When I get a couple of issues of a series to review, there’s a system I like to use when reviewing them. I try to get the first issue reviewed quickly, to help get the word out in whatever tiny way it happens around here. Then I give it several months before getting to the next review. Not always! If I’m completely out of books to review, or if I’m really into the series, I’ll be quicker. But that’s the general idea, and it’s for one simple reason: that’ll give time for the creator to get another issue out, which is a good sign for me to take a series seriously. And sometimes I just lose a comic in the general chaos of my life, but let’s ignore that possibility. Anyway, Von has 2 new issues ready as of this review, so he’s very clearly taking this all seriously. Read the last review if you don’t want to get completely lost here, although why you’d only read the review for a second issue of a comic is beyond me. Or just the second issue of a comic. This time around that rich scientist is still trying to get his AI back, Lauren’s mom is still hiding it and having health problems, Lauren is dealing with her terrible job and the consequences of her actions in the last issue, and Sanko is still looking for belly rubs. There’s a lot going on here, which is why I’m being mostly vague. Damn near anything I could mention would be a spoiler, so why don’t I make things simple. I’m all in on the mystery here; I’m even starting to like some of the side characters who are supposed to be assholes, and Von clearly has a master plan here, even if the big surprise towards the end seemed to even take him by surprise (according to his notes in the back). I’m hooked, is the point, and I think most people who are willing to give this a shot would find themselves similarly hooked. $9
Von Allan! It’s been ages. To give you a peek into my life that nobody asked for, a few months back a bookmark of his old book (The Road To God Knows…), sort of shifted to the surface of one of my comic piles. Yes, it’s probably almost exactly what you’re picturing from somebody who’s gotten review comics on a regular basis for the last 18 years. Anyway, seeing that made me wonder what the guy was up to, and suddenly he sends me two new books (I’ll be writing about the sequel to this soon). Kismet! Or coincidence. Either way, good timing. So what’s this one about? It’s complicated. Or very simple, depending on how you look at it. This is the story of Lauren, Patty and Sanko. Lauren has just quit the police force, as she’s not able to put up with the abuse and corruption as a black woman. Patty is her mother and is dealing with complications with her heart following a fire in the laboratory where she cleans up at night. Sanko is a very good boy. Lauren’s story is what keeps everything grounded; she loves being a cop but can’t stand by with what’s happening, so she has no choice but to quit. The decision is clearly hurting her, as she listens to a police scanner in her apartment and ends up getting physical with a corner drug dealer after quitting, something that almost comes back to bite her later. Her search for a job, any job, is entirely too real, and heartbreaking. Things take a turn for the fantastical with Patty, as she grabbed something from the lab during the fire that seems possibly sentient and shows a protective streak towards Patty. This element plays a small role so far, but it seems like it’s going to come up more later. It’s an interesting mix of relentless realism (seriously, that job hunt was soul crushing) with a supernatural and/or alien component. I’m curious to see what happens next, which is always the goal with a first volume, right?
Stargazer Volume Two
You know, I don’t think I asked for the last review, but why Stargazer? The title, I mean, not the comic as a abstract concept. It sure doesn’t seem like stars play too big of a role in this, unless it’s just meant to imply that they’re dreamers. That one makes sense, so I’ll go with that. If you missed the first volume this review won’t make a bit of sense, so go read that and come back. Or go read about other comics if you can’t be bothered, as I’m not the boss of you, but you really should read it if you like comics. In this volume they reach that tower from the last issue and explore it a bit. They also encounter another race (that also doesn’t talk, just like the robot didn’t talk), and we get to see what the monster looks like. One member of the group splits off and heads back to the tent, where she discovers how they got there in the first place. We also get explanations for several of the oddities that are scattered around, even if we never do quite get a full explanation of just what these kids were dealing with this whole time. This is the part where I have trouble, because I want to get into the ending a bit. Many reviewers wouldn’t bat an eye at spoiling such a thing, but look away if you don’t want to see it. I’ll still be vague (it’s wired into my brain not to spoil things, so I can barely even do it when I try), but something might slip out. I had mentioned in the last review that I hoped that Von got the chance to make this into a saga, but he mentioned in his letter with the comic that it was always his intention to make this a complete story in two volumes. He does hope to do more with this universe, but with comics realities being what they are he’s not optimistic. Anyway, this story does wrap up, and it’s almost certainly not in the fashion that you’d probably expect. My concern: how does the doodad work at the end if they’re not all using it? Granted, it’s a magic doodad, and such concerns can be explained in magical ways, but it still struck me as confusing after it was all over. Anyway, like I said, that ending took the whole story in an unexpected direction and it felt completely earned, so what more can you ask for from a 200ish page story? I hope he does get back to this world, as I still have lingering questions, but even if he doesn’t he’s managed to put together an impressive story. $15
Anybody who reads this site with any kind of regularity knows my stance on spoilers (short version: I hates ’em), but I have to point that that little hairy man from the cover isn’t in this volume. Well, there are some shadowy figures, so I guess it’s possible that he’s in this volume, but it sure doesn’t look like it. Hm. Anyway, this book deals with a young girl who is very distraught about the recent death of her grandmother. The early moments of the book are all about this and the family dynamic that comes from it, but don’t worry, that title comes into effect before too long. Marni (the main character) eventually has a sleepover with friends, they end up camping in the backyard and eat too much pizza… then things get weird. Marni has inherited an odd artifact from her grandma, and they’re all poking around at it when something flashes and they find themselves in a strange land. Oh, and the artifact is gone. The rest of the book is essentially them trying to get acclimated to this new place, as they find an old statue, a tiny robot guy, a boat and a few other things I probably shouldn’t get into. To top it all off Von has decided to put his notes in the back, so we get to see his thought process for how this would all eventually play out. He did take out the spoilers for future volumes, but I still skipped over most of it because I don’t want anything ruined and I’m a big enough dork to go back and read those notes after the series is finished anyway. I liked it overall, as it has a ton of potential, but this is still very much the early days of this saga. Well, I’m hopeful that it ends up being a saga, but you never know with comic finances the way they are. One quibble is that the characters had a tendency to stutter to convey seemingly any emotion, as the mourners at the funeral were all about stuttering, then the kids were all about it whenever they ran into anything odd in the new world. That can be conveyed just as easily by a facial expression, says the guy who couldn’t draw a realistic person if his life depended on it. Like a said, a mere quibble, and it should in no way be meant to indicate a lack of overall quality. The art is amazing (although I’m thinking future volumes will give Von more of a chance to flex his artistic muscles), the writing was excellent overall and I can’t wait to see what happens next, so that sure sounds like a success to me. $14.95
The Road To God Knows…
There are times when I have to get briefly self-absorbed and marvel at the fact that I get so many free comics in the mail, and the fact that so many of them are so incredible. Hell, Von is from Canada, it’s entirely possible that if I was just living my life without this website I would have never even heard of this comic, or so, so many others that are listed on this site. Hey, it’s Thanksgiving, please forgive my brief sentimentality. This is the story of a young girl in junior high school and her life with her schizophrenic mother. She (Marie) is thrust into the role of an adult far too early, having to essentially take care of her mother when she’s not hospitalized with her illness. Marie is also missing a few days of school in trying to cope with this life, and is confronted with teachers who seem determined to make an example out of her without any interest in what she’s actually going through. She does have a few bright spots in her life, as her best friend lives right across the street, her dad is at least occasionally around to help out (it’s never explained, but her parents are at least separated), and a wrestling show is finally coming to her hometown. Much of the book is spent with Marie trying desperately to have a normal life with her mother unwilling to tell what past trauma has put her into this state, while being unable to get past it and move on with her life. Von has an explanation of sorts on his website about why he wrote this book, and it turns out that he has personal experience in the matter. It shows with the conversations, which are about as real as you can get about schizophrenia, and with Marie clinging to the few things she can count on, like new Star Trek episodes and wrestling on TV. This is set around 1991, and I’m able to narrow that down so closely because Marie mentioned that the wrestling champ at the time was Savage. Yes, I am enough of a dork to remember when Macho Man was the champ. All told, this is a remarkably insightful and honest book. The helplessness of Marie’s friend to do her any real good, her dad being unable with work to be any kind of full-time father to Marie, her alienation from kids at school (and even the teachers), all of these things would be bad enough. Throw in a mother who may or may not harm herself or Marie at any moment and who is incapable of being any kind of authority figure in Marie’s life and well, I’m impressed. There are all kinds of ways that this comic could have gone wrong, and Von managed to cut through it all and make an outstanding graphic novel. It looks like he has at least another project in the works, and judging from the quality of this book I’d say he’s someone to keep an eye on in the future. $12.95