Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Comic reviews

Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire by William Messner-Loebs was initially published by Aardvark-Vanaheim for the first 14 issues, and then published by  Fantagraphics for further adventures.   

   I didn't pick up the early run on it, I found a few copies somewhere in the middle of the series, and then later found a copy of the IDW collection, which contains issues #1 - 16.  
   Journey is an adventure comics about frontier life in around the territories of Michigan and Fort Miami in the 1800s.  
   Wolverine MacAlistaire is a trapper by trade, who shuns society, yet can be brave and resilient when needed. He is described as a brute of a man, grown old on the frontier. More beast than human, with the evil and darkness of the wild in his soul. 
   The first issue opens with a flashback tale told while waiting for a ferry by a cut-throat villain who, along with two other accomplices, had previously jumped MacAlistaire at his camp, stealing his animal pelts, clothing and livelihood, leaving him staked out to die in the snow. 
   So the story starts out as a tale of revenge and equity, and after old scores are settled, we follow Wolverine as he travels through  the wilderness. William Messner-Loebs has a unique way that he tells his stories, in the slang and voice of that time period, sometimes writing in that manner as well.  This can be a bit jarring at first, but you get used to it quickly.  
   His artwork is unique too, sometimes stark, sometimes detailed,  a bit sketchy or perfunctory at times, using gesture and negative space to convey the mood as well.  
   The last part of issue #1 turns into a high chase and some comic relief as well, as Wolverine stumbles up on a black bear. He runs for his life, hoping to outfox the bear, not wanting to become some bleached bones for some other trapper to find later.  
   If  you enjoy westerns like Jeremiah Johnson and Little Big Man and stories of early historical frontier life, this would be a good comic to pick up.  It's a mixture of heroic adventure, fictional and historical drama, and dealing with the awe of nature.  

In the late '80s I started getting tired of the usual superhero comics although I still bought my share. However, I started looking for something different.  

   Kings in Disguise was a six-issue limited series by James Vance  and was certainly unique. The art looked different and the story was based on real life.  

   Set around the beginning of the Great Depression, the story centers around a young boy named Freddie in Marian, California. Vance sets the mood for the period as we see Freddie and his friends at the 10 cent theater enjoying a James Cagney film.  

   We then get to see what his home life is like. His father suffers from alcoholism, which creates a certain amount of turmoil in the family. He does the best he can for his two sons, but due to there being no work around town, their father leaves not wanting to burden his sons. 

   Freddie's brother, Albert, is left with the responsibility to keep the concerns of the home going and protecting Freddie. Albert does the best he can in providing for Freddie as things around town grow worse. Eventually Albert gets in some trouble, which causes Freddie to flee instead of having to go to an orphanage.

   Without much of an idea of what to do or where to go, Freddie is on the road. His journey takes him down to the railroad tracks where he sees some hobos preparing a meal. They confront him, and one of them called the Joker tries to befriend Freddie, but we find out quickly it's only for an ulterior motive. There's a skirmish, and Freddie and another hobo, Sam, catch a fast rail out of town.  

   This begins Freddie's journey to adulthood, his learning of the hobo life, and how to survive.  

   For me, this series had a lot going for it. I enjoyed the artwork by Dan Burr, but it was the touching story that had me buying the full series.  

   In a lot of ways it reminded me of novels like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. When someone would ask me what I might recommend in comics, along with Art Spiegelman's Maus, and a few others, I'd mention Kings in Disguise.  

   I later learned it won a Eisner and Harvey Award, and not only that, but Vance has written a sequel graphic novel, On The Ropes. There's a preview of On The Ropes at Amazon, if you want to check into that.  

   I'll certainly want to pick up a copy.


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