7.23.14 [#BookOfTheWeek]

#BookOfTheWeek is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1 (IDW): Man, I am absolutely exhausted from the onslaught that is SDCC. That said, #BookOfTheWeek is an abbreviated version of the Weekly Reviews posts that allows me to still get something up when I don’t have the time (or desire) to post full reviews. I read Trees #3 this week from Warren Ellis and Jason Howard and it felt a little off to me, straying perhaps a little too far from the sci-fi premise in favor of human interest stories. Saga #21 was predictably strong, but failed to prompt any additional response. Winterworld #2 was a solid post-apocalyptic romp, and Supreme: Blue Rose #1 offered promising Ellis psycho-futurism with intriguing art. Avengers 100th Anniversary Special #1 was a fun blend of indie and mainstream at the hands of James Stokoe, but if you’re looking for that vibe, then I’ll direct your attention to the brilliant Transformers vs. G.I. Joe #1 at the hands of Tom Scioli and John Barber. With heaps of period research and reference, it captures a perfect aesthetic nostalgia on the page, managing to be both a retro commercialization and somehow an avant-garde art comic all at once. Everyone who, like me, grew up in the 80’s should be reading this book. Grade A+.


7.16.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Umbral #7 (Image): Chris Mitten’s opening shot instantly brought to mind the work of Guillermo Del Toro, and that ominous organic vibe continues through the dark depths, the vistas of light, and the crimsons of blood magic rituals. I think it’s Eisner Nomination time for Thomas Mauer. I’ve been astounded by the magic symbolettering in previous issues, and here it’s the subtlety of the letters fading out, and then back in as Rascal is transported to the Umbral. Shayim continues to be a favorite character, the tension vs. the Yuilangans, although now there’s doubt being cast her way as a secret plot shifts external attention from Dalone to Rascal, the suggestion of a traitor in their midst, though it could be an early red herring. It’s a great writing move, letting the audience in on information that some of the cast isn’t yet aware of. I also really enjoy the gender politics embodied by her and Rascal, the way Rascal feels she needs to bite her tongue out of character in order to protect her party. It’s probably no surprise that I need to comment on Antony Johnston’s writing, specifically some of his word choices. “Shit on your mother’s arse!” is a particularly choice goat-fucking phrase (hello, Wasteland readers!) that shows how an invented colloquialism effectively convinces us of a different time, place, and culture. There’s also a playful nature to the script, taking words we think we know, but then subverting them toward a different meaning, like what a “whispering” truly is. That’s a simple flick of writing, but is fairly brilliant. There’s another map in this issue, to orient us as Rascal journeys through different parts of Fendin to assumedly destroy the Oculus, and it made me draw the obvious comparisons to seminal high fantasy inspiration like Tolkien or Martin, and then consider structure. The first arc of Umbral was something of a “gathering” story, it’s the dinner party at Bilbo’s house, it’s Gandalf coming to The Shire for Frodo, it’s Robert Baratheon travelling to Winterfell to kick the plot into motion. I’m not accusing Johnston of swiping by any means, I’m merely fascinated by the universality of the structure, I wonder if in his plot outline it’s broken down like this, arc 1 is the gathering, arc 2 is the journey, arc 3 (or 4 or 5 or whatever) is casting the Oculus into Mount Doom or whatever the Umbral equivalent is. Anyway. The first Rascal cosplay wins a piece of original art! That’s huge! Get on it! #KeepYourTitsOn Grade A.

Manifest Destiny #8 (Image): Manifest Destiny seems to be getting stronger and stronger with each successive issue. There’s a killer cover team-up on this issue, which hints at the frenetic nature of the Corps of Discovery’s escape from the river creature they last encountered, as well as the increased attention to Sacagawea’s characterization. It’s great that she’s a bad-ass, but it’s not played in an overstated way that feels like audience pandering or gender tokenism, she’s smart, she has home turf advantage, and her lines are typically delivered in such a straightforward fashion that it almost plays like deadpan humor: “Two times. Two times I have saved you.” The work of Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, and Owen Gieni is one of those rare examples of composed parts working in perfect harmony to create something greater than themselves. It's what happens when all of the cylinders are firing in perfect sync. It’s the ring of accuracy to the historical fiction writing, the way the impressive art and some of the best coloring happening in the industry right now creates stark contrast between the metals and bold colors of the soldiers in relief against the greens and browns of the natural world, the hook of the high concept hook, the invention of the zipline(!), and how one big fucking mosquito create one of the best series of 2014. Grade A.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 (Image): It’s quickly becoming obvious that The Wicked + The Divine is poised to be something special. It'll no doubt be one of those books that has crossover appeal and the mainstream media outlets will be ranking in their best of the year lists. You get the sense that this is really the story that Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie were waiting to tell for years, even back when they first conjured Phonogram out of thin air in a way that seemed to innovative, at a time when not a lot of flash was really coming out of the "old" Image Comics. Phonogram was merely prologue to The Wicked + The Divine, a test-run for the story of cyclically reemerging gods, their witness, and a type of pop mythology that also examines social commentary vis-à-vis the homogeneity of the spiritual and the corporeal. McKelvie also seems to be stretching his already glorious abilities, infusing the clean austerity of his lines with more static and chatter in scenes like the delightful descent to the underground, and the very nature of The Morrigan. There’s also one of the best renditions of Lucifer this side of him abdicating the throne, tossing Morpheus the key to the gates of hell, and just... leaving in Sandman (which will forever be one of my Lucifer Portrayal Gold Standards). #IntangibleCunnilingus Grade A.


Mini Kus! #22, #23, #24, #25 @ Comics Bulletin [Small Press]

I reviewed the new wave of mini comics from Latvia's Kus! Comics over at Comics Bulletin.


7.09.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Wasteland #56 (Oni Press): There’s a dark sense of foreboding in Chris Mitten’s art this week that perfectly captures how Antony Johnston is working this leg of the script. Johnston has pulled off a tricky thing in this final arc of Wasteland, essentially giving us two apocalyptic ideas for the price of admission. In the flashback scenes, we have the impending global climate change crisis of the future clanging up against this discovery of Adam, which leads to genetic engineering gone awry. There’s plenty of moral complexity to chew on, and some very cool moments, such as the origin of the Sand-Eaters if you piece the clues together. It’s not terribly hard work required of the audience, but I appreciate Johnston’s willingness to not directly provide all the answers and explain everything away like we’re 5 year olds, despite taking some heat for this approach on his newer works like Umbral and The Fuse. It gives readers a sense of discovery that would be lacking with easy exposition. Both story threads, the man-made natural crisis, and the man-made human experimentation, are different shades of “playing God” (either through omission and neglect in the case of climate change, or through overt acts on the DNA tinkering side) and the consequences of each action. This stands as a huge issue, in an arc essentially of origins, this issue is all about them, from the Sand-Eaters to Michael, Mary, Abigail, and Thomas. It’s a selfish move, but I want to give Johnston some static for not making Michael’s #7 designation #13 instead! I’ve loved this book from the start, but I love this issue more than most in recent memory. Honestly, it’s a shitty time to jump onto this book with only 4 issues remaining, so do yourself a favor and grab that first trade! Grade A+.

Star Wars #19 (Dark Horse): This issue has everything I’ve liked about Brian Wood’s run on this title. It reunites the original creative team, with Carlos D’Anda on art and Gabe Eltaeb on colors. There  have been some terrific artists during the run, Ryan Kelly especially, but for my money nobody has captured the gleam of the Empire and the grit of the Rebel Alliance in the way that Carlos D’Anda has. There’s an energy to his lines that’s in keeping with the source material, and Eltaeb has solidified that aesthetic with lens flares and menacing hues. Not only is the creative team reunited, but for the final couple of issues, we return to the Fab Four – Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie, as they dodge a Bounty Hunter Assassin Droid with a particularly bad rep, IG-88. As if that weren’t cool enough, Wood brings in deep cover Intelligence Agent Seren Song, and I instantly LOVE this girl. I love her look, I love her attitude, and I love her ship. I love her action figure that doesn’t exist. I love her animated series that doesn’t exist. I love the mini-series about her that Wood will probably not go on to write at Marvel. It’s all a testament to the possibilities of the Star Wars Universe, still being mined nearly 40 years later, from the mind of a kid who just wanted to escape California’s Central Valley, the dreary ass place I too grew up - literally one town over from George Lucas - I too cruised the streets of McHenry Avenue, depicted in all its perfect repetitive ennui in American Graffiti, where every night was the same microcosm of existential despair, an escape ultimately reflected in the fantastical Joseph Campbell escapism that is Star Wars. This run is the last great Dark Horse contribution to the Star Wars property, and I’m already sad to see it go. Grade A+.

Spread #1 (Image): It’s sort of an aside, but this week is a perfect representation of my current buying habits. We have a long-standing series up top in Wasteland that I’ve stuck with since day one, since before the creator-owned thing became as hip as it is now, from creators who I wasn’t familiar with at the time, creators who I’ve since followed to all of their other work. We have a rare company owned property in the next slot in Star Wars, a book that gets a pull out of fierce creator loyalty to my favorite writer, and then in this last slot we have another creator-owned work, a new one from a guy who has banked some credibility with me over the years largely because of the Luther Strode Trilogy. It’s also interesting that these three books are all from different publishers (not Marvel and DC!), Oni Press, Dark Horse, and Image Comics. THAT SAID, I enjoyed this book! Kyle Strahm’s visuals are instantly disturbing, capturing the sort of genre melding grindhouse violence that catapulted Justin Jordan’s career in the aforementioned Luther Strode. Jordan’s world-build is instantly convincing, positioning some Walking Dead-style post-apocalyptic survival ethos without bothering to explain too much about how it actually came to be. We’re just dropped in en media res. With the sort of ronin theme underlying things, it’s hard not to make the obvious comparison to Lone Wolf & Cub, then just throw in a dash of Saga, since events are narrated from the POV of the infant baby in retrospect. It’s one of the (few) things I love about Saga, so it was a welcome hook to see that play out as No meets Hope. I’m on board for this ongoing series. Grade A.


7.02.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Lazarus #9 (Image): I feel like “Lift” is the arc that really sells the world of Lazarus, in the way it draws a hard line separating the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” and the incredibly low probability of stepping up from the latter to the former. That's why it resonates with audiences, to me at least, because it exponentially exaggerates our current socioeconomic fears. Michael Lark turns in his usual dark and elegant work (several early pages in succession carried in total silence, the iconic nature of the street art graffiti stencil for Free – notice the way that idea is sneakily worked into the cover too, hiding right there in plain sight like a sleeper cell!), but Greg Rucka brought his A-game dealing with economic inequality leading to an irreversible collapse of traditional social structures. Rucka also does a good job in trying to present matters from both sides of the equation, insight into the oppressors, and some of the hypocrisy of the oppressed and their would-be actions. One of the (many) reasons that Lazarus succeeds is because it avoids that obvious good-guy vs. bad-guy dichotomy that plagues so much of pop culture. The scene with Forever and Marisol is important because it establishes one of the primary bits of characterization for Forever. It shows that she can follow the technical letter of the law, while leaving herself personal wiggle room in the morality of the spirit it was intended. The arc doesn’t end the way you expect it to, but there’s still significant loss that feels like heartbreak. While the next arc looks very intriguing and suggests a fleshing out of more families in the East, I was a little disheartened to see that in exchange for upping the price point from $2.99 to $3.50 per issue, all you get is a 5-week publication schedule instead of a 4-week turn around. Booooo. Does this mean sales of the singles are slipping? Lazarus is essentially 100% critically lauded from what I see, so that’s a shame if the sales aren’t corresponding because all of the punters are still favoring crap like Forever Evil instead of Forever Carlyle. Grade A+.

Sheltered #10 (Image): I’ve always enjoyed Ed Brisson’s writing on Sheltered, but I have to say that I’ve been consistently captivated by the strength of the art, particularly the great pairing of Johnnie Christmas and Shari Chankhamma. They just have a way of bringing such a warm glow to the page, and it’s so pleasing to the eyes. Christmas’ art is full of natural poses that just make everything so believable. I notice small moments like Lucas splashing water on his face, the way it perfectly isolates a quick moment in time. The art is somehow leathery and sinewy and detailed, yet still manages to have this warm supple quality to it that is very engaging and never pushes you out with awkward angles or off-model shots. Anyway, there’s still lots going on in this arc. Justin and Curt are dead (umm, spoiler alert(?) but it happened in the last issue), the lone survivor of the crazy shootout is still on the run and could out all of Safe Haven, and Lucas’ leadership seems to be faltering. I always like how Brisson chooses to pair characters off for these conversations. Here, we have Lucas and Joey counterbalanced by Victoria and Nancy, both trying to make sense of what’s happening. Hey, if you thought killing dogs sucked, well, this issue builds toward one hell of a gut-punch. #TeamVictoria Grade A+.

Southern Bastards #3 (Image): “Now Earl has a stick” could basically be the motto for all of Image Comics in the last couple of years. They’ve found a weapon and they’re poised to unleash it. It’s called “Creator-Owned Comics” and I capitalized that on purpose, not to be pretentious, but to call your attention to the creative renaissance occurring in so many books, Southern Bastards among them. This issue opens with complete saturation in red, and it gets carried through in smart color fashion to the red of tablecloths and t-shirts in the following pages. The issue gets so much so right, and a lot of it is attributed to deliberate creative choices like that. I’m talking about something as simple as deliberately punctuating a sentence with “,boy.” and how that charges up the scene instantly. It’s how the racial undertones make themselves known in the way the sheriff is getting talked to. It’s how the goons talk football before business with Coach Boss, ‘cuz y’all need to get your priorities straight! Jason Aaron is smart to address the motivation of Earl. It’s not just mindless country violence, Earl needs a purpose, to live for something, whether it’s stepping out of daddy’s shadow, or not just going trough the motions of his life in Birmingham, and he’s even coming to terms with that: “You’re dead.” “Nah. For the first time in forever… I don’t think I am.” Well, cast my vote for Tad as my favorite new sidekick. If that all isn’t good enough, there’s even a Country Fried Lettercol and a Fried Apple Pie recipe courtesy of Mama Aaron! Grade A+.

East of West #13 (Image): Shit! I forgot how Jonathan Hickman left off with “this scene,” so this serves as a great refresher and builds toward an incredible action piece between the Ranger and Death. Nick Dragotta’s art is like liquid fiction, man. Not only is that cover just a disturbingly fun nightmare image, but that split panel page of the Ranger and Death racing towards each other in opposing triangle panels makes me feel like I’m riding Star Tours and someone is rocking the hydraulic platform I’m sitting on when reading this comic. It all leads to an old-school meet-fight team-up fomenting, and then a killer visual of a cliffhanger. East of West remains one of the most imaginative books on the stands, in that I never know where it’s going to go next, but it never fails to delight when it gets to its destination. Well, I’m either feeling very charitable, or this was an exceptionally strong week of comics. Four Grade A+ books in a row? In one week?! I don’t think that’s ever happened before. Grade A+.


6.25.14 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Deadly Class #6 (Image): Man, I think this might be my favorite book this week. Deadly Class started a little slow for me, but it’s built toward a very rewarding crescendo that’s equal parts intense violence and dramatic gravitas. The issue deals with the fallout from Marcus’ drug trip and the spot he’s gotten himself into, namely right between Chico and Maria. There’s a horrific confrontation sequence, with violence dipped in red thanks to Lee Loughridge. The “class” is basically ripping itself apart, and the emotionally charged, racially tinged word choices from Rick Remender are so raw, so uncomfortable, and just so good. Wes Craig might just be my new favorite artist, with interesting camera angles (the high overhead shots really do it for me) and crisp figure work that stays so sharply on model. It’d be easy to get lost in the satisfying action and violence, but those things are empty gestures without some emotional core to hold onto. We get that emotion in the final sequences of the issue, the narrative centering on five characters with a solemn bit of introspection that weaves in what I assume are autobiographical elements from the writer. This was a fantastic conclusion to the first arc, some real artistry on display, and I’m highly recommending it. Grade A+.

Dream Thief: Escape #1 (Dark Horse): Jai Nitz pulls us in with witty and effortless banter around 80’s popcorn movies and Spanish language banter, stuff that eases us right back into the world of Dream Thief as if no time has elapsed between the first mini-series and this follow-up. Truthfully, there’s a certain outlandishness to the premise of Dream Thief, the spiritual vigilante, and I was always afraid that it would decent into Jim Carrey’s The Mask territory and push me right out. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Nitz writes with a seriousness, with an authenticity, it’s there in the research and the detail about the locales and the crimes and the lavish sets, an effort that pays off to really sell the book and make the outlandish bits feel grounded in reality. He also puts a lot of heart into the book, with simple moves like returning a coin collection to its rightful inheritor. I enjoy how there’s several layers of story, the ostensible vigilante killing from the spirit inhabiting the protagonist, callbacks to the first series that still need to be resolved, and then new information about the mask’s origin and his father’s true nature. Greg Smallwood was recently announced as the artist on Brian Wood’s Moon Knight run, and I couldn’t be happier about that. He’s got one of the most distinct aesthetics on the stands at the moment, with full inky figures that inhabit gorgeous page layouts. Grade A.

Trees #2 (Image): This seems a lot meatier and less light-hearted than a lot of recent Warren Ellis scripts, and the work is much stronger for it. I enjoyed the investigative slant to the arctic poppies bits (and that whole set, that whole cast, by extension), but it’s important to note that’s just one of several continuing vignettes the series is offering. Taken holistically, all of the sequences are essentially representative of the effects the trees are having on global life, impacting social and political structures as much as they’re altering weather patterns and flora and fauna. Trees still sits in the classic sci-fi camp, kicking things off with an intriguing “what if?” premise, but there’s a greater focus on the impact that has on the lives of people. It’s rich and satisfying, and when paired with Jason Howard’s deliberately altered style, it’s fighting its way up to contend for a slot as one of the best books of the year. Howard’s style has a looser, more unkempt quality here, with slashing lines and jagged edges that lend the right sense of unpredictability to this weird new world. Grade A.

The Fuse #5 (Image): Well, Ralph went and got himself captured in the cables! This opening sequence is really fun, paving the way for the types of chances grizzled ol’ Klem is willing to take for her new partner, showing off a full page shot of the makeshift shanty town slums the cablers created for themselves, and even answering one of the little questions the series has offered, that "FGU" is basically The Fuse equivalent of "OG." Like a lot of writer Antony Johnston’s creator-owned work (Wasteland, Umbral), it’s clear that he’s in it for long-form storytelling, with self-referential bits that loop back around to the first couple of issues, as the pieces of the investigation continue to materialize and come together. He’s also careful to organically include social commentary, like the way people live up on Level 50. Imagine full-blown houses on a space station! The 1% indeed. As great as the writing is, a lot of the razzle dazzle in this issue comes from artist Justin Greenwood. Specifically, he’s killing it on panel layouts. Now, some of this might be scripted, but he really nails the static emulation of video feed in the Boo confessional. It sort of scrolls right off of a full bleed page. I also really enjoyed Klem’s memories flooding back to her when she’s holding a bottle of pills. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all experienced, something more easily done in film with voice over sound clips, but takes a special talent to pull off on a comic page. Grade A.

Sex #14 (Image): I’ve had sort of a cautious love-like relationship with Sex since it began. I’ve lauded Joe Casey’s willingness to experiment with craft and genre, substituting repressed sexuality for hidden superhero identities in a sort of post-shared-superhero universe world. Piotr Kowalski’s art has grown in assuredness as well, the colors have morphed from an almost monochromatic neon pallet to something more intricate. But. The thing that bothers me is something Casey essentially admits in the backmatter, that he might not necessarily have a master plan in mind, that his grand experiment is just seeing where the characters take him and wondering aloud if the payoff will ever be worth it. Sigh. I applaud the seat-of-the-pants experimentation, but if it’s at the expense of a narrative plan, you’ve got about a 50/50 shot at sticking the landing. In the mean time, this was one of the strongest issues to date! Dolph and Cha-Cha steal the show, manipulating Junior in such a devastating way. It’s a sequence guest-illustrated by Chris Peterson that’s smartly wedged into their grand gestures in the pits of a club. Junior does pull a bit of a Season 4 Tyrion, if you’ll pardon the expression, but overall it’s another solid issue that showcases Saturn City as a living breathing entity full of many moving parts and players. Grade A-.


The Massive #24 @ Comics Bulletin [Advance Review]

I wrote a little blurb about The Massive #24, the finale of this startling arc, due out this week, over at Comics Bulletin.