5.28.09 Reviews

X-Force #15 (Marvel): Chapter 5 of the Messiah War crossover chugs forward with Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, and Clayton Crain at the helm. Crain seems to be taking an undue amount of guff on his art style; the big open eyes of say, Hope and Domino. But like many things, I think you get more credit than you should for when things go well and likewise, more blame than you should for things going poorly. I happen to think his emotive eyes possess a glassy sheen that transfers emotion to the reader in a unique way. While some of his art may appear to be rendered rushed and blurry in some spots, it’s otherwise dark and moody and I still really enjoy it on this book. Domino has really never looked better, from any artist. The script certainly has its moments; Deadpool still tries to steal the show with lines like “Don’t make fun of me! I have low blood sugar” or “Art deco! Very nice.” The pace is erratic in places as it bounces around to different story threads. I do tend to enjoy the individual moments, but overall the story doesn’t advance much beyond its basic premise. It’s still X-Force. Cable. Bishop. The Future. Hope is good. Hope is bad. Protect Hope. Yeah, another issue of that. That along with repetitive themes executed competently enough, like: the X-Men’s individual powers are not what makes them formidable, but their ability to act as a team with a concerted strategy. If you like all that and want more of it, you’ll dig these characters and this book will entertain. If you’re looking for anything new, definitive, or enduring, this book’s not going to stand out beyond the summer confectionary appeal of this crossover. Grade B.

X-Men: Future History – The Messiah War Sourcebook (Marvel): Ok, so I'm kind of a sucker for these types of books in general, blame it on childhood love for DC's Who's Who? The autobiographical narration of Cable doesn't always feel in character, and it's near impossible to escape from under the weight of the consistently self-nagating storylines, parallel alternate future timelines, and convoluted history. This book generally attempts to do so with dismissive humor, but when faced with concepts like this, well, good freakin' luck: “Rachel, my father’s daughter from another alternate future traveled back to the era of my birth – and then was thrown forward two thousand years. Rachel – now the aged “Mother Askani” – reached back in time to bring me forward. She already knew that I was the “Chosen One” because she had already met my future self during her time in the past.” Umm. Yeah. Clear as the Techno-Organic slop that created Nathaniel Dayspring Askani'Son, aka: Nathan Christopher Charles Summers, aka: Cable. There are some touching thoughts about Sam Guthrie, and it is rather dense for $3.99, but there's nothing terribly essential here. It's mostly rehash and reassembly of vaguely familiar stuff, with more boring entries than fascinating ones. Grade C.

I also picked up;

Northlanders #17 (DC/Vertigo): The rings of Saturn must be properly aligned with the House of El or something, because the same week that Brian Wood sends me an advance PDF copy of this issue to review, my LCS mysteriously decides to begin stocking it again. Weird. In any case, please check it out. Perhaps the best issue of the series to date and certainly one of the best scripts he’s ever turned in on any title, with remarkable pencils from Vasilis Lolos. Expect to see this on my year end "13 Favorite Things of 2009" round up, of this I have no doubt.


Northlanders #17 Advance Review

Northlanders #17 (DC/Vertigo): “…we’ll drink to the lunatics.” With this line, Brian Wood and Vasilis Lolos bring us into a world of insight, where the act of war is a futile and fleeting means of conflict resolution. Wood’s script deftly juggles a couple of concepts that are examined brilliantly. His omniscient narrator speaks in a clinically detached way (“the poets said…”) that quickly dispels any romanticized notion associated with waging war. In short, there are no rules in war. Your goal isn’t to act in a noble fashion, your goal is to abandon any sort of middle class morality and simply win - by any means necessary. There’s more to learn from clever, conniving Loki than from thunderous overbearing Thor. Northlanders #5 has long remained my favorite issue of the series to date; I believe it’s where Wood hit his stride, infusing his work, that could ostensibly be dismissed (wrongly, to be sure) as simple Conan riff, with something more charming, introspective, and meaningful. I stand by that assessment, and now suggest that he’s stretched himself again and achieved something greater with this issue, something that hums with universal ruminations on life. We see heartbreaking analysis of man’s quest for life, liberty, and happiness, the protective spirit of our children and spouses, of hearth and home in the face of adversity. Wood is careful to revel in his research and make the script shine with authenticity, “carbon steel… with a 5mm tapered fuller and solid iron pommel,” to please any purists, but first and foremost he gives us warriors who are men. Men attempting to live lives worthy of consideration. He’s aided this time by Vasilis Lolos (Last Call from Oni Press, the recent Eisner Award Winner 5 with Cloonan, Grampa, Ba, and Moon), whose art looks amazing in color. It has a kinetic quality that makes it dance off the page, wanting to breathe more fully in all three dimensions. Lolos is perfectly suited to depict world weary combatants with grimacing faces and visceral reflexes. As an example, notice how the narrator describes Egil’s ax as a close quarter weapon, then Egil simply and directly calls it “Hel.” This type of artistic synchronicity is rare and shows off the strengths of the comic medium; we have words in unison with the art, art in unison with the tone, and tone in unison with the words, forming a circle of perfection. I’ve mentioned before that I think Brian Wood has a knack for being paired with such a wonderful stable of artists, from Riccardo Burchielli, Nathan Fox, etc. on DMZ, to Becky Cloonan, Ryan Kelly, Davide Gianfelice, and now Lolos, who is certainly no exception. This issue is a done-in-one that serves as a great jumping on point for the series, and I’m particularly excited about Wood being joined by Danijel Zezelj on the next arc, whose book REX was recently reviewed, and who I’ve longed for a monthly book from ever since his run on Desolation Jones with Warren Ellis began and stalled. I’ve been cautiously optimistic about Wood’s choice to use modern dialogue for this series, but when I read the line “hopefully knock up the common-law” as modern shorthand, I was finally convinced that the tone was correct and couldn’t be captured as effectively using any other style of prose. This issue opens with a lyrical quality that has the cadence of an old buddy telling you an interesting story in confidence, regaling you with a tale over a pint down the pub. That first page grabs hold of you and never lets go as it spars its way through the tactics of two very different men symbolizing in a self-aware fashion bits of the Norse archetypes that they may inhabit. When I got to the quote from Armod, the little flourishes that would make Sun Tzu proud, and the line “some… fucker slipping his hunting knife in under the shields and unzipping your thigh,” I realized that I had been unconsciously transcribing nearly every line of dialogue into my notebook. I realized that Wood was laying down line after line after line, in seamless succession, of unmistakably grand, quotable dialogue. Ultimately, I’m reminded of Lt. Commander Hunter’s analysis of Prussian military strategist Carl Von Clausewitz in the film Crimson Tide: “the true enemy is war itself.” But more important than any thematic intent is the pinnacle of craftsmanship Wood and Lolos have achieved with this issue; it’s truly something to be proud of. Grade A+.


5.20.09 Reviews

Final Crisis Aftermath: Dance #1 (DC): I’d have never guessed that a Final Crisis tie-in book would ever take the best of the week slot, but here it is thanks to Joe Casey and ChrisCross (who I’ve been awaiting the return of ever since a little book called Xero). It’s hard not to fall in love with Most Excellent Superbat, Big Atomic Lantern Boy, Shiny Happy Aquazon, Shy Crazy Lolita Canary, Well-Spoken Sonic Lightning Flash, and their PR handler Justin Hanover by page 3 when we see the Super Young Team’s “FaceSpace” profiles. Joe Casey brings his usual fascination with Gen Y (or “The Lost Generation”) and their new means of technology and communication convergence that we saw on his incarnations of Wildcats and The Intimates. He hits celebrity branding hard, with his mocku-style “Twitteratti” feeds and iPhone apps, essentially stressing that everyone from the old DCU big gun heroes to Ultraman are as dead as the old media that spawned them. Casey’s progressive cultural observations are often times more interesting than the ostensibly fun stories they’re contrasted against, and this is no exception. Lines like “Who Clocks the Clockmen?” and “Nobody keeps me behind the rope, honey! Nobody keeps me out of the club! Or their pants!” bristle with some fresh energy that the DCU, and the Final Crisis milieu in general, has been lacking for some time. I hope to see Casey continue to both channel his inner Grant Morrison (who created the Japanese superteam in 52 and originally envisioned them as Fifth World versions of The Forever People) and continue his exploration of his own media fascination with this title. On the art side of the house, ChrisCross is on fire! He’s aided by no less than 4 inkers (including himself and the wonderfully talented Mick Gray), but you’d never know it since the overall style is seamless and grand. The pencils look especially polished, with the detail of Geoff Darrow, the sleekness of Frank Quitely, and the smooth broad appeal of someone like Carlos Pacheco. “No Life Without AntiLife” reverberates against the tired notions that created this line of titles and makes me think this could be one of my new breakout favorites from DC. Grade A.

Punisher #5 (Marvel): It’s bittersweet that Jerome Opena’s pencils are so terrific here. On the one hand, he has the tone of this title down pat, his style is perfectly suited to handle the gritty street level detail that this series demands, whether it’s the grand one page introduction of Frank (notice the Punisher emblem on the Ant-Man helmet) or something relatively simplistic like the detail of the tats on Millie. On the other hand, oh no, we learn that next issue will feature a new creative team in Tan Eng Huat and Lee Loughridge. I enjoyed Tan Eng Huat’s pencils on the attempted Doom Patrol revival that broke him out, but he’s going to have some big shoes to fill here. This issue focuses almost entirely on Frank’s one man assault of The Hood compound, we see a nice balancing act with Henry proving himself and Microchip offering a desperate empassioned plea. Family aside, these two men have perhaps known Frank the best, and it’s a treat to see one on the decline of friendship and one emerging as a close confidant. There’s plenty to enjoy here, crystal clear action sequences from Opena that boast forced perspective shots and great camera placement choices, an inventive twisting plot from Remender that feels like a smart chess game with equally adept opponents, the reveal of a chink in Osborn’s armor as some light is shed on his lies, and some resurrected baddies courtesy of a summoned Dormammu(!) Simply put, this could be the best Punisher series I’ve seen. Grade A.

Unthinkable #1 (Boom!): [This title was not released this week, but like the Evil Galactic Empire, Sea Donkey Strikes Back and didn’t have it when it was originally supposed to ship] Mark Sable and Julian Totino Tedesco (whose art strikes me as a blend of Michael Gaydos and Steve Epting) offer up an interesting premise. While there are a few lines that don’t make much sense when you scrutinize them, like “The Operator – a man whose files are so classified even he can’t access them,” overall a ton of information is packed into one single issue. We have a clandestine government agency that hires top thinkers and creative minds in their fields to dream up doomsday scenarios to ensure the government is ready to respond. The scenarios actually start happening years after the project is shut down, and it is indeed an eerie claustrophobic vibe that's achieved. This is a great look into modern paranoid culture, and can even be applied to something like the recent Swine Flu hysteria. So uhh, is it over? There is talk of CDC and WHO raising the alert level again to Phase 6, which is full on pandemic, but it's suprisingly not really on CNN anymore. It's interesting to contrast Swine Flu to the big pandemic of 1918 that killed about 50 million people. The symptoms in 1918 were pneumonia and bloody homorraghing. The Swine Flu symptoms are... sniffles and a cough? It's hard not to feel the media hype here, the regular ol' influenza virus (aka: "the flu") kills around 36,000 annually, yet nobody breaks out the masks (which do nothing, by the way) and starts stockpiling Tamiflu. So far, Swine Flue has infected... what? 3,000 people globally, with only a dozen or so deaths? If you want to buy into some conspiracy oriented theory, there's actually a lot of evidence available to suggest that the government created the virus, "accidentally” lost a sample, then fuels the media to hype up consumers, who then rush out and spend millions on drugs, Johnson & Johsnon, GlaxoSmithKline, aka: "Big Pharmaceutical," etc. see record stock prices, Wall Street surges, and suddenly we're pulled out of the recession, or that's the thoery anyway. We all know war is good for big business, so instead of fighting Hitler or the "evildoers" in the Middle East, let's invent a "superbug" as the new enemy for the 21st Century. Anywho, I'm not sure how much government conspiracy I buy, they can't even seem to fix the pothole outside my house, so how can they engineer a global conspiracy? I'm totally digressing. Unthinkable is nevertheless a thought-provoking title that is well suited to our times, and probably even informed and inspired by them. It's good, but not sure (yet) if it's 4 bucks good. Grade B+.

Uncanny X-Men #510 (Marvel): And once again, the urge to drop this title rears its frustrated head. Matt Fraction and Marvel Editorial are practicing a strange brand of what I’ll call “selective continuity enforcement.” If you look carefully at the broad depictions of Astonishing X-Men, Cable, X-Force, and Uncanny, sometimes current continuity is adhered to and the audience is made certain the creators are acknowledging it. Other times, it’s simply thrown out the window when convenient. The best example is that the x-books have all been crystal clear that Wolverine, Laura, Elixir, Domino, X-Force, etc. are time-jumping in the future to aid Cable and protect Hope. Yet, here are Logan and Laura miraculously at the HQ in Marin County (and isn’t it odd that so much emphasis is placed on the X-Men being in San Francisco – yet anyone familiar with the Bay Area will tell you that their Mutant HQ is in fact, in Marin, an entirely different county than San Francisco. But I digress…) Greg Land’s art is simply awful in terms of consistency, and I’m really not the only one who thinks so. On the cover, take a look at Emma’s left breast. It’s totally preposterous in shape, position, and appearance, defying all laws of anatomy and gravity. Land turns out some impressive facial details (Logan’s stubble) and a gorgeous scene of Scott’s torment, filled with “dead” friends like Jean, Kitty, Banshee, and Thunderbird, but then will move on to offer absolutely zero panel backgrounds and incomprehensible panel transitions. I continually have to re-read action sequences to puzzle together exactly what’s going on. The fight between the Red and White Queens is a good example, some is mental, some is physical, I can’t tell which is which and then Emma’s physical bonds suddenly disappear for no reason, almost as if the creative team isn’t even sure what’s happening and is hoping we won’t notice. Why would Deathstrike, err Spiral, err… Red Queen. Wait, who’s in charge again? Why would they explicitly tell Emma about the Phoenix tease? Makes no sense. Emma is consoling a person in a purple shirt, I have no idea who that is. There are attempts at gratuitous titillation, such as Elixir (who is also in the future with X-Force, by the way) and his flirtation with the Stepford Cuckoos. The scenes with Empath are boring. Pixie does shine though. I’m confused. I think I’ll be checking out around issue 512 if this continues. Grade B-.


5.13.09 Reviews

Echo #12 (Abstract Studio): Terry Moore brings his best every single issue! We jump right into some first rate detective work at an insane crime scene which hums with an air of authenticity. Moore still nails the most realistic understanding of the way people actually talk and think to themselves. Lines like “Without a word, I give him the generic card. Here you go, ace. Knock yourself out. Call the office and tell ‘em how it really is. They’re dying to hear from you.” come off with deadpan sarcasm and a world weariness that anyone can identify with. It doesn’t matter if it’s a touching moment between two characters, or something like Julie’s frantic attempt to help Dillon, or a crazy fight scene, it all comes off completely plausible and believable and I can’t wait for the next issue. I really want to know why Julie’s husband thinks she’s a pervert! One pet peeve… Terry, ahem… Mr. Moore, please update your web-site more regularly. I can never find a pic of the current cover anywhere online. It’s always a hassle. This looks like a promotional cover and isn’t anything like the stupendous cover I actually bought. Grade A+.

Lockjaw & The Pet Avengers (Marvel): Let’s get a couple of minor gripes out of the way first. It bugs me that the text mentions 6 jewels that the story revolves around, yet the accompanying picture of Thanos and his Infinity Gauntlet only depict 5. It bugs me that effort was made to ensure this was in continuity with Lockheed deliberately mentioning the departed Kitty Pryde, yet the scene takes place in the old HQ in Westchester, as opposed to the new X-Men HQ in San Francisco – which is most definitely a continuity breakdown. Obviously, I don’t think the story really needs to be in continuity since it’s largely a tongue-in-cheek romp, but if you’re gonna’ bother with one, then go all the way. In for a penny, in for a pound, I say. Those quibbles aside, I really liked this book! Right from jump, Ig Guara’s art is just drop dead gorgeous with its sinewy lines and expressive dynamics, and it's colored radiantly. I’d really like to see these cats on a more mainline property, they deserve a gig with some gravitas. Chris Eliopoulos provides the script, aided by the treat that is Colleen Coover (of Small Favors fame, rock on girlie porno comics!) on an origin sequence. We have the “Avengers” Assembling! here with Throg (Frog Thor), Lockjaw (the Inhumans teleporting pet), Lockheed (Kitty’s dragon… which sounds kind of dirty), Hairball (Speedball's cat), Redwing (the arrogant pal to The Falcon), and Ms. Lion (the male poodle of Aunt May?!). This is great fun! Can’t wait for #2, and my goodness that Niko Henrichon cover with Kitty Pryde looks dynamite! Grade A.

The Unwritten #1 (DC/Vertigo): Mike Carey and Peter Gross finally come along and do what The Books of Magic and Kid Eternity failed to do before, and that’s create the comic book equivalent of Harry Potter. That’s what it is on the surface anyway. Dig a little deeper and you actually find a story with the ambition to be the next Sandman level saga; it aspires to be the self-proclaimed “big secret conspiracy that unites all the world’s literature.” Gross’ pencils seem to be up to the task, boasting qualities reminiscent of P. Craig Russell, lavish sets with inventive page layouts that can contain hard panels, full page bleeds, or even free floating prose. While Carey’s script does address the superficial similarities head on, I found myself distracted by the same type of scar that aches when the protagonist’s nemesis is near, Mingus the miawling pet sidekick, and an acrostic poem that’s a call back to some of J.K. Rowling’s early puzzles. Another storytelling crutch seems to be the use of the news crawls to relay information. It’s too early to tell if this is deliberate homage to something like The Dark Knight Returns or is just plain old exposition. The “death on the net” sequence is meant to be foreboding I suppose, but it’s nothing moviegoers haven’t seen repeatedly in the last 5 years. I did like the duplicity of assistant Swope, Lizzie Hexam as Sue Sparrow as Hermione Granger, and any book that can drop a Sacco & Vanzetti reference deserves some level of respect, but overall I found myself bored. The story itself isn’t terribly engaging, but the themes it plays with – examinations of fame, the blurring line between fiction and reality – certainly are. The cover by Yuko Shimizu is a treat, as is the last page. It offers the clever notion of stories merging with images in order to become accepted reality or fact; I found this one page largely more interesting than the entire book that preceded it, which is to say I like the ideas at play here, but the execution left me wanting. I’m glad I bought it, and am happy to see DC continuing these promotional issues for a mere dollar, but I doubt I’ll be back for more. I wish the title luck, but fear it may be “made of fail,” which was a fun catchphrase I gleaned from it. Remember that it was only $1, so… Grade A.

From The Ashes #1 (IDW): This is a great looking book that puts Bob Fingerman (and spunky female companion) in an Adam & Eve type post-apocalyptic setting. They are the slacker, non-procreating, slightly gloating, obsessed with finding Astroglide, electrolyte-filled Gatorade, and nourishing Slim-Jims duo, as they ensure their “clean po-po,” because “you gotta’ wash yo’ ass.” There are a few good notes to be found here, impressive production quality as is standard for IDW, and it’s beautifully rendered, but unfortunately this book isn’t half as funny as it thinks it is. I just gave you all of the funny lines. Grade B-.

What Dreams May Come

David Brothers hit us with a thought-provoking post yesterday at The 4th Letter. He quickly listed a few stories he’d like to see in comics and it set my mind racing. David’s list paints some nice broad brushstrokes; they’re genres, topics, and specific periods in history. My list ended up being a little more specific for whatever reason. My only self-imposed ground rule is that I tried to resist the urge to call out specific books or editions of existing material (I mean, sure, I’d like to see an Absolute Edition of Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100 or collected editions of Flex Mentallo or Automatic Kafka, but that’s not exactly the point of all this) and focus on the exploration of story ideas or in some case, “dream-casting” creators to specific properties. In no particular order, and off the top of my head, here are some things I’d like to see… I’ll probably be adding to this as time goes on and additional ideas seep into my brain.

The Waynes: This is the Batman script I pitched and talked about recently while reviewing Gaiman's Detective Comics story. I suppose if I didn’t get to write it, I’d want someone thoroughly versed in DC continuity to make it hum, which means Mark Waid would be the writer. Simultaneously, I'd also like to see the book propel a great artist to superstardom, (hey, it’s my dream so I can do what I want!) so I’d pick someone like Nathan Fox who’s hovered on the periphery with some Dark Horse work (the interesting Pigeons From Hell), and a stray issue of DMZ with Brian Wood.

Paul Pope Green Lantern: It’s no secret to regular 13 Minutes readers that Paul Pope is one of my favorite creators. I often think about what I’d like to see him do. Sometimes I imagine his dirty future-tech aesthetic from THB being melded with one of the all time great concepts - the intergalactic cop with the magic ring - and think it would be a compelling take on the character. For my money, I don't even care if it's Hal Jordan or Kyle Rayner or any specific GL; I just picture it being along the lines of the old Green Lantern: Mosaic book starring John Stewart, and it's absolutely magical.

A Monthly Book From…: Like Paul Pope, there are certain artists that I’m such a fan of, I will literally buy anything they work on. I’d love to see a regular monthly ongoing title from any of these guys that I could look forward to buying at a regular clip: Paul Pope, Frank Quitely, John Cassaday, Joe Sacco, Travis Charest, Nathan Fox, Farel Dalrymple, Cliff Chiang, or (insert next creator - this list will grow, as I know I’m likely forgetting some deserving folks).

Broken Smile: This book doesn’t exist, it’s the title of a bittersweet romance comic that I want to write. This title has been swirling around my brain for a very long time waiting for the spark of creativity to hit me. One day I’ll set pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as it were) and the muse will take hold of my brain and this beautiful story about two people connecting will take shape. I'd love to see it with some ethereal moody art, by somone like Joelle Jones or Arthur Dela Cruz.

The “Next” Nextwave: No book has made me laugh as much. Bristling with Stuart Immonen’s art, Warren Ellis on top of his writing game with the characterizations of beer drinking Machine Man, Avengers TEAM LEADER (just ask her!) Monica Rambeau, and Tabitha spelling her own name wrong to defeat the enemy. Issue #10 was a pinnacle of creativity that aped other artistic styles and genres. It just doesn’t get much better than that. I want another book like this.

Firestorm: Solar Crisis: Another old script I wrote and pitched unsuccessfully to DC (yes, I suck). Following someone's advice, I picked a character that nobody seemed to be using (this was before the Jason Rusch relaunch) and attempted to worm my way in. The basic thrust of the story was that Superman’s powers were failing, all the greatest minds got together, everyone from Dr. Mid-Nite to Mister Terrific, they try using Kryptonian, Thanagarian, Rannian, S.T.A.R. Labs, and WayneTech technology to analyze and diagnose, and all they can really figure out is that the mysterious ailment has something to do with an anomaly in our sun. Based on the ways his powers work, the only one who can handle this mission is Firestorm. Overall, the goal was to establish him as a main player in the Justice League, not relegated off to goofball reservist status. "Crisis" was to deliberately be used in the title to poke fun at how crossovers generally suck, that when you pare it down to essentially a handful of characters and tell a single rousing story with a definitive beginning, middle, and end, you can have a successful story that wasn't fabricated by committee. What's better than saving the day? Saving Superman - the guy who can save every day. The creative team would need an artist like Riccardo Burchielli, who'd provide a certain level of gravitas (not to mention redesigning the atrocious 1970's costume), and I'd love to see Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning on writing chores. They've done wonders with Marvel's cosmic heroes, and before that they turned out one of the best Legion stories ever for DC, with their Legion of the Damned and Legion Lost arcs.

Nazi Art Theft: True story – during WWII, Hitler and his top goons looted dozens of museums and private art collections across nearly every country in Europe. Der Fuhrer and the boys chalked it up to “cleansing the world of degenerate art,” but secretly were just amassing wealth to fund the (wrongly assumed) eventual rise of the Third Reich to global domination. Goebbels and Himmler and the gang were stockpiling works (in some cases, very well known artists like Rembrandt) on rail cars, with depots scattered all over. As cities fell, they'd ship them out to pre-designated rally points in their network - it really was an intricate system they devised. Eventually, the Allies got wind of this, and pressured by the academic world, the OSS establishes the ALIU, or Art Looting Investigation Unit, (This is real! I'm not making this shit up!), charged with intercepting stolen shipments and safeguarding museums and cultural centers as cities fell to the German forces. Essentially, they'd investigate, recover, and attempt to return the works to the rightful owners or institutions. After the war, thousands of pieces had been looted, with about 80% of them being recovered. Even as recently as 10 years ago or so, museums were finding things in their collections with this bizarre provenance of having been stolen and discovering that they may have been acquired illicitly. Some high-end collectors even began to specialize in these works, the fetishistic appeal of not only being a rare piece by artist x, but historical record as one of Hitler's infamous looted works made prices skyrocket. This is begging to be told in our medium. I picture a writer who's a master researcher (suggestions?) with art by Guy Davis. We know from his work on Mike Mignola’s creations that he can capture this time period effectively and evoke the right mood.

The Search for Kitty Pryde: Like many people, I enjoyed Joss Whedon’s run on Astonishing X-Men. It came as no surprise that Joss loves Kitty (as do I) since much of his work is informed by the latent female adolescent power fantasy dynamic. It was a great story, but heartbreaking to see her supposed demise at the end of his run. It always bothered me a bit that she was shuffled off stage left with little more than a page of dialogue between Scott and Peter essentially indicating "oh well, we tried to save her, we thought about it real hard, even called Reed Richards, but she’s lost." I think she's a rather important mutant to begin with, particularly if there are only 198 (199 counting Hope?) left. My gut instinct was always why didn't Scott at least pick up the phone, call his bro Havok, who is up there with the remnants of the Starjammers, Polaris and Phoenix riding shotgun. Now, I know he has his hands full at the moment with the whole War of Kings between the Shi’ar, Inhumans, Vulcan, and the Kree. But would it have hurt for Scott to say "hey, if you happen to see a 10 mile long bullet buzzing around, just be on the lookout for Kitty, huh?" There’s a good story in here. We had Havok & Wolverine: Meltdown. We had Pryde & Wisdom. So can't we have Havok & Pryde? X-Men: The Search for Kitty Pryde? Something like that. Creative team: Ed Brubaker & John Cassaday.

Mister Miracle: I'd like to see Cliff Chiang take this on, written by Brian Azzarello. At first this seems like an odd team, but I want to re-unite the Dr. 13: Architecture & Mortality team, and besides, Azz is probably bored now anyway that 100 Bullets wrapped(!). I don't think we need to be sticklers for New Gods Continuity Porn on this, I just want something with Scott Free, feel free to play with the bounds of the property. Look at what Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple did with Omega: The Unknown. Mister Miracle is a terrific character that desperately needs a post-Kirby definitive take.

Sunfire & Snowbird: Two X-Men characters that I love; they're just visually striking. So that's right, pair them up! Like Peanut Butter & Jelly, err, umm... DC's Fire & Ice from the Justice League. Ok, this one might be a stretch. But picture Keith Giffen writing, with Alan Davis on art. Who doesn't want to see the international adventures of Shiro Yoshida and an Inuit goddess in that context?

Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca: Please, if there is a God in heaven, let this amazing character have an ongoing monthly book!

Zeb Wells & Seth Fisher: It is a shame that Seth Fisher was taken before his time. Anyone who was lucky enough to have read Fantastic Four/Iron Man: Big in Japan knows that something magical was lost. To me, this is like Marvel's version of Seaguy, only told as comprehensible vs. the incoherent ramblings of a drunken Scotsman. Depicted not with the slick lush style of Cameron Stewart (his stuff is great, don't get me wrong, I do dig Seaguy and this is slightly facetious), but with the Silver Age manic fourth-wall breaking goofiness that Fisher infused his few offerings with. I guess I'm saying I wish the world could have gotten more of his work. Thankfully, Zeb is still an active writer and has been quietly amassing a body of decent work.


5.06.09 Reviews

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 #1 (Top Shelf/Knockabout): For everyone who thought that The Black Dossier was more of an exercise in structure and literary research than any actual substantive storytelling, Century: 1910 is a return to something more akin to the first two volumes of LOEG. And that’s a great thing. O’Neill’s art is as fantastic and ridiculously great as ever. There’s a particular page that I want to own. It’s the first time we see Mina in her red and black attire adorned with a question mark. It truly gives us a sense that she is a Victorian era superheroine. I’ll need to re-read this a few times to appreciate all of the literary references and themes at play, but at first reading the recurring themes that jumped out at me were about power and control. The ability of the Haddo Cult to control the occult, the loss and then catalyzation of an ascension to power associated with a rape, the team in over their heads and lacking control – being so frayed and falling apart, society losing power to Jack the Ripper, and the inability of anyone to control the incessant chattering of Orlando, who apparently Forest Gump’d his way through nearly every major historical event (and figure) since the dawn of time. The inclusion of Orlando was a welcome addition from The Black Dossier, honed by other members’ suspicion of him and lines about the stupidest thing he’s ever said: “Uh, I don’t know. There was ‘Oh look! What a wonderful horse!’ That was at Troy.” We also see scribe Alan Moore return to a style of storytelling that is both full of intertextual references and part industry commentary, evidenced best by the repeated visual of “Mobilis in Mobili,” Jules Verne’s Latin motto for Nemo in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It means “Moving in a Moving Thing,” which is generally accepted as showing how change can occur in a changing medium. This is amid many obvious links to Moby Dick, sing-songing our way through familiar Jack the Ripper fare, the Freemasons, callbacks to the pirate motif in Watchmen, British colloquialism inspired names like John Thomas, and the actual team – the aforementioned Orlando, the delightful Mina Murray, fictional occult detective Thomas Carnacki, the bizarro version of Sherlock Holmes that is AJ Raffles, and "Son" of Allan Quatermain. I loved the arc about the ascension of the new Captain of the Nautilus as well as Andrew Norton – Prisoner of London, who reminds me of some Warren Ellis creations like Jack Hawksmoor (King of Cities) or Elijah Snow (Century Baby). I think most LOEG fans will be breathing a sigh of relief to find that things appear to be back on track. I’m anxiously awaiting more (Moore?) and hope that someone like Jess Nevins or Timothy Callahan will be quick to annotate this sucker so that I can discover all the wonder that I’ve missed. [UPDATE: Hurray! Jess has in fact completed his annotations and they're certainly worth a look!] Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #13 (Marvel): This issue continues a very strong run by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. The script is full of little Fraction flourishes that emphasize his points like “…the further-- (the farther?)” The sequence with Controller and Maria Hill is really chilling and intimate; I’ve really grown to enjoy her character immensely. The stoic reserve of lines like “Then I can go find somewhere quiet to die for a little while” are really character honing moments. And what’s her mention of Cap all about?! Larroca is basically turning in the best pencils of his career here month after month and I’m surprised that more people aren’t raving about this title. It’s generally well reviewed (with a few holdouts who seem to feel Larroca’s pencils bear too much CG influence), but doesn’t seem to have reached “hot” status. Fraction handles three plotlines deftly, flitting back and forth between them all in a seamless fashion. Osborn’s would-be interrogation of Pepper Potts really proves what we all already knew about a 500 page classified report recently released by the Obama Administration regarding Gitmo – the CIA in Vietnam taught us long ago that waiving rights and inducing torture is not an effective means of intelligence gathering. Coercion and blackmail are much more successful in securing credible confessions or data. It’s just like Nice Guy Eddie (the late Chris Penn) said in Reservoir Dogs: “if you beat on him long enough, he’ll tell you he started the god damn Chicago fire, and that don’t necessarily make it fuckin’ so!” Grade A-.

Seaguy: Slaves of Mickey Eye #2 (DC/Vertigo): The loony fun of this issue revolves around a sort of Witness Protection Program where former, or would-be, superheroes are vanquished and caught up in a Matrix-style pseudo-reality. Cameron Stewart’s pencils are on fire here, with brilliant depictions of things like the Octomarine, which is a sort of hybrid of Black Manta and Nemo’s Nautilus from LOEG. I particularly smiled at things like El Macho!, the fate of Doc Hero, and Pablo’s Honey Pot. Maria Del Muerto has to be one of the best new characters I’ve seen in a while. I’m still not sure where this is ultimately going or what it specifically wants to say along the way (if anything new, maybe just retread of familiar Seaguy themes), but I’m enjoying the ride. Grade B+.

Cable #14 (Marvel): I picked up nearly the entire run of this Cable series recently from a dollar bin. Unfortunately, the issues that precede the Messiah War were snoozers that really lack the pizzazz that fuels the action and plot of this crossover. They were mostly, blah, blah, Cable and Hope in the future, scenes of Bishop looking grim, killing random highway robbers, blah blah, the Messiah Child. Anyway, this one is Chapter 4 of the Messiah War by Duane Swierczynski and Ariel Olivetti. I enjoy these issues of Cable about as much as I enjoy a Snickers bar when I’ve skipped lunch. They’re confectionary treats, ultimately unfulfilling, but they go down easy, are fun, and will get you through to your next meal. The best part of this issue for me was seeing Domino’s character development. I like the way she was positioned – no longer the character-less, femme fatale, window dressing, would-be fling she’s been to Cable and Deadpool, but someone with the heart of a leader who steps up to fill the void in leadership created by Wolverine and Cable both seeming to lose their footing as field leaders of X-Force. Bishop’s master plan is still pretty convoluted and doesn’t hold up to reason; I fear that someone is going to have to take the fall for this entire war and it might be him. I don’t think Marvel’s editorial department is prepared to truly kill Apocalypse, I doubt they’d kill Stryfe (after struggling so hard to bring him back for this), which leaves poor Lucas Bishop. Olivetti’s art is serviceable, still some awkward poses and overly CG renderings, but it largely gets the job done. As one of Marvel’s still $2.99 books, that helps achieve a Grade B.

New Mutants #1 (Marvel): I was pretty excited to check out this new series from Zeb Wells and Diogenes Neves that reunites 6 of the original team members, somehow in current continuity. The events that drive the assembling of the team are plausible enough in theory, but the execution on the scripting and visuals leave something to be desired. I liked the generational conflict between Sam and Robert and members of the New X-Men, particularly the conviction of (now more adult) Sam. The art in the preview pages was great, Neves boasting some refined detail and great care with the depiction of the various women in the story. The rest of the story pages appear rushed, some panels very skimpy on the details, and most of the men looking horrible. I liked the rapport between Sam and Scott, but I’m not sure I buy Scott’s depiction as an administrative paper pusher. Are we really supposed to believe that Sam would take the time to fill out some “Roster Request” form and officially submit it to Scott for review? Are the last remaining mutants really steeped in this much bureaucratic nonsense? “What do you got?” is one of those lines that might look ok on paper, but turns out to be very clunky when you say it aloud a few times. Wells and Neves could turn this around, and I hope they do. I want to care about these characters and like the title, but the first one was pretty inconsistent on all fronts. Grade B-.


Archaia: Don't Call It A Comeback

According to a recent press release, Archaia Studios Press will resume their publishing schedule in June, this after rounds of restructuring and talk of buyouts, confusing and sometimes contradictory communications scattered across various web venues, and then long periods of... silence. The release quickly clarifies that “we are no longer called Archaia Studios Press or ASP. Please refer to us as simply Archaia or Archaia Comics from now on.” That's all fine and dandy, but it sure would have been nice to see a coordinated marketing push, something like, I don't know, a web-site revamp that simultaneously incorporated all of these changes to the naming convention, and a crystal clear list of which books would continue, and how they'd be published (some continuing with single issues, and some jumping right to collected editions, some changing publishers altogether), and ya' know, when they'd be published - right there on the publisher's own web-site. The press release offers very limited awareness of the name change, and if you're hoping to educate and shift the audience toward adoption of a new name, you need sustained consistency on all fronts, with an identifiable new public face. This piece meal stuff rarely works in marketing. At this point, I really just want to see the final two issues of Jacamon & Matz's The Killer, with a second hardcover. Okko and Artesia are also fairly interesting, but I just never warmed to any of the other titles. That revised logo sure looks spiffy though.


Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) 2009

Love & Rockets: New Stories FCBD Edition (Fantagraphics): I’m not a huge fan of the Hernandez Brothers, but this is outstanding if you happen to be. It has actual new stories vs. reprints or just being a collection of house ads! The Killer story was a fun one and in spots I swear there is some similarity to the pencils of Terry Moore in the facial features. Grade A.

Exiles #1 (Marvel):I don’t think this new Jeff Parker series was actually one of the official free comics of FCBD, but inker Mark Irwin inked the cover and was signing this and giving away free copies, so that’s pretty cool. A very fun and cool premise-establishing issue that ends on a visual cliffhanger that made me want to pick up the series. Grade A.

Avengers (Marvel): Unless Marvel is going to start using less paper and charge $2.99 on all of their books, I don’t get the small size here. Ostensibly, this is a tough read for a newbie. Is that Bucky Cap? Is this the New Avengers? The Mighty Avengers? The Dark Avengers? What’s the difference? Why are there two versions of Spider-Man and Wolverine? That looks like Iron Man, but it’s not Tony Stark. Ronin? Sentry? Captain Marvel? None of them are easy characters to explain. However, Jim Cheung’s art looks fantastic! Almost as if he’s improved his own good style to new levels of greatness and incorporated the few redeeming qualities of Todd McFarlane and Joe Quesada along the way. Fun to see the Fastball Special with Luke Cage and in spite of itself, the title seems to overcome all of its many hurdles and still be fun and coherent. Grade A-.

Blackest Night #0 (DC): I grew up a Green Lantern fan; this is back when, I don’t know… Tomar Re was still around and Dave Gibbons was a regular artist, so I appreciate all things Green Lantern Corps, but damn if this didn’t seem a little esoteric. Johns does tons of ‘splainin, but unless you know that, uh, Hal, Barry, Clark, Ollie, J’onn, and now Bruce have died, along with basic GL Corps mythology, it’s kind of a head scratcher. It begins as sort of a tour of life and death in the DCU, and ends with some pin-ups, never really giving us a solid hook for what the actual story is going to be about. As a fan, I’m intrigued, but as a newbie I think I’d be lost. Grade B+.

Comics Festival! (Legion of Evil Press): By way of the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, we get some great pieces from Emmanuel Guibert, Scott Chantler, Faith Erin Hicks, and Chip Zdarsky. Then there are some others that don’t quite connect. Grade B+.

John Stanley’s Melvin Monster (Drawn & Quarterly): Gorgeous looking flipbook designed by Seth, which is a tease for the upcoming library editions of Stanley’s work later this year. Not really my personal cup of tea, but well done nonetheless. Grade B.

Aliens/Predator (Dark Horse): The Aliens portion looked pretty clean and fun, I even met the inker Mark Irwin who was doing a little signing. Amazing to think that Ridley Scott’s original film is coming up on its 30th Anniversary. Sheesh, do I feel old. I remember being a kid and watching it with my dad. Anyway, if you’re a fan of either, I’m sure this book will be interesting. Grade B.

Atomic Robo/Drone/We Kill Monsters (Red 5 Comics): The lead is your basic dinosaurs vs. robots amid the ever-popular “Hellboy-light” style of storytelling. I always think that Atomic Robo looks very slick and good, but never understand the rabid appeal after I read an issue. The two back up stories are awful. Grade C+.

Radical (Radical Comics): This is really nothing more than a book of pin-ups/advertisements for other series, most of which have quite a long way to go before they see the light of day. Although all of Radical’s output boasts extremely nice production quality, I have only slight interest in one title – The Last Days of American Crime by Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini. Grade C.

In general, I’m not sure anyone really “gets” what Free Comic Book Day is supposed to be anymore. I remember living in the Bay Area when it first started and two things were happening. One, most retailers got the majority of the titles and were, ya’ know, giving them away for free, because it’s, ya’ know, FREE Comic Book Day and all. Two, the giveaways were actual comics (not a collection of house ads, Radical!) aimed at certain potential demographics. It’s really a muddy mess out there these days. I can understand retailers only getting certain titles due to the sheer volume and diversity. The comics themselves don’t make it easy. There are companies represented that I’ve never heard of. William Shatner and Blue Water Comics? TH3RD World? NASCAR Comics? Who wants that exactly? Fans of err, NASCAR? Who just happen to wander into a comic shop on May 2nd?

The first shop I went to, alternately known as the Lair of Sea Donkey, was limiting your picks to 4. You could take 4 of the Free Comics on Free Comic Book Day, despite all of them designed to be… free. The entire goal of the effort is to whet the appetite of a potential or existing readership by putting new material into their hands risk free. The only way you do that is to expose them to as much as possible. Limiting their choices runs contrary to the entire premise. This retailer also didn’t do much of anything else to capitalize on the interest. No creator signings, no sale to speak of, just some typically bizarre retailer practices. This retailer really needed a lesson in line management and inventory control. There was one (1) single guy working the register for a line of about 50 people. Were these people making purchases? No. They were told to form two lines; one to pick up their 4 free books, and then another line to “check out” because they had to “track the books.” Umm, what? So, I’m basically standing in this line for 15 minutes so you can scan my 4 barcodes for a phantom “sale” so you can then figure out what product moved? Here’s an idea… if you ordered 200 of one title and at the end of the day you have 50 left, guess what? 200 minus 50 means you moved 150. End of discussion. And don't tell me you're worried about someone stealing them. Hello, last I checked... they. were. free. WHY DO I HAVE TO STAND IN THE RETARDED SEA DONKEY LINE FOR YOU TO COMPUTE THIS COMPLEX TRIGONOMETRIC ALGORITHM?!

The second retailer had it a little more together. While you could only take 5 titles at this place, there was no sign or anyone directing traffic to indicate this. So, me being me, I pick up every single book and make a healthy stack of 20 free comics that all say “FREE COMIC” on them because it is, after all, FREE COMIC BOOK DAY – only to be told by a register jock that uhh, yeah, the “policy” is that you can take 5, which makes me feel like a big jerk. I almost just put them all back because at this point, I didn’t care enough to sort through the ones I was interested in and the ones I wasn’t. It’s not as if I’m going to keep any of them anyway. However, this retailer was making a real effort at other things. This is where inker Mark Irwin was. True, it wasn’t an artist or writer, but just an (gosh, I’m marginalizing here…) inker. An inker I’d never heard of. Who inks books I’ve never bought and probably won’t. But still, it was something. But then there were trades and stuff on sale! Dollar comics! Some dude selling all his GI Joe toys! Free donuts to go along with the free comics! Yeah! Kinda’… At this rate, I don't think I'll be back next year.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Strips, Toons, and Bluesies: Essays in Comics & Culture (Princeton Architectural Press): There are many books about comic books out there. When you’re flipping through one and find the work of Winsor McCay, The Killer by Jacamon & Matz, Tijuana Bibles, Jimmy Corrigan, and the first appearance of Black Panther in Fantastic Four, such an eclectic blend of selections might be worth a look. Overall, Strips, Toons, and Bluesies does a good job showing the progression from the origin of comic books (leaning heavily on Toppfer’s The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck from 1842 – which is precisely why I cite that year in “About Me” over there -> on the side), to newspaper strips, to collected editions of said strips, to the staggering sales and market penetration numbers of the pre and post-War period. The essays cover the influence of the subversive Tijuana Bibles, the temporary decline and eventual rise of superheroes (and their self-perpetuating presence in the direct market), and glosses quickly over the Seduction of the Innocent period. It hits good notes around the underground “comix” movement centered largely in 1960’s San Francisco, understands some of the present day mini-comics dynamic, touches on alternative comics, and spends some quality time discussing taboos around African-American depictions in the 1960’s and how comics may have been unwitting allies in the Civil Rights Movement, being the first to adopt stereotype-defying depictions and self-reflexive commentary. For my taste, a little too much time is spent on the Hernandez Brothers of Love & Rockets fame (but that’s just personal preference), though the points about their artistic style are certainly in depth and handled with great critical respect. There are a few points I disagreed with, one in particular quite strongly. While some complimentary observations about mini-comics are to be found, such as “the diligence, commitment, and wit of today’s mini-comic artists impresses,” the authors counter them with confounding statements like “I’ll confess that I find the attachment to hand-lettering medieval.” Really? Medieval? That’s a pretty strong word to throw around. Why? Isn’t hand-lettering endemic to the mini-comic, which is hand drawn, hand assembled, and usually “mass produced” at Kinko’s – all sans involvement of the personal computer? One could just as easily say that computer lettering is cold, clinical, impersonal, and soulless (not to mention inaccessible without said PC) without backing it up with any further explanation. I don’t mind an opposing opinion or bold statement, just elaborate and explain why. The book never does. It just moves right on to sweeping characterizations like “all the variations on the not-Marvel-or-DC theme – underground, alternative, and mini; amateur and professional – share persistent motifs: brooding remembrances of childhood, a weakness for revenge fantasies, self-absorption, alienation, anxiety about authority, and an adolescent sense of melodrama. Comics can seem like an illustrated literature of loserdom.” Wow. Such a pinnacle of generalization and incorrect positioning, lacking any real empirical evidence to support its own conclusion. How many comics have these academics actually read? Notice that the piece doesn’t say “most” of these comics or even “the vast majority,” which I might have agreed with, or certainly not objected to as completely. In no uncertain terms, it says “all” of these comics. I’d grant you that maybe 80% of mini-comics could fit that bill even, but to say “all” and then expand the scope of your argument to include underground, alternative, basically anything not published by DC or Marvel – that’s just ridiculous. One need only look at the output of small publishers like Sparkplug Comics, Oni Press, Archaia Studios Press, Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Elephant Eater, AdHouse, etc., etc. (this list is essentially endless), or hell, even any of the mini-comics I’ve done (ranging from low budget crime tales to the hypocrisy of Corporate America) to adequately refute the book’s broad claim. That major blunder aside, the book does provide a good high level summary of the industry’s rise and spotlights some issues that don’t necessarily often get discussed much in similar books about the medium, such as the direct market phenomenon. Strips, Toons, and Bluesies makes the observation that “underground and alternative comics are now rarely, if ever, sold in heads shops and the like, they are confined by this ‘direct market’ to the superhero comic shop it serves, and superhero comic shops are the worst place to sell anything other than superhero comics.” For example, Chris Ware’s Acme Novelty Library, considered a success in most circles, manages only to sell approximately 20,000 copies per issue through the direct market venue, yet that number is still only less than half of what a run of the mill 1970’s underground comic sold. “Perhaps the publishers of underground comics should court not only literary bookstores but also head shops and porn shops, to get back to the world of sex and drugs from which they came. After all, more average Americans smoke pot and buy vibrators than read Aquaman.” Love that! By covering such a wide swath here (oh, let’s say the history of the entire comics industry), the book is understandably a little quirky about where it chooses to focus and spend time discussing issues, but what is chosen is (mostly) done remarkably well. The editors included a timeline of significant industry events, which I enjoyed because it’s not necessarily a standard linear timeline. It looks more like the diagram that Jack Black’s character does of the “history of Rock & Roll” in the movie School of Rock, with lines of influence going everywhere, Motown to the side, British punk and The Clash over here, Rolling Stones about there, Dylan influencing Springsteen up there, etc. It simultaneously tracks film animation as a corollary art form, distribution methods, and significant advances in printing and production. This was a very original and thought provoking way of framing the timeline. I found a 2004 publication date on this, so it may be a bit dated, but I was surprised to find it (having never seen or heard of it before) in my museum store on a 50% off table during a recent sale! It is still available on Amazon, eBay, etc. Grade A-.