Sunday, February 13, 2011

Y: The Last Man Vol. 1: Unmanned

Writer:  Brian K. Vaughn

Penciller:  Pia Guerra

Inker:  Jose Marzan, Jr.

Collects issues 1-5

Title:  Unmanned

In the summer of 2002, a plague of unknown origin destroyed everything containing a Y chromosome with the exception of one young man and his pet monkey.  The "gendercide" instantaneously exterminated 48% of the global population, or approximately 2.9 billion men.

Now, aided by the mysterious Agent 355, the last human male Yorick Brown must contend with dangerous extremists, a hoped for reunion with a girlfriend on the other side of the globe, and the search for exactly why he's the only man to survive.

Brian K. Vaughn has set up a very interesting world in this series.  The reader is learning about it as Yorick tries to figure out what happened.  The viewpoint cuts to others at times to present the various possibilities.  The ironic part is that, at least at this point in the story, the characters are not exactly sure who caused the death of the men.

Yorik is not a common name.  The best known use of it was in Shakespeare's Hamlet when Hamlet exhumed the skull of Yorick.  Yorick was a court jester whose skull shows that death is unavoidable.  

Another modern usage of Yorik is in the Star Wars:  New Jedi Order series.  In this series, the Yuuzhan Vong use the mighty yorik-trema to attack.  The yorik-trema is a bio-engineered transport vessel.

If the reader were to combine those definitions, it would imply that Yorik Brown is a light hearted man but that death is inevitable for him.  He would also be the bio-engineered system used to transport the plague.  I will be curious to see if any of this proves true.

In the new world, Yorik's mother is the president of the United States.  Yorik undertakes a journey to join up with his mother.  The problem is that a man will be a target for the radical extremists.  So Yorik puts on a cloak and a gas mask to cover his identity.  Along the way Yorik runs into many obstacles. Vaughn does a good job of imagining what the new world would be like.  The classic journey for the hero is a good way of driving the story.  The reader knows it will only be a matter of time before Yorik travels to Australia in search of his girlfriend.

The art by Pia Guerra and Jose Marzan, Jr. does not get in the way of the story.  It is very reminiscent of Chas Truog's art in Grant Morrison's Animal Man.  The panel designs are very basic old school comic book art.  Do not expect the detail or innovative layouts of someone like George Perez.  The art tells the story.  In this day and age, that is something that many artists forget.  The art would be much better if the action led the eye from panel to panel.  In some cases the actions of a character leads the eye to the left.  Unfortunately, this is on the left side of the page so the only option is to read to the right.  With some slight repositioning of the action, the story would flow much better.

Overall this is a very good start to a series.  If you are looking for story driven comics, this is the book for you.


3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1

Writers:  Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gardner Fox

Penciler:  Gene Colan

Inkers:   Gene Colan, Tom Palmer, Vince Colletta, Ernie Chan, Jack Abel
Collects issues 1-12 of Tomb of Dracula

A Recipe for Disaster
When you look at the credits for this collection, you know it is not the ideal situation.  Usually when you put out a new book with four writers, one penciler, and five inkers it means that the book will not be around for long.  If you have not read this collection, give it a chance.
Somehow the various writer changes work.  I can only credit the editors (Stan Lee and Roy Thomas) with keeping the book focused through the many changes in writers.  If you did not read the credits, it would be hard to tell that this was not written by one person.  The characterization stays consistent.  The plot line progresses with out any major changes. 
And what a variety of stories this collection presents.  Included in this book are undead armies, time travel, voodoo, a journey to find oneself, a shipboard mystery and the introduction of Blade the Vampire Hunter.
The initial storyline is a classic.  Down on his luck Frank Drake, along with his best friend and his girlfriend, journeys to visit his ancestral castle.  Unfortunately for him, it is the home of Count Dracula.  It seems that Frank's family changed their last name so as to disassociate themselves from their ancestor.
Of course, things never go as planned.  Dracula is reborn.  One of the ongoing plotlines involves Frank joining others to form a "Scooby" team to take down Dracula.  This would continue to be one of the many storylines throughout the entire series.  
Tomb of Dracula features the early Marvel work of Marv Wolfman.  He does a good job in this collection but does not really hit his stride until shortly after this edition.  Wolfman would make a name for himself as the Dracula writer.  Later on he would become better known as a writer of superhero books.

A Thing of Beauty 
I don't know how else to describe the art of Gene Colan.  He has a unique style that perfectly fits this book.  Colan excels at making each panel moody and mysterious.  He is one of the best at drawing "real" people. 
The art is a little erratic during the early issues.  Not all of the inkers were a good fit for Colan's art.  The two that stand out above the others are Tom Palmer and Colan himself.  The art became perfect for this title when Palmer took over as the full time inker.
Luckily, Colan is strong enough that he was able to keep the art at an above average level in spite of the inking.
Without a doubt, Colan is the best artist at drawing fog and mist.  After reading this book you will look at fog differently.

Who Stalks the Vampire?
Who stalks the vampire is the title of one of the stories in this book.  I would recommend that any reader interested in well done comics should be stalking the book shelves looking for this collection.  And stick with the series, after this things keep getting better.

Highly recommended. 

Monday, January 31, 2011

Kevin Smith's Green Hornet Vol. 1: Sins of the Father

Script:  Kevin Smith
Breakdowns:  Phil Hester
Pencils:  Jonathan Lau

I have been a Green Hornet fan for many years.  A good friend of mine (hi, Dave Mowry) was the main inker for Now Comics version.  When they were starting up the book, Now showed up with the Green Hornet crew at 2 conventions in the Baltimore-DC area.

Among those who attended were writer Ron Fortier, penciller Jeff Butler, Dave, and the cover artist for the first issue-Jim Steranko.  It was one of my favorite convention experiences getting to talk to Steranko.  Ron, Jeff, et al made it a great weekend.  Also in attendance was Van Williams who played the Hornet on the television show.  Van told us many stories of working with Bruce (Kato) Lee.

With this background, I was tentative about Dynamite's revival of the series.  At the urging of Terry Kissinger I sat down and read the first collection over the last few days.  I didn't need to worry.

Kevin Smith would have been a great pulp writer.  Beginning with the final adventure of the original Hornet and Kato through the modern day events that cause the birth of the second generation, Smith wrote a story that stays faithful.  That is not to say that this is an old fashioned story.  The second generation Hornet is the slacker son of the original.  Needless to say, he is far from a polished hero.  His journey through the first five issues make for an exciting comic.  Smith is also the master of knowing the exact moment to include a funny line.  The final pages of issue 4 were a perfect example of this.  When Green Hornet 2 crashes through the roof, he actually thought it would be a good idea.  He learns very quickly that it was not.

I am not sure if the choreography of the fight scenes should be credited to Hester or Lau.  Since Hester is doing the breakdowns, I would assume that he is laying out the fights.  Whoever is doing it has it down to a science.  This book features some of my favorite fight scenes of recent memory.

While the anatomy is weak at times, overall this book boasts good artwork.  The art definitely fits the story.

Highly Recommended.  A good start to a good series.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Introduction to the Comic Book Shelf Review

Welcome!  What is the Comic Book Shelf Review?  It is the home of my reviews of items on my comic book shelf.  This includes graphic novels and trade paperback collections.  Beginning in February, I will be posting reviews on a regular basis.

For reviews of individual issues visit Comics!  A Personal Journal.   My science fiction (with some fantasy) reviews can be found at Science Fiction Times.

I hope to create a blog that will be a resource for novel/collection reviews.  Many blogs review single issues but very few focus on this format.  According to sales figures, this format is growing.  

Join me as I help you navigate the large number of books.