1.27.10 Reviews (Part 3)

Batman & Robin #7 (DC): Thank the heavens for Cam Stewart, because I was getting ready to drop this title. It’s still not up to the level of an artist like Frank Quitely, or even the offbeat appeal of Frazer Irving, but it’s a welcome improvement nonetheless. Grant Morrison scatters his trademark allusory references around, some of which are enjoyable, and some of which I’m just not in the mood for. Sometimes I just want a well told story and don’t feel like puzzling together all of the cryptic clues that sometimes lead places, but sometimes appear just for the sake of their own inclusion. Stewart’s figures are occasionally a little plump and cartoony, but for the most part the action sequences are fantastic. He manages to even squeeze in what looks to be a backpacking Morrison in one scene, and I really adored the level of coordination between Batman and Squire that drives the visuals. The Beefeater is a fitting nod and I enjoyed the mention of “Basement 101,” referencing the Orwellian "Room 101" from 1984. As Damian floats in a Hoth inspired Bacta Tank, I enjoyed the verbal interplay between Talia and Alfred. The lost (last?) Lazarus Pit is a likely plot device considering all of the players at play, and it will be interesting to see what exactly emerges, because I’m betting it ain’t gonna’ be Bruce Wayne given what we know about the Omega Effect. The mention of “the twice-daughter of something” is a nice nod to Batwoman and the Religion of Crime, but honestly her appearance feels quite random, and the switched word balloons between her and Dick don’t help matters much. What’s the blue crackling energy thing on Dick’s hand? It just… appeared. When you step back from this, the story feels kind of thin and I don’t really understand the greater significance in the mythos, but I am enjoying it at face value. I like the parts, from the clever writing to the clean visuals, but the whole just feels inexplicably sort of “eh.” Let’s call it a Grade B+.

Detective Comics #861 (DC): Like Philip Tan following Frank Quitely on Batman & Robin, Jock is put in the unenviable position of following JH Williams III on Detective Comics, and the results are somewhat mixed. He offers a more straightforward action oriented style than the introspective quality that imbued Williams’ panels with such strong underlying meaning. On the surface, it appears done well enough, but upon close inspection some things bothered me. The good news is that, at times, Jock reaches a level of Mignola influenced penciling, with blocky angular edges and thick inks lusciously drowning the page. On the down side, the art is wonky and disproportionate in spots, such as the reaction shots of the cops at one of the vics missing her lower jaw. The cops have weird looking distorted and elongated facial tics that reminded me of the Nazis melting when they opened The Ark of The Covenant. On top of that, sorry Greg Rucka, but you’d think Gotham cops would be used to things much worse than that by now. I don’t think it would be so shocking that they’d be left speechless with their mouths agape. These are hardened veteran detectives living in a town where The Joker has run wild for years. That said, the GCPD briefing room is a nice cheat to bring readers up to speed on the plot already in motion. I also liked the bit with the infrared imaging used to set up the dual threads running; we learn about “Cutter” in the guise of bringing the detectives up to speed, all while Batwoman is preparing to confront him directly. Kate appears to get stabbed twice, once in the neck, and then once in the shoulder. Both wounds look pretty bad, like they got through the body armor and drew blood, and then she just… walks away? Isn’t she wounded? Isn’t her blood all over the crime scene? Wouldn’t CSU run it and discover her identity? How did the killer escape? How did Captain Sawyer see Kate in the trees? I don’t know. I just kept feeling like I was getting bogged down in these annoying pragmatic details that hadn’t been thought through or explained away. Another irritating part was the portrayal of Bette Kane. I like that Rucka continues to include her, but in Frank Quitely’s run she was portrayed as a wealthy celebutante. Here she is suddenly a younger, more grounded, more responsible, college student, and the altered depiction feels suddenly incongruous. I like the notion of her being a potential target and it makes me wonder how clever Greg Rucka will be. I wonder if that meeting is all just a trap that Kate (with or without Bette’s knowledge) has set for “Cutter?” I’m hoping it’s that, otherwise the killer selecting her as a victim is just too convenient and coincidental to be believable. The big two page spread? Yeah, not as impressive as it thinks it is. It hammers a very simple plot point home in an over the top style, feeling like self-indulgent wasted space in the process. Instead of being the best Bat-book on the stands by miles, this is simply now one of the maybe kinda’ good-ish ones. How quickly we’ve fallen from a high Grade A to a very lackluster and middling Grade B.

I also picked up;

Afrodisiac HC (AdHouse Books)


1.27.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Northlanders #24 (DC/Vertigo): One of the things I like about Leandro Fernandez’s pencils here is how seldom we see the eyes of the characters. More often than not, they’re obscured in shadow and that lends a dark emotional gravitas to the work. He lays on an impressive level of detail, from the varied designs on the shields of the men assembled in The Great Hall, to capturing the disturbing sequence of dead frozen bodies, to the forced perspective shot of a bloody sword that pierces the panel border and juts out toward the reader. What can I say about Brian Wood’s immaculate writing that I haven’t before? He seems to do so many of the things I enjoy about Northlanders in this issue. I particularly enjoyed Hilda’s careful word choices and management of Thorir’s offers; she’s proving to be one of the smartest and most capable women found in Brian Wood’s growing stable of smart, capable women. I enjoyed his examination of sometimes diametrically opposed competing paradigms. The deliberations between Gunborg and Boris still emphasize men of two worlds overlapping to determine the wisest course of action. It’s a battle of science and reason vs. faith and emotion. It’s a fight between the greater good and the ambition of one man. It’s an internal battle of clashing religious philosophy, in the face of “The White Christ” and Christianity’s growing hold on the known world, some men still cling to the existence of “The Old Gods.” Wood delivers prose like “The winged Valkyries, their armor flashing in the cold air…” which possess a rich and charming poetic quality. It’s interesting to see the manner in which Gunborg begrudgingly enforces the practices Boris suggests with his troop of men or his acquiescence to the quarantine restrictions. It begs the questions – what is his unknown end goal? What is his relationship with the settlement down river? That mystery makes his return play not as triumphantly as he would purport, but as a possible harbinger of doom, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Grade A.

Echo #19 (Abstract Studio): It’s interesting to note that the opening quote is not from Einstein, Oppenheimer, or any atomic scientist, as has been the case in all of the previous issues. This time it’s a more humanitarian social observation about man’s nature courtesy of (my favorite American author) Ernest Hemingway. That’s a deliberate choice since it fits in perfectly with the tone and cold hard nature of this particular issue. As for the story, we see Julie continue to learn how to commune with the consciousness of Annie still trapped in the remnants of her suit. Terry Moore’s starry night sky sets the mood, with a dreamlike quality. Moore is able to have so much meaning relayed via silent panels or reliance on emotive facial expressions. I don’t mean to gush, but the book is just so beautiful to behold. I love Terry Moore’s women. I love their realistic looks, their reactions, and their strength. I love that they can carry a book all on their own, while the male characters take on supporting roles. I love the dynamics of their relationships with each other, and their believable speech patterns. Ivy and Julie are momentarily holed up waiting to make their next play, while the motives and direction become clear for all of the other loose threads: Cain, HeNRI employees, Dan and Dillon, they’re all juggled deftly. And don’t think for a second that interpersonal dynamics are all that Terry Moore can rock. The shootout in the bar is a terrific action sequence, with loads of detail and energy. He pulls a clever trick where he links the sound effects from panel to panel, page to page, to alert the reader what’s happening in a previous scene while you’ve flipped the page and moved onto the next scene. Part of my training in a past life, it’s something I just do subconsciously on autopilot, is to count shots being fired. In the heat of the moment, this can be critical and something you easily blank out on under duress, so the training kicks in and this tells you when either you (or someone else) will need to reload, depending on the type of firearm they might have. I noticed the HeNRI assassin was popping off round after round, chuckled to myself, and decided to go back and count them, thinking I’d catch Terry Moore in a little mistake, one that you so commonly see on TV, assailants comically popping off round after round, shot after shot, 5, 10, 20, 30 even, while never stopping to reload. It’s remarkable to me that the assassin fires exactly 15 shots from his handgun before tossing it aside, which is typically the maximum capacity of any handgun with an extended capacity magazine available only to military or law enforcement personnel. That’s attention to detail, man. It’s proof yet again of why Terry Moore is an absolute craftsman. Grade A.

Blood Orange & The Mercy Killing @ Poopsheet Foundation

Thanks to Rob Clough for the reviews of my mini-comics Blood Orange (with artist Grant Lee) and The Mercy Killing (with artist Tim Goodyear) over at Poopsheet Foundation.


1.27.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Justice League of America #41 (DC): James Robinson and Mark Bagley try it again, for the umpteenth time, and I’m not sure their reboot of JLA is going to be up to the task. First of all, is anyone really going to buy both covers? Does that little trick work anymore? Are there really dudes out there who stroll into the LCS and snatch up the “alternate” cover, snuggle it up with a bag and board and file it away in the long box in anticipation of breaking it out one day to sell? Does that actually still go on in the world? Forgive my snark, I think I’m upset because this just didn’t work out the way I hoped it would. The cover bears the triumphant branding banner “The World’s Greatest Superheroes!” Yes, they ought to be. However, on the inside, on the very first page, in the very first text box, it says “America’s Greatest Heroes.” The devil’s in the details, you know? If you can’t get that consistent, what should I expect? How about incessant switching of POV narration? It bounces back and forth from lines like “they were” to “we awoke.” Ok, so which is it, we or they? On top of that, the POV seems to keep changing, from an unknown, to (I think) Vixen, and then to Donna, even though the same symbol appears on each dialogue box, when typically these JLA dialogue boxes have been coded with symbology to indicate the speaker. The gang laments that Roy “Lost him his arm and so much more” (maybe Jonah Jex was narrating that bit). Aside from the shock and awe of that initial gruesome act, I don’t really get why, with the tech available in the DCU, this is such a big overdramatized deal. You just call Cyborg and get a new one. Not to minimize his pain, but it’s really that easy. They were Titans together and he’s proven for 20+ years that you can have a replacement limb and be a successful hero. You don’t see Vic moping his ass off. This issue seems to post-date Cry For Justice #7, so it’s too bad that hasn’t come out yet and renders this out of sequence, spoiling what must occur in the final ish of that late shipping series. Other than my many quibbles, this is a dead standard cleaning-the-house-taking-out-the-trash-assembling-the-team issue. It’s the kind we’ve all seen a million times before. Everyone gets catalogued in random bouts of exposition: Hoshi is in, Zatanna left, Plas is at S.T.A.R. Labs, Firestorm is out, Roy is disabled, Red Tornado is out of commission, Vixen is leaving, Donna gets pulled in and pulls in Starfire, Cyborg, and Dick/Batman to make it work for herself, we get the GL/GA “Hard Travellin’ Heroes” duo, the Superman stand-ins of Guardian and Mon-El, check, check, and check. Although, no Congorilla – even though he’s on the cover! Bagley’s artistic style is just sort of… there. It’s competent and serviceable, if a bit rushed looking in spots, with no unique features other than Bagley’s Beautiful Buxom Babes (Patent Pending). There’s a humongous and boring digression that telegraphs the introduction of a new villain (yaaawwwnnnnn…) in the form of a Virginia 1777 sequence. The art is pleasing here, but this plot thread dutifully hammers away with painful lines like “They’s up not a few yards, Tom, by yonder big oak… like a fella’d had hisself too much jimson weed.” Thanks, Cletus! It’s interesting to see Robinson try to capture the pointed patois of Damian Wayne and the joke around Dick reading Donna’s intentions, but “Oh, I’ve had my travails” and “Still and all, you got him?” do not play well. “Still and all?” Really? I’m sorry, but nobody talks like that! The script skirts around what could be some cool moments (“You want to be like Superman? Superman was in the Justice League.” That could have been a moment for Mon-El to shine.), but they are relegated to single panels, when they should be given more time to flourish and develop as character moments. As is, it plays like 99% stock set up, with a slim 1% payoff. It tries so hard to be rousing, but all falls extremely flat, with the haunting exhausting memory of so many past attempts that didn’t stick. It’s the same old formula with different creators and slightly different characters. If you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again expecting different results, well, that’s the old definition of insanity. This is exactly what I didn’t want this issue to be like. Grade B-.

Justice League: Cry For Justice #6 (DC): Part Two in our "How To Destroy a Viable Franchise" series continues this week... and well, there’s just nothing like changing artists six issues into a seven issue mini-series. Mauro Cascioli is still on cover duty, but Scott Clark takes over and apes Cascioli’s style, including the slightly washed out coloring effect from the colorist. Why is Congorilla on the cover if he’s not in the book? Same reason Freddy and Kara were kissing on a previous cover when that didn’t happen either? Don’t ask questions like that? Oh, ok… It’s been so long that I’d kinda’ forgotten the dramatic thrust of this thing, aside from Roy’s arm being ripped off and all, but I guess there was never much of a story to begin with. It’s just Prometheus fucking up the JLA because he felt like it, end of plot description. Supergirl seems out of character, now wicked smart as she deduces the Freddy Freeman ruse. But hey, at least she still looks like Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four movies. Prometheus gives us a big huge exposition dump, twice even, monologuing his way through what’s come, how it’s going to work, what his motive is, and the whole modus operandi. Hey, Prometheus! It’s spelled “override,” not “overide.” I’m just sayin’. The opening page looks odd. Supergirl appears in a bisected panel that cuts of the tail of her speech balloon for no apparent reason. I know Supergirl is vulnerable to magic (she even says so), but I’m not sure that bullets forged by a Greek/Roman God of Mythology count as “magic” in the DCU. Do they? So, Prometheus is pretty brutal here and Robinson is unapologetic about it, indicating that the somber tone will clear the deck for a more cheery JLA. Well, the jury is still out on that. He shoots Kara in the shoulder, shoots Zatanna in the throat or something, blood is flying, and hits Plas with a “discharge to telencephalon via dissolving exocasing with subdermal tetrahydrofuran,” which I think is Robinson CryptoSpeak (Patent Pending) for “melted him.” Prometheus side steps a blast from Mikaal so it hits Black Canary, and generally makes Hawkgirl, Hawkman, Guardian, and Dr. Light look like the Keystone Cops (though the blast hitting Kendra that ricochets off of Guardian’s shield is never actually shown – she just writhes in pain in mid-air for no apparent reason), and Donna gets crucified to a wall using metallic projectiles. The first double page spread is an impressive stack of sixe wide panels, but the text from Prometheus’ suit is always a tad confusing. Clark’s art is a mess in spots, reminding me of Simone Bianchi on Astonishing X-Men. When you step back from it and take in a page as one giant work of art, it’s got some attractive qualities as a quirky whole, but doesn’t flow well at all panel to panel. My eye is often unsure where to go next, and first and foremost you’ve got to tell the story visually. More substance, less style, please. I guess the string of five double page spreads back to back are meant to function as a climactic action sequence, but the art is stiff in many places, like the Donna and Vixen sequence, with no sense of kinetic movement. My desire to be complimentary keeps getting rebuffed. For example, I like the big shot of Starfire and Firestorm flying into the scene, though when I look closer I see Starfire’s right foot being way too long to be in proportion with her leg. Robinson’s dialogue is all over the place, tossing out a callback to 1970’s DC history with Claw The Unconquered and then a really obtuse “Jay” and “Gehenna” exchange which I’m still totally not getting. The cryptic wording continues to riddle Prometheus’ counterprogramming suit. Lines like “--Addition-ally blast element incl. trace elements Jordan DNA--" Uh, ok. I guess I sort of get the gist of that, but it doesn’t make any fucking sense taken at face value. It’s very clunky and awkward. It all plays like Robinson is going for some sort of Warren Ellis pseudo-science affectation with invented terminology like “augmented ototoxic bacteria – result instantaneous bilateral vetibulopathy,” but instead is just garbage pseudo-babble that pushes me right out, crippling my ability to suspend disbelief. I kind of like how Prometheus punks Ollie, as his self-righteous tirade starts to wind up. Two other bits I did like without any reservation included the handling of Shade and Donna Troy. Shade isn’t a hero that can be catalogued and that proves troublesome for Prometheus. That’s clever. That was handled well. More like that, please. Donna proves she’s deserving of Diana’s spot in the new JLA lineup, ripping the metallic projectiles out of her wrists, taking on Ollie’s friendly fire mishap, powering through pain, and nearly killing Prometheus in a bloody fit of rage. Then the two bright spots interact with Shade’s dialogue that begins “Ms. Troy. My ardent dear…” That was pretty classy. Once again, we wrap up with a text piece that belies a convoluted mess of planning, evidenced by the semi-inclusion-we-like-her-oh-wait-just-kidding handling of Batwoman. Robinson meanders his way through a string of consciousness style set of ramblings, mentioning Marvel writers he likes, urging us to pick up Greg Rucka’s Oni Press work, and an absolute lovefest for Geoff Johns. It all strikes me as so self-indulgent and self-congratulatory. This series has been seriously maligned by critics, has shipped late, rotated artists, and has very few redeeming qualities. So far, the main JLA title has been railroaded by the Blackest Night crossover. I don’t really think there are throngs of fans out there clamoring for a look inside the mind of the guy behind the (will probably fail) latest (in a long line) reboot of the ailing JLA franchise. I mean, really, six pages of this? It’s just not that interesting. Grade C-.


Coming This Week: "I Read Dead Russian Authors Volumes At A Time"

For me, this is a huge week. I don’t remember the last time I bought this many single issues *and* a hardcover graphic novel all at once. It’s interesting that the list is dominated by DC (including a lone Vertigo book), with two entries from the small press. I’ll be picking up Batman & Robin #7 (DC) from Grant Morrison and Seaguy collaborator Cameron Stewart. I don’t get that ecstatic feeling of anticipation I got from Frank Quitely’s tenure, but Cam will surely be more well-received than poor Philip Tan. Along those lines, this week sees Detective Comics #861 (DC) hit the stands, with Jock now on art chores following the critically acclaimed run of JH Williams III. I’m giddily awaiting my copy of Justice League: Cry For Justice #6 (DC) since I know I will enjoy loathing it immensely. Even though Coco railed against cynicism in his farewell speech, it’s not cynical if the quality is genuinely poor and you’re genuinely enjoying its earnestness. I think Justice League of America #41 (DC) has finally shed its Blackest Night bonds and the actual forming of the new team will now commence. I’m looking forward to seeing how this eclectic and temporary team will interact – Batman (Dick!), Green Lantern (which?), The Atom (which?), Green Arrow (alas, not Red Arrow), Donna Troy (filling Diana’s spot), The Guardian, Cyborg, Mon-El (Daxamite in lieu of Kryptonian), Starfire (along with Dick’s other ex, Donna… awkward!), Dr. Light, and Congorilla - hopefully having some cool moments along the way. It’s nice to see such a large group of Titans “graduate” and that cast is so full of odd prior relationships that I’m sure it has the *potential* to be interesting. I think I’ll either enjoy it for a few fanboy moments or it’ll be a complete train wreck in the way that Cry For Justice has been, either way, some nice entertainment. Brian Wood begins his onslaught of titles early this year with Northlanders #24 (DC/Vertigo), and it’s always fantastic to get another issue of Terry Moore’s masterpiece, with Echo #19 (Abstract Studio) arriving this week. Lastly, I’m thrilled that the Afrodisiac HC (AdHouse) is finally finding its way to the public; the rare appearances of Afrodisiac to date have easily been some of the funniest things I’ve read.


1.20.10 Reviews

Joe The Barbarian #1 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy is a find; his art a total revelation. Murphy’s style is full of thin sketchy lines, with copious amounts of small detail. There’s a very minor manga influence with occasional speed lines and emotive expressions. Overall, it reminds me in spots of Tan Eng Huat, with perhaps a more inspired sense of kinetic movement. Some of his proportions are a bit off (look closely at the bus scene), but overall this is a fantastic new creator who’s (if you read the latest CBR article) been so close to breaking in and isn’t afraid to be opinionated. Murphy provides an Easter egg hunt of epic proportions, his scenes littered with Transformers, Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe, Batman, Robin, The Batmobile, The Batcave, Superman, Aquaman, Lobo, Santa Claus, The Millennium Falcon, The Rocketeer, The Iron Giant, Star Trek, Luke’s Landspeeder, Luke himself, Obi-Wan, the front end of a Speeder Bike, He-Man, and all of the ones I didn’t catch amid a sea of generic astronauts, army men, vehicles, and dinosaurs. Grant Morrison’s narrative is a bit restrained, but bears his typical dual (if not multiple) layers of meaning, sometimes self-evident and sometimes a bit murky. The things that are crystal clear include the fact that Joe lives in Portland, his mother is very stressed out, and both are afraid of losing their house after his military father is assumably KIA. On the flip side, there are some items that are deliberate and noticeable, but somewhat inconclusive for now. Joe’s mother’s speech pattern includes words like “macabre” and “satchel” that aren’t really found in typical American parlance. She says “I’m not driving, Joe” when she clearly is. She emphatically refers to “five rings” and I’m not sure why. There’s the overt inclusion of Native American dreamcatchers and I’m sure that isn’t without purpose, though the purpose has yet to reveal itself. Joe leaves the front door to his house open when he arrives home. While this makes for an impressive perspective shot down the hallway, I’m not sure it makes any storytelling sense. Mom explicitly tells him to eat his candy, “all of it,” on two separate occasions. This has got to be more than a throw away line, though it masquerades as such. The suspicious investigator in me would speculate that the doctor has Joe on some meds and they’re hidden in his lunch time treats. That one seems plausible. As for the other cryptic clues, I’m not sure if they’re really the types of clues that G’Mo would leave or just the result of lazy writing or penciling. It seems clear that Joe brings himself into a dream world or fantasy reality. The pet bird borders on being a fictitious imaginary friend. If you were to consult a child psychologist, I’m sure they’d spout something about fractured personality disorder brought on by the extreme stressor of losing his dad, and possibly his home. His entire world is being taken away, so the kid's subconscious mind creates a new one to inhabit. Considering the $1 price point, in the final analysis I’d call this an intriguing, if a bit chaotic, bargain. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #520 (Marvel): Greg Land’s art is not quite as offensive as it typically is. Though Psylocke is clearly an ape of Megan Fox in spots, there are surprisingly not a lot of opportunities for Land to show off his cheesecake ability. He actually attempts some background work in most of the panels, which seems to be a new phenomenon. There are a few attractive shots, like Wolverine atop a gothic outcropping in the same manner you’d expect to find Batman in a rainy Gotham City skyline. As a plot device, I don’t find the Predator X’s at all engaging, but some of the relationship dynamics do entertain. The banter between Namor and Magneto is good, leading to the “Senior Staff Meeting,” which is kind of funny considering the juxtaposition of Namor’s read on Scott. It’s also interesting who’s considered Senior Staff and that Madison Jeffries has apparently recently been promoted to rep the Science Team in the absence of Beast. The banter between Pete and Logan (along with the reference to “Betts”) doesn’t play as grating, but comes off as old friends reluctantly at it again. Wolverine’s questionable scent powers left me scratching my head. He smells “a hole” due to the absence of one scent amid stronger smells, and that’s uh, detectable… or something? Who the heck is Eva? Who the heck is the team assembled in NY? Who the heck is the kid with Fantomex? Why was that scene included? It all feels really untidy. This happens to me time and time again when reading this title. I feel like I missed an issue even though I haven’t. There’s a big cast, lots of skipping around to different sets and abruptly cutting to different plot threads, some of which are followed up on, some of which are left dangling arc to arc. Structurally, it takes four pages to get the team to NY and find Fantomex. That might be necessary, but when you have five other plotlines vying for resolution, it feels like wasted pages. To summarize, nothing really happens in this issue, and the perception of discontinuity with previous issues is perpetual. There are isolated moments which mildly entertain, such as Scott’s reaction to Erik’s offer of help. It seems inevitable that a couple of disparate tracks are going to intersect here. If I had to venture a guess, I’m feeling like Magneto has been planted here to bring back Kitty Pryde. I’m sure Matt Fraction can write his way out with The Master of Magnetism meditating on how to recapture an interstellar bullet as the “article of faith” he foreshadows to gain the trust of Scott and Charles, not to mention the good will it will engender from Wolverine, Pete, Emma, and anyone else with more than a passing relationship with Kitty. I’ll stick around for that, but as is there are more glitches than successes, so it feels like a Grade B-.


Coming This Week: "Miss Jones Taught Me English, But I Think I Just Shot Her Son"

Is it just me, or does this seem like an extraordinarily light week? In any case, I’ll certainly be picking up Joe The Barbarian #1 (DC/Vertigo). I don’t know about you, but new Grant Morrison for just a buck seems like a no brainer. The previews of Sean Murphy’s art look intriguing and I’m tempted by the notion of sorting out fact from delirium inside the kid’s mind. Considering Marvel just announced their cancellation of S.W.O.R.D. with issue #5, I guess we really won’t be getting any more Kitty Pryde in that book. Perhaps the announcement of her return in Uncanny X-Men #522 makes a tad more sense now, different book and different creative team not withstanding. Just when I was ready to give up the title because of the (at times) competent writing and sub-par art, I’m back in at least until I gets me some Kitty Pryde. [Cue raspy Al Pacino as Michael Corleone: “Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in!”] So, I’ll be picking up Uncanny X-Men #520 (Marvel) this week. Also of note is Young Liars TPB: Volume 3: Rock Life (DC/Vertigo), which I believe will collect the last chunk of the series before it was cancelled. I picked up most of the run out of a dollar bin a while back and I enjoyed it. I can’t say I always understood it, but I enjoyed it. David Lapham’s pencils are always a treat (especially in color) and seeing him channel his inner Grant Morrison on the storytelling front, ducking and weaving all over the place, was fun. I know this series has some die hard fans out there, so it’s great DC is promptly collecting this. Unlike say… [cough!] nine issues of Automatic Kafka [cough!] still never being collected despite [cough!] pretty big name creators like Joe Casey and Ashley Wood and a rabid fan following [cough!].


1.13.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Invincible Iron Man #22 (Marvel): Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca begin with a suitably somber opening, with confusion on the part of all the parties who attempted to revive Tony. At the same time, Tony remains in limbo inside his mind, grappling with his parents perception of him, the influence of technology on his life, and, in turn, his influence on the world around him. It’s not often that an ensemble cast comes together and is equal to, if not more enjoyable than, the ostensible “star” of the book. It’s fantastic to see Pepper, Maria, and Natasha still together, and I’m glad that the trio is still interacting and delighting us with their performances. The most compelling idea Fraction plays with here is the duality in Tony’s being, his worldly self and his spiritual self. Thor, the Caps, and the assembled team didn’t do anything technically incorrect while attempting to revive his body. The introduction of Doctor Strange means that spiritually though, Tony has to decide to come back, if he values his own life enough to warrant the choice. Not only does his physical body have to be safe in the real world, but in a larger sense he needs to know whether or not his return is safe for the world. Rian Hughes’ graphic design continues to delight on the covers, and on interiors Larroca continues to improve, giving Ghost a distinct and amazing look, which appears to be an additional style for the artist. The large one and two page spreads with Doctor Strange are impressive as well, it makes me wish he was on a Doctor Strange book. The only slight criticism I have is that in all of the shuffling of characters coming and going, I lost track of Black Widow. She was there, and then wasn’t, with no explanation given as to why she might have left, as was given for the Caps and Thor. Additionally, some of the Doctor Strange imagery was impressive visually, but made me curious as to the meaning behind it. It’s all a little abstract. There appeared to be some big Numenorean tree coming out of… an armored helmet? Maybe? What does it mean? Life bursting forth from technology… or something? That aside, this team has made me care about a character that I never cared about, at least not since the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run on Avengers have I been emotionally invested in Iron Man. Matt Fraction deserves credit for creating the best Marvel book currently available. Not one time, not for a few months, but consistently for nearly two years now. Grade A.

Daytripper #2 (DC/Vertigo): I’m wondering where exactly we left off from the last issue? It occurred to me that we’re not sure if Bras actually died in the last issue; perhaps he’s just injured, perhaps the nephew of the bar owner shot himself instead? That said, we really don’t know if Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are just telling the story of Bras in reverse/jumbled order, if he’s in some sort of purgatory style limbo, or if he died again, and whether that’s a figurative death concerning the “deaths” of various aspects of self, or it’s meant as literal “deaths,” as in these are the alternate timelines his life could have taken along the many choices he was presented with? They’re all fascinating and intriguing possibilities to think about, as long as the creators have some definitive stance in mind and don’t leave us unresolved and bobbing in the water by the time eight more issues roll in. I’m more intrigued now because I feel like I have a slightly better sense of where the series might be going, but I’m also feeling a little more cautious about a resolution ever coming. We’re taken back in time to Bras at 21 years old on the post-collegiate trip that was mentioned briefly in the first issue. This issue struck me as being more beautifully written. The language used to describe the protagonists soaking up nature, small town life, the people, and the culture is extremely well done. It’s no surprise that the coloring is spectacular considering Dave Stewart’s name in the credits. Moon and Ba have an artistic style you just can’t miss. It’s inky like Paul Pope or Farel Dalrymple, full of the type of detail you’d see from Nathan Fox (look at how the market place comes alive), and bears thin figures that call to mind Frank Quitely. However, it’s not like those artists at all. The art doesn’t look like those artists per se, but is of a certain style I’m fond of, and those artists seem to occupy that space on a continuum of aesthetic character. I enjoyed the mysterious character of Olinda as devil’s advocate, questioning motive, intent, and status. Their conversation is a flirty and entertaining one, but also helps the reader navigate the main character and his actions in order to derive meaning from what’s occurring. “It’s through his photos that he tells us his dreams.” I find lines like that endlessly satisfying, with their commentary on artistic vision and meaning, and understanding what comprises a person’s true personality traits. Grade A-.

S.W.O.R.D. #3 (Marvel): Follow me here… Kitty Pryde is a beloved, fan favorite character. We love that Joss Whedon used her in his run with John Cassaday. The guys surprise everyone and seemingly write her out in an emotionally charged self-sacrificing move. Then everything goes quiet. Assumably this is so she can be re-introduced in some spectacular fashion. Ok, so far. What I don’t understand is why you would tease her return in a back-up feature in a new book called SWORD. What I don’t understand is why you would then re-introduce her in a book that’s not SWORD, provided that’s where you teased the return in the first place. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t re-introduce her in the book she actually disappeared in, which was Astonishing X-Men. I don’t understand why you would re-introduce her in Uncanny X-Men, which has nothing to do with anything. I don’t understand why you would insert the story into a regular arc of a different series, with a different creative team. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t line up a rock star creative team and create a mini-series, or align it more closely with how she departed. It just seems that you could get more sales mileage, and fan satisfaction, out of this story thread. It just seems a little dismissive, lackluster, and… what’s the word I’m looking for? Oh, haphazard. I never understood the whole handling of her story post-disappearance anyway. All we ever got was one throw away panel between Scott and Peter saying essentially she was gone and there was nothing they could do about it, and an illogical sequence in the SWORD back up story, which never recurred, by the way. There really never was an explanation. There was no big exhaustive search for her, no consultation with the big brains of the Marvel U, no emotional fallout with Peter, no enraged Logan, no concern from Pete Wisdom, no effort from SWORD, no word from the former members of Excalibur, no message to Havok and the remnants of the Starjammers to be on the lookout up there in space, it just didn’t appear very plausible, even for these fictional people. Did they all just assume she’d return since death is somewhat malleable in their reality? Is that really why Magneto has made a sudden appearance in Uncanny X-Men? At this point, I’ve speculated about the storytelling logistics of “returning her” quite a bit, and there are some pretty big issues to resolve, not to mention fan expectations. You have to explain how she survived in the vacuum of space, without oxygen. You have to explain how she survived in space, without freezing to death. You have to explain how she survived for so long, without food or water. You have to explain how she kept her body phased (when she was already nearly terminally exhausted) in order to avoid smacking into something and being killed. Barring some sort of “new power” associated with her extreme phasing (ie: she taps into her equivalent of the Flash’s “Speed Force” and acquires new abilities which overcome her need for air, food, warmth, etc.) or some sort of mystical-time-portal-quantum-physics-anomaly-Star-Trek-techno-babble-horseshit (which makes me nervous since the motion ad makes her look visibly older), I don’t see many viable ways out of this dilemma, except for one. In my mind, the easiest way out of all these storytelling dilemmas is to simply say, she was quickly picked up by another race of beings as she flew through the cosmos, held captive until now, but kept alive, fed, sheltered, treated medically, etc. - which is fantastically boring. The more time that passes, the more I think about it and all of the potential pitfalls and loopholes, and the more I think I will be disappointed by whatever explanation is provided. Anyway, I guess my bitchy extremely long digressing rant’s over since this is only tangentially related to the actual SWORD book, so let’s focus on this issue, shall we?

Saunders’ pencils feel a little less cartoony here, with more of the gravitas I was hoping the book would provide originally (the look of Abigail sitting in that brig holding cell, for example), but Beast still looks like a weird cat-goat hybrid, which is not at all palatable to me. On top of that, I feel like Kieron Gillen is aiming for the type of wise-cracking Beast we saw paired with Wonder Man or appearing in Avengers back in the day, and it feels a little forced and out of character. I do like that Henry Gyrich is not portrayed as a one dimensional personification of evil as a sort of foil for Brand. He actually has a point of view that counters Brand’s point of view. They both believe what they’re doing is right. I don’t necessarily agree with Gyrich’s POV, or even find it all that sympathetic, but it’s nice to see attempts at depicting him with some depth beyond cardboard cutout “bad guy.” My favorite part of this was certainly the cold clinical voice of Unit. You can almost hear him in that same disturbing monotone that emanated from HAL in 2001. “What exactly do you mean, Doctor McCoy?” sounds an awful lot like “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” That whole conversation, terminating with the verbal chess match was an outstanding bit of writing. I also enjoyed the verbiage around ethics in civilization based on relative size. That was a very compelling conversation, and there still remains a sheer awesome level of potential for Unit, especially considering his past. Gillen also offers a nice page of dual narrative, with reactions to the metroliths. It highlighted the differences between Abigail and Gyrich’s leadership ability and their knowledge of operations. SWORD is harmlessly entertaining and poses some interesting moral quandaries to chew on; there’s certainly the potential for it to continue to improve and rise above a moderately enthusiastic Grade B+.

I also picked up;

No Hero TPB (Avatar Press)


1.13.10 Reviews (Part 1)

DMZ #49 (DC/Vertigo): It’s hard to believe that at my age, considering the volume of pop culture consumables I take down, considering the real life emergency and crisis management situations I’ve been involved in professionally, that the image on a comic book cover could actually literally give me chills down my spine. I saw that Brian Wood tweeted the actual, not redacted, cover image this morning, and I carefully avoided it so I could get the thrill of walking up on it cold at the LCS. I guess the cat’s run screaming out of the proverbial bag at this point, so no need to worry about spoilers, let’s get to it then… The thing I loved the most about this issue was that Brian Wood follows an old writer’s technique of putting your characters in the situations they’d least like to be in, in order to create the most dramatic storytelling tension. Matty Roth works himself into a corner where he’s just taking it from all sides and completely alone. His kill order, given directly, but unspecifically, in a moment of anger, goes south. It’s not just a large party, it’s a wedding party. That makes things go from bad to worse, a crushing blow. This and other recent events render his relationship with Zee fractured, if not completely broken. And then there’s the little matter of the bomb being dropped in an attempt to neutralize the threat that Parco’s nuke is perceived as. As all hell seems to be breaking loose, we center back on Matty, who grapples with a storytelling theme that Wood uses in many of his works, the notion of identity. He’s struggling to define himself in a logical and ordered way, in an environment that is highly illogical and chaotic. That struggle seems to have led him down this path. The minute he threw in with Parco’s camp, he stopped simply reporting the news and became a part of the news. Reading this issue, I found myself hanging on every single word, taking in every stray pencil line from Burchielli, pouring over caption boxes twice to ensure I didn’t miss any nuance, and the intensity of this tale was bleeding from the pages. Wood provides a quick examination of psychological warfare with Parco’s use of the “missing nuke” as leverage, highlighting some of the horrors of modern warfare along the way. You begin to understand how in the hot cloud of war, amid communication debacles, things like friendly fire, civilian deaths, or collateral damage can easily occur. At the end of it all, there’s a brilliant action cliffhanger, along with an emotional one as Matty becomes the ultimate persona non grata, and you begin to understand how easily one’s life, status, and sense of self-worth can slip away in a place as unpredictable and dangerous as the DMZ. Grade A+.


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Coming This Week: “Fat Man Sitting On A Little Stool Takes The Money From My Hand While His Eyes Take A Walk All Over You”

This week, I’m looking forward to DMZ #49 (DC/Vertigo), which promises to be so game-changing that the cover was redacted. What might be blind marketing hyperbole coming from a lesser writer, I tend to trust coming from the hands of Brian Wood. I’m also excited about the blowout of artistic talent on the horizon that #50 is looking to be. And... damn... can you believe it's been 50 issues? I still remember picking up the first ish off the stands! I’ll also be picking up Invincible Iron Man #22 (Marvel) and maintain that this is the best thing Matt Fraction is writing at the moment, also doubling as the best title that Marvel currently has on the stands, they’ve somehow managed not to muck up the creative team or derail it with crossover madness. SWORD #3 (Marvel) will likely be the issue by which I determine if I’ll be continuing on with the series or not. Though that solicited teaser image for the cover of #5 looks damn enticing. Along those lines, I feel like Daytripper #2 (DC/Vertigo) will determine if I march on for all 10 issues of this series. There’s no arguing the art is breathtaking, but the story just hasn’t grabbed me. Finally arriving is the No Hero TPB (Avatar Press), a mini-series I stopped getting around issue 3 purely for financial reasons. I’m looking forward to reading this in its entirety, though the quality and artist (not Juan Jose Ryp) of Supergod does tend to render the triptych of loosely connected thematic examinations inconsistent and generally a let down. I was surprised to see Blade of the Immortal: Volume 22 (Dark Horse) out this week; a great series that I’ve read up until about Volume 15 or so and always say I should get caught up on. It’s one of the titles I mention when people say they don’t like/don’t read manga, as in “oh, have you checked out Blade of the Immortal?”

Myriad #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Myriad #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Mightyguy: Out to Lunch @ Poopsheet Foundation

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1.06.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Stumptown #2 (Oni Press): This issue made me smile on the very first page. The intellect, charm, and overall vibrancy in the dialogue were all instantly appealing. Greg Rucka starts playing again with audience expectations regarding Dex’s sexuality, but ultimately (and wisely) settles on an (albeit middling) answer to avoid the fascination becoming a needless distraction. He lands squarely on the way one of my close friends describes her own sexual orientation – which is to say “greedy, err… bisexual” (her words, not mine). I like watching Dex navigate her surroundings, relying on a powerful balance of brains and flirtatious manipulation to get her way. Matthew Southworth’s pencils show a lot of diligence in their execution and overall the end result is solid, if a little stiff in spots, such as the shot of Dex and Volk squaring off in the squad room. On the lettering end, (or perhaps this was a printing glitch) some of the words during the conversation with Isabel appeared a little fuzzy to me. As Dex continues to chase down elusive leads, finds herself being lied to and knowing it, and getting herself tailed, I keep thinking back to Rucka’s work on Queen & Country. Stumptown has all of the plot intricacy and research, nearly everything that made Q&C a hit. I appreciate that the story is challenging, but not unfair. We’re often in the dark as to motivations and direction, but Rucka is careful to dole out clues as we go, we learn right along with Dex, watching some pieces of the puzzle start to come together. My personal taste tells me that I’ll always prefer espionage (all things being equal) over hard-hitting crime noir, but with that personal qualification out of the way, I can also safely say that Stumptown is quickly becoming a very close contender for my second favorite piece of Rucka’s writing, in a rather large and accomplished body of work. Grade A.

Echo #18 (Abstract Studio): I can actually hear that truck roaring by, the sound effects are so vivid with the style of lettering used. I enjoyed the entry level lab employees becoming paranoid and suspicious over people dying on the Phi Project. That scene is a great example of dialogue that doesn’t possess an overt affectation in the way that some Mamet/Sorkin/Bendis characters typically speak. It’s more grounded in reality and just as entertaining due to its authenticity. Terry Moore is always able to crisply capture emotions, such as the old drifter’s crazy ramblings quickly escalating into being really scary and intimidating, and then unexpectedly ending absolutely horrifically. That blend of emotion is coupled with themes and events that capture a wide range of storytelling elements. We see sci-fi, mystery, adventure, a twinge of superhero, and a sort of Dr. Richard Kimball as The Fugitive survival-on-the-run vibe, along with the relational dynamics that made SiP so well received. I just adored the conversation between Ivy and Julie. It was so enjoyable to see their incredible bond form and Ivy speaking with the guiding voice of a parent. Moore is building himself a parable here, about the responsibilities of power and technology in the Modern Age. There are moments that epitomize much of what I love about this book. “I have a long attention span” and the speechless sequence that followed. There’s such an incredibly strong sense of character present in lines like “You know, you’re pretty good at putting two and two together. Would you be my therapist?” I try really hard not to throw blind hyperbole around in order to ensure a balanced review, but this is empirical fact when you catalogue all of the evidence available about plot construction, character arcing, scripting skills, penciling ability, lettering, production quality, uniqueness, and overall package. I love this book. That voice inside of me keeps urging me to say this without reservation. I’m finally going to. This book is perfect. Grade A+.

1.06.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Wasteland #27 (Oni Press): After a brief delay, it was nice to jump back into all of the characters and interconnected plot threads Antony Johnston has marching forward. I was thankful for the recap blurb on the inside front cover. I usually just skim it quickly, but this time out I read carefully and found it a valuable resource to re-immerse myself into the universe of The Big Wet. I think if you were to compare Christopher Mitten’s pencils from the first issue to now, you’d see a tremendous increase in detail and background work. I’m really taken by the depth he provides some of his panels. The opening establishing shots, the full page of the bombed out city wall, the depth and layering gives so much life to the world. Wasteland is a roller coaster thrill ride of emotion. Jakob reuniting with Golden Voice begins to tie up some loose threads and plays joyous initially, but they’re put on a critical path that is chilling with the ultimate reveal. Johnston has a way of using simple lines like “just following orders” that carry additional meaning in the zeitgeist. From the Nazis at Nuremberg, to US forces in My Lai, all the way to the City of Newbegin, we're reminded that no order is valid if it's immoral. Yes, it means we see Jakob struggle with some of his decisions, but we can also extrapolate larger meaning from them by examining the lessons in maintaining security at the cost of personal freedoms. When you lay that line over topical debates like how to deal with an insurgency, Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, Afghanistan, the brewing tease of Yemen, and the Obama Administration’s recent decision to adjudicate the would-be Christmas Day bomber with federal criminal charges rather than treating him as a terrorist “enemy combatant,” you see just the type of contemporary meaning that fuels these scripts so strongly. It’s a fantastical setting, but reverberates with a familiarity we’d probably be uncomfortable admitting. Who could have predicted that a post apocalyptic cultural survival tale would be the most politically relevant piece of pop culture available? Wasteland is unique as a work of comic book fiction as well. Not only does it manage to work as a long form epic, but it functions just as well in isolated issues, complete with rousing cliffhangers, in floppy serialized format. I’m addicted to the whole; I’m addicted to the parts. Once again I find myself satisfied, but the growing need for another fix is an insatiable hunger. Johnston and Mitten are my pushers. Grade A.

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Outbound: The Science Fiction Comics Anthology @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Coming This Week: The King Is Dead, Long Live The King

Honestly? I was getting tired of that other format. At times, perhaps because I had been purchasing more titles regularly – and then suddenly wasn’t, it felt like I was doggedly sticking to a big clumsy structure and that was sort of limiting to any free form meaningful content I might be able to contribute. It all started as an experiment anyway to post closer to daily and get more content up, and now that I’ve been able to do that with some additional venues and collaborative projects, I thought I’d just keep things a little looser and bloggier, and talk about what was on the weekly horizon without any sort of parameters.

This week certainly feels like my kind of week, with the types of titles I feel partially define my reading habits if you were to judge solely by a random weekly pull list of floppies. I’ll definitely be picking up Wasteland #27 (Oni Press) and I’m glad to see it return after a brief delay in scheduling. It’s never disappointed and I’m still reeling from the high it delivered in 2009; I hope 2010 has the same sense of panache. Similarly, Terry Moore’s Echo #18 (Abstract Studio) is always a rewarding read and just strikes me as the way comics “should be” done, whatever that means. I’m also anxious to see if Stumptown #2 (Oni Press) can sustain the craftsmanship and entertainment momentum it established in the first issue. Between this and Kate Kane in Detective Comics, not to mention his Queen & Country work with Tara, Greg Rucka is just proving himself the master of writing flawed, intricate, and capable women. Lastly, I may consider purchasing Marvel Boy: The Uranian #1 (Marvel). At $3.99 for 48 pages, Jeff Parker and Marko Djurdjevic seem like a good team delivering what could be a bargain. At the very least, it should be harmless and well done fun in their little corner of the Marvel U.

Sundogs #9 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Graphic Novel Of The Month: "4, 3, 2, 1... Earth Below Us"

Gary Panter (PictureBox): “Gary Panter was born to be the new master of a very secret school of visual communication... [his] art functions as some kind of cutting edge research for human consciousness.” That’s the most condensed, concise, and elegant way of putting it. “Off to the side, in a cave niche reserved for the super cool were Marc Bolan, David Bowie, Alice Cooper, and Iggy Pop. They were sculpting pseudo-Art Deco structures in chromed metal while watching Kenneth Anger films projected onto a spinning disco ball. A vampire with a lisp read Philip K. Dick novels out loud to them, affecting boredom and superiority. Mirror light fragments broke the room into a zillion shreds of satanic needle-like emanations. Gary Panter’s job was to draw these various kaleidoscopic visions, and then to photocopy and staple them together into free pamphlets to be left in laundromats around the city. The intent was the perversion of the minds of the children.” And that would be the most expansive, visual, and frolicking way of putting it.

For me, working in restaurants and bars for a few years quickly made me interested in drink mixology. One of the most commonly debated topics in these circles is the origin of the martini and its quintessential elements. One popular point of dissention is how “wet” or “dry” it should be, essentially meaning how much (and what type) of vermouth is used. Winston Churchill famously made popular the notion that drier was better and said that his version consisted of pouring a glass full of cold gin while simply looking at a bottle of vermouth from across the room. Somehow this rusty analogy unceremoniously popped into my mind when thinking about Gary Panter and all of his variegated stylistic influences. His work is touched by many things, but they’re all very subtle glances, no direct correlations, nothing as homage, nothing as a familial descendant with a readily apparent lineage, and nothing done as a continuation of some identifiable artistic movement. It’s its own thing. He’s his own deal. He’s the real deal.

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you who Gary Panter is, but just in case, you could do worse than reading the Wiki entry quickly. Pause. Pause. Pause. Back? Ok. Yeah, I was sort of always aware of Panter peripherally as an Underground Comix guy, sort of the second generation torchbearer of the jaggedy-lined DIY aesthetic informed by Robert Crumb, Jack Kirby, Philip K. Dick, and Andy Warhol – but I’d never really taken a close conscious look at his work. I remember the Master of American Comics Exhibit being right in my own backyard at the time, and I also remember this PictureBox book coming out a year ago and people like Jog getting a little (understandably now) crazy over it. But what finally got my attention was his still un-credited (even in the collected edition!) loose homage to the Green Lantern Corps origin sequence in Marvel Comics’ Omega: The Unknown reimaging helmed by Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple, which I reviewed quite favorably. And then, perusing my museum bookstore one day, I found this hefty, two-book, hardcover, slip-cased beauty and accepted it as a sign that it was finally time for me to dive in. It’s a collection of just a handful of scholarly and entertaining essays, but mostly pictures. Book One is largely a collection of Fine Art paintings, while Book Two is primarily excerpts from his voluminous sketchbooks sometimes concerned with Sequential Art.

I think the big lesson to learn from the wide ranging body of Panter’s work is that it’s impossible to segregate into a singular style or movement. That’s largely the point. He is, all at once, post-pop, post-punk, and now, post-9/11. He is the convergence of so many styles, that he is nothing. The title of one of his works, Me Am No Art, captures this ethos quite well. Panter’s work is not just about the relatively simple contemporary art paradigm of re-appropriating common images or found objects and submersing them into a new context. Once understood, that’s a very linear process. It goes far beyond that. He cannot be contained or categorized; definitions of artistic movements are too precise. His work is non-linear, “an encyclopedic inventory of visual experiences” some have called it. In a serendipitous confluence of movements, he’s created his own unique and evolving aesthetic of recombinant art. Pieces like Drybeat Baby, Tijuana, and several of the Untitled works in the deconstructed 3D series exhibit these characteristics. The Panter aesthetic, if such a singular thing exists, is not contrived or by conscious design. He simply “does what he wants to do” without worrying about defining it, a similar studio method shared with “Providence” (as he loosely refers to the Rhode Island School of Design gang) and “the Fort Thunder people.” Japanese cinema and package design play their role, American sci-fi seeps in, and psychedelic 60’s rock and 70’s glam rock may also reveal their subconscious presence. There is certainly the whiff of Fine Art as well; it’s impossible to look at a Panter piece like Uniform World and not immediately think of Ed Ruscha’s found text pieces. Panter’s comix career began with self-described “ratty picture stories” and he pays requisite reverence to Jack Kirby’s transcendent work. Panter strikes me as a confident, but humble guy. I wonder if he’s aware of his own influence on modern comic book artists like Paul Pope, Nathan Fox, Joe Sacco, or even someone like Shepard Fairey.

On the down side (if I have to say), I did have some issues with the Book Two layout. Most of the images are split vertically down the center where the book lies open. It really distracts unnecessarily from the work. It’s almost as if someone thought the book would be horizontally oriented like Book One, but then for some reason the plan was changed prior to production at the last second. Wrapping up, I like the notion that Panter developed a “tertiary narrative system” by juxtaposing related but unconnected patterns to convey meaning, which is evidenced nicely in the piece Workings. As he describes, Fine Art is about stopping time and capturing a moment, mood, or place. Comics are about seducing your audience into a narrative journey. The primary thing about art is the drawing; painting can be viewed as secondary. I think in that sense the argument can then be made that Fine Art is rooted in Comic Art. I’m sure that statement will piss off the stalwart Fine Art cognoscenti who like to marginalize comics as low-brow and inherently a lesser form. But hey, Panter himself straddles both disciplines and keeps a foot in both worlds, he laid out these original thoughts, I’m just interpreting here. I once heard “greatness” defined as making obsolete all that has come before, while leaving your mark on all that comes after. Panter began his work midway through the 20th Century, but with his particular studio style he’s built for himself a working paradigm that will have lasting impressions well into the 21st Century. As he’s done with most popular 20th Century artistic styles, his influence will be felt in future attempts to condense and distill elements of 21st century culture into a complex visual shorthand that engages the audience and focuses our wandering attention amid the cluttered landscape of disposable pop culture. Grade A.


Creator & Critic Explore Creation & Critique (Part 4 of 4)

Here is the final installment of our four part series discussing the relationship between creators and critics.

Ryan: Okay, Claytor’s Final Thoughts; a critic should educate, entertain, and promote. I’m even going to go out on a limb and say in that order (of importance).

First, both the readers and the creators should be a bit more in the know after reading a review. The reviewer, in my humble opinion, should be able to educate readers on the basic genre, story-telling approach, and competency with which a book was created. With this information, the consumer can decide whether or not this is a product to further research and possibly purchase. The reviewer should also be able to educate the creators by giving an unbiased report on how the material is being received. As a creator, as much as I solicit feedback before publishing my work, it will inevitably be read by people with some sort of connection to me. It’s nice to get a thoughtful, constructive critique from a more objective source.

Next, I always hope that the reviews are written intelligently and with a bit of fun. If the recount is simply unexamined opinions, dry facts, or the dreaded blow-by-blow account of what happens in the book, then I’m likely to look somewhere else for my reviews.

Finally, regardless of whether or not you see “money” as a dirty word in the art world, the fact of the matter is; if creators do not make money from their art, they cannot keep making art. It’s as simple as that. Reviewers help creators promote their work. Sorry to be blunt, but we wouldn’t give you free copies of our books if there wasn’t some potential return for us. So, in this way, I view it as a symbiotic relationship. You get free books, we (hopefully) get our art in front of more eyes.

How about yourself? I’d like to hear the reviewer’s definition of a reviewer, too. Hopefully there’s a bit of overlap? or I’m way off base. :)

Justin: There's plenty of overlap, I think we just use slightly different language to describe the ideal critical experience. I like your "educate, entertain, promote" trifecta. For me, the ideal guidelines would look something like this;

* On the spectrum of review (simple dry plot summary), critique (what's working, what's not), and analysis (deep dive for meaning), I like the space in between critique and analysis.
* I, too, prefer reviews that are accessible yet smart, but not cloud-pushingly obtuse. When I did some writing for Savant Magazine, we used to say "intelligent, but not condescending."
* Reviews should champion good work and the industry in general as a vital, vibrant lab of creative and illuminating thought.
* Reviews should ideally entertain. I'll use Abhay Khosla as an example here, some of his reviews are more entertaining that the actual books he's writing about.
* Reviews should enable consumer decision making, or at least encourage further investigation as you mentioned.
* Reviews should also provide information for creators on how the work is being received.

I think, in part, you represent the audience. But, you are also championing the work - it's the ultimate in match-maker mentality. "Book A, meet Consumer B. Book A likes skydiving, jazz, and is very much a foodie. Consumer B enjoys long walks on the beach, travel, and speaks fluent Italian. You two are perfect for each other!"

Anyway, that list isn't very polished, but it feels complete from my perspective. Now, I'd like to briefly touch on some other examples I've found.

Exhibit A: This one is excerpted from American poet W.H. Auden (1907-1973), part of his "Aphorisms in Reading." While he intended them to function as goalposts for literary criticism, I think they apply nicely.

"What is the Function of a Critic?

* To highlight creators or works which the audience was unaware of previously or had not been exposed to
* To cause further consideration of a creator or work that is undervalued because the audience had not read them carefully enough
* To illustrate relationships between works that the audience didn’t see because of their relatively limited scope of material consumed
* To provide explanation of a creator or work that increases the audience’s understanding of it
* To examine the process of producing (writing, penciling, inking, coloring, lettering, publishing, selling, etc.) art
* To demonstrate the relationship of art to any aspect of life"

Now these are all very well reasoned and I like how they're segregated into identifiable tracks, but they also feel very academic, almost cold and clinical. I also think that this is possibly dated by today's standards because there's no mention of "To entertain," which I think could modernize it a bit, taking into account the web and other contemporary venues.

Exhibit B: With apologies to Anton, The Animated Food Critic!

"Sometimes I think that being a critic is easy. You don’t really risk anything. You stand aside those who have created something, judging a piece of their soul that they’ve sacrificed and put out into the world. People are delighted with negative reviews because they’re fun to write and fun to read. Only occasionally does a critic have an opportunity to take on a risk. It’s in the positive review that defends something new and different. The world is harsh on new and different things; they need friends. That’s why I’ll continue to defend (insert book x) as nothing short of brilliant."

This one is a little touchy feely, but it's not surprising since it's actually a quote from Anton the Food Critic in Disney's Ratatouille(!) What I like about it is that it vehemently understands the cause of championing work, attacks snark for the sake of itself, and sometimes I think people on both sides of the aisle assume that being a "critic" means you only say negative things, when it's actually not about that at all.

Exhibit C: Lastly, we have a sound byte from John Spencer Bassett (1867-1928) which originally appeared in the New York Times in 1904. He was a history professor at Duke University, but wrote quite a few socially charged articles for East Coast newspapers.

"The critic stands for change. He is dissatisfied with some of the things which he sees around him. He cannot believe that some of the popular things are right or advantageous to the industry; he cannot believe that some of the unpopular things are not more appreciated or even revered, and believing that he can’t, without violating the sacred nature of his own conscience, keep from offering his thoughts."

What I like about this one is the self-identification as an agent of change. The idea that critical discourse can have some impact on the public, a "taste maker" as some of the old-school music critics used to say. It also speaks to the passion behind the work, writing because you're just compelled to share your thoughts.

I've looked at MANY definitions, and these are the select few that stood out as thought-provoking. Is it odd that the ones I gravitated to are decades old? Does anything here jump out at you as we end our "educational, entertaining, and promotional" discussion? Haha!

Ryan: At the risk of sounding complacent, it all sounds pretty darn reasonable. I think we more or less agree on the matter. (Sounds like more than less.)

I’d just like to say that I love the variety of sources you pulled from to make your point. I’m always preaching to my classes to look EVERYWHERE for inspiration (for their comics), not just at comics themselves. I show examples of 14th century etchings and stained-glass cathedral windows all the way up to covers of Newsweek and Giant Robot Magazine (in addition to comic industry examples, of course).

To sum things up, I feel that much like our last conversation, this one has challenged me again and honed my thoughts on the creator/critic relationship. I think I’ll purposefully not use a “vs.” between creator AND critic anymore as it seems to set up that adversarial connotation we’d both like to avoid. So, thanks again for another engaging chat about our beloved industry and exploring the relationship between a couple of its cogs. My insecure worry is whether or not we bore people to sleep before the end of our conversation. I suppose the comments (or lack thereof) will speak to that. In the meantime, thanks again for pushing me and I look forward to our next go-round.