12/31/2008

It's a Nikon D90!

Returning Guest-Star: Victor Cajiao
Nothing wrong with the camera. It's a fine model. But you'd better be using one of these babies before getting snooty about your landscape photography. While I was never great with the square format, one of my favorite cameras I owned was a Yashica Mat TLR. I would have still loved to been able to afford a Hasselblad.

12/21/2008

Short Pamphlet Reviews

A brief rundown of a few recently read pamphlets.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie, Laurenn McCubbin, Marc Ellerby, Matthew Wilson

I haven't read the original miniseries, which was based on the idea of the magic of pop music. The lead story Pull Shapes is a beautifully illustrated character piece about the somewhat immature Penny B, a woman who derives her magic from dancing to music. The backup stories aren't as compelling. She Who Bleeds for Your Entertainment is about the dual portrayal of women in music as both victims and empowering figures. Murder on the Dance Floor is a lighthearted piece about how the right kind of music can change the mood and diffuse a tense situation.

Glamourpuss #4

Dave Sim continues tracing photorealistic art by analyzing the development of Alex Raymond's extreme fine line inking technique using brushes - He christens it the nightingale style. After he rejects the conventional explanation of how Raymond achieved the effect, he claims to have found another way to successfully duplicate the results (The reader can judge Sim's copy of Rip Kirby panels throughout the issue), but won't reveal how. As with every previous issue, his obsessive shop talk is mixed with eye-catching fashion illustrations and fake ads. These drawings are some of the best so far in the series, so maybe he does know what he's talking about. Heh. His satire, as usual, is still hit or miss and contains more than a little condescension. This disconnect between the fashion material and art instruction is linked by Sim's formalist fetish for figure drawing.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #1
Writer: Landry Walker
Artists: Eric Jones, Pat Brosseau, Joey Mason

Why does every children's comic book DC puts out feel like it was also designed for the fanboy? Three pages in and the series is already cracking jokes about Kara being a "secret weapon". This is basically a fish-out-of-water story aimed at older children, with the super-powered alien functioning as a stand-in for the middle school student. Kara's developing powers work as a metaphor for the awkwardness of early adolescence. This is the gawkiest visual interpretation of Supergirl being currently published. As if the folks at DC didn't find her modest attire androgynous enough, she's given a boyishly short haircut. All she needs now are braces. The brightly colored art is similar to the retro look used in many Cartoon Network original programming. This could be a successful book, assuming kids still visit comic book stores these days.

Secret Invasion #8
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Lenil Francis Yu, Mark Morales, Laura Martin, Chris Eliopoulos

The final issue to this chaotic miniseries continues the rather confusingly staged Central Park showdown between the Skrulls and Earth's defenders from the last issue. It's the Skrulls for Pete's sake, so it's no surprise who wins. But Tony Stark gets blamed for the invasion, and Norman Osborne is celebrated as a hero, proving once again that Marvel Earth's media is run by a bunch of hapless idiots. Oh, the issue leads into the Dark Reign event arc.

Secret Invasion: Dark Reign #1
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Alex Maleev, Dean White, Chris Eliopoulos

This one-shot sets up the next link in Marvel's chain of event crossovers. Having replaced Tony Stark as the guy in charge of the Initiative and the Avengers, Norman Osborne convenes a new secret cabal consisting of Emma Frost, Namor, Loki, Dr. Doom and the Hood, for who knows what end. No one, except maybe the Hood, seems wiling to work with Osborne. But then he concludes the meeting by revealing some shadowy enforcer, which seems to achieve the desired effect. For an issue full of talking heads, the dialogue has all the flavor of a corporate board discussing a hostile takeover rather than a villainous gathering plotting to rule the world. Where's the bombastic pronouncements from Doom and Namor? Or Emma Frost's dry wit? As for the visuals, the characters, except Doom, appear rather mundane. Namor in particular looks like an unshaven, smelly, fat slob. What's up with that?

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1
Writer: Mike Mignola
Artist: Duncan Fegredo, Dave Stewart

Mignola continues to add even more layers to his already texturally dense world. Hellboy finally learns that the fairie folk are preparing for war. He then accepts an invitation to hunt for giants in the English countryside. Most space is used for recapping past events, building tension amongst the supernatural races, and explaining the traditions of the mysterious Wild Hunt. But it does end in a clever cliffhanger. Expect to see some two-fisted action involving our hero next issue.

12/14/2008

Speak of the Devil

Speak of The Devil HardcoverFor a series produced by Gilbert Hernandez, Speak of The Devil arrived in stores with little fanfare - around the same time of the publication of Chance in Hell. Both works are based on the conceit that they are comic book adaptations of films that a certain Palomar character played a role in. While this meta-fictional layer is not required to understand the story, it can affect the readers' perception of the work. While Chance in Hell mimics more high-minded arthouse cinema, Speak of the Devil is more of a sleazy, exploitative noir thriller. Certainly the stark black and white aesthetic, the plot-driven story, the terrible dialogue, the supporting beatnik characters, the suburban anomie, the widescreen panels used as establishing shots suggest a movie from the 60s or 70s, despite some anachronistic details. The sexual fetishism depicted would have been perceived as rather explicit several decades ago, contrasted with the far more graphic violence, accurately portrays the conflicting, hypocritical, contemporary double standards towards censoring sex and violence.

A neighborhood peeping tom wearing a leering devil mask takes particular interest in watching the sexual antics of businessman Walter and his younger second wife Linda Castillo. At first concerned enough to report to the police after catching him peeping through their window, Linda's exhibitionist side later gets the better of her. The peeping tom is however Walter's teenage daughter from his first marriage Valentina, a talented competitive gymnast. Her own sexually unresponsive boyfriend Paul soon develops an interest in the peeping tom. Their mutual sexual obsessions lead the three down a dark path of murder and more illicit behavior.

Speak of The Devil part 1
There's not a whole lot to be said about the story without revealing more of the plot other than to say that all of main characters come to a tragic end. There's even a kind of twist ending to suggest the evil perpetuated by them continues on. For all the successful reproduction of film noir conventions, this is still a comic book created by one of medium's greatest living practitioners. Hernandez paces the story well and reveals the twists effectively through six-part pamphlet serialization. Needless to say his visuals are brilliant. While the constraints of space and the b-movie narrative limit the complexity of this work, his rough, cartoony, but evocative style captures the repressive atmosphere of the period and the disturbing sexuality the characters delve into. The black costume Valentina dons to conceal her feminine features is a nice visual effect. The unblinking eyes of the Devil mask, mirrored in the eyes of later murder victims, is particularly disturbing.

Speal of The Devil part 4
While Speak of the Devil is fairly straightforward in serving-up its sex and violence, something a bit more emotionally ambiguous and lyrical emerges as the characters come closer to their inevitable doom. For all the perversity perpetuated by Valentina and her cohorts, this is still a story about young people caught-up in powerful emotions they don't quiet understand, and ultimately undone by them.

12/05/2008