THIS WEEK IN COMICS! (11/23/11 – True to Life)

Insofar as this column strives to bring you the latest updates on newsstand comics as well as current releases to comic book specialty stores, it's well worth observing that my local Barnes & Noble -- which, like many Barnes & Noble locations, has expanded its comic book selection to fill a segment of the magazine section rather than letting its Archies and Spider-Men wilt on a spinner rack like they're watered twice daily -- is now carrying import copies of the monthly all-color 2000 AD sister publication Judge Dredd Megazine, of which the most recent available issue was #316.

As expected, there's plenty of Dredd to go around -- always good to see Carlos Ezquerra on the page, as his American appearances seem limited mainly to whatever project Garth Ennis is doing at the moment -- but what you see above is a new serial, American Reaper, which is interesting for being essentially a modern fumetti, which is to say a photo-comic. The artist is Clint Langley, whom I first became aware of when Matt Seneca started drawing attention to his work with writer Pat Mills on Sláine, in which the artist employed an odd and disquieting blend of photography, digital paint and CG elements in a collage-like manner, in departure from a fully-painted style he used to pursue in the '90s.

American Reaper is a smoother work of visual integration, if apparently built up from the same photo-paint-modeling base; I'm told Langley has also done some ABC Warriors work in this style, and it could be that sci-fi loans itself to better 'cover' for his style than dusty blooded sword-swinging, or maybe he's just getting more comfortable with time. Regardless -- and while I'm certain many readers of this column will find the whole thing garish and intolerable -- there's something I find oddly charming about Langley's approach, and I think it's in how he pushes back against action comics expectations, whereby so many artists seem to arranging poor-acting models in scenes that often seem like photography modified in Photoshop. Langley, in contrast, adopts the big beats of hammering action comics, but ensures that his characters look like photographs, while surrounding them with shiny, entirely unreal textures, sometimes attached to their bodies, as if to defeat the entire notion of photographic 'realism.' As you can see, he's even gotten to modulating the level of detail on his figures, so that sometimes (as just above) his characters look a bit like drawings, only to increase in realism as they draw closer.

Also: the models scowl, a lot, as if attempting to look like caricatures. The writer, as expected, is again Pat Mills, presenting a quintessentially Pat Mills scenario of a tough guy law enforcement specialist in NYC 2062 charged with cracking cases of identity theft, which is to say digitized (ha ha) human consciousness being downloaded Masamune Shirow-style into bodies, a position from which society's rich and elite can strive to live forever in the skins of the poor and incarcerated while aged assassins can continue to enact semi-anonymous feats of terrorism. It appears to be a multimedia affair, in that Xingu Films is supposed to be producing a movie from Mills' screenplay; the Langley-rendered comic, then, is set up as something of a movie for the page.

I mean, look at that. I think the kid's hair is computer-assisted. This is actually only half of a scene; as if looking to challenge the decade-old idea of 'widescreen' comics, several American Reaper spreads use double-wide panels: horizontal images extending from the leftmost side of one page to the rightmost edge of the facing page, creating (say) three really long panels per two-page spread. It cuts down on reading time, even for a 32-page chapter, but it also signals that Mills & Langley are aware of the value in surrounding the reader with this strange style, all tall hairdos and ice-blue light sources and Tim Burton-ish superhero vehicle design, easily dominating the dramatic scenario of Our Hero being forced to shoot his own son when somebody else hops into his shell. There's also a daughter character, whose role in the introductory chapter is simply illustrated for this long-lived boys' comics anthology.

I believe this is called 'using the medium to its fullest.'


PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday, or, in the event of a holiday or occurrence necessitating the close of UPS in a manner that would impact deliveries, Thursday, identified in the column title above. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting.



The Adventures of Hergé: INSTANT GRATIFICATION. You know it, you love it, and now you're aware of not only a handy bio-comic tie-in to a certain upcoming film, but also of the newest English-language release of a L'Association founder, which you've surely been grumbling after for at least three weeks. Yes, it's Stanislas [Barthélémy] drawing this 1999 French production, a 64-page survey of the Tintin creator's life, now released in English from Drawn and Quarterly. For those keeping track, Stanislas' last longform North American appearance was in Humanoids' & DC's incomplete 2004 release of By the Numbers, a period suspense series written by Laurent Rullier. This one's scripted by José-Louis Bocquet & Jean-Luc Fromental. Preview; $19.95.

Blabber Blabber Blabber: Volume 1 of Everything: Huh, looks like D&Q is walking away with the spotlight this week, since there's no way I couldn't make illustrated notice of this first of ten hardcover collections of the complete comics by Lynda Barry, though you might not want to expect a forthright Golden Age of Reprints treatment - samples suggest that the project (at least as of now) is set up in part like a scrapbook, with Barry commenting on the work from unoccupied regions of the 10.9" x 8.5" space. Or maybe that's just to enhance this 176-page assemblage of early work, 1978-81, including the entirety (I think) of Girls and Boys, with some vintage art appearances by Matt Groening and Gary Panter. Preview; $24.95.



Milk and Cheese: Dairy Products Gone Bad: Also in comprehensive-looking reprint affairs, Dark Horse brings just about everything (in color and b&w) from Evan Dorkin's rowdy comedy strip, certainly a touchstone for plenty of readers. Samples; $19.99.

Tesoro: Your manga pick of the week, and an interesting one, as Viz brings over a 248-page collection of House of Five Leaves creator Natsume Ono's short comics, which is where I first got to know her work, via a Japanese-language edition. Some attractive variants on the artist's visual style in here, ranging from sketched-out pieces to her curvier, squat look, all but quavering with vulnerability; $12.99.

World War 3 Illustrated #42: Hey, another classic comics magazine! Liberation is the theme this time for the gnashing political forum, with contributors from Egypt, Lebanon, Kashmir and Palestine joining U.S. and U.K. artists to evoke a global protest presence for today. Top Shelf is the distributor. List of contributors; $7.00.

Richard Stark's Parker: The Martini Edition: A deluxe edition for Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, from IDW, a publisher well-known for their ritzy reprint treatments. Collecting all extant material (so, 2009's The Hunter and 2010's The Outfit) at 9" x 13" in a slipcased hardcover, with 50+ pages of supplemental art and a new eight-page piece; $75.00.

The Rocketeer Jetpack Treasury Edition: And on the flip side of the coin, here's IDW attempting to revive the 1970s Treasury Edition format -- thick, 9" x 12"-ish softcover comic albums, mostly used as a reprint forum, though some high-profile originals snuck out, like Jack Kirby's original 2001: A Space Odyssey adaptation -- with 64 pages' worth of its re-colored presentation of Dave Stevens' jaunty period adventure; $9.99.

His Dream of the Skyland: Walled City Trilogy, Book 1: I've never heard of this comic from journalist and screenwriter Anne Opotowsky & artist Aya Morton, but Australian publisher Gestalt has released some interesting-looking books, and I'm usually drawn to 312-page bricks of color comics. "Imperialist controlled Hong Kong, the British ruling classes and the ambitious dynasty-influenced Chinese all create an amazing labyrinth," says the publisher, while Paul Gravett (going on sample images) says it's "highly intriguing" with "lively, sinuous linework, dizzying perspectives and vibrant colouring." I do like the looks of it; keep an eye out. Preview; $32.95.

Little Lulu Vol. 29: The Cranky Giant and Other Stories: Somebody correct me if I'm wrong here, but I do believe this 192-page color collection of John Stanley-fronted holiday specials marks the conclusion of Dark Horse's Lulu reprint project, at least as far as the main series goes. A lot of apparently enthusiastic kid-appeal from this series. Samples; $14.99.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection Vol. 1: But if it's the b&w boom you want to foist on your beloved issue, nothing would be more characteristic than this new 312-page IDW compilation of comics by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, 1984-86, featuring issues #1-7 of the original Frank Miller mutant parody (that's one issue short of the Cerebus guest spot), along with the '85 Raphael one-off. I do believe Richard Corben inked part of issue #7, a color segment, but there's also a b&w version out there; $49.95.

Green Lantern Omnibus Vol. 2: Or why not a big ol' hit of Gil Kane? Collects issues #22-45 (1963-66) over 624 color pages in hardcover; $75.00.

Showcase Presents: Ghosts Vol. 1: Although DC is also still working the less-expensive b&w phonebook style, here dedicated to 512-pages' worth of the 1971-82 horror series, with art by Carmine Infantino, Irwin Hasen, Leonard Starr, George Tuska, Sam J. Glanzman and others; $19.99.

The Smurfs Vol. 9: Gargamel and the Smurfs: I do believe this Papercutz release of Peyo material might be constructed from assorted short stories out of various albums -- as opposed to hinging on a 'main' story -- spotlighting the titular alchemist and gourmand; $6.99 ($10.99 in hardcover).

RASL #12: We're nearing the end of this Jeff Smith sci-fi project, as the artist releases his first new material from outside the current three collected editions; $3.50.

Fantastic Four #600: This is one of those multi-artist anniversary things, noteworthy for the presence of the always-interesting Farel Dalrymple as one of the artists (I think in his first superhero work since Omega the Unknown wrapped). Written by Jonathan Hickman, whom I believe is planning this storyline as a culmination of his tenure on the series; $7.99.

The Adventures of Hergé: Creator of Tintin: Finally, your book-on-comics-and-locus-of-potential-confusion for the week, a Last Gasp reissue of Michael Farr's 2008 text survey of one Georges Remi, with photographs and illustrations, none of them L'Association affiliated to my knowledge; $29.95.


CONFLICT OF INTEREST RESERVOIR: Oh shit, Disney animation showdown. Walt Disney's Donald Duck Vol. 1: Lost in the Andes presents the first in a line of hardcover Carl Barks reprints, newly re-colored with all of the supplements you'd expect; $28.99. In the opposite corner, Pogo - The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips Vol. 1: Through The Wild Blue Wonder begins a comprehensive 12-book collection of the Walt Kelly strip in b&w and color; $39.99. And while I don't think the 144-page, Deepwater Horizon spill-focused graphic novel Oil and Water has anything to do with Disney, it does mark a comics-writing appearance by longtime writer-on-comics Steve Duin, teamed with artist Shannon Wheeler; $19.99.