Briggs Land by Brian Wood & Mack Chater – A Book Review

I’ve never been disappointed in a Brian Wood book, so when I ran across Briggs Land: State of Grace (Volume 1), I knew I had to check it out.  I’m so glad I did.

The premise is perhaps as relevant as ever in that Briggs Land is a self-proclaimed sovereign nation within the United States.  It has existed since the Civil War, and it’s been a place anyone can go who wants to live an unfettered life.  However, that simple life grew more complex as the years passed, and Briggs Land is now a magnet for extremism, white supremacy, corruption, and domestic abusers.

The current patriarch, Jim Briggs, has been incarcerated for years, but that hasn’t stopped him from ruling Briggs Land with an iron fist.  Yet, his wife, Grace, suspects he means to betray their people, and she can’t allow that.  Grace, who married Jim as a teenager, takes control of Briggs Land, and virtually no one is happy about it.  She must contend with her murderous husband, her conniving grown sons, her treacherous daughters-in-law, her unpredictable citizens, and even the federal government.  But trust me, if anyone can bend Briggs Land to her will, it’s this woman.

Of course, as a graphic novel, I would be remiss to ignore Mack Chater’s artwork.  Chater’s talent is uniquely suited to Briggs Land.  It’s a little rough, yet incredibly detailed and well rendered.  It fits the tone of this book perfectly, as well as the characters themselves.  I’m not sure I’d like this style in a Superman book, but this is nothing like a Superman comic.  Now that I’ve experienced the first volume, I can’t imagine anyone else drawing this title.  It’s a perfect match.

This is a deeply political book featuring violent, manipulative characters.  In fact, I can’t say anyone is particularly innocent, especially the protagonist, Grace Briggs.  However, Grace does have a sense of justice deep within her, but it’s still not apparent how universal that justice is.  She is incredibly helpful to some in need, but I’m not convinced her charity is available to all.

Though the book may not sound like a must-read, believe me when I say it is a captivating story delivered with excellent pacing.  Brian Wood is a master at using story to subtly explore contemporary political and societal issues.  I quickly found myself engaged with the characters and utterly drawn into the unfolding plot.  I completely recommend Briggs Land.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Manifest Destiny: Sasquatch by Dingess and Roberts

This is one of my favorite ongoing series, and Volume 4 entitled Sasquatch is no exception to the previously established excellence!

We finally discover exactly how President Jefferson procured the skull of the Sasquatch which served as the impetus for Lewis and Clark’s true mission westward.  That epiphany alone makes this book completely worth the cover price!

This collection is divided into two story lines.  The first follows Captain Helm and his expedition as they traveled west before Lewis and Clark.  They soon encounter the brutal winter as well as the enigmatic Sasquatch.  Helm is bedeviled by an otherworldly entity, and it’s not Bigfoot.  If you’ve been reading the series, you know the mysterious arches often serve as a signpost to the supernatural.  Helm is drawn to the source of those arches, and it’s not for the faint of heart.

The other story line picks up with Lewis and Clark.  They are literally following in Helm’s footsteps and reaping what he has sown.  That’s not a good thing.  Death awaits them at every turn, and it’s not always from the things that go bump in the night.

As always, Matthew Roberts’ art is magnificent.  This title always flirts a bit with the horror genre, and Roberts’ definitely got to display his special talent for all things gory.  Seriously, this collection is particularly gross.  I mean that as a total compliment.

Chris Dingess continues to deliver a really tight plot that is beginning to align in ways I never expected.  His dialogue and characterization is consistent, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this title “historical fiction,” he certainly did his research regarding Lewis, Clark, Sacagawea and their seminal journey.

Manifest Destiny is exciting, well-written, and expertly drawn with phenomenal color.  I absolutely recommend this title.  You’ll never look at Lewis and Clark the same!

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Locke & Key: Small World by Hill and Rodriguez – A Book Review

Locke & Key proved itself a unique, must-read series years ago.  Written by Joe Hill and primarily drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the series had a very clear beginning, middle, and end.  It also concluded on a good note, which is not always an easy feat to accomplish.

If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it follows the story of the Lockes, three siblings (high school aged and younger) and their mother. They move to the Locke family mansion after their father is murdered. This is the house their father grew up in, and it is full of mystery, horror, and paranormal keys that impart special abilities, as they soon discover.

Small World takes place long before the regular series.  It features an earlier Locke family with what they call the Small World Key.  It can put you into a doll house, take you out of a doll house, or any combination thereof.  This story features a spider that accidentally gets enlarged and set loose upon the family in their mansion.

The art is exquisite, as always, and the story is fine.  Unfortunately, this slim hardcover delivers an incredibly short tale.  The rest of the book is comprised of interviews, alternative covers, guest artists, notes, and the original script.

I won’t lie – considering that this book retails at $14.99, I felt very cheated.  I do admit that I bought it without researching the page length, which happens to be 24.  I did not even think about what the “Deluxe Edition” may mean.  Truthfully, I was unaware a single issue format had previously been released.  But, given the price and the fact that it’s a hardcover, I expected a book more consistent with those qualities.  I saw a new Locke & Key book and I bought it out of sheer loyalty.

The brief story shocked me in relation to its high price, and this ultimately soured me on the book.  As a result, I cannot recommend purchasing Locke & Key: Small World.  I’d pick it up at your local library instead.

(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Patience by Daniel Clowey

I have to admit that when NPR recommended this graphic novel, it did not seem to be something I’d enjoy.  If I’m being completely honest, I judged it by the cover, and the cover did not speak to me.

However, I found myself in a situation in which I had nothing else available to read, and so I gave it a shot.  The art immediately struck me as oversimplified.  Furthermore, the characters were initially completely unlikable while also making ample use of the “f” word.  The colors were far too bold.  In other words, it did not immediately win me over.

In the beginning, the story focuses on two adults—Patience and Jack.  They are truly in love with one another, but both are generally unsuccessful, uncouth, and somewhat rough around the edges.  Neither has made great choices in life; Patience has suffered indignation throughout her past; Jack has virtually no motivation.

Soon enough, Patience discovers she’s pregnant.  Both are elated, but both are also terrified.  They recognize the fact that they are not especially qualified to be parents, but they strive to forge ahead nonetheless.

But then Jack comes home from work to discover Patience has been murdered.

Of course, the authorities pin it on him, but he is eventually found innocent.  Jack is devastated.  His greatest loves—Patience and the unborn child—have been ripped away from him and cut out of his life.  He now has motivation.

The book next skips ahead several decades and we find Jack still searching desperately to find Patience’s killer.  Technology has evolved exponentially while society seems to have devolved.  We even have a few folks who don’t look entirely human.  Jack eventually gains the capability to time travel, and that’s when the book gets really interesting.

I won’t spoil the rest of the graphic novel, but Clowes delivers a story that kept me guessing and impressed me with its originality.  I won’t lie to you—I thought I had the ending all figured out, but Clowes managed to surprise me nonetheless.

This is a time travel story, with Jack jumping around quite a bit, and Clowes meticulously endeavors to make every event consequential to the overall plot.  Everything plays a role in this story—every action has a reaction.  That result may not be immediate, but it invariably happens.  I love the commitment to tight storytelling, I love the attention Clowes pays to time travel’s ramifications, and I love that, in the end, his unlikable characters grow into people for whom I deeply care.  Clowes also forced me to realize that they were actually the same all along—I am alone at fault for misjudging them.

On that note, the art, which I deplored at first, ultimately won me over.  Clowes lines are simple, but his anatomy and perspective are always perfect.  His panels are very straightforward, yet if you look hard enough, you find incredible detail in the little things such as books on the shelves or several doorways within the background of an apartment’s interior.  His colors are very bright in this book, as you can tell by the cover, but those bright colors work to contradict the dark tale unfolding. Perhaps those colors are simply his style, or perhaps those colors are meant to signify an eternal optimism even amidst the savagery surrounding Patience and Jack.  … I could be overthinking that one.

Be aware if you buy this book, there are brief, rather tame, moments of nudity, so you may not want to leave it sitting out for a youngster to grab hold of in the hopes of seeing Batman.  There is also a lot of profanity.

Patience surprised me.  I’ve never read anything quite like it, and it certainly struck me as completely original especially in regards to its medium.  It delivers a love story, a science fiction story, a philosophical take on time and space, a mystery, and a good old tale of revenge.  It studies a man who would do anything to save his soul mate and unborn child, a man who believes in the greater good even as he dives into the muck.  It also comments on how the past can shape the future, for better and for worse, and how sometimes we need to judge the present less harshly because of that fact.  Patience reminds us that we are all a product of what has previously transpired.

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Superman: Son Of Superman by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason – A Book Review

Oh, boy.  To understand Superman’s first volume under the Rebirth movement, you need to understand that the Superman in this book is the Superman we knew in the 80s, 90s, and early-2000s.  This is the Superman who married Lois Lane, the Superman who fought against Doomsday and died, the Superman who returned from the dead.

Why is this confusing, you ask?  Well, this Superman is now living in an alternate reality, one that arrived around 2010.  DC calls it The New 52 universe.  In this softly rebooted universe, everything and everyone got a facelift, modernized, updated.  The Superman in this new universe wore a suit more like armor than tights, had a romance with Wonder Woman, and wasn’t much of a talker.  He died in battle, though, and so the pre-New 52 Superman, who had been hiding out on this alternate Earth with his wife Lois and their son Jon, decides to don the red and blue again because, yeah, Earth needs a Superman.

Batman and Wonder Woman don’t know this new Superman.  No one does.  They don’t know if they can trust him.  They honestly don’t know what to think of him.  This is a really interesting dynamic because this classic version of Superman was the beacon of hope in his old universe—he was the gold standard.  To suddenly be an alien twice over adds an interesting dimension to the character, one that the creators were sure to touch upon.  I can only hope they continue to use it to drive stories.

But the real heart and soul of this book is the arrival of Superman as a family man.  Let’s face it—our classic Superman has always been a dad.  He may not previously have actually had a child, but he basically epitomized the traits we hope for in every great father—brave, selfless, compassionate, assertive, reliable, strong, and even a little boring.

Now Superman acts like a dad for good reason—he is one!  Their son, Jon, is just beginning to develop powers, and watching Superman guide his son through these changes is charming in and of itself.

Jon, who I believe is around ten or so, is an incredibly likable character.  He’s not too naïve, not too sassy, not too polished, but not too rough, either.  They’ve hit a nice tone with him, one that I hope they can continue.

I do believe Lois is getting a bit lost in the mix in this first volume, though.  In my opinion, her inclusion in the action feels a bit forced, and, honestly, there’s a moment at the end of this book where I really questioned Superman’s judgment in allowing a very human Lois to be anywhere near the cataclysmic battle taking place.

As much as the creators have hit the right note with Jon, they are missing the mark just a bit with Lois.  They’ve all been hiding out on this new Earth in order to protect Jon, and so Lois must be content as an anonymous novelist, doing house chores, and sort of playing the role of house wife.  It never felt quite true to the character, but neither did the big action scene in which she participates.  Granted, like Superman himself, getting Lois just right can be tricky.  I trust Tomasi and Gleason will eventually find the right chord for her.

So, yes, much of Son of Superman worked very well.  Seeing Superman as a father is something I very much enjoy, especially because I am a father myself.  It’s fun to be able to relate to him even now as a forty year old man.  Seeing Superman through Jon’s eyes breathes fresh life into the hero, and watching Jon struggle to become a hero in his own right is going to prove fertile ground for future stories.

But speaking of story, Son of Superman faltered with its main conflict.  The Eradicator is back, but I think this is the New 52 version of the character—I was never clear on that, to be honest.  Anyway, as an ancient piece of Kryptonian technology, he’s taken it upon himself to destroy Jonathan Kent, whom he views to be an impure blight against Kryptonian genes due to his human heritage.  Plus, as it happens, he’s got a bunch of Kryptonian souls living inside of him.

Frankly, I found the whole Eradicator plot a bit of a stretch, even by comic book standards.  There are dozens of directions they could have taken in this first volume, why they chose yet another character with an “S” on his chest and very convoluted motive is something of a mystery.  And the dozens of Kryptonian souls trapped inside of the Eradicator really took me out of the story.  It seemed like such a significant event just to kind of throw in there as an aside … it felt forced and unnatural to the general cadence of the book.  In fact, everything with the Eradicator felt a little clunky to me.

Furthermore, along those same lines, the art in Son of Superman is flat-out superb.  Patrick Gleason draws a heroic Superman, a charismatic Jonathan, and a self-reliant Lois.  But his style tends to be a little cartoony—a bit exaggerated.  There are a few installments in the book, however, where both Jorge Jimenez and Dough Mahnke fill in on the pencils.  Both are superb—I’ve been a Mahnke fan for a long while now.  But, their style tends to be a little darker, a little more realistic, a little more chiseled.  Like the storyline itself, the shift in art could be abrupt and jarring.  All of the art is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but the flow is disruptive from installment to installment due to contrasting styles.

Son of Superman is not perfect, but it’s a bold, uplifting direction for Superman and I commend the creators for embarking upon such risk.  Taking one of your flagship characters and making him both a husband and a dad is unconventional to be sure, but I have no doubt this creative team in particular will provide captivating stories to come.  I think we’re all ready for Superman Dad … I know I am.

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Han Solo by Majorie Liu and Mark Brooks – A Book Review

As you know, Disney bought Marvel some time ago, and then Disney bought the Star Wars franchise as well, so it only makes sense that Marvel would return to publishing Star Wars comics.  I have to be honest, I’ve been pleased with virtually every title Marvel has released belonging to the Star Wars universe, and Han Solo is no exception.

This limited series takes place soon after the first destruction of the Death Star.  The premise is rather simple – Han takes on a mission given to him by Leia, whom he seemingly can’t refuse.  He is to rescue some embedded Rebel spies posing as Imperial loyalists.  A famous space race is due to occur near the very planets he is to rescue Leia’s agents, and so Han will use the race as a cover for his real mission.  There’s only one problem – one of those supposed Alliance members is actually a traitor, but they don’t know which one!

Han Solo offers no backstory concerning the icon.  It does not touch upon the origin of his friendship with Chewbacca.  In other words, it steers very clear of any meaty topics the impending movie will likely address.

However, that’s not to say the book is a failure or boring.  Quite the opposite!  In fact, I think this book does a wonderful job establishing an important shift in Han.

I just watched Episodes IV, V, and VI with my young daughters, and I noticed that Han went from being a snarky, selfish pirate to a loyal, selfless hero rather quickly.  Of course, those are movies and have to operate by a different standard of pacing, but when watched in succession it’s a bit jolting.

This series showcases the struggle taking place within Han Solo.  He grapples throughout the book not only with doing the right thing, but also with introspection concerning why he’s doing the right thing at all.  Best of all?  Like Huck Finn, Han has a habit of acting heroically when he doesn’t have time to think.  There is a heart of gold under all that scruffiness, and this book makes a point to shine a spotlight upon it.

Furthermore, we hear a lot in the movies about what a great pilot Han is.  This book takes that to heart while illustrating Han’s skill on multiple occasions.  The race, called the Dragon Void, is designed to disable, even injure, the participants, and so Han must outrace, out think, and outmaneuver his opponents, all while dealing with the Empire as well as a potential traitor on his own ship.

But he does this with his usual swagger, charm, and aloofness.  Han Solo will never stand up front and center and declare himself a hero; he will typically do the right thing while self-deprecating and playing up an aspect of reluctance.  Because of this, the book helps bridge the gap between Han Solo of Star Wars and Han Solo of The Empire Strikes Back.  It hints at the good man into which Han will evolve.

It also works to establish a bit more of Han and Leia’s relationship.  Neither of these two individuals are likely to throw themselves at someone, yet, honestly, the movies progress their relationship along at a pretty fast pace.  The book does an excellent job of inching their romance along, slowly, awkwardly, even confrontationally.  But, by story’s end, there is a spark, an acknowledgement that an epic love story is about to begin.

The art, by the way, is very good.  Mark Brooks has truly captured the characters’ likenesses from film without making them appear too rigid.  His spacecraft are fun while appearing consistent with established mythology and his aliens are varied and interesting.  Best of all, he conveys motion well, especially in regards to the race.  It’s very important that comic book artists are able to literally move a story along from panel to panel, and Brooks manages to service Liu’s pacing well.

If you’re a Star Wars or Han Solo fan, this book will not disappoint.  I know on the surface it seems a little superficial with the clichéd race plot, but Liu offers some deeply interesting characterization and motivation for Han Solo that only enriches the character and grounds his actions in the films.

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Mooncop by Tom Gauld – A Book Review

I discovered Mooncop, published by Drawn & Quarterly, from NPR Book Concierge’s guide to great 2016 reads.  Luckily enough, my local library had a copy available.

Mooncop is a brief read, one that you could probably wrap up in a single sitting.  The concept is that a single moon cop patrols a lone colony on the moon.  This colony is sparsely populated, and the moon cop has virtually nothing to do.  The few citizens left in the colony seem to be leaving due to reassignment or simply yearning greener pastures.  It is a broken-down place, not at all the sort of wondrous settlement we imagine when thinking about the future.

We meet the moon cop well into his career.  He seems to be a staple of the community and well known amongst his fellow colonists.  However, the moon cop can’t help but notice that things are quite as boisterous as in the past, nor are things working quite as well.  In fact, the moon cop soon realizes that the colony’s decrepit machinery is being redistributed or else altogether discontinued.  Not long after that, he finds that more and more people are leaving, and the moon cop quickly suspects that he may very well be the last person on the satellite.

It’s possible to take Mooncop completely at face value.  There’s nothing wrong with doing so, but that may be a disservice and will certainly prove dissatisfying.  Taken literally, the humor within the book may garner a grin or a chuckle.  When read ironically, though, I think it achieves a more fulfilling sort of comedy.  It certainly seems as though Tom Gauld is making fun of ridiculous trends in technology – trends that offer no more than mere amusement that will surely wear off as time passes.  After all, a lunar colony has been settled on the moon, yet it seems to be doing nothing particularly relevant or meaningful and so, as a result, people leave.  The colony lacks purpose, direction, or benefit to its citizens.  Consequently, the inhabitants soon lose their sense of purpose, direction, and any feeling of achievement.  Like so many cases in the past, it aroused great interest only to eventually prove itself nothing more than a novelty.

The great irony is that by having nothing to do and by doing nothing, the moon cop reaches incredibly significant solution rates.  He is, statistically, perhaps the greatest police officer in the history of mankind.  Once again, I think maybe Gauld is commenting on the easy routine many of us fall into in regards to our career.  Instead of searching for new challenges and seeking out interesting, dynamic opportunities, we stick with what we know, we keep doing what we do well, even if that isn’t really doing very much at all.

Ironic humor also derives from the few people on the moon being replaced by machines.  Even a lunar colony suffers from the same fate as America small towns, and, like these small towns, the lunar colony eventually dries up.  The driving force of any colony should be to make sure its population thrives, especially one where no human has ever previously survived.  But, the lunar colony is no exception to commerce, and so thus people are replaced when it’s more economically advantageous.

It’s not all dry, ironic humor, though.  The book, to me, ends on a rather positive note.  I won’t spoil it for you, but it eventually seems to be stating that sometimes happiness can come from an unexpected place even while enduring a hopeless environment.  Sometimes people gain contentment by simply accepting their situation and the people around them and celebrating the positives that exist, no matter how meager.

If Gauld ever reads this, I hope I’m not reaching too far.  English majors, am I right?

There are no other credits given in this book beyond Tom Gauld, so I’m assuming he wrote, drew, inked, and colored this graphic novel.  The art is surprisingly simple.  The people are not much more than stick figures.  Each panel is essentially a horizontal view, much like what you would experience with a basic newspaper comic strip.  The colors throughout are grey, white, and blue, which actually makes for an interesting visual.  What I particularly enjoyed most about Gauld’s art is the line work and crosshatching he utilized to achieve depth.  He must be an incredibly patient man to devote so much time and effort to each panel’s depth, but it really sets the book apart.  Just take a look at the cover and you’ll see it.

I recommend Mooncop to those interested in the medium.  It’s an unusual work worthy of study.  The art, the humor, the social commentary, the overall brevity – they are all unique, especially when compared to what else is being published in the industry.  I’m not sure how much Mooncop would appeal to a casual reader, however.  If read without contemplation, it would probably strike the reader as rather simplistic and unfulfilling.

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