Brand Building: Wildcats Version 3.0

“You people aren’t just readers, you’re consumers. How special do you feel…?”

Jack Marlowe, who some readers might remember as the alien warrior Spartan from the original WildC.A.T.S. series, has focused his superpowers on the project of creating The Halo Corporation (slogan: “your life… only better!”). Halo’s goal is to use its vast marketing, product placement, advertising, and media clout to quietly take over control of the known world. Marlowe benevolently oversees all aspects of the company, from public relations to product development (including a line of batteries that literally last forever) but keeps some time in his schedule to supervise Cole Cash and Mr. Wax, his team of undercover investigators, mercenaries, and general men-of-all work. While Halo expands its grasp, swallowing up smaller companies and expanding ever faster into the global entertainment business, Wax and Cash labor behind the scenes to solve the mystery of the connection between the beautiful and deadly C.C. Rendozzo and the FBI’s secret “nuclear family” project. Casey et al have created an interesting story line which is regretfully short as the 2003 trade paperback includes only issues 1-6 of Brand Building, closing the story at a tantalizing point. These first issues hint at a clash between the power of government intelligence and the might of mass marketing, played out in the design of human bodies and the smallest details of everyday life.

Brand Building: Wildcats Version 3.0
ISBN: 1401201199
By Joe Casey
Art by Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend
DC Comics/WildStorm 2003

Boys Over Flowers, vols. 1-2

Tsukushi Makino has arrived at Eitoku Academy, the prestigious hothouse where the flowers of society (the children of the super-rich) are nurtured. Or so her parents believe. Eitoku is more like a jungle where predators rule. The F4, Eitoku’s four most sought-after boys, dominate the school. Any students who cross them get red tags in their lockers, warning them that the F4 have declared war. The “flowery four” (can you imagine a clique of American boys comparing themselves to flowers?) drive their victims out of Eitoku with bullying and humiliation; even the teachers are afraid to challenge the sons of Japan’s billionaires. Tsukushi is about to become the first person ever to stand up to the F4.

Tsukushi is the name for a Japanese weed, and like a weed, Tsukushi Makino is a survivor. While this damsel in distress does get rescued once or twice by the enigmatic Rui (he’s a member of the F4, but is he like the others?), it’s not like she was waiting around. Unlike many shoujo heroines, Tsukushi’s not afraid to challenge the boys physically. Stunned by her resistance, Tsukushi’s classmates start to wake up and defy the F4’s rules. In a plot reminiscent of the 80’s classic Pretty in Pink, Domyoji (the ringleader of the F4) is intrigued and tries to buy Tsukushi’s compliance. Domyoji starts to seem genuinely smitten; could the boy who hired students to rape Tsukushi (they failed) possibly reform? At the same time, Tsukushi is developing a crush on Rui. What’s behind his careless facade? Could he ever have feelings for her? Just like in Pretty in Pink, our heroine has to choose whether to stay in her own social world or enter an unfamiliar realm of wealth and status-seeking. Readers will cheer as Tsukushi uses her strength and her wits to stay ahead of her enemies. I highly recommend Boys Over Flowers for any teen library collection. Three volumes have been released to date, with a fourth coming soon.

Boys Over Flowers
Volume 1
ISBN: 1569319960 (0ut of print)
Volume 2
ISBN: 9781569319970
By Yoko Kamio
Viz 2003

Fables, vol. 2: Animal Farm

In the first volume of this Eisner-nominated series, we learned that our beloved fairy-tale characters had been driven from their magical lands by the Adversary and forced to take refuge in the mundane world- Manhattan, to be exact. Those who can pass for human (like quarreling sisters Snow White and Rose Red) live in the city. Those who cannot–the Three Little Pigs, Reynard the Fox, and many others–live hidden from mortal eyes on a huge farm in upstate New York. While the Fable government tries to make life as pleasant as possible at the Farm, a revolution is brewing- a revolution that should look familiar to fans of George Orwell. Egged on by Goldilocks and her violent, revolutionary rhetoric, the Three Little Pigs are plotting a coup. Why should the human-looking Fables control their destinies? And when will the Fables rise up to take back their lands?

Animal Farm is even better than its predecessor, Legends in Exile. Willingham continues to develop his concept of a fairy-tale Diaspora, exploring the Fables’ politics, history, and relationships, while telling one heck of a tale. Fables is literate, funny, and surprising. Like Legends in Exile, Animal Farm is appropriate for older teens; the story necessitates some depiction of violence and the characters use a few bad words. I highly recommend both volumes of Fables for teen or adult library collections. Like the best fairy tales, it continues to amaze me.

Fables, vol. 2: Animal Farm
ISBN: 9781401200770
by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha
DC Comics/Vertigo 2003

The Adventures of Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey

This is not a children’s comic. Yes, the characters are toys. Yes, the book has a wholesome, old-fashioned look to it, but don’t be fooled. This is one twisted little volume. Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey defies classification; while its misbehaving, insanely literate characters and unexpected creepiness have won it a loyal following of adult fans, I know there are teens out there who will take this book to heart. Sock Monkey is like Beatrix Potter on absinthe: our hero, a “mischievous ape,” his friend and straight man Mr. Crow, and a large cast of toys, animals, and more exotic creatures find adventure both in and out of the house. Whether trying to reach “a castle hanging in the clouds” (the chandelier) or return a shrunken head to its native land, Sock Monkey and Mr. Crow are sure to find trouble (or cause it). This reviewer admits that Sock Monkey isn’t for every library, but she highly recommends it to people with big vocabularies and a taste for elegant mayhem.

The Adventures of Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey
ISBN: 1569714908
By Tony Millionaire
Dark Horse Comics 2000

Invincible, vol. 1: Family Matters

In this era of violent superhero tales, in which we’re led to question the nature and heroics of superheroes themselves, I every once in a while long for a story where the good guys are good (though still human) and the heroism is clear, without mixed motives or shady dealings. Invincible is just such a breath of fresh air. Not a terribly new idea — the son of a superhero begins learning his own powers and place in the world — the whole book is nonetheless wonderfully refreshing. It answers some of those long-standing questions about the pedestrian aspect of superheros. What do you do when you return from an alternate dimesion where time flowed faster? You go have a shower and shave. Where do all those vibrant, skin-tight costumes come from? Why, the same tailor, naturally. How do teams form up? Well, you just go out there, do your superhero thing, and hope you meet up with a compatible group who just might give you a chance. Mark Grayson, the teenage son of one of the most powerful superheroes on the planet, has been waiting all his life for his inherited superpowers to kick in, and when they do, he’s right on board with the whole deal. There are some charming, light moments throughout the book, from Mark’s first flight with his dad to conversations with a certain pretty member of Mark’s new team, but the awareness of danger and consequence within the heroes’ roles keeps the book from being fluff or saccharine. Cory Walker and Bill Crabtree’s work on the art is equally lovely and uncluttered, filled with eloquent expressions and light, energetic tones. This title is great for almost all ages, and might make a nice addition to graphic novel collections for kids who are thirsting for superhero stories and who aren’t quite ready for Dark Knight Returns. Don’t let that keep you from getting it for teens, or adults, though — it’s all around good stuff.

Invincible, vol. 1: Family Matters
ISBN: 9781582407111
by Robert Kirkman
Art by Cory Walker and Bill Crabtree
Image Comics 2003

The Victorian, Acts 1-2

The Victorian is a story told backwards, which is appropriate for a saga about time travel, voodoo, occult science, and a mystery that none of the principal characters fully comprehend. Winston Fitzrandolph, a professor of Victorian history with a past full of dark memories, is summoned to New Orleans to examine some antiques for a mysterious patron. Eudora Kincaid, a teenage photographer with a penchant for shady situations, befriends a New Orleans cabdriver. Detectives Leviticus “Doc” Schumpert and Hal Keller investigate a murder and a voodoo shrine. Claude Ballar plots something sinister in an underground stronghold. As the story progresses, crime in 2006 and the activities of The Order of the Blue Rose in the 19th century bring all these unlikely characters together as they are drawn to and chased by the mysterious figure of “The Victorian.” This shadowy, top-hat-wearing being haunts the streets and bayous of Louisiana, terrorizing New Orleans criminals, then vanishing. Writer Trainor Houghton and script-writer Lovern Kindzierski unfold the story with deliberate speed, seemingly unconcerned that readers won’t fully understand what’s going on until the end of this 5-part series. As you read beyond the first Act’s bewildering opening montage of scenes and time periods, you will begin to feel the threads of a complicated story tightening like a spider’s web. The Victorian and his contemporaries in 2006 and 1889 are heading towards an earth-shaking discovery, and all their readers can do is hang on for the ride.

The Victorian
Act 1: Self Realization
ISBN: 9780967368313
Act 2: Self-Immolation
ISBN: 9780967368382
By Trainor Houghton
Art by Lovern Kindzierski, Len Wein, Jim Bakie, Claude St. Aubin, Andrew Pepoy, Chris Chuckry, Richard Starkings, and Jason Levine
Penny Farthing Press 1999, 2002

The Sandman

Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series is one of the classics of the comics world. Much like an English major confessing that they’ve never read Shakespeare, when you tell people you haven’t read Sandman they give you horrified looks and instantly volunteer their collection. And, much like the bereft English major who has never encountered Hamlet or Macbeth, when you do get around to reading Sandman, get ready to be enthralled.

The Sandman series was written between the years 1987 and 1996, and compiled into 10 graphic novels of varying lengths. This past year Neil Gaiman delighted fans and issued an eleventh volume in the Sandman series.

Sandman is a smart series. It is complex and thoughtful. Like all the best stories it’s about consequences and challenges and change. Norman Mailer perhaps characterized Gaiman’s achievement best when he said, “Sandman is a comic strip for intellectuals and I say it’s about time.” Happy reading.

The Sandman series introduces the reader to the world of the Endless. They are not gods. Gods fade and die as their worshippers die and the names of their god’s are forgotten; the Endless simply are. They are Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, and Delirium, and their lost brother Destruction. The narrative of the Sandman books leads the reader through the labyrinthine relationships between the brothers and sisters, and their interactions with the human world.

Gaiman populates his world with a variety of characters drawn from a diverse array of mythologies – Christian, Greek, Norse, Egyptian, British. Gaiman has an open door policy on weaving together religion, mysticism, folklore and reality. His immortal gods rub shoulders with mortals who are drawn into Dream’s world. To this rich tapestry Gaiman adds his own characters, including two of my personal favorites, Lucien, Dream’s librarian, and Matthew, Dream’s somewhat insecure and talkative crow. With all of these threads Gaiman creates his own mythology which weaves in and out of the more familiar tales we know and grew up with.

Its hard to talk about the art work in Sandman. Each story tends to be illustrated by a different artist, which is one of the most fascinating aspects of the series, seeing how all of these different artists conceive of the Sandman world. The main characters remain identifiable. Each of the Endless has their own speech quirk, reflected in the font and color of their text which mirrors their character. There are several artists who worked fairly consistently throughout the series – Malcolm Jones, III, Mark Dringenber, Kelly Jones, Colleen Doran, and in many ways they defined the images of the Sandman universe – the strong lines, and dark colors, and the sheer energy of the art. Other artists like Charles Vess and P. Craig Russell have worked on the series, and have added their interpretations and visions of Dream and his siblings.

The Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes

In 1916 Dream is mistakenly kidnapped and imprisoned in place of his sister Death. Without Dream a rash of ‘sleeping sickness’ sweeps the world leaving those affected in half-lives, as sleepwalkers in daylight hours, and sometimes in a coma like sleep. After waiting over 70 years one of his captors makes a careless move and Dream is finally freed to regain his kingdom and take his revenge. He is weak after 70 years of captivity, and he is without his instruments of power – a mask made of the bones of an ancient god, a pouch of dream sand, and a ruby into which Dream had placed much of his power many centuries before. His quest to retrieve his possessions takes him into the human realm, into dreams and down to Hell. The actions he takes to regain his kingdom have consequences which resonate throughout the rest of the series.

The Sandman, vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes
ISBN: 9781563890116
By Neil Gaiman
Art by Sam Kieth, Mark Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III
DC Comics/Vertigo 1993

The Sandman, vol. 2: The Doll’s House

The Doll’s House contains two separate short stories within a larger narrative. The two stories, “Tales of the Sand,” and “Men of Good Fortune” introduce people from Dream’s past. The stories may initially seem disconnected from the meta-narrative of The Doll’s House but Gaiman doesn’t introduce characters at random, and the past always has consequences for the future.

The broader narrative of The Doll’s House concerns Rose Walker, Unity Kincaid’s granddaughter. Unity Kincaid was one of the children affected by the sleeping sickness during Dream’s imprisonment and in her sleep she was raped, and gave birth to a child. With Dream’s freedom Unity Kincaid has woken up and is searching for her child and grandchild. Rose, in her turn, is searching for her kidnapped little brother. Dream is also looking for Rose’s brother because he is being held captive by a false Dream King and is causing disturbances in the realm of Dream.

The Sandman, vol. 2: The Doll’s House
ISBN: 9780930289591
By Neil Gaiman
Art by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, Steve Parkhouse
DC Comics/Vertigo 1991

The Sandman, vol. 3: Dream Country

Dream Country contains four short stories which explore the nature of the dream, and begin to give some insight into who Dream used to be and how his imprisonment has changed him. “Calliope” is about the muse Calliope, Dream’s former lover and mother of his child, Orpheus. She has been trapped by humans who want her to serve as their inspiration. Her quest for freedom, and her desire for revenge pulls Dream into the story. “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is one of my favorite stories. It explores the power of dreams to shape reality. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” illustrated by Charles Vess is one of the more well known of the Sandman short stories, and many people’s favorite. The artwork is gorgeous, and the subject of the Faerie court being entertained one last time before they leave the human realm is ideally suited for Vess. “Façade” illustrates the consequences of getting what you wish for, and is one of the creepier stories in the Sandman universe.

The Sandman, vol. 3: Dream Country
ISBN: 9781563890161
By Neil Gaiman
Art by Kelly Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran, Malcolm Jones III
DC Comics/Vertigo 1991