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NBM Publishing

Written and Drawn by Lance Tooks

“Between the Devil and Miles Davis” brings Tooks’ amazing series to a resolution, and frankly I’m sad to see it end. This has been one of the more quietly interesting “sagas” (I use that word very loosely) to hit the stands over the last year or so, and Tooks has proven to be a creative force to be reckoned with for years to come.

Volume four introduces us to Amo Tanzer, a journalist who’s taken cynicism to a whole new level. Once one of the hottest newspaper writers in New York, she has long since been out on her own and peddling her “edgy” profile and writing to the magazine trade, and that error is finally catching up to her. She’s also feeling pigeonholed, because as a Black woman, she’s been essentially stuck with the “urban” beat for the primary outlet for her work. She drinks too much, smokes too much, and is indiscreet with her love affairs. In short, she’s not in a good place. But when she stumbles away from a wreck involving the cab she’s rising in and finds herself in a bar she’s never seen before, her life is going to change overnight.

Thematically, “Miles Davis” slides in quite nicely with the earlier books. These books have been about choices, and the way our choices drastically alter our fates, even when they’re seemingly so small. As Amo has been procrastinating on completing her book on Miles Davis, she hasn’t really seen how her choices have laid out her path. So as the bartender at this mysterious joint begins to pick her brain, Amo finds herself opened up to things in herself she didn’t truly understand, and from there, her course will drastically change.

It’s hard to describe Tooks’ work without giving too much away, really. He’s very subtle in how he puts his pieces together on the table, and while he’s leading you with his narrative, you want to experience it with a clean mental slate. Artistically and dialogue-wise, this is wonderful work, and I advise those looking for mature, literary work to seek it out.

Marc Mason

Written and Drawn by Rick Geary

Geary delivers another in his outstanding “A Treasury of Victorian Murder” series here, discussing one of the most notorious murder cases in the history of Scotland. Smith, a young woman from a good family, was prone to romantic and adventurous longing, and she found a solid connection for that in her life with Emile L’Anglier. Unfortunately, her father didn’t approve of L’Anglier, as he was a foreigner and from a lower class. But the pair quietly persisted. At least, that is, until Smith found someone else. Then, knowing that L’Anglier would never willingly leave her orbit, she took it upon herself to bump the poor bastard off by poisoning him with arsenic in his tea over a matter of weeks.

Like any modern celebrity trial, though, Smith had nothing but the best in attorneys, and fond a way to escape with a not-guilty verdict. But it’s only in reading the full story, painstakingly recreated by the amazing Geary, that you see just how this astonishing bit of wrongdoing could fully succeed… and see how Smith would go on to lead a surprisingly influential life.

What impresses you throughout this series is not just how much research Geary has done into these murders. Instead, it is the sense of storytelling he brings to the table, and the way he paces out the steps to the crimes. This book actually opens in media res as L’Anglier returns home from seeing his “Mimi”, one his last legs and near to breathing his last, giving us a feel for his last hours before going back and telling his story. It gives the reader an immediate stock in the poor bastard’s fate, which is an incredibly smart choice. For that reason, and other reasons of high quality, this remains a highly recommended series.

Marc Mason

Edited by Ted Rall

The ATTITUDE series has been kind of hit and miss to date, and that trend continues with this volume. Unfortunately, this one is mostly a miss.

I happen to be a big fan of webcomics, so I’m always pleased to see some of those artists get some time in the spotlight and start seeing their due, but the problem with this book is that too many of the choices here lack the talent and compelling material to get that spotlight. Yes, there are some excellent creators who show up here; any book that Nicholas Gurewitch shows up in automatically has some compelling reading in it. But too many other artists here like Eric Millikan spend their time beating dead horses and not honing their artistic craft, and the work is painful to the eye as well as the brain.

The series of books itself has had its best success when focusing on individual talents, like Stephanie McMillan, and I really think that’s they way to continue to lean. Anthologies can be dodgy to put together on the best day, and when compiling for a project of this nature, you’re just bound to run into trouble in keeping a consistent quality to who is profiled. I applaud the idea here, but cannot do the same for the execution.

Marc Mason

Written by David Axe and Drawn by Steven Olexa

Is war an addiction? That’s the question posed by embedded journalist Axe in his first graphic novel. Along with artist Olexa, he brings to life his first experiences in Iraq and how they changed the course of his life… or what may be left of it if he continues the course he charts within this story.

The story opens with Axe sill a youth, watching the original Iraqi conflict on television in 1991. When his mother forces him to turn off the coverage, reminding him he can “Watch the war tomorrow,” a fuse is lit in the boy’s mind, and it comes as no surprise that he must take his television obsession to the next level as an adult.

After pounding on his editor and emotionally shattering his girlfriend, Axe journeys to the Middle East, ostensibly to report on the upcoming elections. However, he reveals his real purpose while praying: Axe wants to experience the violence and finally feel what he believes will be “alive.” However, that plan is delayed, as he learns that war is not the constant adrenaline rush he believes it to be.

All the while, he is writing letters about his trip to his friend (or brother- it’s never explained) Geoff, a veteran himself. It is clear that Axe has discovered that his soul has been lacking, but the ultimate truth is that his addiction to the “thrill” of being under fire doesn’t make him any more fulfilled. And that is something that will cost him everything if he isn’t able to stop his downward spiral. It’s a brutal look at a man who is so empty, so devoid of the ability to appreciate his life, that you become very impassive about what happens to him.

Indeed, that’s the one real flaw in the story. Axe’s editor, at one point, chastises his stories for being too passionate. Yet, as this book progresses, none of that passion enters into the narrative. Axe tells his story in detached fashion, and while it’s still very good, you can only imagine how it would read if his obvious zest for the experience was coming through stronger. It’s precisely the kind of choice that prevents a good book from being truly great.

Olexa continues NBM’s amazing run of digging up new artists whose work knocks you out. What an astonishing looking book, with page after page of humanity-infused panels, photo-realistic figures, and frightening detail (both physical and emotional). I’m certain we’ll see more of him soon.

Marc Mason

Written by Allan Gross and Drawn by Jerry Carr

Months back, at The Shoot, I reviewed volume one of this series and found it to be a charming, if lightweight, little book. CRYPTOZOO mixes THE THIN MAN with monsters, basically; Tork and Tara Darwyn wander the world in search and study of “hidden animals.” Those would be such creatures as Bigfoot, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, and Dick Cheney. And in-between adventures, Tara teaches young children and Tork gets into trouble. Pretty much a classic Hollywood set-up, which I pointed out in my original review.

Volume two expands the potential for the series by bringing it focus. The first book covered a number of short stories, but this effort is one long story, and the series is markedly improved for it. As a child, Tork had run afoul of an ancient Thunderbird (a large flying bird), acquiring a curse for his troubles. Now, twenty years later, his dreams are consumed by memories of the childhood incident, and large scratch marks are appearing on his body during the night.

By broadening the scope of the story, we not only see the narrative breathe a bit easier, but it allows for more interplay and development between Tork and Tara. Their marriage can’t be completely perfect and be believable, so some quietly amusing stress comes into play, especially because Tara’s livelihood as a teacher is being threatened as well. But the main thrust of the book is the fun, adventurous spirit of the Darwyns’ lives together, and that comes across well. The art is colorful and energetic, and the dialogue snappy, making this a book that’s fun for young and old. I fully expect to see it on screen at some point down the road.

Marc Mason


Clerks II - July 21, 2006

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