Back Issue Bin: Bone

Bone (1991 – 2004, 55 issues)
Written and Illustrated by Jeff Smith

It might not look like it, but Jeff Smith’s magnum opus, Bone is a contemporary Lord of the Rings in comic book form. For years, I saw the images from the series: The funny looking cartoonish protagonist, the menacing rat creatures, the great red dragon. It wasn’t until 2005 that the complete collection was released that I purchased it and began the series. And its taken me five years to finish the series, with many starts and stops along the way. The complete collected edition is designed perfectly for that with about ten “books” within it, and the story grows denser and more history rich as you progress. The end result is a work of high fantasy that is one of the best of the late 20th century/early 21st.

The story centers around three beings from the unseen town of Boneville: The scheming Phoney Bone, the happy go lucky Smiley Bone, and the hero of the story Fone Bone. The series opens on them journeying out of Boneville as a result of one of Phoney’s schemes. To avoid being lynched they have gone into a mysterious forest, in which they encounter the rat creatures, a talking flea, and the Great Red Dragon. Eventually they emerge in the town of Barrelhaven where the story really kicks into gear. Fone meets and develops a crush on farm girl Rose, and Phoney draws the ire of Rose’s guardian, Gran’ma Ben. The early parts are much lighter and mix elements of fantasy and silly cartoon plots. By the the time you reach the second third of the story the fantasy has been amped up and the true plot has been revealed.

Bone draws a lot of its style from the Carl Barks Disney comics of the 1940s and 50s. These were serialized adventure stories that feature cartoon beings. While the slapstick style jokes were there, the emphasis was much more on the mystery and action surrounding the plots of pirate treasure and haunted castles. Here the high fantasy novels of the 1970s and 80s are merged with the “funny book” characters to produce a very original work. Smith is a comic creator who truly has an independent mindset, the entire premise behind Bone is one that could never really sell at one of the big companies. For a short time, Bone was published as part of Image Comics, but Smith pulled the title and brought it back to his own publishing house, Cartoon Books.

I could easily see people passing the series over who would actually really enjoy it if they gave it a chance. The universe created by Jeff Smith is very rich and immersive. By the end of the story you truly feel like you’ve made this epic journey across the land, from a small town in the forest to the great city-fortress to the south. There’s an intricate history that mirrors the story of Aragorn and the broken lineage of royalty in the land. Fone Bone ends up playing a major role in the restoration of this royal line. The artwork in the book is amazingly intricate as well. The series experienced numerous delays, but when you sit down with the whole story before you it is worth it. Not a single issue’s art if below par, and it still stands as one of the most beautiful looking comics I’ve ever read.

Comics Review: Doom Patrol v5 #1-13

Doom Patrol v5 #1-13
Written by Keith Giffen
Art by Andy Clarke

Almost simultaneously Marvel and DC introduced bizarre misfits teams in 1963. Marvel brought the world the X-Men, led by the wheelchair bound Professor X. DC Comics presented Doom Patrol, led by the wheelchair bound Chief. As you well know, only one of these two concepts skyrocketed into great success. That’s not to say Doom Patrol hasn’t been a perennial favorite in the decades that followed. Since the late 1980s, there have been four separate shots at resurrecting the Doom Patrol idea. The most successful was spearheaded by Grant Morrison who took over the second series and brought into the mature readers imprint Vertigo. He injected bits of dadaism and surreality into the series and created a critically acclaimed run. But it didn’t last for much longer after he left. Now Keith Giffen and Andy Clarke are tackling the characters with yet another new angle.

The premise of the Doom Patrol revolves around Niles Caulder aka The Chief. Caulder was a reclusive scientist who had bitterness towards the world. In the interest of his own scientific interests, with a side interest in helping the world, he gathered together three individuals transformed by freak accidents. Pilot Larry Trainor was blasted with strange radiation, forced to wear specially treated bandages to contain his radiation, and could projects hard light version of himself from his body. Rita Farr was a movie actress on the set of her latest picture when she accidentally bathed in mysterious waters and found she could shrink and grow at will. Finally, Cliff Steele was a race car driver fatally injured in an accident. Caulder witnessed it and helped transfer Cliff’s brain is a massive robot body. This trio were often the reluctant aides of Niles Caulder.

In the current series, the Doom Patrol have relocated to Oolong Island, a locale in the DC Universe most recently used as a haven for various mad scientist supervillains. The Island has been “legitimized” and Caulder brings his team in and uses the newly founded nation as his staging ground for illegal experimentation and missions. The trio of members underneath him are completely mistrustful of him and Rita is especially angered when she learns Caulder has brought her ex husband, Steve Dayton along. Dayton is a telepath who originally used his powers to convince Rita to marry him, they even adopted the Teen Titans’ Beast Boy as their son. Once Dayton’s ruse was revealed the marriage fell apart. Now Caulder uses Dayton to attempt to control Rita.

The plots have been pulled into joining the Blackest Night story running through the books as well as delving into dense Doom Patrol continuity. I can’t see someone who hasn’t read the last twenty years of Doom Patrol stories being able to understand this series. There’s a villain reveal in one of the more recently issues that will fall with a thud for anyone who didn’t read the Morrison run. Though Giffen attempts to provide recaps for new readers: there’s a single issue spotlight on Larry Trainor and another on Rita Farr, 32 pages is simply not enough to create an understanding of these vastly difficulty histories. Despite my love of the strangeness of these characters, I have a feeling we will being seeing the cancellation of the series soon. Its odd because DC attempted a complete reboot in 2004 and it failed miserably as well. I will defend the concept of these characters, and I believe they can work. I just have no idea what it would take for them to lead a successful ongoing series.

Comics Review: S.H.I.E.L.D.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1-3
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by Dustin Weaver

Remember reading in the history book about how Galileo fought back the invasion of Galactus on Earth? You probably don’t, as such stories have been hidden in the shadows by the cabal of S.H.I.E.L.D. This mysterious organization operates from the catacombs of Rome, in the city of Urbis Immortalis. They have discovered how the world will end and fight those forces that seek to bring it about too early. In addition they push humanity’s evolution forward by giving support to all the great minds through out history. In the opening of this series its 1953 and a young man named Leonid is recruited by Agents Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark.  Leonid learns his father was a super being named the Night Machine who has been in battle with S.H.I.E.L.D. for years. Night Machine causes Leonid to question the true purposes of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the first issue ends with the young man meeting Leonard da Vinci, who has traveled through time to deliver a mysterious device.

S.H.I.E.L.D has all the trappings of a great Grant Morrison comic and these first few issues have already made me think of series like The Invisibles and Morrison’s Batman. These are comics where you have an avalanche of ideas in a single issue, that force you to re-read just to make sure you got each and every little concept. The original premise of S.H.I.E.L.D, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, the group was created by  Nick Fury as a espionage version of the United Nations that worked in the shadows. Hickman’s series purports to do a little retroactive continuity work (retcon) by establishing that the organization was around long before Fury. It remains to be seen if this series in the greater continuity of the Marvel Universe, or its own little pocket, but it does seem to feature cameos by a lot of mainstays.

Why S.H.I.E.L.D stands out so strongly from the rest of the Marvel titles may be because it was originally a creator-owned idea. Hickman hadn’t tied to the MU until his work on Secret Warriors and Fantastic Four gained him acclaim at the company. He’s managed to create a little corner for himself at Marvel and for the incredibly nerdy-minded of us if you pay close enough attention you see references in one book to something going on in the other. Smartly, these are not details that hinge on you understanding the plot, but make you grin when you realize the connections. Its outstanding work from a writer who is still early in his career. Very excited to see what Hickman gets up to in the coming years.

Comic Quick Hits

Brightest Day #7 (of 26)

This is the “spine” of the DC Universe for the next year, following characters resurrected at the end of Blackest Night. And this particular issue has been hyped as the “every thing is revealed” moment. Former spectral hero Deadman aka Boston Brand comes in direct contact with the mysterious White Lantern, and when he does all the resurrected heroes and villains hear a voice telling them why they were brought back. Of course this voice is vague as hell, but the most interesting for me was Maxwell Lord seeing that his destiny is kill a character whose book is coincidentally on the ropes for cancellation. As a stand alone story, it wasn’t too great, but for the overall narrative it does set an interesting direction for things.

Superman:  The Last Family of Krypton #1 (of 3)

DC returns to its Elseworlds imprint, a focus on “What If?”, parallel reality type stories. The conceit here is that the entire El family (Jor, Lara, and little Kal) escape Krypton and arrive on Earth in the 1970s. Jor immediately uses his alien technology to make life better for humanity, while Lara pushes the philosophic belief of Rao-ology. Lara is the focus here and becomes concerned about Kal’s isolation in the world, so she begins interviewing Earth family’s to find one he can live with in disguise to learn what it is to be human. Guess who she picks. There’s some sub plot threads involving Jor and his Jorcorp, a company developing household devices using Krypton tech, and the child prodigy Jor hires (said prodigy is a very familiar figure in the Superman mythos). What I really enjoyed was a big divergence from the standard Superman story that centers around Lara and has me looking forward to the rest of the series.

Shadowland #2 (of 5)

Marvel’s urban NYC event continues. Daredevil, still inexplicably wearing this new costume, is confronted by old friends Iron Fist, Luke Cage, Misty Knight, Colleen Wing, and Spider-Man. Meanwhile, The Kingpin and Lady Bullseye summon a very familiar Marvel comics character to help in their fight. I’m most intrigued about Moon Knight’s involvement in the story. He gets himself captured by Daredevil’s forces and locked up in the Hand’s prison. Moon Knight has always been a great premise to me, like a completely insane Batman with multiple personalities. The mini-series  is keeping me hooked, which is quite an accomplishment, as it features characters I have never clicked with. Definitely much better than Marvel’s last big event book, Siege. I think it works in part because its keeping the scale small and local.

Tune-age: Arcade Fire – "Suburbs"

Arcade Fire – Suburbs (2010, Merge Records)

To try and define the Arcade Fire’s sound is an impossible task. When I first heard “Wake Up” in Brent Hamric’s car in the spring of 2004 I immediately thought of The Flaming Lips. One track later and that was changed. Three albums later and they are still too eclectic to pin down. A lot of music critics wait like vultures for the bands they love or others love to slip up, so that they can pounce and claim that the grandeur that once was is lost. Arcade Fire seems to dare them to try it, by dropping the dark gloom of Neon Bible and adopting a more pop-folk vibe. There’s some familiar sounds to bring you back in, but then suddenly things change up and we hear some arrangements and instruments that show the band is still testing its limits.

It seemed a natural fit for Arcade Fire to score a film, and they did so last fall for Richard Kelly on The Box. While the music there resembled Bernard Hermann more than any of their typical music, they still have a cinematic sound in this latest album. It’s a very West Coast, bouncier collection of songs. Every few tracks there’s that dark underscoring that comes through, but for the most part this is a pop-ier album, very much music you could dance to. Like all their work, the cinematic qualities come from the story being told in the lyrics. Each album has felt like a dystopian novel, touching on themes of the end of our civilization. It sounds like heavy material to be working with, but they manage to make tracks that you tap your foot to. The voices in these song stories are typically disaffected twenty-somethings reflecting on the desolation around them.

The opening track “The Suburbs”, has a bouncy piano underscoring the song which came as quite a jolt when I started the album. For the first time on their albums, I find lead singer Win Butler sounding like a spiritual successor to Neil Young. And this opening song, like a couple others, have a folk-rock element to them. “Ready to Start” is the track you expect to hear on an Arcade Fire album, there’s pounding drums and alt-pop guitar riff. References are made in the lyrics to “the kids”, a recurring noun in all their albums, that seems to represent youth in general who has an awareness above the adults. “Modern Man” is back in Neil Young country, but also made me think of some of The Talking Heads’ work in the early 1980s and is a song I would not have guessed was an Arcade Fire song if I didn’t already know it. “Rococo” seems to be a mix of expected elements and this new West Coast folk sound being incorporated now. “The kids” are back again, a force of apathetic destruction, constructing massive pillars of junk to burn down. “Empty Room” begins with some wonderfully light strings and then turns into a classic right out of the standard playbook, with some very Kate Bush like vocals led by Chassagne Butler. “City With No Children” evokes thoughts of *gasp* Bruce Springsteen, a comparison I never thought I would make. There’s a strong of sense of small town nostalgia woven through the song and even the arrangement feels like a track off Thunder Road.

“Half Light I” and Half Light II” continue the nostalgia trip, and I have a feeling the band made this album as homage to their own youths growing up in the 1980s and the music that filled their lives during that time. It is a good explanation for how the album is able to evoke memories of so many different artists of that time, yet is still able to not go off the rails. “Suburban War” comes back to Springsteen but not as heavily, its much more Arcade Fire gloomy. “Month of May” is yet another splash of ice cold water as the band is backed by the unceasing guitar of what could easily be a Ramones song and more mentions of “the kids” as a defiant force of purity. “Wasted Hours” is back to folk pop guitars and continues the themes of adolescents tooling around the desolate wastes of Southwestern small towns and looking back on this time as something to be missed. “Deep Blue” is one of the few tracks where Win stands alone, his voice turned into an echo-y voice mourning the past, but also makes use of that same bouncy piano rhythm from the first track. “We Used to Wait For It” continues on from “Deep Blue”, now talking about the time spent by youth in anticipation of the future, only to look back on their youth as adults and want to somehow return to it. “Sprawl I (Flatland)” is Win Butler returning to his childhood home, singing out from open landscape and becoming lost looking for it. This is a track so full of narrative elements, it makes you want the band to compose an opera. And where that songs leaves us mournful, “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond) is a chorus of angels beyond the hills that surround this small town lifting our protagonist up and away. The album wraps up with a short and haunting track, reprising the opening song, where Win states that if he could have the time back he wasted as a child, he’d simply waste it again.

Arcade Fire proves that they are about revisiting the same ideas thematically, but constantly experimenting with their sound. This by far the most listener friendly album they have released and every track could easily find a place in the radio rotation. They take a lot of chances and flirt with mainstream sounds, only insomuch as they hearken back to brothers Win and Reg Butler’s youth in the suburbs outside of Houston. For all its slightly dark atmosphere at times, there’s a revelry in being a kid without responsibilities or being forced mete out time as a valuable commodity. A great album from one of the best bands of the 21st century.

Between the Panels: REBELS v2

REBELS v2 #1-18
Written by Tony Bedard
Art by Andy Clarke and Claude St. Aubin

DC Comics has been building a rich science fiction mythos since the 1950s with characters like Captain Comet and Adam Strange. In the 1960s, we were given the futuristic teen team the Legion of Super-Heroes. In the 1980s, elements from the present day DC Universe and alien races introduced in Legion stories came together in an event called Invasion! In this story we were introduced to Vril Dox and a group of aliens all imprisoned by beings bent on invading the Earth. By the end, Dox and company escaped and would go on to form LEGION (Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network). These galactic peace-keepers would eventually be usurped by Dox’s rapidly intelligent newborn, Lyrl and form the REBELS (Revolutionary Elite Brigade to Eradicate L.E.G.I.O.N. Supremacy). The entire series met with cancellation in the mid-90s, though the characters would continue to pop up from time to time. Recently, the concept was revived and it is hitting on all cylinders, making sure to avoid the mistakes of its predecessors.

The new series opens with Vril Dox being chased to Earth by his soldiers that used to work for him in LEGION. It’s quickly revealed that the majority of planets under LEGION’s protection have been taken over by the Star Conqueror, a parasitic species of starfish parasites that attach themselves to humanoid hosts and communicate collectively. Dox goes about recruiting aliens who have escaped the infestation, including his now adolescent son, Lyrl. The group works to defeat the Star Conqueror through schemes developed by Dox. Along the way he recruits Captain Comet, Adam Strange, Starfire, and many obscure alien species. The entire first year of the series is taken up by the battle with the Star Conqueror and, while that seems like a long time to stretch a story out it is very entertaining.

Vril Dox is one of those anti-heroic characters that is so much fun to read. He’s the son of Superman villain Brainiac, but instead of going for galaxy conquering through mechanical beasties like his pop, Dox has opted for using diplomacy and backroom deals to conquer. He does offer peace for the systems that get LEGION protection, but there always seems to be an interesting catch. More often than not, his schemes involve putting his closest comrades in the path of destruction without them being aware til the moment has passed. He also possess zero sentimentality, as exhibited in the way he doesn’t hesitate to turn on his equally nefarious son Lyrl.

Because the series is part of the shared DC Universe, its inevitable that big events will crossover. During Blackest Night, where black rings were resurrecting the dead, Dox encountered the deceased mother of his child, Stealth. The issue plays with some of the ideas Geoff Johns has developed with various colors of the Universal Spectrum, and Dox ends up in possession of a yellow Sinestro Corps ring for a short time. Another bit of fallout from the Green Lantern comics is that the Vega System, an area of space that was allowed to be autonomous for millenia is now opened up, and Dox quickly swoops in and gets involved in an arranged marriage with matriarch of Tamaran, Komand’r to bring the planet under the umbrella of LEGION. The most recent storyline finds Dox’s father, Brainiac being placed in a prison on their home planet Colu, but of course escaping and this time going after his offspring.

If you are looking for a fun space faring series that focuses on one of the smartest villains in DC this would be your thing. In addition to Dox, there was some interesting work done with Captain Comet recently. He was a superhero in the 1950s, who left earth in the early 60s, and returns to visit the graves of his family. There’s some interesting things being said about the cost of immortality when those around you aren’t, and it makes me hopeful to see the development of that character in the series as well.

Comic Quick Hits

Action Comics #891

Paul Cornell delivers yet another awesome issue of his run on Action. Instead of focusing on the adventures of Superman, Cornell has opted to make Lex Luthor the focus of the series. Its hard to pull off villain-centric books by Cornell plays into the whole super scientist aspect of the character. There’s even the incorporation of long time Captain Marvel villain Mr. Mind, which makes me instantly love the issue. When you can have a mind controlling Venusian caterpillar in your story you have won me over. This has quickly become one of my read as soon as a I can books.

The Flash #4

A decent fun issue that continues building towards something. I can’t help but feel Johns is stretching the story a lot here. What’s gone down in these first four issues could have been told in two. With hints towards the next storyline, “Flashpoint”, this can come off as feeling like killing time till then. Its well written though, and the future Rogues of the 25th Century are interesting, in that they model themselves after villains but are police in their era. We get some interesting info about a possible path for Flash’s wife, Iris, and I wonder if this is something Johns will carry through on. Francis Manapul’s art is amazing though, he’s one of the best artists I have ever seen on this character, really captures speed on the page.

Green Lantern #56

Green Lantern just can’t fail. With Geoff Johns’ development of the other colors in the universal spectrum it has really made the Green Lantern mythos absolutely riveting. This issue spotlights Larfleeze, the Orange Lantern, whose power comes from greed. There’s a brilliant bit where Larfleeze has learned of the Santa Claus myth and has plans to force the fat man to give him every thing he desires. It’s just one of those clever little bits that makes the comic so much fun. Long time GL baddie Hector Hammond also plays a major role and it has me anticipating next month and the continuation of this story. Also, Doug Mahnke’s art is spectacular.

Green Lantern Corps #50

There’s some interesting things going on in the GL Corps. This issue we learn that the Cyborg Superman is back from the dead and, because he is a machine, is invisible to death. He believes the answer lies with the robotic Alpha Lanterns who police the Corps. At the same time we get some info about the mysterious figure who is plotting behind the scenes. My guess is that is Appa Ali Apsa, one of the Guardians of the Universe who went crazy years ago. The mystery here, and also popping up in the solo Green Lantern book definitely has me hooked.

Justice League: Generation Lost #6 (of 26)

Just when I was beginning to tire of this series, Winick and Giffen deliver an awesome issue! The majority of this issue jumps back to #1 when Captain Atom left Earth’s atmosphere to release an atomic explosion he absorbed. The way his power work are he absorbs the explosion, gets displaced in time for a few hours, and then ends up back in the present. The place he ends up in reveals some things about the effects of Max Lord’s plan if he and the League fail to stop it. It’s also one of the first times I’ve clicked with Captain Atom character. Conceptually I’ve always liked him, but never seen an applied version that I enjoyed. After reading this, I’m really hoping Cap plays a bigger part in the story.