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Pride smartest post-9/11 comic to date

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Pride Of Baghdad

Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon

Vertigo/DC Comics

$26.99/$19.99 US (Hardcover)

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



The sky has fallen in the Garden of God and the wild things are loosed upon it.


In one of the most intriguing stories of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Baghdad, four starving lions escaped from the zoo after the bombings and were later shot after they lunged at a platoon of American troops.


But what might the great beasts have done with their freedom before they met their fates?


Writer Brian K. Vaughan, voted by Canadian fans as this year’s Joe Shuster Award winner for outstanding international creator for Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina and Runaways, along with artist Niko Henrichon of Quebec City (whose outstanding work here ought to earn him a 2006 Shuster nomination), take readers inside the pride as they explore the aftermath of the invasion.


Past burning palm trees, flattened buildings and ever-billowing smoke, the lions cautiously explore the world outside their bars. With tenderness reminiscent of Disney’s The Lion King and the brutality of John Irvin’s Hamburger Hill, Vaughan and Henrichon examine the fragility of freedom and its sometimes-heavy price in what is hands-down the smartest and most affecting post-9/11 comic so far.







Absolute Dark Knight

Frank Miller with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley

DC Comics

$134.99/$99.99 US (Hardcover)

****



I have a friend who is an Absolute junkie.


That is to say, he owns every one of the exquisite, albeit extremely expensive, DC Absolute editions (11 so far, with two more coming by the end of the year, prices ranging from $75-$135).


These volumes reprint the crÀme-de-la-crÀme of DC titles, works such as Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Warren Ellis and John Cassiday’s Planetary and, as noted in my last column, Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ Kingdom Come.


Frank Miller’s seminal 1986 series The Dark Knight Returns, which launched a 15-yearlong trend toward ‘grim ‘n’ gritty’ comics, was a natural for this kind of treatment and it has finally got it, packaged along with his highly criticized 2001-02 sequel The Dark Knight Strikes Again.


When I asked my friend what he thought of this pairing in the Absolute Dark Knight, he simply said, “This book is so nice it even makes The Dark Knight Strikes Out look good.”


With its over-sized format, stunning digital colour enhancements and plethora of bonus material, it’s hard to disagree with that assessment.







Jim Henson’s Return To Labyrinth Vol. 1

Jake T. Forbes & Chris Lie

TokyoPop

$12.99/$9.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2



You remind me of the babe.


What babe?


The babe with the power.


If you now find yourself completing this famous exchange from the 1986 Jim Henson classic Labyrinth (and perhaps even humming David Bowie’s Dance Magic) then you are in for some very good news.


The further adventures in Jareth’s infamous maze, now starring a teenaged Toby (the babe from the film), have arrived in a new Manga book from TokyoPop.


This first of three planned volumes sees the king of the goblins taking an interest in Toby’s life and eventually luring him, like his sister before him, into the Labyrinth. But unlike Sarah, Toby may just like the dark secrets he finds inside — along with some newfound power.







Revelations

Paul Jenkins & Humberto Ramos

Dark Horse Books

$17.95 US (Paperback)

****



Being an Atheist is not as easy as it used to be.


Police Det. Charlie Northern is finding that out the hard way after an old friend (and current priest) drags him into the investigation of a mysterious death at the Vatican.


The victim, a cardinal many viewed as the favourite to succeed the ailing pope, is thought to have committed suicide. But Northern, a lapsed Catholic, isn’t buying it when he sees that the cardinal must have been hurled to have landed where he did after flying out his office window.


Confounding that theory is the evidence that the victim was alone. And who was the mysterious bearded man waiting on the streets below, with a ceremonial dagger in his hand?


Northern slowly pieces together this mystery over the course of this series, but the cost of learning the truth may cost him his faith in the absence of God.


In their first original work together, the creative team of writer Paul Jenkins and artist Humberto Ramos (Spectacular Spider-Man, Wolverine), along with exceptional digital colourist Leonardo Olea, hit one out of the ballpark with a nuanced and intelligent mystery story that is as intellectually stimulating as it is visually absorbing.







Lions, Tigers And Bears Vol. 1

Mike Bullock & Jack Lawrence

Image Comics

$12.99 US (Paperback)

****



When you hear the title Lions, Tigers And Bears, the first thing that pops into your mind is The Wizard Of Oz.


There are certainly elements of that classic film in this great miniseries by writer Mike Bullock and artist Jack Lawrence, but in truth it’s best celluloid comparison is probably the third act of the 1985 Stephen King-authored film, Cat’s Eye.


As with that film, the heroes in LTB are feline, and similarly they are trying to stop a ‘beastie’ from hurting a child. But the refreshing departure in LTB is the strong role Joey (the child in question) plays, and how he develops as the story unfolds.

The other major plot difference, the one that makes this book stand apart from its influences, is that the felines are of the stuffed variety.


Just as he and his mom are moving into a new house, Joey’s grandma gives him The Night Pride, a set of four stuffed animals — two tigers, a lion and a panther — and tells him that they will help keep him safe as he gets used to his unfamiliar new environment.


When Joey discovers that the ‘beasties’ in the closet at his new house are real, The Night Pride roars into action and Joey ends up getting dragged into the long conflict between the stuffed animal protectors and their menacing enemies.


An uplifting all-ages title with empowering messages about conquering fear and the power of imagination, Lions, Tigers And Bears is a winner.







Batman: Face The Face

DC Comics

$19.99/$14.99 US (Paperback)

****



Someone is killing some of Batman’s old adversaries – and in an uncomfortably familiar way.


First it was the KGBeast, then Magpie and the Ventriloquist. All dead. All by two bullets to the head. And all signs point to the man that the Dark Knight left to watch over Gotham City while he took a yearlong hiatus: Harvey Dent, Two-Face.


Has the reformed Dent, physically and mentally healed after years as one of Batman’s worst nemeses, gone too far in his efforts to keep Gotham safe?


As more villains are added to the body count and Batman is forced to confront the man he trusted so deeply, the conflict could just be too much for Dent’s fragile sanity to take.


This first One Year Later Batman tale, written by James Robinson (Starman) with art by Don Kramer (JSA) and Canadian Leonard Kirk (Aquaman), is a doozy. It gets rid of a lot of deadweight crooks, introduces a few (potentially major) new ones and sets the stage for a bright future for the Caped Crusader and his city.







Star Trek: The Manga Vol. 1

TokyoPop

$12.99/$9.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2



Star Trek is boldly going somewhere it’s never gone before.


While comic books based upon the classic 1960s sci-fi series have been around for decades, this month marks the arrival of the first collection of Star Trek Manga stories from TokyoPop.


This five-story volume has its highs and lows, but the series does translate rather remarkably well into this Japanese illustration style. William Shatner never looked so good (and thank goodness he’s not singing).


Here’s a quick rundown of the five stories in this collection:


• Side Effects, written by Chris Dows with art by Makoto Nakatsuka, involves some of Trekkies’ favourite elements: time travel and temporal causality. When the Enterprise happens upon a derelict vessel filled with sick humanoids, they are perplexed. But when that ship and theirs is dragged into a wormhole, things get really interesting.

• Anything But Alone, written by Joshua Ortega with art by Gregory Giovanni Johnson, sees the crew discover a race of people thought to have perished when their sun went supernova thriving on a new planet. But is this utopia a little too perfect?

• ‘Til Death, written by Mike W. Barr with art by Jeong Mo Yang, finds the Enterprise surveying a class ‘M’ planet that apparently has no inhabitants. But when the ship quickly comes under attack, things heat up and threaten to boil over when an anger virus infects the crew.

• Oban, written by Jim Alexander with art by Michael Shelfer, has the Enterprise playing courier to a cute, little creature given as a gesture of peace between rival planets. Of course the creature has a little secret — and a deadly one at that!

• Orphans, written by Rob Tokar with art by EJ Su, is the most Manga-fied of these stories, as the Enterprise comes in conflict with a group of sword-wielding mechanized warriors. When the pilots of these robots are revealed, Captain Kirk finds himself with some tough personal issues to deal with.







Wildcats: Nemesis

Wildstorm Productions/DC Comics

$26.99/$19.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2



Wildcats: Nemesis spans 3,000 years, mixes sci-fi, Greek mythology, the Old West and present day and introduces a compelling new character to the Wildstorm Universe.


Too bad it all amounts to nothing.


Nemesis tells the story of, well, Nemesis (A.K.A. Charis), an ancient warrior with deep ties to the past with Wildcats members Zealot and Majestic.


Charis is the typical misunderstood bad guy. She kidnaps a child and is relentlessly pursued by the ’Cats, but her reasons (the girl is the key to an impending major threat to the human race) cast her in a golden light.


As the story unfolds readers learn of Nemesis’ past, beginning in 985 B.C. and her rather rocky relationships with Zealot and Majestic that includes a lot of blood, sweat and tears.


In the end, of course, Charis’ actions are validated and for the first time in millennia she is free from persecution. But the events of Wildstorm’s Captain Atom: Armageddon miniseries, which saw the entire universe destroyed and then reborn (see October’s Worldstorm titles), leave the future of Nemesis up in the air.


Either way, kudos to writer Robbie Morrison and artists Talent Caldwell, Horacio Domingues and Andy Smith on a fun and action-packed series.







Superman: Infinite Crisis

DC Comics

$17.50/$12.99 US (Paperback)

*** 1/2



It’s Superman vs. Superman — winner take all.


Amidst the confusion of Infinite Crisis, DC Comics’ months-long miniseries and crossover, a clear division was being made between the Golden Age Man Of Steel and his modern counterpart.


The older hero blamed his successor for letting Earth get too dark, cruel and out of control. As each month of IC passed it became more and more apparent, for the sake of everything each of them believed in, these two were going to come to blows.


And so they did, played out over five issues and featuring some of the hottest writers and artists in the comic book industry, each taking a few pages to retell who these heroes are, how they came to be and what it is they’re fighting for.


Inevitably, the duo realize it’s not each other that deserve these mountain-shaking blows, but a greater foe — one with a very familiar face (you’ll have to read IC to find out who).


There will likely be nearly a dozen Infinite Crisis companion books released by the time it’s all said and done and this book is one of the musts.



jonathan.kuehlein@metronews.ca

 
 
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