Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reviews of KEEPING THE WORLD STRANGE and WULF

Entertainment

KEEPING THE WORLD STRANGE: 
A PLANETARY GUIDE 

Editor: Cody Walker
Essayists: Timothy Callahan, Julian Darius, A. David Lewis, Patrick Meaney, Chad Nevett, Ross Payton, Andy Richardson, Peter Sanderson, Caleb Stokes, Kevin Thurman, & Cody Walker
Publisher: Sequart Research & Literacy Organization




 Planetary is a book that is at once both powerfully dense and wonderfully accessible. Everything is familiar yet new. It can be a gateway for new readers and a reward for old-timers, and this is largely due to the narrative hook: super-hero archaeologists search for meaning into the past.
-- From the Introduction by editor, Cody Walker

KEEPING THE WORLD STRANGE is an excursion into the world of the Warren Ellis and John Cassaday masterpiece PLANETARY. Within this book you will find twelve highly interesting essays dissecting and analyzing various aspects of PLANETARY. Have you ever wondered just exactly how many levels of symbolism are inherent in the “snowflake” imagery that runs thematically and visually through the entire series? How about the three one-shots (crossovers with THE AUTHORITY, BATMAN, and an Elseworlds story): Do they square up with the continuity of the series or not? Do you want to delve more deeply into the mystery of the Fourth Man or maybe you really want to know more about the various monsters that appeared in the comic? All this and more are presented in well-thought out essays that do more than just spew opinion. These essays all carry a scholarly weight, but an easy-going style that make them entertaining to read and, if you are a fan of PLANETARY, you will feel much smarter about the series when you are done with this book. If you never quite grasped what everyone else seemed to love about PLANETARY, then this book might just enlighten you, and pique your curiosity enough to give the series another try.

My reaction? These types of books that hyper-analyze the minutiae of the great science-fiction books or comics series are mental mother's milk for me. I'm the nerd who owned the first edition of the STAR TREK COMPENDIUM, THE DARK SHADOWS COMPENDIUM, THE PRISONER COMPANION, THE TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION, and more and more. I was a voracious reader and contributor to FARMERPHILE magazine and its spin-off book anthology THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSE FARMER. Those, of course, are filled to the brim with scholarly examinations and expansions upon Farmer's “Wold Newton” shared universe concept (itself an inspiration for Ellis in conceptualizing PLANETARY). I've got sitting on my bookshelf here all three Monkeybrain companions for Alan Moore's LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. So, I admit to a predisposition towards liking a book like KEEPING THE WORLD STRANGE. The surprise for me was how well-written it was and how much better the content was than I expected.

The thing about the experience of reading PLANETARY is that it was one type of experience reading it as the individual issues came out. It was a different experience reading it all in one with the ABSOLUTE PLANETARY edition. And now, after reading KEEPING THE WORLD STRANGE, I look forward to re-reading PLANETARY with this book by my side.

Everyone who wrote for this book did an outstanding job at not only critiquing the work, but quite often brought to light aspects of the work that had not occurred to me yet and, therefore, deepened my appreciation for PLANETARY as a whole. The topic choices are diverse and each writer has his or her own voice which not only keeps the book moving along, it thoroughly covers what I consider the comic series of the decade and easily one of the greatest graphic novels ever.

I hope that this book is successful enough to justify a second volume. Highly recommended.  Check out their Facebook page here.


WULF #1 

Writer: Steve Niles
Artist: Nat Jones
Publisher: Atlas Comics

“Maybe I should have waited for back up.”
-- Detective Lomax


WULF was an interesting experience for me. I'm old enough to remember the first time a WULF #1 hit the stands. Oddly enough, it was a similar experience to read this one.

I can't quite put it into words, but there was a similar feeling. I liked it. But, then again, I was a fan of the original Atlas Comics as well. So there may be a bit of nostalgia involved. I love Marvel and DC, but I also like seeing alternative approaches that are as professional and sharp as those comics produced by the Big Two. Atlas accomplished that for a short blip of time in the 70s and the new Atlas has kicked off their new line this week with an impressively well-done WULF #1.

WULF #1 is a solid 24 pages of story but contains very little in terms of dialogue. This is a comic in which the narrative is driven by the visual and not voluminous text bubbles overlaying every spare inch. For me, that was part of the charm when reading it. There's something about sword and sorcery topics in comics that lend themselves to large-scale illustration and WULF makes good use of it. There are a number of full-page images and wide-vista shots which give a grand sense of scale to the fantasy world of Wulf.

As a first issue, it does a clear job setting up the series. Wulf is a heroic barbarian from a magical time or dimension who chases the sorcerer villain Sanjon into our modern world where he crosses path with hard-boiled New York City police detective Sam Lomax.

Steve Niles knows how to write horror and he appears to be a good choice to weave this almost Cthulhu-like evil into the modern world with the warrior Wulf chasing it down fearless in the face of death. I liked the almost poetic flow of his words while in the fantasy realm and the shift to the more familiar vernacular when the scene shifts to New York. Artist Nat Jones does a good job with the gore (and there's a fair amount) and fantasy realm of Wulf's world. Jones also handles the more mundane world of Det. Lomax (to the small extent we see him) very well.

A flaw inherent in any first issue of a series is the limited space available to fully present the characters and the premise. WULF suffers from that common flaw. Moving the plot and premise along at such a quick pace means that we readers have barely caught a glimpse of the characters at this point, but what I've seen is intriguing enough to stick around and see where it goes from here.

This is a strange but unique combination of genres (sword & sorcery/police drama/super-hero) that pleased me to read it and has great potential.

 

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