Acme Novelty Library #15 - Book of Jokes II
By Chris Ware
Published by Fantagraphics Books; $10.95 USD

Though this book came out several years ago, I avoided it at the time due to its excessive size (10.5” x 18”!), fearing that it wouldn’t fit on any bookshelf or in a standard comic box. Yet I am a huge fan of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, and so I finally decided, on a whim, to give this a read. This is typically outstanding work from Ware that will appeal to just about everyone. The book is a series of 1-2 page strips focusing on many of Ware’s characters, including Jimmy Corrigan, Quimby the Mouse, Rusty Brown and Big Tex. Tales of Tomorrow is also a favorite sprinkled into the mix, focusing on the hollowness of a world where technology has taken care of every human impulse. The centerfold is a brilliant, 12 month calendar that jumps from 1973 to 2007, showing a sweeping, yet sparse overview of the troubled friendship between Rusty Brown and Chalky White. This issue definitely whets my appetite for the upcoming Rusty Brown book Ware has been working on. If you’ve been avoiding this because of its size, get it. You’ll be glad you did. Highest possible recommendation. Grade 5/5

Gotham Central #23-25
By Greg Rucka, Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano
Published by DC Comics, $2.50 USD each

Coming off the heels of the outstanding “Unresolved” storyline, Greg Rucka returns for three issues of post “War Games” stories. Issues 23-24 deal with an enjoyable, but not particularly memorable story about a corrupt technician who sells “memorabilia” stolen from crime scenes on E-Bay. Montoya find herself on the trail of one of these missing bullets in order to acquit an innocent cop from yet another Internal Affairs investigation. Issue 25 focuses on the crumbling relationship between Batman and the Commissioner of Gotham, who orders the removal of the Bat Signal. Following the tedious, three month long crossover, the police force in GCPD blame Batman for the heavy casualties they suffered. Overall, this title continues to deliver. Michael Lark’s moody, shadowy art will be sorely missed when he leaves the title. Gotham Central is as good as corporate comics get. Grade 4.5/5

Street Angel #4
By Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg
Published by Slave Labor Graphics, $2.95 USD

Unlike some in the blogosphere, I do not think Street Angel is the greatest comic of the year. It’s good, and Jim Rugg is a talented artist, but the story ultimately feels like a piss-take of genre elements – skateboarding teenagers, fighting ninjas, monsters, etc. I like Street Angel, and the covers are especially innovative, but to me it has limited appeal beyond the fanboys who descend weekly upon the comic shops of America like locust. This issue was particularly light on story, as Street Angel essentially spends the entire issue looking for food, which she ultimately finds in a dumpster, only to be discovered by one of her horrified schoolmates. There is not much in the way of conflict, plot or character development. Jim Rugg’s visual depictions of the impoverished inner city are outstanding, and the cover, displaying the title scrawled on a piece of cardboard is striking. Grade 3.5/5

Walking Dead #12-13
By Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn
Published by Image Comics, $2.95 USD each

This book continues its strong characterization and realistic dissection of a world overrun by zombies. I keep waiting for it to start its inevitable downward slide, but Kirkman’s consistent plot, which moves satisfyingly forward with each issue, continues to impress. The characters, having abandoned their farm homestead, come across an apparent Mecca, an abandoned prison, where they intend on taking refuge. But of course, the place is overrun with zombie ex-cons. Charlie Adlard has filled the shoes vacated by Tony Moore nicely, bringing a consistent sense of story to the book, while adding his own touch and Cliff Rathburn’s graytones have become an essential part of the storytelling. Excellent stuff for genre fans, as well as fans of comic books done right. Grade: 4.5/5

Solo #1
By Tim Sale
Published by DC Comics, $4.95 USD

If you’re a fan of Tim Sale’s art, this is for you. Sale demonstrates his versatility, working in many different styles, all effectively, offering his usual stylistic portrayal of superheroes. If you’re looking for in depth stories, then look elsewhere. The only story of any depth was Diana Schutz’s interesting portrayal of a young Supergirl’s first relationship with a normal man. Sale’s art in this piece uses that Silver Age, pixilated 1950’s texture to good effect. Like MTV Unplugged, Solo is also a misnomer, as in many cases, writers (Darwyn Cooke, Diana Schutz, Jeph Loeb and Brian Azzarello), colorists (Dave Stewart and Jose Villarrubia) and letterers contribute to the series of short stories and vignettes. At $4.95 for 48 pages padded out with 6 title pages, this book felt overpriced. But overall it’s a nice book, and the prospect of Richard Corben and Paul Pope in upcoming issues is enticing. Grade 3.5/5

Stray Bullets #35
By David Lapham
Published by El Capitan Books, $3.50 USD

It amazes me the number of people I meet who are into all the great indie comics, who think the artform has limitless potential, and yet they’ve never read Stray Bullets. What makes Stray Bullets so great? The stories. Lapham’s characters are shadows of ourselves, deviant yet familiar. And his pacing is perfect. He deals with themes of childhood, adolescence and adult problems so adeptly, you forget these characters aren’t real. You wish they were. In an industry where even most Marvel and DC titles don’t make it to 36 issues, Lapham has managed 37 (including the two Amy Racecar Color Specials), and 46 if you count the 9 issue mini-series, Murder Me Dead, which could have fit right into Stray Bullets. This most recent issue focuses on a dysfunctional high school relationship and the cruelty, obsessive jealousy and destruction that ultimately follows. It’s a perfect introduction to Stray Bullets, can be read as a standalone, but also fits seamlessly into the larger tapestry Lapham has created. Lapham’s black and white art is clear and detailed, with Kirby’s fluidity. I really hope more people will give Stray Bullets a chance, especially with trades available in both regular and oversized editions. It’s one of the most consistently entertaining titles on the stands. Grade: 5/5

-- Marc Sobel

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