Coming This Week: Is It Thursday Yet? What's In A Title?

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 #33 (DC/Vertigo): If you’re not buying this, you probably don’t like good comics.

Supergod #2 (Avatar Press): If you’re not buying this, you probably don’t like Warren Ellis.

Echo #17 (Abstract Studio): If you’re not buying this, you probably can’t be helped. PS – Didn’t this just come out three weeks ago? Of course I got it two weeks ago thanks to Sea Donkey, but still it seems soon-ish. Not that I’m complaining, it’s just odd.


Uncanny X-Men #518 (Marvel): If you’re buying this, it’s probably just out of habit at this point. PS - It's me again. Hi. Yeah, this *just* came out last week! Did we switch to two per month? What gives? Is this an end of calendar year thing?

Ex Machina: Deluxe Edition HC: Volume 02 (DC/Wildstorm): If you’re buying this, you’re buying Brian K. Vaughan’s best work.


Great Ten #2 (DC): If you’re buying this, you probably just really like Scott McDaniel’s art, which is understandable.

Captain America: Theater of War: Prisoners of Duty (Marvel): If you’re buying this, then it means you really like titles: with: as: many: colons: as: possible. I mean, really, that’s just silly. Has titling become such a lost art? Do your branding guidelines really necessitate that it must say “Captain America” somewhere in the title? It's total coincidence, but notice how all of the books I actually will be buying this week have just one word titles that pretty much give you an idea of what the book is going to be about thematically. Scalped didn’t opt for “The Tales of Dash Bad Horse: Undercover Lakota: Hmong Gangsters on the Rez: Volume 5” and there’s a reason why. I'm just sayin'...

Secret History: Book 07 (Archaia): If you’re buying this, perhaps you’re like me and really enjoy historical fiction, but unlike me, you will not be waiting to find it in a $1 bin.

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11.25.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Detective Comics #859 (DC): While there are a few minor mix-ups between the Army and Marine Corps, Rucka’s script hones in on the reasoning behind Kate’s inherent distrust of organizations and perhaps why she has a penchant to go it alone. It’s also interesting that we see Kate not as a stereotypical closeted homosexual, but someone who isn’t afraid to be open, honest, and proud of her sexuality, which is all capped off by an unexpected and touching scene with her father about a personal code of ethics and sense of honor. Williams’ pencils still delight, the highlight here for me isn’t the bestial scenes that some might cite for his unique panel layouts, but a speechless sequence featuring Batman, that not only inspires a direction in Kate’s life, but showcases Williams’ strengths as a visual storyteller, capable of relaying a critical moment in the heroine's personal history without a single piece of text. It sounds odd to say, but in terms of art and writing, if you were to combine the experimental confidence of Promethea and well researched industrial parlance of Queen & Country, you'd land somewhere around Batwoman in Detective Comics. Grade A.

I Am Legion #6 (DDP/Humanoids): My knee jerk reaction once I got a few pages in was that this will read much better when collected. It’s a pretty intricate plot with so many names, motives, and sets being thrown around. As usual, John Cassaday’s pencils are on fire. Look at the close up shot of a man’s eyes welling up, on the verge of crying. In that one small panel, there is so much realism, so much emotion captured, so much energy just pouring out of that panel, you can almost see the man’s chin quivering as he fights back the tears. It’s just one small example of the kinetic detail crammed into every panel. This won't be Cassaday's most popular penciling effort, but it is surely one of his best. He does the action, the silhouettes, and the talky bits all with equal precision. At the end, I Am Legion proved to be a bit of a text heavy slow burn with delicious pencils, but for the patient and willing audience it’s a strong tale that blends the paranormal vampire mythos with historical fiction, ending with high level politics and an open-ended denouement. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #20 (Marvel): “Dying is the superhero retirement plan.” This is the Matt Fraction I want to be writing Uncanny X-Men. This incarnation of Iron Man is still basically a perfect modern superhero epic. The Rian Hughes cover pulls you right in to all of the different threads inside Tony’s mind. There’s him with his parents in a sort of purgatory style limbo. There’s his automated message from beyond that is part apology, part confession, part tactician’s plan, part gift to his closest friends. It’s fascinating that Pepper is one member of the “team” who needs more time to decide if Tony is worth resurrecting. There’s continued machinations with Whitney, nice bonus material in the saga supplement, and while there’s multiple taking heads pages, literally, Larroca makes it convincing, it’s never boring, always compelling. Grade A.


11.25.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #22 (DC/Vertigo): Leandro Fernandez has really refined his style in the last few years. At times, I still see a lot of Eduardo Risso in his lines, but with Dave McCaig’s beautiful coloring the overall effect is much warmer and more emotive than any issue of 100 Bullets ever was. As usual, Brian Wood gives us the surface story. It’s about the strength of a mother, about a grueling attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy, and the idea that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. When you step back from it all and lose some of the period context, you see that parent struggling to provide for the safety of their child, trying to influence the common good of the community, while making choices in an attempt to navigate this tragedy. Yeah, it’s all set in the year 1020, but those ideas are much more current themes than we’re probably comfortable admitting. Whether consciously intentional or not, bits of this arc are oddly relevant to today, the plague itself a stand in for swine flu paranoia, but also for the economic crisis. Gunborg as the inevitable taxman who comes calling just like the IRS, parents struggling to make ends meet and protect the future stability of their children's lives. When you start making those links in your mind, it becomes a powerful piece of work that touches on our collective perception about today’s fragile existence. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #19 (Dynamite Entertainment): Hrmm. Something felt off about this issue. It picks right up where the last issue left off, with The Lone Ranger and Tonto being framed up for some murders, but there are some odd artistic choices that make the storytelling a little unclear. Ranger… hits Sheriff Loring? Why? Was it misdirection to give him an alibi in front of the Fed? If so, that was really not clear. The entire scene with the time constraint and the intercut shots of Sheriff Loring, the Fed, and Cavendish wasn’t clear at all. Ambitious, but murky. I’m still not clear on what happened there. Lastly, there is a very unexpected, almost completely out of character, weird ass turn at the end. It really pushed me out of the story and the budding relationship that was already being clearly established in previous issues. On top of it all, this title usually reads extremely quickly. When everything’s clicking, as it normally does, it just feels like a quick satisfying read, something that leaves you wanting more. However, when there are a series of mis-steps, as was the anomalous case this time out, that seems to be all you can dwell on or remember. For the first time ever, I actually thought to myself “hrmm, maybe it’s time to trade-wait this.” I certainly hope this was an isolated occurrence that’ll read better collected. Giving it the benefit of the doubt with a low Grade B.

Uncanny X-Men #517 (Marvel): I’m really upset by this. I relented and bought the issue even though I keep telling myself I should drop it and put it on the quarter bin list. It started ok, with some fast action fun. At first I thought maybe it could stay in that mindless summer movie, guilty pleasure zone, but then I started looking closely. Land’s backgrounds are so skimpy, sometimes non-existent. Boom Boom saying “Sup, bee-otches?” just sounds so desperately trying to be hip, rendering it not so. Why is Storm’s uniform different all the time? Why are the Predator X’s so… dumb? They are metallic dinosaurs who want to kill mutants. Sorry, but that’s just bush league awful. Why is Thunderbird suddenly popping out of the Predator X? Or is that Warpath? Where'd he come from? Huh? What? And call me too serious, but I'm generally not up for quips during a battle that threatens the very existence of my species. There are minor clever things happening, like the way Rogue uses her powers, but overall Matt Fraction is just capable of so much more. Grade B-.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #5 (DC): This is really the first issue that I can’t completely dog out. True, there are many head-scratchers, gaffes, and weird insinuations, but there are also, surprisingly, a few redeeming qualities. Kara and Freddie are kissing on the cover. For no apparent reason, I guess, since they never do in the actual issue, nor is the cover embrace ever explained. They don’t even flirt in this issue, as they kinda’ have in the past. Moving along, so Kory likes to sunbathe in the nude. Sigh. Ok. Then we learn that Megan Fox, oh, I meant Donna (she’s just clearly had Megan Fox used as photoref), is with her. That leads me to an odd inference that not only are they friends, but that there could be some sort of lesbian thing happening. Since when is one of your best friends the ex-girlfriend of your ex-boyfriend, and why would you want to hook up with that person? That’s a little creepy in itself. On top of that, Robinson has already force fed us the idea that Hal is running around having threesomes with Lady Blackhawk and whoever, so I feel like this is all a big set up to later inform us that Dick must have refereed a little clam-fighting session between Donna and Kory up in Titans Tower. Also note that Kory used to clearly be an orange colored Tamaranian; here she looks like she just got a little bronze skin color by sunbathing nude with Donna. From there, we get Ollie calling Dinah “ugly,” which I could just never see happening, Atom’s speech balloon attributed to the wrong character, and Firestorm suddenly appearing when he hasn’t been in any of the preceding panels. Yeah, lots of issues with Firestorm. He shows up mysteriously to say he’ll immediately leave and go handle something in Gotham, and then he continues to be in the next few pages. This is continuity like in the most basic sense of the word. It’s like a character on TV wearing a blue shirt in one scene, the camera cuts away to a different angle of the same scene and then they’re wearing a red shirt with no explanation. Firestorm literally said he was leaving, and then proceeded… not to. Roy being in danger is extremely telegraphed with everyone offering well wishes for Lian, he might as well be the extra who beams down to the planet on a Star Trek mission. I guess we’re supposed to infer that Congorilla smelled something, or something(?), and went off to investigate suddenly. But, what was he supposed to smell? And if he smelled something, why didn’t anyone else? Supergirl has uhh, super-smelling or something, right? I don’t know. Maybe it’s all misdirection. That last panel is odd. I think we’re supposed to believe that Freddie standing over some ravaged bodies (and where the hell did Flash come from?!) means he’s evil, but the way the bodies are posed, he and Supergirl could certainly be taking on some villain who’s off panel. Over in JLA, Plastic Man is really effed up at the moment, so uhh, does this story pre-date that, or what? Robinson’s writing both, so I’d expect the continuity to be sorted out. Is it? Not sure, didn’t buy this week’s issue of JLA ‘cuz it was basically an issue of Blackest Night. Robinson’s rambling text piece is as obtuse as ever, having not much at all to do with this story per se, only highlighting his adoration for an artist who once worked on Captain Marvel, Jr. Are we meant to believe that Elvis really based his hairdo on Freddie Freeman’s? That sounds really bogus to me, but who knows. What is an odd confession is Robinson saying that he initially got into writing, not because he liked writing, or even wanted to be a writer, but because he wanted the fame. Wow. Oh, and Dinah clearly looks like Jessica Alba in Fantastic Four in some panels. Awesome. The things I liked… well, the Starfire/Animal Man bits of 52 were one of the only small bits of that mess I enjoyed, and they’re juggled well here at the Baker’s pad. If managed correctly, this has the potential to work well as a prelude to the new JLA lineup, but we’re on issue five, so the next two issues had better bring the thunder. Superficially, I liked Roy’s line “she’s cool” about Batwoman, the idea that Dick had told Roy about her. It figures they’d talk, right? They’re pretty tight. But umm, does everyone in that room know that Dick is Batman, or that Dick is even a hero? If not, well, Roy just outed him, and it seems like a rookie move, especially for a guy who was in Checkmate and all. I like that Supergirl is played a bit inexperienced. She doesn’t know who Congorilla is, she’s unfamiliar with Amanda Waller and the Suicide Squad. That’s neat characterization. I like the idea of Shade travelling to the satellite, I like that Hawkman picked up on the relationship between Hawkgirl and Roy. I like that the JLA seems to be finally using all of the resources at their disposal, the JSA, the Titans, reservists, loosely affiliated others, etc. And overall, Mauro Cascioli’s pencils are improving, at times reminding me of an uneasy blend of Simone Bianchi and JH Williams III with some of the panel designs and layouts. It’s not perfect, but it’s… interesting. Not completely unmitigated disaster laughable dogshit like the first few issues (which actually hampers my enjoyment), but simply a train wreck. Grade C-.


Coming This Week: There Are 10 Foods With More Tryptophan Than Turkey, But It Won’t Stop Me From Reading These Books In A Serotonin Induced Malaise

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 #859 (DC): I’m really looking forward to the second part of Kate Kane’s origin; if it’s anything like the first, we’ll see JH Williams III continue his controlled experimentation with form and style, while Greg Rucka finally balances the formula on the scripting side of the equation.

Justice League: Cry for Justice #5 (DC): Despite being absolutely despicable in terms of characterization, plotting, technical competence in penciling, perspective, lighting, and, oh… just about everything else you'd want to find in a flagship property, this has become such a guilty pleasure. It’s so self-aware that it’s surpassed homage and become a parody of itself. This makes for a truly enjoyable reading experience. Yes, it’s so bad, it’s good.

Northlanders #22 (DC/Vertigo): Continuing the intriguing Plague Widow arc, courtesy of Brian Wood and Leandro Fernandez.

Invincible Iron Man #20 (Marvel): If you’d told me about two years ago that I’d be enjoying Matt Fraction’s Iron Man more than his Uncanny X-Men, I’d have, well, I’d have called you crazy. If you take this run, along with Warren Ellis’ Extremis arc, I think that’s all the Iron Man you’d need, the best takes on the character in the last 10 years, if not longer.

I Am Legion #6 (DDP/Humanoids): Congrats to DDP for doing what DC couldn't, the last issue of the Fabien Nury and John Cassaday WWII/Nazi/Vampire/Paranormal/Suspense/Investigation/Procedural type thing. It’s a little bit of F. Clay Wilson’s The Keep, a little BPRD, a little Twilight (I just want the hit stats), and a little of that one movie with that one guy who played Han Solo... plus Oscar Schindler or something. It’s probably not any of those things, I just don’t feel like editing today.

Lone Ranger #19 (Dynamite Entertainment): The best re-imaging of an old property since… hrmm, I’m going to say Battlestar Galactica.


Justice League of America #39 (DC): There’s nothing like having your introductory issue of an anticipated run of a failing franchise Shanghai’d by the latest all encompassing crossover. James Robinson’s first issue of this soft reboot wasn’t exactly engaging me with its teasing ways (“it’s Dick, Donna, and Mon-El! Only… they’re not in the book! Oh, wait... what?”), but seeing Blackest Night rule the roost toward the end made it even worse. I want to like this title, but never seem to.

Uncanny X-Men #517 (Marvel): Speaking of things I’d really like to like… will Matt Fraction and company be able to pull this together? Hope is fading quickly…


Powers #1 (Marvel/Icon): There’s just nothing like an outright, blatant money grab is there? Every time the narrative goes astray and people lose their patience with this title and tune out, they re-launch with a new #1. Every arc manages to be repetitive, while somehow going more and more off course from the original series premise. The once famed letters page is now certainly an outdated self-swilling relic of the lofty heyday of this title.

New Reviews @ Poopsheet Foundation

Everyone be sure to check out my new reviewing gig over at The Poopsheet Foundation, “a central meeting place for small press comics publishers, artists, writers, readers and collectors” with social networking features built right in. Special thanks to Rick Bradford for running such a cool site and the invitation to participate!


11.18.09 Review

Echo #16 (Abstract Studio): The very first panel of this book is a great example of Terry Moore’s seamless style. That half page shot functions as a “previously in Echo” type of device, but it happens organically as the lead character takes stock of her life during a brief respite from the adventure. I really liked the convergence of two strong women with emotional cores that literally fight for themselves and would do anything for their respective families. There are yet again so many great examples of why Moore is a modern master who understands comic construction and excels at its execution. The faux news coverage rings true in its attempt at gravitas. The conversation between two playful sisters rings true. The conversation between ruthless coworkers rings true. Like the best pop culture offerings, Echo is so well done that it makes us believe that even the fantastical is grounded in reality and somehow believable, which pulls us right into the narrative without even recognizing we’re suspending disbelief and opening our minds up to the entertaining thrill ride. If that wasn’t enough, Moore’s pencils are strengthening as well. Notice the use of shadow and heavier inks during the heartbreaking night scene in Lulu’s room. That’s a new visual twist that underscores the emotions involved. The action is intense as Julie begins to channel Annie (almost like Ronnie Raymond used to communicate with Professor Stein), and the adventure takes interesting turns as Julie continues learning about her powers, but Moore never lets us forget that what makes these types of stories tick is first and foremost the people involved. Grade A+.

I also picked up;

Wasteland: Volume 05: Tales of the Uninvited (Oni Press)

Driven by Lemons (AdHouse Books)


Coming This Week: Hello, Is This Thing On? Can You Hear Crickets Chirping? I Can Hear Crickets Chirping...

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…

And let me further preface this by saying that I don’t think this has happened to me within the last 10 years of buying weekly comics. There isn’t a regular floppy issue of a single title coming out this week that I normally buy. Not one. None. Not a thing from DC or Marvel. Nothing from Dark Horse, Image, etc. If it weren’t for a TPB of Wasteland by Oni Press, I probably wouldn’t be buying anything this week. That *never* happens. I am shocked and appalled...


Wasteland: Volume 05: Tales of the Uninvited (Oni Press): Thank god for Antony Johnston, Chris Mitten, and the crew at Oni for saving this debacle. Guys, you saved comics for me this week! This TPB is a special treat because it collects all of the special interlude issues to date, done by a cast of amazing artists like Carla Speed McNeil, Chuck BB, Joe Infurnari and the super spectacular double sized full color painted issue #25 by regular series artist Christopher Mitten. There was talk early on that these might never get collected, as a special treat for loyal followers of the single issues. While I admire that general conviction (you should support the titles you like by purchasing them monthly!), it’s wonderful to have them collected nonetheless. It’ll be interesting to see how they all read together, and if I don’t buy anything else, perhaps I’ll get to a review of this hefty volume in lieu of your regular dose of floppies.


Driven by Lemons HC (AdHouse): It would be just *swell* if his Lordship, Count Sea Donkeyness of Douchewall actually got this book in, but curiously I’m not holding my breath for the appearance of Josh Cotter’s follow up work. I really do want to read this, as I loved Skyscrapers of the Midwest, but considering The Earl of Ba-Donk-A-Donk’s recent antics, he probably won’t get this in unless he can hike up the price and bag it with an Indigo Lantern ring. It also doesn't fit into a CGC slab. So there's that.


Justice Society of America: 80 Page Giant #1 (DC): Umm… yeah… Is this interesting? I don’t know. Sometimes there’s something fun that sneaks into these 80 Page Giants. I can’t even really find anything else in the new releases list to highlight, it all feels extremely lackluster. Is there some big lull in shipping before we get to the Christmas onslaught in December? I’m really having a hard time finding anything remotely interesting to comment on. Sorry. What should I buy? Help!


Rabbit Ronin is a Rewarding Read

Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai (Dark Horse): Usagi Yojimbo celebrates his 25th anniversary in Yokai, an original graphic novel by Stan Sakai. Yokai means “haunts” in Japanese, and Sakai’s samurai rabbit takes the reader on a guided tour of a moody forest teeming with weird ghosts drawn from Japanese mythology. Sakai makes these ghosts and spirits into a credibly-realized threat by allowing Usagi to yell out the names of the escalating parade of demons as he encounters them.

Usagi comes into conflict with these spirits when he is drawn into an inky forest where he encounters a weeping woman with a missing child. Following his code of ethics, Usagi plunges ahead in the search when he crosses paths with the “Night Parade of One Hundred Demons.”

I appreciated the way Usagi’s amazement with each spirit captured the nature of the threat, from the wacky "shanso" (a stalk with a single foot, one eyeball and a tuft of hair) to the savage "nue" (a massive tiger with a snake for a tail). Usagi is saved from the maw of the nue by Sasuke, who has the ambitious title of “Demon Queller.”

Sasuke explains that the demons are in search of a living soul to bring forth the Witch Queen and end the world. The usually unflappable Usagi is rattled by this mystical cavalcade of teeth, claws and tentacles, so much so that he exclaims, “You’re kidding, right?” no fewer than three times. Sasuke implores Usagi to “stop saying that!” as they battle to stop the yokai from ending the world.

This book showcases Sakai’s mastery of his creation; the characters and their motivations are well realized in a few simple lines of dialogue. This standalone story suggests that this adventure is one of many for the wily, veteran samurai. It is a perfect introduction to the medieval Japanese world that Sakai’s characters roam.

The art is amazing. Sakai’s use of watercolors give the panels a rich, layered glow that seems like a lost art in the age of computer coloring. Sakai talks about the passion for his craft in an interview at the end of the book, but it is obvious in every shadow, gnarled root, and mossy riverbank. I really appreciate Dark Horse’s presentation of this anniversary book, from the embossed cover to the detailed examination of a panel showing Sakai’s painting process.

This is one of those rare books that serve as example of the strengths of the comic book medium. I would place this in the hands of any non-comic reader of almost any age without hesitation. Grade A+ .


11.11.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Supergod #1 (Avatar Press): Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny open this third installment of a loosely affiliated trilogy (see Black Summer and No Hero) with references to Moses’ people constructing a false idol while he’s off communing with God. That kept making me chuckle, because all I could picture for some reason was Charlton Heston in the film The Ten Commandments and those hokey outfits and props the people were partying with. I generally like stories that start at the end and then explain how they got there; reading this, Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects came to mind, as did the first issue of Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina, which started us off by recounting Mitchell Hundred’s infamous days in office. Simon Reddin feels like many of Ellis’ characters, in that he’s a bit of a cipher for the writer, there are elements of Ellis evident in all his creations, but particularly the ones that show off the books they’ve read or crack wise about their perception of the human condition. It’s an interesting notion that “we’re hardwired for the need to fashion gods.” In my studies, this usually spins out of man’s existential dilemma; man is sentient and self-aware enough to realize that his time on Earth is finite, that leads to asking what the purpose of existence is, and ultimately man’s search leads to trying to find meaning in a higher power. If a higher power doesn’t exist, man must create one, either figuratively in the form of religion, or literally in the case of Supergod. This first issue was very engaging, full of fun throwaway ideas like the children with “fins and flippers,” alternate history that fascinates Ellis like it did in Ministry of Space, and the divergent turns from the prototypical Fantastic Four type origin stories – although Kirby’s genius can certainly be felt here with the tri-headed mushroom god(!). The book's framing device is a bit high on exposition, by design, but it’s so engaging and full of creativity that we don’t mind it much. It’s about man’s need for gods, but also the notion of a superhuman as a god, and “superhuman” is intended in the truest sense of the word, a post-human, super-human piece of forced evolution. It’s thought-provoking in the way that classic science fiction stories like The Twilight Zone episodes are. It makes you consider the ramifications of choices and lingers with you long after you put it down. Gastonny’s art seems better with some of the big huge backgrounds where he can fill the panels with detail, or close up shots full of detail, like the spores. But for me, his pencils got bland on the single static figures or many of the quiet mid-sized ¾ shots. I like that the story feels very accelerated, both in the attempts to manufacture AI and shoehorn it into genetic anomalies, and the “Superhuman Arms Race” in general. The logic behind the AI making an effort to maximize its own chance of success, and dragging human society along with it as a secondary achievement is quite clever, and I enjoyed the spotlighted choices of Great Britain, India (Krishna deciding he must burn the village down in order to save it), Iran, the Somali/Korean jobber, and poor, poor Pakistan. Grade A.

DMZ #47 (DC/Vertigo): The last time I was in Rome, I had a tour guide through the Vatican Museum that said something that really stuck with me. Even though my favorite work in the Sistine Chapel is The Last Judgment, most people focus on The Creation of Adam. Our tour guide said that one of Michelangelo’s great abilities was his ability to capture tension. God’s finger doesn’t quite touch Adam’s, it’s the moment just prior. As in the great Statue of David, we don’t see David actually throwing the rock, he’s preparing to, it’s the moment just prior. “There’s great tension in the moment just prior to action.” Welcome to this issue of DMZ. There’s electricity in the air, in the “calm” just before what I feel is going to be a great storm. Some might say that this issue reads like “all middle,” and true – it will read even better collected, but we’re at a precarious moment where it feels like it’s all on the line. Will Matty snap? Will Manhattan snap? Will America snap? What’s Parco’s end game? He’s lurking about the city, Burchielli really captures the potential for a hidden agenda with his eyes perpetually in shadow during the conversation with Matty. I would have liked to see more of Radio Free DMZ that was introduced in the last issue, but there’s no denying this is a powder keg and I can’t wait to see how this accumulation of experiences, which sometimes play like nightmares, are all going to eventually play out. Also included is a great preview of Daytripper by The Boys From Brazil, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. Grade A.

Jason Is Conflicted About Eternal Conflicts

Review by Jason Crowe
Contributing Writer

Eternal Conflicts of the Comic Warrior #1 (Image): Paul Grist introduces readers to the Cosmic Warrior using a long, flowing chain of narration. The stacks of text boxes line the inky black pages, telling the story of a timeless struggle of hope versus despair. The Cosmic Warrior seeks the Hand of Leonard, a mystic relic from the beginning of time. He is challenged by Bernadette, who is apparently not able to directly harm him. Even with that limitation, she claims to have defeated three previous incarnations of the Warrior.

The narration changes tone several times, describing the history of the conflict, describing the characters and setting the mood. The structure of the narrative is unusual and reminded me of Dave Gibbons’ captions in the Kamandi serial in Wednesday Comics (which were influenced by Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant comic strips). The story really feels like an introduction to a novel with very slight plot movement and detailed introductions. I felt that the story needed to focus more on the Warrior, who does not speak in the few pages of his appearance.

The art in this space fantasy comic has the hallmarks of Paul Grist’s earlier work; large figures in solid color backgrounds. I found that the solid black backgrounds served to show the characters as a physical part of the cosmos they live in, especially when the Cosmic Warrior fades away into a starfield at the end of the issue. The page compositions are strong, using the edges of tables, mountains and stone floors to slash through the blackness and divide the images.

Bernadette says, “I really don’t know where the Cosmic gets these guys from.” I don’t know either, but I would like to find out in future issues. I hope that Grist gets a chance to complete and publish his proposed five-part story arc next year. Grade B-.


11.11.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Batman & Robin #6 (DC): I loved that opening sequence! The dial-in-fate of our heroes is a big overt callback to the real world mechanism that killed Jason Todd as Robin II, the very same Red Hood pulling the stunt now, in a nice piece of meta-commentary that breaks the fourth wall in an inventive way. Philip Tan’s pencils actually feel ok in this issue; Dick looks like Dick, not like Bruce, not like a Robin, everyone is quite distinct. Either he’s getting better or I’ve grown more accustomed to his style as the memory of Frank Quitely loses intensity with more issues passing. Some of the shots are beautifully gritty, like the RPG sequence with the explosions and fire. The single panel of Jason saying he beat his arch-enemy is just a beauuuuutifully colored flash of artistic brilliance. I love how the creative team is able to maintain Damian’s attitude, even as the villains sort of “self-destruct” each other, with nothing but frequent “tt” marks to capture the kid’s insolent spirit. I enjoyed the prurient fascination with Dick and Damian's various states of dress, their own and that of the viewing audience. It’s an interesting throwaway bit of commentary on the distraction from real issues that nudity can be in our puritanical culture. At first, it feels a bit like Flamingo comes out of nowhere, but our attention is quickly co-opted by the brutal fight scenes, Jason being so sure he’ll “come back” if killed, and Damian’s “paralysis,” which is surely a temporary red herring. The cape’s bulletproof, right, so it’s not permanent. It’s just the impact of the bullets like when they hit the Kevlar in a bulletproof vest, they can still crack a rib… right? In the end, the disparate elements of the hidden vault, the Lazarus Pit references, the passwords, Oberon Sexton, it all starts to coalesce and makes me feel, along with Tan’s passable art, that at the 25th hour, the guys pulled this one out and may have saved this arc. Grade A.

S.W.O.R.D. #1 (Marvel): I’m not sure if that’s the proper title or not. It is an acronym, and the indicia does use the periods, but they’re not in the cover title of the book, was that just an aesthetic design concern? Oh well… I was surprised to find a pleasant level of humor early on that permeated the book. References like the aliens wanting us to cede North Carolina or the MSS acronym tend to abound and offer slight self-parody. The witty repartee isn’t as grand as something like Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. – but, what is? – it is evident though that the fun is intended to be on equal footing with the non-stop unapologetic action adventure vibe, all with ties to recent events in the Marvel U. Steven Sanders’ art looks a little more cartoony and is rendered less dark and moody than his debut work in Five Fists of Science, but it seems to suit the tone of the book very well. It’s actually a nice change of pace compared to the somber mood most of the other related books possess. However, his designs for Sydren and the Drenx diplomats look very similar. Was that done intentionally? Is that Sydren’s race? It’s a little muddled. Another weird glitch is the attempted rescue sequence. Agent Brand issues an order for her “A-team” to get ready and for the Falchion to be prepped. We also see an order being issued for Lockheed to board the Stiletto. We then see Brand and Beast board the Falchion, without Lockheed. Ok so far. But in the next scene, Lockheed is clearly seen on board the Falchion with them, repeatedly. Brand orders the Stiletto to launch a boarding missile, yet we’re never shown who is on board the Stiletto or what the purpose of having two ships is, nor are we clued into who this “A-team” is beyond the obvious foursome of Abby, Beast, Lockheed, and Sydren. When the boarding missile then punctures the ship, Beast, Abby, and Lockheed are seen, leading us to believe that it actually came from the Falchion, not the Stiletto as indicated, and that they actually were aboard the same ship contrary to the dialogue. It’s very, very confusing and inconsistent. Beast’s Last Starfighter inspired car is a fun mode of transport, blasting us right into Lockheed’s enjoyable temperament, and his banter with Sydren, who both prove to be wonderful members of an eclectic supporting cast. This cast includes the uber-intriguing Unit, a sort of sentient psychic droid who we’re led to believe may have some sinister and ulterior motives, along with Death’s Head(!) You’ve heard of him, yes? There are many clever flourishes, like the pop up communiqué Death’s Head uses, and the small details like the sword “theme” being complete, down to the smaller jump ships, like the Stiletto or Falchion. All told, the creative team gives us a convincing “day in the life” of Abigail Brand episode, as her many lives, personal, family, and work all converge. This manic mixture includes the internal strife of her employer, with Gyrich making a big bold argument that kicks off some additional tension. The back up story with frequent Kieron Gillen collaborator Jamie McKelvie has been the subject of much personal speculation in the circles I run in. Basically it starts to answer the worthwhile question, what the f--- is going on with Kitty Pryde? This story starts off clever, depicting Abby’s limited ability to speak Lockeed’s language in the choppy translation boxes. The story goes a long way to explain the mechanics of the object she’s travelling in itself and its general impenetrable nature, but does not expound on Kitty per se. We learn all about the gravity well associated with the object’s mass and attempts to track and approach it, but the major hurdle of how Kitty has survived without freezing to death or expiring from the lack of oxygen in space are quickly glossed over. They’re not explained away, we’re not shown why she’s alive, we’re merely told she is. It’s reassuring for the audience who loves her, but how would Abby know this if they’ve had such difficulty approaching the object? It’s almost as if there is a text box or two missing regarding the asteroid inhabitants that came in contact with the bullet. It feels like a bit of a cheat so far, but hopefully there’s still some story to tell here. Grade B+.

"It Does Not Bother Me To Say This Isn't Love"

I understand that there were some printing issue with Phonogram 2: The Singles Club #5 (Image) that resulted in it being largely pulled from distribution and pulped, so that explains that one. But once again, Good Ol’ Sea Donkey mysteriously didn’t get Terry Moore’s Echo #16 (Abstract Studio) today. Whatever, dude. I also didn’t pick up the Batman/Doc Savage Special #1 (DC). The premise for the “First Wave” line still intrigues me, and I might pick up the mini-series with Rags Morales’ art, but this just didn’t pass the casual flip test. Phil Noto’s art just looked very stiff, cold, and sterile, with fairly skimpy backgrounds. The advance reviews have also been less than stellar.

PS - I think this is my favorite pic of Sea Donkey that I've come across thus far in my travels across the netwebs.


The Writer Who Came In From The Cold

Antony Johnston announces Cold City.

Wasteland scribe Antony Johnston recently posted a message about his new project, Cold City, which is described as a Cold War spy thriller set around the fall of the Berlin Wall. To anyone who lived through that, those were powerful images amid sweeping times of change. I still remember watching Tom Brokaw “live from the Berlin Wall” on TV with my dad. We sat there as he told me stories about my grandfather in WWII. The book is going to be a very intriguing digest-sized hardback with artist Sam Hart, from Oni Press. This is a time period that surprisingly doesn’t get explored much. Anyone who caught Johnston’s arc of Queen & Country: Declassified (with Wasteland artist Chris Mitten) knows that he can definitely pull espionage off with the best of them. With the MI-6 fueled description, it feels right up my alley and I'm excited about this one. Keep your eyes peeled for this in 2010. No, that image isn’t from Cold City, I just thought it captured my initial reaction to what the book might feel like.

Examining The Pull: “I’m Losing You And It’s Effortless”

Inspired in part by Matt over at Paradox, I thought I’d take a look at my own pull list since it’s been years since I’ve attempted something like that. I don’t even think in terms of a weekly pull list anymore since my mind is so geared toward trades, original graphic novels, and the small press. That being said, here’s a complete list of the ongoing series (and mini-series) that I’m currently making it a point to pick up regularly and support. They’re in no particular order, with many notes to follow.

Wasteland (Oni Press)
The Lone Ranger (Dynamite Entertainment)
Scalped (DC/Vertigo)
DMZ (DC/Vertigo)
Northlanders (DC/Vertigo)
Astonishing X-Men (Marvel)
Uncanny X-Men (Marvel)
Invincible Iron Man (Marvel)
Echo (Abstract Studio)
Batman & Robin (DC)
Detective Comics (DC)
JLA: Cry for Justice (DC)
Stumptown (Oni Press)
I Am Legion (DDP/Humanoids)

In addition to those titles, Great Ten (DC) was almost added, but I’m not sure if that’s going to make the cut. It’s really in the “try it out” phase for a couple of issues. Conversely, Stumptown is a brand new book I’m fairly certain will stay on the list for some time, if not the duration of the run. I was also tempted to put the regular Justice League of America (DC) series on the list, but I’m really doubting James Robinson is going to get some place I want the book to go in the next issue or two, considering Mon-El, Donna Troy, and Dick Grayson weren’t even in the damn first issue of the run (aside from the cover), as was touted. I was also going to include Rick Remender’s Last Days of American Crime (Radical Comics), but technically it hasn’t started yet, despite the existence of my advance preview copy, which shows a lot of promise. I also anticipate adding DV8 (DC/Wildstorm), S.W.O.R.D. (Marvel), Supergod (Avatar Press), and maybe DC’s “First Wave” stuff, but that’s all speculation at the moment. Right now, based on what I know, this is the snapshot in time as it exists today.

I did not include Fell (Image Comics) or Desolation Jones (DC/Wildstorm), though they are technically ongoing series, but seem to be stalled indefinitely for no discernible reason other than Warren Ellis hasn’t written them yet and is not being very clear or specific with regard to his intentions or their status. Of Fell, he says “things are progressing slowly,” and of Desolation Jones, it’s more “no forward motion to speak of, it’s all very complicated.” Ok, thanks for clearing that up. Along those lines, I didn’t include Jonathan Hickman’s Red Mass for Mars (Image Comics) because who frickin’ knows when/if we’ll ever see the last severely late issue of that mini-series.

Of note, I recently pulled X-Force (Marvel), Punisher (Marvel), and Ex Machina (DC/Wildstorm) from the list. X-Force was a title that I liked, but I didn’t consider it essential, especially after the inconclusive debacle that was the Messiah War crossover that ran tandem with Cable. Similarly, the Punisher book from Rick Remender and company was ok for a momentary diversion, but something was lost when the artist changed and it was also relegated to non-essential status. Ex Machina remains my favorite Brian K. Vaughan book and a great title, but it’s so close to the end, I made a command decision to just stop purchasing single issues and upgrade to the Hardcover Deluxe Editions, though production has been frustratingly slow on the second volume.

Again, I just have to say that this whole notion of explaining a weekly pull list seems oddly foreign to me for some reason. At this point, looking at my purchasing habits for the last couple of years, I’m far more likely to pick up the latest project by Matt Kindt, a Drawn & Quarterly translation of Yoshihiro Tatsumi work, the next installment of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya, a First Second edition of a Gipi work, or some small press gem from a go-to creator like Elijah Brubaker, Tom Neely, Ryan Claytor, or Trevor Alixopulos, than a single issue floppy. You’ll notice that none of those come out on any sort of regular “pull” schedule, nor are they intended to. I guess what I’m obviously saying is that a weekly “pull” of floppies doesn’t necessarily reflect my buying habits, nor the direction and diversity of the industry as a whole for that matter, the way it might have 10 or 20 years ago.

But let’s charge forward with this analysis. So looking at that list we see 6 titles from DC (or its imprints) capturing 43% of the load, 5 small press titles comprising 35% of the take, and 3 Marvel titles rounding out the bunch with about 22%. That breakdown makes intuitive sense to me. As I’ve said all along, I grew up a DC kid so the lean in that direction makes sense, especially with the Bat-Family titles. Throw in affinity for a creator like Brian Wood (2 titles alone, that one!) and there you go. I also tend to follow a handful of creators around loyally, so it’s no surprise that a swath is created there from Antony Johnston & Christopher Mitten, Terry Moore, John Cassaday, and Greg Rucka. It also helps explain some of the Marvel load, with Matt Fraction delivering 2 of the 3 titles in that bracket.

That total of 14 is likely to change very soon. I Am Legion is a mini-series that has just one issue to go before it would be removed from the list. Astonishing X-Men and Uncanny X-Men are both on a bubble that could pop at any second. Both titles need to get better in a hurry to survive, and have lasted this long because I really just want an anchor into that property. I like the X-Men conceptually, always have, I have a fondness for so many of those characters, but I have problems with all of the books. Much like I really want a JLA book to anchor me into the convoluted DCU, but it hasn’t been great for so long. I remain slightly hopeful for Robinson’s run, but the JLA: Cry for Justice mini and recent issue of the regular series are not inspiring much confidence. This starts to bring up the idea of how something does stay in the rotation.

I’m often asked/told “Wow, you must have tons of comics in your collection?” Not really. It’s probably not as many as you’d think. I purchase a lot. I’m given a lot. But I don’t keep very many. In terms of single issues, I have maybe enough to fill two long boxes, and that’s probably being very generous, it’s probably more like one and change. That group is mostly single issues of titles I’m currently picking up (like say, Echo) and titles that are not available in a collected format, like say Automatic Kafka (DC/Wildstorm), Flex Mentallo (DC/Vertigo), or Shaolin Cowboy (Burlyman Entertainment). There are also some random singles that I wouldn’t part with, like the Paul Pope issue of Solo (DC). I then have probably a couple dozen CGC’d books. I don’t consider myself a collector per se, these are mostly Silver Age books that I have favorite issues of, like say Uncanny X-Men #121, #129, or Strange Tales #120. There are also some nostalgic issues (such as the first comic I had as a kid, DC Comics Presents #58) or novelty items like issues of The Killer or Wasteland that have my pull quotes on them. I also have a pretty healthy stack of stuff I’m giving away. There are runs of Scalped in that pile that I’ve since upgraded to trades on, or mini-comics I’ve picked up for free at cons, random single issues of titles I tried and didn’t like, etc. By far, the largest category is trades and graphic novels, this comprises the bulk of what I own, and I own enough just to fill a medium sized 4 shelf bookcase. That’s it. Though if I had these that would probably change. ;-)

When I think about determining what to keep, there are quite a few macro factors. There’s the dwindling storage space in a 3 bedroom 2,000 square foot house with two kids. There’s the money. If I don’t absolutely love something, I’d just as soon sell it. I’d rather have the money to reinvest in more material, hopefully something else I might fall in love with. Admittedly, this is partly my parents’ fault. Growing up with them in the antique business, I became accustomed to the idea that everything in the house was “in the inventory” and for sale at the right price. That Renaissance Revival couch you’re sitting on? Yup, for sale. That Civil War officer’s sword made by Tiffany hanging on the wall? Yup, that also. That piece of Weller art pottery on the mantel? Oh yes. That Eastlake marble top table in the corner? Yeah, that too could be yours for the low, low price of just $895. I love reading comics and love poring over them, I wish I could have and read them all at one point or another. But for me, it’s not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you’ve got. It’s a subtle distinction. I have no problem owning something, enjoying it for a time, but then letting it go if I find I’m still not completely enamored of it. I don’t mind paying for something I love, but how do you explain love with seemingly stable and discernible criteria? At the micro level, this is what I’ve been able to deduce considering the things I’ve given up and the things that I wouldn’t dare part with;

Love: Meaning I really have to love it, I can’t just like it. That’s not good enough anymore. I have to feel it in my gut. It sounds morbid, but imagine your house burning down. What’s replaceable, what could you live without, what would you be sad to lose, and what’s just there? For a title to survive in my collection it has to speak to me in some way on a deep personal level, maybe I’ve had some meaningful interaction with the creators, maybe it’s a particularly cool format, maybe the character(s) I love have been captured or depicted in some quintessential fashion. There usually isn’t just one special thing about these books, it’s usually multiple factors. Wasteland is an example of something I would never willingly give up. It’s a book that speaks to me on some primal, visceral, intuitive level, I feel a personal connection with the creators, and it’s a great format. I have no blind allegiance to the company or characters; it’s really about the creators involved and is a title I feel deserves support and evangelizing. Contrast that to something like X-Force, not to pick on that title or Marvel or anything, it’s just an example. I’ve enjoyed aspects of the book, but I’m not emotionally invested in any part of it. If it was gone, I wouldn’t miss it. It’s not to say that I wouldn’t seek it out in a quarter or dollar bin if the opportunity arose, but it doesn’t click with me strong enough to continue to support on a regular, full priced basis. It’s not critical to my general comic book experience. It’s not going to survive or fail based on my support. Something like Echo or the aforementioned Wasteland surely could. I know I’ve turned people onto those books and made a small positive nudge in their long term success trajectory.

Transcend: Meaning it really has to be more than the sum of its constituent parts. Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman is a prime example of this. It’s not just good, it’s not just great, it might just be the best of its type. It transcends comic book status. Sure, Grant Morrison is a lauded creator, but here he functions a little differently. I would dare say that this is his most direct and concise example of storytelling. This is not the obtuse drunk Scotsman who shouts random obscure profane things at panels. On the art side, I’ve loved Frank Quitely since Flex Mentallo, but he too has reached a pinnacle here. Look at his designs for Bizarro World or simple things like the wisps of hair on Lois’ head. I’ve never really warmed to Superman as a character, never understood any gravitas associated with him. This book shifted my way of thinking. This book was more than the sum of the parts, more than great writing, more than great penciling. It all came together to transcend its trappings as a Superman story and became one of, if not the, greatest Superman story ever told, with issue #10 being one of, if not the, greatest single issue of Superman in existence. All Star Superman has a one page origin sequence using just 8 words and 4 panels, being the most stripped down, unplugged, and emotionally resonant introduction you’ll likely find. The creative team has distilled the very essence of what makes the character unique, condensed it down into just twelve issues, and offered something that lives on as a meaningful piece of art and evidence of what the medium is capable of.

Return: Meaning that not only does it have to be a book I love, not only does it have to be a book that transcends, it has to be a book I can return to for repeated readings again and again. To endure my fickle collecting habits, a work really needs to be inclusive of all three of these elusive properties. Not only must I possess some primordial response to it, not only must it operate beyond its origin or genre or individual components, but it has to offer that same level of enjoyment repeatedly. It’s tough, I know. I think Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary is probably the best example I can think of which captures the spirit of this category. Planetary is so complex and nuanced that it rewards repeated viewing, whereas, oh, let’s pick on Bendis, something like Alias does not. I enjoyed Alias, picked up the single issues and eventually plunked down the ducats for the Omnibus Edition. I still maintain that it’s the best thing Bendis has ever written. I can say that I loved Alias. I can say that it attempted to transcend his body of work and the ostensible superhero noir trappings it worked with, but… I found that, for me, I couldn’t return to it. I’d read it twice (once in singles, once in the Omnibus), absorbed it, and had it in my brain. Done. I never needed to go back to it. There wasn’t anything more for me to learn or examine. Planetary is a different kind of animal. Every reading illuminates something new. There are subtle nods to Elijah treating Jakita as a surrogate daughter evident throughout early issues, when you get to the Opak-Re issue it’s obvious why, you can go back and study that, only then does it hold enhanced meaning. There’s the time travel paradox, the early issues functioning as isolated trope vignettes giving way to the larger conspiracy plot. There’s the evolution of Cassaday’s pencils. The list goes on, and that’s the point. I can say that I loved it from the first issue. I can say that it definitely transcends to tell a self-reflexive fictional story about the very craft of fiction writing, but it’s also in a select category of very few books that reward the reader for engaging it over and over, untying the many layers of meaning to be dissected and the very methods of information delivery used to convey them.


Coming This Week: “Don’t Rush To Judgment On Something Like That Until All The Facts Are In”

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…


Batman & Robin #6 (DC): Is it mean of me to say that I’m kind of just waiting out the last issue of this arc so that I can get to new artist Cameron Stewart on the next arc? I suppose that’s one thing the series has going for it, if you’re not fond of a particular artist, you only have a three issue wait until the next. This should wrap up The Red Hood business, which felt like it never really got going and had a chance to breathe or be explored, so we'll see how it wraps.

DMZ #47 (DC/Vertigo): Continuing the Hearts & Minds arc, should be fun, Wood has really been increasing the tension in this book. It’s taken some major turns, with no end in sight.

S.W.O.R.D. #1 (Marvel): This might actually be the book that I’m mosty excited, nay – hopeful, about this week. I like Abigail Brand as a new character. I like Kieron Gillen as a unique writer. I’ve wanted more of Steven Sanders’ art since Five Fists of Science with Matt Fraction. The Cassaday covers are purdy. And… there’s going to be a back-up feature where a certain missing heroine might be found. Hint: she was last seen in a mile long bullet after having saved the planet. Please, oh please, someone save Kitty Pryde!

Echo #16 (Abstract Studio): One of the best comics being published today; this doesn’t disappoint.


Batman/Doc Savage Special #1 (DC): Brian Azzarello is a solid writer, and the pulp overtones of this series seem right up his alley. Phil Noto is not exactly known for the… uhh, promptness of his art [that mini-series The Infinite Horizon (six issues was it?) showed promise as it retold Homer's The Odyssey, but it began in December of 07 and still hasn’t wrapped to my knowledge], so it was probably a good idea to get this in the can and make it a special vs. an ongoing series. More than anything, I’m interested to see how this “new universe” is set up as an alternate universe period piece, Batman no longer possessing an aversion to the use of firearms.

Supergod #1 (Avatar Press): This purports to complete the Warren Ellis trifecta of Black Summer and No Hero, examining different “real world” takes on the superhero paradigm. It’s disappointing that Juan Jose Ryp will not be on art detail to complete the thematic link, nor will this be a seven issue series like the others, but a mere five. Black Summer was really about average joes who didn’t really want to be superheroes and tried to act very humanely and compassionately. No Hero was then about average joes who desperately wanted to be superheroes, thus focusing on how inhumanely they could act. With Supergod it appears we have alien/supherhumans who aspire to be more than heroes and attempt some sort of godlike pursuits. Garrie Gastonny’s art looks decent enough and this has a good chance of making it home. I’ll at least try the first issue before I make a determination on trade-waiting the rest.

Luna Park HC (Vertigo): Danijel Zezelj!


Phonogram 2: The Singles Club #5 (Image): This series has slipped into late territory, but it’s usually worth a look nonetheless.


11.04.09 Reviews (Part 3)

Pope Hats #1 (AdHouse): Ethan Rilly’s self-published work was the winner of a 2008 Xeric Grant and is now being distributed by AdHouse Books. Rilly’s pencils have a very clean DIY style that have more full bodied figure work than someone like say, Jessica Abel. I like both creators, but Rilly’s characters seem to glide a little more effortlessly across the page, whereas Abel's figures seem sharper, and tend to punctuate actions. His use of perspective is especially unique and the generous inks feel warm and inviting. Most self-published work can easily slip into autobiographical navel-gazing, but Rilly avoids that pitfall and provides something a little more accessible that addresses a new generation engaging with their existence on their own terms. I particularly enjoyed the eerie paranormal stories that make up the last chunk of the book. Grade B.

The Great Ten #1 (DC): Bedard’s script gives us a nice one page introduction on the history of China, spotlighting the political differences between the mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the island nation of Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC). That conflict continues to be manifested in the super team The Great Ten. There is a lot of (read: too much) time spent on weaving the opposing paradigms of Beijing and Taipei, Communist and Nationalist, throughout the story. The members of The Great Ten have their own internal conflict over the repressive PRC methods of dealing with social uprising and Accomplished Perfect Physician’s more progressive stance. It really reads more like a primer of modern day Chinese politics than an engaging superhero story. If that’s what you’re after, it’s very well done and informative, if a little on the boring side. Assumably, each of the ten issues will spotlight a different member of The Great Ten, and that I find appealing, since it will really be the first time these characters are developed beyond the conceptual, and serve as a platform for their potential future use. The introduction of an entirely new team, a more Nationalist team with nature based powers, to counter the more Communist based existing team, is also an interesting twist, but seems a little premature to include for the very first issue. I’m intrigued, but not nearly sold. I’ll give it another issue or so to see where it goes. Scott McDaniel’s art is quite a treat. His style suits this street level martial arts action very well, and his page layouts have certainly improved over time with little flourishes along the panel borders. It makes me miss his work on Nightwing, or even the short lived Richard Dragon series. Grade B.


11.04.09 Reviews (Part 2)

Stumptown #1 (Oni Press): Greg Rucka’s return to creator owned comics was a long time in the making, but certainly worth the wait. This time out, his partner in crime is artist Matthew Southworth, whose art looks most reminiscent of Michael Gaydos’ work on Alias. Particularly in the facial features of the female protagonist, there’s more than a little of the Jessica Jones vibe happening, but what differentiates his style is the slightly sketchier backgrounds and looser inks. The art is a success (thanks in part to colorist Lee Loughridge), capturing the tone of the series, but with room to still grow and evolve as the series progresses. I was sold early on, with that first two page spread that unfolded, the double-tap invading the silence, and opening up the Stumptown world to us, inviting us into a cold, dark, mysterious place. Rucka’s penchant for damaged or flawed, but certainly capable, female leads comes on strong, and it’s like a breath of fresh air in the predominantly male field of both comic book making and PI work. Rich details in the dialogue, from the relatively simple ring of a craps table: “seven out!” or “new shooter coming out” to the intricate references to the Mara Salvatrucha crime gang underscore Rucka’s ability to research and authenticate his tales. And he doesn’t stop there. The inquiries about Ansel, the very nature of his character, establish the world quickly in terms of the motivators and values of our lead character without an ounce of exposition or insulting of the reader’s intelligence. The speech patterns of Sue-Lynne make her an immensely charismatic, likable, and dangerous character, without anyone ever needing to comment to that effect. Dex picking up on the dubious nature of “maybe with a boy” is all we need to know about her own sexuality, without Rucka having to spell out a firm stance one way or another. The narrative is non-linear, with flashbacks filling in the recent prologue, all leading to an interesting twist of a proposition that quickly complicates and begs so many questions. Top that off with a twisty ending that functions on two levels considering what we’ve already seen and were led to believe. Toward the end of the issue, I loved little flourishes like pausing for a beat to emphasize the revelation, and then the wonderful line “you seen my vest?” along with the pose in the doorway that accompanies it. There is no fanfare, no boisterous excitement, but your heart sinks in that quiet little moment with the uneasy anticipation of what could come. Like the best high art, it pulls the most emotion out of the audience with the most minimalistic and elegant effort. One very minor quibble, Intel HQ is actually in Santa Clara, CA – down the street from my old employer Cisco Systems in Silicon Valley. Not sure if Rucka just brain-farted this or had them confused with another tech company. If you were to combine the detail obsessiveness and procedural lingo of Queen & Country with the somber and moody artistic style of Alias, and then threw in some of the popular crime noir elements from Brubaker’s Criminal, yeah, you know what you’d have. You’d have an authentic series opener. You’d have Rucka and Southworth making their intentions clear. You’d have Oni Press with another hit on their hands. You’d have Stumptown. Grade A.

11.04.09 Reviews (Part 1)

Strange Tales #3 (Marvel): Nick Bertozzi’s Uatu opener (and closer) is as fun and harmless as usual. Oni by Stan Sakai brings a clever spin to the “Banner” name, and delivers a remarkably bleak ending proving that even in a wildly different setting and time period, the guise of the Hulk is truly more of a curse than any sort of blessing. Corey Lewis’ take on Longshot, via The Fortune Full X-Man, Broadcasting Live Comix on Mojo TV, aka: Longshot Gets Lucky is pretty damn awesome. It’s full of greatly rendered punk attitude that’s well suited to these particular characters. It takes all of the appeal that I was told about, but never really understood for myself, from things like Sugarshock and Scott Pilgrim, tosses in a dash of Paul Pope's 100% future tech aesthetic and successfully pulls it all together here. I’d definitely read a feature length book regularly about this “pop-punk emo-disco whatever the heck” world, full of lines like “hey meat boy, nice entrada.” Lewis even manages to use terminology like “oh snap!” without sounding disingenuous. Instead, it comes off organically and captures teen-speak effortlessly, whereas most other writers just look old and unhip when they try this sort of thing. This short is definitely a Grade A+. Jeffrey Brown’s Fantastic Fool’s Day is full of inventive gags, I particularly liked the Iceman one, with great facial expressions that deliver much of the storytelling intent. Jay Stephens’ La Querelle Des Monstres highlights mutant science DNA verbal barbs from Beast, but most of the humor falls flat, and Morbius does nothing for me. Stephens’ style is (of course) more suited to Saturday morning cartoons for my money. Chris Chua’s two pager feels like a severely more manic version of Brendan McCarthy, being really tough to follow in spots. The Abominable Peter Pepper! by Max Cannon starts with a strong tongue in cheek discussion of things like Peter’s desire to be between “two golden orbs,” but ultimately goes nowhere, more evidence of why I don’t like anything having to do with the Spider-Man mythos. Jonathan Jay Lee’s experimental take on The Punisher is the type of thing that should be more allowed/encouraged by the Big Two – just to see where it goes, just for the sake of itself. It’s not perfect or definitive by any means, but has an interesting look and feel, with a unique voice bringing to life an alternate take on an otherwise bland character. The Incorrigible Hulk by Peter Bagge has plenty of chuckle-worthy one-liners like “Why not? Hulk hate Danish Modern.” I enjoyed the structure of Deana and Trashy serving as polar opposite influences on his proverbial shoulders. The Avengers in “Let’s Fight” by Michael Kupperman is visually very appealing, but a little flat in the humor department. Nightcrawler Meets Molecule Man by Paul Hornshemeier has a couple of witty turns of self-reflexive industry phrasing “…or as a waning population once knew me…” but the dilemma of existence sort of occupies most of the space and grew tiresome. Yeah, with superhuman powers comes boredom and chaos seems appealing. S’that all you got? King Crab by Becky Cloonan was a great and memorable way to end the affair, a fantastic visual feast, colored and rendered beautifully, with more fluid and less angular lines than I’m accustomed to seeing from her. More like this one, please. Also, “excessive crab urine” is a great line coming from Reed Richards in quasi-intellectual deadpan scientific delivery. Grade B+.

Astonishing X-Men #32 (Marvel): Jimenez’s backgrounds were the clear winner here, with high levels of detail, and cars that actually look like discernible makes and models, not just amorphous blobs. His action sequences, on the other hand, were a little confusing at times, as evidenced by the weird bubble feet things seen after the Sentinel is shot with the tow cable, ala Luke and Dack on Hoth. On the scripting side, Ellis’ interplay between Armor and Wolverine was enjoyable, almost as if he was channeling his inner Whedon with lines like “So how’s the whole ‘I’ll just run up the monster and be the stabby hero’ thing working out for you?” The Sentinel Monster shooting out Brood darts was an unexpected twist. You know what got tired really quick? Beast was a little too thick with the affectation: “my viridian, my darling, my little fruitbat, my little angel of death” etc. Give it a rest before I barf up the pad thai I had for lunch. Jimenez captured a real sense of claustrophobia with the close quarters combat and nailed the bloodlust of Wolverine. With all of the many shots of blood, blood in the eyes, blood on the bodies, blood spraying about, the foreshadowing of some type of cloning DNA mutant whatever experimentation was a little too overt for my appreciation of subtlety. And, what’s with this? Beast just got through explaining to Abby that the vessel had no weapons, and then proceeds to fire… missiles at the Sentinel? And then the team is back in the Marin HQ, what happened to being on Magneto Island? I’m really getting motion sickness with the continuity flips between books. At the end of it all, it’s nice to know what’s going on and have a set up for this arc, but it comes in the form of a big info dump of expository speech from Abby. The next issue teaser image looks like a swipe from the Summer Glau ads for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. The general thrust of this book is ok, a fun action book, but all of the minor annoyances in execution and consistency are quickly stacking up to become major distractions and lower this to a Grade B-.


Graphic Novel(s) of the Month

Aya: The Secrets Come Out (Drawn & Quarterly): The third installment of Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s autobiographically inspired look at 1970’s Cote d’Ivoire is just as strong in execution as the previous two, but ably tackles more intricate plot developments. While Aya does address complex issues as diverse as arranged marriages, the dynamics of polygamous relationships, closeted homosexuality, classic male female power struggles, the hidden power of the matriarch balanced against the superficial power of the patriarch, jealousy, secret mistresses, and the impact of cheating on the nuclear family, it’s not actually about focus on these singular events per se. What Aya does remarkably well as a narrative is shift our focus onto the broad sweep of cultural life in the Ivory Coast during this time period. Of course, there are some specific human reactions that are tragically universal, such as Aya’s mom blaming the existence of her husband’s mistress on her own actions: “It’s my fault, I’ve let myself go these past years…” But for the most part, it defies the expectations most audiences would possess based on topical media coverage of Africa as a whole. Thanks to the creators, we find a nation not marred by tribal warfare or disastrous famine, but a strong and unified sense of community in the culture, as evidenced by the town’s hysteria and all encompassing involvement in the Miss Yopougon Contest. The secrets do indeed come out in this installment. As the book lives up to its subtitle, we see the generation gap so common in so many societies. The kids are testing their traditions and customs, while the parents’ tolerance for the progressive is equally put under duress. This creates wonderful storytelling tension, as each successive generation seeks to express themselves, but attempt doing so in a language of mores and norms foreign to their elders. This is an utterly human experience and the beautifully exasperated emotions that quickly move Abouet’s tale along are punctuated by Oubrerie’s full page shots that brilliantly capture these isolated moments in time. They also function as intuitive chapter breaks that change sets or story threads effortlessly. Oubrerie’s thin anemic lines underscore the frailty of the tenuous living arrangements, lives, deaths, and relationships; the very existence of these people seems to hang by a thread as thin as the pencil lines used to illustrate them. In that respect, Aya is adventurous but also unsettling. This series of books (thankfully already up to volume five in France) documents these perfectly detailed snapshots of culture in a specific period, yet provides themes that are timeless, identifiable, and inviting to any readership. Grade A+.

3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man (Dark Horse): Matt Kindt has slowly and surreptitiously crept up to be one of the best visual storytellers working in the medium today. If you compare his early Pistolwhip work to this piece, it’s evident there was a turning point somewhere between 2 Sisters and Super Spy. Instead of the stark clean lines found in the former, the latter works bear fully rendered watercolors and more fully bodied figure work, with particular detail in the faces and surroundings. Each page functions not only as part of the larger whole, doing its part to relay the overarching story, but are also capable of standing on their own as fascinating miniature masterpieces in their own right. It’s amazing to see so much story being told in one single static image. The best example of this is probably found on pages 9 to 11, as Kindt plays with time to emphasize meaning. Despite all of the panels occupying the same overall volume of space, he’s able to slow down and speed up time with their subtle design variations, placement of text, and the quantity of text contained. Page 13 is a virtual Easter egg hunt, with “Cheval Noir” (aka: Dark Horse) not jutting out awkwardly, but being subtly embedded in war torn France, like an old Cinzano sign one might see in an outdoor café in a period piece of Italy. Kindt’s artistic choices are crafty, but not simply for the sake of themselves, always appearing in service to the story. Examine the bullet wound on page 17 or the magnificent illustrated footnotes on page 14. The story beats on page 19 are managed particularly well, pausing themselves for dramatic effect when appropriate. Kindt’s art is so well conceived and in unison with his narrative, like the basic idea of the size of the growing boy actually attempting to compensate physically in some way for the emotional loss and void that his mom experiences when his dad leaves. Another example is his girlfriend’s construction of architectural miniatures. Jo appears to be psychologically trying to find a way to command her own reality in the way that Craig does with his relative size. Craig seems to be happiest when the world comes together to build him a house, a place to finally belong and literally fit in, so that he doesn’t have to perpetually try and fit into the world. His role with society is happily reversed for a time. Jo initially seems to understand that his overseas CIA tour is one of the only times he doesn’t really feel useless. His one secret is being a spy; it’s the only thing he’s able to keep from the world, an entire reality that knows of him and his story. But eventually, Jo grows resentful. As everyone is shrinking around him, Craig’s involvement in the world and interaction with even his family actually shrinks away with the size differential. He begins losing his connection to humanity, there is the typical psychosis associated with attachment disorder. Jo counters by creating her own world within a world, as she’s incapable of being seen physically by him, or felt emotionally by him, her act of infidelity is a desperate plea for attention of any kind. The destruction of the life she knew is reflected in her art pieces, she expresses her world falling apart under the eyes of her own personal god looking down on creation. It’s taken to an extreme level as Jo says “he literally grew away from us.” She and Craig can no longer communicate, as her size phases her out of his sensory experience. Functionally, if he attempted talking to her it would cause her eardrums to burst. Her voice is like a tiny mosquito buzz to him. The sound goes, the sight goes, and so go all of the feelings in their absence. It would be like you or I trying to have a relationship with a significant other the size of a single speck of dust on our lips. Kindt constructs the story formally from the alternating, but ordered, points of view of Craig’s mom, his wife, and his daughter. It’s a smart structural choice that perfectly mirrors the phases of birth, life, and death. His mother’s story is perhaps the saddest (being abandoned by both husband and son), his wife’s arguably the most tragic (beginning in love and connectedness, only to slowly slip away), and his daughter’s perhaps the most hopeful. Craig’s daughter seeks simply to understand a man she never really knew except in the lost glimpses he left in the world. In that way, she’s no different than any one of us trying to understand our parents merely by the objects and impressions they leave behind on the world long after they’re gone. Grade A+.

Coming This Week: The Great Astonishing Stumptown League

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…


Stumptown #1 (Oni Press): Greg Rucka’s long-awaited return to creator owned properties finally kicks off this month with artist Matthew Southworth. I’m not a huge fan of all of the noir crime stuff flooding the market in fadtastic fashion, but I tend to trust Rucka’s non-superhero work a great deal, with Oni’s own Queen & Country being a perennial favorite. The hook is solid enough here and the preview images of Southworth’s art I saw at San Diego Con two (!) years ago were pretty enticing.

Strange Tales #3 (Marvel): The wrap up to this offbeat anthology hits this week as well. For my tastes, the talent seemed to be front loaded with this series, but I’ll certainly check out pieces by Becky Cloonan, Nicholas Gurewitch, and Paul Hornshemeier. Let’s pray there will be more M.O.D.O.K.!

Astonishing X-Men #32 (Marvel): I wasn’t blown away by the last issue from Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez, but it wasn’t offensive or anything. I’ll certainly give this creative team another issue or two to get their sea legs. BTW - Over that terribly late-in-the-making Halloween pizza, Michael and I were discussing Abigail Brand in general and the upcoming S.W.O.R.D. series. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but I’m hoping that S.W.O.R.D.’s general off world charter, the inclusion of Beast (who, along with Abby, was present in the Astonishing arc that lost Kitty), and the inclusion of a forlorn Lockheed himself (her very own personal dragon), might suggest a search for Kitty Pryde sneaking up on us in that new title. Regardless, looking forward to that one.


Great Ten #1 (DC): It’ll be interesting to see if Tony Bedard can do anything with this throwaway Grant Morrison concept that originated in 52. I’m not a fan of Bedard’s, but I certainly enjoyed Scott McDaniel’s pencils on Nightwing back in the day. This could pass the casual flip test if the contents live up to great house ads I’ve seen.


End League #9 (Dark Horse): Wow. The first issue of this came out in January of 2008. The final issue of this interesting, but flawed in execution, Remender concept finally sees the last issue before the Mayan Apocalypse in 2012. Add this to my quarter bin list, stat.