Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Armies, by Dionnet, Picaret, and Gal

Title: Armies
Words: Jean-Pierre Dionnet, Picaret
Art: Jean-Claude Gal
Publisher: Humanoids

Review by John Anderson

This is classic heavy metal. These stories about medieval armies, bloody battles, sprawling empires and ancient ruins originally appeared in Métal Hurlant, starting with the first issue in 1974. Most of them are written by Dionnet, one of the founders of that magazine, and beautifully illustrated by the visionary artist Gal.

There are two parts to this book. The first, Conquering Armies, is a series of short stories ostensibly about a mighty unstoppable army. But the stories focus on the common soldiers furing the times in the army is stalled between battles. My favourite story is just four pages long and concerns a soldier who has been ordered to guard the army’s back. But this is just a tactic to winnow the ranks: the army can’t support all its soldiers, so some expendable soldiers are ordered to become sentries and then left to die. I also love the last story, about a soldier who sells his compatriot into slavery and which has an entertaining surprise ending.

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Review: Secret Science Alliance

The Secret Science Alliance and The Copycat Crook
Thesis. Antithesis.  Synthesis.”
By Eleanor Davis
Published by Bloomsbury USA

Reviewed by Jason Azzopardi 

Try telling someone the best thing you read all year was a children’s comic book called The Secret Science Alliance and The Copycat Crook and watch how quickly you become telepathic.  In the twenty or so times I’ve mentioned this to people since 2009, I swear, I can actually hear, “who’s this ding-a-ling” pulsating out of their brain.  Four years later, I’m still that same dame-a-ling, but I’m also still that impressed with Eleanor Davis’ astonishing kid’s adventure comic that, apparently, everyone except the good people of the Illinois State Media Library (who gave it their Bluestem Award) dismissed simply because it was a kid’s comic.

Doesn’t matter.  I still maintain that it was not only the best comic of 2009, it was one of the best of the entire decade.  A small but dense story involving three middle-school braniacs, Julian, Greta and Ben, who form a club dedicated to using science to better the world (combating evil turns out to be a by-product of their genius), Secret Science Alliance falls more into the lower-key type of adventure stories  that I remember so fondly from when I was a middle-schooler.   This is, pure and simple, a neighbourhood mystery that takes place in a world that you pretty much recognize as your own, populated by people that you, for sure, have met before.   Nobody is just good or bad, they’re both, and even the vilest of them is just a little sad, a little envious and a lot lonely.   More Encyclopedia Brown or This Can’t Be Happening At Macdonald Hall! than Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, more Degrassi Junior High than Degrassi: The Next Generation.  Admittedly, Secret Science Alliance skews slightly younger, but in terms of tone, it doesn’t really have a mean bone in its body precisely because Eleanor Davis knows that not everything has to be “edgy” or “high-concept”, and that sometimes it’s okay to tell a gentle story for kids.

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Review: ZOT!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991


ZOT!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991
Story and art: Scott McCloud
Publisher: It Books

Reviewed by Chris Eng

Scott McCloud (rightly) gets acknowledgement for the work he’s done in exploring, explaining and defining comics as a medium, but is so infrequently credited for creating one of the best collections of YA short fiction in the past several decades.

Originally starting as a straightforward and upbeat alternative to the brooding and grim superhero comics of the day, ZOT! began a slow transformation into something much more. At its core, it followed the tale of Zachary Paleozogt, a teenaged superhero named Zot with a permanently peppy outlook who had the ability to travel back and forth between his Earth (where it was always the 1965 of the far-flung future, complete with jet-pack villains and flying cars) and our Earth (which was depressingly unremarkable). In our world Zot met Jenny Weaver, a girl who was looking for any escape from her humdrum life. They went on adventures together and it was all very charming.

After issue 10, though, it shifted from colour to black and white and the series really began to come into its own. McCloud found himself able to experiment more with tone, contrast, and artistic style, and the stories began to reflect that. Death and its very real, very tragic consequences featured prominently. Dekko, a villain who could have easily remained a run-of-the-mill insane art deco cyborg, was given a heartwrenching origin story. By the time McCloud had put a couple of dozen issues under his belt, ZOT! had lost its peppiness but had gained a depth of field that was surprising.

Then, in the last eight issues of its 36-issue run, something remarkable happened: the series tackled a multitude of problematic topics which most young adult authors would struggle to condense into an entire novel, let alone 22 pages. Zot lost the ability to go home and was trapped in our superhero- and villain-less world. Without alternatives, he began to go to high school with Jenny where the supporting cast members of her friends (i.e. the freaks, dweebs, and weirdos who were all looking for acceptance and to find their place in the world) took centre stage. Zot became the foil against which the teenagers were able to explore themselves, and their stories ran the gamut of the heartbreaking and poignant, covering topics like emotional insecurity, the trade-off between dreams and ambition, sex (in a story that won McCloud an Eisner nomination), and coming to grips with your own sexuality (handled in a very straightforward manner at a time when the only comics that addressed gay issues were “gay comics”).

The entirety of ZOT! is an entertaining read (including the 10 issues not included in the Black and White Collection), but the last 26 are something something special, and of those the final eight are astounding in their effortless empathy. It’s difficult growing up as an outsider, but the comics in this dense and beautiful volume are an eloquent reinforcement that not only are none of us alone, none of us should have to try to make it through this world alone.

Review: Orc Stain Volume 1, by James Stokoe


Orc Stain: Volume 1
By  James Stokoe
Published by Image Comics

Reviewed by Chris Eng

Perspective. It’s the thing missing from 99% of fantasy stories out there.

Blah blah blah, quest. Blah blah blah, magic item. Blah blah blah, kill some orcs. Why? Because the quest is sacred, the items are magic and the orcs are evil. ‘Nuff said. Except it’s not enough. Not really.

For starters, what specifically is so evil about the orcs? They’re an advanced civilization with their own politics and art forms. They have their own culture. So why is it never shown?

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Review: MUSE, by Filippi & Dodson


Words: Denis-Pierre Filippi
Art: Terry Dodson
Publisher: Humanoids
In Store Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Review by John Anderson

Muse chronicles the sexy reveries of Coraline, who is the new nanny for an insufferable rich kid who is obsessed with inventing elaborate steampunk contraptions. Coraline’s exact job is never defined, but it might have something to do with lying around in revealing attire for the benefit of the peeping tom groundskeeper. To make things more interesting, every night Coraline has titillating dreams where she finds herself on a pirate ship, a desert island, or in a fairy tale – and she wakes up missing her underwear.

I’m reminded of Little Ego, Vittorio Gardino’s erotic parody of Little Nemo. Like the character in Little Ego, Coraline has erotic dreams in exotic locales, although Coraline doesn’t attempt any psychoanalysis. Also like Little Ego, the plot of Muse is very light, and at times this book seems like nothing more than an excuse for illustrations of exotic set pieces featuring well-endowed ladies in a selection of ripped dresses. And there’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s what you’re looking for – especially when the illustrations are done by U.S. comics superstar Terry Dodson. His jaw-droppingly beautiful artwork is what makes this book worth reading.

In fact, Filippo’s story and Dodson’s art were made for each other. The story is light and leisurely, giving the art time to fill in the spaces with lots of detail. The detail is more than just titillation, although there is some nudity and plenty of scanty clothing. I love how a lot of the texture is defined by colour rather than lines, and I love the use of shadows. Every panel contains a beautiful interplay of light and shadow, which combined with the slow-moving story gives the book a lazy, summery feeling. It’s slick and stylish without looking computer coloured. Dodson’s superhero work is great, but none of it looks as beautiful as Muse. And this edition shows off the art in the same size as the original French edition (9.5 x 12.5 inches).

Don’t expect an intricate plot or detailed characterization with Muse, but do expect a lazy, dreamy adventure, and some of the most gorgeous art you’ll ever see in comics.


Review: Weapons of the Metabaron


Title: Weapons of the Metabaron
Words: Alexandro Jodorowsky
Art: Travis Charest, Zoran Janjetov
Publisher: Humanoids

Review by John Anderson

At the beginning of Weapons of the Metabaron, the Metabaron has lost his memory. He meets eight ancient wise men who help him remember a vivid, heroic episode of his life, which is beautifully painted by the popular superhero comic book artist Charest. This episode was thought lost, but the Metabaron experiences it as part of a framing story illustrated by Janjetov. So the structure of the story is a metaphor for the history of the project itself.

This project was first announced ten years ago, as Dreamshifters. But Charest’s work took much longer than expected, and we had to wait until 2008’s Les Armes du Méta-Baron to see the 29 pages that Charest had completed. To speed the completion of the book, the remaining 26 pages were illustrated by Janjetov (the artist of Before the Incal and The Technopriests). It came out in English as Weapons of the Metabaron in 2011; this week’s release is a new edition with thicker paper stock.

For the most part, Charest’s hyperrealistic and beautifully coloured paintings are fantastic. They shine in depicting the sci-fi sword and sorcery battles of the Metabaron against huge demons and hordes of lizard men. The dynamic panels and two-page spreads allow the action to be told with few words. Part of the story is an exciting and moving retelling of the final battle between the last Metabaron and his father-mother, Aghora, and I like how Charest uses a collage of action shots to illustrate it. However, there are some places where it looks like Charest left out the backgrounds. The lack of detail in a few panels is jarring compared with the incredible detail in the rest of his art.

Unfortunately, Janjetov’s art seems pedestrian compared to Charest’s. There are no pages where the panels are divided by lightning, no two-page collages of terrific battles. However, as I’ve mentioned, Janjetov’s art serves as a framing story for the segment drawn by Charest. This is a clever idea and helps make the change in art less disrupting.

The story is one of the most mystical that Jodorowsky has written. The Metabaron is sent on a number of dream-quests to find the most powerful weapons in the universe. But although he is dreaming, the weapons he finds in his dreams become real. It reminds me of some of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion stories, where the hero is sent on quests, often for a reason he doesn’t quite understand. He’s simply an agent of a higher power.

My biggest complaint with Weapons of the Metabaron is that it ends much too suddenly. Now that the Metabaron has been transformed into a living weapon, what will he do? This feels like a prelude to a much bigger adventure. I wonder if the original project had been intended to be something bigger, but circumstances forced the creators’ hands.

But the book we ended up with is a worthy addition to the Metabarons story. Charest’s dynamic and vibrant images paired with Jodorowsky’s mystical storytelling is something very special.

Review: District 14


Title: District 14
Words: Pierre Gabus
Art: Romuald Reutimann
Publisher: Humanoids

Review by John Anderson

District 14 is a tale of gangsters, newshounds, and costumed vigilantes in a dreamlike early twentieth century New York inhabited by humans, animals, and extraterrestrials.

The protagonist is an elephant whom we meet as he is going through immigration. He is given the name “Michael” because the official can’t pronounce his real name. After meeting Hector, a beaver who works as a journalist for a big newspaper, they start working together to uncover some of the city’s biggest stories, including the attempted kidnapping of a politician and the history of the popular caped crime fighter Tigerman. But it soon becomes clear that Michael is hiding more than one secret. In fact, every character is hiding something.

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Review: Jihad, by Igor Baranko

Title: Jihad
Words and art: Igor Baranko
Publisher: Humanoids
Released January 30th, 2013

Review by John Anderson

The year is 2040. Russia has a new dictator: former science fiction author Ivan Apelsinov, who has a plan to resurrect the spirit of Genghis Khan and create a new Mongol empire stretching across Europe and Asia. All the Chechen people have been eradicated except one: a dangerous mystical Muslim terrorist on a mission from god. All drugs are legal and sometimes mandatory, and the Ukraine is the only independent state in Europe. Meanwhile, Lenin’s corpse has been abducted by aliens. And finally a Buddhist monk meditating in Tuva is following the whole story in her visions. Oh – and there’s a clone of Isaac Newton.

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XOXOAmore Tackles the Sex and Sexuality of Graphic Novels

The fabulous Kaitlyn at Toronto-based XOXOAmore, “a website devoted to love, romance and sexuality,” has been reviewing a wide array of comics and graphic novels at that site over the past few months. We particularly love her sex-positive perspective shining a different light on works that might otherwise be reviewed more clinically. Her reading list is also incredibly diverse, incorporating self-published books and professionally-published materials, and books from across North America and beyond.

Kaitlyn has been choosing her books to be reviewed from amongst the offerings at The Beguiling as well, and we’re proud to be a part of it. So if you’ve ever wondered what sort of books might be hanging out in the smuttier sections of the store, we heartily encourage you to check out Kaitlyn’s reviews at XOXOAmore to see if any those titles might be for you. 🙂

Book & Graphic Novel Reviews:

– Chris @ The Beguiling

Review: Hicksville


Review: Hicksville
By Dylan Horrocks
Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Review by Jason Azzopardi

Is it cliché, a decade and a half after its original publication, to say that Dylan Horrocks’ tender love letter to comics is one of the most important books in the medium, even after many, many people have already said it before?  It might be.  It doesn’t make that statement any less true.  Amongst certain comics circles – the cords-cons-sweater-wearing types – Hicksville is the Rosetta Stone of sequential storytelling, and the inspiration for an entire generation of cartoonist.

There have been numerous articles written about the beauty of the book and its gentle affection for the past, and I’m not sure I can contribute much more to that.  It is everything they say it is; a fable set in a secluded coastal village in New Zealand that seems to exist solely for the purpose of celebrating the comic book; a romance of lost souls trying to find love and contentment; a sly mystery that digs deep into the buried wrongs of an unrepentant medium.  And while I have always loved the relationship bits, it’s that last one that mostly gets me now.

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