October 16, 2009

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Flight Volume 5

Written by Various Authors
Illustrated by Various Artists
Villard (Random House)

Once more from the top, Flight is an anthology series, perhaps my favorite anthology series, that started with a group of like-minded artists and has branched out into a children's book and over 70 different artists.

This is the fifth edition, and it has the same mix of familiar artists (Michael Gagne, Kazu Kibuishi, and Scott Campbell, just to name a few) along with a few new artists and at least one returning from an earlier volume. It's a pattern within the Flight anthologies, and it works quite well.

The biggest change this time, at least in my opinion, is that the stories tended to skew a bit older for the first time in a long while. That might have to do with the addition of the kid's version, or it just might be that I was just so happy to on my way home that I was really into my reading. It's also possible that the increased length of the individual stories helped develop them a bit better. Either way, there was a lot I liked this time around.

As with my review of the previous edition, I'll stick to the stories I liked the best. This is by no means anything against the other stories, I just don't want to end up with a set of plot summaries.

"The Aquaduct" by Tony Cliff is interesting because it takes the usual male-female dynamic in a pulpy adventure story and flips it, with Delilah Dirk being the overconfident jerk and Mr. Selim the long-suffering but intelligent side kick. It worked well enough for me, but I have to admit the idea that we get a female hero, only to have her be a tool, was kinda disappointing.

Reagan Lodge's "The Dragon" made me actually interested in a fantasy story, which takes some doing for me, as it's not usually my thing. I didn't quite get everything that was going on, but the idea of a lowly character battling a very innovative dragon design by Lodge makes the story stand out.

"Beisbol 2" picks up the story of Francisco Sanchez, now in America and getting ready to start in the major leagues, where a major league jerk holds court and stands in as the typical steroid-era bruiser who helped ruin the game. As a boy starts to give up on his dream, Sanchez stands on his principles and does what he thinks is right, no matter what the cost. Richard Pose's art is fairly simplistic, but he captures the feel of a baseball game well and also harnesses the anger of many at what has happened to the game. Oh if only that scene at the end were true and not the fairy tale--sports would be a better place.

What if those voices inside your head were real? "Worry dolls" by JP Ahonen riffs on a familiar concept, leading to vaudeville hijinks ranging from sleepwalking to saving the day, all from a character who can't even manage to pay his rent. The dialog and ending line really pick this one out of the pack, since the idea of little men inside a person's head has been done so many times. I don't ask for something to necessarily be original so much as entertaining. (You can blame this on superhero comics if you'd like.) Ahonen satisfies my request on that score with delightful characterization and some pretty cool graphical work that shows off what a computer can do. (Apologies if the entire thing was hand-drawn, but it looked digital to me, at least in spots.)

My favorite from the fourth collection is back, "Igloo Head and Tree Head in Disguise" brings more Scott Campbell goodness to the table. This time, our two heads find out that wacky hijinks can ensue when you disguise your head with--another type of head! Thrill as the two heads opt to infiltrate the war club and make them bow to their will.

"The Changling" by Sarah Mensinga really struck me for some reason. I've heard the tale of fairies taking people's babies before but I've never seen it used like this before. A young woman who bucks tradition ends up being with child is taken from all she knows to avoid shame. On top of everything else, she's run into danger with the wee people! Is there any possible way for this story to have a happy ending? Maybe, just maybe...and that's why I liked it so much.

Sitting right in the wheelhouse of the Flight series, "The Chosen One" uses artwork that might fit within a children's book to tell a story that skewers all the dreams we had (have?) about being selected to perform a task only we can manage. Our protagonist walks through a video-game like story to an increasingly skewed ending that ends up showing the true nature of most dreamers. Well done work from Dave Roman.

Nabbing the top spot for me this time is an artist I've liked before, Joey Weiser, who takes his gift for storytelling and places it into the story of "Timecat", a feline who really craves dinner but can't get his human to serve him. What to do? Time travel, in a manner only a cat can mange. Weiser's story gets extra points for including a reference to Devil Dinosaur. His ability to use facial expressions to tell much of the story is pretty darn keen.

Again, these were just the best of the best for me. You might like "The Courier" best, a story about a young man debating his place in the world, and I wouldn't fault you one bit. Or maybe the comical "Evidence" by Graham Annable would stand out for you like a skeleton. I mean, I didn't even include "Scenes in Which the Earth Stops Spinning," which is exactly what it sounds like.

Flight Five is my favorite of the anthologies since the second one, and it might even be my favorite of the series so far. I can't wait to read Flight Six, and I encourage you to start on the Flight series today!