4.28.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #37 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron and Davide Furno present the conclusion of the short arc about (my favorite character) Shunka entitled “A Fine Action of an Honorable and Catholic Spaniard.” It’s full of gut-wrenching internal conflict and a cultural dissolution of old ways that leads to “an angry gay Indian with a gun…” The story supposedly being told from beyond the grave is resolved with an interesting twist in narrative. Aaron continues to be a master of crisp dialogue and focuses on the dynamic of Shunka being a minority within a minority within a minority. Yes, he’s a gay criminal Indian hiding from what he truly is. Under the guise of making sure he’s not being framed for a murder, his act of vengeance for a murdered lover actually becomes an act of liberating his own soul. It’s masterful how such a small short arc could reveal so much characterization and further develop the mysterious Shunka. It’s proof yet again that Aaron treats all of his characters with great respect, they are all unpredictable and complex, all capable of both tender noble moments, and moments of outrageous brutality. Grade A.

The Last Days of American Crime #2 (Radical Comics): I don’t quite recall the nuance of who’s who and why they’re doing what they’re doing, but there’s lots of bluster and fury and swearing to enjoy! There’s a couple of distracting typos spread around, such as “buisness” vs. business, “drollin” vs. droolin, and “sponghead” vs. spongehead, but the overwhelmingly self-aware lines full of swagger like “let’s crime novel this shit up” more than make up for it. The book sort of revels in unique violence, such as the way one guy “eats rail” (you’ll know it when you see it), but it also addresses more cerebral ideas like the surrendering of personal freedoms to ensure a supposedly more secure society. The finer points of the story are not always crystal clear, but the isolated bouts of vile sex and double-crossing, along with the larger sweep of the story, like knowing that in this near future reality 6 dirty bombs were detonated by terrorists in 6 cities in a coordinated attack that killed 10 million people, really go a long way toward my enjoyment. What the story might lack in clear substance and storytelling, it makes up for with gleeful style. What some of the jerky oddly staged art lacks, is made up for with the lush coloring and fun panel choices. At times, the art might make things look a little disheveled, but it moves right along with a sort of post-coital raw energy that’s tacitly appealing. It’s got noir roots with a hip modern sensibility. This title is not without its flaws, but I like it. There’s some cool back matter too, especially the well-timed Free Comic Book Day blurb, and mention of a title called After Dark by Training Day director Antoine Fuqua. Grade B+.

Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers (Top Shelf): It’s really not a story per se, and I guess that’s what I was expecting. Once you get over that initial shock, it’s easy to enjoy the DVD style bonus material that The Lost Dossiers offers. The list of goodies includes a cut out section that allows you to rearrange the clipped panels according to a map and build your own story. There are vintage photos, a faux 3D portion, a character’s journal entries, OSS training on how to lose a tail, various tools of the espionage trade, a code key that helps you unlock secret messages in the main book, creator Matt Kindt’s own diary sketchbook, postcard illustrations used for promotional materials, a foldable origami “popper” gun, and annotations for the main book. While this is certainly an achievement in terms of sheer “bookmaking,” my one big criticism is that this doesn’t work very well as a stand alone book. What’s there is drop dead beautiful and evidence of the sheer amount of effort and attention to intricate detail, but much of it feels like non-sequitur snippets of a larger work – which is true. I think that this might have been better off included in a new edition of Super Spy, as bonus material in an “absolute edition” style package (especially the intereting annotations). I loved the original Super Spy, even have a nifty sketch in my hardcover that Kindt did for me at the San Diego Con, but I fear this book will only appeal to the relatively small audience who purchased the original, when a tricked out re-released new edition might have been able to garner a whole new audience in the process. Grade B+.


4.28.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #27 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Leandro Fernandez deliver part 7 of 8 of The Plague Widow. It’s full of bitter and decayed emotional conditions adorned with dichotomous imagery like smoldering fire in the snow. On the second page, I found a rare typo, “Guborg” instead of Gunborg. It’s easy to dismiss when the rest of the issue is so strong, especially the stellar coloring of Dave McCaig, who’s quickly evolving to be on par with someone like Dave Stewart. This issue resolves the taking of Karin as Boris takes on Gunborg and Hilda takes on Jens. Both are equally intense; the Boris/Gunborg fight is a visceral dirty piece of work, and the Hilda/Jens sequence is chilling. Hearing Hilda repeatedly instruct Karin to “stay under the covers, don’t watch, not even a little peek” is absolutely scary. Lines like “I’ll trade my eternal soul to ensure you don’t live another moment on this Earth” literally gave me goose bumps. This has felt like a long, slow burning arc, but for the patient reader the culmination is an emotional cliffhanger that really delivers the goods. Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #25 (Marvel): Larroca’s art here looks a little rushed and simply flat in spots. I know it’s meant to be a counterpoint to the Stark aesthetic, but Detroit Steel is a really gaudy looking piece of technology. It’s interesting to see Hammer Industries get into weapons manufacturing as Tony attempts to rebuild the empire and both rush very different products into the market. I like how this issue touches back on the very first arc, about one of Tony’s nightmares – Stark tech in the wrong hands, marketed hard to willing buyers. The idea of Tony’s short term memory essentially being erased because he hadn’t lived certain experiences yet at the time he originally backed up his mind digitally is insanely clever, but it’s told (for the second time here) in high exposition mode in a conversation between Rhodey and Maria Hill. I enjoyed how firmly this was entrenched in the Marvel U, with references aplenty to Steve’s New Avengers, Reed Richards and Thor appearances, and nods to the Rand technology we saw in Fraction's Iron Fist run. Fraction really does show his influence from Warren Ellis in the technology analogy – if Iron Man is the app, then Extremis is the OS, and Tony is the hardware it all runs on. The Heroic Age really does feel like something new when Tony seems committed to the idea that Stark will stand for something else besides innovation in warfare. Stark Resilient offers up a true paradigm shift that’s essentially open source endless power, licensable to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It’s interesting to note that there isn’t a whole lot of boom! bang! in this issue, and yet all of the talky bits manage to be engaging. The only small bit of criticism about the dialogue is that it’s interesting while being very dense, when there was probably an opportunity for it to be interesting while light and effortless. Grade A-.

Wasteland #28 (Oni Press): This issue offers up a spotlight on Skot, and Watchman Dexus to a lesser extent. Wasteland is as intricately plotted, and as well crafted as ever, and I’m still committed to the claim that it’s one of the most unique books on the stands, but a three or four month delay between issues certainly has an impact on general readability. The intricacy of Johnston’s plotting works like a double edged sword. While it never insults our intelligence and has miraculously always avoided exposition, it’s been a while and the large cast and multiple plot threads can be difficult to keep track of. With some mental prodding and the aid of the essential recap page, I can re-engage in Skot’s relationship with the Sunner population, the insurgency designed to destabilize the current administration, and keep guessing at what Marcus and Mary are truly up to. At the end of the day, I guess I’m saying that it’s still an intelligent and original work, it’s still an important title to support in single issues and prove to the industry that it can succeed, but it will definitely read better collected in light of the recent shipping frequency. I think the series sells well enough in trades that it wouldn’t be in danger of cancellation, and though it may be mildly frustrating to not get something I love on a strict monthly schedule, I’ll certainly keep buying it in every format as long as Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and Oni Press are willing to create it. Grade B+.

Stumptown #3 (Oni Press): I really want to like this series more than I do, but many factors are making that difficult. If I had to sum it all up in one word, I guess that would be “inconsistent.” This book had been hyped for a couple of years, at least two San Diego Cons ago (if not three), it makes a big splashy debut, and then proceeds to ship as slow as molasses, moving from an ongoing, to then being solicited as a mini, to now an unconfirmable I don’t know what. In this issue, the art feels extremely rushed, with limited backgrounds and many awkward scenes and individual panels that are stiff and lack any kineticism. Perhaps some of the aesthetic failure is from (new?) colorist Rico Renzi, but the majority appear to be shared responsibility between writer and artist. Let’s rattle off a few examples… so, in the big standoff scene, the gun Dex has “borrowed” from Isabel turns out not to be loaded. Any law enforcement member or even a PI worth their salt, the minute they picked up a foreign weapon, would gently ease the slide back to ensure there was a chambered round, they could eject the magazine to check, or they’d rack the slide to be safe, they’d do any one of these three options to ensure the gun was loaded. That bugged me, especially from someone like Greg Rucka, who typically prides himself on research and getting the small details correct for an air of believability. So then, if a guy’s pointing a gun at you at near point blank range, there’s a good chance if you throw your unloaded gun at him suddenly, he’s going to flinch and shoot you. There’s that. In the next panel, the guy mysteriously isn’t holding his gun either, which is a gaffe, at least show that he dropped it or something. There are dark muddy inks in the Porsche sequence. There’s a weird, completely un-intuitive “rngg mngg” sound effect for an entire page that turns out to be a phone ringing. The phone rings a moment later and then we get… no sound effect at all? I know that Matthew Southworth is capable of delivering beautiful pages, just look at the huge double page expanse of Mount Tabor. It’s breathtaking; it’s obvious that time was spent crafting this page, but the same effort is severely lacking on others. In the end text piece a lot of troubling information is revealed. Rucka has been delivering pages out of order, partial issues scripted, and missing pages with loose instructions on length like “spread out a little if you want.” Southworth says that the bag of peas was the panel he enjoyed the most and spent an inordinate amount of time designing. Umm, how about you work on your panel to panel storytelling before getting lost down a rabbit hole and honing your graphic design skills on a bag of peas that inhabit a single small throwaway panel? Southworth talks about “The Deadline Man” calling and attempts to defend indie creators not conforming to mainstream values or deadlines. While it’s meant to be a self-effacing tongue-in-cheek monologue taking us behind the (zany!) curtain, I’m sorry, but it just comes off like amateur excuses and poor planning from everyone involved. It made me feel like there isn’t a single point failure, but an entire system of dysfunction and it was rather insulting when you expect me to plunk down $4 every few months you decide to belch out more content. I honestly don’t know if I want to purchase this title any longer. Grade B.


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Coming This Week: Using Exclamation Points Is Like Laughing At Your Own Jokes

This could be a humongous week for me if Sea Donkey actually manages to order everything I’m interested in, which on average runs about an 80% likelihood depending on the… mainstreamyness, or relative… obscurativity of the books. Hey you, it’s been a while, but I’ll gladly check out Wasteland #28 (Oni Press) from rising star Antony Johnston and the inimitable Christopher Mitten. I’m also glad to see Stumptown #3 (Oni Press) on deck, though it’s also suffered some lag on the production and shipping schedule right out of the gate. Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s seedy crime drama is just offbeat enough to make it worthwhile. Continuing the theme of books I’m into, bearing less than regular schedules of late, is The Last Days of American Crime #2 (Radical Comics). I enjoyed the first issue of Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini’s crime saga, but what is this, a quarterly book now? It’s only a three issue mini, but the first was out in December of 2009. At that rate, we might as well skip the prestige format floppies and go right to an OGN for maximum oomph. I remember the broad sweep of the premise, but all of the subtle detail is sadly lost from four months ago.

I will not be purchasing Detective Comics #864 (DC) as it sheds all glimmer of uniqueness and clever experimentation, proceeding to promptly return to mediocrity. Vertigo continues to grab a large slice of my purchasing dollar, with Northlanders #27 (DC/Vertigo) and Scalped #37 (DC/Vertigo). Between Jason Aaron’s examination of the collapse of the American Dream, masquerading as a crime infused set-piece, and the larger body of Brian Wood’s work, this is the best that Vertigo has looked since the early heady days of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. I’ll also be picking up Invincible Iron Man #25 (Marvel), marking the quarter century for Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca acting as an uninterrupted creative team, this time double-sized and serving as a jumping on point for movie fans, new readers, and those of us who can say we were there from the very beginning.

In the collected editions department, we have Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse Volume 2: Only Hurts When I Pee (IDW). For the production quality, $24.99 seems like an attractive price point, and Ben Templesmith’s solo show is one of the most underrated books around. Of course he’s a super talented and stylized artist, but his writing ability shines here as well. I still maintain that the one shot Segue to Destruction is one of the funniest things I’ve read. Also of note is the Kabuki: Reflections HC (Marvel/Icon). Fans of David Mack will be delighted to finally get this collection of Mack’s first six art books in an oversized format loaded with never before seen goodies. It’s 320 pages for $39.99 and will certainly be worth a look, if not an outright purchase. Last, but not least, is the long awaited Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers (Top Shelf). I enjoy all of Matt Kindt’s work immensely, but I have to say that Super Spy remains my favorite, so I’m really looking forward to this 88 page installment.

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4.21.10 Reviews

DV8: Gods & Monsters #1 (DC/Wildstorm): “The Day I Tried To Live” lets you know instantly the second you see The Carrier coming out of The Bleed that you’re smack dab in the middle of the Wildstorm Universe. Hopefully that’s a sign that there’s hope yet for this corner of the multiverse. Brian Wood achieves a nice level of intrigue by using an old writing mantra that is “get into scenes as late as possible.” Things are already in medias res here and we play catch up trying to figure it all out. While the themes at play might not be any new territory for Wood, they center on the notion of identity, how myth is formed, and the odd triumvirate of science/nature/faith, the high concept he employs to drive this particular story is a compelling one. He argues that superpowers in a Stone Age would indeed be perceived as magic, to the degree that these “magicians” would be accepted as functional Gods, particularly if they literally fell from the heavens. Rebekah Issacs on art chores is indeed a find. For me, her pencils were instantly reminiscent of Chris Sprouse, no stranger to the Wildstorm/America’s Best Comics neck of the woods. The bright figures stand in stark contrast to the relatively more subdued backgrounds. Her detailed rendition of The Carrier even manages to pull off a bit of Frank Quitely inspiration. I’m left with some questions: Why are there twin suns? Where are they? Who is interrogating Gem? What was up with The Carrier? Was some world being destroyed? And what are the numbers inside of the characters’ intro boxes (8, 25, 29, 39, 43, 77, 82, 99)? I’m not steeped enough in Wildstorm lore to know if these are connections I should be making or if this is all new territory. But, I trust all will be revealed. There might not be a plethora of stand out “razzle dazzle” moments in this issue, but it’s a solid start, from a writer I trust, with a talented new artistic cohort. There was a brief period at Wildstorm that certainly captured my brain, with high concept pieces, mostly from Joe Casey, things like Automatic Kafka and his various Wildcats runs. I remember those fondly and this could certainly be poised to usher in a return to that level of greatness. I’m in. Grade A-.

Joe The Barbarian #4 (DC/Vertigo): Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy bring us to the halfway point in their tale. They begin with style, the introductory maps on parchment are quickly becoming a favorite reminder that plops me into this world. Though I did catch one glitch in the art (Joe saying his arm hurt while holding his right arm, then showing in the next panel that his left arm was the injured one), Murphy and colorist Dave Stewart make a fantastic combination. There are scenes like the long steady sequence that pulls us out of Joe’s house and onto the street in a manner that’s almost reminiscent of a backwards cinematic steadycam shot of the infamous Martin Scorsese shot in Goodfellas. I enjoy Joe’s time in both worlds, both his reality and what we assume is the hallucinatory potpourri of pop fiction, and I enjoy his mental anxiety as the analogous worlds play off one another. What I do find gets a little tiresome is the legend and lore of the fantasy land and how it can get a little obtuse and difficult to decipher. It’s all about cryptic prophecies and warring factions, we're told a lot about it, yet it's never shown, and now that we’re at the halfway point in the series, I feel like meaning should be coalescing faster than it is. What we get instead is even more moving parts, with the addition of a new sect or two every single issue. Here it’s the cowardly inventor people who function a bit like hybrid exposition/deus ex machina devices. The art is strong enough to keep me coming back and I do like how one of the larger themes is about placing characters out of their comfort zones, shattering illusions, and challenging assumptions. That said, I have some concerns, but I’ll be sticking around. Grade A-.

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Coming This Week: “It Was Never My Intention To Brag”

This week marks the debut of the highly anticipated DV8: Gods & Monsters #1 (DC/WildStorm) from Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs. It’ll be interesting to see what Wood and the crew do with a concept initially introduced by Warren Ellis back in the mid-90’s about a cast of young b-list Gen-Actives. It’s the first of 8 issues and I’m hoping it’s a fresh and insightful take that breathes some life into the ailing WildStorm Universe. I’ll also definitely be picking up the latest issue of Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy’s underrated gem, with Joe The Barbarian #4 (DC/Vertigo) hitting the street. Firestar #1 (Marvel) looks interesting, with Sean McKeever and Emma Rios on the creative team. I have fond memories of Firestar from Kurt Busiek and George Perez's Avengers run. I enjoyed McKeevers' indy book The Waiting Place and Emma Rios is the Spanish artist that’s worked a few misc. projects around the industry, most recently her piece in Marvel’s own Girl Comics about Jean and Scott, which was one of the few standout styles I recall from that lackluster anthology. For $3.99 and a c-list Marvel character though, it better bring the thunder to avoid that whiff of cancellation that already surrounds it right out of the gate. I wish it well, but most people will probably start the over-under betting pool on how long this thing lasts. It’s exactly the type of title that’ll belch out, say, 5 issues before getting cancelled and then collected in a rebranded trade (Avengers: Firestar?), ala the recent S.W.O.R.D. “mini-series.” Of interest, I also see Spirit #1 (DC). I’m not a huge Spirit fan, but art by Moritat and Bill Sienkiewicz might make me eat my words. I also noticed Okko: Cycle of Air #1 (Archaia), which has been one of Archaia’s better offerings in my opinion. The Okko franchise is an aesthetically European feeling project by writer/artist Hub, about a small band of misfit ronin. This is the third arc in the series, following up from Okko: Cycle of Water, and Okko: Cycle of Earth. Lastly, we have Terry Moore’s Echo TPB: Volume 04: Collider (Abstract Studios). Yeah, get the trade and all, but if you’re not supporting this title in single issues, then shame on you! It’s seriously one of the best series anyone is putting out at the moment.

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4.14.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Daytripper #5 (DC/Vertigo): The first thing that jumped out at me was how much I was enjoying Bras’ older sister Clarice being the ringleader of the cousins. It’s amazing how much characterization Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon are able to squeeze into a relatively simple line like “Clarice was the oldest, and her word was final.” The art remains grand, but Dave Stewart’s coloring attempts to steal the show yet again. It’s the mark of a gifted palette when some innocuous scene like the flight of the angolas in an early chase sequence comes to life so vividly. I mean, it’s just flying chickens, I shouldn’t be enjoying that as much as I did! But, there you go. The magic isn’t in what you show, but how you choose to show it. It’s great to see the time-jumping narrative style continue, delivering out-of-sequence snippets of Bras’ life, this time at 11 years old. It rings with an air of authenticity from the creators’ native Brazil. Grandma naming the chickens after characters from her soap operas makes me question how much autobiography might be seeping into the work. It’s fun and fascinating. Another example is revealing the writing process of Bras’ father; those are the types of things you can’t really fabricate, that make me wonder if this is a more personal work than the creators would initially have us believe. If you’re into quantum physics (which is essentially where the idea of DC’s multiverse stems from), you know about the theory of millions of future eventualities existing through time, but as the future becomes the present, and the present instantly becomes the past, those millions of possibilities collapse down exponentially into the singular moments that comprise our reality. This book is about exploring some of those permutations lost to time and I couldn’t be more thrilled with it. Not only is that a fascinating storytelling engine, able to show the “many lives” of a fictional character, but the observations along the way, like the generational progression Bras’ detects in this issue, are concepts that even us real world beings can identify with. At times, I think the book might flirt with being a little too saccharine with the beauty it finds in every day life, but it’s also too genuine not to thoroughly enjoy. Grade A.

Daredevil #506 (Marvel): That’s really a beautiful cover. When’s the last time you heard that about a Daredevil comic? It pops with Eastern design influence, but retains a Western superhero sensibility to it. Diggle and Johnston’s plot is an intricate one and it’s aided by Marco Checchetto’s fine lines. His pencils flow with a kinetic sense of movement, the tightly packed panels and, particularly the long thin vertical ones, convey a real sense of claustrophobic danger. It’s a small thing, but the flash bomb was also a nice visual touch. It still strikes me as a little bit talky, and I’m not sure what all happened with the (weird mental alchemy?) Elektra scene, but we’ll see where it goes. After TV shows like 24 or Lost, and a plethora of espionage twinged movies, I’m really weary of double agents crossing each other excessively to the point of plot convolution. It can actually sever the connection with an audience; I tune out if I can’t process who is doing what to whom and why. I’m not saying we’ve gotten to that stage yet, but I do hope the right balance of complexity in allegiances and forward plot motion is maintained here. Anyway, there’s enough here to keep me coming back for the moment. I enjoy the read on Matt Murdock as a “creature of impulse,” and it’s fun to see him playing more than street fighter, but master tactician, executing a set of long term goals with very dire short term consequences. Grade B.


4.14.10 Reviews (Part 1)

DMZ #52 (DC/Vertigo): At first glance, this issue feels like more of the same, it's just Matty Roth wandering the city looking for a point to his sudden newfound style of existence, but the real world political commentary is quite profound. It’s full of zingers about the de facto “Bush Doctrine,” justification for pre-emptive military strikes, and the suspension of personal rights if you happen to be characterized as an enemy combatant without that pesky little thing called due process. We’re used to being told about these things occurring abroad most of the time, but it’s chilling to see them play out on American soil, even in this fictitious reality. Brian Wood makes a wise choice because it personalizes those dynamics when they’re very close to home and makes us question their validity when we realize the parallel line of thought – that they’re actually occurring out there in our real world. They stop being lost in the nightly news, stop being abstract things occurring in faraway places, and stop being lost in a fictional story, they become real and relatable. DMZ is such an atypical work. It’s not often that a piece of fiction can be entertaining, but also worthy of CNN style examination, worthy of study in college classrooms around the country. Regular series artist Riccardo Burchielli is in top form as well. It’s easy to get lost in the dirty glory of thousands of empty shell casings raining down from attack helicopters overhead, as they attempt to eradicate the surviving remnants of the Delgado Nation. But, when you look at the longer arc of Burchielli’s penciling, you see that he’s slowly and steadily been increasing the urban decay we see in this book. In just a couple of short years, his NYC now looks more like Mogadishu, or Beirut, or Port-au-Prince, or what I imagine parts of Baghdad looking like. It’s an open expanse of desolation, despair, and destruction that’s not as cute as that alliteration makes it sound. Grade A.

I also picked up;

Bodyworld (Pantheon): Dash Shaw’s latest project is a marvel of unique production quality and will surely be worthy of some eventual in depth analysis, but what I loved more than anything was the pull quote on the back cover. It’s from David Mazzuchelli, who in addition to being the writer/artist of Asterios Polyp (the other book besides Shaw’s own Bottomless Belly Button that comprised the most universally praised duo of publications last year), actually produces a pull quote that’s a direct homage to music critic John Landau’s description of his first encounter with Bruce Springsteen. Landau was an influential critic, wrote for Rolling Stone, and saw Springsteen’s performance one night in 1974 in Cambridge, Mass. The actual quote by Landau was "I saw my rock and roll past flash before my eyes. I saw something else: I saw rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen," but over the years it’s been condensed and bastardized to the point of becoming accepted music industry lore as “I have seen the future of rock and roll, and its name is Bruce Springsteen.” Here, Mazzuchelli writes: “I have seen the future of comics, and its name is Dash Shaw.” Now, I don’t want to get off on a rant here, but if you read some of Landau’s accounts of Springsteen, it makes for an interesting (if gushing) comparison to Dash Shaw’s work vis-à-vis the typical output of the comic book industry. For example, "Tonight," one of his columns began, "there is someone I can write of the way I used to write, without reservations of any kind. On a night when I needed to feel young, he made me feel like I was hearing music for the very first time. When his two hour set ended I could only think, can anyone really be this good, can anyone say this much to me, can rock and roll speak with this kind of power and glory? And then I felt the sores on my thighs where I had been pounding my hands in time for the entire concert and knew that the answer was a resounding yes. Springsteen does it all. He is a rock n' roll punk, a Latin street poet, a ballet dancer, an actor, a joker, bar band leader, rhythm guitar player, extraordinary singer, and a truly great rock n' roll composer. He leads a band like he has been doing it forever. I racked my brain but simply can't think of an artist who does so many things so superbly. There is no one I would rather watch on a stage today." That all might sound a bit hyperbolic, but I’m pretty excited to sit down and absorb this book, and I really like Springsteen, in case you didn’t catch that.


Coming This Week: "You Don't Pay Hookers For The Sex, You Pay Them To Leave"

This week seems to be full of reliable favorites. Daytripper #5 (DC/Vertigo) marks the halfway point for the series. For me, this was initially a tough sell, but I quickly learned to love the lack of a traditional storytelling structure and surrender to the lack of typical character arcs. I'm always curious to see if the style we've seen to date will be sustained or if there is some dramatic twist in store. Either way, the ruminations on life and the paths taken and not taken are very enjoyable, due in no small part to the fantastic art and coloring. DMZ #52 (DC/Vertigo) continues to explore the literal and figurative fallout of the last arc, with Matty wandering the city looking to reinvent himself. Over at The House of Ideas, I found the first issue a little on the talky side, but I'm looking forward to the continuation of this arc with writer Antony Johnston on Daredevil #506 (Marvel). My heart really belongs to Wasteland, which is surely a more personal work, but new spins on ol' hornhead are always welcome. Last on the radar screen this week is a big one, it's the Bodyworld HC (Pantheon). It's Dash Shaw's latest project, which I believe is still available as a webcomic, but I'm partial to the tangible, so this should be a blast. If it's anything like his last book, it'll be dense and fun, certainly worthy of some in depth analysis.


2010 Eisner Award Nominees

I don't really have the time or inclination to go into detail on every single category; in fact, Rich Johnston has already done a bang up job over at Bleeding Cool, so I'll just mention a few things that popped out at me. Overall, the Eisner Awards are losing credibility with me. Either the process and participants are so desperately out of touch with reality that I just don't get it and question the value of the entire endeavor, or my own personal tastes have strayed so far from the mainstream that I don't even know what the awards mean any longer. They don't seem to hold any relevance for me. In most cases I find myself just totally disinterested. The remainder of the time, it seems that my reaction is an exasperated "WHAT?!" due to what is, or in some cases, what is not present.

So, yeah... it was nice to see Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life and David Mazzuchelli's Asterios Polyp nominated in multiple categories. Sure, it's all a bit predictable and safe, particularly in the case of Asterios Polyp, (I'm secretly hoping A Drifting Life wins), but they're both great books and it's reassuring, if nothing else, that there still exists some sanity. Probably my favorite nominee, and one of the very few that seemed to make sense in my opinion, was Terry Moore's Echo in the Best Writer/Artist category. It's very much deserved and I hope he outright takes a win in this category to send a clear message about the quality existing outside the mainstream. I also thought it was nice to see JH Williams III getting some love for his work on Batwoman in Detective Comics, though it seems ironically ill-timed with DC's clusterfuckish handling of the series, the character, and both creators involved. It's critically lauded, nominated for an Eisner Award now, so yeah, let's just stop publishing that, ok? I, too, think it's kinda' irreverently funny that Robert Crumb's The Book of Genesis: Illustrated adaptation - of the Bible - was not listed in the non-fiction category, thus by default appears in the fiction category. From this we can assume that all of the liberal arts Blue Staters are secretly behind it all. Ha! Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? as Best New Series? That's a joke, right? Because the art is so awful, and apparently nobody had an issue with an interpretation of a decades old Philip K. Dick story, already translated to film, being considered "new" material.

Where it all really totally derails is the Best Writer category. If that list really represents what anyone involved in this believes the best writers working right now in the industry are, then we're all doomed. That list is a joke. It's painfully mainstream, painfully repetitive of previous nominees, and doesn't at all reflect my taste, the taste of the people I associate with, or the taste of the critics I read and their online discourse. Perhaps these writers sell the most, or are the most commercial, but that's not supposed to be what this is about. Is it? Isn't it about the art, the craft, not the popularity contest of who's working the most high profile crossovers? To rub flaming gasoline right into the gaping flesh wound, included is James Robinson (who, in his defense, is a writer I've enjoyed in the past - hello, Starman), but is nominated here for Justice League: Cry for Justice, easily the worst book I read all year, a book that has been universally panned and painfully cited as an example of everything wrong with the industry, fullfilling multiple stereotypes around editorial interference, poor plotting and mis-characterization, awful panel to panel storytelling, indecipherable page composition, downright mysogynistic and/or homophobic tendencies, and outright superhero tragedy porn. Whew! It's just ridiculous. On top of it all, (sometimes) series artist Mauro Cascioli (really, shouldn't you have to actually complete the entire mini-series to be nominated?) is nominated in the Best Painter/Multimedia Artist category for the same awful book. Really? Really? REALLY. Look at that picture! It's like they missed April 1st and forgot to run the announcement that day as a prank.

4.07.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Demo: Volume 2 #3 (DC/Vertigo): “Volume One Love Story” is a clever and direct title that belies the psychological complexity of the story that Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan present. It centers on a beautiful young woman with OCD that manifests as a sea of post-it notes directing her life. The most satisfying way for me to read the story was trying to discern what the post-its were functioning for as a metaphor. I think that the post-its can be read as the various societal pressures that are imposed on all of us, whether those are real or perceived stressors that we choose to subscribe to. In that regard, the post-its begin as an attempt for her to navigate her life, they then become her life and are stand-ins for the real and unpredictable experiences that define us. But, by the end, Marlo is seen in a beautiful last page shot where she’s able to begin breaking out of this cycle of anxiety/obsession/compulsion and starts to follow her own voice and not a set of “rules” imposed on her by external factors. In the back matter, the creators mention Cloonan’s attention to people’s hands and their ability to convey emotion. It’s not something that I caught the first time through, but during the second read it’s amazingly obvious and intense. Whether it’s her standing and studying her post-it wall in earnest, playing with her hair nervously, her defensive posture on the bus, or the demure flirtation of the finale, we see Cloonan operating in a gestural form of communication that powerfully complements a subtle Wood script that’s instantly my favorite of the series to date. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #21 (Dynamite Entertainment): There were parts I liked: Dan’s dreamlike horror mirroring his nightmarish reality in brutal detail. There were parts that bothered me: in one sequence, the trio is travelling horseback from left to right across the page, two riders break left and one rider breaks right. On the next page it’s suddenly flipped and we see one rider going left and two going right. It’s a small thing, but that really annoyed me because usually the title gets the details right. I’ve always liked this title by Brett Matthews, Sergio Cariello, and John Cassaday, but I really feel like I have nothing to say here. This reads like all middle. It’s like reading just a few pages out of one chapter of a book. Regardless of how strong they may be crafted individually, it really needs to be read in context in one sitting. Inevitably, the only way I seem to be able to maximize my enjoyment of this title is to forego single issues and read it in the collected editions. It’s an interesting example of how the medium functions, how collected editions read differently than floppies, and the varying strengths of the structures of some titles. Grade B+.

Batman & Robin #11 (DC): My knee jerk reaction to the latest issue from Grant Morrison and Andy Clarke was: Where? Who? What? DEA? What happened in the last issue again? Demon guys? Oberon Sexton? The issue is full of cryptic Morrisonian doublespeak and I’m not sure if I’m just losing my patience with this title or I was having a bad day and in a food coma from the delicious deli sandwich I’d just consumed. Sometimes the dialogue feels sort of charming, “scented dandy,” but for the most part I can’t escape the overt feeling that I’m being manipulated by a larger DC marketing machine with The Return of Bruce Wayne looming. Since I’m not buying any other Batman titles at the moment (alas, poor Detective Comics), it feels like watching a serialized TV show, but only catching every fifth episode. I’m not sure why Alfred is flying around, how this sits in the larger plot, I forgot all about the cave or what it means to Bruce's time-jumping, clue-leaving MO, not sure if I’m missing clues, or if there are actually any clues to miss. But the big question I keep asking myself is should I still be buying this title? I’m just standing around waiting for it to get better, thinking it’s totally lost its charm. The larger plotlines are lost on me since this is my only entry point into the line. The writing is tangential and filled with pseudo-parenthetical references. The art isn’t enough of a confectionary treat to keep me engaged. It leaves me feeling like it's time to check out. I'll probably wait until the Frazer Irving arc and then make a final decision. Grade B.

4.07.10 Reviews (Part 1)

S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel): Jonathan Hickman and Dustin Weaver make good on the high concept, delivering an intriguing tale with some terrific design elements, all complimented by the brilliant coloring of Christina Strain. The story centers on Leonid, his father revealed to be The Night Machine, and The Immortal City located deep under the city of Rome. The pencil work is very rich and it all sits within the confines of some inventive panel layouts. Overall, the team is able to strike the right balance of aggressive pacing, mystery, action, conspiracy, legend, and Marvel lore. The story is full of little flourishes like Agents Stark and Richards, Galactus appearing before Galileo in 1582, and the trademark graphic design-y Hickman back matter. I enjoyed the symbology of the Egyptian shield linking to the modern day design elements of the S.H.I.E.L.D. emblem, and especially Da Vinci appearing as a sort of steampunk astronaut in some scenes that would surely make Warren Ellis proud. This is a strong first issue that’s able to instantly build a revisionist mythology around artifacts, phrases, and familiar faces. Grade A.

Spider-Man: Fever #1 (Marvel): My first exposure to the iconoclast work of Brendan McCarthy was his DC Solo issue, and I was instantly intrigued by the creator. The behind-the-scenes story of this three issue mini-series is now infamous. McCarthy wanted to create a Doctor Strange story, Marvel Editorial felt it might not be commercial enough, and urged him to throw in Spider-Man for good measure. The end result bears a Spider-Man header, but it feels like what it is – a Doctor Strange story guest starring Spider-Man, or at best, a team up book. I don’t mind that so much, because the end result is pretty strong. Brendan McCarthy in this book looks like the love child of Gary Panter and Steve Ditko and it’s pretty damn fun. It reverberates with a Silver Age energy and glee that is part mystical hoo-ha, and part very entrenched in the New York City of The House of Ideas. At times, in its adoration of Silver Age parlance, it can sometimes feel clunky. There are moments of characters shouting out narration to guide the plot, the exposition harsh by modern standards. However, the reward is a feisty irreverence where Spider-Man can make statements like “webbing’s screwed” while he falls down a wall from exposure to pesticide(!). That’s topped off with lines like “soul sushi” and “A human soul? I shall have it with custard!” Grade A-.

Electric Ant #1 (Marvel): I never read the source material, and this sure doesn’t make me want to. It was an instant downer to see that Pascal Alixe was on interior art and not David Mack. The future tech seems generally interesting, but Alixe’s art is awkward in the static shots and offers confusing storytelling panel to panel during scenes where anything happens, such as the love scene or the car crash scene. It’s all over the map, the coloring isn’t very crisp, and (heresy alert) even the Paul Pope covers seem phoned in and aren’t anything like his best work, almost not even recognizable as Pope projects. I sort of enjoyed the notion of “elecrticants” being the precursor of the Blade Runner style “replicants,” but the fascination with language ends there. Words like “splunkish, splunked, computor,” or “frogs” in place of currency, are just sort of goofy and distracting. The big existential dilemmas that the script wants to ask seem to get derailed by the plausibility of character’s actions. Would the main character (forgot his name already) really immediately want to leave the hospital without clothes because he thinks he’s a robot? Do characters really go around expositing dialogue, telling us what’s happening and how they feel about it? It’s like the characters themselves read the script too and need to stick to it to move us all forward. At the end of it all, the cliffhanger is extremely weak, it’s not interesting, the visuals aren’t strong, the script isn’t compelling, and I’ve been given no reason to come back, despite the involvement of some usually strong creators. Bummer. Grade C.

Uncanny X-Men #523 (Marvel): I didn’t actually buy this book, but scanned through it quickly at the LCS. It seemed clear from the parts I caught that the Kitty Pryde drama has quickly been shuffled off in lieu of the latest crossover. Typical. Lame. It seemed like there might have been a decent action sequence toward the end, but when did Scott supposedly train Cable? When did seedy motels right off the interstate start having fully stocked mini-fridges? It’s just so disjointed issue to issue. Grade N/A.


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Coming This Week: "The Past Was Erased, The Erasure Forgotten, The Lie Became Truth"

I’m not a rabid Philip K. Dick fan or anything, but I’ll probably be checking out Electric Ant #1 (Marvel). If anything, I think adaptations of Dick’s prescient sci-fi work are already a bit de rigueur at this point, with Boom! adapting Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? But, I think it’s interesting to note the influence he had on pop culture and specifically modern comic book creators like Paul Pope or Warren Ellis. I certainly hope that mining the work of Philip K. Dick doesn’t become the next zombies/pirates/vampires “in” high concept that everyone rushes to strike gold with and they all begin pumping properties into the market. In any case, when it’s David Mack (writer/artist) adapting the work, along with Paul Pope on covers (not one, but TWO of my favorite writer/artists!), it’s hard not to give the five issue mini based on a 1969 short story a fair try. However, Marvel’s not doing themselves any favors with the confusing solicitations. In some locations, it says Mack is writer and artist, in others it says Mack is merely the writer, with Pascal Alixe doing illustrations. That’s a big difference to me. It’s also unclear if Paul Pope will be doing the covers for every issue, or just a couple. Marvel will also be trying out a concept that reeks of Dan Brown’s Illuminati influence, with SHIELD #1 (Marvel) featuring Da Vinci, Imhotep, Sir Issac Newton, and Galileo as founding members of the organization. Who better to attempt this than writer Jonathan Hickman, whose early Image work certainly possessed the conspiratorial leanings necessary to even come close to pulling something like this off. I’m not a huge fan of artist Dustin Weaver, but the concept is just risky enough to give it a try. It’ll likely either be a train wreck or really cool, hopefully entertaining either way. Uncanny X-Men #523 (Marvel) is also due out, and well, you all know how I feel about that.

Over at the Distinguished Competition, we have Batman & Robin #11 (DC), the second issue from Grant Morrison and Andy “No, I’m Still Not Frank Quitely” Clarke. I found Clarke’s pencils ok in the first ish, but isn’t everyone just biding time until the Frazer Irving arc? This title has lacked any razzle dazzle for me since the first three issues that Quitely was actually on. While it’s not quite as bad as the Detective Comics-No-Longer-Starring-Batwoman-Now-Greg-Rucka’s-Leaving-DC-Altogether clusterfuck, it’s getting pretty close. Continuing bizarre publishing practices, Batman & Robin Deluxe Edition Volume 1: Batman Reborn (DC) will also be on the stands this week. This collects the first six issues from Grant Morrison, Frank Quitely, and… Philip Tan. I just think it’s interesting to collect the best artist right along with the one who seems to be the most maligned of the lot; it makes quite a dichotomous little package for $24.99. Saving the DC day, as usual, will be the Vertigo line with Demo Volume 2 #3 (DC/Vertigo) from Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. It’s been an interesting run so far, with more ethereal dark horror leanings than overt superhero trappings, and that’s just fine. I’m always curious to see what the duo will come up with next.

Moving right along, Lone Ranger #21 (Dynamite Entertainment) is also out. I’m not sure what’s happening with the publishing schedule here. The last I heard, arcs of issues were not to be released until they were all in the can and ready to go, with time off only inter-arc. However, it sure seems like there are still significant delays between intra-arc issues. I’m almost certain that this is the last issue of this arc, so if that’s the case, I’ll be opting out of single issues from this point forward and tradewaiting this title. I still enjoy it enough to pick up the swanky hardcovers, but honestly the publishing schedule is so erratic that I won’t miss picking up the single issues at all. Sea Donkey never got the first issue, so he probably won’t have Dodgem Logic Magazine #2. I mean, seriously, if you can’t sell an Alan Moore project, do you have any business owning an LCS? This is the type of thing I’ll seek out at the San Diego Con since it’s apparently so baffling a product for my local retailer. Booth (First Second) looks like it could be interesting; it’s written by an American historian, with French artist Tanitoc offering up a retrospective about John Wilkes Booth. Last, but not least, we have Market Day (Drawn & Quarterly) from James Sturm, who is always worth a look.

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Graphic Novel Of The Month

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path: 3,856 Story Possibilities (Amulet Books): It took a couple of advanced algorithms and an SGI supercomputer to track the story permutations and configure the physical layout of this ambitious book. While it will be instantly reminiscent of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books for anyone in their 30’s, the result is a totally unique vision from a humble mathematical genius. Like the proverbial butterfly-flapping-its-wings chaos theory, your fate in this book hinges on small innocuous decisions like whether or not to look in someone’s medicine cabinet on a seemingly casual trip to the bathroom. You’re presented with continual choices that lead you skipping around the book following small visual pathways onto the tabs of other pages. It’s the small moments that drastically alter the outcome, sometimes leading to traps like arguing with a version of yourself 10 minutes from the future. Writer/artist Jason Shiga touches on many of the paradoxes found in theoretical quantum physics, and exhibits theories of time travel that would make Warren Ellis proud. At times, there is such a parity of thought that it feels like Ellis consulted with Shiga on that last issue of Planetary in order to figure out how to save Ambrose Chase. Most of the adventures I experienced ended in disaster, a few were concerned with immortality in a multiversal setting, and a couple of pages repeated themselves (such as the coin flip sequence). Some of the book contained two sets of identical pages and I couldn’t figure out the storytelling reason as to why this was. I suspect it was just a pragmatic decision to make the various paths in the book work. As an aside, I think it’s impossible to get to the “squid page” (which is almost certainly a nod to the book “Inside UFO 54-40,” in which reaching paradise wasn’t obtainable via any natural path in the book, but required ignoring the “rules,” deviating from the choices presented, and just flipping to that elusive page), but I’m certainly not mathematically inclined enough to figure it out for certain. Shiga is a Bay Area comics scene staple, always at APE, educated at UC Berkeley, and known for the intricate construction of his books. Meanwhile makes a nice addition to the expanding Shiga library, with Fleep and Bookhunter being my personal favorites (both from Sparkplug Comics and both nominated for Eisners in 2004 and 2007 respectively). It’s inventive, fun, brilliant, and I can continue to hurl a bunch of adjectives at this book when what I’m really trying to say is twofold. One, it saddens me to think that because this wasn’t published by a “comic book company,” that many people probably won’t see it. Two, I don’t think that’ll stop it, and I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t receive at least a nomination for an Eisner Award. Grade A.