10.30.13 [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.

Death Sentence #2 (Titan Comics): Well, there are two really weird typos which I don't think you can attribute to UK English vs. US English, stuff like "Al Quaeda" vs. the more common "Al Qaeda" or "Al Qaida," along with a reference to singer "Rhianna" instead of "Rihanna." Those quibbles aside, I deeply enjoyed the issue. Monty Nero and Mike Dowling made a smart choice by focusing on the three primary protagonists and how they all react differently to their positive G+ Virus status, which gives you superpowers for 6 months - and then you die, by the way. There's quite an emotional range in the characters, running from realism to hedonism, channeling id, ego, and superego conversely through the musician, the media persona, and Verity, the young graphic designer. The tone of Death Sentence is also smart in the macro sense in that it can alternately dip into being either ballsy and irreverent, funny in a sarcastic or darkly humorous way, or dramatic with isolated bouts of action and government conspiracy intrigue. It seems like I've been saying this regularly lately, but I'm also very pleased to see another book from another company that's using a form of backmatter, this one process-driven, about the act of writing specifically. As far as I'm concerned, this is THE Titan Comics title, which will put their publishing effort on the map. Death Sentence has quickly proven to be one of the surprise hits of 2013. Grade A.

The Sandman: Overture #1 (DC/Vertigo): If you've ever disagreed with anything I've said at Thirteen Minutes, well, then you can go ahead and blame Neil Gaiman. It's basically all his fault that I'm even reading comics as an adult. I grew up reading them, mostly DC Comics (Batman, Teen Titans, Green Lantern), though some Marvel/Epic stuff slipped in thanks to Jim Starlin's Dreadstar. I started around age 4 or 5 because my mom would snag them off the spinner rack for me on long cross-country road trips, and I just kept right on going. In high school, I gave them up completely for those 4 years, they just couldn't compete for my attention with cars, girls, and soccer. For my undergrad, I attended San Jose Sate University. There was a guy named Jason Crowe (who even now I attend SDCC with!) who lived next door to me in the dorms. He was really into comics. Sometimes I'd lazily sift through his stacks, but nothing really caught my eye. One day he asked me if I wanted to go to the LCS with him (Heroes in Campbell, CA). I found Sandman that day, right around the time Vertigo was launching as an imprint. It was really smart. It was really different. It felt like it was really for me at that age. That's how it started again. Fast forward to about a year and a half ago when I basically stopped reading Marvel and DC Comics cold turkey, in favor of focusing solely on creator owned work. Essentially, the only time I "break" this rule is if, say, Brian Wood is writing X-Men. JH Williams III is one of the few artists I'd also make an exception for. I bought Batwoman for a while just because of his art. Jim Williams and I are also from the same nothing little town in Northern California, he's probably the most famous person to come from our hometown aside from Miss USA Summer Bartholomew (who my dad dated) or MLB Pitcher Doug Fister (who my cousin dated) for what that's worth, and we ran in the same group of friends in the Bay Area, with people like Ryan Sook and Mick Gray, but I'm still reeeaaallly digressing! You can also make the argument that this version of Sandman is sort of creator owned, though I don't know exactly how that exists from an ownership standpoint, the character was a reinterpretation of an existing figure owned by DC Comics after all. ANYWAY. You stick Neil Gaiman on Sandman again, you stick JH3 on art, and there's lots of reasons for me to dip my toe back into DC Comics. With that crazy preamble out of the way, I'll say that this issue was very good, but it didn't blow me away or anything. It's, of course, got that engaging poeticism that Gaiman has with the language, it just lays down for him and does what he wants so effortlessly. He puts all the fan-favorite players back on the board, The Corinthian, Merv Pumpkinhead, Lucien ("Loosh!"), Destiny, Death, and Dream, all so comfortable and familiar, like catching up with an old friend down the pub you haven't seen in years. That said, I don't quite have a sense of where the story is going yet. I'm curious how far back it'll take us, if it'll sync right up to the moment before Lord Morpheus is imprisoned for 70 years, as the series picked up originally in the early 90's. We do see Dream's sort of resigned sense of duty, his adherence to the rules, his desire to make order from chaos and discount the variables of the personalities involved, which usually gets him into trouble. JH3 has turned in some remarkable art over the years, shit, I was buying him when he was a struggling artist working on crappy horror books like Demonic Toys (Eternity Comics, anyone?), through Chase with Dan Curtis Johnson (criminally under-appreciated), and onto Promethea, Seven Soldiers, Desolation Jones, Detective Comics, Batwoman, I've read it all (dude has now worked with Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Greg Rucka, and Neil Gaiman for chrissakes!!!). If ever there was a title that he was born to draw, it might be the world of The Dreaming. He's able to tap the horror and fantasy elements, play around with all the different time periods and planes of existence, while pushing the panel layouts to do things that most artists would never dare. The best example of this in this issue is probably that double gatefold beauty, where we see all the different incarnations of Dream from all over the extant universe, channeling so many different styles, worlds, and multiverses at will. When you dive back into a book like this, expectations are so high, you want to love it, you want to be mired in excellence, but it's just not there yet. I really liked it, but anything short of perfection will sound like a backhanded compliment, hence the overly qualified Grade A.

Sex #8 (Image): I feel like every issue of Sex has basically gotten the same review from me. Joe Casey has created a post-superhero world (which already has me hooked basically because of that genre manipulation) where he trades in superpowers for sex. That act of sublimation is reflected in the way the main character is basically repressing his wants and desires. It's a very slow burn. It's easy to make analogies to foreplay, without any actual consummation having occurred. I mean, we're 8 issues in and the main character just finally worked up the nerve to strip his clothes off(!?). It doesn't have all the Kubrickian complexity, but it's basically the comics equivalent of Eyes Wide Shut, showing types of intimacy that don't actually require fucking. It's a fun world full of mystery and intrigue and fleeting clues and masks and alter egos. There's enough there there to keep me hooked, but just barely. Grade A-.

Saga #15 (Image): Speaking of repetitive sounding reviews, hey, it's the book that I like to be contrarian about. Sorry, but Saga isn't THE BEST COMIC BOOK BEING PUBLISHED LIKE EVAR. It's good, I enjoy it, but it's not perfect. It's somewhere in the intersection of Star Wars, Romeo & Juliet, and 90210. It's sci-fi melodrama, and it's a slow-mover, meaning that some people talked in this issue, and then there was a pseudo-shocker at the end, which is a trick the book has used before, by the way. Fiona Staples' foreground figure work is excellent. The basic humanoid anatomy is excellent, and the characters have an ability to convey emotion very effectively. But, I still think the backgrounds often come off skimpy and have a sterile artifical feel to them that doesn't stand up to the imaginative world-building that BKV is shooting for. Grade B+.

Satellite Sam #4 (Image): There's a certain proprietor of a certain LCS that I frequent and, well, let's just say that Satellite Sam isn't his favorite book. I have defended ol' Sat Sam pretty strongly for the first three issues, which I honestly enjoyed quite a bit. But, wow, this issue felt really off. If this keeps up, I'll be ready to capitulate and admit that Fraction and Chaykin had a misfire here. I thought this issue was really boring! The entire front 3/4 or so was just extremely dry politics at the network and largely dodged any titillating sex appeal or the murder mystery or any of the core TV show players, etc. If you're gonna' create some sorta' Mad Men meets 60's Star Trek thing, then that's the stuff I wanna' see! It was just very off-putting for some reason, and I found Chaykin's art to be a little muddy and imprecise in spots too. If I'm going to get into a 1950's space, dealing with the social issues of the day, from latent homosexuality and subdued S&M stuff, period tropes of misogyny, racism (been a while since I've seen a book throw around "wop" instead of "guinea" for my people), repressed sexuality, and homophobia, I'd rather just watch Master of Sex on Showtime. Grade B-.


The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #5 [Make Some Noise!]

The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #5 (Dark Horse): This book is so pretty it’s just stupid. It’s easy to heap praise on Becky Cloonan’s inimitable art, when she’s probably turning in the art of her career to date on this very book, but I think a large portion of the aesthetic success of Killjoys should also be laid at the feet of colorist Dan Jackson. For the last decade or two, when you talked about truly excellent coloring in comic books, you were basically limited to the talents of people like Dave Stewart or Laura Martin. Recently, a new wave of colorists has taken the sequential art world by storm, which has included people like Dean White and Jordie Bellaire. I firmly believe it’s now time to put Dan Jackson in this category. There’s a post-pop glee to his work, channeling all the strength of someone like Michael Allred, but without most of the kitschy humor, and full of earnest gravitas instead.

There’s something so PKD about this issue’s dalliance with the crisp prophecy in the #GraffitiBible about manga-esque super-robot Destroya coming back to free the android underclass held down by the BLI power monopoly in Battery City. The quintessential rebellion against oppression that Gerard Way and Shaun Simon are writing is a struggle that’s authentically an American virtue. That's it, that's Killjoys in a nutshell, distilled down to its core components: rock n' roll and rebellion. Ultimately, reviews are about giving the audience advice. At this point, we’re 5 issues into a 6 issue mini-series, so if you’re not enjoying Killjoys by now, there’s likely little I can say to sway your opinion and move the sales needle. But, I’ll still proffer the ideal set up because, oh, maybe you’ll pick up the trade eventually. Find the crunchiest music you have, for me Guster or Four Star Mary usually does the trick, anything with that full-throated rasp, noisy guitar feedback, and record-scratching needle signature, and sit down with The Fabulous Killjoys for the thrill ride.

Dracs and Scarecrows are still roaming the wasteland searching for escaped porno droids, with Val Velocity’s crew and DJ Cherri Cola partying, wherein “party” means a death disco fight for your life. “I drink juice when I’m killing… ‘cuz it’s fucking delicious.” That’s a call to arms that essentially means live in the moment when you’re fighting for tomorrow. Becky Cloonan’s action sequences are smart, she pulls the camera back at the right intervals to give scenes context, yet knows when to zoom into the close-ups for emotional punch. Meanwhile, Korse’s fate, in that there’s something “wrong” with him that needs to be “fixed,” is a great callback to 1980’s Margaret Thatcher style regimes that spawned some of the great modern works like V For Vendetta, reactionary response pieces to extreme conservative social reforms. The book ends with a flashback to The Analog Wars, touching on both the FCBD short that preceded the series, and the “Girl” as an archetypal “chosen one” as a literary device that’s framing the series up for a rousing showdown that will likely put all forces on a collision course trajectory. There’s still a couple pages of backmatter too. Killjoys is the book with the greatest thematic action hook of our time, undoubtedly one of the books of the year. Grade A+.


10.23.13 [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.

Wasteland #49 (Oni Press): It's a little difficult to discuss the happenings in this issue without just giving away what happens. But, "The Abomination" arrives in Newbegin and really starts to wreak havoc, going directly after Marcus, while nobody can do a thing to stop him. The assassination plot is basically out of the closet, and there's a fun twist toward the end. While it's a little bittersweet to see the end of the series on the horizon with #60, I'm excited for all of it. I'm excited to see the talented Justin Greenwood turn in his final issues, I'm excited that Oni has continued to publish the big Apocalyptic Edition Hardcovers, I'm excited to hear that Sam Keith(!) will be providing the last interlude issue, and I'm excited that series co-creator/original artist/cover artist Chris Mitten will be returning to bring home the final arc. Despite hitting #50 next time out, a milestone for absolutely any indie book, I still feel like this series has largely flown under the radar. Too bad more readers never twigged onto it. Wasteland should go down as one of the industry's great modern epics. Grade A.

Sex Criminals #2 (Image): There were some glitchy part of this issue for me making it feel like the book hasn't exactly found its footing yet, particularly in explaining how the time-stopping sex powers work post-orgasm for the male, how the overlap works between the couple's powerset, etc. I had to read it twice to really get the post-refractory bit, and even after I "got it," I didn't think it was articulated very clearly. I think the second issue moved away from the frank discussion of youth and female sexual discovery that the first issue confronted to strongly, in favor of, like, rampant sex jokes in the background. Those were good, that's fine, but it seemed like this issue went for more laughs than gravitas and was imbalanced. Both issues have also favored the "Sex" in the title, and not so much the "Criminals," except for fleeting glimpses, and now I'm curious to see how that part is going to pan out. I'll still stick with it a few issues, because Fraction's work, well, not all of it - I should say his creator owned work, has banked some credibility with me. The real delight is Chip Zdarsky's art. It's lighthearted enough aesthetically to capture the fun sexy elements, especially the colorful wonder of orgasmic time-stoppage, yet it's also just grounded in reality enough to sell the proceedings without coming off as too silly. Grade A-.

Harbinger #17 (Valiant): Not a whole lot to say about this issue. I often gripe that the art isn't quite strong enough to keep up with the gravitas of the script, and the frequently rotating artists don't help much. Clayon Henry is one of the better of the Harbinger Irregulars tasked with art chores, but still not as strong as a Clayton Crain. It's definitely fascinating to see what actually happened at the end of the Battle of Las Vegas during the Harbinger Wars, which explains away the last couple of issues. That said, the tone of the weird fantasy world, and now the Looney Tunes style cartoon projections aren't exactly my favorite thing going on. I'm also finding it hard to keep track of just what Peter Stanchek and the Renegades are trying to accomplish vis-a-vis what Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation is trying to accomplish vis-a-vis what project Project Rising Spirit, H.A.R.D. Corps, and Bloodshot are trying to accomplish... just lots of players who are all just, uhh, after psiots(?). For the first time, I found I was asking myself if I'd be ok reading this book in trade, which is kind of a red flag that it's not as strong as it used to be, or maybe this arc is just damage control cleaning up the Harbinger Wars fallout before writer Joshua Dysart, who is very strong, can get back to telling "his" story. Grade B+.

Velvet #1 (Image): I’m honestly quite torn on the new noir spy thriller from Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. I’ve recently been catching up on the neo-classic Gotham Central and there’s no doubt that Brubaker can pull off procedural stuff convincingly (though you can also credit cowriter Greg Rucka with much of that), but I’m so very tired of all the noir elements in comics, particularly when they’re applied to the crime/spy genre. This whole aesthetic of storytelling feels tired and played out for me personally. I mean, how many times can you see a character walk down the rainy streets of the urban jungle with ominous voiceover? If you’re going to go on record saying that your stated goal is to upend a bunch of spy fiction tropes, well, that does pique my interest. Brubaker and Epting pull a couple of early moves that I really liked. They position the “secretary” as the lead character, the promiscuous and brilliant manipulator whose slept with most of the agency’s best agents. She is, in fact, taking on and subverting many of the James Bond tropes right out of the gate, to the point that the Roger Moore look-a-like is actually murdered in the opening pages, completely defying conventional expectations. I guess it’s unavoidable to set it in the post-WWII Cold War era from the 50’s to the 70’s, but if you really want to upend tropes, you might consider ditching the stock visuals of the Walther P38, the Jaguar XKE, or the de rigueur Aston Martin. I’m also ready for most comics in general to ditch the convention of time-jumping cuts that shift the narrative forward and back in time like they grew up on Quentin Tarantino movies. Just tell me a good story without the crutch of slicing and dicing, please. Sometimes that just feels like empty flourish that doesn’t really add anything substantive. Brubaker’s script reads pretty well, but I did think it was overly-narrated with several pages of caption boxes. Maybe this was necessary to achieve the noir tone, or to maintain the slightly unreliable nature of the narrator that sets up the end twist/cliffhanger as Velvet Templeton stumbles onto a larger plot during the course of unofficially investigating the murder of Jefferson Keller, but it started to grate on me. For example, we’re told about the angry goodbye between two characters, and we’re even shown it via flashback, but we don’t actually get to hear any of the dialogue or conversation, which pushes the audience out and keeps them at a distance. Epting does a really good impersonation of Michael Lark, or Michael Gaydos, or Stefano Gaudiano, or Kano, or pick your rainy asphalt crime noir artist of choice, but I can’t help feeling that the aesthetic was flat and unimaginative in spots, and could have just as easily been art from DC’s Power Company or any other generic superhero outing with as little a change as some brighter coloring. I think this book will really work for some people, and I’ll probably be in the minority in thinking there’s really nothing new to be found here, just a remix of recycled elements. I may give it another issue or two, but I’m certainly not sold at this point. Grade B.


Pretty Deadly #1 @ Comics Bulletin

I teamed up with Keith Silva for an advance review of Pretty Deadly #1 over at Comics Bulletin.


The Massive #16 @ Fanboy Comics

I wrote an advance review of The Massive #16 and discussed "experiential vs. expositional" writing over at Fanboy Comics.

The Arcs @ Comics Bulletin

I wrote an advance review of Fanboy Comics' new book The Arcs over at Comics Bulletin.


10.16.13 [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.

Sheltered #4 (Image): I teased Ed Brisson and Johnnie Christmas on Twitter about being a couple of heartless bastards last night. They pull a move in this book that is fairly shocking, but it’s perfectly in tune with both established characterization and the harsh environment of the world the creators have quickly built in this series. It’s hard to discuss without spoiling outright, so let’s just say it has to do with man’s relationship with animals. Ryan K. Lindsay’s no-frills direct-injection backmatter continues this theme by examining how the animal kingdom will likely exert increased influence over man post-pandemic. I will say that some of the art looks like it might have been hurried in spots. There are a few instances where characters appeared short on detail and precision, flat in the foreground, or with minimal backgrounds, which I think is a result of the typically exquisite eye of Johnnie Christmas maybe just trying to hit deadlines and the rigors of a monthly schedule(?). It also bothered me that the scale of some of the weapons wasn’t in proportion to some of the characters, it just felt off. Those gripes aside, though not much of the macro plot was advanced, I still love the series, and think this was an interesting examination of Lucas and his ability to casually manipulate others. #TeamVictoria. Grade A-.

Bloodshot & H.A.R.D. Corps #15 (Valiant): Man, I was really hoping that Barry Kitson would stick around on art. One of the primary issues I’ve been having with some Valiant books in general is that I don’t feel the art is strong enough to stand up to the strength of some of the writing. That’s basically still the case with this issue and this title. Essentially, PRS wants to reclaim the lost Bloodshot nanites at any cost, so Bloodshot has to find common ground with H.A.R.D. Corps and learn to work together. That part is fine (though I could do without the Matrix-style “downloads” from an operator and the “Skyhook” rescue straight out of The Dark Knight), but the art is just so basic and lumpy in places that it tends to push me out of the story. I did, however, really enjoy “IK.” It’s a moment which stands as an example of the sheer “balls” these books have, doing things that Marvel and DC would never dare. Can you write a comic book review with just one made-up word? If so: “IK.” Grade B.

The Auteur: Premature Release #1 (Oni Press): This book from Rick Spears and James Callahan isn’t slated to come out until March, but this edition was offered as a variant at NYCC and I was able to get my hands on a copy. I remember them discussing it briefly at the SDCC Oni Press panel and it had piqued my interest then. I do like this model that Oni Press has been using, similar to the Letter 44 process, putting out con preview editions of books early in order to help generate some advance  buzz. The “insider” qualities of a down-on-his-luck movie producer are enticing, but the over-the-top humor and story didn’t really gel for me as well as I’d hope it was going to. Obviously humor is a very subjective thing, I also fully admit that “funny” books aren’t really my thing, and I think it will be very difficult for anyone to top the understated irreverence of Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth right now. That said, I’m all for trying new creator owned books that spark an interest, and the art (including the colors) in The Auteur is really worth a look all on its own. For me, it called to mind the style of the late Seth Fisher. Grade B.


Buzzkill #2 [Advance Review]

Buzzkill #2 (Dark Horse): I’m really enjoying this new mini-series from Donny Cates, Mark Reznicek, and Geoff Shaw, and the second issue is even stronger than the first. It's ostensibly about a “superhero” (we use that term loosely considering the tragedy we've only seen in flashback) who gains powers when he’s drunk (or ingests any type of drug, come to find out) and has also come to function as a semi-reliable narrator at best. As he conveniently balances telling the readers his story visually during the course of the comic, but omitting certain verbal details to wash his identity whilst weaving the tale into his AA meetings, Buzzkill is ultimately a story about dragging our personal secrets into the harsh light of day. It’s the apprehension of honesty, losing our true sense of self, and fear of other people’s perceptions. Cates and Reznicek are clever writers, slowly and deliberately revealing more information as the issues progress, which tends to have an impact on what we’ve seen before, why the protagonist prefers hot chocolate so much, why he’s able to detect something the audience already knows with heightened senses, etc., which all brings a playful interactive quality to the story. That type of storytelling magic continues with what becomes an incredibly fast-paced issue, from an assault by the rogues gallery, to sourcing alcohol as fuel for the duel, to subverting the notion of a 12-step program based in part on a belief system. Geoff Shaw’s art is the perfect style to keep pace with such a stylish script. It’s full of gritty textured lines that are somewhere in between the emotional heft of Garry Brown and the stylized sharp angles of a Tradd Moore or a Sean Murphy. It’s energetic stuff, with some amazingly drawn women in particular. Lauren Affe’s work is an added gut-punch of visceral color. With Eric’s tongue-in-cheek rotating names and the outright hilarity of the new character we meet (I won’t spoil it!), it’s a signpost for a level of self-awareness about the book’s deconstructionist tendencies. This is how you do it, folks. “Pew! Pew! Pew!” Grade A.

Conan The Barbarian #21 [Advance Review]

Conan The Barbarian #21 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood, Paul Azaceta, and Dave Stewart deliver the last issue of the “Black Stones” story arc, concerning a mysterious and powerful relic, with the small village where Conan and Belit were investigating/holed up now under siege. Dave Stewart doesn’t really need me heaping more praise onto his work after like seven(?) eight(?) mostly consecutive(?!) Eisner Awards for Best Colorist, but he sure does make Azaceta’s art pop against a sea of strategically rendered monochromatic backgrounds. If you’re reading this site, it’s no surprise that I basically started this series because Brian Wood is writing it, but the art has been tremendous. I’ve loved Becky Cloonan, James Harren, and especially the Davide Gianfelice drug bender issues, but if personal growth is a measure of greatness, then there’s a case to be made for Paul Azaceta’s ascendancy as the best artist the series has seen. (But, watch me change my tune when DMZ artist Riccardo Burchielli comes on for the last arc!) Azaceta’s art has a richness to it, a dense variety of properties that I found myself marveling at. His robust style turns on the variable line weight and detail fetish of someone like Paul Pope, the curvaceous sex appeal of Darwyn Cooke, yet also the rough-hewn edges of fellow Dark Horse superstar Guy Davis. It’s a complex blend of energies, perfectly capturing the love, the brutality, and the magic of a story like the one featuring Conan of Cimmeria, Belit of Shem, and Magda of The Stones.

Conan does an entertaining dash from danger in this issue, thinking on his feet to outwit his pursuers and their hounds, a man so enveloped by danger that he’s literally in the wolf’s den. Many of his decisions are simple, but elegant solutions, proof that Conan is a cunning fellow, thinking outside the box, being crafty and level-headed under duress, decisions like this are what’s kept him alive far longer than any mortal man ought to have lived when faced with similar circumstances. Ultimately, Conan quite directly subsumes evil in the name of his love for Belit. While there’s rousing action, the end of the book starts an introspective, foreshadowing wind-down that’s been brewing for a couple of years. It’s the brief calm before the storm. Brian Wood lets us know that Conan and Belit’s relationship has endured many great trials, but there’s one ominous trial left to go before we’ll leave them. “The Song of Belit.” The final arc in Wood’s adaptation of “The Queen of The Black Coast” era, which will conclude his time on the series. Brian Wood is, of course, perfectly suited for an extended tale of a young hero coming-of-age during tumultuous times, gaining the experiences that will forge his ultimate identity. It’s exactly inside his wheelhouse as a writer, and “The Song of Belit” is essentially what the last two years has all been laying the foundation for and building toward. The establishment of this great love story, with the lingering realization that all great stories must come to an end, because as the Jem song “Flying High” tells us, “there’s no such thing as painless love.” Grade A.


Letter 44 #1 [Advance Review]

Letter 44 #1 (Oni Press): I picked up a few copies of the black and white preview edition of this book back in July at SDCC. If commerce is any indication of artistic merit (debatable, I know), then it’ll surely be a hit, since even unsigned copies were hitting the $20, $30, or even $40 mark online shortly thereafter. You might still be able to grab one of those for $10 if you can find that mysterious link at Oni Press. I’m happy to say that I was first in line for the first Charles Soule signing at SDCC and have the first signed copy of the book. It reminds me a bit of when I picked up the first issue of Wasteland at SDCC from Antony Johnston and Chris Mitten, becoming an early adopter of that book and turning several others onto it.

News of Letter 44 spread like wildfire at my LCS, people back from SDCC buzzing about it and others scrambling to nab black and white preview copies and ensure they were Previews Order Form’d up when the color version came out months later. From my little anecdotal corner of the world, the marketing moves that Charles Soule, Alberto Alburquerque, and Oni Press are making with this book have worked very well. It’s also exciting to see that the first issue is officially debuting with a $1 introductory price point to further incentivize new readers with an extremely low risk read. Oni Press understands the need for generating sustainable readership. As was the case with some other books that’ve used this $1 tactic, my advice is always to: A) Buy 3 Copies. B) Gift 2 Copies. C) Keep 1 Copy. D) You’re still in it less than the price of a regular issue. It's win-win all around.

Oh, the book itself, you ask? The book is great! New books have to have a strong pitch, a strong hook, a reason to get people interested, one which motivates them to keep supporting the title when there are so many great creator owned books hitting the stands at this point. I’m usually fairly sensitive to providing spoilers, but what I’ll say here is basically fair game, nothing you wouldn’t have been able to glean from advance reviews or interviews, not to mention the book itself. While Letter 44 does have a great pitch, I think it’ll have longevity because within the space of the first issue, it goes much deeper than the basic pitch, and also manages to up-end a few conventional expectations. The pitch is so pure and clean that I’m surprised pop culture hasn’t used it more: the outgoing POTUS leaves the incoming POTUS a letter, as is the presidential custom, only this letter is a juuust a little different.

The outgoing President of The United States is a thinly-veiled analogue for W. He’s a bumbling inarticulate mess who’s gotten the country knee-deep in a run of foreign wars with little ostensible justification, and has essentially ignored the economy or any social issues. But, the twist is that it’s kind of like Miley Cyrus’ ballyhooed VMA performance. It’s a hot mess, but it’s a strategic hot mess. Letter 44 explains that, oh by the way, the reason I committed us to all of these foreign wars and seemed so solely focused on that was so that military R&D would rapidly advance and we’d have thousands of battle hardened troops to fight what looks like an alien invasion force we’ve detected in the solar system. Nothing else matters. Oh, there also a joint military-science covert space mission en route. Good luck, son. Gulp.

The incoming POTUS is a thinly-veiled Barack Obama analogue, the one who promised all sorts of change and has maybe been slow to enact some of the campaign promises he made, and now has a plausible explanation for continuing some of the same programs and policies of the outgoing. Letter 44 is keenly concerned with the off-camera scenes behind the big moment. In that way, Letter 44 is like The West Wing, if it met Apollo 18, speculative political discourse coupled with rampant sci-fi extrapolation. It taps the relevancy button and never forgets to entertain. It has the complexities of the former (for example, notes about respecting the office if not the man, or the change in perspective once you’re privy to all the secrets and sit behind the big desk), and the thrilling gamesmanship of the latter.

Alburquerque’s art has the inherent warmth in the lines to be able to sell the scenes with all of the talking heads and interpersonal dynamics. It conveys emotions and personalities well, particularly the inking around the eyes. Yet, it still has the hard edges needed to work the sci-fi or military angles as well, capturing all elements of "Project Monolith," which Soule has laid on the board. Letter 44 is grounded, with resonant dialogue and art that's what we call a tonal match in the biz. If, like me, you enjoyed Charles Soule’s Strange Attractors OGN from Archaia and were itching for more of his crisp creator-owned work at the intersection of social ideas and elevator-pitch entertainment, then Letter 44 is the book you’re going to want to eagerly track down. It’s a stunning debut. Grade A+.


10.09.13 [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.

Three #1 (Image): Kieron Gillen launches his effort to separate fact from myth regarding the Battle of Thermopylae, and Spartan life in general, not to praise or condemn it, or previous iterations, but merely to present as accurate a portrait as possible, while still telling an engaging story. There were two glaring typos in the end text piece, but the stunning art and colors from Ryan Kelly and Jordie Bellaire certainly make up for it. I enjoyed the riffs on class systems in now-failed states, something we may be able to mine and learn from for modern times, so I’ll definitely be sticking with this until the end to see what it has to say. Grade A.

Deathmatch #10 (Boom!): Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno get within millimeters of fully revealing Manchurian’s end game (twice even) and the true nature of the death matches. It starts to become clear why what’s happened so far has happened, and where it might be going, leaving the fate of this universe in the hands of Sable’s detective skills. The visuals of this series have been utterly memorable and while Jenkins seemed to set out to deconstruct common superhero archetypes, he’s now picking apart their very universe and their very genre in the process. If Manchurian is a double agent, well, he’s been consumed by some sort of genius level science delirium, but if he’s a triple agent, shoot, that changes everything. With only two issues left, it’s one of the titles I’m most excited about to see where it goes. Grade A.

Astro City #5 (DC/Vertigo): Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson continue to flesh out the Astro City Universe with side stories from the ephemeral periphery. The creators have a way of taking otherwise throwaway world-building elements and getting full stories out of them. I enjoyed the return of the crazy Psycho-Pirate dude, the visuals of the Blasphemy Boys, and the panache of Dame Progress and her villain. The only thing that didn’t feel right at all was the Serpentor bit, visually bearing much too strong a resemblance to the GI Joe villain, unless that was, uhh, the point, which I kinda' missed. It’s still surprising to me that I’m enjoying a book that I used to think of as retro vanilla superheroics, but it actually has a lot to say about the impact to the common man and the genre in the process. Grade A.

Think Tank #10 (Image): Yes, it’s just a hasty cover story for a complex DNA weapon, but if there’s a missing nuclear device with a wanted terrorist labeled “the most dangerous man in the world” on the loose in Taiwan who has killed an entire SEAL team and is now threatening to nuke mainland China, it is highly doubtful that we’d send POTUS and two high-level cabinet secretaries to Beijing with that extant threat level. That strained credibility for me, but this was otherwise enjoyable as David is coerced to keep the U.S. dominant at all costs, even engineered warfare. Matt Hawkins weaves together the real world concern about China’s military escalation with an engaging fictional narrative. It’s a smart blend, sharply rendered by Rahsan Ekedal. This is the best black and white art I’ve seen in some time. He gets so much effective use of gray tones that you’re not really cognizant it isn’t in color. It’s got all the mood swings and tonal shifts you’d expect to find in full color. With things like passive “white torture” and the modern “instant access” reporting shown as viewer hits going up by the thousands in the course of just one page, it’s a small reminder of the extra detail and research the creators are pouring into this thought-provoking work. Grade A-.

Shaolin Cowboy #1 (Dark Horse): Geoff Darrow fully commits to two pages of farcical faux “story so far,” which is exhaustive, if not hilarious. I guess Darrow reasoned this was a better option than a straight-faced recap of the previous 7 glorious issues from Burlyman Entertainment. An understandable decision since all you really need to know about this book is in the title, and apparent with one glance at the detail porn of the pencils. It’s sort of an art for art’s sake proposition you’re getting with this book. I guess I enjoyed Shaolin Cowboy fighting off the zombie horde with his trademark double-headed chainsaw staff, and seeing King Crab’s agents monitoring him was terrific, but it still feels a little short on actual story content. Grade A-.


10.09.13 [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 #6 (Marvel): For me, this doesn’t feel as bogged down in crossover mandates as the prior may have. I thought it was maybe a bit of a slow start, but by the end, the characterization and cameos shine right through. Jubilee’s story (her, her family, how her powers now work) becomes more of an active concern than all of the time-jumping exploits of different X-squads (which still aren’t fully clear as to who is doing what or why), but I pretty much blame editorial and the prime architect for the crossover, not the writer who got his run hijacked three issues in. Ahem. Anyway, I uh, I love Betsy! The line about what it takes to be a mom was rich, and Lopez’s art is just fantastic, especially when rendering the interesting takes on her powers, her distinct ethnicity, and all of the coloring (Laura Martin!) is just great, like when we get a chance to see funny Doop, striking Rachel, or creepy Deadpool, it’s largely the color that punches up the art to a higher level. Lopez is good about pulling the camera out on a lot of the scenes. It lets you see a wide shot of things to get a bearing, especially during the action, so there’s no Michael Bay “shaky zoom cam” where you’re up so close on things flinging around that you can’t tell what’s going on or how the scene is staged. Lopez understands choreography and the slightly smaller scale figures allow him to get a lot of mileage out of a single page. Wood also gets a chance to write the chaotic funny voice of Deadpool, and continues the parental humor with stuff like “push the beep-beep.” I enjoyed future Jean, the relationship dynamics with Storm, and all of the fast-paced sense that there’s lots going on. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen where an individual writer’s strengths sort of outweigh the baggage of a crossover. Grade A-.

Rocket Girl #1 (Image): Amy Reeder’s pencils may have been a little stronger on Batwoman(?), but I still mostly enjoyed her and Brandon Montclare’s take on a sassy New York Teen PD girl jumping from “future” 2013 back to 1986 to investigate “crimes against time.” There was a typo on “mechanincs,” but this was otherwise a neat examination of the true cost of cleaning up NYC. The art was, at times, a little too bubblegum cutesy for my personal taste (I hate the cheesy glasses and racial caricature of the Police Commissioner, for example), but Reeder’s emotive facial expressions really do sell most of the proceedings. I also enjoyed the little Easter Eggs littering some of the background shots. I didn’t quite understand why the two 80’s cops would see “Rocket Girl” descending from the sky and taking over their call, but they just go along with her no questions asked(?). That didn’t seem very logical or realistic at all. There’s some pretty fly action scenes though, I like Rocket Girl’s capable attitude, and if you’re looking for a harmless fun read, you could do much worse than this title. Grade B+.

Superman/Wonder Woman #1 (DC): Oh, I don’t know, the art is just so stiff and awkward. There's nothing inviting about it. This is basically the epitome of what people mean when they refer to DC’s “generic house style.” I only cracked this open because Charles Soule wrote it, and I’ve deeply enjoyed his creator owned work like Strange Attractors at Archaia and Letter 44 at Oni Press, but this just feels so dated and tired. I guess I’ve learned my lesson to just stick with his creator-owned work. I think there was an interesting angle buried in here somewhere about how Clark and Diana’s personalities are so different, because their cultures of origin are so diametrically opposed, the Amazonian in full glory, the Kryptonian hiding his secret, etc., but it’s just so expositional, and basically everything going on in The New 52 feels of zero consequence, regardless of who’s writing it. Is that villain reveal supposed to be a big deal? Yawn. Grade C.

Star Wars #10 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #10 (Dark Horse): Hey, I loves me some Ryan Kelly, but I’m also glad to have regular series artist Carlos D’Anda back aboard the ship since he really defined the incredible and distinct look of this series for me from day one. The magic of Carlos D’Anda is evident from the first image seen on the opening page, where the Imperial Star Destroyer Devastator functions as an in-your-face expression of raw Imperial technological might, but also showcases D’Anda’s ability to convey both immense scale and tiny detail with equal swing-for-the-fences gusto. Your eye then quickly drifts down to the enticing glow at the bottom of the page, where Gabe Eltaeb’s moody colors punch you in the gut and then suck on your face like a rabid mynock. The crimson illumination in the sequence that follows is a somber signal of the meaningful conversation Luke Skywalker and Wedge Antilles go on to share. It’s a reminder of the losses that soldiers, any soldiers, experience in war, and how that drives them to cling to connections and relationships to heighten their precious lives, even if they might otherwise seem fleeting.

For a hot second there, I actually thought Wedge was going to come out as gay, like maybe he was lamenting one of the other pilots lost at the Battle of Yavin, but for deeper reasons? I mean, was he porking that big lovable bear Jek Porkins? Sorry, couldn’t resist the 4th grade humor. Wedge doesn’t turn out to be gay (which I wouldn’t put past writer Brian Wood to handle deftly), but seriously, it got me thinking. Have there been any homosexual relationships established in the Star Wars EU canon? I’m familiar with a lot of it, but have read precious few of the novels. Would Star Wars fans “accept” that or get all rage-y like comics fans probably would? They’re slightly different demographics. Wood describes being really embraced by non-comic Star Wars fans, but getting the majority of the pushback he’s received from diehard comic book fans, so (assuming LucasFilm approved) I’m interested in what would happen with the introduction of an openly gay Star Wars character. I’m digressing.
This scene has so much heart! Fans should really lose their minds when Wedge starts talking about how he’s been thinking about changing the name of Red Squadron and retiring that designation. We’re witnessing the birth of something really cool in this lost little moment. It’s also an interesting bit of characterization, showing that Wedge is really an introspective guy, a leader who considers how the very name of something has significance for its connotations. As if that wasn’t enough, I loved how Wedge’s eyes light up with emotion when Luke mentions another pilot who’s a mutual friend. 

Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda manage to visit every single plot thread they’ve introduced so far within the course of this issue. There’s Leia’s lament about her adopted home world of Alderaan. There’s the Han/Chewie/Perla dynamic. Mon Mothma’s stealth cat let out of the bag. The determination of Boba Fett. The hubris of Colonel Bircher. There’s Birra Seah and Vader’s dogged quest regarding an otherwise “unremarkable” young moisture farmer from the Outer Rim. That being said, while these other threads are intercut amidst the Luke/Wedge conversation, it’s an extended scene that runs the course of the single issue. By the time you start to figure out the background patterns, see a hangar bay loaded with TIE Interceptors, TIE Fighters, and TIE Bombers, it builds toward an absolutely brilliant and enveloping reveal when you finally grasp exactly where Luke and Wedge are, where they’ve been hiding out, and what's about to happen.
D’Anda’s visuals don’t stop there. It feels like the three-issue break has allowed him to focus and reinvigorate his pencils. It’s clear in the withered majesty of Mon Mothma, or the detailed facial features of the Mon Calamari. It’s Vader standing in quiet contemplation on the bridge of a ship, or a lone X-Wing rocketing off into deep space, all familiar visual characteristics that tickle nostalgia buttons while pushing to craft new content with a simply delicious art style.

If the line “It’s a good bet the Empire…” sounds familiar, it’s because the sentence structure is intentionally lifted from Empire Strikes Back. Hold onto that thought for a second. Then we see Mon Mothma down on her knees, getting dirty, rolling up her sleeves, and doing some kind of galactic CPR with a 2-1B medical droid lurking around the same page. Hold onto that for a second now. Colonel Bircher is slinging procedural jargon about fleet warfare tactics. All of this serves as the juxtaposition of known things, but in unknown circumstances. It’s this combination of items that delight our collective sense of familiarity. The people and places and lines of dialogue that tickle the inner fanboy and recall our shared experiences with the property. But, the key is that Wood’s scripts go beyond mere fanboy titillation, because, really, anyone can do that and just drop references given access to the source material and an understanding of the internal patterns. What makes these scripts special, what makes them rise above just being a litany of Easter Eggs, is that they are Star Wars speculative fiction about the interstitial space between the known. They push forward instead of just looking back in hollow self-referential fashion. They mine and create.

Princess Leia Organa holding an old man at blaster point in her white pilot’s jumpsuit, well, that’s just about the sexiest thing I’ve seen this side of the bounty hunter we ran into on Ord Mantell. Leia’s got all the moxie and skill of her peers, don’t you doubt it for a second. It’s important to note that the eventual tears she sheds are good indicators of not only the raw emotion anyone would experience after the extermination of their race, but the fact that it’s not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a result of the incredible strength she just exhibited, of bottling up her emotions, of containing her rage, when the easier thing to do would have been to just fry this guy like poor old Greedo. She doesn’t. She shows restraint and cold calculation. She leave’s him, as far as he knows anyway, resigned to his fate, a punishment worse than death, floating out in an asteroid belt in a beat up old ship, contemplating his integral role in genocide. That note circles back around to the idea expressed in the first scene with Luke and Wedge about loss. Leia’s lost her entire planet. Luke’s lost his mentor and his friends. Wedge has lost his friends and a lover. They’re reeling emotionally, because Wood has the time now to express things on paper that the movies barely touched upon in fleeting glimpses.

There’s so much going on in this series that I alternately feel like I’ve just scratched the surface, yet I also feel like I’m getting repetitive about singing its praises. I’ve enjoyed every single issue of the series, but this feels like one of the absolute best yet in the run. It has that mixture of action, heart, and visuals I often talk about being required to achieve greatness. The excitement of grand happenings with grand consequences, the characterization and depth of personality that only a writer like Brian Wood can bestow these creations with – one met with the audience’s emotional investment, and the aesthetic panache that sees art, inks, colors, letters, all firing perfectly, like a fresh new reactor engine off the assembly line at Kuat Drive Yards, coalescing to become more than the sum of their parts. Most importantly, there’s the intelligence of the extrapolated connective tissue that spans the time between the seminal movies. It answers questions we had, speculation we’d all gleefully done in our head or with friends, and even gets around to exploring logical questions we didn’t know we had, in a seamless creative effort. It is undoubtedly one of the greatest contributions to the Expanded Universe that the Star Wars property has ever witnessed. Grade A+.


Treasury of Mini-Comics: Volume One @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Fantagraphics' nearly exhaustive historical tome at Poopsheet Foundation.


10.02.13 [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 #4 (Image): Greg Rucka and Michael Lark bring the first story burst to a close, with plenty of action and heaping doses of narrative thread to continue in future installments. Basically everyone is dealing with the fallout from the unsuccessful hit on Forever Carlyle (and Joacquim, the Morray Family Lazarus). It’s an utterly gritty scene with feverish action expertly choreographed by the creative team. It’s interesting how so many visual dynamics are taking place, from overlapping action sequences, to vibrant pops of color that hone the reader’s eye on a central image, to the “honor among thieves” vibe that’s present between flirtatious Forever and Joacquim. It’s certainly a post-apocalyptic paradigm shift when the only people you can really trust are the genetically enhanced paramilitary crime family enforcers, the hitmen with the hearts of gold, pulling their best Peter Quinn conflicted killer number. The narrative wedges growing between Johanna and Jonah, Forever and the rest of Family Lazarus, and the general divide in the expertly world-built future are very exciting. The backmatter is so damn good, almost as good as the main feature, highlighting the growing distrust for authority figures (I’m typing this on the first day of the Federal Government Shutdown), and the seemingly inevitable merge of politicians, military forces, and financial means. At this point, shit, I want a mini-series about all the civil unrest, and “The Pendleton Five,” and everything leading up to the union of government elements and Carlyle private forces. The world of comics rarely gets better than what Rucka and Lark are doing with Lazarus. Grade A.

Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #6 (Image): With Charlie Rose’s table functioning as a virgin-swallowing portal to hell that’s snatched up Todd’s “sister” Sandy, their dad forces Todd to dress up as her to run the ruse he's got going with a fading starlet. Mr. Belluomo tells Sandy-Todd that he’s just allowing him to "explore his feminine side," like any good father would, which is a good example of how Ken Kristensen subverts family dynamics. Todd’s dad always finds a way to justify his actions, only when it conveniently suits him, even if they run contrary to how he’d typically act. It’s this type of hypocrisy that Todd The Ugliest Kid uses as rocket fuel for this particular brand of parody. It’s a society where people are more  concerned with their “Q-Score” metrics and how that drives decision-making, than anything real. The centerpiece of the issue is Todd-Sandy cutting his hair “all Miley Cyrus and shit,” which amps up the “primal ape shit” pheromones of the bullies. Todd-Sandy plays a startling game of Seven Minutes in Heaven which does NOT go according to plan. The game is all behind closed doors, but despite not being able to see the action, the characterization and dialogue is so precise and descriptive that it’s easily imagined in our mind’s eye. By the end, MK Perker sells the caricature so hard that it’s time for “Enter The Marxman!” the anti-semitic satanic demon hunter. Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth is crammed so full of memorable one-liners that you’ll not only be struggling to keep up with the staccato pace of the dialogue, but you’ll also swear it’s “’95 Buick Skylark handsome.” It’s the funniest and most subversive book currently being published. Grade A.


The Hic & Hoc Illustrated Journal of Humour Vol. 2: The United Kingdom @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed the latest anthology from Hic & Hoc Publications over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Tablegeddon @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Rob Kirby's latest anthology over at Poopsheet Foundation.