8.28.13 [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 #3 (Image): It’s terrific how future-forward Greg Rucka is positioning this story of a resource dwindled world, where the new Corporate Organized Crime Families control the real power, which is not political or geographic per se, but finance and food resource based. I really enjoyed how the “confrontation” between Forever and Joacquim doesn’t resort to predictable fisticuffs, but mutual respect, interest, and flirtation. The sexual tension between these two could be cut with Forever’s sword. In Joacquim, Forever sees someone like her, someone she can identify with, someone who might understand her moral conflict within a resigned sense of duty, and of course, the best love stories are not where love triumphs, but where love ends in tragedy. It’s a bit Shakespearean that Forever only finds a love interest in the place least likely, the Lazarus of rival Family Morray. Everything is clicking in this issue, the cold nature of the family negotiations are a nice contrast to the warmth of the dynamic between Forever and Joacquim, Michael Lark’s ridiculously emotive and bleak art, the backmatter is totally interesting and satisfying (Blackwater -> Xe -> Academi hired by Monsanto to infiltrate groups opposed to Monsanto!), the internal struggle of Family Carlyle, Johanna the brains, Jonah on the outs, and the rousing cliffhanger make this one of the best titles currently on the stands within the space of just three issues. Grade A+.

Wasteland #47 (Oni Press): With delegates from Wosh-Tun arriving in Newbegin, Marcus has at least three different factions coming at him with hostile intentions. Oh, there's going to be a war all right, and the tension comes from now knowing how exactly that's going to play out. It was great to briefly see Tajj, another Ruin Runner who appeared to have been familiar with Michael. Antony Johnston has structured this arc so that he brought us right up to a hellacious cliffhanger that’s going to have HOLY SHIT level repercussions in the next issue. He’s promised that this will be the final Newbegin arc as the series drives toward its planned conclusion at #60, and it looks like it’s going to go out with a bang. Justin Greenwood’s art is always getting stronger, here emphasizing shadows and generous inks that provide texture, punching up the rugged terrain and subject mater, but never losing the emotional aspects in the process. At it’s core, you can say Wasteland is a post-apocalyptic piece of speculative sci-fi, but it also continues to tap these universal themes of politics, family, and betrayal so well. It’s one of the books most on my radar as the last dozen issues are now inbound. Grade A.

Think Tank #9 (Image): Oh, what a treat it is to see Dr. David Loren in the field, where the realities of modern warfare are far different than the sense of detachment he experiences sitting in a safe bunker in front of a monitor screen. Everything about Matt Hawkins’ script feels “on” in this issue, the research translating to the story incredibly well, from the different SEAL teams, to tensions between China and Taiwan, to the prescience in the backmatter regarding a potential conflict in Southeast Asia. The transparency of Hawkins’ research in the backmatter is totally original and unique, not to mention creatively brave and generous. It’s a window into his process, but also encourages further exploration by curious readers. It offers important social commentary about the US essentially mucking about in everyone else’s business around the world. It’s alternately ironic, frightening, and powerful. With Rahsan Ekedal's emotionally “colorful” black and white art, Think Tank has quickly become one of the “can’t miss” books of the year. Grade A.

Sex #6 (Image): Piotr Kowalski turns in a two page landscape of the city in this issue that is just immaculate. Joe Casey is creating something very different in this book. It’s an act of projection, transference, and sublimation of common storytelling tropes within superhero comics. It’s a post-superhero world, which allows him to mine the vacuum left in the wake of typical cape happenings. It’s like, this is what happens after a shared superhero universe has taken it’s toll for a number of years. In it, we see business people substituted for superhero types, Saturn City as a possible substitute for New York City – with boroughs like Moorlyn standing in for Brooklyn, and sex basically the new power set. It’s a precarious balancing act between the inquiry into Saturnalia looking forward for truth, while the sparingly doled out superhero flashbacks look back, shielding the true nature of this world. There’s an interactive thing happening with the audience too, Casey himself is almost teasing us in a delayed gratification style of narrative foreplay. To wit, Keenan is explaining “The Breaks” as one of the city’s largest crews: “They were finally taken down by… well, that don’t matter.” If that’s not a narrative cock-tease, I don’t know what is. There’s just enough here to latch onto, and just enough experimentation happening, that I’m in it for the long haul, despite some anticipatory frustration over how slowly the full picture is being revealed. Grade A.

Thumbprint #3 (IDW): Jason Ciaramella and Vic Malhotra close out this neo-noir thriller in a way that borders more on horror, perhaps revealing its origins as a novella by acclaimed writer Joe Hill. It opens with our protagonist Mal suffering from what looks like PTSD style flashbacks revolving around her festering identity crisis. Well, the surest way to snap a person back to reality is a home invasion by a former associate who has been visiting others and uhh, “doing things to them.” Thumbprint is a crystal clear treatise on how fragile the human psyche can be, how the atrocities of war can affect different people in different ways, with different psychological outcomes manifesting that trauma in diverse ways. Maybe one of the scariest things you can read into this dynamic, by way of Thumbprint, is that sanity exists on a continuum. It’s not really binary, Mal’s on there somewhere, as is her paranoid tormentor Anshaw. To relieve some of the dark tension, the creators insert a two page spread titled “Anshaw’s Guide To Easy Thumb Removal.” They know that there’s always a slightly comedic twinge to real horror. The involuntary laugh is sometimes the only defense mechanism to the horrific. We don’t want to admit these things happen in the real world, so the body dismisses them with that nervous laughter. At the end of the day, it’s no joke that Thumbprint will go down as one of the most memorable mini-series of the year. Grade A.

Secret #3 (Image): Well, I guess this is a bit of a placeholder review, if you can even call it that. It’s been 14 and a half months since the last issue of this was seen(!), so I have zero recollection of any of these story threads. I remember liking this book, but all I could remember was that it was about something something corporate espionage, yet here it seems to take a turn to a more personal story involving one character and the aftermath of their death. Hickman has enough credibility in the bank (at least with his creator owned work) that I’ll re-read the singles and give this a go. Ryan Bodenheim’s art is very clean and detailed, taking bold choices with the coloring, and if nothing else, it’s just a pure joy to look at while I get caught up on the story again. For now, Grade B.

American Vampire Anthology #1 (DC/Vertigo): The biggest problem with this package is that the $7.99 price point is basically cost prohibitive when not all of the pieces feel essential to the larger narrative or connect completely with the audience. They’re all good, in the sense that they are handled in a competent fashion, but I felt most were sub-par in terms of me remembering them a day or two after I read them, and didn’t have much bearing on the central storylines the regular series offers. For my money, only 3 of the 10 really stood out, or about 24 of the 80 pages, if you want to look at it that way. It was also interesting that the ones which did connect were not necessarily the ones which I thought would, if that makes any sense. The “winner” for me was “Lost Colony” by Jason Aaron, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire, which weaves in Aaron’s penchant for Native American history, right alongside Snyder’s ability to weave in American history into his American Vampire tales. “Greed” by Becky Cloonan and Jordie Bellaire was the most aesthetically pleasurable entry and offers a historical link to one of the series’ principal characters. “Essence of Life” by Gail Simone and Tula Lotay was a raw story of female vengeance, touching on Hollywood’s seedy underbelly as the glitz and glamour washes off to reveal something more sinister. Since I admittedly don’t pay much attention to these two creators, this was a very pleasant surprise. It’ll be memorable both aesthetically and thematically long after reading the book. These stories are all easy Grade A’s with Simone’s piece maybe even veering into Grade A+ territory. Unfortunately, Snyder and Albuquerque’s bookend pieces are flat and weak framing devices. I love JP Leon’s art, but the Greg Rucka story didn’t do much for me, which was surprising. Similarly, I expect great things from Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, but their story felt fairly rote and lacked any real pop. Being very generous, I could say that all of the stories average out to a Grade B, but when you factor in that insane price tag, I’m going to have to call this a Grade C.


The Massive #15 [The Wood Pile]

The Massive #15 (Dark Horse): It’s been building for a while, but the crew of The Kapital finally tracks down Georg and the little matter of his running rogue with a nuclear submarine, last seen hastily departing Moksha Station. Georg has been one of the most fascinating character creations in a cast already full of very fascinating characters. Mag and the shared history between the two men is his link to Ninth Wave, and here we see Mag haunted by that past. The more I’ve read and learned about The Battle of Grozny and some of the conflicts in the region at that time, the more brilliant I think it was for Brian Wood to make Georg from Chechnya. Here we see Georg basically as an agent of chaos, a product of violence and war that has basically been programmed only to perpetuate that same violence and war. In a misguided way, he attempts to rebel against that programming by potentially creating such a cataclysmic act of violence that it would be a whole new type of “Crash” all over again, wiping the slate clean, in his skewed perception of the world, for people like Mag, Cal, and Ninth Wave to inherit. Georg is a big picture thinker, to a detriment, which sometimes leads people to very peculiar smaller scale actions. Georg’s scorched earth policy, of sorts, is utterly tragic and terrifying and beautiful all at once. People’s true colors come out during stress, and Georg is no different. Some people panic wildly, some people remain calm and flourish, some people just can’t handle it and implode without a clear sense of purpose. Georg is probably the latter.
Along the way, Wood seeds the story with some other subtle elements which I found fascinating. With references to the French National Police’s counterterrorism division, the DST, and how both Georg and Mag would be perceived ethnically, racially, as terrorist threats, Wood touches on some uncomfortable realities in the post-9/11 landscape. It all leads to a somber scene aboard one of the fast attack zodiacs. It’s an intense lead up; with nuclear birds in the air and everyone from Ryan, to Mag, to Mary thinking the world is about to come to an end… something happens. It’s sort of a WTF moment that’s been brewing since day one, since Mary improbably rode with Megalodons, since she seemed to have an otherworldly affinity to the planet’s great oceans, the power to hold her breath submerged in icy waters for an inordinate length of time, since she had preternatural “powers” that seemed beyond those of mortal men. Those of us reading Brian Wood for a while, well, maybe we read DMZ and learned how Zee was a physical manifestation of New York City, perhaps we speculated that Mary is some type of literary Mother Nature, a Greek Gaia figure, some corporeal enchanted Sea Goddess, the Arwen to Cal’s Aragorn if you want, and some type of EMP thought-burst (or something) rewards their skills of observation and pattern recognition, fueling speculation for just WTF this series is about, where it’s going, and how it all might end in terms of plot, messaging, and specific characterization. Brian Wood zigs here when many probably think a zag was in order, an exercise in defying conventional expectations. So, there’s not really a full-scale military showdown with this US Navy faction that plays out singularly, though there is plenty of action, missiles being launched, choppers dropping charges, and people being shot unexpectedly. Like Georg railing against his programming, it’s up to the reader to parse Wood’s open-ended and inconclusive crescendo as the crew is at the end of a rope here, dangling like the rest of the planet. Next arc will point us further north and I doubt any clear direct answers will come, at least for a while.
Shit, I’ve written a bunch and haven’t discussed the art yet. Review Fail. Dang, how about that John Paul Leon cover?! Nobody is talking about JP, and he's got to be one of the most skilled artists working today, generous with the ink, but able to control the lines so deliberately, punctuating the mood of the story so effectively, all within a superb graphic design sensibility. On the interior, this might be the book Garry Brown was born to illustrate. The title page submerging NYC is a haunting image, immediately lending an intimidating sense of place, and see if you can spot his long narrow vertical panels like I called out back in issue 5 and issue 11. Jordie Bellaire’s colors deserve special recognition too. Together, Brown and Bellaire are something to behold, the murky grays of waterlogged NYC, the dark sky being pierced by ICBM ignition, or the red glow enveloping Georg in the sub, highlighting the almost devilish glint in his eyes. Artistically, it’s as if these images build the entire time to the final page’s ominous end, as they sail off into a poisoned sunset, the juxtaposition of the happy ending readers are programmed to expect, and the harsh realities of volatile existence post-Crash in The Massive. They’re all my favorite issues, but umm, this is one of my favorite issues. Grade A+.


Ken Kristensen @ Yesteryear Comics [Signing]

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #5 is experiencing a printing delay. The soonest the book will be released is now September 18th, which means the soonest the signing could occur is September 21st. Will update when more info is available and we've confirmed a new date and time.

I’m happy to announce that my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics has their fifth in-store signing scheduled for 2013, featuring LA-based film, TV, and comics writer Ken Kristensen (Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth). He’ll be in the store Saturday, September 7th at 12pm to celebrate the release of the now ongoing series Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #5, published by Image Comics. As I described in the pull quote for the first trade, Todd The Ugliest Kid is “a cult classic in the making… a parody of everything wrong with our culture, all masquerading as a really funny, really weird comedy,” with fantastic art by MK Perker. Come get your Exclusive Yesteryear Comics Variant Cover! Additionally, a CGC Representative will be on-hand to verify signatures for those of you interested in submitting books for professional grading. I’ll be working this event, so if you’re in San Diego, please stop by to say hi, support the renaissance of creator owned comics, and support my friend Michael, owner of Yesteryear Comics, the region’s best retailer. For more information, jump in and follow @YesteryearComic @KenKristensen @ThirteenMinutes or check out Facebook.com/YesteryearComics. Tickle Party!


Ghosted #2 [Kamak's Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

Ghosted #2 (Image): I’m on business in Atlanta [Editor’s Note: Kamak in the ATL! Psh, define “business."] and what better way to celebrate Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead success than to review the latest release from Skybound; Ghosted.

A lot of artists fall into a rhythm of sticking to what they’re good at. Warhol silk-screened pop culture, Willie Nelson smokes pot writes country songs (please listen to his rendition of Coldplay’s The Scientist), [Editor’s Note: Please, no.] Michael Bay makes movies with too many explosions [Editor’s Note: It’s that close-up shaky cam I don’t like.], and Kirkman is no exception. By no means do I consider this a bad thing. I don’t like surprises that are out of the ordinary because I’ve, apparently, quickly turned into a cranky old man. I read Invincible (our super hero book), The Walking Dead (our horror book), and Thief of Thieves (our “reality” heist book). It’s a well-rounded group.

Ghosted? Maybe Kirkman has started to run out of gas, and here’s why. This quasi-bashing of Kirkman is due to The Walking Dead/Thief of Thieves mash-up I’m reviewing. [Editor’s Note: Oh, I always thought it was just a derivative and expositional Ocean’s Eleven meets Paranormal Activity.] The first issue opened with The Walking Dead’s precise sense of shock and awe, then followed up with a Thief of Thieves style story and team building exercise in literary composition. Issue two is the opposite; we gain greater insight into the team, Thief of Thieves style, and then conclude the issue with a Walking Dead style shocker. I loved it in spite of my poking at Kirkman. He actually took two of my favorite books and merged them into brilliance.

The set is a creepy-ass mansion where the Trask family had redrum’d numerous unfortunate victims. The cast of characters are all very different, counterbalancing each other like a see-saw. As introduced on the second page, there’s Edzia Rusnak “Professional Medium,” Robby Trick “Professional Con Artist,” Jay and Joe Burns “Professional Ghost Hunters & Reality TV Stars,” Oliver King “Professional Skeptic,” and the leader of the group, Jackson. Additional players include Markus Schrecken, the bored rich collector who hired Jackson to steal his ultimate prize from the mansion, a ghost, and his totally badass hired gun, Anderson. Yes, the mansion is Ghosted. Only one of the squad members witnesses the paranormal activity firsthand, but doesn’t speak of it. A number of stealthy wraiths tip-toe amongst the others. I found myself behaving like that obnoxious moviegoer sitting in front of you, yelling at the characters to look behind them, don’t go in that room, and get the hell out of this particular Bates Motel!

The art is nothing to mention, but Justin will make me tell you something, so here we go. [Editor’s Note: Yeah, there’s something poor about a comic book review that never mentions the art, yes, I’m sure I’ve heard that somewhere…] Goran Sudzuka handles art and Miroslav Mrva the colors. It’s good, but it may as well be the interchangeable staff from Invincible, or The Walking Dead, or you guessed it, Thief of Thieves. Sure, The Walking Dead is done in black and white and adds some creepiness because of that, but having a “Wrightson” on your payroll would do wonders for this book. [Editor’s Note: Kamak, you should review the book you’re given, not the book you want.] Check out the book that took 6 months to create, Frankenstein Alive Alive #2 (IDW) for the finest art in a book… EVER. [Editor’s Note: I... just... don’t even know where to start with this now I'm going to get a Wrightson lecture the next time I see Kamak in the LCS.] Kirkman, I get it, you like this art style, but for my own selfish reasons, change it up! Get Ribic to do a cover [Editor’s Note: I think Esad Ribic is, like, Kamak’s favorite mainstream artist working today?] and Rob Guillory to do the comedic variant [Editor’s Note: Kamak cites Chew as his favorite book, I’m so confused right now.] USE SOME WALKING DEAD ROYALTIES TO STEP UP THE ART TO THE LEVEL THE BOOK DESERVES!

I do recommend this book, but like JMS’s Sidekick (shameless plug for a previous review I did), I don’t know how long one can keep this storyline going. Due to doubts of sustainability [Editor’s Note: Go Green.] and, more importantly, average art on a brilliant horror book (Hitchcock would not approve), Grade B+.

Ken Kristensen @ Yesteryear Comics [Signing]

I’m happy to announce that my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics has their fifth in-store signing scheduled for 2013, featuring LA-based film, TV, and comics writer Ken Kristensen (Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth). He’ll be in the store Saturday, September 7th at 12pm to celebrate the release of the now ongoing series Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #5, published by Image Comics. As I described in the pull quote for the first trade, Todd The Ugliest Kid is “a cult classic in the making… a parody of everything wrong with our culture, all masquerading as a really funny, really weird comedy,” with fantastic art by MK Perker. Come get your Exclusive Yesteryear Comics Variant Cover! Additionally, a CGC Representative will be on-hand to verify signatures for those of you interested in submitting books for professional grading. I’ll be working this event, so if you’re in San Diego, please stop by to say hi, support the renaissance of creator owned comics, and support my friend Michael, owner of Yesteryear Comics, the region’s best retailer. For more information, jump in and follow @YesteryearComic @KenKristensen @ThirteenMinutes or check out Facebook.com/YesteryearComics. Tickle Party!


8.21.13 [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.

X-Men #4 (Marvel): This might be a controversial statement I’m about to make, but I think I actually prefer art by David Lopez over art by Olivier Coipel. Don’t get me wrong, I love Coipel’s work. Shoot, I loved it back in the 90’s when I first saw it on the extended “Legion of The Damned” arc over at DC, which breathed life into the Legion of Superheroes titles, something I’d never paid attention to prior. It was like nothing I’d ever seen; it had raw power, wild, and unrestrained. It was great here too for the first three issues, full of kinetic energy that was ready to pop. It gave an edge to Wood’s scripts that was a nice tonal match. But, there’s just something to David Lopez’s clean lines that draws my eye in, almost in a more inviting way. Lopez’s art is sleek, it looks just right for a group of mutants traipsing all around the globe. It’s an adventurous style, for a bunch of adventurers doing a bunch of adventurous shit. I think he’s careful to deliberately alter the looks of his characters as well, the physcial designs are absolutely perfect. Notice the way Storm looks African, Psylocke looks Asian, Rachel looks like she’s from some wild-eyed future. For purely selfish reasons, I sometimes razz Brian Wood about putting more California references into his work. What a payoff this issue was in that respect. Wood moves the plot from the Santa Monica pier, through Westwood, all the way into the Central Valley’s dullard towns, even name-dropping the little nothing place I was born. That stopped me dead in my tracks. Wood’s scripts have always been strong on this title, maintaining a rich balance between exhilarating action and more cerebral dilemmas. That doesn’t change here. Rachel and Storm are locked in a philosophical debate about leadership, with Rachel pass-agg'ing Ororo, the one who takes a more mature and direct approach, there’s time for the gang to pause for humor, some oomph is put behind the historical relationship between Logan and Jubilee, and even some Jubes’ history references, calling all the way back to X-Men #244. Somewhere along the way, it hits you that the way he’s handling these characters isn’t just about that perfect X-Men trifecta I often cite, the action/intelligence/heart dynamic. It’s also evident what well-rounded characters this group of women is under the hands of a skilled writer. These are the most fully realized renditions of these women I think I’ve ever seen. It’s done in such a way that makes you perceive them not just as women, not just as strong women, but as utterly complete people. They're complex, multi-faceted prople, with flaws and vulnerabilities, with rich experiences and amazing abilities. Their characterization has transcended gender, and that’s ultimately how we have to view them in order to bridge the inequality gap in our culture. Grade  A+.

Dream Thief #4 (Dark Horse): When I was really into street racing during the years of my misspent youth, sometimes we’d refer to a ride as a “sleeper.” This was a car that looked fairly normal on the outside, but popping the hood told quite a different story. Dream Thief is similar in some regards. No disrespect intended, but glancing over Dream Thief as you survey the new comics rack down at the LCS might not make it stand out in the crowd whatsoever. Pop the cover, however, and what you find is a book really dissimilar to the majority of the material surrounding it on the stands. It’s many things. This issue’s got card game tips of the trade that reminded me of the detail quality of Rounders, gangsters that danced across the page matter-of-factly illuminating how residual modern organized crime functions today, and a general noir vibe running through this seedy criminal underworld. Even more special than the confidence of Jai Nitz’s script are the innovative page layouts, panel designs, and visual symbols that Greg Smallwood embeds in the story. There’s nothing like this being produced today. The combination of the visual excellence and the stylish writing all look just so airy and light and effortless. I know the creators must put tons of work into this book, and that it’s not truly "effortless," but it’s such a joy to read it makes you think otherwise. I feel about this book the way I felt when I first read The Strange Talent of Luther Strode, it’s that sense that something special is happening, that a new creative team has emerged, one which will have some staying power, one I’m already so excited to see more work from. Grade A.

Conan The Barbarian #19 (Dark Horse): It’s a new storyline with Paul Azaceta on art, and since I’m not one of these annoying REH purists, I’ve really been enjoying the experimental detours that Brian Wood and his collaborators have been taking with the property. I really enjoyed the nature of the last arc, and this one too seems like a conscious effort to do something different. As Conan and Belit enter this podunk little village with a powerful artifact, I kept sensing a creepy horror vibe that almost reminded me of the eerie nature of some old Twilight Zone episodes. Many of my favorite, or most memorable, episodes of that show took place in roadside diners, not entirely different from the inn that Conan and Belit find themselves in. There’s that one where Shatner gets addicted to the fortunes coming out of the little machines, or the one where we learn aliens have come to Earth as people stream in after a nearby accident. Anyway, Conan is fighting a different kind of foe here, and it challenges his mettle. And hey, if you learn anything from this issue, it’s Do. Not. Insult. Belit! When Conan gives you ONE free pass and makes you a counter-offer, shut your mouth and roll with it! Grade A.


Sidekick #1 [Kamak's Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

Sidekick #1 (Image): It’s perverse, drug-fueled, and mocks yoga-pant-adorned heroes. No, Ennis didn’t start writing that piece of crap Dicks again. This is the second release from J. Michael Straczynski’s relaunch of the Joe’s Comics imprint. The first, Ten Grand, is a book that my mentor here at Thirteen Minutes has already grown weary of by the fourth issue. [Editor's Note: killer variant cover art aside, I also didn't feel like the campy awkward interior art stood up to the gravitas of the deconstructionist tendencies of the script, but there's no accounting for taste, I guess...]

I, too, have a love-hate relationship with JMS. My hate for him is geared mostly at Amazing Spider-Man #36. Yes, the 9/11 issue. Being raised in New York, and literally witnessing that tragedy firsthand, I was simply appalled by his attempt to shed any light on this particular subject. [Editor's Note: But, Kamak, none of the 9/11 "special" issues from any company were any good!] Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina was the only book that I was ever able to relate to in that regard. [Editor's Note: I certainly approve of this title!] But, enough of the sob story.

JMS has done a brilliant job pairing Tom Mandrake and Ben Templesmith to Sidekick and Ten Grand, respectively. With Mandrake’s art and colors by HiFi, it’s a brilliant combination that creates a surreal superhero world. This art would fit perfectly on more mainstream titles, yet captures without flaw the downward spiral of this superhero universe. As the issue progressed and got darker in tone, so did the coloring. Lately, I haven’t been shelling out cash for variant covers, but I did for the Charlie Adlard cover of Sidekick, and I’m in the process of tracking down a convention exclusive cover as well. I guess I’m just another sucker for that Sidekick cover art.

The basic premise is that Red Cowl (the “Batman” of Sidekick) is offed, leaving Flyboy (the “Robin” archetype) to fend for himself. Once seemingly upstanding Red Cowl is out of the picture, Flyboy’s downward spiral begins. The satirical hilarity ensues post-villain-thwarting, when Flyboy blackmails a hooker into giving him head (either that, or she was tying his shoelaces crouched behind a dumpster!). Things are kicked off when a lawyer informs Flyboy that there’s nothing left to inherit in Red’s estate, progresses to the newscasters tearing him a new one , and then to the search for a new role where he fails miserably. There’s also a twist… WOW! [Editor's Note: Spoiler Alert!]
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I don’t see how it can continue moving forward based on this premise. I want to love this series, so I hope JMS uses some of his literary magic to keep roping me in. Please don’t have me growing bored by issue #4. Grade A-.


Thor: God of Thunder #11 [Kamak's Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

Thor: God of Thunder #11 (Marvel): This issue marks the conclusion of the “Godbomb” storyline by Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic. Now, those of you that know me know that I have a Garth Ennis-like distaste for protagonists that don capes and tights. With that being said, Thor: God of Thunder is the definitive best title on comic book shop shelves everywhere. This is not my opinion; it’s based on scientific research I made up in my head. 

Riding my bike to the local comic shop early Saturday mornings with my sister and my childhood friend Adam Gertler (see Food Network) were some of my fondest memories growing up in the early 90’s. That was the era that the shop owner surreptitiously stuck free copies of books in our little brown bags. Among those free books, there was always a copy of Thor. In case you’re not reading between the lines, Thor was so bad then that owners had to literally give away back issues to make space for quality product. This was not the masterfully written book I anticipate every month now, but rather a Thor written in a foreign dialogue I could never understand. I was informed by the proprietor of Yesteryear Comics that Thor became enjoyable to read once J. Michael Straczynski put an end to all that “thoust I yelleth” blabbering.
It’s impossible for me to determine if Thor: God of Thunder’s art or writing is better. They’re inextricably linked like this medium optimally should be. But, let’s play the game. It seems like Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic are in competition to constantly out-do each other on every issue. However, I’m going to favor Ribic because he brilliantly executed a custom cover for me at this year’s SDCC (I’ll favor Aaron if he can work me in as a cameo). I managed to witness the master at work firsthand. He moved with surgical precision and (ignore the grainy camera phone quality) completed the cover you see above in less than 15 minutes(!), and then executed a second pencil sketch in under 30 seconds. Ribic is a true master of the craft. His art captures all of the physical characteristics, whether it’s Thor or just an extra that’s crucified in the background.  Thor is drawn as he should be, with a larger-than-life, pro wrestler-like physique that is, dare I say it, BELIEVABLE! All of this flattery might lead you to believe that I have a man-crush on Esad… screw you, I do!  My compliments also go out to Ive Svorcina’s coloring, which is also perfectly executed, providing the perfect hues that set the tone without flaw.

I don’t know how Jason Aaron (Scalped, thank you Justin!) does it, but in all 11 issues of this run, I’ve never been disappointed or ever felt as though I could put this book down without finishing it. Issue #11 is no exception. It serves as an end to the Gorr storyline, and I hate to see this arc come to a finale. Aaron has created such a memorable antagonist in the God Butcher, one who we can relate to thanks to issue six’s origin story. Gorr’s drive is based on his extreme hatred of Gods, stemming from his feelings of “God Abandonment.” I’m not a religious zealot, but I do feel that everyone in their own personal life has wrestled with the age-old question: does God exist and, if so, why would such a deity allow such terrible things to happen in this world? It’s this premise that makes Gorr more human than villain. Aaron seamlessly unites the young Mjolnir-less Thor, with the modern Avenger Thor, along with the future’s God of Gods Thor. These three Thors unite to create the most outrageous team-up that works brilliantly. Their mission is to stop Gorr’s invention, the “Godbomb.” The Godbomb is a weapon that spans all time and space to eradicate the universe of all gods. If someone just came up and told me this premise, I’d be a huge skeptic. However, this premise does not just work, it’s a masterpiece.
I don’t want to give away how this story plays out. What I want you to do is go out and lay down your hard-earned greenbacks for every issue in this series. If you are not completely satisfied, please call me a douchebag in the comments section and tell Justin how much you hate reading my reviews. However, if you do enjoy reading Thor: God of Thunder, then some show love, the kind of love I have for Esad Ribic! Thor: God of Thunder #11 is a Grade A+ book from a Grade A+ series from Grade A+ creators. Grade A+.

The Mysterious Strangers #1-2 [Kamak's Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

The Mysterious Strangers #1-2 (Oni Press): “Oni Press… who’s that?” This is a question you might be asking yourself, if you’re anything like me. Oni is the independent publisher located in Portland, Oregon, perhaps most noted for monthlies-turned-movies Whiteout, which put Greg Rucka on the map as a comic book writer, and Bryan Lee O'Malley’s infamous Scott Pilgrim. Most recently, they’ve been getting a great deal of buzz thanks to Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn’s work on The Damned, The Sixth Gun, and Helheim, as well as the upcoming Letter 44, by Charles Soule and Alberto Albuquerque.

The art in most Oni Press titles has never blown me away. It’s always just been there. Yet, in spite of my disinterest, it always seems to have a perfect strategic partnership with the title. This constant holds true for The Mysterious Strangers. I don’t know if Oni can attract talents like Esad Ribic or Rafael Albuquerque, to name two of my current favorites, and I’m not sure if they care to.

Chris Roberson’s story takes place during a “strange time” when “Astronauts from east and west race to be the first to reach the moon, teenagers shimmy and frug to pop music.” Illustration by Scott Kowalchuk and coloring by Dan Jackson are executed with a 50’s mod tackiness. When I turn every page, I expect to hear the opening music to FX’s Archer. Yes, The Mysterious Strangers plays like homage, maybe parody, to various pop culture artifacts from decades past. The coloring captures the era perfectly, but for me the pencils lack so much detail that at times it detracted from the experience. There are no panels that stood out as memorable, and even the cover’s ode to the pulps of yesteryear is a disappointment. 

The cast contains the beauty Verity Mills, the playboy Michael Kono, the muscle Sandoval, and the wheelchair-bound leader Absalom Quince, biting too much off of Professor X or The Chief from Doom Patrol perhaps? (The thing about homage is that it’s usually unoriginal by definition). After reading the first two issues oddly released the same day, I still don’t know what their powers are other than the ability to drain electricity and to be bulletproof.

The action takes place on the island of Hidalgo, which houses an alien ship hidden from sight decades ago by the natives in the form of ancient pyramids. The mother ship had been long forgotten until rediscovered by a member of the evil O.C.C.U.L.T. As member Tatu uses his mind control powers to control Hidalgo’s President, The Mysterious Strangers attempt to infiltrate the island, until Sandoval becomes the latest victim of Tatu’s mind control, aiding O.C.C.U.L.T. in capturing the other Strangers. People are transformed into aliens by the pyramid’s power, dialogue that is way too corny to repeat occurs at a regular clip, and the stellar closing line of the first issue leaves us with “Could this be the end for The Mysterious Strangers?” (Maybe that’s why the second issue was released the same day).

Despite my resistance to the art and The Mysterious Strangers’ reliance on homage, these are probably two of the most campy, fun-loving books I’ve read in some time. I loved every page of its zany delight. This book is way too playful and carefree to pass up. It’s just become my most guilty pleasure in the comic book world, and I’m secretly looking forward to the next issue. Oni Press truly is the underdog that I’m silently cheering for. Grade B+.


Umbral by Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten [Buy It!]

If you're reading this site, then you know that the era of Creator-Owned Comics is upon us, certainly occupying the majority of the mindshare in these parts, while making significant strides in marketshare as well. Back in 2006, I wandered by the Oni Press booth at SDCC and randomly picked up a book called Wasteland #1. I didn't know who these guys were at the time, but my copy was signed by Johnston, Mitten, and cover artist Ben Templesmith. I still have it, along with all the single issues, all the trades, and all the big hardcover Apocalyptic Editions. Needless to day, it became one of my favorite series, like, ever, and I've pretty much been evangelizing it ever since. These guys just don't disappoint. Johnston is easily one of the best world-builders in the business, and I can assure you Mitten is one of the most underrated talents in the industry today, particularly when his pencils are rendered in full color. I was right about Wasteland then, and I'll be right about Umbral this time around. This is going to be something special from the guys, published by Image Comics, and I strongly urge you to check it out.


8.14.13 [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.

East of West #5 (Image): East of West is the kind of book that rewards patient reading. You’re dropped into an expansive world with little exposition, so it requires some interactive detective work and the passage of a few issues to really grasp all the plot threads that finally gel completely in this issue. I’m guessing the first trade will collect the first five issues, because it’s almost as if these initial five were the first “chunk” of story that actually introduces all of the players and sets the plot in motion. Much of the issue centers on Death meeting up with old flame Xiaolian in New Shanghai, but for the most part their conversation and the interspersed scenes with other members of the ruling council explain all we need to know about everyone’s motivations. There’s some “family news” introduced for Death and Xiao that clears up their intentions, an imminent war between the nations explained, and even the cover blurb words get powerfully delivered in context. Dragotta’s art is some of the best being produced in the industry today. Period. The layouts, angles, colors, everything about it is special. His delicate lines are a delicious blend of the lean Frank Quitely and wispy Tim Sale, they can be alternately tender, mysterious, and dangerous. East of West almost plays like a more frightening, more cerebral, more mature version of what Rick Remender and Jerome Opena pulled off in Uncanny X-Force, but within the confines of a creator-owned vision, it’s so much more intense. Jason Sacks conducted an SDCC interview with artist Nick Dragotta that’s currently up over at Comics Bulletin, and in it he describes having the ultimate creative freedom at Image. If these are the results of that hands-off publishing approach, the results from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta speak for themselves. Grade A+.

Saga #13 (Image): The pace feels different in this issue, slower, and I’m guessing that has to do with the publishing delay. It’s almost as if this is a “catch-up” issue, where the creative team felt the need to re-introduce most of the main characters and sort of reset the story for any incoming new readers, or even those of us who have been with it from the start and just needed to catch our breath to remember where the heck we were. Much of the issue revolves around a veteran in a military hospital recounting the tale of Alana and Marko’s escape, right into their star-crossed love affair. They’re basically still on the run with Hazel, while Prince Robot IV is on their trail, and The Will and Gwendolyn are doing the same. Nothing really new, nothing much has changed, aside from the mental push The Stalk gives The Will. Brian K. Vaughan does have a knack for capturing these little realistic everyday moments and somehow delivering them with larger than life clarity, which I enjoy, but the issue really does feel like “all middle” dog-paddling. BKV also makes a couple overt winks at the camera, which I find a little grating. “No one makes a worst first impression than writers” is a forced meta-line that just plays too cutesy and distracting, pushing me out of the story. That aside, the star of the show is still the gorgeous lush art of Fiona Staples. Whether it’s a reanimated skeleton graveyard or the simply amazing colors as Hazel’s narration begins and their ship navigates space, it’s an impressive display of talent. The haters can say what they will about BKV's writing prowess, but if nothing else, there's no denying that Saga has brought Fiona Staples to well-deserved stardom. Grade A-.

Star Wars #8 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #8 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly pull a smart little maneuver (something like Lando at the Battle of Taanab) in their approach to this issue, which is following three primary plotlines centered around what most readers will cite as the three primary protagonists, Princess Leia Organa, Luke Skywalker, and Han Solo, where audience expectation is understandably quite strong. It’s evident even in the letter column that the readership is still somewhat divided on what their majority interest demands, and where their interest truly lies conceptually for a new Star Wars title. Some clearly want to focus on the original “Big Three,” and some clearly want more expansion of the so-called extended universe, with additional characters and fleshing out of the world. That is to say, some want old and some want new. Good luck pleasing both, satisfy one and alienate the other. It’s a fine needle to thread. Welcome to Star Wars, Brian Wood, hope you survive the experience! Luckily, Wood is up to the challenge. He’s a skilled enough writer at juggling multiple threads and “team” books, and the Star Wars Universe itself is a big enough playground to stretch out a little, that he’s able to achieve both, hopefully satisfying both sets of readers comprising the larger audience.

Through the characters and their adventures in this issue, we alternately get sentiment, nostalgia, and action from the Leia, Luke, and Han scenes respectively, culminating with some grand cliffhangers for all involved. In a nutshell, that takes care of one set of readers. On the flip side of the storytelling approach, Wood offers plenty of new creations for the other set and their divergent desires. As a fan, I’m so satisfied with the sheer amount of new “stuff” being introduced in the interstitial space between episodes. You’ve got the ostensible search for a new Rebel Alliance base, Birrah Seah as one of Vader’s spies (at the same time Luke and Wedge are in a buddy team-up movie doing their own spying on the same ship!), Perla making an interesting foil for Han Solo (always at home in the garbage!), Prithi laying in wait (both literally, as a stealth fighter pilot anchored to the hull of the Devastator, and figuratively as a potential love interest for Luke), along with upstart Colonel Bircher vying for the Emperor’s favor. Now, any one of these single threads could make for a suitable arc. Brian Wood gives us all of them. They’re all interesting extensions of the existing universe, they’re more balanced with their approach to gender dynamics, and they contain callbacks to the originals, with talk of detention center breakouts, Han calling someone “sister” in a smart-ass fashion, and little touches about the Antilles family, all deliberately chosen with precise scripting.

Ryan Kelly feels right at home in the Star Wars Universe. From the close-ups of Boba Fett revealing the details of his battle-damaged Mandalorian super-commando armor, to the choreography of the improvised torpedo countermeasures atop Imperial Center as Slave I, the Hound’s Tooth, and the Millennium Falcon duel over the skies of Coruscant for the rousing crowd-pleaser (including a very dope overhead shot of the Hound’s Tooth chasing the Falcon over the skyline). Kelly strikes the right balance in his approach. His figures are pleasing on a macro level, natural in the foreground, always connected to the audience. But, the scenes work when you dive in on a micro level as well. This reveals the attention to detail in the backgrounds and a level of, just, dirty grit to everything that captures the spirit of what Lucas delivered in his original vision. My only small gripe is that the cover art is a far cry from Alex Ross, even a touch stiff and flat, but the interior contents are exceptionally strong. Writing and art are swirling around to create something more than the sum of its parts, rendering a nostalgic look and feel, but a renewed sense of excitement and wonder. Wood and his collaborators have been careful to create and not just re-create. Star Wars is so consistently strong that I struggle not to repeat myself, but the book still has it all. Action, heart, and brain. Old and new. Gender equality. Nostalgia and breaking new ground. Beautiful art and gorgeous color. That said, Brian Wood’s Star Wars is perfectly balanced. It’s one of the books I look forward to the most for sheer enjoyment of the reading experience and the craft of making entertaining comics. Grade A.


The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #3 [Make Some Noise!]

The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #3 (Dark Horse): In terms of moving players around the chess board, there’s actually not a whole lot exciting that occurs in this issue from a plotting standpoint, but thematically speaking, it’s a target rich environment, revealing either dense forethought on the part of the creators, or one of those “happy accidents” of the creative process you often hear about. These thematic mantras I invented for myself on-the-fly kept swirling around my brain: “Detritus in The Desert.” “See The Unseen.” “Color is The Key.” “BLI Counts Numbers, Not Emotions.” They played like track titles to a lost soundtrack that existed mostly in my mind. DJ Cherri Cola and a fellow DJ(?)-cum-Ron Kovic-style-VFW (nick)named simply “D” attempt to briefly mentor The Girl (seeing that “unseen” as a tactical advantage). Meanwhile, Korse is on the move in Battery City (with a surprising outcome), while Porno Droids “Blue” and “Red” continue their quest to extend their “life,” of sorts. We also get more of that delicious backmatter that the creative team uses as shorthand to in-story world-build with flair instead of with blatant character exposition. That’s essentially the plot for you, but once one of the Ultra V’s donned some makeshift red lipstick, “Detritus in The Desert” was the mantric track I invented, which then began to play in my head.

The red lipstick is a nothing device in the grand scheme of things, itself a throwaway item. But, out there in the arid desert, it’s a stand-in for something more powerful. Like the empty cans of irradiated soda, the concrete shells of long empty swimming pools, or the seemingly fetishized masks running rampant, the red lipstick is an object imbued with meaning, one that represents a small glimpse of a lost culture of individuality that inspires passion against the homogenized onslaught of control that is BLI. The world is a shadow of its former self. The Fabulous Killjoys is sometimes an exercise in those very shadows. The Girl is a hero (an orphan of a bankrupt culture, to quote Hans Gruber), whether she realizes it yet or not. All of us good J. Campbell-ians know that the hero’s journey requires that people are daring enough to step out from the shadows, leaving  behind the known, plunging into the new, where the outcome is uncertain at best, and long odds at worst. Thus, Korse may step out from the shadow of his employer. The Girl may step out from the shadow of her fate and the aid of her would-be helpers. Blue and Red may step out from the shadow of the daily grind (pun intended) and their former lives. Cherri Cola may step out from his own history and hesitation. Everyone may step out from under the thumb of BLI. It’s worth noting that Battery City is even more bleak than we’ve seen in previous glimpses, with broken down droids littering the streets beside insurgent graffiti, perhaps suggesting the people are collectively ready to rise up. Ready to step out of the shadow of their mass opiates of control, no longer content to do nothing like the wave-head addict adrift in the desert.

Blue and Red’s story lends a feeling of timeless, true love, ironically only exhibited by Porno Droids. Their story and the direction it went harkened back to the words in the shootout. “BLI is a machine. Machines count numbers, not emotions.” BLI can track shots and energy usage and cold efficiencies, but not the warmth of unpredictability that human emotion offers. That’s how the heroes will win. Maybe John and Paul were right, “All You Need Is Love.” The musicality permeating The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys goes well beyond the pedigree of one of the authors. While Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, of course, intentionally drop some references, and insinuate numerous others, it sort of leeches into Becky Cloonan’s post-pop aesthetic as well. By the time Blue pulls her Kirby-Krackling ray gun out, there’s a manic sheen to the scenes that operates with pop glee thanks to colorist Dan Jackson, who’s surely turning in an Eisner-Nominatable performance. I think the first time I remember hearing the word “pop” being thrown around comic book coloring in the Modern Age may have been with Michael Allred. I was never a huge fan of Allred’s stories (blasphemy!), but I certainly appreciate the mastery of otherwise garish coloring he pulled off. With regard to Fabulous Killjoys, the Cloonan-Jackson connection somehow finds that same duality, the loud pop glee, but also a post-apocalyptic grunge to the palette that seems unlikely. Color is indeed one of the keys to the success of this series. Imagining it in black and white is an incomprehensible dearth of vitality. There’s no telling where Killjoys will go next, but I’ll be along for the ride, “pulse beating like a cheetah on speed,” all the way to the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront during next year’s Eisner Awards. Grade A.

Look Straight Ahead @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Look Straight Ahead over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Pennsylvanians @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Bart King's Pennsylvanians over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Batman #21 [Kamak's Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

Batman #21 (DC): What the fuck!? There are a couple pages in here that act as reminders as to why I’m not a fan of protagonists in tights. I promised the proprietor of Yesteryear Comics that I’d pull at least one DC title. He stressed that the title had to be Batman. So, here I am on vacation in New York City, the parallel universe to Gotham City, and I turn to pages 15 and 16.

Page 15 is just another beautiful and flawless panel by Greg Capullo, as expected. This page basically shows off the chiseled physique and boyish good looks of a younger Bruce Wayne. Yawn. Page 16 & 17 contain an ad drawn by the comic book community’s perhaps most celebrated living artist, Jim Lee. It’s a two-page spread for Superman Unchained.

As a child, I ripped the heads off of my action figures and played mix and match. My Frankenstein-like genius created a Jedi Knight Boba Fett. This badass mo-fo had Luke’s Jedi body, Boba’s Jet-Pack and head, a blaster and a green lightsaber. If I still owned Franken-Fett, it would have caused the most fierce bidding in the History of eBay. But, back to Batman. Had these depictions been my childhood toys, my game of decapitate-recapitate would have yielded the same goddamn toy, a guaranteed eBay fail. I don’t know if the twin resemblance of Bruce and Clark was done on purpose, or if it’s purely coincidence. What I do know is that these yoga-pant-wearing heroes are DC’s most famous personas. Can’t they give one of them maybe green eyes with a lesser-defined jawline? Even a slight variance in their eyebrow shape would be enough to soothe my disdain. 

Capullo does an awesome job drawing the bored billionaire playboy looking for his next adrenaline rush, while claiming he’s Gotham’s salvation. His lines are perfectly done, almost too perfect, but they do reflect Bruce’s need for an unobtainable level of clean sterility in Gotham. I’m in love with Danny Miki’s use of color throughout his section of the book. His use of shading and color gradation are perfectly managed. I found myself hypnotized by a perfectly illustrated Koi. 

The story? Well, does that even matter? We already know the story. Snyder writes Batman in the typical DC fashion. There are only two possible outcomes. In this issue, Batman finds some bad guys, he becomes a thorn in their side, and narrowly escapes. I’m confident that one of two things will happen in this arc. One, Batman finally gets the upper hand on the evildoers and brings them to justice (most likely, incarceration in Arkham Asylum). Two, Batman finally gets the upper hand on the evildoers and they narrowly escape justice, living to fight another day. 

Batman does not kill. Period. Secretly, he hopes to face them again for another adrenaline rush. A lot of Bat-Fans will disagree with me, but it comes down to him being a bored punk with way too many resources and a psychotic need to sculpt his world to his ideal through vigilante tactics. If Wayne really wanted to clean up Gotham City, he’d assume his role at Wayne Industries just as his uncle is persuading him to do in this particular book. Certainly Wayne is not as smart as he's given credit for. He could easily turn non-profit and create an incredible security team that would patrol Gotham using a limited amount of Bat-gadgetry under his watchful eye. 

Branding! Branding is what enables the Yankees to have the highest salaries in baseball, but do we have to see it on absolutely everything Batman related? Does the Bat-dirt bike have to have a Bat emblem AND Batwings. Must his mask have Bat ears if he ALREADY has a Bat on his chest? Is DC that afraid that in the middle of the book we might mistake him for another overly-branded character like Spider-Man? Marvel, you’re guilty too. 

All of this Bat bashing brings me to my favorite section, the book’s most redeeming quality. There’s a short story of Bruce Wayne pre-Batman titled “Where The Hell Did He Learn To Drive.” This story is written by Snyder and James Tynion IV. The art is thankfully done by Rafael Albuquerque, and inked by Dave McCaig. The team of Snyder & Albuquerque won the coveted Eisner Award for American Vampire, a book I could never speak ill of. The story revolves around Bruce’s criminal underworld adventures that helped him mold his skillset. The art is rougher than the main story, but I find it way more enjoyable. It has a very distinct flair that sets it apart from the other spandex-clad players. McCaig’s use of color adds a realistic human element in the earlier pages. The best frame in this book may happen to be the smallest; it’s a close-up of Miguel. Even though there’s lettering, it’s not needed. Miguel is so perfectly drawn and inked that a reader can easily infer his thoughts and emotions. The story is a brilliantly executed six page car chase. I wish that this entire story encompassed the entire book and they expanded upon this back-up story. 

If Batman is all about branding, maybe it’s time for DC to truly rebrand the Dark Knight. The new foundation laid by Snyder and Albuquerque sets a much higher level that DC should embrace as their main attraction. Rembrandt was an a amazing artist, but the art world evolved to embrace edgier groundbreaking talent such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Bacon, Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, and Damien Hirst. The Comic Book World is a piece of the contemporary art world. Batman is one of the largest and longest running pieces in the Comic Book World. Hey DC, isn’t it about time to evolve out of tights? While the back-up story is an easy Grade A+, the main feature ranks Grade C.


Post Office @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed the great Charles Bukowski's Post Office by Bark King over at Poopsheet Foundation.

8.07.13 [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.

Trillium #1 (DC/Vertigo): Jeff Lemire has created an interesting blend of classic sci-fi with old-school adventure, with a little existential angst thrown in for good measure, one which successfully conflates war with the violence of the penetrative act of discovery, if you subscribe to Dr. Ian Malcolm’s theory anyway. In the year 3797, man is running out of time and space, as the race is being systematically hunted across the galaxy by a sentient virus, while a black hole threatens to collapse existence at the same time. Now, Lemire states on more than once occasion that there are only 4,000 humans left in the cosmos. At that rate, we’ve already been functionally exterminated as I understand it. I thought I remember reading an article (wish I could cite it just to be THAT guy) by a cultural anthropologist or some sort of geneticist that stated you’d need a population of at least 10,000 to have enough genetic diversity to “restart” the human race. Anyway. With Incas in the Amazon potentially possessing a timeless key to defeat death, and the war imagery juxtaposed with these different time periods, and the whole race against time lending a sense of urgency, I also couldn’t avoid the feeling that this played like Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain (the comic and the movie I enjoyed, even though they both get quite a bad rap). I haven’t been as impressed with Lemire’s work as much as the comics community at large seems to have been in the past, but I enjoyed this just fine, especially the art. It feels much more refined (maybe the colors help) in a way that still manages to convey a rustic quality during the 1920’s scenes. It almost reminded me of Kevin O’Neill’s work on LOEG in the way it can manage both qualities, refined and rustic, which almost seem to be polar opposite aesthetics. I think critics will gush over the unique “flip” format of the book, but I’m not sure it was totally necessary or added much to the storytelling conceit of the book. If the two threads inevitably intersect, I don’t think more than one “flip” was really required, although the unexpected chapter breaks were a nice surprise. But, it does make me wonder how they’ll manage it during collected editions. At the end of the day, it’s nice to see Vertigo, along with Oni, Dark Horse, etc., stepping up their game to (re)capture some of the creator-owned market share currently being dominated by Image Comics. The healthy competition can only be good for the product it ultimately churns out, and good for the end consumer in terms of diversity, along with shifting the collective mindset to begin to value creator-ownership more than they currently do. Trillium may be a touch derivative or not offer anything truly “new” in terms of sci-fi storytelling, but there’s no denying it’s beautifully executed and the premise holds promise. I'll likely stick with it. Grade A-.

Suicide Risk #4 (Boom!): So, our protagonist has been quickly pulled into a world he doesn’t really understand. It’s a pantheon of super-powered deities suggesting he may have lived a former like (or upcoming one? I wasn’t entirely sure) as a person named “Requiem.” He’s being escorted by another deity to meet the basic female Godhead, and uhh, some other stuff happens. The basic conceit of this story was originally regular cops trying to survive in a world where the superheroes are losing/have lost against a cadre of villains, and that thread is basically unrecognizable at this point. Maybe you can make the argument that it rears its head toward the end, but I feel like it’s quickly strayed too far off course. On the art side of the equation, Elena Casagrande’s work ranges from sharp and crisp and beautiful, to mediocre inconsistency with melty faces that look like John Travolta was used as photo-reference. This is probably something I’ll revisit in trade, but for now, “okay” comics are getting the drop in terms of single issue support when there are so many other comics being offered that are truly “wow.” Grade B.

Catalyst Comix #2 (Dark Horse): Man, I really want to like this book more than I do. Joe Casey has become increasingly hit and miss for me, which I think actually might be a good thing in the grand scheme of things. It means he’s trying new things, continuing to be a prolific writer, and doesn’t rest easily on past successes. I love the idea of bringing in a subversive creator to tinker with company-owned properties, and I also love the idea of a mini house anthology of sorts that offers multiple strips in the same issue. That said, Frank Wells was a mixed bag for me. I thought it got very bogged down in New Age Mysticism Hoo-Ha, though the core idea of a conflicted superhero archetype contending with insecurity around his savior status suits me just fine. In some ways, both visually and thematically, I felt like this was some kind of Bizarro World Captain Marvel (Shazam!) allusion. The art is bold and iconic, with a slightly askew take on magical trappings, all wrapped in the balanced forces of naïve wonderment and growing disillusionment. It seems like something that works well in the idea stage as an experimental writing assignment, but hasn’t quite found it’s footing yet on the printed page. I remember enjoying the Amazing Grace strip in the first issue, but it pretty much struck out with me during the second. The art felt too “cartoony” in that Saturday morning TV sense, something something the character being positioned as a lightning rod between surviving the cosmic void and transcending it. That’s all I could really glean from the story. Agents of Change was probably my favorite strip in the first issue, and here I guess that’s still the case, but the margin for victory feels slim and lifeless. Once again, the idea of a superhero support group, where the attendees are more concerned with texting, their TV ratings, and the next S&M prostitution appointment(!) are all fun, but formally examining this team dynamic fell a little flat for me, both with the visuals and scripting. I think Casey is trying to do something really quirky and post-modern here, but it’s ability to connect, moving beyond basic experimental pitch to an actual cohesive story, seems to be wildly glitchy so far. Grade B-.


8.07.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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The Legend of Luther Strode #6 (Image): While nobody was looking, Petra quietly grew to be one of the coolest sidekicks, one of the coolest young females in comics today. She’s capable, has style, and a self-effacing sense of humor when her playful attitude gets too direct and gets her into trouble. Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore have created one of the most kinetic and entertaining stories in recent memory. It’s a story that fully embraces the fact that it’s a comic and does things on the page that could only be done in comics. Moore must be commended for some of the most different fight choreography being conducted today amid all the sinewy body-bending brilliance, as Luther and Petra confront Jack at a mall filled with hapless bystanders. Jordan works on many levels, telling the basic story, but also infusing everything with style, wit, and pop culture drops that some people might not get. I mean, not everyone is going to grok a Semisonic lyric, but it sort of fills me with glee that a creative team is bold and quirky enough to even attempt it. I’m excited that The Strange Talent of Luther Strode led to The Legend of Luther Strode, which will lead to a final installment in the trilogy, The Legacy of Luther Strode. It’s basically been a perfect mini-series so far, executing exactly what the creators envisioned, and there’s no reason to doubt it’ll continue to do so. Grade A+.
Satellite Sam #2 (Image): After an initial issue that set up the world effectively and set things wildly into motion, Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin lay it all out on the table in the follow-up. We get a nifty character guide. We get a glimpse of character motivations by balancing what we think is driving them, with what might actually be driving them. Whether it’s the reluctant “star” of the show, the grasping bit players, the duplicitous network executives, or the females in a variety of roles, alternately acting as the glue, the goo, or the femme fatale, Satellite Sam is a study in veils and masks, a period in history nostalgically remembered for Leave It To Beaver, while eschewing the more turbulent and awful things that lurked just below the surface. Satellite Sam is a bit of a stand in for that dichotomy. There’s what you see, and what’s really going on behind the scenes in any situation. There’s the mask we wear for all the world to see, and then there’s a darker more hidden side. There’s the unspeakable taboo and the thin layer of vanilla in this, The Newsroom meets Flash Gordon meets Red Shoe Diaries. Grade A.

Prophet #38 (Image): Well, this is officially my last single issue of this title. I’ll be discount trade-waiting it from here on out, and passively at that. My growing concern with how the book is being written is essentially encapsulated in the very first panel on the very first page: “From atop the high coral, the Tij-Dekara watch a hole cut in their shell world’s sky.” We’ve never heard about any of that before, and we’ll never hear about any of it again. Prophet has tons of imagination behind it. Prophet has tons of potential. Prophet has tons of gorgeous art. Prophet has degenerated into a never-ending succession of cool set pieces and creations in a vacuum that are haphazardly strung together, lacking causality, correlation, plot, or story. I no longer know who the characters are, what they’re trying to accomplish, what any of their motivations are, along with how or why one scene leads to the next. From an editing standpoint, it’s also gotten increasingly sloppy. On page 6, there are 2 typos in 1 panel alone. For some reason, “psychic” is constantly spelled as “phychic” or “pshychic.” That whole “Tij-Dekara” business is sometimes spelled as “Ijk-Dekara” and I don’t have any idea if that’s intentional or a typo, and I don’t really care. It’s all “Hyyonhoiagn Boux! Rein-East Kacrik Suprema Oogoo Spores Bull Xoea Gell Venerable The Wake." Yes, those are actual words from the book. It’s all just a random word collage at this point. Grade C.


Sheltered #2 [Advance Review]

Sheltered #2 (Image): Here’s the thing… Sheltered is a great example of not confusing setting and world-building with the actual plot. Despite the engaging sound byte pitch of the world Sheltered takes place in, it’s still obvious that the creative team has a story to tell first and foremost. Comparisons to The Walking Dead are not completely unfounded or out of line in this regard. Superficially, it’s easy for me to offer those begging-for-pull-quote-status quips like “Sheltered is the next Walking Dead!” (which I have actually used to sell people in the LCS, thank you very much), but it’s for a deeper reason than that hype-man superficiality would suggest. In the same way that The Walking Dead isn’t truly about the window-dressing zombie gore-fest in a post-apocalyptic world, nor is Sheltered really about the pre-apocalyptic settlement of Safe Haven preparing for [insert end of the world scenario of your choice]. If The Walking Dead is, at heart, more concerned with the breakdown of humanity amid the sensational world-build, then Sheltered too is more about the interpersonal dynamics. It’s a closed-room study of generational differences among the Gen Y Millennials who feel a need to overcome their own apathy and entitlement to prove themselves, to prove that they’re adults capable of making the really tough decisions.

Ed Brisson (who I only really knew from being the letterer on Prophet, shame on me, though I sure feel like I know the guys now after an in-store signing and bumping into them repeatedly at SDCC) is able to achieve this utterly believable story through some good old fashioned writing strengths. While there may be a curiously placed comma or two in the “Previously” section, extra words not caught during a proofreading run like “I have some something to tell you…” or a stray word-choice oddity like “normality” vs. “normalcy,” that’s admittedly me being very nitpicky with my editorial eye and just busting Brisson’s balls a little (“Busting Brisson’s Balls,” the name of my new punk band, coincidentally). Otherwise, Brisson has brought his A-game, proving he’s ready to step out from anyone else’s shadow, step up from his indie gems like the delicious Murder Book, and be an A-list writer fully in the spotlight. Brisson is clearly a student of natural speech patterns. Something that was apparent in the aforementioned Murder Book, and still rings true here in Sheltered, is that Brisson has a very sharp ear for realistic dialogue, where people stutter and stammer and pause and restart. It’s there during Hailey’s ranting when she’s sees Mitch, a slew of run-ons and half-questions that come pouring out of someone when they’re freaking out, the kind that look horrible in a script, but absolutely come to life on the page because they sound real. Brisson knows that people react differently to different situations. Check out the way Victoria initially reacts to the death of the adults vs. the way Hailey almost calmly reacts to the same. It’s also worth pointing out that there’s essentially no exposition in the book. I like how we never get Lucas monologuing his way through his motivations or training, we’re just told, for example, oh by the way, Lucas knows exactly how you’re supposed to burn bodies for maximum effect. Um, what?! That’s instant cold characterization, folks.

Pop Quiz: What do you get when you cross Eduardo Risso’s use of negative space, shadows, and fascination with eyes, with Nick Dragotta’s old figure work from a book like, say, Vengeance? Answer: Johnnie Christmas. Man, I hate those comparisons though, because they risk giving Christmas short shrift for having his own unique design sense that’s grounded in sinewy rugged qualities, but with beautiful contours and camera placement. I love the shot of Victoria and Hailey jumping down from their perch, because Christmas uses a ground-up, almost forced perspective POV that gives you a sense of height and drama to this small little throwaway bit of action. I love the clothes the kids are all wearing, all distinct, all actual clothes – nothing from a typical comic book, all giving small subtle hints about their personalities. There’s Lucas’ furry pragmatic collar, or Victoria’s glasses and bandanna, which are small foreshadowed elements to the girl power rah-rah denouement this issue ultimately offers. With Shari Chankhamma’s gorgeous palette on coloring, I love the way tears shed in the snow seem to glisten, and it all comes together to form a distinct visual presence like nothing else on the stands. Oh, the piece de resistance from Johnnie Christmas is that blend of black spattered street art and the askew panel border when Mitch breaks down, by the way. Chankhamma is a colorist who seems to be bursting onto the scene like Jordie Bellaire did, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more work quickly emanate from this talented artist.

I recently wrote a little something about my appreciation for backmatter and some of the books I’m currently enjoying that prominently feature it, so I’d be remiss in not mentioning the work of Ryan K. Lindsay in the PREPNET SURVIVALCAST NEWSLETTER in this second issue. Lindsay spends a page discussing global pandemics. This is something I’m pretty familiar with. In my last job, I was responsible for coordinating much of my company’s response posture, table-top drills, executive communications, etc. for an impending global pandemic. It was no small feat for a Fortune 100 company with about 300 sites in 200 countries around the globe. It can be scary stuff when you look at epidemiology and just how fragile human existence on the planet can be when faced with that type of threat. I say all of that not to brag (much), but mostly to illustrate that the creative team picked a great topic, and Ryan K. Lindsay successfully walks the very fine line between well-informed pragmatism and rampant paranoia, which I think was the intent of the piece. It’s a way to world-build that swiftly lets you into the mindset of some of the players in this reality.

Ultimately, this is basically just an issue dealing with the immediate reactions of the group to the events that happened at the end of the last issue (yes, I’m still being a little vague and trying to avoid outright spoilers for those who might still be trying to catch up), but it’s done at such a staccato fevered pitch that you hardly realize the entire issue has come and gone by the time you get to the kick-ass finale. By the end, the creative team has given us fuel for the long-form narrative. Victoria is at odds with ostensible leader Lucas, because what she’s being told and what she’s just seen with her own eyes are not meshing. She quickly emerges as a strong young female protagonist, which is always a welcome addition to the grand comic book tapestry. By the time I got to the lettercol (yep, this book has it all, backmatter AND an old-school lettercol, AND a shot of the gorgeous next issue!), I was pondering the multiple meanings of the title. Sheltered. This group is leading a sheltered existence from the outside world. They’re almost literally “sheltered in place” (to use an emergency preparedness term) and hunkered down in preparation for the end. They’re also sheltered in the sense that they’re becoming increasingly withdrawn and emotionally guarded. I just can’t escape the feeling that Sheltered is the birth of something very special. Grade A.