All Show & No Go

Sexy Chix: Anthology of Women Cartoonists (Dark Horse): I know that I'll risk offending the fairer half of comic book literati out there, but hey, read the below post on critical worth. It's my opinion, not an indictment on the creators or their gender. I like the idea. Female creators are about as under-represented as female readers so this was a much needed spotlight. I also think Diana Schutz deserves praise for bringing this project to fruition. Only her, with her background, and position with Dark Horse could have made this possible. You're waiting for the "but" aren't you?

Well, for the all the controversy this created, it falls extremely flat for me. There just isn't anything I connected with here at all. I think there is much better work by female creators out there, even from some of the writers and artists contained here. And I'm sorry, but pet peeve alert... When a comic book anthology contains a prose short story, well, it just doesn't belong here. No matter how strong it may be, this is a comic book anthology, not a short story collection. This piece should have been submitted to The Best American Non-Required Reading Series edited by Dave Eggers, plug, plug, plug! Anyway, it just really feels like a haphazard collection of pieces. Two notable exceptions being the insightful The Art of Letting Go by Sarah Grace McCandless, Joelle Jones, and Lois Buhalis and the powerful An Admission by Meghan Kinder. These were quite impressive and I'd grade them both at A+. Unfortunately, the rest of the pieces are in C- or D+ territory which puts the whole package, well, mama said never to kiss and tell...

1.25.06 Reviews

Nextwave #1 (Marvel): Definitely their best new book in a while, like a breath of fresh air in a stale Marvel marketplace. Just goes to show that the value of an idea is not in its conception necessarily, but in its execution. Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen offer up an exciting, fun, and attitude filled take on some Marvel irregulars such as Photon, Machine Man, and Ellie Bloodstone that on the surface would sound bland and without potential. Immonen's art is as strong as usual, with a slightly more angular, cartoony line. Ellis seems to incorporate a little Joe Casey style corporate mumbo-jumbo on top of his wicked humor. "Every day I smoke 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars and drink a bottle of whiskey and 3 bottles of wine with dinner. And dinner is meat. Raw meat. The cook serves me an entire animal and I fight it bare-handed and tear off what I want and eat it and have the rest buried. In New Jersey." Grade B+.

New Avengers #15 (Marvel): Happy to see Frank Cho still on art chores for this arc, but not much happens. Nice involvement of Warbird, strong characterization of J. Jonah Jameson, and some furthering of Spider-Woman's dilemma as The New Avengers have their media coming out party. We'll see where it goes. Grade B.

Green Lantern Corps: Recharge #4 (DC): Lots of exposition here that didn't really engage me. I'm also back to not liking the art so much. Feels like nothing more than gearing up for the final showdown on Oa. One more issue to see where the Corps will sit in the "new" DCU. Grade C+.

Godland #7 (Image): Usually love this book, but this issue didnt feel like it had the same punch of a typical one. But it is the first ish of a new arc, so maybe it's all set up. Still strong in terms of craft, but a slow build whose strength is tough to realize in a single issue. Grade C+.

Revelations #6 (Dark Horse): Wow, this issue wins the award for Exposition King. Feels almost as if Jenkins wrote himself into a corner, having dropped no real useful hints along the way, so now he must rely on one character divulging everything in the last 5 minutes that explains all that's come before. I didn't mind the depressing ending, in fact I thought it was quite strong and a brave move for Dark Horse, just wish we could have gotten there without truckloads of exposition which felt like a bit of a cheat. Ramos' art remains cool as evidenced by the dramatically different style he employs on the cover. But overall, felt too crammed in for just 6 issues or the plotting needed to be spread back out over issues 4 and 5. Grade B-.

Local #3 (Oni Press): Holy shit. My absolute pick for the week. The strongest issue to date, amid some already pretty strong issues. The juxtaposition of an interview session interspersed with sequences of different band members is very powerful. An insightful take on fan gratitude vs. outright ownership of someone in the public eye. Creators feeling no obligation other than to create, the public's reaction being completely their own. A deceptively simple narrative structure that transcends to become a complex study of character motivations. Highly recommended. Grade A+.

BPRD: The Black Flame #6 (Dark Horse): I really enjoyed the opening shots of the BPRD's war machine in action, very impressive. If nothing else, this finale reveals Liz's growing mastery of her elemental powers of fire. Heartbreaking conclusion as the creative team yet again pushes on Johann's character via the inhumane clinical treatment of a "dead" Roger. I sort of dug the "no end" end which leaves all kinds of possibilities open. The characters are just as baffled as we are, which is 10x better than the overly wrought exposition that some other titles offered this week. Grade B+.


Any Given Critic

Erik Larsen (Creator of Savage Dragon, Image Comics Co-Founder, now Publisher) has a weekly column over at Comic Book Resources (CBR). This week, it addresses the worthwhile topic of the value critics have in the industry. I've never really enjoyed Erik's writing or art, I'm not usually fond of his column, but I do think he's done some very impressive things as Publisher of Image Comics. That's my opinion, and it's a nice segue to some of his very valid points.

I encourage you to take a look at the article, but wanted to quickly summarize two points that I agree very strongly with.

* Despite what critics may say, it all comes down to one thing. What do you think? It's pointless to dissect what qualifications any given critic may or may not possess. Their opinion is their opinion. It is not fact. Different writers and artists will impact us all differently based on our individual tastes and that happens regardless of the quality of the execution. Form your own opinion despite what anyone says.

* As Erik says quite succinctly, "Criticism has it's place. I think it has value. If you follow the writing of a certain critic and become accustomed to his or her taste in relation to yours, you can get a decent idea of whether or not you might like something. And I think that's valuable."

And that's really the key, finding someone whose comic "eye" for art and "ear" for dialogue most closely resembles your own unique appreciation of the medium and using them as a guide.

He goes on to explain the value of critical anaylsis for creators. If a reader or reviewer thinks something is confusing, he wants to know that. If they think something was fantastic, he wants to know that too. He won't always *use* that feedback as a creator with his own vision or alter his style necessarily, but it can help with developing the craft. All in all a great column from someone I have a new found respect for.

1.18.06 Reviews

Planetary #24 (DC/Wildstorm): You can sort of feel the series culminating with some much needed exposition from Elijah Snow as this builds toward a final confrontation. Not much to say, the usual amazing art from John Cassaday and great scripting from Ellis. There are some long awaited reveals about Jakita's origin which play nicely. The intricate plot will obviously read better in trade collections, but I need my fix since it ships so erratically. I'm basically waiting for the series to conclude so that I can buy the final oversized Absolute Edition and read it all over again in one sitting. Grade A.

Green Lantern #7 (DC): I had a very mixed reaction to this. On one hand, it's executed very, very competently. Great, consistent art from Pacheco and some nice ideas sprinkled all about in the story by Johns. Even the Infinite Crisis continuity references aren't too in your face, which is much appreciated. I grew up on GL in the 70's and 80's and have a fondness for these characters. But, it feels like recent issues have just been strong individually, yet totally random in sequence with no logical connection or throughline. They're dancing all over the place introducing villains and plot points that aren't continued or resolved. Mostly, I just can't get into this book for some reason, despite it's obvious good qualitites. Solid, but not exciting me. Grade B.

Ex Machina #17 (DC/Wildstorm): This issue takes an introspective stance as the Mayor of New York City struggles with his job and focuses on the difficulty of supporting someone’s right to protest when you don’t support their position. The self-aware presence of his pseudo-girlfriend is much needed as she attempts to provide Mayor Hundred a safe haven. Many of the supporting characters in this series vie for position as informal sidekick and she is no exception. Like many troubled souls, the one person he truly needs is the one he pushes away. This issue is filled with altering perceptions from a priest, a soldier, and the Mayor’s own cabinet members. While differing, all points of view are valid and their only unifying theme is supporting the theory that resolution through conflict should be the last option. Artist Tony Harris renders a spectacular cliffhanger ending as Mayor Mitchell Hundred begins to address the timely topic of balancing individual rights against the collective safety of the citizens he has sworn to protect. Grade A.

Infinite Crisis #4 (DC): *Finally* some shit is starting to happen and it's pretty cool. I was almost giving up hope. The return of the multiverse, or a few distinct worlds it would appear, becomes a little more clear. There is some appreciated exposition about all of the pre-crisis jibba jabba that went on in the various series and mini-series that explains some out of character actions and seemingly random struggles in the DCU. Great art depicting scenes that still feel shoehorned together, but at least flow a little smoother than previous issues have. Favorite moment had to be the return of a more "normal" Batman who isn't a perpetual asshole. Enjoyed his human and more believable interactions with Dick Grayson/Nightwing and the fact that Grayson's inherent goodness seems to be a fulcrum point on the decision to abolish the post-Crisis Earth. Bludhaven seems to be playing into the conflict pretty significantly. And holy cow, was Superboy killing people left and right! Awesome sequences as the Titans, Doom Patrol, and assorted members of JSA try to take him down, only to succeed with the intervention of all of the Speedsters. Grade B+.

All-Star Superman #2 (DC): Really dug the new side of Lois, who is a little insecure regarding her place in Supes/Clark's life now that she knows they're one in the same. This realization, after years of assuming it, cracks her a bit and forces her into assuming some dark things and to react pretty crazy. Which yet again, is a fresh take on an old property that Morrison should be really proud of. Tough to be original with an icon that's gotten as much play as The Last Son of Krypton. Morrison could probably do whatever the hell he wanted though, including eliminating the dialogue altogether, and I'd still buy this just to drink in Quitely's delicious art. It is absolutely worth the price of admission alone. It seems that his style is evolving a bit, he offers up a softer, more realistic and finished look without losing it's distinct style, edge, and detail. Grade A.


1.11.06 Reviews

Desolation Jones #5 (DC/Wildstorm): Wow, I can't believe what Ellis is doing here. As he reveals more about the desolation tests in a beautifully rendered flashback sequence, we also really see him grow as a writer and show us a more sensitive side. His characters are still miserable bastards of course, "I'm going to torture some motherfucker until they tell me what I want to know," but not heartless. Troubled emotions are buried deep within them as evidenced by the line "there's a tiny little bit of conscience that sneaks up on me in the night." As the lead character is on the surface investigating Hitler's missing collection of porn, that plot deepens as does our realization that the protagonist is really atoning for his sins in a past life as a British Foreign Service Officer. A complex plot, but not one that is difficult to understand. And JH Williams III, well, he could draw just about anything and I'd probably buy it, but damn is he growing also. His use of shadows and negative space are on par with say, Eduardo Risso. His painting is on par with Dave Johnson or Alex Ross. His ethereal bits are on par with Dave Mckean, David Mack, or well, himself on Promethea. His straight, dark action sequences can hang with say, Ryan Sook. It's very powerful to witness the growth of familiar character designs, as well as the creators. Grade A.

Wildcats: Nemesis #5 (DC/Wildstorm): I have nothing interesting to say, so I will attempt to say nothing interestingly. Despite my fondness for some of these characters; Narrative disjointed. Dialogue hokey. Motivations unclear. Scenes random. Flashbacks irrelevant. Visually bland, outright awkward in spots. Grade C.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #4 (DC/Wildstorm): In my mind, this book will inevitably be compared to the one above. They feature some of the same characters and are both published by the same company simultaneously. One not-so-subtle difference, this one is great! Pfeifer and Camuncoli's adventure of DCU second-stringer Captain Atom showing up in the Wildstorm Universe is well thought out, well executed, and grows stronger every issue. Loved the one page recap that brings new readers and long time fans immediately up to speed (dare you to find something as clean in the Nemesis project). Feels almost as good as Morrison's one page origin summary in All-Star Superman, it's really that good! Everything is clicking here, the Kevin Bacon game, beautiful pencils from Cam, and the characters sound... ya' know, *in* character. I really enjoyed the way Atom was portrayed as powerful (he is nuclear powered after all) and also very calculating in the way he methodically disposed of the Wildcats one by one by basically using his brain and their powers against them. There are also some self-aware moments that hit home such as Voodoo's comments about teaming up, the character naming conventions, and the continuing comparisons of the DCU and WU. Atom's pondering about the absence of the JLA Watchtower on the moon is downright creepy. Accessible for those unfamiliar with the properties and fans alike. Really fun and enjoyable, which is largely what comics like this should be. Grade B+.

Fables #45 (DC/Vertigo): The exiled fables of our youth shacking up in a hidden section of NYC. James Jean covers. What's not to like about this title as this arc drives toward it's conclusion? One major thing jumped out at me this issue. King Cole is speaking to Sinbad in Arabic. The only witness to the conversation is Prince Charming, who doesn't speak Arabic. Cole then reveals that he inherently trusts the citizens of Fabletown, but is keeping all the "bad stuff locked away." What exactly does *that* refer to? Is Willingham trying to sneak one by on us here? Color me intrigued. Nice denoument of the plot with Sinbad becoming the dignitary of the new charter nation, Fabletown East. Good laughs with the difficult translations and Mark Buckingham's line is still really delicious, a softer verion of P. Craig Russell's. Grade B+.

DMZ #3 (DC/Vertigo): Some very strong commentary embedded in the dialogue about the media being controlld by the military/government. Seeing them tell reporters how to edit pictures, frame shots, and what their captions will say is surprisingly intimidating in a free society. Ricardo Burchielli's gritty detailed art captures the intensity of civil war in Manhattan perfectly. I really enjoyed the believable portrayal of Matt's apathy toward his old life and curiousity about this world propelling him forward. The last shot of him really drives the term "embedded journalism" home. Strong work. Grade A-.


Update! Update! Update!

I'm pleased to announce that I have a new writing gig. Beginning next week, I’ll have a regular weekly review column in The East County Californian. Based in El Cajon, the ECC is a free weekly newspaper in San Diego’s East County area and is one of the oldest papers in the State, over 108 years old! It’s available in libraries, book shops, and misc. retailers around the handful of communities it serves and also available for subscription to those of you not in the immediate area.

In addition to expanding my published writing career, this is a tremendous opportunity to expose the general public to some of the great titles that the industry has to offer. I’m very excited about this and already have a Friday deadline to meet for my first column!

For more info: http://www.eccalifornian.com/


Welcome To The New Year!

I thought it was time that I give you the guided tour, the “lay of the land” here at 13 Minutes. Now that the new banners have gone up and we’ve completed our subtle redesign of the site, I feel that we’re finding our groove and wanted to comment on a few things. There’s the name, 13 Minutes, what exactly does that mean? I don’t have a straight answer to that question; it can refer to a few things in my mind.

One of my former bosses used to use a saying frequently regarding our business; he talked about displaying the appropriate “sense of urgency.” I always liked that. And to me, 13 Minutes just sounds exigent. The industry is in need of immediate assistance, perhaps in the next 13 Minutes. Doesn’t it sound finite and fill you with panic? Don’t we all have something to do in the next 13 Minutes? What could happen in that amount of time?

It could also mean that no entry here should take you longer to read than 13 Minutes. Warhol talked about “15 minutes of fame,” maybe here in the hyper-accelerated Internet world, it could be that 13 is more apropos.

But, honestly, it just sounded cool. I remember Dan, Owner of Wacky Hijinx Comics, telling me about his store name and why he chose it. It was a little subversive, it sounded hip, like something you wanted to be a part of. It sounds fun, he said with a sly grin. It doesn’t have to have some deep meaning, either intuitive or deliberate. That, I learned from Dan.

The links to the retailers are the best stores I’ve found. Not the ones I’ve heard about, there are many more that have solid reputations, these are the ones I’ve personally known. I’ve shopped at them regularly, known the Owners, and have witnessed the power of positive retailing. We hope to add more.

The links to the other reviewers may seem counter-intuitive. Aren’t they competition? I don’t view it that way. I see them as brothers, fellow soldiers in the battle of the arts, carrying forth the message. “You can’t stop the signal,” as Joss Whedon told us recently in Serenity. These are individuals spreading the word about quality comics, either via reviews or industry news, in a thoughtful and entertaining way.

As for entries, hopefully it feels pretty straightforward by now. Weekly reviews of new comics. In alignment with their serialized format, they’ll be brief and offer a sound byte that lets you know whether they’re worth your hard earned money. Graphic Novel of The Month will be just what it says. It doesn’t necessarily have to come out that month, but we do try. These are the real stand out gems, shining examples of the capability of the medium. We believe in comic books. Retailer Doin’ It Right we hope to add more of and will add them as necessary. Unfortunately they’re not as prevalent as they need to be. The Best of The Year entries will also continue. That’s what we commit to and any additional GN reviews or miscellaneous pop culture tidbits, interviews, and articles we consider bonus material.

Lastly, our “Statement of Intent,” which has been added on the right. This lets you the reader know our mission, but also serves as a reminder of the guiding principles for us to follow as we add contributors.


1/05/06 Reviews

Down #3 (Image/Top Cow): Still bummed out by the fact that we were robbed of Tony Harris interior pencils, but this engaging tale about a deep cover officer busting a local crime ring is pretty solid. I enjoyed the matter-of-fact attitude from the head of the criminal crew, his comments about about his lay of the day, and his attitude about "The Greek" selling drugs to kids, which brought an old school sensibility to this rather likable rogue. Ellis' ear for both internal monologue and straight dialogue brought out a realistic attempt at justifying the kills and small touches like the hispanic guy's speech pattern at the car accident were made all the more believable. The quality of the writing, if not the art, was really jumping out at me. Grade B.

X-Men: The 198 Files (Marvel): I guess it's kind of too easy to pick on X-titles these days, but *shudder* why did I buy this? Well, I loved Valerie Cooper in Peter David's old X-Factor run and these types of profile books can be fun. Unnecessary, but fun. Again, a cool idea. Good high concept that the newly formed O*N*E agency would be compiling data and developing risk rankings from SHIELD and elsewhere on the assumed 198 remaining Homo Superior folks over email. I really tried, but I just couldn't will myself to read all of the entries. I picked out faves like Angel, Iceman, Gambit, Havok, Strong Guy, Val Cooper, and Firestar and then really tuned out on stuff like Flatman, Kylun, Litterbug, Shinobi Shaw, and *ahem* Squirrel Girl. I mean really, who cares? And I'm sorry, but those pseudo-hyperlink entries are colored way too dark and barely legible. By comparison though, much better than the recent Avengers files on escapees from The Raft. Grade C+.

Godland #6 (Image): Joe Casey's cosmic cavalcade continues to "pop" with wit and insight and really just makes me smile, which happens all too infrequently with comics. The concept of a trial was a very interesting premise to explore that tapped into the media's role in society. More Iboga information, the industry self-aware Crashman good guy routine, and the Nickelhead and Basil Cronus banter were priceless, but don't really say what this issue is about. It's so many things. Discordia's uncooperative attitude on the witness stand proves what a farce our judicial system can be, this works as a courtroom drama, a self aware superhero jaunt, an introspective look at the angst of cosmic characters, a bizarre conglomeration of old industry tropes (the Doom inspired villain, The Supermice in the background, etc.), and is visually dramatic. In short, it's hitting on all cylinders and accomplishing exactly what it sets out to do every single issue. And that second to last page with Discordia? AHAHAHAHAH! Only from Joe Casey! Can't wait for the first trade next month. Grade A.

Iron Man #5 (Marvel): Nothing new to say here. I'm still loving this book. A nice nod to Iron Man's Silver Age origin with a glimpse of the original life sustaining armor and a modernized riff on that which comes fairly deep into the series and is thus an unexpected treat. Ellis' "babble-icious," but believable sci-fi explanations play so damn well. A "super-compressed undersheath," that is wired directly to Tony's brain capable of direct communications with organic or inorganic devices? Yep, I'll buy that. Extremely intelligent superheroics, something the industry could use more of. Grade A.

Doc Frankenstein #4 (Burlyman Entertainment): I picked this up solely based on the strength of the other Burlyman title being published right now, Shaolin Cowboy. Found this to be a competenly written effort, should appeal to anyone who is a fan of the Universal-style monsters or likes pics such as the Kate Beckinsale Underworld series. Solid pencils from Steve Skroce. Grade B-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Poor Sailor (Gingko Press): Sammy Harkham’s first feature length book is wonderful! These tales first appeared in the Kramer’s Ergot anthology and were originally published with other works. It’s collected here for the first time in a handsome hardcover book designed by Jordan Crane (also looks nice on the shelf next to The Clouds Above which recently came out). I love this book because it taps directly into one of the primordial struggles inherent to man. The dichotomy of a Hemingway inspired sense of adventure and independence juxtaposed against the sense of home and stability that familial domestication brings. The first lifestyle containing physical danger, while the latter presents one of a more spiritual kind. Unable to resolve these two competing paradigms, the title character is ultimately pulled into exploration. The book houses sparse dialogue due to its bold and successful reliance on conveying multiple emotions and thought structures through pictures alone. The title character ultimately transcends a heartbreaking homecoming, proof of the resiliency of the human spirit. Phenomenal work. Grade A+.

Retailers Doin’ It Right – Part 3

Today’s retailer spotlight is for Robert at Comickaze. The nicest compliment I can pay him is about the bold way he embraces customer service. When I moved to San Diego, I struggled to find a decent shop to frequent. I’m a firm believer in voting with your wallet so this was not an easy selection process. I was striking out huge and just shocked and appalled by this fact. I mean, this *is* San Diego, home of the 100,000 person attended Comic Con International for God’s sake, and the stores I was walking into were such crap! Had I been spoiled by the San Francisco Bay Area? Home of Comic Relief and Isotope and Comix Experience, AiT/Planet Lar, Slave Labor, Lee’s, Hijinx, and the birthplace of the underground scene?! But I digress…

Depressed and ready to give up, I begrudgingly tried one more. Ready to consider making monthly treks up to Golden Apple in LA if I ever wanted to see David Mack again or having a hometown San Jose shop send me my favorite independent titles, I walked into Comickaze’s new location. Right away, I was impressed by a display up front that contained Adrian Tomine, a rare Danijel Zezelj book, The Goon by Eric Powell, and even a handful of material from local creators. When I noticed the Darrow print of Shaolin Cowboy on the wall, I thought this could be the one.

But I was ready for a fight. Prove it to me, I thought. I laid it all out there, informed Robert that I was looking for a regular store and why should I pick the one he owned? Turns out we knew some of the same people and we shared a lot of thoughts on the industry. He did tell me why he thinks his store is the best in the area, and he did it honestly and objectively. He explained his transition plans and gave me a personal tour of the store and the merchandise. He exhibited a clear passion for retailing and takes steps to ensure solidarity in the industry.

Business leaders in consumer markets often acknowledge the “lifetime value of a customer,” and know that you can make or break that in 5 minutes. The savvy ones understand that you don’t sell a man one car, one time, and swindle him. You treat him right and sell him 4 cars over a 20 year period. Robert, thanks for taking the time to convince a very skeptical stranger that you’d never met to become a customer.