Monday, January 17, 2011

Late to the Party -- 5 Neat Things I Only Recently Discovered

One problem of being a critic is that you can lose sight of interesting material that doesn't conform exactly to your expectations. There's so much stuff out there that it's often impossible to keep track of books, comics, movies or TV shows that are not right in front of you but that you would really enjoy if someone would simply push you in the right direction..

The folks at the AV Club offered their own take on this dilemma a little while ago, but I have my own selections and undoubtedly thought for this article idea first. Ahem..

The Umbrella Academy
I would normally be wary of any comic created and written by a rock star, since most such books would reek of "vanity project." But "The Umbrella Academy" by My Chemical Romance member Gerard Way, with art by Gabriel Ba and covers by James Jean, is actually pretty great.

Imagine the X-Men crossed with the Doom Patrol, add you've got some idea of what the Umbrella Academy is all about. There's time-travel, an approaching apocalypse, hit-men who dress as cartoon characters and a disbanded group of superheroes with a lot of excess emotional baggage. "The Umbrella Academy" has the weird whimsy of Grant Morrison at his most accessible but manages to remain true to its own hinky vision.
So far, there are only two collected volumes, "Apocalypse Suite" and "Dallas," though a third arc, "Hotel Oblivion," has been announced. I hope it comes to fruition soon.

I've grown tired of bad-ass bald guys in Vertigo books, but the shaven-headed protagonist of Jason Aaron's "Scalped"  isn't a retread of Grant Morrison's King Mob or Warren Ellis's Spider Jerusalem.

Dashiell Bad Horse returns to South Dakota and starts working for Chief Lincoln Red Crow, the local crime boss obsessed with opening a new casino that will supposedly improve the lot of every Oglala Lakota on the rez. Turns out, though, that Bad Horse is working for the FBI, and his superiors aren't above blackmailing him into stepping outside the law for their own purposes.

This is American noir of the bleakest sort, and Aaron keeps everything off-balance by continually upping the stakes and revealing new depths to his characters. After a while, it's easy to lose track of who the good guys really are, but that's rather the point.

It's unclear how long Aaron plans to spin this story out, but there are six collections available and seventh due in February. You can read the first issue of the series here.

Hark! A Vagrant!

Kate Beaton's online comics are a marvel, and I can't recommend them highly enough. They're literate and silly, knowing and well constructed. Favorites to sample include "Wonder Woman," "Dude-Watching with the Brontes," The Great Gatsby," "Mystery Solving Teens," and, especially if you're a Bowdoin College grad, "Henson and Peary."

Beaton has started selling to Harper's and The New Yorker, and now she has a book deal with Drawn + Quarterly, which is the best news of the year so far. And don't ignore her Twitter stream, upon which she posts links to sketches that are more personal but just as amusing as her more polished offerings.

Everybody thinks they can do a new twist on Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," but few adaptations add anything really fresh to the endeavor. Watch the cold opening of the 2007 BBC six-episode series written by Stephen Moffat and starring James Nesbitt, though, and I defy you not to want more.

The whole series is clever combination of  conspiracy thriller and horror with a comedic edge. The ending doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I guess they were hoping for a second series. "Jekyll" is hard to find at your local video store, but it's easily available through Netflix.


Yeah, they're the cute, almost twee, couple in those Holiday Season Hyundai TV ads, but they've been around YouTube for a couple of years now. Good originals, clever covers, joyful videos and Nataly Dawn is freakin' adorable. And they've gathered more than 60,000 book donations for the Richmond School District, so don't be hatin' on them. Their covers of "Mr. Sandman" and "September" are especially good and worth checking out.

No comments: