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By | Saturday, November 13, 2010 | 4:32 pm | 2 Comments | Blog > Uncle Gorby's Corner Of Free Stuff

Still filling in for Alex (our esteemed Uncle Gorby).

Hot on the heals of our Beasts Of Burden: Animal Rites review, I’ve got a link to the first short story from that volume!

Today’s Link:

http://comicsworthreading.com/2010/06/22/read-a-complete-beasts-of-burden-story/

Beasts of Burden: Stray was originally published in the Dark Horse Book of Hauntings – the first short story by Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson to feature these wonderful animal characters.

Thompson’s work here won her an Eisner Award in 2004 for Best Painter, so you know it’s well worth checking out. Thankfully, the folks at Comics Worth Reading were able to post some nice quality jpgs of all 8 pages for us.

If you are somehow still on the fence about picking this up, I’ve posted some more scans from the hardcover in our review.

Still Bored? Visit Uncle Gorby’s Archive for More Links or Visit Uncle Gorby’s Corner in the Forum!

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By | Friday, November 12, 2010 | 11:59 pm | 43 Comments | Blog > Giveaways

Update: This giveaway is closed and the winners will be contacted. Check in the weekly giveaways page to see what’s currently available!

Update 2: The winner has been announced!

Here’s the weekly giveaway!

Good luck to those of you who made it in on time for the Thunderbolts: Justice Like Lightning giveaway. The entries are now closed and the winners will be announced as soon as they have been confirmed.

Since I just did a review on The Superman Chronicles Vol. 1 yesterday, it seems like a good time to give away the extra copy I have.

This is a gently used first printing, with a couple stickers from the store on the back. For extra info, check out the review!

The Rundown:

(1) Copy of The Superman Chronicles Vol. 1

(1) Winner – Randomly selected from the comments on this post. You must be registered and logged in when you comment to be eligible. You must also be in the continental USA.

Deadline – You have until 11:59 on Friday, November 19th, 2010. The winner will be contacted that night or early the next morning, and announcement will be made as soon as they are confirmed.

Good luck everyone!

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By | Friday, November 12, 2010 | 5:58 pm | 6 Comments | Blog > Reviews

Find This Book At:
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View our database entry
Includes Issues: “Stray” from The Dark Horse Book of Hauntings; “The Unfamiliar” from The Dark Horse Book Of The Dead; “A Dog and His Boy” from The Dark Horse Book of Monsters; Beasts of Burden 1-4
Issue Dates: August 2003 – December 2009
Creators:
, , , , , ,

This review may contain light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »

It’s at the second story that it’s clear this isn’t a book for small children. The first page of the third story is where actual chills start to set in. This book made me shudder. Scooby-doo it aint.

We’re taking a look at Beasts of Burden penned by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson.

I purchased this book on a whim some time ago, using it to fill an Amazon cart. I figured that based on the names involved, it was something worth reading. I somehow missed that the early work here had won two Eisner awards for Best Short Story and Best Painter.

Note: If you ignored the brief note up top about spoilers, I want to mention that this book builds quite well and you may do yourself a slight disservice by learning too much before reading it. My experience with no prior knowledge may be one of the best ways to dive in.

The first third of the book collects three short stories from Dark Horse anthology collections, with a four issue miniseries following it. It’s all served up in a beautifully manufactured hardcover – with no dustjacket, which I always like – and garnished with a small afterword and behind the scenes section, including some very nice full page wordless reprints of Thompson’s cover illustrations.

Dorkin has written a variety of weird and wild work. DC fans may know him from his contributions to Bizarro Comics and Bizarro World, or the Superman/Batman: World’s Funnest prestige. His best known work is probably Milk & Cheese from Slave Labor.

Jill Thompson, of course, is an artist that I was introduced to through her work on Sandman with Neil Gaiman – something I’m sure I share with many readers. She illustrated the Parliament of Rooks story and Brief Lives. Her resume is long and impressive, but Dorkin mentions it was her watercolored Scary Godmother books that made him beg her to work with him on this project.

Together, they build a world where the innocent seeming animals of Burden Hill are the only thing keeping the forces of darkness at bay.  Barely at bay, perhaps.

The first story introduces the core of our mostly canine cast, a group of neighborhood pups (and one stray cat) investigating a haunted dog house.

From the outset, the creators show us several distinct personalities reminiscent of classic do-gooder gangs: The calm and confident leader, wise mentor, lovable outsider, posturing strong guy who is quick to spook, and of course, grumpy skeptic – they’re all here in animal form. It’s a technique that lets us become immediately familiar with the set up and opens us to the more subtle storytelling that permeates the volume.

The writing seems very modern and straightforward, sometimes almost to a fault, but I’ve decided that it’s a strength – the book is easy to read.

A voice guides us into the story and wraps it up, giving a feel of classic campfire narration. I had a brief nostalgia hit when it reminded me of the existence of the Bunnicula series, which I listened to on tape as a kid (while I was supposed to be sleeping)  also starring a group of household pets in some pretty silly paranormal situations.

So, there are times when it appears that these could be stories you’d tell to your children (and those with older kids or particularly intelligent youngsters may decide they can handle this book.) It’s perhaps slightly more vulgar than Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark, something that kept me up late many a night and certainly added texture to my childhood. And Sandman, another “mature” comic, is highly recommended to teenagers – there’s nothing here that’s worse than there.

Nevertheless, you’ll want to read Beasts of Burden through yourself first. And not just because it’s irresistible (I told myself I got it for my fiance, the animal lover in the household, and would let her read it first this time. The cover enticed me in after a day of silent deliberation.) There are elements that would give this book an R rating as a film or require it to play on HBO as a TV show.

But it’s also a set of beautiful and humanizing tales. Domesticated animals bring out a softer side in many of us. Someone used to seeing the deaths of of countless people on network TV may cringe instantly at the thought of a roadkilled puppy. These particular animals also have easy-going relatable personalities. It all serves to draw you in and place you slightly off guard – it quickly becomes apparent that this is a dangerous world, but these are true innocents.

It’s perhaps a credit to Dorkin and Thompson that I’ve come away from this book with such affection for the cast. I’m not a dog person (we own two cats) so I may have missed some non-verbal cues from part of the cast, but they included several cat-agonists as well – I assume to placate feline preferring people like me, who must make up a significant portion of the horror comic reading population.

The interactions between everyone kept me from being too biased against anyone, but I have to say that the first name I learned was Orphan, that of the stray cat.

I’m slightly ashamed to admit that I’m still a little unclear on the names of several of the dogs in the Burden Hill gang. I recognize Ace and Pugsley the easiest, and Rex was relatively easy to confirm, but I still have trouble with Jack and Whitey.

Some of this is because I’m terrible at identifying dog breeds (I think jack has floppier ears – maybe Whitey is a terrier?), much of it is probably because I was drawn so strongly through the story – a flip back a few pages would probably cement them for me, but I couldn’t resist going forward at a quick pace.

My second time through was just to spend more time with the art. It’s amazing – no need to mince words here. The pages are beautifully painted in watercolor, with particular care paid to the expressions of the cast (body language included.) A single page can contain meticulously detailed realism and exaggerated humor without the switch between the two seeming jarring.

It’s fitting, since the script contains some pretty heavy moments book-ended with dialogue containing phrases such as “Oh Balls!” and “Would you please stop sniffing my ass?”

I could write another thousand words just on the intricacies of the art and how it plays with the unassuming script, but I hope the included scans can speak for themselves without spoiling too much.

The creators have put together something really special here. It starts out with relatively stand-alone stories, and the general plots are done in one, but by the end the book is set up for quite an ongoing arc – which I didn’t really expect at the outset, but I found myself welcoming.

Perhaps the most exciting words included with this book are two small ones on the back cover: “Volume 1.”


Verdict:
5 out of 5. Well deserving of it’s place on Publisher’s Weekly’s Ten Best Graphic Novels of the Year. And at 19.95 cover price, this thick hardcover book is a steal – often well under 20 dollars. The only problem is that it seems like it might be getting harder to find (Amazon is listing the delivery date as 2 to 5 months? I was feeling impatient so ordered it used.)

If you somehow can’t make up your mind, I’ve posted a link to the first 8 page short story from this book over in Uncle Gorby’s Corner of Free Stuff.

Essential Continuity:
There is no existing continuity for this title, but I like to think that it could take place in a corner of any well known paranormal universe – Hellboy, Buffyverse, Vertigo, etc.

If they release more in trade, this will be a good place to start anyway.

Read first:
No prior reading required. But if are a fan of any kind of scary story or animal story, this book should be on your shelf.

Read next:
If Beasts of Burden leaves you slobbering for more (like me) you might want to pick up the recently released Hellboy crossover. I’m personally crossing my fingers for it to appear in the next Beasts collection, which I sincerely hope is in the works.

If you can’t wait for more animal tales from Dorkin and Thompson, checking out some of the other well known Dark Horse titles might fill your needs. Start reading Hellboy or the Buffyverse. There’s a Dawn story in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer Omnibus Vol. 1 that I know you will enjoy.

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By | Friday, November 12, 2010 | 2:19 am | 0 Comments | Blog > Database Updates

Thanks to Lonefeather who mentioned that Angel Volume 6: Last Angel In Hell should go before Angel: Only Human.

I hadn’t read that volume yet, so my placement was based on date.

It’s now corrected on the Buffyverse list!

Other than that, just a quick note:

It’s your last chance to enter the little giveaway for the Thunderbolts: Justice Like Lighting trade – comments are due in by 11:59 tonight!

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By | Thursday, November 11, 2010 | 11:25 pm | 6 Comments | Blog > Reviews

Find This Book At:
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Half.com (Softcover)
Amazon (Softcover)
View our database entry
Includes Issues: Action Comics 1-13; New York World’s Fair Comics 1; Superman 1
Issue Dates: June 1938 – June 1939
Creators:
, ,

This review is spoiler free! Skip To The Verdict? »

This is where it all started. The first appearance of Superman.

Books have been written and graduate studies completed on these early works, but for the purposes of our database, I thought it was worth my time to give this collection a brief introduction.

The Superman Chronicles Volume 1 reprints the first appearances of Superman in Action Comics, his story from the first New York World’s Fair issue, and the first issue of his self titled feature.

These books were created, of course, by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, under the watchful eye of legendary editor Vincent A. Sullivan (who also approved the proposals for Batman) near that start of what would be the Golden Age of comics.

The book includes first appearances of Lois Lane, the Kents, a kid that’s a lot like Jimmy Olsen if not specifically named, George Taylor and The Ultra-Humanite (who I consider beta versions of newspaper editor Perry White and nemesis Lex Luthor, though the Ultra-Humanite at least has his own odd place in modern continuity.)

These simple facts should be known to anyone with an interest in sequential art and American History (after all, Superman is a major cultural icon at the forefront of the evolution of an American art form – the comic book. This isn’t to say that comics in general have roots in various places, but that’s a discussion for another time. The comic book as we know it is an American cultural export.)

Knowing the history, though, and knowing the actual comic itself is a different thing. I bet that most Superman fans have never read a Golden Age comic, let alone one of his. It’s a relatively niche market. Just like with radio dramas and classic TV serials, the average sentiment seems to be that old media is kind of boring. That’s why I’m writing this.

Not only is this a classic piece of history, it’s also extremely amusing. That’s the bottom line.

These comics sparked a revolution in the market because they were fun. And that still holds up!

As the back cover remarks, “this was a Superman who embodied pure wish fulfillment” – his actions speak more to the fun things the viewer would like to see than the complex motivations of the modern character we know. He’ll throw people around because it’s fun to look at (and teaches them a good lesson, that’s right.) He’ll mess with Lois for kicks. He’ll shove a fat cat business man and his entire party of dinner guests down a mine shaft and cause a cave in just to teach them a lesson. He’ll take a guy’s identity ostensibly to protect him from a possible beat down, but spend most the story enjoying throwing football players around – perhaps just a little bit more than he should.

Sure, there’s no evidence of laser vision or flight yet (just giant leaps), but he’s super and he won’t take no bull.

It’s amazing how many aspects of modern plotlines are already here (and not just for Superman comics.) Superman is treated as an unlawful vigilante by the police, who fumble around trying to capture him – like many a modern vigilante. Superman makes his own news to secure his job (kind of like Spidey.) He has to deal with companies trying to use his image for advertising. He’s a defender of what he believes is right more than what the law says (this Superman isn’t afraid of international treaties.) Long before comics were “reinvented” and made darker, Supes was there, being a total badass.

This book isn’t gory or gritty and it’s full of bright tones, snappy puns, and half-jokes, but it’s important to note that comics started in a place of moral ambiguity. The set standards of storytelling weren’t yet in place. When people think of the boring work done “Pre-Crisis” they may be thinking of work done in the 50s or early 60s, perhaps, because this Golden Age stuff is Gold.

Speaking of standards and bright colors, I found the art very endearing. The linework is generally sparse (probably due to the much smaller production industry and relative newness of the art form.) It’s not bad or hackneyed, but professional artists just hadn’t been studying comics their entire life. Many of the illustrations have a whimsical freedom to them that isn’t as evident in most work today. I particularly looked forward to any panels where Supes would lift a person over himself, their arms flailing, or drag a pile of people with him as he walked along.

Clark is Clark, hat and all, and Lois is Lois – at least a recognizable Pre-Crisis Lois. Superman goes through a couple wardrobe changes and doesn’t quite settle near his iconic look. But he’s always very recognizable.

Likewise, the faces are expressive and fit the dramatic dialogue (I think I remarked before, but I can’t help reading some of these older stories in an old timey radio voice.) I was sometimes surprised to see a phrase I thought was more contemporary and I also enjoyed all the 30’s colloquialisms – shouts of “eat lead, ya little rat!”

The pages are a pretty standard layout throughout, but I thought it was worth noting that the panels don’t always directly transition into the next. There is often less explained outright than you see in later Pre-Crisis comics, which actually makes it feel like a more sophisticated or modern reading experience. I’m not sure if I can explain it fully here and now, but there are subtle things here and many moments left to the reader’s imagination.

I wanted to wrap this up with a few notes about the collection style. This is a Chronicles book, which means it contains full color reprints of several titles in chronological order (as opposed to the Superman Archives that collected Action Comics and Superman separately.) I’m a big fan of the ordering, but I am always a little disappointed at the decision to leave out an introduction on such a historically important reprint collection. Perhaps that’s one of the main draws of the Archives? I’m not sure why they couldn’t include a page or two of contextual writing.

I’m happy to report that the digital recoloring here is quite faithful to the original, with a minimum of strange looking photoshop gradients – it’s mostly flats that fit the work well. It’s not always quite as saturated as the originals – the background to this website is from the cover of Action Comics #1 – and of course doesn’t have the texture of ancient comics, but recoloring has been a pet peeve of mine in past reprint volumes and the work by Bob le Rose and Daniel Vozzo is good here.

If you want to check this out yourself without having to wait for shipping, an online copy of Action Comics #1 was previously featured here on Uncle Gorby’s Corner of Free Stuff. I wish I could show you more while respecting DC’s copyrights but these scans will have to do.

You’ll have to get the book for context and all that good stuff. And you really should.


Verdict:
4.9 out of 5. I’m being a bit of stickler because of the lack of an introduction, but if you’re going to get one Golden Age Superman collection, this might be it. It’s often available for quite cheap, so there’s not much excuse for not picking it up. I got my copy for $2.60 in perfect condition.

Essential Continuity:
Oh totally, absolutely yes. It’s the first Superman comic!

Ok, you could get away with just reading a modern origin if you’re not interested in any of the history, but you’ll be doing yourself a favor here.

Read first:
I assume you have some exposure to Superman. If you don’t, I bet you could read this one first anyway.

Read next:
A million places to go from here. If you really really love the Golden Age, you could just keep following the Superman Chronicles releases. But I honestly don’t know how many of them you need unless you’re a serious collector or historian (they may get a bit stale to the average reader, though I think they all have very fun moments and slowly introduce a lot of interesting elements of the character’s history.)

You may want to see what was up in the 60s by picking up the black and white Showcase Presents: Superman Vol. 1. There are also the Superman In the Decades books that showcase stories from 10 year chunks from the 40s to the 80s. If you want to catch up on history in an even more compact fashion, Superman From The 30s To The 70s collects stories in a large black and white hardcover, though it’s hard to find in good condition (there is also another printing that goes to the 80s).

You could jump to a modern age origin story and continue from there (I still like Byrne’s Man Of Steel the best, but there are a few on the Modern Age timeline.)

Or you could go watch that Superman movie. You know the one.

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