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The Book of Ballads
Some of the most arrestingly beautiful artwork I've ever seen from Charles Vess graces this thick hardcover collection. A number of writers adapt old folk songs and stories from England, Ireland and Scotland, giving Vess an ideal opportunity to demonstrate his gift for lush illustration and an impressive eye for convincing detail.
Many of the tales focus on the interaction between innocent young people and fairies, demons, and other supernatural creatures. Often, though, the story can be interpreted as a magical concoction designed to explain -- or perhaps draw attention away from -- actual events. Thus each piece works on multiple levels, and overall the book is an ideal showcase for Vess's stylings and a treasure trove for those interested in the intersection of history and fantasy. Grade: 4/5
Created for the London Comics Festival and debuting last month, Insomnia is a mini-comic collecting all available material pertaining to a series Gary Spencer Millidge began work on just prior to his excellent Strangehaven. Insomnia boasts extraordinary production values, giving a strong glimpse at Millidge's creative process and a fascinating suggestion of what might have been.
There are seven completed pages of story and art, about six more pages of wordless art, seven pages reproducing at reduced size the breakdowns for the entire abortive first issue, and one stunning page of colour studies. Text pieces by Millidge go to great lengths to explain what he is showing you, and the story -- about a man who experiences paranormal abilities while asleep -- is intriguing both in its own right and for the ways in which it echoes and intersects with Strangehaven.
If you're a fan of Millidge's unuqiely fascinating comics, or just interested in how the creative mind works, Insomnia is a valuable little pamphlet filled with surprises. Grade: 5/5
Slightly above-average stuff about superheroes -- I'm sorry, neogenics, both heroes and villains, and the government program designed to utilize the good ones and incarcerate the bad. The extremely ugly (and apparently computer-painted) cover does a disservice to the decent linework inside, which reminded me of nothing so much as John Byrne's Doomsday +1 style. That is to say, not entirely convincing, but eager, energetic, and getting the job done. The book is in colour, too, which actually lends added weight and credibility to the art, although also falling into the modern-day trap of making human skin look much more rubbery and shinier than it almost ever actually is (see also, early issues of Straczynski's Amazing Spider-Man run).
The concept of The Compound is interesting if not wholly original (see also, The Vault), and that extends also to most of the superpowers. The first character we meet is essentially The Flash as a woman, and Christ, if I never see another superhero who can shoot blasts from his hands, I will die happy. This first issue reads like the people putting it together actually have put some thought into their work, and the production is top-notch. I found it more readable than probably three-quarters of Marvel and DC superhero stuff, so if you're into the capes and the tights and the people shooting blasts from their hands and running across water, Helios #1 will probably suit you just fine. Grade: 3.5/5
The Collected Sequential
Hornschemeier's series Forlorn Funnies and the graphic novel it spawned, Mother, Come Home, are among the very best works you'll find in the better comics shops across the globe. The earlier, cruder Sequential was a seven-issue series in which Hornschemeier literally taught himself how to make comics, getting better with every issue, and that learning curve is starkly revealed here.
There's a lot of experimentation, and you could probably count the unqualified successes on the fingers of one hand. But those interested in Hornschemeier's artistic development will be fascinated to see how quickly he became one of the most intriguing talents in comics, and the inclusion of Ex Falso Quodlibet in chronological order puts the cartoonist's first masterwork in marvelous historical context.
It should be noted that AdHouse and Hornschemeier have designed and implemented one of the very best-produced hardcovers I've ever seen, exquisitely designed and extremely attractive. Few cartoonists merit such an holistic and extensive compiling of mostly juvenilia, but few cartoonists demonstrated such potential and such vision even in their earliest days as creators. Essential. Grade: 4.5/5
The Wannabe #1
Erik Miller loses his wife in a tragic accident involving a misunderstanding with a Russian mobster, mopes in his beer and eventually decides he is a superhero, so he learns a martial art. To be continued.
Earnest but underfed stuff hiding behind a great Mike Zeck-painted cover. Huddleston's interior artwork (inked by James Taylor and reproduced in black and white) is insubstantial and disinterested. The script tries hard, but in the end it's silly and no character wins any sympathy or even sustains any interest. At $2.95, readers will expect much more than they get from The Wannabe #1. Grade: 2/5