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TPB Reviews By Dan Epstein
Cicada: The Motel Writer: Josue Menjivar Artist: Josue Menjivar Black and White Released by Top Shelf Comix www.topshelfcomix.com
I have often found Top Shelf’s books a little overstuffed with dialogue but Josue Menjivar’s Cicada is something different. Cicada is a powerful story that seems simple at first glance but is actually extraordinarily complex. The short life span of the insect cicada is envied by the main character in story who is having trouble accepting that the pain he is feeling will last for many years longer. His wife has committed adultery and he goes to find someplace safe when he finally gets to the small hotel. The small town is littered with dead cicadas, which happens annually. It’s my favorite kind of story, possibly autobiographical, but definitely something everyone can feel emphatic for.
The art is simple but at times rises above and defies its simplicity by mirroring the main character and the dead cicada bugs. The story is smooth and easy to understand but it is definitely not for the younger readers. Only someone who has lived life a little bit will be able to understand how deep infidelity can actually cut.
Top Shelf’s presentation of this book is pretty akin totheir other books. That parchment like paper perfectly presents the black and white lines of Menjivar’s art, and the cover image synopsizes the book perfectly with the woman walking away from the man to show her naked self to someone else while the letters fall away to symbolize a life falling apart. An excellent book.
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Doctor Strange: A Separate Reality Reprinting Marvel Premiere #9, 10, 12, 13, 14 & Dr Strange (2nd Series) #1, 2, 4, 5 Writer: Steve Englehart Artist: Frank Brunner Full Color Released by Marvel www.marvel.com
Steve Englehart created some of the coolest Avengers and West Coast Avengers stories I have ever read. But beyond those, however, I have always found his cosmic stories (in Avengers and Silver Surfer) a bit overbearing. They always seemed to weigh themselves down with “significance” and appeared to be overshadowed by Jim Starlin’s work. That is up until I read this trade paperback.
These Dr. Strange stories are just as good as Steve Ditko and Bill Everett’s runs, if not better. The stories finally took away the device that Stan Lee always used to help Dr. Strange out of a jam, The Ancient One. The Ancient One was never an interesting character, one of those old and very powerful magicians that seemed to do anything interesting but drop “fortune cookie” like phrases. By the mid-1970’s and three failed series, the editors gave Englehart a chance to strip away everything that made Dr. Strange boring and rebuild him from the ground up.
They made him the Sorcerer Supreme of the universe and gave him cosmic beings to do battle. All the while he philosophized on the actual nature of magic and its place within the universe.
For Dr. Strange fanatics, pick this up to read the first appearance of Silver Dagger. Plus, for new fans who may be drawn to it by Dr. Strange’s appearance in Ultimate Spider-Man these are stories that need no backstories. They seemed totally new to me.
As for the art, this is first time I have ever picked up a trade paperback based on the cover alone. I honestly believe that if Frank Brunner appeared on the comics scene today he would be praised for his realistic art in portraying cosmic deities and realms. I had only seen Brunner’s art in the first Howard the Duck series, and while I appreciated it, I didn’t think much of the work. A Separate Reality set new standards for cosmic stories and the art still holds up now. Beautiful dark tones, mystic smokes and the hottest Clea (Dr. Strange’s girlfriend and apprentice) ever set down to paper.
As for negative comments, as usual a seventies comic must have somewhat hokey dialogue. I mean come on, it was Roy Thomas editing. But hopefully the $17.95 price won’t deter you. Does anyone really think they’re getting away with anything by pricing stuff at $blank.95. WE ALL KNOW IT’S A NICKEL.
300 - Hardcover Writer: Frank Miller Artist: Frank Miller Color Art: Lynn Varley Released by Dark Horse Comics www.darkhorse.com
I know it may seem a little odd to review this book after its been out for three years, but there's a reason: I’ve been waiting to get in softcover. But recently I heard through the grapevine that because of the size and format of the book it will never be released in softcover. So I have just read it for the first time.
Just a little background to clarify my upcoming review: I have probably almost everything Frank Miller has published since his first work on Spider-Man. From that through Daredevil, Ronin, Dark Knight, Give Me Liberty, and beyond, including Sin City: That Yellow Bastard, which to me was the most cinematic work he had ever done.
In 300, Miller expanded on concepts that I believe he first used in Sin City: The Big Fat Kill. Primarily, the idea of using a long alleyway to stop the majority of your enemies from overwhelming you. That was also the first time that we saw Miller draw a Spartan uniform in his newer style.
But 300 wasn’t straightforward like Miller’s noir influenced work. No, this was something else. A work that was obviously strenuously researched and painstakingly detailed. Detail is something that Miller was previously covering up with black. This is not a negative comment; that concept in comic art was brilliant. Miller points you towards his research in the back of the book.
It was hard to believe that the most sympathetic and powerful character that Miller has worked on, King Leonidas, is a Spartan. I doubt there is any fictionalized work in history that has treated the Spartans as anything but noble and strong savages. But Miller has made us understand and even root for some of the most bloodthirsty and destructive warriors in the history of the world. He wants us to realize that fighting to the death can sometimes be a noble and necessary thing, something I think our generation and the generation before it has forgotten. Believe me, I’m no better.
As for the art, with the length of each page reaching almost 13 inches, the format that Miller has chosen looks like 70mm film. At times it seems that no other size would be able to capture the down and dirtiness of this world. While some pages are packed full of panels, others are merely a picture of the setting sun with a character in the foreground.
This was also Miller’s first foray into color since he started his Sin City series, and colorist (and wife) Lynn Varley has delivered some beautiful work. The color is at times muted but the red of blood is not shied away from. This is the only person that should ever color Miller’s art.
All in all, this is the best work Miller has ever produced. This is a piece that transcends comics and will be of those books that anthropology students carry with them from class to class and show it to the teacher.
Often in these reviews I speak of how much these books cost. 300 is worth every penny of the thirty dollars you spend on it.