It's been a long time since I've done a batch of Quick Hits reviews, but with an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes stuff going on here as we gear up for the fifth anniversary of COMIC BOOK GALAXY, I find that I have acquired two intimidating stacks of comics and graphic novels. The first stack are those I have yet to even read, which is extraordinarily aggravating to me personally because I almost never get a comic without reading it within 24 hours. But family, work, setting up a new computer and not-yet-but-soon-to-be apparent CBG stuff have made that stack get higher and higher. And as my wife unhelpfully pointed out as we went to bed last night, "It's not like they're even just comics; they're all big, thick books!" Thanks, honey.

There is a second stack, though -- ones I somehow have managed to read in the past few weeks. And while I can't give each of them as in-depth and enduring an analysis as I can, I should at least attempt to quantify them, for myself, for you, for America. And of course, for the children.

Let's go.

By John Hankiewicz
Self-Published; $8.00 USD

This is a beautifully-produced art object by one of the four gifted members of the Holy Consumption art alliance. Hankiewicz can draw very well, as we see in this strange, small pamphlet that seems more than anything to be about juxtaposition and the "dance" of people and objects in a lovingly-rendered space defined by sublime crosshatching and the expert use of black ink. What's missing is any sort of relatable entry point for the new reader unaccustomed to the rhythms Hankiewicz explores in his own way and in his own time. So this one won't be for everyone, but it's certainly a good example of how the minicomics format can allow an artist to literally go anywhere their art will take them. Grade: 4/5

Elsewhere #1
By Gary Sullivan; $3.95 USD

Of course the insides don't always match the expectations set up by that superb cover. So what? Sullivan uses words and images he saw while visiting Japan last year to create a comic all about verisimilitude, and mostly it works. Disorienting, silly, lovely, unknowable. Gary Sullivan took me on his honeymoon in Japan. Let him take you too. For four bucks, the cover alone is a bargain. Grade: 4.5/5

Blecky Yuckarella
By Johnny Ryan
Published by Fantagraphics; $11.95 USD

Ryan's Angry Youth Comics is a pleasure, and probably one I should feel guilty about, but don't. In Blecky Yuckarella it's even harder to feel bad about the laughs Ryan elicits on almost every page. This collection of four-panel strips is mostly gold, essentially Nancy writ wrong. Vomit, rape, candy, shit, and more are all mined for as much surreal comedy as Ryan can find in them. Blecky can catch fish with her ass because she has worms, get it? There was a page strangely torn out of my copy, but, I don't really care: Every page is a new universe of horrible, disgusting comedy. Bring it on, Johnny Ryan. Grade: 4/5

Happy Town vs. Neil Jam
By Neil Fitzpatrick and Justin Madson; $3.00 USD

Fitzpatrick sent me an earlier Neil Jam comic that I never got around to reviewing, but I don't think I would have been doing him any favours anyway; his dadaist tendencies are hobbled by the stiff inelegance of his artwork, and despite a certain facile resemblance to the work of James Kochalka, I have to admit Neil Jam and its big, black-eyed characters leaves me cold. Madson's team-up with him here doesn't do either creator any favours, either. A lack of variety in the artwork and no clear story for the reader to grab on to has me in total agreement with one of Madson's characters in the final panel: "I'm bored." Grade: 2/5

Reunion #1
By Brian Apodaca and Arturo Morales; no price listed

This well-intentioned slice-of-life effort is probably inspired by some of the works of Damon Hurd, but first-timer Apodaca lacks Hurd's narrative sense and consistency, and the artwork by Morales is all over the map, in some spots entirely suited to the story and in others so unconvincing and weak that it jars the reader out of the story (especially any panel involving motor vehicles). I shouldn't criticize the art overmuch, though -- with a story like the one Apodaca clearly wants to tell, I'll accept weak artwork in trade for a sure, resonant narrative (the early "Dick Trouotman" work by Jim Rugg comes to mind). Apodaca's story -- what there is of it -- is confusing and disjointed, and I'm left with only the barest idea of what's happened in the story and no desire to read any more of it until these creators learn more about how to tell a story. Grade: 1.5/5

Firestorm #14
By Stuart Moore, Jamal Igle and Rob Stull
DC Comics; $2.50 USD

Faith in Stuart Moore, (and my good friend Rob Vollmar's obsession with Firestorm) is largely why I even read the preview DC sent of this issue, a new direction for the latest incarnation of a character I didn't even understand why I was reading when I was reading about him in the 1970s. But apparently ol' Ronnie Raymond and Professor What'shisname really lodged themselves in the consciousness of readers of a certain age, and now those readers are funnybook writers. Comics is weird, selah. As for writer Stuart Moore, I have enjoyed a lot of his stuff like Zendra and Para, and he brings his good sense of character and storytelling to the DCU here. Jason Rusch is the new Firestorm (this is the first time I've read about the character since the 1970s), and Moore and Igle make him likable and engaging and feeling quite a bit like someone you might run into on a college compus in the spring of '05. The M.C. Escher-inspired setting in one scene struck me as a little too far over the top, but I credit Moore and Igle for trying something new and interesting. This is a solid start to a new era of an established DC superhero, and no one at all gets their head blown off onscreen or raped from behind. How Moore worked such post-modern subversion into a DCU title at this late date is anybody's guess, but if you have to buy DC superhero comics, this is the sort you should be buying -- well-crafted, decent stuff that might just convince a kid that comics are fun and something meant for them, in addition to the scary old men picking one of every Marvel and DC title off the rack at the comics shop down the street every week*. Grade: 4/5

* I actually saw this not once but twice within a half-hour last week.

Graphic Classics Vol. 3: H.G. Wells
By Rod Lott, Simon Gane, Tom Pomplun and others
Edited by Tom Pomplun
Published by Eureka Productions; $11.95 USD

This is an overhauled edition of a previous version from a few years ago, and it's one of the better of these volumes from Eureka and editor Tom Pomplun, which I was surprised to note because GC stalwart Rick Geary is absent this time out. I hardly missed him, though, and was totally sold by the end of the first story, a supberp adaptation of The Invisible Man. Chalk it up to my knowledge of the character from -- of all places! -- comic books (specifically, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), but I was absolutely riveted by Rod Lott and Simon Gane's masterful depiction of one of Wells's best-known stories. Gane's art is incredibly expressive and effective, combining bold visual confidence with a rock-solid sense of time, place, and storytelling. And the story itself -- and Lott's adaptation, it should be said -- works as well today as Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's take on the character or the original story itself. Griffin's descent into madness is a gripping, human tale and the absolute highlight of this volume. Other great adaptations here include Seth Frail's stark, moody "The Time Machine," and a "War of the Worlds" piece that focuses on the the story of the Orson Welles radio drama of Wells's tale. The Graphic Clasics series has had its ups and downs, and often the stories vary greatly in quality from one to the next, but as always, there are a couple of standout pieces here that more than justify the cover price and make Graphic Classics Vol. 3: H.G. Wells a valuable addition to the library of anyone who appreciates a little literature with their comics. Grade: 4/5

Why Are You Doing This?
By Jason
Fantagraphics Books; $12.95 USD

I'll admit that as much as I loved Hey, Wait... (it was my comic of the year for 2001), Jason's last couple of projects have seemed so similar that they kind of run together in my perception and I lost the plot: That is to say, I forgot just what an incredible storyteller he is. One big difference in this latest graphic novel is colour, with the uni-named Hubert providing subtle, Tintin-style tones that bring Jason's characters and excellent ability to put them in real places into stark relief. The book is a joy to look at, and as is always the case with Fantagraphics, beautifully produced and reproduced. The story is packed with the elements of a good drama, including tragedy, mistaken identity, betrayal and a delightful depiction of an unexpected ally for our poor beleagured main character. Wonderful reading for a rainy afternoon, when all you want is to lose yourself in an unpredictable story of a faraway place with very recognizable people doing exciting and sometimes terrible things with love and humanity at the center of it all. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane

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