8.27.08 Reviews

DMZ #34 (DC/Vertigo): The election of Parco Delgado wraps up in the last installment of the Blood in the Game arc. “The Forgotten Population” of the DMZ and their strength to overcome overwhelming odds to affect tangible change reminds me strongly of the lesson that V for Vendetta tried to teach us. “People should not be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.” The Delgado character has really become the voice of an idea, the ability to provide the disenfranchised a medium of communication, and that’s really fascinating. It’s also becoming more of an interesting departure in that Matty’s life really takes a crazy left turn here and he’s squarely crossing a line. He’s no longer simply objectively reporting on a story, he himself has become part of that story. Grade A.

Northlanders #9 (DC/Vertigo): In the second little arc of Brian Wood’s new title, he reveals an overbearing father and touches on the hypocrisy of religion. You can clearly see the main character’s arc being set up as he moves from survival, to reinvention, to redemption. There is some beautiful imagery to be found here, particularly in the full page shots of religious symbols, the memory of a departed mother, the old gods of the North, and the arrival of an invading force. Wood’s done a clever thing with Northlanders by not focusing on one central cast member. He’s essentially created his own universe where he can explore different themes, locations, and various inhabitants, while still remaining true to a consistent voice as an author. Like all of his works (think of Local, Supermarket, DMZ, etc.), the first two arcs of Northlanders seem to be about young people placed in an alien environment struggling to find their true identity. Perhaps this is why his work resonates so strongly with the audience, we can all identify with the power inherent in a coming-of-age tale in which the protagonist learns hard fought lessons along the way. Oh, and bravo DC! I love the way you're getting behind Brian Wood as a creator and showcasing him with that text piece. Nice touch! Grade A.

X-Force #6 (Marvel): I dug the framing device being a recreation of events as told through the eyes of Wolverine, while he debriefs Cyclops on the mission. Amid the internal Purifier power struggle, we’re treated to character revealing lines like “Sixteen apiece. Kill ‘em all.” There’s a lot of threads at play here, which are handled effortlessly. Rahne confronts Reverend Craig one final time and is left shaken. Warren confronts his residual dark side and is left shaken. A larger plot of villainy is revealed beyond Bastion and The Purifiers, with some old X-Men foes. These sides of these characters and the new plot threads are ones we’ve “just never contemplated” and are seeded well for exploration here. There’s the immediate physical ramifications felt and the longer term emotional fallout put into motion. Overall, this was a great wrap up to the initial arc which sets up future plotlines. The art suits the tone of the book; it feels subversive in that the X-Men aren’t supposed to be like this. They’re largely not killers, and that’s the point. They’re forced to become something new here as the mutant population finds itself in a precarious and extreme set of circumstances. I’m amazed that I'm enjoying many of what I consider the core X-books to be. X-Force, Astonishing X-Men, and Uncanny X-Men are all pretty solid right now, all at once! I don’t think I’ve ever in my life bought three X-books regularly. Grade A.

Kick-Ass #4 (Marvel/Icon): Ostensibly, it's sort of odd to me that Millar already has the movie deal in the works when we’ve only seen a couple of issues of this title, a limited series no less. It sure doesn’t seem like enough content to judge the merits of a story on; perhaps the studio execs are succumbing to the same type of viral marketing that the title employs, but I digress. Perhaps it’s the wait in between issues or the buzz (kill) surrounding the book, but it doesn’t feel like as much fun as previous issues. I still enjoy the unapologetic way in which it presents the violence, the glee with which Hit-Girl scatters across the rooftops, and the snowballing perception about the masked vigilantes created for the citizens. But the self-serving 1985 reference hit me wrong as does the lack of bite I sensed from earlier issues. Essentially, I feel like it’s cooling off a bit. Grade B.

I also picked up;

Fear Agent: Volume 4 (Dark Horse): This edition collects the recent Hatchet Job mini-series. It's... very good.

Echo: Volume 1 (Abstract Studio): This edition collects the first arc entitled Moon Lake. While I had every intention of buying it as I walked into my LCS, I actually chose NOT TO BUY this once I saw it. What I saw upon examination is cover paper stock with lower quality than the single issues, a printing job that was fuzzy and lacked crisp clarity, and not a single extra bonus feature to speak of. No additional art, no essays or text pieces, no scripts or interviews. It is simply a reprint of the first five issues. With a $15.95 price tag, you’re getting $17.50 worth of material (5 x $3.50), or saving $1.55, less tax, by comparison. Now, if you missed the first five issues and simply want the story, this is a decent deal. But, if you’re like me and want to upgrade to a collected edition and already bought the single issues, you’re kinda’ left screwed. Aside from the simple utility of having something that will stand on the bookshelf, you’re basically just paying for the exact same content twice and not getting any added value for it. Had I purchased this, I would have been getting it in a different format, but not “upgrading” in the truest sense of the word. I’d hoped I could upgrade, as I like the title; but alas, I apparently was not the right audience for this. Perhaps I’ll have to wait for some type of omnibus or digest sized compendium as Moore offered with SiP. I think he mentioned at SDCCI that he plans on about 30 issues or so(?) of this book, so that will make a nice single edition or two once ultimately collected. Sigh.


50 Things I Like About Comics

Inspired by the lists created by Jeff Lester at the Savage Critic and David Brothers at the 4th Letter (who were both awesome to see at the Comics Blogosphere Panel at the San Diego Con!), I thought I'd create my own list. There's no particular order to this other than the order in which I kept jotting them down until I’d reached fifty. Some limited explanations along the way, 'cuz you really just want the list don’t you?

1) Dick Grayson: My favorite mainstream DCU character.
2) Nightwing & Flamebird: The Kryptonian story that Clark tells Dick, the impetus for him selecting the name “Nightwing.”
3) Paul Pope: Anything he touches...
4) David Mack: Anything he touches...
5) Katherine “Kitty” Pride: My favorite X-Men character.
6) Alex Summers, aka: Havok: My second favorite X-Men character, playing second fiddle to the confident leadership of Scott, his portrayal in Peter David & Joe Quesada's run.
7) Automatic Kafka: Joe Casey & Ashley Wood doing industry meta-commentary, the ridiculously good fourth wall breaking last issue when they knew they were cancelled, would love to have this collected...
8) Flex Mentallo: Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely doing industry meta-commentary, the legal issues around this, that it will never be collected...
9) Tara Chace: Greg Rucka's opus, one of the most brilliantly crafted female characters of the Modern Age.
10) Kissing Chaos: One of my favorite ethereal "love stories" ever.
11) CBLDF: I don't like that we need this organization, but I love that we have it.
12) The Silver Age: The heyday of comics for me, the sheer zaniness, the plethora of characters and ideas, it felt limitless, crafted with sheer joy.
13) Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.: If you haven't read it, I can't explain it. Buy it today.
14) Pete Wisdom by Paul Cornell: “And don’t call me sir, it’s… weirdly horny.”
15) Green Lantern: Reading this title as a kid growing up, Dave Gibbons art, the high concept of an interstellar police force with magic power rings…
16) Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar: Reading this title as a kid growing up, the cosmic scope, the diversity of characters, the tragedy and triumph…
17) SF Bay Area Retailers: Lee's Comics, Hijinx Comics, Comix Experience, The Isotope Lounge, Comic Relief, the best metropolitan area for comic retailing in the known universe.
18) The Blot by Tom Neely: Instantly cracked my list of favorite works of all time, a creator to watch.
19) Chris Bachalo on The Witching Hour: The imagination and thought that went into his pencils and page layouts, perfectly complimenting a story.
20) Theories & Defenses: Brian Wood's fictitious band from Local #3, with a brief cameo in The New York Four.
21) X-Factor #87 by Peter David & Joe Quesada: The perfect psychological look into a team of "heroes."
22) Joe Quesada drawing Black Widow Natasha Romanov:
“Got it, Red?”
23) Travis Charest on Wildcats: The team never looked more beautiful, powerful, and fragile.
24) Joe Casey on Wildcats:
The fluid understanding of the characters' evolving identities, the volume of ideas generated, from superhero, to noir thriller, to post-modern corporatization of the archetype.
25) The Watchmen Trailer: The way my heart pounds when I hear the Smashing Pumpkins song come up, things moving in slow motion, Zack Snyder, the way my friends all turned to me and asked "What the fuck is that?! I want to see it..."
26) Kal-El’s Origin in All Star Superman #1: The minimalist approach, the rapport with the audience, the ability to do it in one page, with eight panels, and just a handful of words.
27) Cyclops Revealing Optic Blast in Astonishing X-Men: “To me, my X-Men!”
28) Kitty Pryde & Colossus Hooking Up in Astonishing X-Men: Specifically, Kitty's monologue about the dust settling and seizing the moment.
29) Snowbird: Visually stunning, the cover of X-Men #121, being an Inuit Goddess, the first appearance of Alpha Flight.
30) Sunfire: Visually stunning, his story and connection to the X-Men mythos.
31) FF/Iron Man: Big in Japan: Zeb Wells & the late Seth Fisher, a perfect FF story that captures the fun imagination implicit in the title.
32) FF: Unstable Molecules: James Sturm & Guy Davis, a perfect FF story that captures the serious and familial nature implicit in the title, the perfect counterpoint to Big in Japan, the only two FF books I need to own.
33) Superspy by Matt Kindt: A brilliant work by a brilliant guy in a brilliant package.
34) Poor Sailor by Sammy Harkham:
This book is up there with Hemmingway for me, its ability to capture man's existential dilemma, the effectiveness of its simple prose, it's both heartbreaking and uplifting.
35) The Spectre #13 by J.M. DeMatteis & Ryan Sook:
One of the most beautiful single issues ever crafted.
36) Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera: A modern masterpiece in the making, transcendent, something every American should read. This should be an HBO series, easily as good as The Sopranos, and more important.
37) Lucifer's Portrayal in Sandman:
Specifically, the scene of him quitting and giving the Key to Hell to Lord Morpheus.
38) The New Frontier: Exhiliration on paper.
39) Tangibility:
Being able to hold a comic, looking at it, feeling it, seeing a full bookshelf.
40) Release Parties: Taking our best cue from the music industry, these are drunken fun and break out of the normal industry confines.
41) Wasteland: Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten.
42) The Killer by ASP: The best book from an important publisher, a perfect comic book.
43) Kirby’s Mister Miracle:
My favorite covers of all time, how Kirby's work for DC was a sign of changing times in the industry.
44) The Escapists:
One of the best comic books about comics books.
45) LOEG: Volumes 1 & 2
46) John Cassaday: Anything he touches...
47) Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca: Honestly, the only stories that actually make me laugh out loud, uncontrollably.
48) Planetary: Warren Ellis at the peak of his game, stunning visually, a love letter to the medium.
49) Joe Sacco:
The perfect blend of autobiography, documentary, and social relevance. Unafraid to chronicle difficult issues in geographic hot spots, should be devoured in college classrooms.
50) Dr. Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality: Wonderfully entertaining, brilliant industry commentary, lushly illustrated.


8.20.08 Reviews

Scalped #20 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron and Davide Furno turn in a masterful performance here that illuminates the emotional scars and drivers of one of my favorite characters in the series, Dash’s lover Carol. We learn a ton more about the catalyzing events and stressors buried in her psyche that compel her to act out in the way she does, whether it’s drug use, promiscuity, or the sheer recklessness that permeates her existence. It all culminates with a sorrowful look in the eyes of two broken people who come together, not out of hope or caring, not even to seek solace, but from despair. It’s a downward spiral to a last page that causes the reader to scream “no!” as it gets worse and worse. The dismissive smirk with which Diesel delivers the line “…she liked getting choked, okay?” tells you all you need to know about the underpinnings of the title. Scalped continues to be more than a crime tale, more than violence, sex, and thrills, but an intelligent analysis of a crumbling social ecosystem that transcends its Native American roots to comment on the entire human condition. Grade A+.

The Killer #8 (Archaia Studios Press): ASP’s best title continues to merge bright bursts of violence, embedding feeling into the violence to create personal revenge, the unlikeliest of friends, the rule of survival, and the hard world of “some questions are better not asked.” This is the perfect noir thriller. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #501 (Marvel): The mutant attacks depicted in this issue can function as stand-ins for any group that’s discriminated against. Whether it’s black lynching, gay bashing, or mutant hysteria, the creative team taps into this type of embedded allegory that’s made the X-Men inherently appealing for so long. Perhaps it’s because I’m from the Bay Area, but shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin County, or downtown Oakland seem to lend a richness and authenticity that’s much appreciated. There’s some subtlety in Brubaker and Fraction’s scripting here. What might otherwise look like a regular ol’ X-Men story really rewards the careful reader. We seen an interesting evolutionary paradigm shift with references to “cavemen” casually juxtaposed with the term “futuremen.” There’s the visceral beauty that accompanies the violence, such as the tension on Pixie’s face before she engages in a fight, or Scott describing the image of her damaged wings. I also really liked the way that the creators play with the X-Men conventions and defy our expectations. The line “Hope you survived the experience” is meant to be a playful welcome to new members of the team, harkening back to the 1980’s covers with Rogue or Havok joining the team – but here takes on a darker and more sinister tone due to its context. Notice the sly way that “Frubaker” describes the personalities of the team in their intro blurbs with sparse words. Pixie is the “nascent teenage superstar,” Scott the “fearless leader,” Emma the “supervixen,” and Logan simply “ubiquitous.” They come off as a self-aware tongue-in-cheek nod to the audience, but also genuinely tell us everything we really need to know about the psyche of each character. The appearance of The Red Queen is visually very cheesecake, but let’s hope that’s also a self-aware move in which the audience’s expectations will be toyed with, parallel to the dom/sub mind games that are sure to follow from the character. Writing an X-Men comic is really a binary win or lose scenario; so far, this creative team is pulling off the high wire act, able to balance everything just fine. Grade B+.

Anna Mercury #3 (Avatar Press): Remember when I said that I would cut a mini-series off mid-swing if it wasn’t delivering? This will be my last issue of Anna Mercury. Ellis takes a small sci-fi idea and stretches it much too thin. The throughline that should explain this tale is not entirely clear; it’s neither intuitive, nor explained. And chalking it up to the techno-babble of things like the “electromagnetic oversplash” of the “lifter body” doesn’t quite get it for me. There’s a full page crash scene that’s meant to play dramatically, but doesn’t since I have no idea what’s happening other than something is crashing into something else. The radio traffic is still all wrong. And why is there a silver metal dildo hanging from her belt?! Percio’s art hops around in an inconsistent and uneven way, with odd grimaces, mis-shaped noses, and is just downright ugly in spots. Grade C-.


Petrol Prices & Sequential Stories

How’s that for alliteration? What do rising gas prices have to do with my comic book buying habits, you ask? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

The MBZ isn’t a gas guzzler by any means; for a non-hybrid vehicle it gets decent mileage, around 25mpg. In the US, unless you live in New York or San Francisco, most of the big cities really don’t have any substantial mass transit infrastructure. I have a pretty healthy commute from the northern part of San Diego to either my office in downtown San Diego or to another site in La Jolla. I consume about 14 gallons of gas per week on average, which generally equates to about $60 per week. Keep in mind that this isn’t really a precise scientific set of calculations, it’s largely from memory and includes rounded off figures that are easy on my noggin. At 14 gallons per week, for every .20 cents or so that gas prices fluctuate (typically up), that’s roughly $2.80 per week. Or, basically the average price of a single floppy comic.

I’ve never in my life paid attention to gas prices. This used to drive my parents crazy. It seemed that, to them, the cost of a gallon of gas was a standard unit that represented some sort of economic barometer used to generally gauge reality by. When I moved to the “big city” of San Jose, they’d constantly ask what I was paying “over there,” as if it were some foreign land, liquid nitrogen powering my way to the Moon of Deimos in the Outer Rim territories. My answer was always a flat, “I have no idea.” I roll into the gas station when I'm close to empty, fill it up, and drive away. It’s just a random commodity to me, something that I can’t possibly do without and don’t have the time or inclination to drive across town for in order to save a mythical nickel. My dismissive argument was always that the time it took me to investigate a better price and the money it would cost to actually make the drive to an alternate station would negate any meager savings realized. Not to mention the sheer inconvenience of it all. I had “my” gas stations already picked out based on convenience and their proximities to home, school, work, friend’s houses, etc. Having worked the majority of my adult life for the Federal Government, then a lucrative Fortune 100 company in Silicon Valley, I had always netted a healthy disposable income. The actual price of gas was inconsequential to me. I can’t tell you how much toiler paper costs either, how much I spend or consume in a week, month, or year. It’s not a single line item that’s called out in my household budget, yet it gets purchased ad infinitum without fail, a basic necessity, one that I never ponder because simple acknowledgment of the price would never cause me to stop buying it. Though, surely if the price rose to $5 per individual square sheet, I’d take notice. But, I digress.

Sure, I used to think it was cute, in an anecdotal way, that even during my lifetime I could remember much cheaper prices. I remember as a kid that gas was usually around $1 per gallon. At the risk of sounding like the proverbial old fuddy-duddy who rambles nostalgically about walking 6 miles to school, in the snow(!), with no shoes(!) all uphill(!), both ways(!), I remember taking trips across country with my parents. Sometimes in the Midwest you could still score a gallon for under a dollar, .89 and .92 cents not being outside the realm of possibility. Even in high school, I recall that a $5 bill could be fuel sustenance for what seemed like an eternity. In my old ’82 BMW, I could buy about 2 gallons for a crisp fiver. At 30-some mpg, that would last me all week. But, it was never something I actually spent time thinking about, that I actually worried about, until this year. The sting at the pump finally has me considering the shortest routes around town, combining multiple errands into single ventures, ways to avoid travelling altogether, different types of cars, and ways to cut all manner of discretionary spending to a degree never necessary previously.

The combination of ill-conceived wars, the weakening American dollar, now working for a small NPO, and the depleting fossil fuelishness of Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth all coalesced to create the perfect storm. I’m suddenly very aware of the price of gas. I’m deeply concerned about the price of gas. It’s hitting home and affecting my lifestyle. And the price of a comic book is something that I can equate the number to, it means something to me personally (as does the cost of a gallon of milk for my daughter, but that’s not nearly as fun to write about!). Equating this to a comic allows me to be able to gauge the relative value of the price by considering it in different terms. So for every .20 cents, that’s roughly $2.80 per week for me, the price of a single issue. Every time gas rises, an easy way to make a balancing fiscal course correction is to look at what to cut from my pull list to keep overall expenses flat. If you follow this logic out further, I’ve noticed that it’s considerably changed my standard buying practices too. Here’s what’s changed…

“Failure is Not an Option:” I remember that for years my standard practice when I was somehow interested in a new series was to give it three issues to hook me. Usually not quite a full arc, but enough to give me a good sample of what the creators were going to offer and analyze whether it was speaking to me or not. Suddenly, I don’t have the means to lay out this much financial risk. Now, the term "risk" may sound like a strong word, but I come from an environment where risk management is essentially the game I play all day long in the business world. Weigh the inherent or likely risk in a given situation vs. the institutional tolerance for that risk vs. the degree to which the risk can be mitigated (usually by throwing money at it) = the expected reward or typical outcome. To review, that’s a floating scale of Risk x Tolerance x Mitigation = Outcome. If Risk goes up or Tolerance for it goes down, then Mitigation efforts must go up to achieve the same Outcome. In the case of comics, if Mitigation in the form of available funds goes down, then both my Tolerance level for poor quality and inherent Risk with trying more books must also go down in order to achieve the same level of satisfying entertainment Outcome. I simply can’t afford three issues of the same title to validate the hope that a new series will hook me. I’d like to be able to try three first issues of different titles with the same amount of funding, but in this little equation the basic tenet is that I have only the funding to try one issue total, regardless of title, not three. This puts books in the unenviable position of “doing it for me” in the very first issue. Sure, there are some exceptions. If we’re talking about an “established” creator (whatever that term means to you) like Warren Ellis or Brian Wood, I can muster a dash of consumer loyalty and feel that I owe them another issue or two to try and make it come correct. But for the average book that piques my interest, it’s right out of the gate – they get one issue and one issue only. New books get one chance and must deliver right then and there.

“The Phrase That Pays:” This is the dreaded “wait for the trade” section of this discussion. I believe in voting with my wallet. Even though with the modern distribution channels, this is not a “direct democracy” approach to supporting creators, but more of a “representative republic” style of consumer voting. But, in general I still believe that buying the titles you want to support creates, in small part, the cascading effect of demand, which helps ensure continued supply. That said, there are a couple of titles I buy that have been placed on the chopping block and will be moving into “wait for the trade” status. When the current arc of Fear Agent is over, for example, I plan to make the switch to trades only. I really enjoy Fear Agent, but it’s fairly well established. On the other hand, if the title is something I’m really passionate about and want to support, like Scalped for example, then I make a conscious decision to spend a portion of my finite dollars there. I’ll buy the single issues knowing full well that I’m going to pay for them all over again and upgrade to the trade. While I like both Fear Agent and Scalped, if I’m forced to choose only one for continued success, I would personally pick Jason Aaron’s Scalped. If the title is something that I just need my fix of, like All Star Superman for example, I also pay for it twice. I know that a book like All Star Superman, with a premiere property and creative team, will succeed or fail without my involvement, and it doesn’t really matter what I do, but hell, there are some books that I like so much all logic flies out the window and I may pay for three or four times just because I dig it. If you count single issues, softcover trades, hardcovers, then an Absolute Edition, sometimes I end up paying around $28 for the same single issue! Want to know how I got there? Let’s say a 6 issue mini-series runs about $3 per issue, or $18 for the whole shebang. You buy the trade for around $20, you upgrade to the hardcover for about $30, then you just have to have the Absolute Edition for around $100. Add it all up and you have $168 in this endeavor, or about $28 for the content of each of the single issues. That must be one fine comic! The poor cost effectiveness of this strategy is reserved for the irrational love of my personal top tier books and is quite rare actually. Honestly, if I love something that much, money is no longer an object. The second tier books though, things like Conan, those are things that chug forward and I can wait for the trade on.

“One Day You’re In, One Day You’re Out:” When I look at my permanent collection, there really isn’t a single anthology that I’ve kept long term. Anthologies are known for being largely uneven, I mean that’s sort of the point. If you don’t like one piece, you’ll surely like another. If you like one going in, you’ll get exposed to another one you might have otherwise overlooked. For me, it seems like the success rate is usually far outweighed by the failure rate though. Yet they continue to appeal to me at first glance. It seems like a good idea, like a lot of entertainment value for the dollar, crammed with different creators, styles, and content. There are a couple exceptions that I’ve kept because a friend has a piece in one or there’s a single artist I like to such an intense degree that I want all of their work (I’m looking at you, Paul Pope). But my old rule used to be if I liked, or thought I’d like, 50% of the content or more, I’d venture out and take a risk on the whole package. Not anymore. Anthologies as an entire category are essentially off the pull list. Anthologies are usually put out by smaller publishers. Small publishers usually do smaller print runs. Smaller print runs are usually more expensive from a per page perspective. Which makes anthologies expensive; anthologies I’m not really enjoying in the first place, regardless of their ostensible attractiveness. Therefore, as a rule, anthologies are out.

“If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It:” I like the idea of mini-series. They are usually self-contained stories, even if part of a larger mythos or property. It’s a chance to organically rotate creative teams. It’s a relatively low risk way for publishers to give a chance to new teams trying to break into the industry and gain exposure. Mini-series are usually collected if you’d ultimately like the upgrade. I find that I try a lot of them, and I’ll continue to. However, in the old days I would continue to buy the entire mini-series even if I didn’t like it. By issue two or three, I’d be thinking to myself that there’s no way in hell I’m going to keep this long term, it’s bleeding out, and I’d even start thinking about who I could give it to, mentally earmarking it for a cousin, friend, or coworker. Some bizarre sense of completion was compelling me to complete it so that I could give it away as a complete set. No more. I’ve stopped buying a four issue mini-series by issue 2 or 3 if it’s just not doing it for me. I’m still drawn by some embedded parental voice to the work ethic of finishing something I’ve started, but it’s just not a luxury I have anymore.

(Insert Pithy Quote Here): I couldn’t really find anything apropos off the top of my head, what I’m really getting at in this paragraph is: buying to keep vs. buying to review. This has been a phenomenon I noticed after a few months of running this site. When I buy something like 52 or Secret Invasion, I know damn well that the odds of me keeping it long term are really low. Yet, somehow I feel compelled out of a sense of obligation to the blogosphere to purchase and review an event book so that yet another blogger will have an opinion, as if the audience expects this. And rule number one of anything creative? Never do what you expect the audience wants – do what you want, and your audience will find you. Secret Invasion is such a good example. I grew up a DC kid, I could really care less about Skrulls. So, I try to force myself into the mindset of “buy it because you want it, not because you want to review it.” I try to only buy things that I “normally” would, regardless of 13 Minutes. Sure, I’m being comp’d on a few books that I wouldn’t typically buy and that certainly helps the financial situation, but you see my main point here.

The “Tim or Tom Rule:" Tim Tom is actually a really cool short film directed by Christel Pougeoise and Romain Segaud about existential angst and the reality of a higher power exerting influence over your choices, but good luck getting anyone to recognize that reference. Ahem. Moving right along… a new comic book series needs to have a hook or I’m really not that interested. Hooks can come in many forms and are largely personal and subjective. If I hear that a new writer named Writey McWriterson is going to be writing a new Speedball series for Marvel, there’s no hook there. I don’t know that writer. I don’t find the character compelling. If someone said that Alan Moore would be writing a new Speedball series for Marvel, well hell, that sounds like silly fun and I’d check it out along with everyone else. Not that this would ever happen, but if I heard that Writey McWriterson was going to pen a Flex Mentallo series, I would absolutely check that out because I have an interest in the property. If I hear that Paul Pope will be penciling the new Boring Man book, I would surely buy it. No idea what the property is, sounds droll, but I love his art enough to pick up anything he does. Whether it’s an established creator, or fondness or loyalty to a character, those things can serve as hooks. If you’re lucky, you sometimes get the uber-hook: a writer you like, an artist you dig, both on a property you have some attachment to. However, all that explanation aside, there’s a wide world of books out there that don’t fit neatly into any of that criteria and the number one hook for me is a recommendation from a credible source. It’s not enough for a prospective book to pass the casual flip test at the LCS anymore. I don’t pay attention to overblown press releases. Tim Goodyear (friend and artist on my first mini-comic, The Mercy Killing) is probably the only person I’ve met who completely gets my quirky personal taste in books. If Tim says to me “you should check out Mine Tonight by Trevor Alixopolous,” I pay attention. He’s never been wrong on a recommendation. If Tom Mattson over at .newseedcomics is hyping a book on his site, I’ll check it out. We generally park our cars in the same garage when it comes to comics and if I see him getting fired up about something, I know there’s a good chance I’ve missed out on it and need to investigate further. Personal recommendations trump everything. Word of mouth turns summer movies into blockbusters; comics can work the same way.

“So Be Good for Goodness Sake!” I can be a fairly impulsive guy. This is only aided and abetted by a freewheeling disposable income. My old practice was pretty simple; if I was interested in something, I’d buy it on sight. As you grow older, you tend to develop the ability to take the long view of things, maybe this is wisdom. I know that the Ex Machina Deluxe Edition, Starman Omnibus, or Dash Shaw’s Bottomless Belly Button will be there in December. If I don’t buy them today, the world won’t end. There’s really no sense of urgency to some things. I’ve put those books on my Christmas Wish List that gets circulated and exchanged with family and friends. These books all make nice compact packages, they’re at an affordable price point, and they’re relatively easy to find in stores or online. For the most part, I’ve already read most of the content, I’m not dying to read or review it. They’re things I want, but can also hold out for. Patience can pay off. Example: after reading an interview with Jonathan Lethem in Comic Foundry, Omega the Unknown suddenly sounded interesting to me. Despite really digging Pop Gun War and seeing that Farel Dalrymple (in color no less!) was on this book, I didn’t originally pick it up. I could have run right out and snapped up all the back issues. I could have waited for the trade. What I did instead was muster an ounce of patience, scour the dollar bins at the San Diego Con, and find it all; this puts me into it for $10 rather than the $30 cover price or eventual trade that will likely be somewhere in the 20’s.

“Tell Me What You Want, What You Really Really Want:” In order for something to stay in my collection permanently, I can’t merely like it, I have to absolutely love it. This criteria seems to be getting more and more strenuous as time goes on and I use this wacky set of subjective inner illogic to validate it. The criteria is really difficult to articulate. It has to have a great creative team that just clicks, with an intriguing or well executed high concept, preferably both. Warren Ellis and John Cassaday on Planetary. Ellis and Stuart Immonen on Nextwave: Agents of HATE. Moore and O’Neill on the first two volumes of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (hated the Black Dossier, more on that in a sec). Or, it could be a singular creator with a distinct vision. David Mack on Kabuki. Paul Pope on Batman: Year 100. I’ve found that industry meta-commentary will get you far in my permanent collection. Morrison and Quitely on Flex Mentallo. Casey and Wood on Automatic Kafka. Azzarello and Chiang on Dr. Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality. These are some of the perennial favorites. I find that I’m also a bit of a format whore. Having things in their best available format and how they sit on the shelf make them more desirable and ready to covet. The Alias Omnibus, The impossible-to-find Red Star Hardcovers, Absolute New Frontier, Absolute Planetary, Astonishing X-Men Oversized Hardcover, or Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Hardcovers from Drawn & Quarterly. If there’s more than one of these volumes to collect, all the better. Re-readability is a factor. I can read books like Queen & Country, The Escapists, All Star Superman, Desolation Jones, Billy Hazelnuts, or Battle Hymn over and over and pick something new up every time. Some books I buy, I like, I keep, but the desire to read them again never strikes. Those are getting culled from the collection. I’ve absorbed and considered the material, know how I feel, know what I’d say about it or who I’d recommend it to, be it fan or layman, and I really am done. Thank you, next please. Some comic book fans consider themselves completists. They have to have every appearance of a character or everything creator X has ever done. Paul Pope is probably the closest I come to this; he’s not terribly prolific, but even I don’t quite have everything he’s ever done. Completism is becoming less and less a desire for me. If I didn’t really like LOEG: The Black Dossier, I don’t have to have it just because I have the first two and the trinity forms a “complete set.” Another nice example is David Mack’s Kabuki. I began following David’s career in the early 90’s, long before he was close to being a household name. He’d just come out of Caliber Comics (shudder) and Kabuki was underway. I fell in love with this series and picked up all the single issues, eventually upgrading to the trades. After many repeated readings, I found that certain volumes of the work spoke to me stronger than others. While I appreciated Kabuki’s origin and the importance of the earlier stories to her character arc and the Kabuki universe, I only kept the hardcovers of Volume 4: Skin Deep, and Volume 5: Metamorphosis. I plan on picking up Volume 7: The Alchemy when it comes out. I like them all, but I love these.

In summary, a “successful” book in my little corner of the world must navigate this byzantine process and somehow make the cut. I find that I’m continually going through the collection deciding what I need to keep. The older I get, I find that I just don’t want to own things. At some point, they’re just physical possessions taking up space, cataloguing life, and I’m really not into that notion. I find I’ve become this way with not just comics, but movies, antiques, cars, any physical things that I used to collect. I still have a voracious appetite for “stuff” and want to read every comic, burn through magazine subscriptions (none being renewed thanks to gasoline prices), and knock down about two NetFlix movies per week, but precious few can be found sitting around my house taking up space. If they’re not living up to this admittedly tough set of factors, they’ll find their way to a garage sale, get sold, get gifted to friends, or traded in for store credit, thus financing even more comics.

It’s tough, but this is the world we live in.


Pet Peeves Of The Week

I can let the occasional typo, incorrectly spelled word, wrong word choice, or grammatical error slide. Really, I can. But, when there’s so many of them that I stop paying attention to the story and put myself on “typo patrol,” this obviously distracts me from the story and subverts the whole intent of the interaction. Of course, I don’t want to pick on any one creator or publisher unduly, but someone or something has to be used as an example, otherwise this will all just amount to hyperbole.

The recent Meathaus: SOS anthology was filled with such mistakes. Now, I’ve been involved with some smaller anthologies from local small press publishers. I know that the role of “editor” is largely the person responsible for lining up the talent to include in the book, then hounding them to get it in on time. In my humble experience, these stalwart souls are often so intensely focused on acquiring pieces, getting the physical parts of the book together, and hitting a self-imposed deadline, that a crucial step can be missed. Nobody ever actually sits down and reads the work, as in proofreads the content. I’m not sure if that’s what occurred here, but here’s my open letter incorporating all the detritus I could find.

Dear Meathaus: SOS, in order for your book to be accepted (not “excepted”) critically, one must realize that a primary component is dependent (not “dependant”) on spelling words like murderers (not “murders”) and petal (not “pedal”) correctly. Other creators have far fewer mistakes in their anthologies, their (not “they’re”) works don’t make me feel like having to take vicodin (not “vicadin”) in order to overcome the insouciance. So, here’s (not “hear’s”) to proofreading!

Some of these typos were so egregious that I just couldn’t stand it. They’re vs. their vs. there is a fairly common mistake, but c’mon, this one was on the inside flap of the cover! Hear vs. here? C’mon! That’s two completely different words with different meanings! Unless my name is "here" and something belongs to me, what in the fuck would "hear's" actually mean anyway?! In one story, the lettering contradicted the art in the very same panel, one contained the name of a business as “Legro,” while the other indicated it was “Logro.” C’mon people, it’s called attention to detail!

Another issue that kills me is lateness. I know that everyone bitches about lateness and that it’s become sort of passé. I know that books will be late. This has become an accepted (I refuse to say unavoidable) conceit of the industry. Usually, if the quality of the work is good enough, this can be forgiven. Unless it’s just laughable, of course. For example, I can wait a couple extra months for All Star Superman, because that book will generally deliver. But, I think what’s laughable and disgusting is the track record of something like say… Planetary. Civil War is a good example; a command decision was made that there would be no fill-in artist and we’d all wait for McNiven to catch up on penciling detail. While I think it was unfortunate he fell behind and wasn’t deeper into the work when it was solicited, I think that this was a smart move, wanting the ultimate collected edition to be a seamless work. I can certainly understand that.

However, when a single publisher or creator is so off track, when the entire line or body of work is plagued by lateness, I just want to throw up my hands and give up. So, as another unlucky example - Transhuman #3 came out last week. It’s been an interesting work, one of Jonathan Hickman’s more interesting pieces of social commentary from Image Comics. I actually went back and re-read all of his recent work and stumbled upon this “schedule” in the back of Pax Romana #2. Now, keep in mind this was in Pax Romana #2, which itself was late. Hickman also takes this opportunity to admit that Red Mass for Mars #1 is going to ship late and offers the following;

March: Pax Romana #2, Transhuman #1
April: Pax Romana #3, Transhuman #2
May: Pax Romana #4, Transhuman #3
June: Transhuman #4, Red Mass For Mars #1
July: Red Mass For Mars #2
August: Red Mass For Mars #3
September: Red Mass For Mars #4

Without getting into the how or why, just by taking a cursory look at this we can tell that Pax Romana #3, Transhuman #2, Pax Romana #4, Transhuman #3, Transhuman #4, Red Mass For Mars #2 didn’t happen, and (assumably, since issue two isn’t out yet) Red Mass for Mars #3 and Red Mass For Mars #4 won’t happen as stated either. This quick list comprises 8 of 11, or 73% of the issues that have not, or will not, ship on time, even on the tepid, adjusted, delayed schedule. At the time of this writing in mid-August, 5 of the 11 titles, a little less than half, are still not out, with as much as a four month delay (Pax Romana #3). True, in the long run, this won’t hamper the collected versions, but that’s assuming anyone is still around and interested. At three or four months in between issues, I can’t remember the story. If I can’t remember the story, chances are it will be hard to enjoy. If I’m not enjoying it, I’ll ask myself why am I buying it? And if I’m not buying the single issues, and my only recollection of the project is that it’s chronically late, I’m probably not going to reward the book by purchasing the inevitable trade, regardless of how interesting the creator's voice is.

It’s hard enough to navigate your way in this market, the least you can do is respect the handful of readers you have, allowing yourself every possible chance of success, by building consistent momentum and sustaining reader interest. Hickman states “In regard to delays: they were primarily due to getting ahead and revisions to the publishing schedule.” Umm, what? So the delays occurred because you were… ahead? The only way I can understand this type of being “ahead” is if either a) the entire project is in the can and you delayed the release date because your market analysis tells you there will be more buzz or opportunity at X time of year or b) the first couple issues of the run are done and #1 hasn’t come out yet. Picking your time to strike is fine. Where this falls apart is when one or two issues are already out, then we experience a multi-month delay. If the series has already started, how would “getting ahead” on follow up issues and then delaying their release by months make any sort of sense whatsoever? If you’re ahead, then just get them out monthly and deliver on your original intent. Publishing revisions (read: delays) in the middle of a mini-series rarely make sense, especially if your stated explanation is because you’re ahead? This certainly gives the impression that you’re actually on, or ahead, of schedule and just sitting on them for no apparent reason. Color me confused.


8.13.08 Reviews

Astonishing X-Men #26 (Marvel): I think that Simone Bianchi’s pencils have grown tremendously in the last couple of years. There’s a two page spread here of Chaparanga Beach that is really breathtaking. He makes it feel like a foreign, almost alien, environment right here in a lightly travelled corner of the world. What I appreciate the most about this title is the deliberate effort to make both geographic and philosophical change occur. I’m starting to really feel the distance between where these characters came from and where they’re in the process of going. When I hear lines like “We grew up, Ororo, these are the jobs we got,” I start to think that this is the first time we’ve really witnessed some of the X-characters as mature adults. Without Professor X, it’s as if Scott finally has arrived and is fulfilling the role that his entire life up until this point has been preparing him for. My only quibble is that I don’t know what Beast is doing on the cover, what’s that pose? And the real kicker, he’s nowhere to be found in the book anyway. I hate when that happens. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #12 (Dynamite Entertainment): There is a subtle transformative moment here where I believe John ceases to be a mere boy seeking revenge and actually becomes the adult Lone Ranger. “I haven’t been myself lately. No, that’s not true. I don’t even know what that is anymore.” It’s this type of quiet and confident line which keeps me coming back to this title time and time again. There’s no bluster and fury, no overwrought melodrama. This is a relatively simple story being told that creeps confidently along, occasionally surprising us with brilliant and complex lines that reward readers who pay attention. Grade A-.

Captain Britain & MI-13 #4 (Marvel): Leonard Kirk’s pencils reach a level of nuance here that almost reminded me of early Sean Phillips with some of the facial details. This title still has a certain attitude-filled swagger to it that I enjoy, but it’s not to the level that the Pete Wisdom MAX series was from the same team. Here’s a good example. There’s a line in this book that read “And do you fancy, y’know, dinner later?” Now when you consider who this line is delivered from and to, you realize that in the old MAX book the line would have most likely read “And do you fancy a shag later?” It’s almost as if the… pause, “y’know,” pause… is a deliberate wink at the audience letting us know that yes, in the MAX line this line would have been a bit more dodgy and fun. Though I miss that, the book is still a sleeper that I hope more people are checking out. It moves effortlessly between sets and offers a feel that is actually perilous. Skrull John is indeed dead it seems, and I honestly was wondering if they’d really kill off the Black Knight. That combined with lines like “No more Skrulls” creates some genuine drama. Paul Cornell also provides an interesting convergence of creating a team that’s a third intelligence officers, a third superheroes, and a third friends. Grade A-.

Universal War One #2 (Marvel/Soleil): The art in this series boasts an impeccable level of detail, reminding me of Travis Charest. It really captures the feel of the Humanoids line and what I associate as a European aesthetic, which I enjoy. Considering the book’s price tag, I want to feel as if I’m getting my money’s worth. From a page count perspective, this holds true. But, that page count plays a little dense and heavy, has some challenging scientific principles, and comes off a bit too expository. We have many characters spouting out their motivations and clearly stating what they’re learning from the events around them. The core story remains interesting and plays in a cinematic way; I’ll be picking up the remaining issues. Grade B.

Transhuman #3 (Image): It feels like Jonathan Hickman is stretched too thin. He’s got a handful of books trickling out with unpredictable gaps in between issues. I remember liking Transhuman, but really have only a vague recollection of what’s going on here and who all of the players are. Ringuet’s usually enjoyable art looks blurry and out of focus here, almost to the point that I suspect a printing mishap, as if the inks, colors, and pencils were all somehow printed a few millimeters off of each other. Hickman still gives us some interesting ideas here, like the unique business models of the internet and sex toys, but they almost play like bullet points on a Power Point slide rather than a cohesive story. With just one issue to bring this all home, I’m cautiously optimistic that he can pull it off. Grade B.

Secret Invasion #5 (Marvel): Soooo… why leave us with the very overt Cap and Thor cliffhanger tease last issue if they’re nowhere to be found in this issue? Did they appear in any of the myriad crossovers? Is Marvel assuming I’m going to buy those? That’s silly, because I’m not. Soooo… I guess Nick Fury defeated all the Super Skrulls in Manhattan with uh… really big guns? This issue plays a little disjointed with a series of rough jump cuts. Another bit that pushed me out of the story was the revelation that Stephen Colbert, Paris Hilton, Magneto, The Pope, Barack Obama, Tom Cruise, Tiger Woods, Osama Bin Laden, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Doom, John McCain, Namor, and several others are Skrulls. Now, I don’t know if this is supposed to read as a literal interpretation of the Marvel Universe converging with our own, or is really just done as a tongue-in-cheek method of telling us that the Skrull Invasion is scarily pervasive and overwhelming – but either way, I found it very distracting. I thought there were two pretty cool character moments. Agent Brand delivering on her throw away line in Astonishing X-Men that she speaks a dozen off world languages, here conversing in Skrull while boasting that her Kree is better, culminating with the stirring line “Dr. Richards, my name is Agent Abigail Brand!” I also liked Maria Hill’s reveal that delivers on a seed planted some time ago by Fury about body doubles (not sure which book that was in, but I do recall reading it at the time), which culminates in a quirky code for the sudden and enjoyable self-destruct sequence of the Helicarrier. Bendis’ use of second tier supporting characters in major story moments is really fun, not to mention the symbolism of S.W.O.R.D. and S.H.I.E.L.D. uniting to kinda’ save the day. Where I believe it derailed was Reed saying he would use his brain to save the day and then just 4 pages later unveiling his Skrull Revealer Death Ray Thingamajig that he made in like 5 minutes simply because the plot demanded it in that moment. I know he’s a genius and all, but that sorta’ lacked credibility even by internal Marvel U logic, very deus ex machina. Is Bendis’ making some uber-commentary here that in the new age, the second string characters are better equipped to logically defend Earth and take on the hero mantle than their aged 1960’s counterparts? Perhaps, though I kinda’ doubt it was that calculated a statement. All in all, a couple interesting character bits bogged down by some obvious distractions and mis-steps on the storytelling logic side. I find it interesting that I began liking Secret Invasion toward the start of the series and my interest is now declining. It’s the exact opposite of Final Crisis, which I thought started weak, but is now picking up steam. Let’s just combine the two and have Final Invasion or Secret Crisis, maybe we’d get one kick-ass blockbuster and one so laughably atrocious tale that it would contain some inherent entertainment value, rather than the two mediocre ones we’re getting. Grade C-.

I also picked up;

Meathaus: SOS (NerdCore)


"Asps... Very Dangerous"

For the seven of you out there who actually care, I’m back home this week and the regular review cycle should resume. Due to my Northern California travels, I was actually able to purchase this week’s books at Lee’s Comics. What a treat it was to be back at a “real” comic shop after being away for a couple of years. This proof by counter-example exercise reminded me of how disturbing I find it that San Diego (home of that little comic book get together you may have heard of recently) is one of the worst metropolitan areas to find a local comic shop with the depth, breadth, and professionalism that I personally expect.

I picked up everything I intended to (listed in the previous post), as well as Okko: The Cycle of Earth #1 and The Bond of Saint Marcel #1, both from Archaia Studios Press (ASP). I don’t really remember these two books being in the list of Diamond New Releases, but I could have easily missed them in my mad dash out of San Diego last week. In any case, it got me thinking about ASP. Now, I’ll preface this heavily by saying that I really have enjoyed ASP’s lineup to date. They burst onto the scene with a diverse line that was quickly the recipient of critical praise and industry awards. I think The Killer is brilliant, Mouse Guard is entertaining, The Secret History is ambitious, the Artesia books have both educated and titillated, and the creators themselves whom I’ve met, have been pleasant, cordial, and wonderful additions to the industry. The inevitable “but” is that it’s no secret ASP’s publishing schedule has been comically sporadic at best and it’s gotten to the point where I’m questioning the stability of ASP as a publishing house and the long term viability of their… “model” seems like a strong word, so let’s say their publishing “habits.”

This week, four of their books (on my radar screen anyway) appeared mysteriously from the ether. The Killer #7, Okko: The Cycle of Earth #1, Titanium Rain #1, and The Bond of Saint Marcel #1 all belched out after a long, cricket-chirping calm. The former being two critically praised, long-awaited follow ups, and the latter being two debut issues of new properties. This just two weeks after the San Diego Comic Con International. Now, hear me out… It’s been 10 months since ASP belted out the last two issues of The Killer, bizarrely on the same day no less, and a few months since the preceding Okko: The Cycle of Water wrapped. Titanium Rain and Saint Marcel have been adverted for months. First, I question the reasoning behind releasing all four books on the same day. Why not space them out at a once a week pace and have an entire month of new offerings lined up? Wouldn’t that build up some sustainable momentum around your line? Second, if you do choose to release them all in one week, why not release them at the San Diego Comic-Con where you have a captive audience and create some buzz that way? While I was at the convention, three people (who I’d dragged to the ASP booth last year to make purchases) asked me where the ASP booth was. I honestly didn’t know off the top of my head if ASP had even bothered to attend this year. After some searching, sure enough, we found their booth. Huzzah! There was David “Mouse Guard” Petersen signing. And there was the creative team from Awakening. The inevitable “but” is that after a quick scan of the booth, there was not a single new comic that I could detect. Everything they had to offer I’d already read or had already come out months before. There was nothing new for anyone to buy. Yet, just two weeks later, there’s a shotgun blast of four new books. Now, I don’t know all the ins and outs of working with printers, the shipping and distribution challenges, etc., but ostensibly this just seems like a less than efficient method for introducing people to your line.

I haven’t read all of the books I purchased last week, but I got to some of them. Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man, despite some stumbling over the accuracy of the medical vocabulary, remains interesting. Regardless of the specifics of the plot threads, it has a sense of purpose and confidence in storytelling that I find deeply engaging. Regardless of the overly photo-referenced art (I spy Danny DeVito, I spy Jessica Alba…) with unintended celebrity “cameos” that push me out of the panel, Larroca’s tech depictions, SHIELD bits, and action sequences are right at home – and that’s mainly what I want from Iron Man art. I quickly re-read Brian Wood’s DMZ trade and this collection of stand alone issues not only holds up, but almost reads better collected – seemingly disparate stories uniting thematically to showcase gripping personal accounts of civil war in New York City. I haven’t yet read ASP’s The Killer or Okko: The Cycle of Earth. I pushed those to the bottom of the reading list, having some familiarity with the properties, assuming they’d be the best, and wanting to savor them. I decided to read Titanium Rain and The Bond of Saint Marcel first.

The Bond of Saint Marcel feels like retread in so many ways. Last year, ASP put out a book called Revere: Revolution in Silver, which was solid enough. It mixed some history (American Revolution, Paul Revere being a silversmith in reality) with some fantasy elements (namely, battling werewolves during the British Invasion). The Revolutionary War is interesting, but what’s the noticeable fascination with this time period? Artistically, I cracked it open and thought to myself that it looks like The Red Star. And sure enough, Christian Gossett is listed as artist. I’ll say that I quite like The Red Star, but Gossett isn’t really known for his punctuality. I think he’s managed to put out three issues of the latest arc in as many years. This doesn’t bode well for the timeliness of this new book. And then I see the next issue purports to be out in November of 2008; so that’s what… quarterly? Does that ever work? The story is certainly informed by Whedon's Buffy The Vampire Slayer mythos. The dialogue is stiff and expository and it comes from off-the-shelf stock characters. The art really isn’t Gossett’s best effort. It lacks clarity in the panel to panel transitions; notice how one character’s uniform changes styles three times in two pages. Many of the poses are hard and awkward, such as the opening shot of protagonist Katherine. Overall, there’s nothing new or fresh here. It pains me to say, but the execution feels sub-competent. I don’t see any real reason to return, and by November I won’t remember anything about this first issue anyway.

Next on the reading pile was Titanium Rain. Any book that starts with a quotation as an attempt at gravitas or importance feels like a cheat, a lazy writer’s tool. Your words should provide the reader with meaning, not leeching off someone else’s. I found the Chinese Civil War map interesting, but the name of the very first set location strangely can’t be found on the map. The photorealistic art is jarring to look at and just comes off as creepy. It’s like an old collage that a grade school girl would make, cutting out pictures of Simon Le Bon and Roger Taylor from magazines and pasting their heads onto the pictures of people standing next to her, eyes strangely looking askance, odd perspective angles, and expressions that are out of context. The overly staged poker game fails to deliver as an analogy to the conflict. The year is supposedly 2032, but the soldiers are still using charming racial epithets like “Ivans” and “Japs,” which haven’t really been in widespread parlance since WWII. And is anyone really going to still be using a dated pop culture reference like “young padawan” 24 years from now? With its poor grammar (“suppose” vs. “supposed”), repeated misspellings (“intellegence”), and quarterly schedule (again, November of 2008 for the second ish), it doesn’t matter how fun the military procedural bits are, there just isn’t any reason to come back to what feels like amateur hour.

My faith in ASP has been officially shaken. The basic sentiment I’m reeling from is “I waited this long, for this?” Not only does it feel like the quality of the product has slipped considerably, but the business practices of the company wouldn’t help a higher quality product anyway. This is not sarcasm – I wish you luck, ASP. I want you to succeed. I know that it must be traumatic and disruptive when a co-publisher departs the company. At this point in time, I’m honestly not optimistic – but I’ll be here waiting for improvements, trying to hold on.


8.06.08 Comics

I promise this is the last time! For the third time this summer, my travel schedule is too tight this week to allow for reviews of new books. Until things settle down, here's what I plan on picking up;

Echo #5 (Abstract Studio): Every issue of Terry Moore's new project has been great; it's quickly achieved an automatic spot on the top of my reading pile.

Invincible Iron Man #4 (Marvel): Matt Fraction's name atop anything is pretty much an instant buy these days. He's really picked up where the movie and Ellis' Extremis run left off and kept running in an intelligent and entertaining direction.

The Killer #7 (Archaia Studios Press): I literally did a double take when I found this entry on Diamond's New Releases List this week. I love this book, but the publishing schedule has been nothing short of horrific. The last issue came out in October of '07, that's 10 months ago. Let's hope ASP can get all 10 issues out and traded up in a timely fashion. The inherent quality of this book really deserves all the momentum that timely publishing brings along with it.

Titanium Rain #1 (Archaia Studios Press): The promo art and teaser lines about this title do look intriguing, but I'm honestly quite skeptical of ASP's ability to get 12 issues of this book out in around a year (see above entry). But, I'll probably give it a shot if it passes the highly subjective casual flip test in the store.

DMZ Volume 5: The Hidden War (DC/Vertigo): Yes, I buy the single issues, upgrade to the trades, and then pass on the single issues to family, friends, or co-workers.


(Not Exactly A) Graphic Novel Of The Month

This month’s selection is not exactly a graphic novel per se, but hey, it’s my site and I can promote whatever I want!

Reich #1-4 (Sparkplug Comics): This gripping biographical work about Wilhelm Reich weaves together documented historical bits with some unconfirmed educated speculation, but is very forthcoming about which parts are which. I really admire the craft put into this by Elijah Brubaker; the visual personifications capture the distinct characteristics of quite a few characters. I also enjoyed how each issue’s format is slightly different, as if Brubaker is experimenting with different designs for the book; each successive issue is crisper and a more confident overall package as time goes on. I was aware of some buzz around the book from sources I personally find credible, so I finally decided to check it out when I found a full spread at the Sparkplug Comics booth during this year’s San Diego Con. I wonder if this book has been compared to Jason Lutes’ Berlin? There are some very superficial similarities, the tales are both set in pre-War Weimar era Germany, they touch upon social upheaval, clashing together academic thought, fascism, communism, and capitalism, as they’re converging in a precursor to what will ultimately occur on a more global stage. Those elements are largely background detail though, as Brubaker focuses in on WWI veteran Wilhelm Reich, his plunge into the field of psychoanalysis, and his particular obsession with a couple radical (at the time) sexual concepts. Reich is an engaging character, flawed in a pretty balanced way. For every brilliant concept posed or sound byte of truth he’s capable of, there seems to me many more radical concepts that are either useless or have some merit, but become lost in his aggressive delivery and presentation. He makes for a truly complex and multi-faceted character. You can clearly understand why Brubaker found Reich such an interesting subject to examine with this form of biography. Reich’s behavior seeps into his personal life, not only alienating his professional peers in academia (such as a well rendered Sigmund Freud) with a wash of paranoia and frustration, but creates distance between his wife, daughter, and many lovers along the way. Reich moves along at a brisk pace with open panels and layouts that seem to breathe, even though Brubaker presents many dense and challenging ideas that the reader can ponder long after the book has been put down. I’m glad I picked this up and will be on the lookout for future issues; it’s probably one of those purchases I would not have made if not for the convention. Consider me an instant fan. Grade A.