Comics, comics, comics

So as promised I thought I review a few of the comics I’ve been reading lately, these are all American titles.  I’ll probably do a list of manga later, I have definitely read a lot of manga.  The series I review here are American Vampire, Coffin Hill, and Usagi Yojimbo.  There are a few other comics I could go into but I think I’ll keep it to three today.

Starting out I just have to clarify that I LOVE the American Vampire series; it’s one of the best American comics I’ve ever read (though to be fair, I haven’t read a whole lot).  The art is gorgeous and the storylines are fantastic.  While you do follow a surprisingly large cast of (awesome) characters that come and go, it centers on the “first” American Vampire, Skinner Sweet.  Originally a Wild West outlaw of the worst kind, he ran afoul of some true monsters.  Unintentionally the vampire that tried to kill him accidentally bled on him, changing Sweet into something new.  What I really like about this story is that vampirism is both virus-like in that it’s spread through blood to blood or body fluid contact, but it has a very species-like approach to vampires in general.  There are different classifications of vampires, their appearance, abilities, weaknesses, preferences, and habits all differ according to this.  A somewhat random mutation can occur based on the bloodline of the person infected creating a new line of vampires.  The bloodline concept is a bit like the original Vampire: the Masquerade from WhiteWolf.  It’s a really creative take on vampirism, something that’s often hard to do considering how much has already been written on vamps.  There’s also the obligatory secret group out to battle vampires and protect humans, but they are no more honest, scrupulous, or likeable as characters, which I find incredibly refreshing.  They pose themselves as good, but are more than willing to do the atrocious for that “good”.   All in all it’s a fantastic series and I do highly recommend it.

Coffin Hill has two volumes out so far.  A story about a young woman who’s family is of an ancient witch bloodline that once fled persecution in Salem to settle in a place called Coffin Hill where they’ve lived for generations until present day.  The general story is the main character, Eve Coffin, awakened something evil in the woods when she was young and foolish.  It tore apart her friendships, sometimes literally, and she eventually left it all behind to escape.  Certain events conspire to bring her home where she has to face the thing that’s still waiting for her.  It has beautiful art and the general storyline is solid.  In the first book the story switches back and forth between the events that started things in the story and the present day, which some readers have found confusing or annoying.  Personally as long as it’s all well labeled (and it is, plus the way characters look is a HUGE time stamp), I don’t mind a lot of flashback jumping.  I even understand the point to parallel past and current events because that can be an incredibly effective storytelling tool, but it might have been handled better.  You run into the same technique for storytelling in the second book which explains the reason she went back to Coffin Hill, namely that she was involved in a shooting that disabled her out of the police force.  You’re introduced to the fact that other witch clans exist in the second book, though that isn’t really a surprise.

The story is interesting, but the writers/artists occasionally have trouble with holding tension.  Also there’s a confusing time passage in the second book where I’m not really sure how much time has past considering how some of the characters look.

Usagi Yojimbo is a comic that really plays into my love of manga not with a traditional sense stylistically, but in story and character feel.  It’s definitely an older title, but is still on-going and one I feel is definitely worth checking out, especially if you have a love for a traditional Japanese tale.  The art is, in many ways, very classically cartoony in appearance, complete with popping eyes and goofy faces as well as anthropomorphic animals.  Despite this the story doesn’t lose its sense of gravity.  I especially enjoy seeing how the animal nature of each character plays into who they are.  A snake character named Hebi is a servant of the power hungry Lord Hijiki and fully suited to his role of a slick tongued and slippery sycophant.  Likewise, the pig-like characters that have been introduced are often greedy or self-serving.  Many of the stories can be considered self-contained, but taken as a whole it’s a long and complex story about power plays, betrayals, honor, and duty.  Usagi Yojimbo also acknowledges Japan’s history of female samurai, which is often overlooked, in characters like Tomoe Ame.  For all of these reasons and more, I most definitely recommend it.

So, those are the comic titles I’m currently reading.  I’ll probably do more reviews of books, comics, manga, anime, and series that I watch in the future.  No lie, I’m super into the TMNT 2012 rebut and I might even geek out about that too.


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