Joe The Barbarian (2011)

Joe The Barbarian (2011)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Grant Morrison, Sean Murphy

Joe The Barbarian collects issues #1-8 of the limited DC/Vertigo series written by Grant Morrison (Batman Inc., Supergods) with artwork by Sean Murphy (Hellblazer, American Vampire: Survival Of The Fittest).

Joe Manson is an eleven-year-old kid with type 1 diabetes. On top of that, his father died overseas in the ongoing war in the Middle East. It’s no wonder that he spends all day in a dream world of action figures and drawings of noble knights and scary creatures. However, after some school bullies steal his candy he gets home and begins to go into hypoglycemia, but unexpectedly also into another world…one so real he cannot discern it from reality. Traversing this new fantasy world, in the real world he is only trying to get to the kitchen. Realities blur and soon it’s apparent that there is a purpose behind the visions and that he must stay alive.

First off, I love Morrison and I love Murphy. Two great talents working together. Can I refer to them as M&M? Haha, no, but really.

The story is evocative of Alice In Wonderland and Tellos, sort of mixed together in one awesome stew. Tellos will always be my favorite but this book managed to capture that feeling and the wonder of that book, if a little bit darker….yet it had almost as much heart.

It was nice to see a story dealing with a character who must battle diabetes. Coming from a family where diabetes is a constant concern, Joe The Barbarian was especially poignant to me. My great grandmother recently died after choosing not to continue with her dialysis treatments but she’d been battling diabetes for years.

In any case, I loved Murphy’s work on American Vampire, and I think he did an amazing job with Morrison’s fantastical vision in this book. The art has a nice steampunky type of style to it, which somehow fit the theme nicely.

You should really check it out, especially if you enjoyed Todd Dezago and Mike Weiringo’s work on Tellos.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Joe The Barbarian
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Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Northlanders: The Cross And The Hammer (2009)

Publisher: Vertigo
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly

Set in Viking-era Ireland, Northlanders Book Two: The Cross And The Hammer, collects issues #11-16 of the DC/Vertigo comic book series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Ryan Kelly (Lucifer, The New York Four).

It is 1014 in Viking-occupied Ireland. One lone man, only known as Magnus, refuses to bow to the will of the Viking overlords and is leaving a bloody trail of insurgency in his wake. Magnus has no ties, no weaknesses, nothing to lose…except his daughter Brigid. Magnus’ killing spree and defiance catches the attention of Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson, a forensic specialist and confidant of the King who becomes obsessed with finding Magnus and ending his uprising.

When it becomes apparent that the only way to draw Magnus out of hiding is to provoke him by senselessly murdering innocent Irish families, it sends the two foes into a circle of psychological warfare and intrigue.

I was really looking forward to this volume after having already read Northlanders: Sven The Returned, which was amazing…so maybe my hopes were a little too high.

First off, don’t get me wrong. I would rather read this volume than not read this volume. Northlanders is a great series, and Brian Wood is doing some great stuff. Even the premise of the arc in this volume is decent and had me intrigued, but it all ended up falling a little flat.

Ryan Kelly is a great artist but I was honestly, the entire time, comparing his style (without meaning to) to Davide Gianfelice’s, who did the art for the issues collected in the first volume. In some ways, Kelly’s artwork is better for this Irish story but in others it just doesn’t feel up to par. There was nothing wrong for it save for the flavor, and despite some great splash page work some of it seemed a bit cartoony.

On top of that, I was sort of brought out of the story some by the way Lord Ragnar Ragnarsson spoke/wrote in the way that you might see a character do on an episode of CSI. I kept thinking to myself “This is so modern sounding. WTF is going on here?

Another thing to watch out for is the twist ending. It seems to be all the rage nowadays to give a twist ending on everything, but I don’t think they had to do so, here. It wasn’t super-compelling as it was and then to sort of glaze over it all with a twist ending such as the one found within the pages of this TPB, it just dulled everything down even more.

Overall, I wouldn’t miss this entry into the series, but it could have been much better. I hear that Volume III is, indeed, much better…so I’ll have to check it out. So, give this a read if you follow along but I’m not so sure this will be a favored volume in the series.

JOE Rating: ★★★

Here’s A Sample Page From Northlanders, Vol. 2: The Cross And The Hammer
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The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1991)

The Sandman Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (1988)

Publisher: DC/Vertigo
Creative Team: Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III

Set in the DC Universe, The Sandman Volume 1 collects issues 1-8 of the comic book series written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Sam Keith, Mike Dringenberg and Malcolm Jones III.

A wizard who wants to live forever attempts to summon and trap Death, but inadvertantly traps her younger brother, Dream (aka Morpheus). Fearing retaliation, the wizard and his cohorts keep Morpheus imprisoned in a magical cell for a couple of lifetimes. When his captors make a mistake and Morpheus breaks free, he is weak from his time in imprisonment and also finds that his captors have stolen and have sold three of his possessions which help give him power. His helm, his bag of dust and his ruby pendant. With these items he will be close to full strength again, so he sets out to find them…but they are spread wide and though he is a god, Morpheus finds that some of them are guarded more closely than he would think. Teaming with well-known DC Comics characters like John Constantine and Martian Manhunter, Morpheus must go to Hell and back to find his things. Literally.

While this is not the strongest entry in the Sandman series, issues 1-8 are a great introduction to the world Morpheus inhabits and is a good set up to the wonderment that follows in later volumes. The artwork is great, but the colors in the collection versus the originals are a little bit off, a little bit darker. This might be problematic for some purists, but I think for the tone of the piece, the colors suit it well. Then again, the original colors were more dreamlike. It’s a coin toss on which you’ll like better.

This beginning collection is a story about starting over. Morpheus was content with where he was and with his station, overconfident that he had everything nailed down. When this was proven false by his imprisonment by a bunch of mortals, it shook him up a little. Weakened and forced to find alternate ways to deal with things, Morpheus becomes a compelling character. Though a god, he is still fallible.

The characters are all really interesting. We get to meet the perky character of Death, we get to see a new and frightening/sad interpretation of Cain and Abel. There are dangerous and fantastical dream creatures and lots of magic thrown in.

If other DC characters weren’t tossed into the mix, you wouldn’t even think of it as a comic book story that exists in the world of superheroes, but Neil Gaiman has seamlessly integrated Morpheus and his mythos into the existing DC canon.

Give this a read, and especially the later collections.

JOE Rating: ★★★★

Check Out This Sample Page From Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes!
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Northlanders: Sven The Returned (2008)

Northlanders: Sven The Returned (2008)

Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Creative Team: Brian Wood, Massimo Carnevale, Davide Gianfelice

Set in Viking-era Scotland, Northlanders: Volume One (Sven The Returned) collects issues 1-8 of the DC/Vertigo comic series written by Brian Wood (DMZ, Demo) and illustrated by Davide Gianfelice (Dylan Dog).

Sven, as a boy, abandons his roots and is sold as a slave, ending up in Constantinople where he is freed. However, he longs to return home and finds that his uncle, the evil and cowardly Gorm, has subjected the people and stolen his inheritance. Sven becomes a one-man army in his quest to get back what is rightfully his, and he will turn the white, icy tundra red with the blood of any who stand in his way….but at what cost?

I just finished reading the first issue of Helheim (My review of Helheim is linked there) and while I liked it, a lot of it felt like fluff. Northlanders is definitely not fluff. It is gritty, filled with blood and greed and sex and you will find yourself glad that you were not alive to see such times.

Brian Wood weaves a great story around a would-be-unsympathetic character and somehow makes him likable. The art by Davide Gianfelice is AMAZING, though, and the two of them work miracles together with this series. A guy at the comic store recommended this to me along with Helheim and I’m glad he did. I will definitely be picking up the second volume when I can.

If you like Viking lore or medieval fantasy or action, you need to give this a try. It’s great.

JOE Rating: ★★★★★

Here’s a sample page from Northlanders: Sven The Returned

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