12.29.05 Reviews

Solo #8 (DC): Still impressed by this title and for this ish Teddy Kristiansen offers up a much more moody and experimental take than we typically see. Not all of the pieces connected with me, but no denying he is a true craftsman. Grade B+.

Young Avengers Special #1 (Marvel): This was good enough, but I have to ask was this really necessary? From a storytelling standpoint, we don't really learn anything that groundbreaking. It would be kind of like pitching a solid Vietnam War movie. No matter how good it is, do we need another one of those? Makes me think that sales are suffering on this book and this is a last ditch effort to generate interest and provide a recap/jumping on point to newbies(?). Grade B-.

X-Men #180 (Marvel): Wow, it's been years since I picked up an X-title that wasn't helmed by Joss Whedon. And this makes me remember why. Looks and sounds like a bad 90's comic. Wonky art (Havok looks like such a douchebag!), out of character, highly expository dialogue, and no semblance of a self-contained story beat. Of mild interest (spoiler alert!), is that Xorn on the last page? Shame on me for not giving it the casual flip test, which it would have failed miserably... I was suckered by a nice shot of Lorna/Polaris on the cover. Grade C-.

Catwoman #50 (DC): Beautiful noir cover! Dig how the logo doubles as a neon sign. As a single issue, this was executed amazingly well. Strong, engaging, good sounding dialogue from Will Pfeifer and some wonderfully muted inks and colors over Pete Woods' pencils. From a larger continuity standpoint, we're led to believe that Selena has only changed her ways due to a Zatanna/JLA induced mindwipe which sure sends a doozy of a ret-conning ripple through the last few years of Cat-continuity. Not sure how I feel about that, seems kinda' cheap. Grade B.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #26 (Marvel): Dig how Namor was a prick until the very end, just pushing everyone's buttons. Nice last page reveal. Grade B.

The New Avengers #14 (Marvel): Bendis is still Mr. Exposition, but this time it feels very weighty and intriguing. He even manages to make Jessica's double agenting sympathetic to readers (and Cap for that matter). Cho's art is impressive as hell, hope he stays around a while. Yeah, generally liked this. Grade B.

The Sentry #4 (Marvel): Not nearly as engaging as the last issue. Growing a little impatient with the whole concept of "The Void." Looks purdy though. Grade B-.

All-Star Batman & Robin The Boy Wonder #3 (DC): What an awkward mouthful that title is. What an awkward opening scene with Black Canary. What awkward dialogue. What an awkward series of pin up shots. What an awkward book. Who would have thought that Miller and Lee could be so... awkward together. Let's put Morrison & Quitely on this book too in order to get some of the good kind of awkward going. Grade C.

Testament #1 (DC/Vertigo): This book was not released this week. Wasn't really into this until those last few pages where it got all Morrison'd out with the counterculture kids and the crazy blue chic. Might pick up another issue or two. Grade B-.

And that, my friends, is that. The last of the reviews for 2005. I hopefully saved the best for last in the bottom of my reading pile, just haven't gotten to them yet. Generally, the batch above was less than stellar. If you want a few good reads, check out The Keep #3 (IDW), Revelations #5 (Dark Horse), X-Factor #2 (Marvel), BPRD: The Black Flame #5 (Dark Horse), and the Blacksad: Sketch Files book from iBooks which are sure to be better than all of this. See you next year!


12.21.05 Reviews

Lucifer #69 (DC/Vertigo): Seems to be all teed up for the final arc, though this may have been the climax with the dust settling over the last few issues if Carey truly emulates the conclusion of Sandman. Pretty ballsy of Mike Carey to replace Yahweh with Elaine Belloc as the new “founder” of the universe with the heaven host and hell kin following her lead as to their place. Nice to see Lucifer again dodging any direct responsibility, yet facilitating resolution in someone else's hands out of a strange sense of honor. Grade B.

Infinite Crisis #3 (DC): Brain starting to hurt. Too many parallel stories running here to track and predict ramifications on. For the most part, this felt like “all middle” to borrow a term from the guys over at Comix Experience. Lots of random sets that just feel shoehorned in, we have Aquaman and Atlantis battling Manta, random Spectre appearance, Diana authorizing Themyscira to retreat from this plane of existence, Batman doing… stuff… with the Earth 2 Superman, Power Girl deciding on *what* to do, the seed being planted for a new Blue Beetle, Wally joining the fray, shenanigans at the Watchtower, and multiple Luthors running around. I don’t know. *Shrug.* I can’t really tell what’s happening or what the intent was so we’ll go with a flat Grade C.

Green Lantern #6 (DC): Though Ethan Van Sciver is still “Liefeld-ing up” the cover art, Simone Bianchi is a most welcome addition to the art stable on the interiors. Her work on Morrison’s recent Shining Knight was one of the only “shiny” spots in the entire Seven Soldiers debacle. Her slightly photorealistic, heavily textured style goes a long way here. The visage of Hector Hammond is especially demonic and I really dug the little things, like the stylish rendering of Hal’s hair. This book is ideally suited for cosmic threats such as gremlins who delve in evolutionary experimentation. Hammond's sarcastic “Oh, Hal Jordan… my hero” was hilarious. Setting up Hangar 44 as a regular Roswell style warehouse of all things extra terrestrial is a nice touch. Favorite line: “German? That’s Krolotean. What? You think Egypt is the only place on that mudball that stole their language from off-world?” Very solid stuff, totally satisfying and even earns a few chuckles. Grade B+.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #3 (DC): A different kind of fun to be found here, one less focused on Hal or any specifc GL for that matter, and that's ok, it totally works. Enjoyed the voice of the power ring becoming another character, providing information on deceased lanterns, interstellar corps law, and interesting bouts of translating - or not. John's really has Guy's humor down. Great fun with lots of different lanterns running around. I like the idea that there is really limitless potential for stories the way this series has been constructed and I hope the creative team continues to exploit it and entertain us. This issue's search for a new ring bearer from Korugar works as well as any. She’s crafty with the ring. Kyle and Guy play a nice good cop/bad cop routine on her to get her to commit to training. At first I thought the art felt a bit "wonky" and crude, but it really grew on me for the relatively manic and light hearted tales of the corps being offered up here. Grade B.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #1 (Marvel): Another grounded rendition of Iron Man, is Casey taking a cue from Ellis and Granov’s book? I know this isn't Casey's problem and is just an aside, more Marvel Editorial's problem really, but which one is the "main" Iron Man title? Ultimate? Not supposed to be if you buy the Ultimate line as ancillary. Ellis and Granov's? Should be according to the "rules" Marvel has set up. But it *never* comes out and is totally under the radar screen. Casey’s will no doubt ship on time, but it's a mini-series with a finite end. If I was a bettin' man, I'd say Marvel is having a little "bake off" with some good creative teams to see which book garners more interest, both critically and sales-wise and then backs whichever horse... errr, brownie... wins. Irving’s dark pencils and inks are really unique and fun, not what I’d picture for Tony and the suit, but fun nonetheless. Enjoyed the banter with the SHIELD agent, the pop culture filled party, and the undercurrent that everyone knows Tony is Iron Man, yet he runs the ruse anyway. Is that what the "Inevitable" in the title refers to? Don’t know, but definitely want to find out. Grade B.


Top 10 of 2005 - Part 3

The "Leftovers"

Books I wanted to comment on, but ran out of time or material to make Top 10 lists with!

Top Book I Wish Would Be Collected Before I Die

Automatic Kafka (DC/Wildstorm): Joe Casey’s most biting commentary on the industry with a hyper-stylized art bender courtesy of Ashley Wood. Deserves a cult following like Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s Flex Mentallo.

Top 4 Titles That I’m Not Reading Consistently And Wish I Was

Fables (DC/Vertigo): Enjoyed it early on, stopped reading, was checking in periodically, then the current Arabian Nights story arc grabbed my attention again. Maybe a New Year’s resolution(?) to start supporting this wonderful Bill Willingham helmed title with some of the best cover art in the biz.

The Walking Dead (Image): Read and enjoyed the first 2 trades, then just never got around to picking up more trades or the single issues. I don’t want to like it because I think the zombie thing is so passé, but this is written superbly and very realistic. Shame on me!

Lucifer (DC/Vertigo): Mike Carey announced a while back that this series would be winding down to #75 a la Sandman. Very curious to see how this plays out and what impact it will have on Sandman/Vertigo continuity as a whole.

Y: The Last Man (DC/Vertigo): Ditto my comments on The Walking Dead. Got the trades, generally liked ‘em, stopped reading it regularly.

Top 5 Impressive Debuts That I Hope Continue Strongly

Local (Oni Press): Impressive debut. Brian Wood’s scripting finally starting to grow on me. Loved Ryan Kelly’s art, which struck me as a delicious hybrid of Paul Pope and Farel Darlymple. More please.

All-Star Superman (DC): Let me preface by saying that I hate Superman. He bores me to tears. But Morrison and Quitely crafted up a unique, experimental take that I can get behind. Deliberately minimized origin story in just 1 page, 4 panels, and 8 words? Keep tinkering, Grant.

Nothing Better (Dementian Comics): The first two ishes of Tyler Page’s follow up to Stylish Vittles looks really good. A couple college roommates who are totally different, but each girl makes an effort to connect.

The Looking Glass Wars: Hatter M (IDW): I love the notion of someone taking a relatively innocuous classic such as Alice In Wonderland and putting a dark, troubling spin on it. First ish’s opening sequences were a bit unclear in terms of storytelling, but nonetheless a killer core premise. Looking forward to more.

X-Factor #1 (Marvel): PAD-helmed return of the mutant melodrama! Ryan Sook art! Yes!!!

Top 2 Books I Used To Like But Surprisingly Started To Bore Me So I Stopped Reading

100 Bullets (DC/Vertigo): Beautiful art from Azzarello. Cool premise. I hooked lots of friends on this title. But I don’t know, I just tuned out. Stopped feeling engaged around issue 40. Starting feeling all X-Files’d out with more plot threads and double crossing allegiances than I cared to sort out. I can’t even muster up the energy to buy a trade for a long plane flight from Diego to RTP.

Jack Staff (Image): I own the Everything Used To Be Black & White trade and totally dig that. But something happened when it switched to color with Image. It just doesn’t feel as weighty or important as it used to. I found myself buying it and wondering, why am I buying this?

Top Project I Wanted To Like But Never Did

Seven Soldiers Of Victory (DC): I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Grant Morrison is hit and miss for me. Aztek, Flex Mentallo, All Star Superman? Yup, Yup, Yup! Seaguy, WE3, and Seven Soldiers? No, No, No! Aside from some mild high points like my fondness for all things Mister Miracle and personally knowing fantastic Zatanna artist Ryan Sook, this was kinda’ all gibberish. Not marketed very well. Not terribly intuitive… 7 mini-series that are 4 issues each with 2 bookend issues starting with #0 and ending with #1 which will total 30 issues, ship late, and be collected in no discernable or logical order… Huh? Why? And just how many artists have been on Mister Miracle? Really, it’s not a contest, more is not better. Unless the final issue has some hyper-explanatory, expository dialogue from hell to wrap it all together in a nice little package… whatever, dude.

Tops On My “To Buy” List

Lost Girls (Top Shelf): Anxiously awaiting Moore and Gebbe’s erotic analysis of 3 wayward literary heroines. Can porn be literature? Can literature be sexy? All 240 pages collected and due out next summer!

Birth Of A Nation (Crown Publishing): Haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to Kyle Baker’s more recent offerings, but this title’s inclusion in Graphic Novels: Stories To Change Your Life made me reconsider.

Hawaiian Dick (Image): Ever since I fell in love with Battle Hymn, I’m on a B. Clay Moore high and seeking out all his works. I tried a random issue of the first mini and it didn’t connect, but I’m committed to giving the trades a second chance.

Hardcover Editions of Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde, Palestine, and Notes From A Defeatist by Drawn & Quarterly: Please, please, please! Can this project happen? They would go oh-so-nicely on my shelf with the War’s End and The Fixer hardcovers.

Top 2 Worst Reviews I Gave All Year

Negative Burn Anthology (Desperado Publishing): I believe I wrote about a “plethora of mediocrity” with horribly inconsistent pieces punctuated only by Editor Joe Pruett’s egregious typos in the introduction page. Ugh. Way to break the negative comic book stereotypes, Joe.

Sea of Red #1 (Image): Incomprehensible script and art. So… tired… of pirates…

Top Piece I Wish There Was An Entire Series Or GN Based On

Afrodisiac (Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca): This masterpiece of art and wit has appeared so far in the 2005 SPX Anthology as well as Project: Superior and is a parody of 70’s style blaxploitation while also offering up some hilarious industry commentary. Laugh out loud funny!Amazingly well done!

Top Book I Was Proud Of For How It Handled Gay Superheroes And Challenged Conventional Stereotypes

Young Avengers (Marvel): Perfectly managed.

Top Book I Was Disturbed By For How It Portrayed The Only Black Character As A Junkie And Maintained Conventional Stereotypes

Young Avengers (Marvel): Seriously, this is a minor gripe regarding a great book from OC scribe Allan Heinberg. He’s already writing himself out of this one admirably and I’m curious to see this book play out.

Top Book I Didn’t Want To Like But Really Enjoyed The Second Arc Anyway

New Avengers (Marvel): Damn you Bendis and damn your cool damn Spider-Woman. One more damn book to buy…


Top 10 of 2005 - Part 2

Top 10 Graphic Novels

Battle Hymn (Image): Completely enjoyed this Invaders-esque, JSA/Watchmen hybrid that takes familiar archetypes and makes ‘em all topsy-turvy-dirty-uncomfortable. Seedy underbelly and political posturing juxtaposed against the idealism and hope common of the WWII era genre. Very powerful, highly under-rated and under-noticed work by B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun. Easily the best mini-series of the year, sure to be collected. (with Cindy Crawford for anyone who’s paying attention ;-)

Why Are You Doing This? (Fantagraphics): The epitome of emotion and existential dilemma possible from the library of Jason’s ostensibly cartoony characters.

Tricked (Top Shelf Productions): In the vein of the film Crash, Alex Robinson crafts up an intriguing tale of a handful of lives that intersect at a precarious moment.

Project: Superior (AdHouse Books): Killer book. As I said in a previous review, “one of the best comic book anthologies of all time.” I even got my hands on the limited edition hardcover that was only supposed to go to AdHouse staff and contributors. Heh.

The Fountain (DC/Vertigo): Darren Aaronofsky (of Requiem For A Dream and “Pi” fame… is there no “Pi” symbol on my laptop? You know, 3.1415 blah-bitty-blah…) crafts up a time jumping love affair with beautiful paintings courtesy of Kent Williams that serves as an accompanying piece to the film starring Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. While enduring production delays, he feared the film would never be made and moved ahead with this cool, oversized project from Vertigo.

The League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2, Absolute Edition (DC/Wildstorm): Best 75 bucks I ever spent on comics. We knew from those opening shots on Mars that we were in for a treat. This is really a unique pedigree from Moore and O’Neill that’s well worth the price of admission.

Art of Yusagi Yojimbo HC (Dark Horse): Dark Horse has put out a few of these high quality editions and this one is the best by far. I’ve never even read Stan Sakai’s opus regularly, but was blown away by this book. The vellum style paper, watermarks, and autobiographical story about making comics are all wonderful on their own, but make an even more impressive package as a whole.

Street Angel (Slave Labor Graphics): Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s blender of all things hip. Take some 70’s, some wacky references, and all the little pop culture razzle dazzle that strikes their fancy, shake, and pour. Wonderfully eclectic and the best thing Slave Labor Graphics has ever put out.

The Clouds Above (Fantagraphics): Jordan Crane’s latest offering is many things. Whimsical, layered, charming, at times thoughtful and intense, and masterfully executed in a really cool, odd-sized, hardcover format. Check out a great review over at Big Brother Dan’s: www.wackyhijinx.com

War’s End: Profiles From Bosnia (Drawn & Quarterly): Any work by Joe Sacco is worthy of praise. Equal parts travelogue (read Craig Thompson’s Carnet de Voyage for a real treat!), CNN update, history lesson, and funny autobiography. Love those thick inky lines.

Honorable Mention

Damn this was tough, lots of worthy contenders here…

Flight: Volume 2 (Image): Ok, the ranking here means something too. This book was really close to cracking the Top 10, but there were just a couple pieces I didn’t like in this wonderful anthology. Unfortunately for it, there were some pieces in Project: Superior that blew it away and that ultimately won the “Battle Of The Anthology Books” this year.

The Goon: Fancy Pants Edition (Dark Horse): Hands down one of the funniest books around and this edition is a very slick package.

Blacksad (iBooks): Ok, not technically released this year, but I *read* it this year and it was great. So there. Very European feel without being too metaphysical, very grounded and socially charged work.

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train TPB (Viper Comics): Flight Editor/Contributor Kazu Kibuishi masterfully crafted this “Western” that blends robots and pseudo-retro technology over a bickering love affair. Awesome intro piece that serves as a primer for Texas Hold ‘Em! Love the spunky attitude of the protagonist.

The Gift Of Nothing (Little, Brown & Company): Technically it *is* a comic in that it pairs words with images, and I *did* buy it at a comic shop, but the literati out there will disagree with it’s inclusion due to it’s “real book” format (ugh! hate that!), but this Patrick McDonnell book is a real gem. Totally appropriate for kids or grown ups and underneath the simple drawings and good natured prose is a real comment against materialism. Ironically makes a good Christmas gift!


Top 10 of 2005 - Part 1

Disclaimer: These lists are not ranked in order. These lists are not scientific. They never are. The criteria are not defined, so don’t ask. It’s just my favorites, but there are some loose guidelines. Like some semblance of a regular publishing schedule for the ongoing titles. Or that I have to have liked the GN enough to own it. Or that I have to have read a significant portion of the canon of an ongoing to recommend it. The Graphic Novel section can include mini-series, TPBs, anthologies, or any other formats not otherwise a single serialized issue. But don’t get hung up on methodology. Just enjoy yet another “Top 10” list that is so fashionable this time of year and go check out some cool comics that you may have inadvertently missed along the way.

Top 10 Ongoing Series

Shaolin Cowboy (Burlyman Entertainment): Pure fun. Brilliant pencils from Geoff Darrow and a real study in craftsmanship. If you like comics at all, you should be buying this.

Ex Machina (DC/Wildstorm): Brian K. Vaughan’s most engaging, soulful creation amid a library of top shelf ideas. Pair that with Tony Harris pencils (of Starman fame) and you’re good to go.

Solo (DC): The best idea DC has had in a long while that’s been masterfully executed. Create a space to highlight modern masters of the craft and let them do whatever the hell they want for a single issue.

Godland (Image): Deliciously mischievous and thoroughly entertaining. If this one gets cancelled (Wildcats 3.0, Automatic Kafka, The Intimates, etc.), I’ll buy Joe Casey a beer. Am I the only one buying and loving his work?

Iron Man (Marvel): A rich industrialist in a big robot suit. Whodathunk it would be the most realistic superhero comic around? Haven’t given up on Ellis and Granov finishing this story. Yet. Not the paragon of punctuality, but certainly worth the wait.

BPRD (Dark Horse): All of the Hellboy and Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defense arcs this year were fabulous. Enough minis offered that I put it in the ongoing category. Plenty in the pocket and plenty on the horizon. An impressive library of stories all with a wild, inventive ride.

Supreme Power (Marvel/MAX): Intelligent analysis of the superhero paradigm in modern society coupled with phenomenal emotionally charged art. ‘Nuff said.

Conan (Dark Horse): You would have thought by now, I’d be all burnt out on “guys with swords” books and movies in my pop culture diet, but this always continues to surprise me just when I think it’s settling into status quo. Cary Nord’s art and guest artists like Greg Ruth and Michael Wm. Kaluta are a treat.

Ultimate Fantastic Four (Marvel): I believe strongly in UFF as the prototype for a successful modern comic.

Queen & Country (Oni Press): Ok, so on this one the rankings do mean something. I put this low on the list to denote how close it came to being an honorable mention for a ridiculous publishing schedule with no information provided to the fans. Seriously, what is the problem? How about the Oni Press editorial staff stop writing reviews of The Smiths and start publishing some shit. I fear I’ll never see another issue of this amazing book…

Honorable Mention

Planetary (DC/Wildstorm): Hey Warren! Hey Jon! I love what you guys have created with Planetary, this is a very special project you put out into the medium, but seriously… finish the fucking book already. 23 issues in almost 6 years? You’re killing me.

Kabuki (Marvel/Icon): Love David Mack’s work, but didn’t make the cut due to a lackluster publishing schedule.

The Keep (IDW): Finally what IDW needs! A writer with more talent than the flashy artist! Do your thang, F. Paul Wilson! Strong debut, but needs a longer track record to make it into the Top 10. We’ll keep our eye on you for next year!


12.14.05 Reviews

Damn, there really are some great comics coming out right now. We live in a time when there is such a diversity of publishers and subject matter available. I don't remember feeling this... I don't know, satisfied, with an overall week's worth of material in quite a long time. Enjoy!

DMZ #2 (DC/Vertigo): This title is settling in nicely as the premise, protagonists, and conflicts all get sorted out. Totally engaged and ready for more. Grade B+.

New Avengers: Most Wanted Files (Marvel): Cool idea. Neat set up with a SHIELD agent’s email account, but as a former boss told me: "the value of an idea is not in its creation, but its execution." And this was executed poorly. Almost too much info about characters that are not quite interesting or serious enough to deserve it. I know that Bendis is capable of taking someone who is otherwise a doofus (The Purple Man, anyone?) and making him engaging and terrifying, but I can’t see him doing it with these clowns. I mean, generic names like Controller, Corruptor, and Constrictor? Hurricane strength whoopee cushions?! And hey, Centurius! That kid from Fat Albert called and he wants his mask back! The humor also falls a little flat throughout. All this with a $3.99 price tag drops us to Grade C-.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #3 (DC/Wildstorm): To my surprise, I’m still eating this up. Totally enjoying Captain Atom as the paladin of the DCU running around in the Wildstorm U. Cool to see Warblade is back, I don’t know if I ever read it all, but wasn’t Reno Bryce horribly disfigured or something in that last mini-series he was in? I love the later incarnations of the Wildcats and it’s always a treat to see them, makes me wonder how Casey feels about Will Pfeifer’s handling of these characters. Dig the foreshadowing by the President about “trusting authority.” Waiting for that team to show up any day now. Love Grifter, he’s like the glue that holds it all together. Awesome how he dutifully recruits the new Void and condenses years of Wildcats canon into “It’s superheroes and arch villains. It’s space wars, alien invasions, and laser beams. It’s secret origins and crazy adventures. You’re one of us now.” Dug the way Captain Atom notices the dichotomy between the DCU’s relationship between metahumans and humans and the same relationship in the Wildstorm U. Sure was eerie seeing smoke rising from the Washington Monument. Can’t wait to see how the “equation” posed by Majestros will be resolved in the coming months. Camuncoli’s art is also super strong and consistent here. Perhaps the most underrated crossover event of the year. Grade A.

Wildcats: Nemesis #4 (DC/Wildstorm): This series boasts some of the same characters, but the results are far different. Art is a bit more Danger Girl-esque, though not as polished. Hey, Talent Caldwell! Hey man, Grifter is supposed to look like a bad ass goverment operative, not a surfer dude. Story-wise, the motivations of Charis, the Coda, and just about everyone don’t make for a very clearly told confrontation. Just doesn’t feel as weighty or dramatic. I keep reading mainly out of mild curiosity and fondness for some of the characters who are being handled much better in the Captain Atom series. Grade B-.

Nothing Better #2 (Dementian): Spot on pencils conveying a wide range of emotions. Really interesting, engaging, and believable situations being depicted that make me smile in a nostalgic way about college life. Highly recommended. Grade A-.

X-Factor #1 (Marvel): All hail the return of Peter David to X-Factor! His X-Factor #87 remains one of my favorite single issues of all time. It was really a character study which made you deeply consider one’s mutant power or their worldview in a much different, more realistic, and more personal way. This first issue has similarities in that regard. He’s joined by San Jose’s local-boy-done-good, Ryan Sook! I love Ryan’s work, which started with a heavy Mignola influence but has beautifully blossomed into something uniquely his own. Rounding out the creative team is inker Wade Von Grawbadger, who is really a score. His inky, slightly dark style fits the tone of the material just fine. I was immediately taken with Multiple Man’s sarcastic and insightful narrative. David is showing off an ear for natural, smooth dialogue as evidenced by the bit of convo regarding the term “saps.” He has resurrected the voices of these characters that he helped to define, as with Rahne’s in-character rather utilitarian handling of Rictor’s attempted suicide. This also seems to dovetail nicely into Marvel’s decimation event, where 90% of the world’s mutants have been rendered powerless, without feeling too intrusive, as crossovers often do. Nice to se MM as the team lead instead of comic sidekick to Havok. Hilarious that he acquired the venture capital for the team from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on a Harlan Ellison question. Peter David sends a clear message that he is not fucking around as an apparently alcoholic Siryn reaches body count of 2 in the first issue in some intense scenes that pull no punches. Impressive debut. Love the return of the mutant melodrama! Grade A-.

Local #2 (Oni Press): Charming and cute, when it should have been creepy and scary. And that was the point. The open ended conclusion with Megan and her pseudo-suitor worked quite well, which is a surprise to me since that was a pet peeve with some of Brian Wood’s Demo work. The pencils of Ryan Kelly are amazingly strong. This artist is definitely one to watch, it’s growing on me so strongly that I already like his style better than Paul Pope, which is ridiculous. It’s as if you took the strongest elements of Farel Darlymple and Paul Pope and cranked them out in a consistent, polished, emotive style. Grade B+.

Down #1-2 (Image/Top Cow): These books were not released this week. Right on, right? Warren Ellis and Tony Harris, right? Awesome creative team, right? Was totally getting into this by the end of the first ish. I’m pumped to see the second issue. I’m thinking yeah, here we go! And I get… Cully Hamner on art? Are you serious? Cully Hamner? We waited years past the original solicit for this book, for two issues to be released the same month… so we get could get Cully Hamner? I mean, I enjoyed Sonic Disruptors as much as the next guy (please note sarcasm), but he’s no Tony Harris. WTF, mate? Digging the story, but the art jump was downright *jarring.* First issue, Grade A-. Second issue, C+. Sigh...


I Need A Release

Originally published in Savant Magazine.

"Kleidon's Lounge? Dude, that place is a dive."

That was the self-proclaimed phrase that almost prevented me from witnessing something very innovative. A week later, I walked into Kleidon's, with a date no less, in one of the dirtiest parts of downtown San Jose. It's next to the bus station, for God's sake. It's about two blocks off the main drag, in an old brick building that was never intended to be a bar. You're surely asking what the hell this article is about and if I'm going to ramble on for five paragraphs before somehow relating it to comics. Well, get ready for the reason I was there: A comic book release party.

Wait, I meant a Comic Book Release Party!

A couple friends of mine, Tim Goodyear and Mike Allen, are the creative madmen behind a title called Garish Zow Comics from Hidden Agenda Press. It's an anthology mini-comic; the second issue was produced just in time for sale at the San Diego Comic-Con. It's a quarterly book, done for the major shows: San Diego, the Alternative Press Expo (APE), the Small Press Expo (SPX), and San Francisco's WonderCon. I'll refrain from a full blown review - it's just something you'll have to discover on your own. But let me whet your appetite: a hand-silk-screened cover designed by Ryan Sook, 64 pages, color and black & white, a David Choe story, humor, drama, a Western, and two additional mini-comics located in pockets on the front and back inside covers.

But back to the concept.

You've seen release parties. The scene in High Fidelity, where they have the record release party and Jack Black's character sings Let's Get It On by Marvin Gaye? That's what I'm talking about.

My date and I pull up around 10:30 on a Friday night and find a parking spot right out front. I make eye contact with the doorman and chirp the alarm on the Bimmer, he checks our ID's, stamps our hands, and already I can feel the music pounding against my chest. We walk in and I see Mike across the room right away, he nods at me and gives me a smirk. It must be going well. Perhaps they've proven all the naysayers wrong, that they could take a cue from the music industry and really make this work.

Either that, or he's a little buzzed.

There's about 20 people crowded around a 3x5 table. I see the Hidden Agenda Press book dumps with copies of Garish Zow #2 and a few copies of the old Garish Zow #1 for sale. There's a limited-edition silk-screened poster advertising the release party, some miscellaneous past offerings from Hidden Agenda; there's even copies of the mini-comic I did with Tim, The Mercy Killing. My date looks up and smiles. "Hey, you're famous," she says half-mockingly and half proud.

I see Tim schmoozing with the clientele and realize we're going to be there a while, so I head toward the bar. Drinks in hand, we dive into the melee of people around the booth. I bump into Tim and he smiles huge. There's dozens of conversations going on, wives, girlfriends, customers I recognize from the store we shop at, artists and inkers, and there's actually a line forming in front of the table of people waiting to make purchases.

In the middle of a nightclub.

Mike and Tim pulled me outside where we could actually talk, we discussed the next issue and some scripts I had submitted, we generally hung out and had a great time. He introduced me to a guy who reads the same books I do and a guy who just bought out an existing shop that isn't so good and is apparently going to transform it. As we stood outside, the place was getting packed. Soon we couldn't tell who was there for the comics and who was just there. Familiar faces mixed with random ones. The girls who were clubbing and just wanted to dance bumped into the inker who was there supporting his industry friends. I bought two copies of #2 and one of the limited edition posters before they were all gone, made a round of goodbyes, and contentedly headed out.

Driving home with the top down, I thought about what a great idea this was. For self-publishers, it's a way to immediately break out of an existing mold and reach new people. The change of venue allows us to make it a "big deal" and the world seemed to acknowledge this. A new offering into our collective creative medium became an event.

I could imagine an established company, someone like Oni Press for the sake of argument, doing just such a thing. There's always a friend of a friend who works in a bar or club or hotel who could arrange such an event. Imagine the party for the release of each new issue of Queen & Country, Local, or Polly & The Pirates.

It was social, it was fun, it was creative, it was hip, it allowed industry networking, it was a chance to get out of the confines of a comic shop or convention and potentially reach non-comic readers. It was a true cultural event.

It was the best things about the industry all rolled into one.

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life (Collins/Design): I’m surprised and pleased to report that this month’s selection is *not* a graphic novel, but rather a book *about* graphic novels. Stumbled across this while hunting for Greg Rucka’s new Q&C novel, Private Wars, at Barnes & Noble. There are tons of books like this that purport to catalogue a history of the medium or a selection of the “best” works, or a focus on a particular genre or publisher. They all fall short.

Paul Gravett offers up the most balanced take on graphic novels that I’ve seen to date. Extremely well rounded in terms of historical backdrop, timelessness of selections, and diversity. Just enough history to explain the medium to newbies without boring them or overwhelming them. Engaging enough to keep diehards entertained. Great mix of selections, from the obvious classics like Maus or Watchmen, to some more recent personal favorites like Planetary, Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde and Palestine, as well as works from Chris Ware. Also a wonderful mix of genres and publishers, from the big mainstream companies and properties, to a plethora of independents.

I actually found 2 or 3 hidden gems which I hadn’t previously heard of that have been added to my “to buy” list. Dense with facts and analysis, but not boring or inaccessible. A masterpiece of design and layout that’s earned it’s place along side some of the works it describes. Excellent guide for someone new to the medium. Grade A.


12.07.05 Reviews

Battle Hymn #5 (Image): Easily, easily, *easily* the best single issue of a comic I have read in quite a while. Fantastic conclusion to this mini-series, which has turned out to be my favorite of the year, hands down. Regretful, sad, believable, sarcastic, serious, dark, funny, luscious art and inking, basically everything you want from a work of art. Who would have thought that when this collection of intriguing personalities got together that Betty, Mid-Nite Hour, Defender (and possibly Quinn Rey, they did leave that open didn’t they?) would be the only ones who made it out alive? I want this collected. I want the scripts. I want it oversized, deluxed, signed-special-editioned, director’s commentary-liner notes-sketchbook art-interviews with the creators-absolute slip case-editioned with Cindy Crawford eating an Eskimo Pie on top of the Empire State Building!!! I want a follow up series. I want to see that next project advertised from B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun. I want the grading scale to go higher than… Grade A+.

Penny Arcade: One Shot (Dark Horse): Aside from one good Spawn bit, not really my brand of humor. So disjointedly random, even for a collection of strips. I know it was only a quarter, but so were the Conan and Goon books that were excellent. Grade C.

Conan: Demons Of Khitai #3 (Dark Horse): Not really digging these tangentical Conan works that differ greatly from the tone and quality of the main book. Hopefully they will not dilute the primary title. Grade C+.

Mister Miracle #2 (DC): Check, please. I am so done with Seven Soldiers. Grade C-.

Powers #15 (Marvel/MAX): Wow. Bendis was right when he said shit happens this issue. Intense dialogue, crazy developments about the Powers-verse, and touching moments with Deena and Walker. Grade A.


Retailers Doin’ It Right – Part 2

Today we shine the bold light of comic book goodness on Wacky Hijinx Comics. I first met the owner, Dan, standing out in front of Kleidon’s Lounge at the first Hidden Agenda Press comic book release party. Little did I know that a couple years later, I’d be doing reviews on his web-site. I remember Dan discussing his plans to transform an existing store and got caught up in his creative energy. It was evident during that first conversation and is still true today. What this dude brings to the industry party is style.

Hijinx exudes hip. Dan’s fondness for small press. His willingness to try new things. He brought his web sensibilities and knowledge gleaned from high tech, threw on a healthy dose of business acumen, and applied it to comics. He kinda’ rocked the traditional business model and began lucrative work with local librarians. He took Free Comic Book Day to the next level and had me giving out Teen Titans comics at the Children’s Wing of the joint City of San Jose & San Jose State University Public Library.

He brought a comic book shop back to downtown San Jose after it had been missing for nearly 10 years and tapped the San Jose State market. And his stores just look fun. There are places to sit. Art on the wall. He engages customers, getting to know their likes and making recommendations. He actively promotes diversity in inventory as well as in the readership. There isn’t a shop in operation where I’ve seen more women or kids regularly enter. Hijinx has all of the benefits of a small neighborhood comic shop, yet is the strong champion of culture you would expect to see in a major metropolitan area. Thanks Dan, we need people like you injecting the cause with some class and fresh thinking.


Ni Hao, Pard'ner!

Shaolin Cowboy #1-4 (Burlyman Entertainment): Witness the raw craftsmanship of comic book making. Witness the sheer joy of comic book reading. This is Shaolin Cowboy. The concept that would sound like crap in a pitch meeting… “Yeah, uh, so there’s this cowboy, right? But he’s really a Chinese martial arts master, ok? See, there’s this talking donkey that he rides with… No wait, he kills lots of guys! Um, there’s a… there’s a crab… a villainous crab…”

Geofrey Darrow’s latest offering, backed by the Wachowski Brothers (of Bound fame, hated The Matrix!) is simply breathtaking. His detailed and eclectic style is an absolute joy to wander through and find little hidden gems. I so look forward to this book, which is really picking up steam and not losing a bit of quality along the way. The paper, the card stock cover, even the smell of the book just feel substantial and of great importance. The balance of stoicism from the lead character and the humor of the bit players and surrounding events is absolutely pitch perfect. I was a big fan of the first issue and was skeptical that follow up issues would ship on time and deliver the same punch. The first issue was not terribly dialogue laden and relied more on visual candy, like the dizzying camera pan sequence. I think a lesser craftsman would have taken the gimmick way out and could have created a fold out or even a poster of this scene. But Darrow and company stuck to their guns and let this impressive display stand on its own artistic merits. Bravo.

Peter Doherty is very worthy of praise for the colors required with this level of detailed pencils. With subsequent issues, I’m pleased to see consistency and my skepticism fading. Another example of a creator who is not terribly prolific, but at the top of his game and worth the wait in between projects. All in all, a tremendous creative effort that delivers squarely on its promise. It's guaranteed fun. Grade A.

Thanks to Jacob & Anna, my young and lovely cousins in the Peace Corps for teaching me "hello" in Mandarin. Hi guys!


11.30.05 Reviews

BPRD: The Black Flame #4 (Dark Horse): This issue, featuring confirmation that everyone’s favorite Homunculus could be toast, reminds me a bit of Empire Strikes Back, in that our heroes are getting their asses kicked, but I’m enjoying every second of it! A tremendous issue in an already very strong arc that houses a very interesting character study highlighting the team’s reaction to Roger’s apparent demise. Liz is devastated, confused by her dreams, and moves into Rog’s room. Johann is pissed at the treatment of his body and (their) standing in the organization. Abe feels guilty and punishes himself in the field. We also see an introspective, more responsible side of Captain Daimio. I hope he hangs around a bit longer, cool addition to the roster. Oooh! I want a Lobster Johnson action figure! Damn fine comics, Grade A.

New Avengers #13 (Marvel): This issue feels all over the map, inconsistent art, dark inking, strangely placed word balloons, but some neat panel layout choices. Awkward humor, telegraphing Ronin’s identity for anyone that read the Daredevil run with Maya, a few odd dialogue choices, but some really cool character moments. Grade B-.

The Sentry #3 (Marvel): This title feels like it’s really picking up steam. I totally enjoyed the unique pairing of Sentry and Hulk. Sentry’s calming effect on the Hulk and protective nature are really something different with the Bruce Banner character. Seeding the Negative Zone with assumed villains from Sentry’s pseudo-origin period was a nice touch. Can be read on the surface as a fun romp through the Marvel U, or interpreted a bit deeper with the Sentry and the Void representing man’s duality and inner struggle. Romita’s art still very purdy! Grade B.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #25 (Marvel): I think it’s awesome that if feels like UFF *just* started and it’s already reached the quarter century mark. Goes to show that time does fly when you’re havin’ fun. Namor has held little interest for me in the past, but I was definitely engaged by this arrogant, aloof, and brilliant being. Some nice reveals about Reed’s true ability and Land has nailed the sexiest portrayal of Sue Storm since Jessica Alba donned the blue spandex. Grade B.

The Keep #2 (IDW): Happy to see this book pursuing a regular publishing schedule and was delighted that the quality of the first issue was no anomaly. The political infighting of the officers was enjoyable, as was the sense of suspense throughout. It just has a feel that’s so nice, dead languages, ancient manuscripts, Jewish professors of ancient Romanian lore, I love it! Half mystery novel, half archeology adventure, and *all* fantastic art courtesy of Matthew Smith. Quickly becoming my favorite IDW book. If you like anything Hellboy, BPRD, vampire, WWII, or Indiana Jones related, or just like a good old fashioned mystery novel, check it out! Grade A.

Revelations #4 (Dark Horse): A little Dan Brown-ish in its similarities to Angels & Demons, but enjoyable nonetheless. Nice to see Humberto Ramos working again and I always dig a good Paul Jenkins script, a little more meaty than some of his peers. I have a little trouble buying that Scotland Yard would send an investigator to Vatican City when the Swiss Guard is one of the most highly trained and elite law enforcement/paramilitary units on the planet, but I suppose if they’re in on it or worried about corruption on the part of the Italian police, I’ll let it slide. Enjoying the self-aware sarcasm in the narration from Detective Northern as he investigates murder at The Vatican, which has now been personalized by offing one of his mates. Grade B+.

Labor Of Love

Street Angel: Volume One (Slave Labor Graphics): This trade collects issues 1-5, the initial Princess of Poverty arc. So wonderfully eclectic that it nearly defies categorization, it rides the line between indy praise and mainstream critical adoration. Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca, who offered up the much loved Afrodisiac pieces in Project: Superior and the 2005 SPX Anthology, really have something fun, unique, and insightful on their hands here.

I’m struck by the rich world that’s been created with fresh sets and thoroughly realized supporting cast members all capable of carrying their own individual series. I also have to mention the small format of the trade, which fits perfectly in harmony with the punk world it contains. Makes me want to stuff the thing in my back pocket and either grind some rails or hang out in a 70’s style lounge. Rugg and Maruca are a force to be reckoned with. The best offering from San Jose-based Slave Labor Graphics. Ever. Grade A-.