The Weekly Round-Up #107 With The Activity, DHP, Fables & Xenoholics

Best Comic of the Week:

The Activity #1

Written by Nathan Edmonson
Art by Mitch Gerads

I loved Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country (which I was admittedly late to discover). I also got into the TV show The Unit for a while.  This new comic (I’m not sure if it’s a mini-series or an on-going; Image is pretty bad about telling us things like that) fills the gap that those two forms of entertainment has left.

The Activity is about a super-secretive group of operatives recruited from various military and intelligence organizations in the American government.  The book opens with them executing a perfect snatch-and-grab of someone we assume is a Mexican drug lord.

The team returns to their home base, where we learn that they recently lost a member, before they are sent to Rome for a new mission, with their new replacement.  The mission is pretty straightforward – they have to cover the tracks of a CIA operative who had to abandon his cover by burning down his office and scrubbing his car – but it allows Edmonson space to introduce the characters a little, and establish the book’s parameters.

There is some question as to the loyalty of the new member, dubbed Fiddler in typical, annoying code-name speak.  Other than that, we are given next to no information about what this team really does, or who their masters are.  What is clear though, is that this is going to be a very cool comic.

I like Gerads’s art a great deal.  He handles complex action scenes, like the one in the Mexican restaurant, very well, and differentiates the characters nicely.  Edmonson has proven his ability to write compelling spy-based comics (read Who Is Jake Ellis?), and I feel that this comic is already heads above his work on Grifter at DC.  Check this out.

Other Notable Comics:

Dark Horse Presents #7

Written by Mike Mignola, Andi Watson, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, MJ Butler, Stan Sakai, Tony Puryear, Brandon Graham, Felipe Melo, and Carla Speed McNeil
Art by Mike Mignola, Andi Watson, Neal Adams, Howard Chaykin, Mark Wheatley, Stan Sakai, Tony Puryear, Brandon Graham, Juan Cavia, and Carla Speed McNeil

There are some new members to the the exclusive Dark Horse Presents library this month.

I don’t know who Tony Puryear is, but the first chapter of his Concrete Park definitely has my attention.  It’s set in a place called Scare City, a place beset by gangs, pimps, and protests, in what I assume is a not-too distant future.  These eight pages are spent introducing a few characters, and setting the scene, and I can’t wait to read more.  This has a real DMZ meets Love and Rockets feel going for it.

There is also a Brandon Graham story, which is a huge treat.  He is moving into some more abstract territory than King City, with this tale about a man’s voice who left him, returning over after the man’s death.  He has to deal with the various Secrets, Ideas, and Doubts that are inhabiting the man’s labyrinthine home.  Graham is working on some other level, with some of his usual puns being given centre stage, in a story that deserves to be read a few times over.

MJ Butler and Mark Wheatley give us the beginning of Skultar, a very self-aware barbarian fantasy parody that is decent, if not all that special.  There is also a Usagi Yojimbo story.  I can’t ever really get into these.

Mike Mignola has a Hellboy story, recounting one of the more mysterious cases during HB’s time in Mexico.  This is a very standard Hellboy story – there are monsters, bodies rising from the grave, and Hellboy falls down.  Mignola needs to shake this stuff up a little bit; it’s getting a little old.

Among the established stories, the Finder chapter is the best, as Jaegar meets a person with abilities that both represent the pinnacle of his profession, and which nullify the need for someone like him.  McNeil’s art is really evolving into something wonderful lately; it’s much richer than before (and I like her early stuff a great deal).

Howard Chaykin’s Marked Man is almost over, and that’s a good thing.  I hope Neal Adams’s Blood is going to be finished soon; it’s unreadable.  The Andi Watson story is decent, in a Borges-for-children way, and The Adventures of Dog Mendonca and Pizzaboy is pretty sub-par.

Fables #112

Written by Bill Willingham
Art by Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha, Andrew Pepoy, and Dan Green

Ah, the Christmas issue – proof that time really does move forward in comics.  This is an extra-sized issue, something I didn’t notice until I was more than half-way through and started wondering how Willingham and company had packed so much into one comic.

Anyway, the Fables return to the Farm just in time for Christmas, and after a large party, Rose Red is visited by a talking cricket (I think it’s safe to assume this is Jiminy), who takes her on a Christmas Eve journey to meet with three ‘Paladins of Hope’.  Apparently, a while back, when every issue was taken up with Rose Red’s conversation with the ghost of her mother, she decided to become a paladin of Hope.  I don’t remember that part happening exactly, so I was a little confused until I decided to just go with it.

The three paladins (there used to be fourteen) each represent a different aspect of hope.  Santa Claus, for example, represents the ‘hope for justice’, which is different from actual justice.  The Rose Red part is cool, in a Christmas Carol sort of way.

Willingham also checks in on Bigby and Snow and their family, who while still absorbing the news that their daughter will be the new North Wind, decide to have a quiet family Christmas at home.  Also, Nurse Spratt is laying a trap for the Fables back in Fabletown.

I still think it’s rather strange that Frau Totenkinder (I know that’s not her name anymore, but I forget what she’s called now – Briarthorn?) is back, but no one is talking about it.  Perhaps we’ll get there eventually.  Fables feels a little between big stories right now, and the next issue is going to be an interlude, but I feel confident that Willingham has something up his sleeve for 2012.

Xenoholics #3

Written by Joshua Williamson
Art by Seth Damoose

It’s now very clear that there is a lot more going on in Xenoholics than there seemed at the beginning of the series.  This book is basically about a group of people who enjoy being abducted by aliens, who had formed a support group.  The professor who ran their sessions went missing, and then a government agent dressed all in white came after them.  The group hid out in a strange sex club for alien fetishists, before a larger group of Men in White showed up.

This issue opens with a massacre at the sex club, followed by the rescue of two of the group members by actual aliens.  Now, as this issue has progressed, we learn a number of things.  The government believes that only one member of the group was actually ever abducted, and this person is a ‘key’ to something (it’s a little Ghostbusters-esque).  The professor saw this group as an experiment, but in what, we don’t know.  The aliens don’t appear to be malevolent; instead, it is suggested that they are well-known to the government, and the aliens are actually the ‘good guys’.

Williamson has set up a lot of material in just three issues, and I look forward to continuing to explore this world with him.  The stylistic and thematic comparisons to Chew are easy to make; if you are a fan of that book, you will probably like this one quite a bit.  Seth Damoose’s cartoony, stubby people are growing on me.

Quick Takes:

Avengers #20 – Well, the Avengers actually do something in this issue, as they split up to try to find Norman Osborn, and instead find random henchmen who seem to get the upper hand quite easily.  I like Daniel Acuna’s art, but I find myself increasingly bored with Bendis’s writing.

Batman #4 – This issue really surprised me, as Bruce tells Dick about how, when he was a kid, he investigated the Court of Owls, which seems to have returned to Gotham, thinking they must have been responsible for his parent’s death.  It’s not the new addition to Batman’s back story that surprised me – this is the DCnU after all, but instead it was the different style of art used in these scenes.  I couldn’t quite figure out who drew these pages – it’s a little Max Fiumara, and a little Jock, and it looks very nice.  As it turns out, Greg Capullo is the only artist credited for this issue, so I guess it’s him.  Who knew he could be so original and good?  I just wish he’d draw the rest of the book this well (the Commissioner Gordon scene makes no sense to me visually).  I’m not sure how I feel about this issue hinging on residue found on Alan Wayne’s bones.  He wasn’t skin and bones when his body was found some eighty plus years ago, so that makes absolutely no sense.  Sorry Scott Snyder, usually your plotting is tighter than that.

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes! #1 – It’s only been five months – does that make it too soon to be completely nostalgic for the old DC Universe?  A lot of good has come from the relaunch, but I think that cutting off Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. is one of the biggest mistakes DC made.  This book contains what would have been the 9th and 10th issues of Batman Inc. had the series not fallen so far behind before the relaunch.  The first is a straight-forward, standard team up story, focusing on the Stephanie Brown Batgirl infiltrating a Leviathan-run school for girls.  It has very nice art by Cameron Stewart.  The second story is more Morrison-ian weirdness, featuring almost all of the Batman Inc. operatives in a weird death-trap situation that will require a second read through to fully understand.  It has amazing artwork from Chris Burnham.  I’m not too enthused with the revelation of who is running the show at Leviathan, but I am excited that DC is allowing Morrison to finish off his story, despite the fact that they have fully abandoned the status quo that this story represents.  I suppose this is why we are barely hearing any mention of Batman Inc. in the DCnU.

BPRD Hell on Earth: Russia #4 – Things really pick up with this issue, as Johann goes to kill the creature in Russia that has been creating so many zombies, and Kate finally finds out what has been going on.  It’s mostly an action issue, that doesn’t check in with any of the other sub-plots that have been running lately, but it does show Johann in a new light.  I’m really enjoying Tyler Crook’s art on this series, and think that David Johnson’s Soviet propaganda cover is brilliant.

Daredevil #7 – Mark Waid and Paolo Rivera give us a slightly sappy Christmas story about Matt and a group of blind kids who are lost in the woods in the Catskills after a bus crash.  It shouldn’t work as well as it does – too much of the story is unbelievable (what kind of crash rips a bus in two?), but because of Waid’s straight-forward writing and Rivera’s lovely art, it works.

Fantastic Four #601 – I thought that the Human Torch was brought back way too quickly, but now that it seems that Jonathan Hickman actually changed the character, aging him, maturing him, and putting him in charge of the Annihilation Wave, I’ve changed my mind.  Johnny’s new forces fight the Kree above the Earth, while Ronan disagrees with the new Supreme Intelligence, and the Inhumans enter into things.  This is a big action issue, and it’s really very good.

Hulk #46 – The Hulk of Arabia story has ended, with Red Hulk having to accept the way world politics work.  This story had its moments, but Jeff Parker’s attempt to engage the Hulk in events styled after the Arab Spring fell apart pretty quickly, once a Rigellian somethingorother got involved.

Invincible #86 – Another terrific issue of Robert Kirkman’s superhero comic.  This issue has Nolan fighting Allen over whether or not the leader of the coalition should release a virus on Earth that will wipe out the evil Viltrumite race, but could also kill everyone else on the planet.  The fight scene was going well, and then Oliver, Nolan’s son, got involved, and things got even better.  This is a thoughtful and exciting comic, and it’s been great to see Cory Walker come back to draw these last two issues.  I’m looking forward to getting back to Earth now, especially since Mark took some drastic actions a couple months back.

Invincible Iron Man #511 – Dear Matt Fraction, you are the only person in the world who uses the phrase ‘samo-samo’, and you need to stop.  Other than that, this is another very good issue of Iron Man, with Stane and Mandarin starting to make their move, and Bethany and Pepper filling in the roles that used to belong to Stark and Maria Hill in their intense dislike of each other.

New Mutants #35 – This arc is weird.  The team is tracking down Blink, who is investigating a noise metal band that causes natural disasters to hit their venues.  Really?  It’s hard to draw a convincing fight between superheroes and a demonic drummer, and make it look credible.  I’m hoping this arc ends next issue, because I like the direction this book has been going post-Fear Itself, although this feels like another misstep.  I expect a lot more from Abnett and Lanning.

Planet of the Apes #9 – The third arc of this series starts here, as a group of humans commandeer an ape airship, and Voice Alaya interrogates Sully about the ancient tech weapons.  This series was one of the biggest pleasant surprises of 2011, and it continues to improve.  Carlos Magno’s art is incredible.  I also like how Darryl Gregory is taking some of the historical metaphors in this work further, as the apes begin tattooing numbers on the arms of humans before sending them to internment camps.  Very good stuff.

The Stuff of Legend Vol. 3: A Jester’s Tale #3 – I can feel my enjoyment of this series slipping some as the plot becomes more complex, and the number of characters to keep track of keeps growing.  What made this series so effective at the beginning was the simplicity of its story about a group of toys who enter into a strange kingdom to rescue their lost master.  Now, there seems to be a lot more going on, and while it’s still very good, I’m worried that the writers are going to lose the plot.  The art is great though, and I’m willing to concede that my dislike is mostly due to the great delay between this issue and the previous one.

THUNDER Agents #2 – I’m really happy that DC decided to give this title a second chance, and I think this volume is shaping up to be better than the first.  The threat of Demo, the villain that showed up last issue during a Subterranean festival, is explained after we are given a Jerry Ordway-drawn history lesson that reveals the real reason the THUNDER Agents were formed.  Much of the comic is taken up with a conversation at the Higher UN about how to proceed, while every second panel shows us what is happening underground with the members of the team that Demo has taken hostage.  This issue is paced excellently, and Wes Craig’s art looks even better.  This is very good stuff.

Thunderbolts #167 – I’m pleased to see that there was more going on in this Jack the Ripper story than it first seemed, as the escaped through time B-team fight ancient Celtic spirits in the streets of Victorian London.  This is a decent superhero comic, and I like the attention to historical detail that Jeff Parker brings to the story.

Uncanny X-Force #19 – With this issue, Rick Remender wraps up the Dark Angel saga while moving right into the team’s next big problem.  Beast and Kitty learn about the team (off-panel), and take responsibility for Warren and Genesis.  Robbi Rodriguez draws this issue, and it looks very nice, but the best thing here is the cover by Rafael Grampá.

Venom #11 – Rick Remender has a real good handle on the character of Flash Thompson, but I’m losing interest in this series with each new issue.  Perhaps it’s Lan Medina’s art, which, while very good, doesn’t grab me the way Tony Moore or Tom Fowler did.  Maybe it’s the fact that the new Jack O’Lantern, who is a very annoying character, has to talk so much.  I know the fact that this book is set to go weekly in February is making me not want to bother with it any more, so maybe I’m just looking for things to fault, knowing that I’m going to be dropping it at that point.  Regardless, I didn’t get a lot of enjoyment out of this issue.

Wolverine and the X-Men #3 – I feel like this issue strikes a much better balance between the comedic nature of the series and the portrayal of these characters in every other corner of the Marvel Universe.  I also think, for the first time ever, that I’m starting to like Quentin Quire as a character, which I never really expected to have happen.  Chris Bachalo is joined by a couple of guest artists, Duncan Rouleau, who I admire a great deal (finish The Great Unknown!) and Matteo Scalera, who I don’t know.  They mostly kept a consistent look to the book.  I’m enjoying characters like Kid Gladiator and Broo, but also think that Matt Murdock got the best scene in the comic.

Wonder Woman #4 – Reading this, I can’t help but wonder what led Brian Azzarello to decide that the Greek gods have such a liking of speaking in puns.  There are little witticisms and bon mots throughout this issue, to the extent that I checked to make sure that it wasn’t co-written by Brandon Graham.  This is a very emotional issue, as Diana comes to grips with her feelings about her mother, but meanwhile Hippolyta is confronting Hera, and that doesn’t go well for any of them.  This is one of the more original and interesting of the New 52, with wonderful Cliff Chiang artwork.

X-Factor #229 – It would appear that Madrox, having been killed two issues ago, is stuck in some sort of parallel world where ‘nothing is the same’.  This comic works well because of Peter David, but really, how many times have we read this kind of thing?

Comics I Would Have Bought if They Weren’t $4:

Amazing Spider-Man #676

Key of Z #3

Legion of Monsters #3

Punisher Max #20

Rachel Rising #4

Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #5

Wolverine #20

Bargain Comics:

Astonishing X-Men #42-44 – Three different issues, three different creative teams.  I used to think that it was the adjectiveless X-Men title that was pointless, but I think this one is in the same boat.  The new team of Greg Pak and Mike McKone has already been replaced, and their debut issue doesn’t make a lot of sense.  There are so many interesting X-Men, but we only ever see the same small group in each and every title – maybe one of these more peripheral ones could focus on a more rotating cast.  Or, even better, be canceled.  I mean, Uncanny is coming out every second week for the next few months – how much X-Men do we need?

Fear Itself: The Fearless #3 & 4 – I think, now that I’ve read the first third of this mini-series, I can safely say that it doesn’t interest me.  Fear Itself was not a particularly exciting event, and the thought of reading eight more issues about Valkyrie and Sin looking for the bad guy’s hammers, with little more than stock statements of intent passing for dialogue, bores me.  I think Marvel wanted to have their ‘Brightest Day’, without realizing that that series sucked too.  It’s weird that this is written by three writers whom I respect a great deal – it feels more like it’s written by some assistant editor.

Vertigo Resurrected: Finals #1

Written by Will Pfieifer
Art by Jill Thompson

The Vertigo Resurrected series, like the DC Comics Presents series, really is a great idea.  A mini-series like Finals, from 1999, doesn’t have enough of an audience to warrant receiving a proper trade paperback, but this less-expensive format, similar to Dark Horse Presents, is perfect to bring some attention to some pretty decent comics.

Finals is a pretty amusing comic.  It’s set at Knox State University, a bastion of independent academic thought and the pursuit of knowledge.  It’s loosely centred around a group of seniors, who have to complete their final projects in order to graduate.  Wally, the more or less main character, is supposed to have been working on an example of extreme cinema verité for his Film Studies course, but so far hasn’t shot a single frame.  His girlfriend, Nancy, however has found great success with her project, and is therefore the godhead for an on-campus personality cult.  Dave is plugging away at his project, which involves violently robbing just about every business on the campus.  Gary is working on devolving himself into an animal, and so has left their rented house in favour of living rough on the campus, and Neil, the final main character, finally gets his time machine to work, although Dave shoots the future-Neil that comes through the portal.

There’s nothing particularly pointed about the satire here – Pfeifer is taking shots at the pre-9/11 atmosphere of self-indulgent pointless study that has infected higher education, but he doesn’t put a lot of bite into his story.  This is a fun little college movie, basically. Jill Thompson is terrific at everything she does, but this is the 90s Thompson, before she reached the heights of Beasts of Burden or her other more recent comics.

Finals is a fun read.

 X-Club #1 – Dr. Nemesis is the most amusing new X-Men to be developed in the last decade (it always surprises me that he came from Matt Fraction’s brain and not Warren Ellis’s, as he sounds so much like an Ellis character), so it’s good to see a book that he is more or less headlining.  Si Spurrier’s dialogue is sharp, even if the plot feels a little slapped together, as the X-Club runs in to mystery while helping some corporation build the world’s first space elevator.

The Week in Manga:

Pluto: Urasawa X Tezuka Vol. 3

by Naoki Urasawa after Osamu Tezuka, with Takashi Nagasaki

With each volume of this series I read, I find myself ever more drawn in to Naoki Urasawa’s remaking of a classic Osamu Tezuka Astro Boy story.

This third volume introduces a few new story elements. Where the first two volumes were primarily concerned with police robot Inspector Gesicht’s mission to track down whoever or whatever is attacking the most powerful robots on Earth, and the people who support robot rights, this volume gives the story more sprawl.  We are introduced to Adolf (not so subtle, the choice of name), a man who is part of an anti-robot KKK.

Adolf’s brother was killed by a robot, something that is not supposed to happen.  Adolf has proof, in the form of the metal shell that was used – only a handful of robots can use such a device, including the intrepid Gesicht.  KR, the anti-robot group, is making use of a number of media outlets to try to discredit robots, and to further the Jim Crow commentary seen throughout this book.

Meanwhile, Uran, the robotic sister of Atom (Japan’s name for Astro Boy), starts to help a homeless and sick robot who paints pictures of flowers on the walls of abandoned buildings.  This nameless character has a connection to Pluto – the villain of the first two volumes.

I like how Urasawa is still building his story almost half way into it.  His characters are rich and nuanced, and I appreciate the amount of time and space he gives to new members of the cast, so they can be properly developed.  This is a great series.

The Week in Graphic Novels:

The Li’l Depressed Boy Vol.0: Lonely Heart Blues

Written by S. Steven Struble
Art by Ed Tadem, Lindsay Jane, Sina Grace, Jose Garibaldi, Chris Fenoglio, Zach Trover, Kristopher Struble, Jim Mahfood, Kanila Tripp, Roman Muradov, Justin Stewart, Sam Kieth, Jim Valentino, Scott Morse, Evan DiLeo, and Jamie McKelvie

I’ve been getting a lot more enjoyment out of the Image series The Li’l Depressed Boy than I expected.  Each issue has an effervescent quality to it though – it’s utterly charming and fun to read, but it’s usually a very quick read, which doesn’t stick with me after I finish it.  Part of the problem I’ve had with the comic is that I don’t fully understand a few fundamental things – like why is LDB a rag doll while everyone around him is a normal human being?  Also, why is LDB called the LDB?  He hasn’t seemed all that depressed, at least not in the days leading up to his current state of confusion surrounding Jazz, the girl he likes.

I figured that this ‘Volume 0‘ trade, collecting the web comics where LDB got his start, would shed some light on all this.  It doesn’t really answer any of my questions, but it does provide a little more back-story and clarity on just who LDB is. And yah, he seems pretty depressed.

Many of the stories here are simple slice-of-life strips, wherein very little happens.  LDB microwaves food, or puts away Christmas decorations.  Nothing special really.  There are some strips that hint towards a dead girlfriend, or at least a dead crush, but really, we don’t get to understand just who he is.

There is a long list of artists who worked on this character before Sina Grace became the dominant artist.  It’s always a treat to see someone like Jim Mahfood working on a comic, but I think I was most impressed with the contributions of Chris Fenoglio, who I’m otherwise unfamiliar with.

This book could serve as a nice introduction to LDB, but could also put off new readers because it feels like it’s somewhat lacking in substance.  It’s probably best to start the series off with the first volume, which has a lot more story going on in it.  Still, this is a nice little collection.

The Sky Over the Louvre

Written by Bernar Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carrière
Art by Bernar Yslaire

I vaguely remember writing an essay almost twenty years ago about the artist Jacques-Louis David and his role in helping construct the public image of the French Revolution.  My memory of this is very vague, and I do wish I’d kept my university essays, simply because it would probably be amusing to read it over now.

Anyway, this beautifully designed over-sized hardcover graphic novel caught my eye, because I usually enjoy historical comics, and it centres on David at the time that he was the most famous artist in France, and was struggling to support Robespierre’s Revolutionary Ideal, even as the whole endeavour began to descend into madness and Terror.

Opening The Sky Over The Louvre, I figured I’d be in for a real treat – a serious, literary graphic novel that handles an interesting period of history, withe beautiful artwork.  Unfortunately, the book doesn’t quite live up to its promise…  To begin with, the art is quite lovely, and I like the way that Yslaire works digital reproductions of David’s art, and of the other painters who filled the Louvre at its opening, into his own drawings.  It adds a level of veracity to the book, and the paintings make an interesting contrast to Yslaire’s own slightly caricatured representations of the different historical figures.

The book is not just about David’s struggles to remain in the favour of the Revolution – a difficult task with Robespierre obsessing over his concept of the ‘Supreme Being’ as a replacement for a god figure in French society, but also about David’s obsession with Jules, a thirteen year old boy.  The art stuff works; the parts with the kid don’t.  We are told repeatedly that Jules is beautiful (although the thick swath of a unibrow that Yslaire gives him makes that a little hard to accept), and we are shown repeatedly how the child catches David’s eye, causing him to seek him out to use as a model for his portrait of Bara, a young martyr of the Revolution.  The thing is, David never makes a move on the boy, or seems particularly enamored of him, and so his emotional reaction to Jules’s trip to the guillotine later in the book feels completely forced and without justification.

I don’t know how much of this part of the book is accurate.  I don’t remember reading about this relationship, but it does come off as feeling rather forced.  Similarly, the structure of this story relies too heavily on large chunks of narrative text, as if there was no easier way for Yslaire and Carrière to establish what was happening in the story.

I did find this to be an interesting comic, but when compared to something like the old Vertigo series Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci, which handled a very similar story, The Sky Over the Louvre comes off as the more shoddy of the two.  Still, I am more than happy to continue supporting graphic novels about important figures in the history of the visual arts, and am curious to find the rest of the Louvre/NBM collaboration books.

Summer Blonde (Stories)

by Adrian Tomine

Summer Blonde collects four stories from Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve, each of which is a minor masterpiece of literary comics.

In Alter Ego, a struggling writer obsessed with issues from his childhood that he hasn’t been able to let go, enters into a strange relationship with the teenage sister of a girl he had a crush on in high school.  The writer lives in a different town, and is in a stable relationship, but can’t seem to tear himself away from this young woman, with whom he has a platonic relationship, at least until she makes a move.  This story has a bit of a Paul Auster feel to it – the writer wrote one derivative autobiographical novel to middling acclaim, and then ghostwrote another for a celebrity, which received great praise.  One cannot escape the feeling that he is pursuing this young woman with one eye on how it would turn out to be a good story for his next book.

Summer Blonde is an interesting study in jealousy and obsession.  Neil is a sad, quiet man, who has decided he is in love with a girl who works in a gift card store, despite the fact that their interactions with one another do not extend past him going in and buying cards that he never sends to anyone.  He gets a new neighbour, Carlo, who has all sorts of success with women, including the card shop girl, who already has another boyfriend.  Neil steps up his game to stalking, and lets the boyfriend know that Carlo is around, with interesting results.

Hawaiian Getaway follows Hillary, a dour young woman who loses her job answering phones for a mail order catalogue, and descends into her own brand of weirdness.  She makes audio tapes of her roommate having sex, and starts prank calling a payphone across the street to amuse herself.  She has problems with her Chinese immigrant mother, and can’t maintain normal friendships.  Strangely, she meets a nice guy through her prank calling, and begins to see a brighter future for herself.

Finally, Bomb Scare is about Scotty, a high school student with one friend – Chris, who is kind of odd.  There are rumours flying through the school that the two are lovers, and Chris ends up alienating Scotty through his interest in extreme pornography and his forceful ways.  Scotty begins to get close to Cammie, a party girl with a reputation for being easy.  This story is a fascinating look at the horrors of high school.  Being roughly the same age as Tomine, the time period depicted in this story is incredibly familiar.

Tomine’s stories are excellent.  He has a tendency to not provide any sense of closure in his endings, preferring to close his tales on potentially pivotal scenes.  He has a strong understanding of people who find it difficult to interact with people.  Hillary receives a book on making small talk from her sister, while Neil and Scotty are equally uncomfortable in the same types of settings.

I really enjoyed this book, and am sad that I’ve now read Tomine’s complete body of work, at least until he gives us another issue of Optic Nerve.

Album of the Week:

The Weeknd – Echoes of Silence  You need to hear this free album.  The Weeknd is what you need.

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