Top Ten Time Once More, Part 1
Copyright © 2013 Rick Klaw and Mark London Williams
Welcome to our sixth annual foray into the best that Mark London Williams and I read this previous year. As been the trend of the past two years,
our reading choices have deviated wildly with only one book being mentioned on both our top ten lists (it'll be revealed
in the second part of top 5 of our top ten selections).
Without further ado, here's selection 10 through 6. Be sure to check back in two weeks when Mark reveals each of our final five choices.
I'll be back in January.
Have a happy, safe, and a comic book-filled holidays.
Fashion Beast Story by Malcolm McLaren and Alan Moore, adapted by Antony Johnston from the screenplay by Moore, art by Facundo Percio (Avatar)
Sometime in the late 80s, the legendary Malcolm McLaren, musician, impresario, visual artist, performer, clothes designer
and boutique owner, contacted Alan Moore about working on a movie project. After discussing several ideas (including Surf
Nazis which featured an aboriginal hero with the ability to summon waves and an Oscar Wilde in the Wild West tale that somehow
morphs into the story of a 19th century female performer in the mode of the 20th century Madonna), they settled on Fashion
Beast, an amalgamation of the life of Christian Dior and "Beauty and the Beast," both the fable and the haunting Jean Cocteau adaptation.
Writer Antony Johnston converted the completed but never filmed screenplay into a more comics-friendly format and Facundo
Percio's art enhanced the lurid and, at times, disturbing near future tale.
After losing her job as a coat checker at a trendy club, the androgynous Doll literally stumbles into a modeling job for a
reclusive designer. Moore and McLaren delve into the warped perceptions of the fashion industry, while society literally
crumbles. The fears of Thatcher's conservative late 80s England sadly still resonate with the 21st century reader. The
reality of a decaying society with the poor being crushed under the weight of the super rich and privileged remains a very real reality.
The graphic novel reads much like a typical 80s Alan Moore piece, complete with the obvious tropes and in your face
symbolism. And much like that decade's work, the compelling Fashion Beast toys with ideas and concepts that simultaneously
thrill, terrify, and intrigue.
Prince of Cats by Ronald Wimberly (DC/Vertigo)
Ron Wimberly's Prince of Cats, from DC's Vertigo, is, per the description, a "remix" of Romeo and Juliet, focusing on the
rivalry between Mercutio and Tybalt and their Montague and Capulet coteries. Except this is an alternate-universe version of
Brooklyn in the 80s, where primarily African-American gangs wield swords and speak in Iambic pentameter.
I really loved the sections where I couldn't tell which lines were the Bard's, and which were Wimberly's. More exciting still
were the sections where he was able to lift Shakespeare's repartee verbatim, and make it work over his artwork and
plotting. I just hope someone is letting him do remixes of Macbeth and King Lear. And full disclosure: Yes, this initially
came out last fall, but I didn't get to it to read & review 'til earlier this year.
Came the Dawn and Other Stories written by Gardner Fox and Al Feldstein, art by Wallace Wood with Harry Harrison (Fantagraphics)
Beginning in the late 40s through the mid-50s, Wallace "Wally" Wood created memorable stories for the legendary EC stable of
crime, horror, and science fiction comics. Came the Dawn and Other Stories collects all 26 of Woods horror and crime tales
from that period. The initial stories, usually with the aide of artistic partner Harry Harrison (the same one who later
created The Stainless Steel Rat) and written by Gardner Fox, offered fairly run-of-the-mill horror riffs on werewolves,
ghosts, and the like. The relatively crude art pales in comparison to Wood's later brilliance but the occasional extraordinary
image or panel crops up. The first story to offer a glimpse of the future EC and Wood tales, the Al
Feldstein-scripted "Death's Double-Cross" delivers an excellent romantic thrill that effectively showcases Wood's talents. The
creepy "Judy, You're Not Yourself" ushered in a sea change in the quality of stories. The tale effectively shatters the
illusions of the supposed idyllic suburban life in a story that could only be described as an EC-type tale. The further
stories tackle controversial topics such as racism, anti-semitism, police brutality, and sexual morality, all subjects that
were not discussed openly in the uptight, restrictive morality of 50s polite society. Beautifully crafted, as typical for a
Fantagraphics book, Came the Dawn and Other Stories showcases the creative evolution of one of the true masters of the
form. Further rounding out this excellent collection are an introductory essay examining each story, creator bios, and a
short history of EC Comics.
Hand-Drying in America and Other Stories by Ben Katchor (Pantheon)
I've loved Ben Katchor's work since The Jew of New York, with its use of architecture, pipes, conduits, economic manifest
destiny and more as a means of revealing character. Here, in a thick hard-bound collection of architecturally and
infra-structure based observations of humanity (though let's not forget Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, either)
Katchor doesn't follow a single character, or even build a story. Rather, this is a collection of revelatory shards,
most just a couple of pages long (though these are big square pages, and he manages to squeeze in lots of panels), showing
different peoples's interactions with buildings, sidewalks, history, restaurant menus, zoning laws, supermarket shelves,
and so much more, much of it set in fictive East Coast cities and neighborhoods. You may never view the landscape of your
own city quite the same way again.
Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell (Top Shelf)
Best known for the syndicated strips Big Top and Adam@Home, Rob
Harrell makes his first foray into the full length graphic novel
format with the humorous Monster on the Hill. In Harrell's fantasy vision of 1860s England, a monster terrorizes every town. Each
unique creature serves as a source of civic pride and financial windfall as the terrifying monsters attract a lucrative
tourist trade. Save for Stoker-on-Avon whose resident, less-than-impressive dragon Rayburn, suffers from depression. With the
help of the eccentric Dr. Charles Wilkie and the fearless street urchin Timothy, the morose monster must overcome his foibles
before a menace destroys the town. Recalling the best of Bone, Harell's charming caricatures, funny asides, and creative
fight sequences propel the exciting tale. Truly living up to the all ages moniker, Monster on the Hill should thrills all
adventure-lovers, from 8-80 and beyond.
Delilah Dirk and The Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (First Second)
Some old fashioned derring-do is on display in Cliff's labor of love, which began its life online. We follow adventuress
Delilah Dirk and her companion Selim, as they make their across Turkey, and the Mediterranean, in what appears to
be 1800s. The material's web origins are evident in the episodic nature of the story. Or rather, the light, lively and engaging
book is made up of separate tales without a specific throughline. There's some pursuit, there's a nemesis or two, but mostly
we're on a series of adventurous peregrinations with the sword-wielding Ms. Dirk, and her tea-brewing companion, Selim. It's
a great book for mid-grade readers getting into graphic novels. I became even more enamored of the book when one of
my "honorary nieces" decided to shuck her usual princess costumes, and dress up as Delilah for Halloween, after I'd sent
her, and her sister, a copy. We need more Delilah derring-do in the world.
Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edition written by Pat Mills, Art by Kevin O'Neill (DC)
Marshal Law stood out from the many nihilistic characters crowding the pages of late 80s/early 90s comics. Literally an
anti-hero, Law hates and even actively hunts superheroes. Set in San Futuro, a near-future version of San Francisco, the
long overdue hardcover collection of the extant tales (save for the crossover storylines with The Mask, Pinhead, and The
Savage Dragon), Marshal Law: The Deluxe Edtion features scathing indictments on religion, establishment politics, war, bigotry,
hypocrisy and more, all wrapped in the cape of super-heroics. Writer Mills, founder and longtime editor of the famed British
comic anthology series 2000 A.D., and artist O'Neill, perhaps best known now as the co-creator (with Alan Moore) of
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, deliver a unique hyper-violent, bloody reality populated with oddities such as the
Jesus League of America, the Public Spirit, and Hitler Hernandez. This exploration of superheros in post-modern America
belongs on the shelf beside similarly themed works as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
Genius by Steven T. Seagle (words) and Teddy Kristiansen (pictures) (First Second)
The imprint of great graphic novels for younger readers, here branches out for an adult-themed tale about the elusive
natures of genius, love, and the universe itself. The tale is present-tense, and involves a child genius grown to alienated
middle age, who is haunted by the fact that Albert Einstein's greatest insights and discoveries were all made in evanescent
youth. He perceives his own chance at redemption coming from a secret that his cantankerous father-in-law may hold, from
a time when he was guarding Einstein during WW II. Seagle, known for the Superman contemplation It's a Bird..., pairs well
with Kristiansen's enigmatic artwork, implying layers of reality just out of reach. While Genius ends with a vision of
apocalypse, it continues a little further, and gives us -- and the characters -- a shot at redemption, too. One likes to
think even a haunted Albert Einstein would approve.
The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out by Francesco Francavilla (Dark Horse)
Collecting initial tales of Francesco Francavilla's brilliant neo-pulp, The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out harkens back
to the origins of the 20th century comic book hero genre while firmly planting a foot in the post-nihilistic 2010s. Clad
all in black save for red eyepieces and a red chest insignia, the mysterious Black Beetle battles Nazis, super villains,
and even the police on the streets of Colt City, an obvious paean to Will Eisner's Spirit. Drawing inspiration
from The Shadow, The Spider, and their ilk plus artists such as Eisner, Alex Toth, and Darwyn Cooke, Francavilla produces
a dazzling new addition for the long heroic legacy of the pulp. The Black Beetle Volume 1: No Way Out successfully
introduces a dynamic new hero for the 21st century. All this leaves the reader craving more.
Fifth Beatle written by Vivek J. Tiwary, art by Andrew C. Robinson and Kyle Baker (Dark Horse)
Purporting to be the untold story of the Beatles' legendary discoverer/manager, Brian Epstein, I'm still not sure who
it's been "untold" to, at least among diehard Beatle fans, since we find out here things already known: that Epstein
was gay, at a time that was against the law in England, and had severe addiction and drug problems (leading to his
seemingly accidental death, at 32, from an overdose).
The book necessarily takes a speculative approach to conversations and moments in Epstein's -- and the Fabs' -- lives,
and must also interestingly work around its inability (due to licensing and legal entanglements, one presumes), to use
Beatle lyrics along the way. While the book is mostly about Epstein, it's also a Beatle book, and when Lennon speculates
that America might not be safe, that one could even get shot there for things one says, well, one can't help but feeling
very, very sad. One of the many "might have beens" the book alludes to, including the biggest one at the end: What if
Epstein had treated himself more kindly, and had lived?
Professional reviewer, geek maven, and optimistic curmudgeon, Rick Klaw has supplied
countless reviews, essays, and fiction for a variety of publications
The Austin Chronicle,
The San Antonio Current,
The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Moving Pictures
RevolutionSF, King Kong Is Back!, Conversations
With Texas Writers, Farscape Forever, Electric Velocipede, Cross Plains
Universe, and Steampunk. MonkeyBrain Books published the collection of his essays, reviews,
and other things Klaw, Geek
Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century.
He can often be found pontificating on Twitter
and over at The Geek Curmudgeon.
Mark London Williams wrote the Danger Boy time travel series,
all of which are on sale, for 99 cents a download, until "Twelfth Night." (That will be a theme in the series finale,
due to be released in summer of 2013). Info on his work can be found atmarklondonwilliams.com. His story "Greystone"
about L.A., magic, silent movies, and hippies on the Sunset Strip, just appeared in the "Magical Mayhem" anthology.
He gets Twittery @mlondonwmz.