4.23.08 Reviews

Northlanders #5 (DC/Vertigo): Major pieces of Sven’s psychological drive are revealed in this issue, as Brian Wood provides a nice historical background for the character. There are many sociological themes at play here, including the way youth considers its place in the world, having the courage to take alternate paths, and a nice religious paradox is also presented. What I’m beginning to like most about Northlanders is the mature and complex ways that the characters interact with their lives and their realities, in a very unapologetic way: “She had other men. I had other women. But there was love.” I can say that I love DMZ. I love Local. But Northlanders is quickly becoming the book I look forward to reading the most in the Brian Wood stable. It’s full of surprises, charm, introspection, and ruminations on the human experience. With this issue, I feel like Northlanders has stopped being Wood’s new book with great potential, and has simply become one of his greatest works. Grade A+.

Bonus: The House of Mystery sneak preview looks really fun! Constantine, Wesley Dodds, Shade, Bigby Wolf, and Kid Eternity! Luca Rossi’s intricate, fine lines and forced perspective shots really make me want to check this out.

Checkmate #25 (DC): The introduction suffers a bit from the GI Joe style profiles, complete with codenames. I don’t quite understand how The Rooks are supposedly so bad ass and intimidating, yet I’ve never heard of Cinnamon, Sykes, or J.A.K.E. Why not bring in Arsenal or someone who would be a surprise known face that could kick some serious ass? That aside, the script hums and there are no wonky qualities in the art. There are big concepts like utilizing Starro DNA, and Rucka’s verbal aesthetic is all over this. Throw away lines about the mission clock running and the international station reports are definitively making this the Queen & Country of the DCU. I also really enjoy how firmly entrenched in the DCU the book strives to be. There’s the appearance of Batman, the mentions of “Honor Alpha,” arcane Crowley references, and even some respect from the Trinity. This issue asks the basic philosophical question: if you could kill someone like Hitler at birth, would it be justifiable? We’re teased with one answer, and twisted into an approach that suggests if you know that will be the baby’s ultimate destiny, you simply teach the baby otherwise. Grade A-.

X-Force #3 (Marvel): The diversity of the quickly alternating sets makes it a little tough to figure out how they all connect. Seeing a recently deceased character’s grave, suggesting he’ll come back to life, is a bit groan-inducing. But… just when I think I’m ready to throw in the towel, I start enjoying this title. The CG art is impressive, I like the commentary on religious extremism, and Proudstar’s internal monologue about what it means to be a member of this incarnation of X-Force, and whether or not he’s comfortable with that, are all really engaging. There’s a charming urgency to lines like “Does she look okay, Worthington?!” Grade B+.

Amazing Spider-Man #557 (Marvel): There’s a bit of exposition up front, and the Mayan hoo-ha is not all that interesting or unique, but the overall tone of the book is still welcome to me. I like this portrayal of a Peter who is responsible and mature, while being fun. Bachalo’s dark visuals and beautiful layouts remain very inventive. Not the most interesting high concept, but excellent execution of it. Grade B.

I also picked up;

Queen & Country: Definitive Edition: Volume 2 (Oni Press): This superb and reasonably priced edition collects the 4th, 5th, and 6th trade paperback arcs.

Well, This Is Interesting...


4.16.08 Reviews

DMZ #30 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood continues to provide excellent social commentary while simultaneously offering an entertaining story. Here we have interesting observations about politically influenced media outlets and questioning whether or not journalistic impartiality can truly exist. The latter really exists on a spectrum, from full on “going native” at one end of the spectrum, to the other end, which at the very least, tests the adage about things under observation being influenced by the very act of observing. Matty’s recruitment into the Delgado campaign is gripping and intelligent and some of Wood’s best work, amid an already formidable body of product. Burchielli continues to be a perfect match in his ability to serve the story with a gritty, war torn cityscape full of both physical and emotional fallout. Grade A+.

The Lone Ranger #11 (Dynamite Entertainment): Regular readers of 13 Minutes will not be surprised to hear me say that the inclusion of the Paul Pope interlude story is worth the price of admission alone. It’s a special treat to see his intricate line work grace these pages, aided by the luminous coloring of Marcelo Pinto of Impacto Studio. I could just stare at these Pope panels and be satisfied, but when they’re taken in context as a parable designed to illustrate a truth it’s all the more appealing. The Lone Ranger is a rare specimen which combines a gritty authentic Western setting with introspection and erudition about the human experience. Grade A.

Fear Agent #20 (Dark Horse): I still miss the Clemens quotes and don’t understand why they mysteriously stopped when they seemed to be a scripting stalwart, but the occasional insightful line like “there lies the hollowness of revenge – it’s all in the anticipation,” makes up for it. Kieron Dwyer’s art is right at home here and I didn’t even notice it wasn’t Jerome Opena until about half way through the book. Fear Agent is still a grand exercise in showing that there is inherent drama in desperation. It reminds me of the new Battlestar Galactica in that it is first and foremost a complex drama about dysfunctional relationships and hopelessness – that just happens to be in a traditional sci-fi setting. Grade B+.

War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #2 (Marvel/MAX): You know, I really want to like this title but I’m having a difficult time due to the following roadblocks. I found the exposition about deep offensive patrols to be umm… too expository. There are some quirky linguistics going on and I’m not sure if they’re just British syntax idiosyncracies or actual typos, and that’s very distracting. Another reviewer on the interwebs pointed out the lack of typical Chaykin sound effects in this title, and now I can’t get that out of my head when I read the book. It pushes me out, though I suspect it’s a deliberate move to try and draw readers into creating their own sounds in the mind’s eye. I feel that there’s a tonal dissonance in the gritty horror of war scenes and the idiotic sex scenes. The military procedural jargon still tends to hum though, and Chaykin’s art is otherwise great. The pairing of those two qualities sort of make the whole package work in spite of its blunders. Grade B.

The Brave & The Bold #12 (DC): I feel like I missed an issue, though I know I didn’t. I don’t know where we are or how we got to this exactly. I don’t understand how Hal is supposedly recharging his ring. Gerry Ordway’s art does a decent job of aping George Perez’s style, thanks in part to the beautiful colors of Tom Smith. But sadly, the Perez art was a large part of what made this book tick for me. Mark Waid’s script now feels more heavily focused on hurried plot resolution and less so on the fun character interaction that made the title so appealing in the first place. This is basically fizzling out for me in a very anti-climactic way. Grade B-.

The Infinite Horizon #3 (Image): Speaking of feeling like I missed an issue… this is a pretty jarring jump cut from issue two. I have no idea where we are. I have no idea how we got here. I have no idea what the characters are trying to accomplish, or why. The "Cyclops" is an intrusively overt stand-in to the mythological origins this story is trying to emulate. The parts back home are boring; outside of showing a clichéd “what we’re fighting for” motif, they’re so far unnecessary and don’t add much value to the overall story. The further along this mini-series gets, the more obfuscated it becomes. Because the original high concept is still strong and there are some interesting qualities to the art, Grade C+.

I also picked up;

Nixon’s Pals (Image): I really don’t know much about this title other than the fact that Joe Casey is writing it. That’s enough for me.

The Comic Book Holocaust (Buenaventura Press): Johnny Ryan’s book is an irreverent send up of nearly every type of comic. There are jabs at the classics, the 1960’s Marvel stable, indie comics, autobiographical fare, and just about everything else. It does lean pretty far toward very flat dildo-fart-anal jokes, but occasionally there’s a laugh out loud moment that perfectly portrays a caricature of behavior.


2008 Eisner Nominations Announced

Surprisingly, there's not much that excited me with the nominees this year. Here are a few selections that I noticed or had a reaction to;

Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)
Amelia Rules! #18: "Things I Cannot Change," by Jimmy Gownley (Renaissance)
Delilah Dirk and the Treasure of Constantinople, by Tony Cliff (self-published)
Johnny Hiro #1, by Fred Chao (AdHouse)
Justice League of America #11: "Walls," by Brad Meltzer and Gene Ha (DC)
Sensational Spider-Man Annual: "To Have or to Hold," by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca (Marvel)

JLA #11? Really? Why? Out of all the choices? WTF?

Best Continuing Series
The Boys, by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, and Andy Owens (Dark Horse)
Naoki Urasawa's Monster, by Naoki Urasawa (Viz)
The Spirit, by Darwyn Cooke (DC)
Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr. (Vertigo/DC)

Aside from Y's predictable and requisite nod, I can't believe this is what the judges consider the best work from last year. That's underwhelming...

Best New Series
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, by Joss Whedon, Brian K. Vaughan, Georges Jeanty, and Andy Owens (Dark Horse)
Immortal Iron Fist, by Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, and others (Marvel)
Johnny Hiro, by Fred Chao (AdHouse)
The Infinite Horizon, by Gerry Duggan and Phil Noto (Image)
Scalped, by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guera (Vertigo/DC)

Honestly, this is the only thing I feel passionate about. Jason Aaron deserves an Eisner. Scalped is brilliant. I will be very disappointed if this doesn't win. I gotta' question some category placement here. Is Buffy Season 8 new or is it ongoing? Can it be both? Is that fair? And I'm pretty sure Infinite Horizon is a mini-series. Hello.

Best Graphic Album-New
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Bookhunter, by Jason Shiga (Sparkplug Books)
Essex County, vols. 1-2: Tales from the Farm/Ghost Stories, by Jeff Lemire (Top Shelf)
Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly)
Percy Gloom, by Cathy Malkasian (Fantagraphics)

Nice to see Shiga's little gem get a nod here; were it up to me, I'd pick Bookhunter to win. But, I'm sure Exit Wounds will take this category. It seems to be a critical darling among the top 10 lists I've seen and even in the mainstream media. I read it. I thought it was a *good* book. I don't see what all the hype's about.

Best Graphic Album-Reprint
Agents of Atlas Hardcover, by Jeff Parker, Leonard Kirk, and Kris Justice (Marvel)
Godland Celestial Edition, by Joe Casey and Tom Scioli (Image)
James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems, by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly)
Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen (Archaia)
Super Spy, by Matt Kindt (Top Shelf)

Love the Matt Kindt nod here and that'd be my pick hands down. Though I have a feeling Mouse Guard is going to creep in here and steal the show.

Best U.S. Edition of International Material
The Arrival, by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic)
Aya, by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Obrerie (Drawn & Quarterly)
Garage Band, by Gipi (First Second)
I Killed Adolf Hitler, by Jason (Fantagraphics)
The Killer, by Matz and Luc Jacamon (Archaia)

Wow! Tough category! Aya, Garage Band, I Killed Adolf Hitler, and The Killer are all excellent books - every single one of those was a Graphic Novel of the Month here at 13 Minutes. I'd have to go with The Killer on this one. Again, placement. Is The Arrival a "Graphic Album - New" or is it a "US Edition of International Material?" I don't think it's fair the way some titles double or triple dip.

Best Writer
Ed Brubaker, Captain America, Criminal, Daredevil, Immortal Iron Fist (Marvel)
James Sturm, Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow (Center for Cartoon Studies/Hyperion)
Brian K. Vaughan, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse); Ex Machina (WildStorm/DC), Y: The Last Man (Vertigo/DC)
Joss Whedon, Astonishing X-Men (Marvel); Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Dark Horse)
Brian Wood, DMZ, Northlanders (Vertigo/DC); Local (Oni)

Brian Wood all the way, baby! Look at the diversity in his body of work. Whedon or BKV (in that order) if Wood doesn't pull it off. God, I hope Brubaker doesn't win.

Best Cover Artist
John Cassaday, Astonishing X-Men (Marvel); Lone Ranger (Dynamite)
James Jean, Fables (Vertigo/DC); The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse); Process Recess 2; Superior Showcase 2 (AdHouse)
J. G. Jones, 52 (DC)
Jae Lee, Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born (Marvel)
Jim Lee, All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder (DC); World of Warcraft (WildStorm/DC)

For me, it's a toss up between Cassaday and Jean. Both are deserving and really represent the medium well.


4.09.08 Reviews (Part 2)

Wasteland #16 (Oni Press): Ok, let’s try a little reverse psychology here to get everyone purchasing Wasteland and evangelizing this epic title to everyone they know. Wasteland is actually not that great. Johnston really isn’t capable of managing intricate plotting. Mitten’s pencils totally aren’t improving every single issue. Now go prove me wrong! You’re still not buying this title? You don’t really like comics then do you? Seriously, there’s one item I do want to address here. I’ve seen some criticism leveled at Mitten online about readers not being able to distinguish his characters. I’ve never had that problem with any of his pencils, all the way back to his Queen & Country: Declassified run. The thing to remember about Wasteland is that it’s not built like the typical MTV influenced, pop culture soundbyte or reality TV spectacle. Wasteland has a level of nuance that rewards the patient, attentive, and intelligent audience, this issue being no different – witness brief alliances form with nothing more than an askew glance as one mere example. One could easily miss that if they’re rushing through and not taking the time to absorb this rich saga. Wasteland is like a fine wine... you don't guzzle it, you slow down and enjoy the complex texture of every drop. Thanks again to the Oni Press crew for including a pull quote from 13 Minutes on the back cover! Grade A.

Echo #2 (Abstract Studio): I continue to be impressed by Terry Moore’s new creation. What I find delightful is the pairing of some basic horror tropes with the 1960’s Marvel atomic paranoia that permeates the narrative. We see a flawed, yet likable, character trying to juggle her everyday life as she develops powers and undergoes some dramatic personal changes. Moore’s pencils are equally suited for the task with expressive facial detail and sound effects that make the beautiful black and white lines pop with the kinetic energy of a full color glossy action book. If you like comics at all, jump on now for a thrilling ride that’s destined to be a classic. Grade A.

Locke & Key #3 (IDW): The regularity with which I find basic editing errors in IDW books is pretty disturbing. Here, we have no capitalization of the “locke” family name right in the intro blurb on the inside cover. I suppose it’s harmless enough, but it sure is an eye-roller when it’s the very first thing people see. Moving along… the small issues I had with issue one (people referring to San Francisco as “Frisco,” which nobody from the entire Bay Area ever does, the surest way to tell a tourist, those in the know affectionately refer to SF as simply “The City” and one of the characters wearing an Oakland A’s cap, though he’d likely be wearing an SF Giants cap if he was truly from San Francisco) seem to have faded. This is a great issue from an intriguing new series that blends family drama and horror. I like the notes that were hit here regarding a mom’s parenting choices, and the strong arcs that the characters go through, namely Kinsey’s. This title has some very out of the ordinary things occurring, both murderous and supernatural, yet hums along with realistic dialogue and convincing art that pull the reader right in. Grade B+.

I also picked up;

The Rabbi’s Cat: Volume 2 (Pantheon Books): Any time there is a new Joan Sfar book out, it’s time to rejoice. The Rabbi’s Cat is hands down one of my favorite books, so words can’t capture the excitement I feel about another volume.

Aqua Leung (Image): I sort of feel like this is Grant Morrison doing a no holds barred look at Aquaman, illustrated by Paul Pope. If that doesn’t get your blood boiling, then I can’t help you.

Conan: Volume 5: Rogues in the House & Other Stories (Dark Horse): The long awaited next installment of the Conan saga.

Jessica Farm (Fantagraphics): Here’s the first chunk of Josh Simmons ambitious project, in which he’ll draw a page a month over the next 42 years, publishing one 96 page volume every eight years until he’s got a 600 page work completed in 2050.


4.09.08 Reviews (Part 1)

Suburban Glamour #4 (Image): Astrid has to be one of the most endearing characters ever created; the opening shot of her unsure, but playful demeanor is priceless. There’s a fair amount of action to be had here, I only wish that it had been spread a little more evenly amongst the preceding issues. McKelvie’s art remains breathtaking and looks brilliant in full color. Between this title and things like the recent Transhuman by Jonathan Hickman, it feels like Image Comics is back in a big way. More like this, please. Grade B+.

Amazing Spider-Man #556 (Marvel): I’m so pleasantly surprised to finally have found a Spider-Man comic that I can enjoy! Chris Bachalo’s art has never looked cleaner. It’s refreshing to behold his borderless panels that provide a contemporary and experimental feel to a well explored property. Zeb Wells’ has created an introspective tone to Peter Parker’s narrative which provides a darker, more in despair feel than the irresponsible doofus that I’ve always hated in Peter. He’s actually likable here! Wells and Bachalo are crafting up a slow-burn thriller here, and it’s a testament to their combined abilities that it’s so intriguing when the titular character doesn’t even appear in half the book. Grade B+.

BPRD: 1946 #4 (Dark Horse): This is my favorite issue of this mini-series to date; it hummed with a manic energy that seemed a bit lacking with prior installments. While this did remind me of the way Spielberg sort of endlessly demonizes the Nazi regime, it was a very compelling character arc to see a crisis of conscience as the officer considers his fate as “a stain on the human race.” There were chilling moments, the rich presence of Varvara, and a lot of intrigue to be had with the fall of (occult) Berlin. Grade B+.

Soleil Sampler (Marvel): For formatting alone, this sampler plate of Marvel’s new joint venture with an adults only European publisher, deserves high praise. The layouts are clean, there’s nice interviews with the creators, bios are included, and it’s free! Sky Doll is perhaps the weakest of the offerings; cute art with no real plot to speak of, checking in with a Grade C. Universal War One is perhaps the most promising of the lot; I really enjoyed the compact small scale art which has a clean Cassaday or Charest feel to it, Grade A-. Samurai gives us yet another depiction of feudal Japan, which is a setting that’s really been mined to death, but the art compensates with some unique panel designs and a Geoff Darrow level of detail that will have to compete with ASP’s Okko to gain my attention. For now, Grade B+. Lastly, Scourge of the Gods boasts an interesting premise, but the execution is mismatched; there’s some amazing art that reminds me of Simone Bianchi in spots with its beautiful brown hues, but the story feels dense and dialogue heavy to slog through, Grade B. Overall, this averages out to about... hell, I don’t know… but intuitively it feels like about a Grade B+.

Serenity: Better Days #2 (Dark Horse): It’s frustratingly interesting to me that I remember my review of issue one better than I remember the actual contents of issue one. That sort of proves the point I made about this being inconsequential lost episodes of the show that are not nearly as strong aesthetically as the film versions. I will say that Will Conrad is very effective at telling a visual story with little to no dialogue – just check out the panels that show the wish fulfillment of some of the characters. That aside, there are some rough jump cuts that make me question the setting, and overall this feels like a meager copy of a copy of a copy… Grade B-.

Titans #1 (DC): The scattered vignettes serve as basic character introductions, but nevertheless feel disjointed with no story thread connecting them. If I didn’t already know these characters, they wouldn’t function as effective character profiles either. The depictions of Starfire, Raven, and Donna Troy are nothing short of a crapdiculous boobfest, and I can’t figure out who’s supposed to be strung up on the tree since he’s never mentioned by name. Killing everyone who’s ever been a Titan is an unoriginal story concept, these certainly aren’t definitive iterations of any character, in six months time this issue will not be memorable, and the whole debacle is pretty juvenile. Grade C-.


Guest Review

Berlin #15 (D&Q)
Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

This is the penultimate chapter in the six-part “City Of Smoke” storyline, and it displays the storytelling techniques of a master. Writer/artist Jason Lutes is weaving an intricate tale of Berlin and its inhabitants living in the shadow between World War One and World War Two.

The finely rendered black and white art is adorned with subtle details. The start of the issue is crowded with people and words; the National Socialist party stages a boisterous march through a park, and the Communist party whips a mob into a frenzy with promises of a better future.

These crowds of people surging forward to a violent destiny give way to quieter moments of introspection. The inner monologues of a street-weary prostitute are presented in a stream of thought balloons, while the wistful reverie of a pacifist reporter is reduced to a tiny pair of nude figures floating above his head.

By the end of the issue, Lutes’ focus is on the desperate flight of a lone wounded beggar to escape Berlin in the middle of the night.

Lutes efforts on “City of Smoke” capture the ephemeral nature of the lives of ordinary citizens caught in extraordinary times. Even though the characters are living through events 75 years in the past, their problems are as fresh as today’s newspaper. Issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, political philosophy and love are reflected in the well-developed characters.

While I do have some concerns about the book’s frequency, the quality is consistently strong. I strongly recommend Berlin to the patient reader who is looking for one of the finest historical comics published today. Grade A.

Enter "The Crowe"

In sound journalistic fashion, I’ll try not to bury my lead. Please welcome Contributing Writer Jason Crowe to 13 Minutes!

I’ve wanted to explore the notion of additional writers contributing content to 13 Minutes for a while now. The idea sprang from a desire to increase the quantity of output in a way that expanded both the perspectives and type of content under review, while carefully ensuring the quality remained (albeit subjectively) high. Jason was the perfect choice for our first foray into this area. In addition to being a lifelong reader of les bandes dessinees, friend, and former co-worker, he’s a journalist by trade and brings a more traditional approach to the art of reporting critically on a given topic or piece of subject matter.

Jason was largely responsible for getting me back into comics around 1992, after about a three year hiatus. While there was much tomfoolery going on in the early 90’s around the speculator boom and bust, the formation of Image Comics, and the litany of requisite items people typically mention when they wax faux nostalgically about the industry scene in the 90’s, it was our runs to Heroes in Campbell and Lee’s Comics in Mountain View, along with the discovery of titles like Sin City, Sandman, Hellblazer, and even Travis Charest on Darkstars that reignited my childhood fascination with comics – which had centered mainly on Batman & Robin, The Green Lantern Corps, Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar, and The Tick from New England Comics. How’d you like that run on sentence, Journalism-Lad?

Jason and I were also involved in the (mostly) online comics activism scene back in the Savant Magazine days, where a (then) little known writer named Matt Fraction used to lurk; somewhere on the interwebs there are still articles about our adventures giving away hundreds, nay – thousands, of free comic books from a booth at our alma mater San Jose State University. You may even find stories about Jason introducing excerpts of Alan Moore’s Promethea into local open mic nights back in San Jose. It was a raw, guerilla warfare style of activism that exposed new readers to the plethora of goodness the medium has to offer. An amazing thing happens when you give out free copies of Whiteout, Hellboy, Berlin, GiantKiller, and Starman to college age comic book virgins open to experimentation. I’d like to think that a handful of those lucky recipients were converted to regular readership, but I digress.

You’ll find that there are many books we agree on, and many we don’t. I think if you were to take 10 books at random, we’d generally agree one way or another on about half of them; which is to say there might be some overlap, but there would also be some unique leanings, along with a different style of analysis. Jason was a careful selection that widens the scope of what 13 Minutes has to offer, so let us know what you think! Without further delay, here’s the first installment of what I hope becomes a regular feature. Jason, take it away…


4.02.08 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #16 (DC/Vertigo): This issue takes a hard focus on Red Crow as a fulcrum point; he contends with the ego of Sheriff Karnow, Agent Nitz in his house, and escalating pressure from the Tribal Council, which all culminates with a poor cheater being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Meanwhile, Bad Horse tries to keep the pressure on Diesel and is again in a position where he can break the cycle of violence created by the system not working for his “sidekick.” Scalped can compete with many of the best TV dramas; I’m happy to be witnessing the birth of a superstar in writer Jason Aaron. Grade A.

Kick Ass #2 (Marvel/Icon): It’s still disturbingly easy to enjoy the main character’s natural reaction to such outlandish events. It’s surprising to see that the length of his recovery period isn’t able to dissuade him from continuing his attempts at being a hero, as it would a relatively "normal" person. This is a very telling bit about his psychosis; that he’s compelled to act despite what he’s been through. He gets the crap beat out of himself again, but this time there’s a subtle difference; he’s able to inflict a tiny bit of damage to the aggressors, and there’s a slow transition toward validating his path as the person he’s trying to protect mutters a “thank you.” I enjoyed the viral tie to YouTube; though I thought by now most writers worth their salt would have learned their lesson from using what will inevitably become a dated pop culture reference. John Romita, Jr.’s art is bloody! This is an interesting dichotomy considering his style usually boasts a sort of wide eyed innocent charm. This title, especially the second issue, has been taking a lot of flak, but I still enjoy it’s odd fascination with violence, almost to the degree that it showcases an addiction to a masochistic high. The narrative flow wasn’t quite as strong as the first, but this is still bold and entertaining. Grade B+.

Abe Sapien: The Drowning #3 (Dark Horse): Jason Shawn Alexander’s art is the real treat here, with the wide open and airy panels that bring a true sense of awe to these happenings, that would otherwise be lackadaisical monster fare. Aside from some entities taunting Abe about his abilities vis-à-vis Hellboy, there’s not much to write home about on the scripting end here. The coloring deserves a big nod here, as it wonderfully traverses the spectrum from warm earth tones to crimson hues and adds a layer of complexity to Alexander’s already spectacular art. Grade B+.

Secret Invasion #1 (Marvel): First of all, Yu’s art has never looked better. His sketchy line work, while distinctive, can sometimes be a bit distracting, but here is not at all a detractor. What we see here are pencils that are finely rendered, panels packed with clear figures and detailed backgrounds, a diversity of settings, and clarity of flow from one shot to the next. I have a couple of quibbles. The first is that Agent Brand just died over in Astonishing X-Men, yet here she is aboard S.W.O.R.D.’s orbital station. Whedon’s title shipping ridiculously behind schedule doesn’t explain the gaffe either, so… what’s that about? Two, Reed mentions that he’s got volumes of research on the Skrulls at the Baxter Building, which assumably took years to amass, yet he is suddenly able to figure out how they shape-shift undetectably to mutants, magic, and tech in a matter of, I don’t know, hours? Lastly, how is it that Tony Stark basically has access to a global network of advanced tech in his heads up display, the Extremis technology living with him symbiotically, and God know’s what else, yet Hawkeye is able to play with the “motherboard” in the Quinjet and prevent Tony from controlling it (while not crippling the Quinjet in any way, I might add)? Overall though, this is the ultimate summer action movie! There are plenty of shocking reveals, oh crap! moments (like a listing Helicarrier), as all hell breaks loose on multiple fronts. The book is entertaining in its sheer scope and ambition. I've become disgusted with the inorganic regularity of crossovers, but this feels like the rarest old school crossover that really will affect all corners of the Marvel Universe and alter the status quo for years. Grade B+.

Zorro #2 (Dynamite Entertainment): While it is interesting to learn the background of our titular character, the details come quite slow and straightforward. The story unfolds in a competent manner but seems to resist being overly engaging. Our standard story expectations are met, but it never quite rises to a level that causes a shock, a twist, poignancy, a memorable line, or the flair required to distinguish itself in this competitive marketplace. Grade B.

Anna Mercury #1 (Avatar Press): I was quite excited to peruse the new Warren Ellis and Facundo Percio book, but was quickly disappointed. The book literally opens with a misunderstanding of radio communication protocol. Anna saying “Mercury, Launchpad” is completely backward. If Anna is speaking, it should read “Launchpad, Mercury” as if to say “(Hey!) Launchpad, (this is) Mercury.” This mistake is repeated several times throughout the work. Some less formally trained organizations may use a simplified protocol which would play out with Anna saying “Mercury to Launchpad,” but it doesn’t work here either way. That may seem like a petty nitpick, but having spent literally hundreds of hours communicating via radio during crisis management incidents, it pushed me right out and lacks an air of authenticity that I’d expect from a seasoned writer like Ellis. Percio’s art is interesting. I really liked the expansive panels and cityscapes, which brought a nice level of detail. From afar, the characters also looked very refined, with thin lines in their hair and uniforms. But up close, the facial features were extremely flat and overly simplified which made them downright unappealing. The story itself is a bit difficult to comprehend. Anna leaps around for no apparent reason, there’s some sort of tension between New Ataraxia and Sheol, something about electrogravitics, and… I don’t know. The last page reveal is meant to add a level of context, but I’m still not clear on exactly what the story throughline is. I do think the book is aesthetically pleasing to some degree, though illogical and difficult story-wise. In many ways, I feel like it had the opposite effect as Zorro up there. This was more pleasing to the eye, with an unclear story, while Zorro was clear on the story end while nothing else seemed to pop artistically. I can see myself checking out another issue or two based on the intrigue of the art and overall aesthetic, but I’ll definitely be looking for a level of script clarity lacking in the debut issue. Grade B.

North Wind #4 (Boom! Studios): I decided to check this out due to some positive buzz on the interwebs, but didn’t find much reason to return. It’s yet another post-apocalyptic setting, but without much of a hook. I found some overly affected lines like “not a piece of citizen filth” and “…three things have survived through the ages, cockroaches, whores, and dictators.” They’re meant to be a hip, kitschy parlance, but instead come across as desperate attempts to develop a distinct vernacular without an inherent link to the story. In other words, style over substance. The art has some of the quirks that reminded me of Koi Pham and the myriad artists who followed Ryan Sook on X-Factor and ultimately made me give up the title. At a distance, there’s some nice passable detail, but up close the figures are actually not to my personal liking. Grade C.

I also picked up;

The Boy Who Made Silence (AAM/Markosia): 2006 Xeric Grant Winner Joshua Hagler’s book has some beautiful art (reminiscent of everyone from David Mack to Greg Ruth) amid magazine quality glossy pages.

Comic Foundry #2: Come on! It has Matt Fraction on the cover with a funny pose and t-shirt. That’s just golden, can’t wait to read the article about this up and coming star, as well as check out the newly revised format.


4.02.08 Reviews (Part 1)

Casanova #13 (Image): Matt Fraction gives us a quick history lesson regarding the Dardanelles Guns, siege warfare tactics, Mossad assassinations, and this title’s trademark fourth wall breaking moments. Along with lines like “I’m like a nesting doll that gives blow jobs steeped with existential ennui,” it’s hard not to love this bargain of a time jumping adventure. Grade A.

Action Comics #863 (DC): The finale of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank’s Legion arc rolls in as consistent and strong as it began. This arc was quite a little achievement; it managed to portray Silver Age-y adventuresome goodness, provide crisp art in the action scenes and the talking heads bits, use nifty artistic effects like the black silhouetted figures, insert organic splash pages, comment on the strength of a team being not the different powers it contains, but the diversity of the people and their personalities, and set up an impending crossover. “Red Sun, Magic War, it could be raining Kryptonite, I don’t care. Next time you need help, you let me know.” This is everything Action Comics should be. Grade A-.

Amazing Spider-Man #555 (Marvel): I didn’t read “One More Day” and am only assuming that “Brand New Day” is an extension of that. I only picked this up because I usually enjoy Zeb Wells’ writing and Chris Bachalo’s art; I’m a sucker for an intriguingly paired creative team. On the scripting end, I did enjoy the dark tone of the narrative, but that aside there wasn’t much story aside from Wolverine hanging out to help Peter take on some Ninja guys. I’ve always loved Bachalo’s pencils, whether it was Generation Next or DC’s The Witching Hour. Here, his (can be) claustrophobic art really shines with some inventive page layouts and panels that forego the constraints of traditional borders, which really gives his lines room to breathe. Not sure if this team is supposed to stick around for a bit, but I’ll be here if they do. Grade B.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

DMZ: Volume 4: Friendly Fire (DC/Vertigo): This month, I’d like you all to check out the latest edition of Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s future American Civil War epic, DMZ. In this arc, embedded journalist Matty Roth investigates a shooting and is able to recreate the sequence of events based on the alternating POV of many different participants. It’s a bit reminiscent of the under-rated film Courage Under Fire, in which Denzel Washington investigates a posthumous military award for a female helicopter pilot in the first Gulf War. The story, which can almost be read as a self-contained mystery, really drives the point home that people’s perception of events is on a continuum, and can be based on truth, desires, or even outright lies. Nevertheless, recollection and portrayal of a traumatic incident is largely shaped by the person telling the story. You can push this line of thought further and ask the question does the act of observing something change the inherit pattern being observed, but I’d rather just focus on the rich quality of Wood’s writing and graphic depiction that Burchielli’s lines bring to this harrowing tale of a Civil War fought right here in the streets of New York City. Grade A.