Brother Lono by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso – A Book Review

It’s not necessary to read Azzarello and Risso’s Eisner award-winning series 100 Bullets to understand Brother Lono, but it would certainly help.  Lono proved a breakout character from that hard-boiled serial, so it’s no surprise that years after 100 Bullets fired its final shot, Lono should make a reappearance.

Azzarello and Risso tell a classic tale, but of course, with their own violent and disturbing twist.  Lono has found himself south of the border in a town ruled by a drug cartel.  It’s a merciless town, a lawless town, but instead of reveling in his natural habitat, Lono takes refuge at an outlying church.  There he tries to stifle the demon within, protect the church’s orphans, and aid Father Perez however possible.

But as these stories so often prove, sometimes we need monsters to fight monsters.  When the drug cartel threatens to annex the church, Lono must draw a line in the sand.  And, if you know Lono, that line isn’t stationary.  His line keeps moving toward his enemies until every last one  of them is annihilated.  The question is, once he’s the last devil standing, will he still side with the angels?

Violent, disturbing, frightening – Brother Lono somehow takes the previously established tone dictated by 100 Bullets, devours it, and then spits out something even more gruesome and demented.

Of course, that’s meant as a total compliment.  Azzarello and Risso have created a fitting companion piece to their original series, and if they continue to keep to their high standards, I would love to see them return to this world again and again.

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley – A Book Review

If you come looking for seconds on Scott Pilgrim, you won’t find them.  With that being said, though, Seconds is anything but disappointing.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s new graphic novel features Katie, a woman nearing thirty years of age who leaves her partnership at a restaurant called “Seconds” in order to open a new one.  However, this new restaurant needs a lot of remodeling before it can open, and Katie constantly second-guesses her decision.  Furthermore, her ex-boyfriend shows up at Seconds and she begins to question her decision to leave him as well.  Why is Katie still haunting her old restaurant, you ask?  She lives above it in a little apartment, so she thinks nothing of loitering about the business, chatting up customers, and telling the new chef how to do his job.

Katie begins to see a girl that doesn’t belong around the restaurant and hanging out atop an old dresser in her apartment.  When she checks out the dresser, she finds a batch of mushrooms far back in one of the drawers.  These mushrooms come with a set of instructions that, if followed correctly, will allow the one who ingested them a second chance at just about anything.

Consequently, during her new restaurant’s renovation, the workers find an old pot behind a wall.  Katie brings it home. This pot serves as a catalyst to a supernatural upheaval, one that grows worse with each “do-over” Katie strives to achieve.

While O’Malley’s art is the same, and while some of the jokes are purposefully familiar, this book is completely different than Scott Pilgrim in that Katie’s story is grounded in realty with heavy swatches of the supernatural.  Yet, as dark as it can be, Seconds still retains a hopeful tone, even as Katie suffers through angst and indecision.

O’Malley has captured well that sense of “what-if?” we all dwell upon in our twenties when we know every decision we make will impact the rest of our lives.  In the end, O’Malley, through Katie, provides astute insight in regards to those kinds of thoughts, and while we philosophically can appreciate his message, poor Katie actually has to learn it the hard way.

Seconds is funny, thoughtful, dark, and yet irrefutably optimistic.   O’Malley has created a well-constructed tale that is clearly the result of careful plotting.  It is similar enough to Scott Pilgrim to entertain that character’s fans, yet original enough to delight solely due to its own merits.

 

Neighbors – A Movie Review

There’s no way to avoid the obvious – this movie is hilarious.  Truthfully, I don’t ask much from my comedies, and Neighbors delivered.  The thing just spouted off one joke after another, one visual gag after another, and it kept me laughing throughout.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, a couple sink every penny they have into a new home in a nice, quiet neighborhood in order to give their baby daughter a proper upbringing.  Yeah, the parents have a wild side, and the “grown up” lifestyle is difficult for them, but it isn’t until a frat inexplicably buys the home next to them that they realize just how “old” they really are.  After initially trying to win over the frat guys, they call the cops when the noise doesn’t stop, and from that moment on, it’s war.

Sure, it’s Seth Rogen basically playing the same guy he always plays, but that guy is typically pretty funny.  Rose Byrne absolutely holds her own in the film and is even more funny than Rogen much of the time.  The two guys who really surprised me, though, were Zac Efron and Dave Franco.  They play the frat’s president and vice-president, and they were ridiculously funny.

This is not high-brow stuff, but who cares?  I love to laugh, and this one had me laughing nonstop.  Make sure the kids are in bed, though. You probably know this if you’re familiar with Rogen’s work, but there is major profanity throughout, lots of drug use and references, and plenty of explicit material.

But man, it’s funny.

Trillium by Jeff Lemire – A Book Review

All the accolades celebrating this book are accurate – it is a very special work.

To briefly summarize, Trillium is a story that takes place in both 1921 and 3797.  William Pike is a soldier trying to find himself again after the Great War, and Nika Tensmith is a scientist trying to use the plant called Trillium to develop a vaccine against a sentient virus that has eradicated humanity throughout the universe.  Both are examining a temple, though time and space separates them.  Through a cosmic convergence, they are united, torn apart, replaced, and united yet again all while trying to stave off the deadly approaching virus.

I’ve heard some call Trillium a love story, and that is as good a label as any, I suppose.  But Trillium is so much more than that.  Trillium certainly celebrates the “love at first sight” aspect of these characters, but it also renews our faith in the tenacious human spirit, our capability to stand together and overcome insurmountable obstacles, and our willingness to sacrifice for the good of others.  It speaks to the beauty of bonding with one another, the despair of abandonment, and the desire to become something “more.”

This book truly moved me in all of the ways I’ve mentioned, but it also impressed me through a purely technical aspect.  Trillium is, plainly stated, a perfectly constructed, paced, and executed book.  The panels’ layouts are brilliant and the structure is astounding.  Lemire plays with order and sequence in a fresh, innovative way that both challenges and delights the reader.

Furthermore, Lemire defies genre at every opportunity.  It features trench warfare.  It has futuristic vehicles.  It offers Peruvian natives.  It uses an alien species.  It even tosses in a little steampunk at one point.  The book consists of many elements, many different kinds of story, yet it all blends together to deliver a unique, provocative, engrossing tale.

Trillium really is unlike any other.  Students of the medium will gain much from studying this work, and lovers of story will be utterly satisfied.

Manifest Destiny: Amphibia and Insecta by Dingess, Roberts and Gieni – A Book Review

This first volume of Image Comics’ Manifest Destiny absolutely blew me away and rocketed to the top of my favorite titles.  If you’re unfamiliar with the work, it follows Lewis and Clark’s expedition into the unknown.  They have been officially charged by President Jefferson to explore and map the region.  Unofficially, however, they are to locate and exterminate any threats to American citizens, both natural and supernatural alike.

In this second volume, author Chris Dingess traps the crew in the middle of the Mississippi River.  Their ship lodged against the top of a great underwater arch, much like the giant floral arch they encountered in the previous installment.  Clark leads some men ashore to explore while Lewis stays behind to figure out how to dislodge the ship.  Unfortunately they soon realize an enormous frog monstrosity hunts these waters, and it enjoys the taste of human flesh.

Furthermore, Clark and his men must battle gigantic mosquitoes that appreciate all the human body has to offer, and it’s more than just blood.

Dingess provides an incredibly satisfying solution to both problems, though the crew suffers greatly before an escape is made.  And though this plot may sound a bit silly, I assure you, it had me figuratively on the edge of my seat.  It’s been a while since a book had me in suspense as much as this title did, especially because Lewis and Clark’s own crew members are far more malicious than the creatures they endure.

Matthew Roberts provides beautiful art.  The entire story takes place in the wilds of America, and he draws Nature untamed perfectly.  Furthermore, when it’s time for over-sized frogs and huge mosquitoes to make their appearances, he draws them as absolute terrors.  Honestly, this is not an overt “horror” title, but there are some horrifying moments, to be sure.

And, just as Roberts knows how to draw our natural world, Owen Gieni always chooses the best colors.  I’ve said this about Gieni before, but how someone can make a title full of earth tones so vivid is beyond me.  I feel colorists are always unappreciated, and so I hope you’ll take a moment to recognize Gieni’s immense talent.

Manifest Destiny has it all.  It’s packed with action, suspense, terrifying monsters, organic dialogue, riveting plots and, as the last issue of this volume proves, some potent moments of hilarity.  By far, this is the most satisfying title I’m currently reading.