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Title: The Umbrella Academy: Dallas
Author: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Bá, James Jean
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Year: 2008-2009

Although the volume which collects the six issues of The Umbrella Academy: Dallas haven’t yet been published, I’ve had the privilege of borrowing the single copies from a friend, enabling me to continue enjoying the wonderful characters, story and dialogue that I first experienced in The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite. These six issues cover a number of different stories and subplots, but the two main ones include a complicated attempt to assassinate John F. Kennedy (or to stop the assassination, depending on who’s perspective is used), and a two really creepy villains called Hazel and Cha-cha, who set out to stop Number Five.

This review will be a lot shorter than the previous one, because Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá continue to produce material as good as any of that in the first volume; perhaps the luster is reduced slightly because the concept is already familiar, but that’s adequately made up for by way of even more interesting characters (I really love Hazel and Cha-cha). So, on the whole, this is excellent and merits my recommendation, there isn’t much more to it. Four and a half snails to The Umbrella Academy, again!

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Title: The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite
Author: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Bá, James Jean
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Year: 2007

Having been abroad and thus deprived of my access to comic-loving friends, The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite is the first comic book I read since The Filth in April last year. It’s also my first encounter with both the author, Gerard Way (of the band My Chemical Romance), and the artist Gabriel Bá. Even though it actually took me a while to get started, once I did, I was hooked immediately and finished this first collected edition (incorporating the first six issues) quickly and with relish.

On the surface, The Umbrella Academy is like any other superhero story (i.e. a couple of people with special powers gather together to fight evil), but what makes it unique is the wonderfully realistic and yet intriguing dysfunctional family they have become. These are, I think, the first super heroes I actually care for(with the possible exception of Dream in The Sandman), removing the barrier I feel between myself and the average comic book protagonist. Also, their forms might be exaggerated, but not wearing silly costumes is a great help.

What about the story, then? It’s connected to Vanya, the only one in the family without any special talent (or so she believes initially, at least). Being treated rather harshly by one of her siblings, she wanders off towards evil in the form av very special symphony being set up to bring about the apocalypse. Vanya with her violin is mean to play the main role in this terrible concert, but will her family be there to stop her and the conductor in time?

Another important aspect of The Umbrella Academy: The Apocalypse Suite is Gerard Way’s writing. Not only is it entertaining all the way through, but at times it’s also stunningly brilliant. His genius is shown in both dialogue and narrative, making the story come alive like any good writer, but in addition also manages to give it a unique touch. I woudl definitely be interested in reading something else written by him.

In all, The Umbrella Academy is very good. I haven’t said anything in particular about the artist and that’s because his work is good, but not extraordinarily so. This might be one reason not to give five snails, but another would be the story itself. It’s good, it’s quie original, but it isn’t perfect. Four and half snails is still a pretty good rating, though.

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Two of my friends spend a lot of time and money on comics, which is why this item was introduced on my 101-in-1001 list in the first place. Since they have somewhat the same criteria as I have for quality, I felt that comics was a literary domain I had almost no knowledge about and needed to educate myself about. By reading ten comics they recommended, I hoped to gain more insight. Therefore, the list below of what I have read is not pickings of my own, but rather that of my friends’, although based on my preferences and comments on previously borrowed volumes.

1. The Sandman (4.5/5 on average)
2. Hellboy (3/5)
3. Watchmen (2.5/5)
4. The Authority (3/5 on average)
5. WE3 (4.5/5)
6. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (3,5/5)
7. Sleeper – Out in the Cold (4/5)
8. The Books of Magic (4/5)
9. Kid Eternity (3,5/5)
10. The Filth (4/5)

As you can see, the list is a mixed bag in terms of grades, but with a few exceptions, I have liked what I have read. As I guessed after reading The Sandman, no comic has come close to its brilliance and I still doubt that any will (please take into consideration that the 4.5 average is over ten volumes, which is incredible, given that I dislike long series). Still, few of the others have been a disappointment; most of them have indeed been very good.

I consider this goal accomplished; I feel more educated about comics. Although the list above is a bit Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman biased, I think that is something positive. Morrison seems to write things I like and Neil Gaiman was one of my favourite authors before I read The Sandman. Anyway, I will not hesitate to read more comics, especially since I have such nice friends at hand to lend me some.

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The Filth

Title: The Filth
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Chris Weston, Gary Erskine

I shall begin by saying that The Filth is probably the most difficult product I have ever reviewed, not because it is hard for me to weed out whether I like it or not, but because the comic itself defies analysis. Still, I shall of course do my best.

The Filth is about many things on many levels, but mostly it is about… filth. In any system, filth is necessary to evolve and is also a given by-product of health and well-being. From something negative and dirty springs something positive and beautiful. On the most superficial level, The Filth is about Greg Feely, who discovers that he is an undercover agent for a mysterious organisation called The Hand. Its agents function as the garbage collectors of the world; using the analogy of a human body, they get rid of waste products and make sure that everything works properly.

This does not sound too complex, does it? Well, as the narrative continues, further possible interpretations unfold and their implications proliferate. The beauty of this story lies in the fact that all these interpretations are valid throughout the comic. Some of them function on a very small scale, others on a very large one, but still they blend together and create a kaleidoscope of symbol and meaning.

The drawback is that the different parts tend to be bizarre and, although based on cool ideas, not as interesting as the whole. This is not obvious until the very end, meaning that I read the first ninety percent without even feeling some of the greatness; all that came near the end. So, if you plan on reading The Filth, make sure that you read all of it before you give up, do not stop halfway and think that you are in any position of assessing the quality of the entire comic.

Still, the individual episodes do contain interesting material as well, presenting a plethora of relatively undiscovered, yet brilliant ideas that could have formed the foundation to much more than brief episodes. Chris Weston and Gary Erskine have also made a good job with the artwork; without them some episodes would have been boring and the overall impression would probably have much lower.

Conclusively, the individual weakness of some of the episodes is still what I dislike most; otherwise I would have given The Filth an even better grade. As it is, four snails will have to suffice for the excellent presentation of the overall themes. If you like to read carefully thought-out chaos, The Filth is definitely for you.

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Kid Eternity

Title: Kid Eternity
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Duncan Fegredo
Year: 1991

Kid Eternity is a boy who was killed seventy five years too early, and to rectify that mistake, he was resurrected and returned to the living world. The word “Eternity” enables him to revive the dead to help him do good, as well as grants him some other more or less spectacular powers. Together with stand-up comedian Jerry Sullivan, he journeys to hell in order to free his keeper, who was left behind when Kid fled his long imprisonment there.

If this sounds somewhat bizarre, we are on the right track. This mini series of three thin volumes depicts a weird and dark tale, mainly focusing on Kid Eternity (who is, if I understand things correctly, an old super hero Grant Morrison revived and reshaped for the purpose of this series). Everything about Kid Eternity is strange in some way, and most of it is dark. The story and the artwork are confusing, only suggesting to the reader what is really going on. However, this is clearly done on purpose and also quite skillfully executed. What I cannot really figure out is if it is too confusing or not. Although I like strange and confusing stories, they have to be delicately balanced and not fall over towards utter chaos. Also, chaotic artwork can be exhausting in the long run.

So, on the positive side, we have adeptly coordinated story and artwork, creating the kind of feeling I am sure the author and artist aimed for (nice workmanship, in other words). On the negative side, the series is a bit too confusing, at least at times, which makes me wonder if even the author knows what some parts are supposed to mean. The positive aspects outweigh the negative with a fair margin, though, so I will give Kid Eternity three and a half snails.

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The Books of Magic

Title: The Books of Magic
Author: Neil Gaiman
Artist: John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, Paul Johnson
Year: 1990-1991

Trying to read as much by Neil Gaiman as possible, I have at last taken time to read The Books of Magic. Perhaps I make it sound like that was a major challenge, but in fact, the opposite is true. The four volumes are fairly slim and did not require much time to read. As usual, the quality of the narrative is high (although not as high as in many other works by Gaiman, The Sandman comes to mind). However, The Books of Magic are superior to other graphic novels I have read by Gaiman in that the illustrations themselves are much better.

Reading the first volume, it is not difficult to see why there has been a certain amount of fuss about the fact that Harry Potter seems to be very similar to Timothy Hunter (the main character in The Books of Magic, published long before Harry Potter). He is a teenager with a somewhat troublesome family situation, he has a scar on his forehead, an owl and he is introduced to magic. Sounds familiar? Well, it is not, really. As Gaiman himself has said, there might be superficial similarities, but deeper down, little likeness remains, if any.

The Books of Magic is subdivided into four parts, three of them introducing a separate realm through which Timothy travels with a guide (the first volume is used for introductory purposes), his quest being to discover magic and choose whether he wants part of it or not. His visits to the past, to The Land of Summer’s Twilight (Faerie) and the future are all excellently narrated and illustrated. The concepts and ideas they present are marvellous and original in many ways and this is indeed the focus of the story.

What I find a bit disappointing is that the story is relatively weak. Rather than containing a brilliant plot, this is a tour de force of weird graphics and wonderful narration. This is sufficient to reach a level of “excellent” (four snails), but I have come to expect true masterpieces whenever I come across something touched by Gaiman, so therefore, I am still not quite as enthusiastic about The Books of Magic as I could have been.

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Title: Sleeper – Out in the Cold
Author: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Year: 2003

Some time has passed since I reviewed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which is comic most recently read. In a way, it is a pity, because I tend to like what my comic-reading friends present me with. Since albums do not require a lot time, they also stand a good chance of pleasing me (because I tend to dislike wordy literature). In many cases, they are also comprised of many separate parts which stand fairly good on their own.

Out in the Cold is such a part which in itself constitutes a story that does not require further reading. It revolves around Holden, an undercover agent trying to infiltrate a secret crime syndicate lead by the mastermind Tao. The only problem is that the only man who knows that Holden is a good guy is now in a coma and thus cannot reached. Thus, Holden is presented with enemies everywhere. He runs the risk of good guys killing him because they think him bad, and the risk of bad guys figuring out that he is an undercover agent.

I find this story intriguing. It is complex, using a non-linear narrative with Holden as the main character. It is seldom obvious or boring and the characters make it come alive. I have never liked superheroes (or villains), but here they are down to earth and also comparatively original. I think they blend nicely into the narrative without ruining the experience. Either I have become more tolerant or Brubaker does a better job than many other authors.

Visually, I have nothing to complain about. It is perhaps not astoundingly well illustrated, but lacking expertise in the field, I still feel that Phillips has done a good job. As for the actual language used, I feel a bit more confident when I say that it is very good indeed. Conversations and narrative run smoothly and creates a suitable atmosphere.

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Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Author: Alan Moore
Artist: Kevin O’Neill
Year: 1999

Facing serious problems at the turn of the 19th century, the British government assembles a diverse group of people to serve the interest of the crown. The characters are Mina Murray (from Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Alan Quartermain (from H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde (from Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), the Invisible Man (from H.G. Wells’ novel with the same name) and Captain Nemo (from various works by Jules Verne). Together, they form The League of Extraordinary gentlemen to fight Fu Manchu (Sax Rohmer’s The Mystery of Dr. Fu Manchu).

The principal idea of using mysterious figures of Victorian fiction to create a unique setting is absolutely brilliant and I fell in love almost immediately. Not only do I like the Victorian era as such, but I happen to be interested in fantastic fiction from that time as well. I have a weakness for weird technology and this is certainly well-used throughout the story. Moore also uses a number of secondary characters, many of them from other famous authors of Victorian fiction (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for instance).

However, a comic book needs more than a brilliant idea to succeed, so let me turn to the actual performance of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill, which is sadly not matching the eminence of the core concept. The former has done an adequate job in creating the intrigue, which is by no means marvellous in any way, but works just fine. The same goes for Kevin O’Neill; I cannot say that I am awestruck by his technique, but it works.

By way of conclusion, I have to say that this comic book could have been truly extraordinary, but since neither author nor artist excels, the end result is a bit disappointing. I still think it a good read, but the potential of the idea greatly surpasses the actual product.

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Titel: We3
Författare: Grant Morrison
Tecknare: Frank Quitely
Utgivningsår: 2004
Recenserad: 2007-01-30
Status: N/A

We3 är berättelsen om ett projekt att använda biotekniskt förbättrade djur i krig. Tre av försökdjuren har varit extra framgångsrika: hunden Bandit, katten Tinker och kaninen Pirate. När experimentet ska utvidgas, måste dock de gamla delarna avvecklas, vilket innebär slutet för trion. De flyr från anläggningen för att ge sig ut på egna äventyr, jagad av sina skapare som vill förstöra dem. Djuren är inte bara söta och förrymda husdjur, utan är dessutom cybernetiskt förstärkta mördarmaskiner. De har också givits en talförmåga som motsvarar ett barns.

Det lättaste med den här recensionen är att jag inte behöver bestämma mig för om jag ska ta upp de dåliga sakerna först eller sist, för serien har nämligen inga dåliga sidor. Dess största fördel är helhetsintrycket, som på något sätt får mig att känna med de stackars djuren och deras situation, trots att den är så skild från min egen och trots att de faktiskt har ihjäl rätt många av de som är efter dem. Bilderna är väldigt bra och jag gillar stilen såväl som det lätt lekfulla upplägget (sekvenser av väldigt små paneler i större paneler, till exempel).

We3 går väldigt fort att läsa och njutningen per minut är hög. Dock kan jag tycka att det är lite ytlig för att verkligen beröra mig eller göra ett mer permanent intryck. Nu är detta inte mitt tyngsta kriterium, utan jag kan ändå med gott samvete ge We3 fyra och en halv sniglar.

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Titel: The Authority – Under New Management
Författare: Warren Ellis, Mark Millar
Tecknare: Bryan Hitch, Paul Neary, Frank Quitely, Trevor Scott, Scott Williams, Mark Irwin
Utgivningsår: 2000
Recenserad: 2007-01-23
Status: N/A

Recensionen av andra samlingsvolymen (eller vad man nu ska kalla dem) skulle bli väldigt lik den första om jag skulle skriva ut allting igen. Därför tänker jag nöja mig med att kommentera skillnaderna mellan Under New Management och Relentless.

Anledningen till att den här får betydligt sämre betyg än förra är att de bästa idéerna redan presenterats i första och nu återanvänds. Det finns visserligen ett par guldkorn (Jenny Sparks är fortfarande intressant och det enorma rymdskeppet som ska förstöra jorden är också häftigt), men inte alls lika många som i Relentless.

Nu motiverar inte detta en sänkning med en hel snigel, utan jag ska ta upp ytterligare en sak som gör Under New Management sämre i mina ögon. Jag hyllade bilderna i den förra recensionen och det är något jag inte känner att jag kan göra i den här. Visst finns det undantag, men jag tycker ändå att det var mer ögongodis tidigare.

Det intressanta är nog att jag förmodligen inte ogillar The Authority för att det är en superhjälteserie, vilket jag kanske kunde misstänka att jag skulle göra innan jag läste. Istället känns det som om den bara är utförd på fel sätt eller inte riktigt passar mig. Har något ni tror jag skulle gilla bättre får ni gärna kasta det på mig. Har ni det inte i tryckt format och är villiga att låna ut det är det dock minimal chans att jag läser det.

Uppdatering: Dimfrost påpekade att det faktiskt är två olika författare och olika tecknare i första och andra delen av Under New Assignment. Jag vill då lägga till att jag gillade den första delen mycket mer än den andra och att den första delen håller ungefär samma klass som Relentless (det vill säga rätt bra).

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