10.28.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Buenaventura Press: Comics Revival 3 Pack

I Want You #1 (by Lisa Hanawalt): This was a really enjoyable introduction to Hanawalt’s work, but doesn’t offer much in the way of a narrative. The book is a series of observational lists that are twisted, yet astute. They begin with one foot rooted in reality, but then go off the deep end into comical absurdity. There are sex bugs lurking on your keyboard tray, the questions raised by common dirty talk, and many more offenders. Many of the vignettes seem fascinated by interspecies romance and a typical line works a little something like this: “To my accountant, I can’t stop thinking about you. When you balance my books, I want to fuck your face out.” While there might not be much of a traditional story being told here, the pencil work is versatile and strong, and there’s no doubt Hanawalt can deliver quirky humor. Grade B.

The Aviatrix #1 (by Eric Haven): The most clever technique The Aviatrix stories use is seamlessly sliding from one tale into the next. For example, the uncomfortable situation and scatological humor of Protona spins right into It’s Ok… I’m Wearing a Tie! This was my favorite story, highlighting the fact that foolishly rigid adherence to any principle or dogma is bound to fail you eventually amid unpredictable human life. Secret Origins explains The Aviatrix herself as a sort of deus ex machina savior from the sky, and bleeds right into her origin story, stopping for a split second to touch on coercive threats to national security. Eric Haven’s clean expressive lines have a little bit of Robert Crumb influence in the facial features, with thicker inkier backgrounds and overall figure work. Grade B.

Injury #3 (by Ted May): I was really impressed by the panel designs on some of the pages of A Burnout in the Cosmos. The first full page shot exhibits both the perspective of the audience, and also Jeff’s point of view being a young kid in the counselor’s office, by using a series of inset panels. The split panel discussion, half the counselor talking, the other half cutting it off to show Jeff’s inner thoughts occupying his focus, is simple, elegant, and brutally effective. There is a Yoshihiro Tatsumi like quality to this autobiographical tale and some of the representational lines that don’t quite connect with eachother. It’s an extremely pleasant way to pull the reader in and allow them to provide some artistic closure. Oh, and watch out for bionic arms that help you fight “evil hillbillies with sci-fi lassoes.” Grade B+.

10.28.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #21 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood seems to have a knack for presciently including hot button social issues in his work. The mysterious plague of this arc entitled “The Plague Widow” is an interesting analog for the current Swine Flu paranoia sweeping the nation. Many of the Northlanders arcs to date have witnessed competing paradigms, whether they’ve been modernism vs. tradition, man vs. nature, or female vs. male roles. This introductory issue hones in on science vs. a more faith-based explanation for the sickness ailing the settlement. Boris’ attempted sense of epidemiology is quickly countered with cries of “heathen!” Not only is the greater social topic explored of how to deal with the plague, but we get quiet character moments addressing guilt over wanting to perish along with family members, which is ultimately supplanted by classic survivor’s guilt. At the end of the issue, it’s an interesting morality play that makes readers wonder if the actions of the protagonists are truly carried out for the sake of the greater good, or simply an example of succumbing to mob mentality. My first exposure to Leandro Fernandez’s art was during a run of Greg Rucka’s Queen & Country over at Oni Press. Though I was an instant fan, his style has changed dramatically from that period. I remember sharp angles and highly stylized lines adorning the espionage thriller, which here have evolved into softer lines and more refined and realistic proportions to the figures. I kept thinking that the art looked like a blend of Eduardo Risso and Dave Lapham, due in no small part to the fantastic coloring of Dave McCaig, who has really been making an impression on this title of late. Grade A.

Detective Comics #858 (DC): The origin story for Kate Kane kicks off in this issue and has the typical strong elements we’ve come to expect from Greg Rucka and JH Williams III, but also has a few added twists. The current scenes come full of JH Williams III signature flourishes, including his thin elegant lines and impressive levels of detail packed into the panels, but take things to the next level with two gorgeous double page spreads. These spreads spend some time showing the forensics work that Greg Rucka is so expert at researching and describing, but here he yields to his creative partner and allows them to be depicted visually. For the flashback scenes to Kate’s childhood years, Williams employs a completely different artistic style with a markedly alternate look and feel. Not only is his versatility amazing, but he’s able to match the script tonally with a retro vibe that compliments Rucka’s scripting. The creators continue to work in unison as they help explain the twist ending to the last issue, fill in some of the clues we’ve been given about Kate’s family, upbringing, and her own personality. For me, the highlight was a brilliant page full of nothing but blackened panels, some bearing subtle changes in position or relation to the panel gutter to explain the actions taking place in the dark. With nothing but sound effects and clipped speech, we’re able to perfectly discern story meaning in a horrific and claustrophobic environment with nothing but the art, and lingering evidence of a strong script, left to guide us. David Uzumeri nails an analysis of this book in a more articulate fashion than I could summon over at Savage Critics. I particularly enjoyed his formula of Rucka combining the well-researched detail obsessiveness in his military/procedural wheelhouse with familial drama and strong female leads to attain the pinnacle of his superhero work and something greater than the sum of its parts. Sorry, but I can’t stand The Question back up feature, and it’s still preventing the “+” from being added to this Grade A.


Blood Orange Gets The Business @ Eye On Comics

Don MacPherson was kind enough to review Blood Orange over at Eye On Comics, but with a rating of 4/10 it felt like a bit of the “Stink Eye On Our Comics.” With my luck, it figures that the lowest score we’ve received so far (we’ve been running solid 8/10’s to date) would also get the biggest exposure, invariably getting picked up in a linkblog post at The Comics Journal. While there were some mildly positive comments offered about the evolution of my writing over time or instances of Grant’s strong figure and still work, I can’t say that I agree with or understand all of Don’s generous feedback. For example, of Blood Orange, he stated that “the first part of the story boasts a deceivingly sinister tone.” I was surprised and unaware that it could be interpreted that way, and it was never my conscious intent. Of The Mercy Killing, he felt it started off with a “Dick and Jane-like approach to the narration,” which was simply intended as omniscient third person narration, with short, crisp, declarative sentences to state some facts. But at the end of the day, I’m primarily in the review business myself, so I deeply understand that everyone is entitled to their opinion and their own subjective read of a book. I genuinely meant it when I thanked Don for the review and said that he’d given us a thorough bit of feedback and some things to think about that we probably never would have considered otherwise. I know that Grant is a big football fan, so I couldn’t resist sending him an email this morning to tell him that Don really “gave us the business!”


Coming This Week: I Wanna’ Die With You On The Streets Tonight In An Everlasting Kiss

Every week I review Diamond's “New Releases” to determine what I’ll definitely be buying sight unseen, what I’m interested in enough to do a quick scan of at the LCS to see if it can win me over, and note any other items that catch my eye. Here’s a look…


Detective Comics #858 (DC): Greg Rucka and JH Williams III begin their stylized spin on Batwoman Kate Kane’s origin story. I'm really enjoying this run, especially as Rucka’s ostensibly simple scripts have stepped up to match the intricacy of J3’s gorgeous and inventive art and layouts.

Northlanders #21 (DC/Vertigo): Accompanied by Leandro Fernandez this time out, Brian Wood begins "The Plague Widow" arc, which appears to be a great genre blender, furthering the world he's envisioned for the book. Fernandez seems to be one of those artists you either love or hate, count me in the former camp ever since his run on Queen & Country with Greg Rucka.


Freakangels: Volume 3 (Avatar): I picked up the first two volumes at SDCC this year and generally enjoyed the setting, characters, and Duffield’s offbeat art. However, Warren Ellis is running about a 50% success rate with me this year, so I'm not sure if this'll be strong enough to plunk down the ducats.


No Hero #0-7: Complete Set (Avatar): I opted out of the single issues around #3 and decided to tradewait this, but this complete set is a pretty good deal if you’re so inclined, saving you about $11 pre-tax over having bought them individually at regular cover price.


The Brave & The Bold #28, And Another Look at Joss Whedon's Sugarshock

Reviews by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

The Brave & The Bold #28 (DC): When J. Michael Straczynski took over writing The Brave & The Bold, he stated that he wanted to feature characters that have rarely teamed up before. This issue pairs Blackhawk and the Flash. The Flash participates in a Belgian scientific experiment that throws him back in time for a harrowing World War Two encounter with Blackhawk and his pilot squadron.

One of JMS’ strengths as a comic writer is his ability to describe a character’s philosophy through actions and internal dialogue. The Flash’s commentary during the experiment is a nice nod to his optimistic scientific roots, which is contrasted by the grim pragmatism of Blackhawk and his besieged team.

With his powers diminished by a broken leg, the Flash is forced into a moral dilemma; can he use a gun to lethally defend himself during the Battle of the Bulge? I don’t agree with Barry Allen’s ultimate answer, but the internal discussion is well-reasoned and thought provoking.

Jesus Saiz draws the book in a clearly-defined, basic style that works well to tell the story and capture the emotions on the character’s faces. I did notice some inconsistent elements to the art, such a lack of depth on certain military uniform and vehicle details, but they are minor distractions. JMS has grounded the story with solid historical and scientific research. I felt that the attention to historical detail and context was slightly undermined by two different German soldiers speaking German and English in an interchangeable fashion.

This story does its job well and is a pleasant reminder of comics with a message, a point of view and a complete tale in one issue. Grade B.

Sugarshock: One Shot (Dark Horse): When I read Sugarshock, I was acutely aware of Joss Whedon’s penchant for snappy banter. Sugarshock unleashes a torrent of wordplay that almost crowds out the characters. Dandelion the singer and Wade the drummer are the unchecked, playful members of the comic’s titular band; while Robot Phil the bassist and L’Lihdra the guitarist are the slightly more reserved members, slipping in dry observations on the random antics of their bandmates.

The book is a compilation of three story segments from the online anthology MySpace Dark Horse Presents. While the plot involves the group mistaking an intergalactic battle arena for a battle of the bands, the main focus is on the character’s personalities ricocheting off each other. Much like the sarcastic dynamic between the dog and rabbit detectives from Sam & Max, the Sugarshock band is shown to perform more for each other in the car between gigs than on the stage.

The clever, quirky characters are well-defined by the art of Fabio Moon. Moon’s style here is reminiscent of Paul Pope’s work, with a mix of thick and thin flowing lines surrounding brushed ink shadows and textures.

Moon’s art is strongly supported by subtle, luminous colors from Dave Stewart. Nate Piekos’s lettering contributes to the whimsical flavor of the book, with robotic speech balloons and literal sound effects such as “EXPLODE!”

This is a well-crafted comic in Dark Horse’s series of one-shots featuring a complete story in each single issue. Grade: B


Blood Orange @ Paradox Comics

The latest review of my third mini-comic, this time with friend/artist/6-foot tall Shaolin Warrior Priest Grant Lee, is up at Paradox Comics Group. Special thanks to Matt C who kicked off an “irregular feature” called “The Indie Club” by reviewing our book, Blood Orange. Matt rated it an 8 out of 10, saying it was “delightfully honest,” and that “it packs a punch because, while the events might be entirely personal, the feelings exhibited are universal, and any piece of art that can achieve that effect is something that deserves to find an audience.” Matt was also very complimentary of Grant’s pencils, saying his “linework is simple but incredibly effective.”

10.21.09 Reviews

Invincible Iron Man #19 (Marvel): Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca pick right up where they left off from the crazy twist ending in the last issue. I’m sorry, but how frickin’ awesome is the idea of Pepper Potts rescuing Black Widow and Maria Hill while she’s pulling off an inside sneak attack on the extant Stark tech with the Rescue suit? And the dialogue that accompanies these sequences only spells it out in even more glorious detail. This book is exciting, thrilling, well written, well drawn, and employs terrific characterization, especially for Osborn (“You sound like my kind of guy” or “This proto-Hulk patois”) and all of the women (Hill: “I never asked. I’m a soldier. And an order from the boss is an order from the boss. Boss says go and get the thing, I go and get the thing.”). Fraction displays a mastery of the characters and a veteran conductor’s control of the plot that I found so lacking in Uncanny X-Men recently. Straight up superhero comics just don’t get any better than this. I grew up a DC kid, but Fraction and Larroca have made me care about a Marvel character that I never really paid much attention to. Every moment is grand, with wall to wall rousing action mirrored by great lines. There’s not a speck of mediocre on this thing. Larroca has grown in the space of a year and a half from being an artist earnestly working, but overly photo-referencing, to a confident craftsman who no longer needs the training wheels. His panel transitions are clear, he can capture the big widescreen action or even the quiet character moments that rely on facial expressions to convey nuance. And at the end of it all, we’re left with yet another ingenious twist that feels organic but sets up even more events to follow. Man, this is one of those rare instances when the grading scale really needs to go higher than Grade A+.

Sugarshock: One Shot (Dark Horse): Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon’s Eisner Award winning contribution to the Dark Horse MySpace Presents online anthology finally sees print in a stand alone book. It’s got a great page to dollar ratio and the added bonus material creates some good value. Moon’s visual shortcuts strike you right away, gags in themselves, hidden in the background signage or lettering of the sound effects. On the scripting end, it’s full of typical Whedonisms in the phrasing and cadence of the speech, all sprinkled with fun verbal digression. “You remember that you’re not allowed to talk until after I’ve used you for sex, right? And also not then.” The band competition that sets the adventure in motion spins into an alien intergalactic contest of another kind. Along the way, we get an abortive Abe Lincoln opening for the second chapter, which I loved, a Pan interlude, wonderful L’Lihdra monologues, and Viking slurs that remind us what a good world-builder Whedon is, creating imaginative internal rules and customs for his characters to follow. I loved the writing on the single page explaining “The Saddest Song in The World.” It’s crisp and smart, reminiscent of the best Buffy or Firefly moments. “Not the poor people of course. Please.” Grade A.

Justice League of America #38 (DC): I’m wondering if Plastic Man’s extensive expository dialogue was meant to be a tongue in cheek wink at the reader? I’m unclear as to what the authorial intent was there, but we’ll come back to that general feeling in a bit. Vixen seems to be having a crisis of conscience similar to what Hal Jordan experienced in Cry for Justice, which put that book’s plot into motion. It’s odd that events in this book seem to post-date Cry for Justice though; since that book hasn’t wrapped, it feels out of sequence here with Vixen talking about her broken leg and “the loss of all those people.” Despero appears out of nowhere as a sort of… Diabolus Ex Machina, I guess would be the proper Latin term, as a force of evil whose presence has no possible explanation other than its needed to advance the plot. I liked the Sodam Yat reference, the appearance of Gypsy, and Zatanna, who saves the day. It was interesting to me that there was a moment when nothing but women Leaguers appeared to have survived the short fight, with Vixen, Dr. Light, Gypsy, and Zatanna all standing in a panel. To me, that idea held the most drama and the gender politics would’ve been an interesting notion to explore. I would have actually preferred if Despero really took Plastic Man and Red Tornado out of commission. When he broke Plas, that was a genuine shocking and unexpected move that I wish would have stuck. At the end of the day, Robinson didn’t even deliver us a de rigeur “gathering the team” issue, but more an instance of destroying the remnants of the old one first. So far, this is playing like prologue to his new lineup and there is absolutely no cohesion to the disparate elements. There’s JLA history, random members, random villains, strong ties to Blackest Night, and a sequential fissure with Robinson’s own mini-series.

It would be easy to complain about yet another death in the DCU serving as the catalyst for a big event, new series, or changing of the guard arc, but I’m actually wondering about the larger sociological reason as to why this seems to be happening in an endemic fashion. Is this a post-9/11 dynamic in our collective consciousness, wherein pop culture consumers are so desensitized to violence that writers need to literally open with a death in order to even have a chance at grabbing their attention? It must be a particularly fun game for writers to play, selecting their “targets” that is, within some sort of unspoken corporate guidelines. They know they can’t kill off a big gun A-lister, not permanently anyway. Superman died and returned. Batman died and shall return. As a side note, I’m wondering how long it will be before someone has a story featuring the death of Wonder Woman in order to truly break the trinity. B-listers have had their moments as well, with the deaths of Martian Manhunter and Sue Dibny. Now I guess we’re down to the C-list, as writers comb the DC archives in search of also-rans that nobody has used for a few years, those with a minority handful of fans, those that the vast majority won’t really miss and will simply utter a lackluster “who?” when they find out the news. It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? Assumably you want to open with a “shocking” death, but aren’t allowed to pick any characters that would truly shock, so instead you get to kill off some nobody, which tends to de-shock your big shocking reveal.

So anyway, yeah, James Robinson opened his arc of Justice League of America by killing a hero named Blue Jay. While I remembered him vaguely from a good Action Comics run with Nightwing a couple of years ago, I honestly had to Wiki him to learn anything more. The most interesting thing though? Robinson killed another gay character, this after killing Tasmanian Devil in a very throw away panel in his still-running (or stillborn, depending on who you ask) Cry for Justice mini-series, and Mikaal Thomas’ boyfriend. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but me? I tend to think that three points make a trend. If I was a gay superhero in the DCU right now, I’d be sleeping with a gun under the pillow and surrounding myself with the most powerful metahumans I could find. Again, I find this really interesting, not from a storytelling perspective – the killings-as-substitute-for-story are played out – but in the “why’s it happening?” sense. Why is it that heterosexual male writers tend to fetishize and revere lesbians (I don’t see Batwoman or Renee Montoya getting killed any time soon, not with them headlining their own book), yet continue to marginalize gay men? It seems we’re only upholding these tired conceits of homophobically demonizing gay men, but perpetuating endless fascination and easy/lazy titillation with gay women.

Also, is it me, or have many of the books with gay male characters, which have been critically praised mind you, been cancelled? Young Heroes in Love and The Power Company come to mind. Is it coincidence that almost all of the examples I can think of are DC owned properties? Does Marvel seem to handle their gay men better? The Rawhide Kid, Northstar, members of the Young Avengers, and members of the current X-Factor team come to mind. I don’t see a brazen trend to kill them developing. I don’t necessarily have any answers to these queries, they’re just observations and the subsequent questions that’ve popped into my head after a reading of this book. But yeah, if I was gay in the DCU I’d start looking at forming a coalition to defend myself with the way things are currently going. Hell, I’d form a gay Justice League. Come to think of it, maybe this is really where Robinson has been going all along.

Remember that big dust-up over the title lettering of JLA: Cry for Justice being mistaken as JLA: Gay for Justice? Maybe that was deliberate. I mean, Mikaal Thomas is gay. Maybe he’s been deliberately paired with Congorilla so that we can finally get some real monkey-lovin’. Maybe Freddie Freeman will spurn Supergirl’s advances because he too is secretly gay, and we all know young girls are attracted to pretty boy gay guys. Maybe that rejection will force her into the arms of Batwoman when she finally joins the team. I mean, what self-reviling fanboy fanfic hasn’t considered the notion of Supergirl and Batwoman getting down? By extension of Wildstorm, DC has already witnessed their male analogues for Batman and Superman get together in the form of Apollo and Midnighter’s relationship, so we might as well see their female counterparts become involved. Maybe the real reason that Ollie and Hal are bickering like an old married couple is because they really just want to… kiss? I’m sure Ollie could put those handcuff arrows to use and hey, Hal’s a pretty imaginative guy, I’m sure he could conjure up some fun green sex toys with the ring. "Show me your Oan face." Maybe they could pull Atom into a three-way and he can shrink down to back door intrusion size and do a little prostate dancing for them. Yeah, I’m being facetious with all that, but only since this is tough to evaluate because I’m not privy to Robinson’s intentions.

No, I seriously doubt he’s outright gay-bashing with his fiction, but if he’s earnestly cranking out these stories with no conscious recognition of the trend (and ramifications) he’s creating, then they’re really down in Grade D range, and that’s being generous for Bagley’s perfectly ok art. But if he’s deliberately using this last batch of stories as a cipher to raise the level of public debate, if he’s attempting to make some sort of commentary about social mores and preconditioned bias and challenge his audience, then it could be more in Grade B range. It really will come down to his authorial intent and the character’s ultimate denouement; I hope that all becomes clear in the future. Honestly, the book is superficially not very good, but with a deeper dive I find that I also haven’t thought about the social conditions behind a book’s creation this much in a very long time. That’s gotta' be worth something. For now, let’s split the difference and call it a very tentative Grade C.

I also picked up;

Scalped: Volume 5: (DC/Vertigo): Collecting the High Lonesome arc.

Aya: The Secrets Come Out (Drawn & Quarterly): …and randomly, like three weeks late, Good ‘Ol Sea Donkey finally gets one (one!) copy of this book in.


Blood Orange @ Sequential Tart

The latest review of my new mini-comic with pal Grant Lee is up at Sequential Tart. Thanks to Sheena McNeil and Holly von Winckel, who reviewed it and rated it an 8 out of 10. Holly was overall very complimentary, saying it was “a pleasure to read” and that “the world would be a better place if everyone could write the story of their memorable moments, have it illustrated, and finish it off with a bit of contemplative conclusion. Since we can't all do that, maybe we should be contacting Giampaoli and Lee to negotiate about some contract work.”

Coming This Week: "Good Morning Gentlemen, the Temperature is 110 Degrees"

Every week I review Diamond's “New Releases” to determine what I’ll definitely be buying sight unseen, what I’m interested in enough to do a quick scan of at the LCS to see if it can win me over, and note any other items that catch my eye. Here’s a look…


Scalped: Volume 5 (DC/Vertigo): This edition collects the High Lonesome arc, comprised of issues 25-29. Psst! The books you’re reading right now probably aren’t as good as Scalped.

Invincible Iron Man #19 (Marvel): Since I think I’m done with Uncanny X-Men for a while (yeah, it's like that troublesome ex-girlfriend, we need to take "a break"), this has become my go to Fraction superhero book simply by default.


Sugarshock: One Shot (Dark Horse): I generally like the work of Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon, so I may decide to see what all the hubbub was about here. I mean, it did win an Eisner Award. Though I'm not sure what that means anymore.

Justice League of America #38 (DC): James Robinson and Mark Bagley. Honestly, I'm not a huge fan of Bagley, but his pencils are attractive enough and he's extremely consistent (which is becoming more and more a rarity), having put in long runs on high profile books for the Big Two. James Robinson will either crank out a masterpiece (Starman), or if it's anything like his recent work (JLA: Cry for Justice), it'll be so laughably bad that I’ll enjoy it as a weird guilty pleasure. My hopes are kinda' leaning toward the latter. At the end of the day, I really just want to see Dick in the cowl officially on/leading the team - none of that Justice League Task Force style technicality crap.


Ex Machina #46 (DC/Wildstorm): With only four issues to go, it seems like DC/Wildstorm have been pretty slow to get that second Deluxe Edition Hardcover out.

Five Fists of Science (Image): Probably the overlooked Fraction book; I think it's one of his best pieces of work. Essentially taking an Alan Moore LOEG riff and steampunking it up with historical fiction. If you dug that issue of Uncanny X-Men (512 was it?) with the Science Team going back in time, this is the book you want to seek out. Perhaps the new printing is set to coincide with Steven Saunders upcoming S.W.O.R.D. book from Marvel with Kieron Gillen(?), which I’m looking forward to. Saunders has got nice distinct pencils, Gillen can surely capture unique voices, and I really enjoyed Abigail Brand and S.W.O.R.D over in Astonishing X-Men. It seems like you could get lots of mileage out of that premise, and that could be a winning creative team. But anyway, yeah, Five Fists of Science.

Lone Ranger & Tonto #3 (Dynamite Entertainment): I'm a big fan of the regular series, but so far all of these off-shoot stories have really been crap. Sorry. It just feels like the property is being diluted.

Echo: Volume 3 (Abstract Studio): Terry Moore delivers the third chunk of story entitled Desert Run. These softcover trades are a good value over the single issues if you're tradewaiting, but if you're someone like me who loyally purchases every issue, then they don't offer anything at all. There's no incentive to upgrade, not a lick of extras, and the paper quality is arguably shoddier. Maybe Moore will eventually do some sort of absolutey digesty sized thingy like he did for SiP? That'd be swell. I think he said this series would go about 30 issues or so, so that's not a terribly long wait. I'll just hold onto my single issue for know, k thanks.


Artist LinkBlogDumpingGround or… If You Date a Butcher Long Enough, You’ll End Up Eating Steak

I guess this pop culture hangover I gave myself all started when I set out to update some of the links over there, but invariably it took on a life of its own. Initially, I was just going to include some links (one or two!) to the artists I really like. No, the ones I really like. The ones who would make me buy whatever book they were working on with whatever character, with whatever writer, from whatever company. Like the ones who are so good that the story content doesn’t matter; they’re so good that their mere name on a project necessitates an instant purchase.

Me, I naturally tend to gravitate more toward strong writing being the primary hook for a book since I like to call myself a writer. But I felt like I had that covered. You know, you’ve got your Brian Wood, your Jason Aaron, your Warren Ellis, your Antony Johnston, and your Joe Casey. Those types. I think I have these guys covered with all of the ink I sling at them here. If they were “my” writers, then who were “my” artists? I started making a list.

Keep in mind, please, that I’m not trying to create some all encompassing definitive list of the “best” artists who ever dared to dream in the field of comic books, so relax if I didn’t include someone. Yes, I like Jack Kirby and Gil Kane too. Promise. These are just the guys that really do it for me, y’know? They have a body of work that I currently enjoy, the ones I feel have legs in the industry, something important to say or a particularly stylistic way of saying it. The ones I follow. The ones I consider myself a fan of. The list is likely to grow, but at the moment, these are the guys I keep my eye on and basically plunk down money for - no questions asked. Official site links included where possible:

JH Williams III
Paul Pope
Cliff Chiang
John Cassaday
Nathan Fox
Jim Rugg
Joe Sacco
Jason Shawn Alexander
Christopher Mitten
Dave Gibbons
Travis Charest
David Mack
Ashley Wood
Ryan Kelly
Rafael Grampa
Trevor Alixopulos
Josh Simmons
Farel Dalrymple
Ryan Sook
Frank Quitely
Juan Jose Ryp
Matt Kindt
Danijel Zezelj
Jessica Abel
Gianni Pacinotti (aka: Gipi)
Geoff Darrow
Gary Panter


Grandville Review

(Jonathan Cape Ltd.)
Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

Bryan Talbot’s work on Grandville plays to his strengths as a creator of alternate fantasy universes centered on British culture and history. Talbot’s previous miniseries of Luther Arkwright stories focused on the noble bloodlines, mysticism, and magic of the British Isles. The 98-page graphic novel Grandville explores a Britain populated by anthropomorphic animals and recently emerged from two centuries of oppressive French rule established during the Napoleonic War.

This version of Britain overthrew the French rulers through a series of anarchist actions that exhausted the will of the government. Twenty years after this anarchist revolt and two years after a terrorist attack in Paris, Scotland Yard Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock investigates a country mansion locked-room suicide that leads to an international conspiracy and an explosive climax in Paris.

LeBrock is an imposing badger of impressive stature; one character comments that he has “…a chest like a bloody beer barrel.” LeBrock’s deductive methods reflect the insight expected of Scotland Yard, combined with brutal physical combat. Talbot thanks Quentin Tarantino in the introduction, and he includes homage to the interrogation scene from Reservoir Dogs. The anthropomorphic nature of characters takes some of the edge off the brutality; Talbot firmly places the violence in the turbulent context of the world the characters live in.

Talbot is upfront about acknowledging other influences on this story, such as Reed Waller’s groundbreaking anthropomorphic comic Omaha and Herge’s Tintin. I found Talbot’s writing and artwork fully realized with a tremendous attention to detail, which is a hallmark for him. A new development is Talbot’s use of computer-generated patterns for background details such as rugs, wallpaper, and bank notes. He uses them sparingly and in an appropriate manner that shows their strength in adding intricate layers to a panel.

Talbot’s artwork highlights his masterful sense of color and composition; I especially enjoyed a panel where LeBrock meets the British ambassador to France. The characters faces are framed by a blue curtain, white painted walls and a red leather chair that suggest the colors of the French flag. Talbot’s style is evident from the handsome embossed three-color cover to the endpapers to the computer-generated font based on his hand lettering.

I hope that Talbot composes a sequel to this “scientific-romance thriller.” Grade A.


10.14.09 Reviews

Scalped #32 (DC/Vertigo): This was an exhilarating opener that provides follow up for the last issue cliffhanger about a key witness. He barely escapes, amid Dash’s continued attempt to burn the candle at both ends. He tries to further the case against Red Crow - without blowing his cover. Dash has had some highs and lows over the course of the series, but hitting Carol is a particularly rock bottom moment that even he realizes. The larger mission is taking its toll emotionally. I noticed some pretty cool sound effects from R.M. Guera this time out. Things like “HPLYAS!” for a strong slap, or “HPOTH” when Dash and Diesel shake hands quietly are not obvious sounds when you first see them, but they sound right when you work them out phonetically. Are these new? Or have they always been present and I'm just now noticing the unique complexity of Guera's gutteral art? He's particularly effective capturing dark moments, like Red Crow standing in Carol’s door in the rain. It's moody and effective, framing a rare moment of selfless compassion. Jason Aaron's characters are so complex and rich, the unlikely alliances never fail to surprise, I *still* think there's something up with Shunka, and as always - are you sick of me saying it yet? - this is a truly original piece of work that deserves more of a following, widespread critical acclaim, and broader exposure than our beloved medium is capable of offering. Simply put, I want this to be an HBO series. Grade A+.

DMZ #46 (DC/Vertigo): The second installment of the Hearts & Minds arc opens with a burst of terse information that exposes the havoc created by Parco’s city state recently becoming a nuclear power. DMZ excels at depicting alternate points of view, and Danny’s is an interesting one. In his attempt at unity and stability, Matty may have inadvertently been more divisive than expected. The questions that Wood’s characters pose are very enticing. What’s Parco’s endgame, and what’s Matty’s? Are they congruous or at odds? I also really enjoyed the notion of (perhaps duplicitous) “Radio Free DMZ” being introduced as another voice in the region. And hey folks, that gmail addy is hot, I sent a test email to it and it didn’t bounce back – so that has some viral marketing potential. Burchielli’s gritty pencils are as tight and well suited to the material tonally as they usually are. This time out, I noticed his figure work and poses in particular. Zee’s worried posture on the makeshift cinder block couch or Danny’s apprehensive guarded arms bring an air of authenticity to an incredible bit of scripting. Also included is a Luna Park preview from Kevin Baker and Danijel Zezelj, which looks fantastic. New Zezelj work is always reason to celebrate. Now, if he’d only finish up that second Desolation Jones arc with Warren Ellis… Grade A.

Liberty Comics #2 (CBLDF/Image): The First Censor by Jason Aaron and Moritat was a smart opener, generally poking fun at the irony of censorship. I enjoyed seeing Aaron do something against type, as well as the censor’s tunic being vaguely reminiscent of Fred Flintstone’s garb. Having just guest lectured to a bunch of high schoolers about the history of comics and literally beginning with the Lascaux cave drawings, I enjoyed that sequence as well. Big Bad City, Big Bad World by Ben McCool and Ben Templesmith sort of feels like Templesmith’s stalled project with Warren Ellis, Fell, but contains more sarcasm from McCool’s script. It’s full of likable bastards and lines like “my liver’s aching for activity.” Who Sell Out? You Sell Out!” by Jamie S. Rich, Mike Allred, and Dave Johnson bears a fun idea in the physical embodiment of copyright problems, but is not quite as funny as it sets out to be. Loverman by Paul Pope contains clever plays on word, hones in on the whole silly notion of censorship and the hypocrisy involved, and generally runs a self-parody concerning common superhero tropes. At the end of the day, it’s just words and pictures, so what’s all the conservative fuss? I will say that the lettering is a little faded and washed out in spots, but otherwise there’s great detail in the art, with lots of things happening fore and back. Channel Zero: Urban Combat by Brian Wood is fueled by the type of energy from 10 years ago that made him a critical success and captured the minds of his devoted fans. It’s jam packed with big ideas and social commentary, proof again why Brian Wood is one of the boldest and most important new creative voices in the last 10 years, just in case you’d forgotten. The Origin of the Specious by Kathryn & Stuart Immonen is a pretty abstract, free form, stream of consciousness number that I honestly didn’t really enjoy all that much. However, that’s largely the point of this entire exercise, let the ideas flow, it has just as much right to be there as any of the other pieces. Painkiller Jane: Explosive! by Jimmy Palmiotti and Jim Rugg has Rugg’s typical sensuous and clean lines, wonderful page layouts, and generally makes me ache for the upcoming Afrodisiac feature length book by AdHouse. Fucking hot dogs! In the end, it also teaches us that having an opinion is not only your right, but its own reward. That, plus, y’know, nipple slips. This was probably my favorite piece in terms of pure in your face audacity. Jack Staff: Speechless by Paul Grist is a clever, but brief episode. Martha Washington by Dave Gibbons is… just a pin up. I was hoping for more. I Beg Your Pardon by Chynna Clugston Flores lives up to its promise of “misanthropic bitterness” with lines like “Or to beg forgiveness for practically shitting your pants in public? Not everyone wants to inhale the fumes of rotting flesh and pimple pus camped out in your colon!” and “a portfolio of bukkake shots.” Loved it. The Apocalipstix: Taboo Boogaloo by Ray Fawkes and Cameron Stewart highlights the dangers of any governing body having extreme forms of control on society, and the unfeasible nature of attempting it, overall it reminded me of Pleasantville, which was swell. 100 Words by Neil Gaiman and Jim Lee captures an ethereal beautiful mood, and while it speaks of dying specific to one character, it seeks to address man’s general existential dilemma. Essentially if our time on Earth is limited, how does that time hold meaning? Overall, a big price tag for an important project that delivers nearly 100% of the time. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #516 (Marvel): I get that many artists commonly use photo-referencing as a tool, but you really shouldn’t be able to tell in the final rendered work product. Land’s visual ticks abound here. We have skimpy backgrounds, like three or four pages of just a pastel sky and nothing more, and a striking lack of details, like several of the characters lacking pupils in their eyes. The first three pages are a complete mystery. I’m not sure who the captors are. I’m not sure who the captive is. I’m not sure where the captors and captive are located or why they’re doing what they’re doing. And when all is finally revealed, it’s got to be some of the most expository dialogue ever constructed: “Because you’re a mutant, John Greycrow, AKA John Riverwind, AKA Scalphunter.” Oh sure, people *totally* talk like that in real life. That’s horrible. Xavier and Erik’s entire exchange is painfully out of character. Fraction is still lifting lines from Star Wars. There are very rough jump cuts from the island back to the strange captor/captive setting. That stupid pose the auburn haired chic pulls! Ugh! Who walks around with one hand on top of their head posing seductively like that!? When Scott talks to Psylocke, why is our POV behind her? Oh right, so we can have a shot of her ass. Just her ass. After a dozen issues, Fraction attempts to explain some of Magneto’s activity in the very first arc with a huge data dump. There are weak X-Force/Cable/Hope references that attempt to ground this in some sort of sensible continuity, but it’s all just too little, too late. I’ve enjoyed nearly all of Fraction’s work, from the independents to The House of Ideas. I maintain that his Invincible Iron Man run is one of the best ever. But perhaps this large cast and years of convoluted continuity is just too overwhelming, too big and unwieldy. It’s like he’s just chasing dozens of chickens around a yard, manically trying to corral them in a futile attempt that never seems to end. It’s all gotten away from him. Aside from the chilling sequence with Nightcrawler screaming “Shoot it down! Shoot it down! SHOOT IT DOWN RIGHT NOW!” this book is just not very good. That sound you hear going plonk! is a few of the many balls Fraction had in the air finally hitting the floor. Sadly, I think this is my last issue. Grade D+.


Coming This Week: Two Greats on Vertigo's Best, And A Bonus Shot of Both in the Name of Liberty

Every week I review Diamond's “New Releases” to determine what I’ll definitely be buying sight unseen, what I’m interested in enough to do a quick scan of at the LCS to see if it can win me over, and note any other items that catch my eye. Here’s a look…


DMZ #46 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood has really escalated the tension with this last arc and I’m anxiously awaiting his next move. This story could irrevocably change things.

Scalped #32 (DC/Vertigo): The always excellent look at social decay in a closed society. Lots of swearing, boobs, and alcohol; these are three of my favorite things.

Liberty Comics: A CBLDF Benefit Book #2 (CBLDF/Image): Neil Gaiman, Jim Lee, Jim Rugg, Cameron Stewart, Brian Wood, Dave Gibbons, Paul Pope, and Jason Aaron. I mean, seriously, these are like some of my favorite writers and artists working today, and all for a good cause. This could be the book of the week.


Uncanny X-Men #516 (Marvel): This book has been really faltering lately. I hope Matt Fraction can recover from crossover crud and learn about a little something called resolution instead of perpetually continuing the melodramatic plethora of story threads. This could be my last issue of this title.


Absolute Death HC (DC/Vertigo): Your $99.99 collects the two three-issue mini-series, and other shorts from here and there to create this 360 page volume. It looks beautiful.

Doctor Voodoo #1 Review

Doctor Voodoo #1 (Marvel)
Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

“I will bring order to the supernatural…”

The verbal incantations in the first issue of Doctor Voodoo serve as a framework to support the extensive use of expository dialogue. While battling Dormammu, Jericho Drumm proclaims that he is “not the Sorcerer Supreme you are accustomed to matching.” Doctor Voodoo maintains an air of intellectual confidence as he challenges and imprisons Dormammu; Voodoo’s dialogue suggests a strong desire to prove himself and overcome the reputation of his predecessor, Doctor Strange.

Doctor Strange serves as one of the mentors for Voodoo, counseling him on the perils of dark magic and warning against the distraction of a second role as a medical doctor.

Voodoo spurns Strange’s warning about employing Chthon’s dark scrying stones; the images on the stones foreshadow glimpses of other mystics in the Marvel Universe that indicate potential story threads. Strange leaves Voodoo to return to a mundane life, phasing out with a comment that no one is prepared to be Sorcerer Supreme.

Writer Rick Remender (The End League) briefly showcases Doctor Voodoo’s civilian life at the head of a non-profit clinic in New Orleans. While walking the halls of the clinic, Jericho is shadowed by the spirit of Daniel, his deceased brother. Daniel considers himself the equal of Jericho as one of the “Sorcerers Supreme.”

Doctor Doom explosively interrupts Jericho’s shift at the clinic, seeking to claim the title of Sorcerer Supreme. Doom believes that only he is capable of using the Eye of Agamotto to prevent Voodoo’s alleged incompetence from destroying reality. Doom’s brutal combination of science, magic and willpower overcomes Voodoo. When Doom grasps the Eye, he is horrified by an unseen image and tosses the Eye back to Voodoo, wishing him useless luck for his cursed future.

Remender writes Doctor Voodoo’s personality as aggressively clashing with the existing mystic order of the Marvel Universe, which seems to be threatened by a dark force. The Eye of Agomotto has issued a cryptic warning about this threat, highlighting Remender’s plans to tour the arcane corners of the Marvel Universe.

Artist Jefte Palo renders the faces of Voodoo and Strange with the careworn lines that reminded me of the recent pencils of John Romita Jr. Palo’s thin lines suggest figure outlines that are further defined by color tones. It is effective, but I feel that the art would be improved by a more confident line weight.

Overall, I feel the treatment of the character is a logical step forward rather than a revision. The history of Brother Voodoo is detailed in several dense text pages that include a breathless 1970’s promotional essay from Tony Isabella and a traditional dossier of the characters abilities and past activities. The dossier highlights the mocking mismanagement of the character’s potential for the last few years. I look forward to reading the next few issues to see if Remender can develop the book into a worthy successor to Doctor Strange. Grade B.


10.07.09 Reviews

Planetary #27 (DC/Wildstorm): Sure, Warren Ellis and John Cassaday turning in 27 issues in 10 years is laughable, but the final issue of one of the best series in the Modern Age is actually pretty good. For me, Planetary was always at its best in the micro moments, the isolated genre send-ups that seemed to distill the essence of a set of storytelling tropes down into just a single issue. I was never that enamored of the more macro plot elements about Ambrose and the larger conspiracy. It’s the same way that I hated all of the convoluted X-Files conspiracy crap that never got resolved, but relished the taut done-in-ones like the episode titled Ice. This issue of Planetary definitely focuses on resolution of the macro story and it does so in fine fashion, all the while providing thinly veiled meta-commentary about the act of creating comic books. It opens by telling us how much Planetary (the corporation) would be able to change the world with its discovery of technologies and their rapid advancement into society. It serves as a reminder that Planetary (the book) was equally advanced and paradigm challenging in its heyday. Fictional character Dowling’s literal creation of an alternate Earth is not unlike our creative team’s process of creating a fictional reality in the comic book. The entire issue runs this self-reflexive gauntlet. Elijah Snow is the idea man, full of “mad science” that fuels the adventure. He’s not much different than Warren Ellis as a writer. The Drummer is the “technical wizard” who turns the mad ramblings into reality. He’s got quite a bit in common with John Cassaday as the series artist. Jakita Wagner feels like an innocent bystander at times, but occasionally is able to add a sense of clarity to the proceedings. I’m wondering if that’s how colorist Laura Martin feels? In their quest to save Ambrose and “save the future,” it begs the question – what does Ambrose represent? Is he the comic book industry? I think that’s the million dollar question. I can’t definitively say that’s the answer, but it’s my guess for now. At least until I go back and reread the entire series in its entirety. At times, Ellis’ technobabble rivals Stark Trek's Geordi LaForge: “a natural description theory engine” with a “non-physics bubble around himself.” Ok. Whatever. When you’re discussing basic time travel paradox, it’s bound to get a little dicey. As Jakita says “oh my god, just stop.” Overall, it’s a satisfying and rousing conclusion, but I can’t help but feel a little sad it’s ended. Jakita probably says it best, deliberately for all of us, “it feels like all the adventure is over.” Grade A.

Dark Reign: Zodiac #3 (Marvel): Joe Casey and Nathan Fox continue their subversive romp through the Marvel Universe. I saw an interview at CBR with Joe Casey indicating that this creative team will be putting out future projects together and I couldn’t be happier about that. Their rendition of Norman Osborn is funny and arrogant. Fox’s pencils have always reminded me of Paul Pope, but here they feel almost more accessible than Pope’s work, yet simultaneously manage to squeeze in even more copious amounts of detail. His designs for Red Ronin, Ms. Marvel, Reed Richards, they’re all winners right out of the box. I dig the swagger that this Zodiac cat just exudes. “I’ve never been much of a worker bee myself. Y’know… all good work is done in defiance of management.” Zodiac is a true agent of chaos, but his brand of anarchy is especially dangerous because he comes with a purpose. That makes him infinitely more foreboding than someone like The Joker. With his acquisition of The Zodiac Key, it’s clear now that what’s past is prologue. I can’t wait to see what's next. Grade A.

Strange Tales #2 (Marvel): To Catch A Watcher by Nick Bertozzi once again opens the issue, and it’s a hilarious framing device that’s an instant winner. Grade A. Iron Man by Tony Millionaire is a beautiful looking piece of work, complete with period Iron Man armor, great design sense for Baloney-Head, and full of wacky fun like a villainous Dwight D. Eisenhower. Grade A. Anything but Retail by R. Kikuo Johnson features Alicia, Ben, and Pupper Master spouting lines like “Fifteen grand for a semester – that’s a crime!” That coupled with a nice riff about art snobbery earns a Grade B. Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca deliver Brother Voodoo trouncing around a drug war in Harlem. Combine their faux-retro aesthetic, modern sensibility, and characters “whacked out on heroin, horse cocktails, and 95.2% pure Colombian sizzle” and you get a strong Grade A+. Modok ‘N Me by Jhonen Vasquez continues the strong Modok work that the first issue began. All I really have to say is… oh… poor, poor Donnie. Grade A. The Unfortunate Three by Max Cannon seems to be a direct comic rebuttal to James Sturm and Guy Davis’ critically lauded Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules. It’s full of biting sarcasm and the glaring implausibility of the early and outlandish Silver Age stories. Grade A. Lookin’ Good, Mr. Grimm! by Jacob Chabot is penciled extremely well and has a few good lines like “tending a ‘stache is just something men do,” but ultimately falls a little flat when the competition in this issue is so strong. Grade B. The Incorrigible Hulk by Peter Bagge has garnered a lot of attention for its initial delay, but I’m left wondering what all the fuss was about. It’s funny, sure. “Slutty girl talk too much. Make Hulk head hurt.” But I’d hardly consider that grounds for “banning” a strip. Grade B. The Jonathan Hickman pages, umm, “Recruitment Ads for Heralds of Galactus,” for lack of an actual strip title, has all the typical strengths and weaknesses of Hickman’s Image work. It’s a good idea on paper, but the execution is uneven. The sense of graphic design is impressive, but it’s not nearly as funny as it wants to be. It’s plagued with typos. Grade B-. Black Widow by Matt Kindt is the best of the bunch for me, not in terms of pure humor, but in craftsmanship. Kindt brings his outrageously strong retro-noir-espionage feel to the Marvel Universe and his silky lines work very well. I remember seeing a few pages of this at the San Diego Con and the final payoff is worth the wait. Grade A+. Overall, Strange Tales manages to avoid the huge pitfall that most anthology style books succumb to, and achieves a consistent level of high quality in the strips. Grade A-.

Batman & Robin #5 (DC): Conceptually, I really like the idea of Dick and Damian fighting more extreme versions of themselves. And Philip Tan is really trying here. Look at the level of detail in Sasha’s face during the opening sequence, or when Robin throws the first batarang. In isolated instances, his storytelling isn’t as clear as it could be, and he’s still not Frank Quitely (who is?), but it’s not as big of a distraction as it was last issue, and damn if he isn’t turning in the best work of his career here. Hopefully that fact won’t get lost in the unavoidable comparison to the first arc. I like how Morrison is able to craft arcs that can stand independently of each other, but also connect in a few ways, Scarlet, The Penguin, the dominoes, there are larger factors at play here. However, his meta-commentary about the Batman brand and the role of a sidekick all comes across a little heavy-handed. In the end, the action carries a payoff and compensates for minor sins in the work. The taser to the neck, the panic as Damian is stabbed, Dick being shot at point blank range despite the Kevlar… wow. Gotham has really become a screwball place in the wake of Bruce’s “death.” Grade B+.

Astonishing X-Men #31 (Marvel): Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez deliver a fun product here, but unfortunately you have to suspend logic at times. It seems relegated to be mindless fun. They’re more concerned with action than logic. I love seeing more of Abby Brand, and I’m guessing that’s The Brood(?). There’s good procedural jargon to be found, and the seeds are planted here for what could be a fun ride, but let’s look at some inconsistencies. The script makes a big deal out of the fact that Abby’s escape pod is going to crash in 7 minutes. By the time Scott walks in to tell Hank, he’s careful to point out that they now have 6 minutes left. Okay so far. However, with 6 minutes left to save Abby’s life, the X-Men… wait for it… all take time to change into their uniforms before they board the X2!? The ship is clearly seen departing from a hangar in the Marin Headlands, but over in Uncanny X-Men the team is now living on some Magneto island base thingamajig. When we see Abby attempting to pilot the ship, she’s just… talking to herself. Total exposition in an effort to fill the reader in. Emma is front and center in this issue, but she has total control over her powers. Over in the last issue of Uncanny X-Men she’s apparently stuck in diamond form. During the rescue, Storm makes it a point to say that the air is thin up there, denoting its relative lack of oxygen, so she won’t be able to manipulate the air patterns to slow Abby’s craft. Yet, just a few panels later, Wolverine, Armor, and Abby herself seem to have no problem breathing in that same thin air. If there’s not enough oxy to alter the course of the craft, how is there enough air for the trio to breathe? And what the hell is a “fractal bonding clamp?” Ellis! Grade B.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #4 (DC): This issue was surprisingly better than most, but still had quite a few problems. Why is Supergirl down on all fours on the cover? How does a lightning flash protect you from an explosion? Why do the characters do so much exposition about Prometheus and Clayface? Why is Hal’s ring able to analyze the bomb residue at a molecular level, but was unable to detect the bomb in the first place? Miss Martian and Jay Garrick? Really? Who were those people that Jay visits, and why? Why is there so much b-list Congorilla action? Penny Dreadful? Really? We’re now more than halfway through the series, but we’re still assembling the “team.” It’s becoming increasingly apparent that this isn’t designed to be a stand alone story, but is more of a prologue to James Robinson’s impending JLA run, especially when we see Mon-El and Guardian shoehorned in for half a page. Ollie and Mikaal decide suddenly via dues ex machina crisis of conscience that vengeance and blood are not justice now. Ok, where were they for the preceding three issues? Generally speaking, the dialogue isn’t as hoary as it has been; it’s lost some of its ridiculous edge. This book still isn’t great, but unfortunately it’s also no longer so bad that it’s fun. It’s just mediocre now. It’s just ok. It’s boring. It’s all over the map from a narrative standpoint; there are too many character sets being juggled and I don’t get the sense they’re going to ever coalesce. I did enjoy the tease of Batwoman. Cascioli clearly had some fun with the page layouts too, including making a panel take the form of part of her cape. That was fun. I also seemed to enjoy the overwrought melodrama of the friction between Hal, Ollie, and Ray, culminating with Ray’s dig “…we were never friends.” Freddie has some great observations about Batman. I enjoyed the appearance of The Shade. Overall, it seemed like there was a lot of “stuff” going on, but no actual plot advancement, nothing resolved. On one hand, I applaud DC for throwing in some extra material to justify the $3.99 price tag, but it really felt like filler. There doesn’t seem to be a point to the text pieces; it’s just Robinson talking. It’s full of digression, typos, and I’m sorry, but calling your own work an “opus” is a little off-putting. Grade C-.


Someone Must Have Told Them About My Little Maneuver at The Battle of Tanaab

This is going to be fantastic! I’ve read bits and pieces of Afrodisiac in the Project: Superior anthology and elsewhere, but it’s great to see AdHouse put out a feature length volume of this Brian Maruca and Jim Rugg masterpiece. Looking forward to this one!


Coming This Week: Flying Pigs, Filling Shoes, and The Book I Love to Hate

Every week I review Diamond's “New Releases” to determine what I’ll definitely be buying sight unseen, what I’m interested in enough to do a quick scan of at the LCS to see if it can win me over, and note any other items that catch my eye. Here’s a look…


Planetary #27 (DC/Wildstorm): I once saw a pig fly. It was in a typically hot place. But it had frozen over. At the wheezy, measly, uneasy pace of 27 brilliant issues in 10 years, I’m expecting this to either blow my skull off to justify the wait, or else it will default to being an utter disappointment that just took too long to realize.

Batman & Robin #5 (DC): Philip Tan is still trying really hard to fill those shoes.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #4 (DC): This book is awful. I love this book.

Astonishing X-Men #31 (Marvel): I hope that Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez are more like Joss Whedon and John Cassaday than Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi.

Dark Reign: Zodiac #3 (Marvel): Joe Casey. Nathan Fox. Was this book made just for me?

Strange Tales #2 (Marvel): Paul Pope.


Nothing. Nada.


Zero. Zilch.


Graphic Novel Of The Month: Give 'Em Hell 54

DMZ: Volume 7: War Powers (DC/Vertigo): Let me caveat this heavily up front by saying that I don’t know how much of a proper “review” this is going to be. It’ll probably be somewhat anecdotal and rambling since it’s very much fueled by a recent re-reading of all seven volumes of DMZ over about a two week period. What follows is likely to be just as sprawling in scope. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating – one of the consistent motifs in all of Brian Wood’s projects is the notion of character identity. He’s fascinated with what makes people tick, what comprises their personality, what compels them to act, what causes them to change, and ultimately why they do the things they do and what that says about them as human beings. That broad theme is certainly very much at play in this particular volume, but another dynamic is that DMZ taken in as a whole strikes me largely as a big long love letter from Brian Wood to New York City. It’s personal for him. It’s a love letter to a city he clearly loves, to the city that “you can’t kill.”

New York may change and evolve, but most pertinent – it’s a survivor, capable of enduring even the Second American Civil War. I’ve been to New York a couple of times for work and it always struck me as the type of place where it’s easy to understand the pride its residents feel. It’s understandable why people would be proud to claim the moniker “New Yorker.” There’s that saying that if you can make it in New York, well hell, then you can make it anywhere. As fascinating as it is from a cultural anthropology standpoint, I know New York isn’t for me per se. Boston? Sure. San Francisco? Sure. San Diego? Sure. See, I’m a California boy. I’ve travelled all over the world, I’ve lived all over the United States, but I was born in California. I’m a Native Californian – we make the distinction. My family’s roots are deep here. I’m proud of that. I’ve lived in, let’s see… 9, I think it is… 9 different cities in California. I think that California might be the only other place in the US where people feel that particular sense of intense inborn pride that New Yorkers feel. Because of that, there’s a part of me that wants Wood to explore what’s going on in California in his epic. What happened in the bastion of liberal thought that is the Bay Area? With California and New York basically united against the Red States on most sociopolitical issues, it’s hard for me to believe that The Golden State simply threw in with the Free States movement, especially in particularly crunchy areas like Berkeley. Does downtown LA look like the DMZ too? There sure are a lot of military bases in Southern California. Was there fighting out West? Are there still trouble spots? I know that would probably diverge largely from the main thrust of DMZ, but I so desperately and selfishly want to see that, a one-shot issue highlighting San Francisco or, hell, even just a couple of throwaway lines would probably satisfy me.

Once when I was in 8th grade, and this is really the first feature length story idea I ever had as a budding writer, I tried to write a story about California seceding from the Union. There were some interesting RAND Corporation studies at the time that suggested, based on GNP and some other factors I can’t recall, that California (The “Independent Republic of California,” that is) would be the 7th most powerful country in the world. The San Joaquin Valley alone, as an agricultural entity, is responsible for approximately 80% of the world’s produce. Think about that. When you factor in the revenue streams from Hollywood to the south, Silicon Valley to the north, the impressive rail network, port cities dotting the coast, and the highly concentrated array of Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force bases, it gets really interesting. If California was able to take Las Vegas and say, the Hoover Dam along with it, or even a couple of “minor” states like Oregon and Washington (to lock up the coast), well it gets downright scary. Looking back, my story was not very serviceable. It flipped back and forth incessantly from first person narration to omniscient third person. It lacked an essential POV character like Matty Roth, and was actually more an outline of cool “what if?” prospects, but I remember the really amazing tipping point being New York and the New England states throwing in with the Independent Republic of California and forming this bicoastal alliance. The Red States (even though we didn’t refer to them as that back in the mid-80’s) would then be forced to fight a bloody war on two fronts in an attempt to preserve the Union – and lose. Man, I’m really digressing.

Somehow, this brings me back around to DMZ and maybe explains why I have such a fond spot in my heart for the underpinnings of this series. Much like California is a part of my identity, this book feels like a personal experience too. In DMZ: Volume 1: On the Ground, Brian Wood embeds us violently into the city; he introduces us to The Ghosts of Central Park, one of many vying factions to come. Volume 2: Body of a Journalist offers a closer look at the FSA and strong personalities like Viktor and Zee. The “universe” that DMZ inhabits really gets fleshed out in Volume 3: Public Works. It’s here that we see the dueling perspectives of the United States, the Free States, Liberty News, Trustwell, and the UN. Multiple POVs abound; the US is not simply some benevolent force trying to keep the country together, but sometimes acts with malfeasance. The FSA are not simply redneck militia, but possess some genuine and valid points, and the DMZ inhabitants are caught right in the middle. Trustwell backs an insurgent cell, ensuring their continued presence. Liberty News is heavily aligned with the government. The web of influence is endless. Everyone has an angle for sale, and the PR war is just as high priority as the ground war. Volume 4: Friendly Fire focuses on the Day 204 Massacre and proves to be a very pivotal moment for protagonist Matty Roth. In this arc, Matty decides to stop being an impartial journalist. He’s learned that fundamental survival in the DMZ means taking a stand, picking a side, and having an agenda. It plants the seed that needs just a little water to flourish. After some rousing storytelling detours in Volume 5: The Hidden War, which highlights Wood’s version of contemporary artist Jenny Holzer (who awesomely enough has this red LED piece right outside my office door at work) in his character Decade Later, the ever-interesting and charismatic Wilson, or my personal favorite thanks to Nathan Fox – DJ Random Fire, Roth gets his water in the form of Parco Delgado in Volume 6: Blood in the Game. He is journalist turned political activist with The Delgado Nation. His involvement begs me to invoke the Hawthorne Effect – if a detached third party journalist observes a campaign, does the very act of observing it change the dynamic fundamentally and scientifically alter the outcome? The Delgado Nation is about an iconoclast leader, about a political atmosphere more relevant than we’re probably comfortable admitting. If you get the sense that your country is rigged and all of the Michael Moore-isms are true, if dissent is patriotic, if the blood of tyrants enriches the soil of democracy, what happens next? Matty Roth begins to act out his answers to these questions.

During the recent election, I think it was John King at CNN that characterized (then) Senator Barack Obama as “part professor, part preacher,” and (then) Senator Joe Biden as “part steelworker, part statesman.” I always liked that. It makes me think about the unlikely pairing of Parco Delgado and Matty Roth, which culminates in DMZ: Volume 7: War Powers. Somewhere early on in DMZ, Brian Wood promised to deliver us the “post-9/11 New Yorker.” I think Matty Roth could be that archetype. He is the post-9/11, post-Obama, post-United States, citizen and resident of the DMZ – itself becoming a sovereign state, himself growing from boy to man, mirroring the path his city is on. He represents a brand of asymmetrical citizenship of a truly modern world, with an ability to cross political boundaries and warring factions, to ignore imposed demographic and artificial geographic boundaries, to consider the multi-faceted positions of any given issue. He understands the power of words, why the remnants of the US Government refer to the FSA movement simply as “those insurgents” as a way to discredit their position and not acknowledge them as a legitimate entity.

Volume 7: War Powers is a game-changer. It now feels like everything is just teetering on the edge of chaos. In this arc, Matty Roth found a cause he believes in. Matty walks with a purpose. He’s become a player. As a writer, Brian Wood is careful not to use outright analogy, but to employ the use of allegory. See, analogies are prescriptive: Trustwell represents Blackwater or Halliburton, that’s analogy. But allegory is subscriptive; it allows for wider inductive reasoning and interpretation on the part of the audience. Something like Trustwell can then become your corrupt local government, the tyrannical HOA, the morally questionable employer, the crooked cops you dealt with as a kid, the oppressive parents, or whatever else the reader needs it to inhabit in order to hold meaning and power for them. DMZ is a visceral piece of work; Civil War, by definition, means that we’re literally killing each other. Perhaps Wood’s greatest contribution is educating people to consider all sides of an argument, that the modern labels being thrown around by the media and the government are too easy, too fast, and too clean. That “right and wrong” depends on point of view, and you have to get a little dirty to fully comprehend complex issues.

Shit, I haven’t even talked about the art yet. You know, I have some favorite moments. Nathan Fox, doing his post-Paul Pope impression of DJ Random Fire, was an instant classic in my eyes. Danijel Zezelj’s murky inky art came with just the right touch of paranoid claustrophobia. Kristian Donaldson’s stark bold lines give a particularly well suited cold aesthetic. Nikki Cook’s soft supple lines lend a sense of compassion in an otherwise heartless set of circumstances. But as far as artists go, series co-conspirator Riccardo Burchielli does the bulk of the heavy lifting here. His crisp detail and lithe figures were the perfect match to the themes Brian Wood wanted to explore. Burchielli just delivers over and over again; his art is disarmingly charismatic. The gritty pencils lure you in, making you feel as if you’re walking down a side street in the city, right alongside one of Wilson’s grandsons, or peering out a broken window right next to an eager sniper rifle. You can feel the grime against your skin, smell the acrid smoke in the air, hear the bullets whizzing by dangerously close to your head, sense the weariness in Zee’s eyes, the quiet rasp of malnourished Matty Roth, the determined growl of an energized Parco Delgado, the desperation in Amina’s whisper, or even the threatened ennui of a random UN peacekeeper.

So yeah, I don’t know how to wrap this up properly since it’s so divergent from the type of review or analysis of a book that I’d normally write. I guess it’s just my personal impressions of the book as a whole and what it’s meant to me. Here’s to you, DMZ. I’m looking forward to the next couple years of stories, likely as full of twists and unexpected surprises as the first 45 or so have been. It’s been a catalyst for introspection on the craft of writing or what’s going on in the news every day of our lives – not to mention, just damn fine entertainment. This book couldn’t have existed 10 years ago, it’s a true product of its time; I sincerely predict that it will be recognized in the future as an example of the works emblematic of early 21st century fiction. Grade A+.

9.30.09 Review

Scrublands (Fantagraphics): Although this book is accurately dubbed as the American debut of the collected works of South African cartoonist Joe Daly, his diverse stylings did already bring us the feature length stories found in The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book, which I seem to have missed. In any case, Scrublands clocks in at 128 pages, includes some color work, and is very reasonably priced at $16.95 considering the high doses of entertainment it contains. On top of that, Fantagraphics has a sale going at the moment, where you can pick up the book for a mere $11.30. Getting into the content, Kobosh and Steve in Art Lover ends with the classic line “I love fucking art,” and that razor sharp ironic edge seems to run throughout the collected works. Damaged Goods would turn old fashioned Sunday newspaper strips on their head and cause all kinds of ruckus. The book moves quickly into the micro-fauna on Bruce Springsteen’s “grease-monkey poetry” head, which is a one pager with a slow burn and nice reveal at the end. Trawling the Streets of Cape Town has a real life manic energy to it, and strikes me as very Joe Matt–ish aesthetically, ending with the line “Yes! Yes! Drugs and comics! YES! YES!” The celebrity infusion doesn’t stop with Springsteen, Chuck Norris, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, and Dennis Hopper all get their nods as the protagonist touches on everyday topics and even moves into attempting to score some "righteous dagga.” Though not intended, Kobosh and Steve in the Supermarket is really the centerpiece of the book for me. I thought it was the funniest and bore the most resemblance to something that Robert Crumb would attempt. It’s a story seemingly about nothing, but is a funny little existential play, wherein the protagonist makes big proclamations such as rejecting religion to “face real life directly, to face the full beauty, horror, and mystery of it all.” Along the way, the humor is played genuinely straight-laced with zingers like needing to “get some of that good beta carotene shit inside of me.” There’s the contemporary sad reality of Aqua Boy, and the cinematic short film vibe of Prebaby, which was designed to be the actual centerpieces of the book, taking up more than half of the page count. I liked the “spark of life” and miniature soldiers sequence tremendously. Kobosh and Steve in My Beach Community has some fine line detail and vibrant colors that appear slightly Chris Ware–ish in their most miniature and colored state. Licentious lines like “sun ripened teenage girls” complete the package, and I swear Kobosh looks like a Black Lantern in that one(!) The book ends with the titular post-apocalyptic vibe of Scrublands. It’s clear that Daly is a major talent, extremely versatile in his range, able to project the strengths of autobio, parody, or even cinematic qualities. I’m excitedly looking forward to more of his work. And hey, “thanks for hallucinating me into existence!” Grade A.