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Canadian history lesson is pure pleasure

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The Annotated Northwest Passage


Scott Chantler


Oni Press


$19.95 US (Hardcover)


**** 1/2 (out of five)





Standard early Canadian history has been known to cure many a person of insomnia, but the taste readers will get in Northwest Passage might just keep them up until the wee hours.





Writer/artist Scott Chantler sets a tale of adventure and intrigue in 1755 against the backdrop of Rupert’s Land — a massive chunk of North America then operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company that included what is now most of Saskatchewan, Manitoba, northern Ontario, northern Quebec and parts of





Alberta, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Minnesota and North Dakota.





While I probably learned all that in Grade 9 history, it had all fallen out of my head until I read Chantler’s thoughtful notes in this gorgeous new hardcover collection of the first three parts of the Waterloo, Ont., native’s ongoing epic.





Beyond the obvious history lesson is the gripping tale of survival in the rugged north as the aging explorer Charles Lord is forced to choose between his loyalty to his friends, his company and country, his desire for revenge against an old foe and his dream of actually discovering the long-sought Northwest Passage.





Chantler’s thoughtful writing and cartoony-yet-edgy art on this series has earned him well-deserved back-to-back best cartoonist nominations for the Joe Shuster Awards (Canada’s top comic honours) and this new collection is both a perfect jumping-on point for new readers and packed with insight for longtime fans.











Fell Vol. 1: Feral City


Warren Ellis, Ben Templesmith


Image Comics


$24.99 US (Hardcover)


**** 1/2 (out of five)





Another dead body has been pulled out of the water down by the harbour, that disgusting coroner who eats while he works says there’s nothing to go on and to make matters more confusing, that creepy little person in the nun’s outfit with the Richard Nixon mask on just picked up a hooker.





Fell truly is the greatest crime book in the world.





Pairing the exceptional writing skills of Warren Ellis (Planetary, Transmetropolitan) with the simplistic-yet-undeniably moody art of Ben Templesmith (30 Days Of Night), Fell chronicles Det. Richard Fell’s day-to-day life after being transferred to the Snowtown P.D. — with each issue revealing a crime and concluding an investigation.





Over the course of the first eight issues — collected in this new hardcover (and also available in paperback) — readers get to see drama that would make the writers of Law And Order and NYPD Blue crap their pants mixed with black humour that would put Matt Stone and Trey Parker to shame.

Fell was a strong contender for my best monthly book of 2006 nod and will be there again in 2007 if a few more issues come out.











Justice League Of America: The Tornado’s Path


Brad Meltzer, Ed Benes


DC Comics


$29.99/$24.99 US (Hardcover)


**** (out of five)





You had me at Red Tornado.





Well, actually, you had me at Brad Meltzer and Ed Benes, so the Red Tornado thing was just icing on the cake.





There are few creators you’d want more to take on the job of bringing the world’s greatest super-hero team back to life over Meltzer — the talented New York Times-bestselling novelist whose comic book work includes the acclaimed miniseries, Identity Crisis — and Benes — the Brazilian artist whose dynamic work helped make Birds Of Prey a hit.





They don’t disappoint, either.





With a near-perfect blend of being progressive while honouring the past, Meltzer and Benes deliver an epic story that mixes the titans of the DC Universe —Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman — with rising stars — Hawkgirl, Vixen, Red Arrow — in an adventure built around the android hero Red Tornado (one of the very first characters to capture my attention when I was a little kid).





The result is a wild ride with some terrific twists and turns that results in the formation of an all-new JLA.

Congrats Messrs. Meltzer and Benes: You’ve just made some history!











Y: The Last Man Vol. 9 — Motherland



Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, Jose Marzan Jr.


Vertigo/DC Comics


$17.99/$14.99 US (Paperback)


**** (out of five)





It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly five years that I’ve been telling you all how great Y: The Last Man is.





Well here’s your second-last reminder, on the off chance you haven’t picked it up yet: It’s exceptionally, remarkably, extraordinarily and superbly good.





Now that I’ve exhausted my thesaurus and co-creators Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra are blushing profusely, I’ll give you an example why.





In this ninth volume (out of 10 planned collections of the series which is slated to end in January 2008), Yorick Brown — the last man on earth after a mysterious plague wipes out the rest — arrives in China along with his companions: His bodyguard Agent 355, biochemist Dr, Allison Mann, her girlfriend Rose and Yorick’s pet capuchin, Ampersand.





As Yorick, Ampersand and 355 are set to begin their final leg of an around-the-world journey to find the last man’s fiancée, a villain from their past captures and delivers them into the hands of the person responsible for the plague!

See why this is so good?





It’s no wonder Vaughan — now a writer on TV’s Lost — has been voted top international creator the past two years running for the Joe Shuster Canadian Comic Book Creator Awards, while Vancouver’s Guerra was chosen best artist for 2005.





Do yourself a favour: Go to your nearest comic store and buy this series, not only because it’s so darned good, but so you’ll be able to hold it over your friends when this becomes the hottest new show on TV or a blockbuster film.











Death Jr. 2



Gary Whitta, Ted Naifeh


Image Comics


$14.99 US (Paperback)


**** (out of five)





It’s not easy being Death’s little boy.





This fact is hammered home even harder when Death Jr. decides to accept a summer internship with his father’s company, Terminal Industries.





Instead of swinging the old scythe around like his old man, DJ finds himself starting out at the bottom — way down in the accounting department as an assistant deputy clerk under the management of one of his dad’s old friends, Mr. Cracy.





As he’s beginning to lose hope of having any fun over the summer — and wishing he was with his friends at camp — DJ ambitions to be promoted out of the cellar see him tricked into getting his old man in hot water with the board of directors.





The result is Death: The homemaker, while DJ’s mom decides to become the breadwinner.





Can DJ help his dad get his job back before bureaucracy destroys the afterlife?





The creative team of Gary Whitta and Ted Naifeh never disappoint and Death Jr. 2 is another fine and funny adventure.











52: Vol. 1



Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Mark Waid, Keith Giffen


DC Comics


$23.99/$19.99 US (Paperback)


*** 1/2 (out of five)





The biggest mystery of the weekly series 52 was, of course, “What is 52?”





While it took a whole year for the real answer to be revealed, a logical early supposition could have been: How many reasons there are for this series to kick ass?





Let’s start with the writers: Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka and Mark Waid — the cornerstone creators of the DC Universe — all working in tandem on the same book. Add in art breakdowns by legend Keith Giffen and finishes by the likes of Eddy Barrows, Chris Batista, Joe Bennett, Ken Lashley, Shawn Moll and Todd Nauck, use the slingshot effect coming off the heat of the epic Infinite Crisis miniseries and you’ve already got a winner.





Then there’s the heroes: Booster Gold, Black Adam, Steel, The Question, the formerly Elongated Man, Animal Man, Starfire, Adam Strange — it’s an admittedly motley crew, but somehow all those different characters, in all their diverse areas of the DCU from deep space to the back alleys of





Gotham and the spires of Metropolis, flowed almost seamlessly together.





Oh sure, there were some holes and certainly a bit of clutter, but as far as producing a cohesive weekly series that made you want to come back for more? Mission accomplished.











The All New Atom Vol. 1: My Life In Miniature



Gail Simone, John Byrne, Eddy Barrows, Trevor Scott


DC Comics


$17.99/$14.99 US (Paperback)


*** 1/2 (out of five)





It’s science vs. magic in a showdown for the universe — and the all-new Atom is caught in the crossfire.





Dr. Ryan Choi has been a friend and colleague to Dr. Ray Palmer, aka the Atom, for years, so coming from his native Hong Kong to take Palmer’s place as a physics professor at Ivy Town University is a dream come true.





While Palmer hasn’t been seen since the end of 2005’s Identity Crisis, Choi soon discovers that the hero has left a size-shrinking belt and costume for him and quickly takes on the challenge of continuing the adventures of the Atom.





Just as he’s getting used to it, though, Choi finds himself thrown into the middle of an inter-dimensional war between sides choosing science against magic in a conflict created in part by his predecessor’s actions.





Choi is a fun and original new character whose actions as a freshman hero flow naturally thanks to the fine writing of Gail Simone (Birds Of Prey).





His continuing adventures ought to be fun to follow.











Girls Vol. 4: Extinction



The Luna Brothers


Image Comics


$14.99 US (Paperback)


*** 1/2 (out of five)





The menacing hordes of (naked, gorgeous) aliens have got the survivors of Pennystown on the run and the final showdown (in front of the giant sperm monster) is at hand.





OK, so it’s not Shakespeare, but Jonathan and Joshua Luna have created some really good sci-fi drama over their two-year run on Girls.





As the last few issues count down, the aliens step up their attacks on the women of the town while continuing to tempt the men into helping them procreate. And after failing to keep the men locked up, will the women be forced to take even more dramatic actions to stay alive?





Who’ll live? Who’ll die? And what is the deal with that sperm monster anyway?





The Luna Brothers send Girls off with a bang in this final collection.



jonathan.kuehlein@metronews.ca

 
 
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