might do next. Good use is made of superhero tropes. There’s Janice Lee, the reporter who gets too close to her story and is now wrapped up with Alex’s fate. There’s Alex’s classic conflict with his father, Marcus. And there are two villains: a mad scientist, Ernst Kelso, working in the outer world; and Raze, the master mold, working in the inner world. All in all, a pretty promising start to a new all-ages comic.
BIOWARS #3, entitled, “The Virus Invasion,” comes out January 14, 2014. Visit our friends at the BIOWARS website here.
Review: THE BLACK FEATHER FALLS Book One (of four), by Ellen Lindner, published by Soaring Penguin Press
Ellen Lindner has a wonderful way with prose and composition. Her intricate artwork and distinctive voice give life to her latest creation, “The Black Feather Falls.” This is a webcomic told in four parts, which you can view at ACT-I-VATE here. The first part is now collected and will be published by Soaring Penguin Press.
The beauty of Lindner’s work is on many levels, not the least of which is her dynamic composition. We begin with the main character, Tina Swift, juxtaposed by her striking view of two pyramids that act as visual and symbolic thrust. They lead us to more energetic play with geometry of body language and setting.
Take a closer look at Tina Swift. On Page 2, we see her face is a crisp collection of lines and angles with a few accenting curves. We take in the rest of the page: in the first panel, we see a typewriter rendered to the last detail acting as a still life accompanied by Tina’s sharply rendered hands. The last panel caps off with another view of those pyramids. In the span of time that we’ve read the first two pages, we already know a mighty adventure is about to be retold.
And, by Page 3, we have entered a new world. Tina is an American abroad. She’s in 1920s London. As engaging as Lindner’s artwork, her prose charms you and immerses you in the customs and logic of another time. Lindner was an American abroad herself and you sense a loving attention to her past home byway of this murder mystery. It’s as if Lindner travelled back in time and is reporting to us her observations with a fresh vitality. She provides a somewhat similar treatment of Brooklyn in the early 1960s for her work, “Undertow.” The writing for this story is quite fun and feels in step with such British writers of the time as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the Mitford sisters.
Our team of brash young American, Tina Swift, and young British spinster, Miss McInteer, are delightful as polar opposites that manage to attract. They do have quite a compelling murder mystery to solve that apparently will turn into another cold case if not for them. All the elements are in place for a delicious read.
You can read the latest installments of The Black Feather Falls at ACT-I-VATE here. Be sure to pick up the first collection of The Black Feather Falls from Soaring Penguin Press and look for updates here. And do visit Ellen Lindner at her site here.
Book Review: BORN TO RUN: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall
Whatever your interest or background, there is something for you in Christopher McDougall’s book, “Born to Run.” Forget about whether you even like sports, this is one of those books that encompasses more than its subject and is simply a pleasure to read. This 2009 New York Times Best Seller has reached many readers. But there’s still a legion of couch potatoes who would benefit from reading this book. I know I did!
McDougall is a former war correspondent and brings a no-nonsense approach to his work. This is one sharp and vigorous guy. So, when he turned 40 and his body began to ache and stumble, he set out, like a guy, to fix the problem. He wanted to run. But his doctor told him that his large frame was not suitable for running. Instinctively, McDougall knew the doctor was wrong. As if by chance, McDougall discovered the story of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. This is a tireless group of runners, of all ages, who run 150-plus miles at a time, cheerfully in bright colored robes and sandals. If there could be a more whimsical scene, McDougall had probably not come across it before.
To find the free-spirited Tarahumara would require entering an area just as fearsome as any war zone. The Copper Canyons have everything going against you: wild animals, intense heat, narrow gorges, rocky mountainous terrain, and a crazy maze-like environment sure to swallow you up. If a snake or a coyote doesn’t get you, then maybe a drug warlord will. But what if McDougall could find himself the ideal guide? Sure that was easy enough. He just had to find Caballo Blanco.
Caballo Blanco is painted to be somewhere between legend and ghost. He could be a fright to the unaccustomed and was so elusive as to cast doubt on his very existence. McDougall plays with the mystery and serves up a slice of detective story narrative as he relentlessly tracks down his only hope of true contact with the Tarahumara. Caballo Blanco featues prominently in this book. McDougall spends a great deal of effort in unveiling this mystery. But, even after countless attempts, Caballo remains an enigma. This makes sense as you continue to read. Caballo had been out in the Copper Canyons for far too long to ever be fully understood, labeled, and set on a shelf. What McDougall does find out, however, is exactly what he needs to know. McDougall does justice to the man in this book. Caballo Blanco passed away last year.
With great care and enthusiasm, McDougall metes out facts to make his case which involves a leap of faith back to nature. With the sensibility of a novelist, McDougall dove tails from one scene and character to another. He switches back in time and focuses on one subplot and makes his way back to advance the main plot. What he seeks is nothing less than the truth and that runs the gamut from running shoes to all of humanity. He starts out with the idea that he, along with the rest of us, have settled for less. Once he has made contact with the mystical Tarahumara, he is convinced that their joie de vivre is the key to getting his own joy of life back on track.
It’s a question of finding patterns and confirming facts. As he gets to know more ultrarunners, including legends like Scott Jurek, one thing is clear. The best runners are the happiest runners. They run because they love to run. And what is it about running? It seems to be something so basic, primal. More investigating, and McDougall finds compelling information to back up the case that we humans evolved from hunters running in packs. And when did our naked feet lose their capacity to run? Again, the facts bare out a case for bare feet. We are at our best when we run and when we are not impeded by added padding and support. It appears to be a fairly simple truth. But sometimes the easiest truth is the hardest to expose. McDougall knows that.
Simple myths can be hard to overcome. Like the myth that you reach a point when you’re too old to run. The fact is that the human body regains its peak running performance over time. By age 64, you will be back to your peak of age 19. And, thanks to Nike, we can still be swayed by our fear of injury. Nike is always ready to provide pseudo-scientific remedies of added padding and support. But there is absolutely no need to be swayed by all the hype. A simple shoe is more than adequate. The pros train barefoot and some even run barefoot. The essential takeaway from this book is that we never needed running shoes before Nike “invented” them. All that padding and support keeps your feet from landing properly and, ironically, leads to the very injuries you are trying to avoid. Here is a quote in the book by Olympic coach Arthur Lydiard:
“Those sideways flexings of the ankles begin only when people lace themselves into these running shoes because the construction of many of the shoes immediately alters the natural movement of the feet. We ran in canvas shoes. We didn’t get plantar fascia, we didn’t pronate or supinate, we might have lost a bit of skin from the rough canvas when we were running marathons, but, generally speaking, we didn’t have foot problems. Paying several hundred dollars for the latest in high-tech running shoes is no guarantee you’ll avoid any of these injuries and can even guarantee that you will suffer from them in one form or another.”
Perhaps Caballo Blanco will just have to remain an enigma. But McDougall learned what he needed to know. Despite the fact that Caballo’s choice of actually living in the Copper Canyons was far more poetic than practical, McDougall can understand why that would have been enough for Caballo. Along the way, McDougall learned to trust himself and develop a light running technique. In the process of writing his book, he got his life back. He can run. He can run as much as he wants and not have to answer to anyone. That seems to have been all that Caballo Blanco ever wanted.
You can visit Christopher McDougall at his website here.
“Manifest Destiny” is a great name for a comic and now we have this gem, published by Image Comics, in connection with Skybound, which you can visit here. This is created and written by Chris Dingess. He admits to a passion for the weird so he’s just the right guy to mashup the Lewis and Clark expedition with a healthy dose of horror.
Patrick Moote is a talented young man who thought he had a big problem. He thought his penis was too small. So, he goes on a journey of self-discovery and we get to go along with him in the documentary, “Unhung Hero,” which releases on DVD and iTunes on December 10, 2013. Does size matter? On a logical level, of course not. But director Brian Spitz and actor/comedian Patrick Moote are on a quest to explore the deep insecurities we all face in a crass and overstimulated world glutted with porn and unrealistic expectations.
“Alex + Ada” is a story set in the not too distant future of floating computer screens and little robots that serve your coffee. We’re given a quiet moment to settle into the story, up until when we get to the morning’s news. Something about a virus being unleashed upon a warehouse of robots and the robots killing humans. Overnight, that company’s stock plummets and a new company emerges as the world’s most trusted tech leader.
We continue to follow Alex on his way to work and we see life-sized robots walking alongside their human masters. In the distance, there’s a protestor with a sign pleading for robot rights. We next find Alex at his office chatting telepathically with a friend. Just a little social networking through an implant in one’s head. Alex is still bummed out over his breakup of seven months ago. Isn’t there something that could cheer him up?
That something will, undoubtedly, be Ada but we only get a hint of that in this first issue which is just fine. The art by Jonathan Luna (GIRLS, THE SWORD) has a free and easy quality as if it came out of a sketchbook. It is an instinctive and simple style that is fun to look at and conveys more emotion than some more realistic art. Luna’s story, with script by Sarah Vaughn (Sparkshooter), seems to share a similar light quality. Luna appears to be very comfortable with a story full of quiet moments, at least for now. Vaughn has an agile touch with dialogue that is truly conversational. There’s a scene between Alex and his grandmother that could have easily just been filler but it’s actually fun and gives a little more substance to what happens next.
An unlikely pairing of human and android. Yep, that’s where we’re headed. No doubt, this won’t be the first story exploring the various possibilities between humans and A-I. However, there’s potential here for something refreshing. I will set the bar high and hope for something as good as the recent movie, “Robot & Frank,” which stars Frank Langella, as Frank, and Peter Sarsgaard as the voice of Robot. In this movie, also set in the near future, Frank is a man who is adrift, much like Alex in this comic. Frank Langella is a very admirable actor. Always the lady’s man, he’s matured to perfection. Here, he plays a retired jewel thief who has a robot forced upon him by family for his own good, to look after him. Little by little, Frank warms up to Robot. He refuses to give him a proper name. Ultimately, Frank and Robot come to an understanding and that’s when the plot thickens.
In the case of this comic, things look very promising indeed, considering we have Ada, a very mysterious and sexy android; plus, we have a possible robot rebellion lurking in the background.
“Alex + Ada #1” releases November 6. Visit our friends at Image Comics here.
“Velvet,” published by Image Comics, is your next spy thriller addiction. It is written by one of the best crime fiction writers that comics has ever known, Ed Brubaker. And he is teamed up with one of the best artists he’s ever worked with, Steve Epting. This new series blasts away from the start. We have the dark and moody color palette that Brubaker favors, provided by colorist Elizabeth Breitweiser. We have the nondescript lettering, as if out of typewriter or teletype machine, provided by letterer Chris Eliopoulos. Yes, this comic is like a good martini, shaken, not stirred.
“Pretty Deadly,” a new series published by Image Comics, is written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, who has a flair for the dramatic and the poetic. Emma Rios is the artist and she’s right in step with this refreshingly offbeat Western. Colors by Jordie Bellaire give us a good spooky mood. Letters by Clayton Cowles add to that mood. And Sigrid Ellis provides the edits. All in all, a very well put together comic about Death out to exact justice through various methods. It might, for a moment, sound like “East of West” but, no, it’s out there dancing to its own beat.