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5.26.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #38 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera deliver a tale that begins with a family legacy of service to a country that has marginalized their entire race. That story alone is a gut-wrenching examination of the blessing/curse one soldier finds amid the Vietnam War. It allows Aaron to show off his ear for Vietnamese people speaking broken English, and his unique way with prose, with lines like “I remember it raining cold mud and hot gore.” Along the way, this tale of Wade the Indian amid the Fall of Saigon is rendered bleak and gritty by Guera, while still retaining the beauty of emotion. Even when Wade attempts to do the right thing, he realizes he’s still part of an oppressive system of enslavement that hits a little too close to home. Keep in mind, this is really just the “main” story – and it’s terrific. But then, fucking Jason Aaron, he gives you an added little twist that takes a great book and makes it absolutely go ballistic. I don’t want to spoil it too much, but let’s just say that FBI entanglement runs in Dash Bad Horse’s family. There’s an odd logic trap the characters are presented with that means either being traitorous to their own people or risking not being part of the solution. When we get to the end of Scalped, as a series, one sad day in the future, I think it will become increasingly apparent that the only “hero” in this book is going to be the one person who is able to figure out how to break this inescapable cycle of violence on the Rez. If you’re not reading Scalped, you’re missing out on not only one of the best comics being published today, but also a cultural treasure that highlights a seldom seen part of the holistic American experience. As ugly and violent and uncomfortable as it may be, it is a beautiful piece of art, with real world social relevance. Grade A+.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (DC): This time-jumping rebirth of Bruce Wayne is just quirky enough to really enjoy. As usual, Grant Morrison explains some things as he introduces new questions, aided this time by the inimitable Frazer Irving. The “WW” and “S” logos were fun plants, but how’d they get there? Irving’s art is absolutely delicious, calling to mind some of John Van Fleet’s earlier work, like on Batman: The Chalice, with the shots of the forest beautifully illuminated with a warm glow. The little ideas are fun, the eclipses possibly signaling the time jumps, the witch’s curse on the Wayne Family, the primal Miagani inhabiting a special place, some form of “Batman” protecting Gotham even hundreds of years ago, and the reveal of the archivist to the group of Superman, Booster Gold, Green Lantern, and Rip Hunter, as they chase their friend through time. However, the larger ideas are what makes this book work for me. Only from the mind of Grant Morrison could you get a pilgrim “Batman” investigating crime, while time’s multiversal intersection is explained with a loom analogy of parallel and intersecting timelines. Throw in absolutely gorgeous art, and I’ll be signed up for this very fun ride that recaptures some of the limitless imagination that made comics successful in the first place. Grade A.

Secret Avengers #1 (Marvel): If regular Avengers is Checkmate White, then Secret Avengers is Checkmate Black, running shadow ops. Heh. Sorry, but I grew up a DC kid, so I have to make the comparison to have it click and make sense in my brain. Mike Deodato’s art is very shadowy, to the point that it sometimes obscures details, but it mostly captures the right feel, and I really liked the little S.H.I.E.L.D. jump jet that Sharon was piloting. I thought it was odd that the art was so generic in the opening sequence, that without their costumes, we don’t even know that the two women are supposed to be Black Widow and Valkyrie until we’re told. Natasha jokes about where Valkyrie hid her sword, but that just distracts you away from the fact that it’s unexplained where Widow was hiding her wrist gauntlets. I really think that someone needs to invent a new codename for Steve, so that he’s not introduced as merely Steve Rogers or “the first Captain America.” I also thought it was interesting that he has a different uniform here than he did in Avengers last week. Is that deliberate? One is his “above board” uniform and the other is his Non Official Cover (NOC) “secret spy” get-up? I’m not sure. Sometimes things fully derail here. Steve looks inside the box specifically to confirm that’s definitely the package they’re after, then two pages later when Beast says it isn’t the Serpent Crown, Steve says that he noticed that already. Huh? Then a few pages later, we have Rhodey and Steve’s speech balloons reversed. The figures are so small and non-descript that you almost miss it, but it’s definitely there. I know that S.W.O.R.D., the book, got cancelled, but assumably the organization is alive and well in the Marvel U, so Beast is pulling double duty for S.W.O.R.D. and the Secret Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D.? Does that create a conflict? I’m not sure. Those things aside, this seems like an eclectic cast with a fun dynamic, the recruitment scenes were a nice touch, and it was fun to see Steve let loose a little and mix business with pleasure. This book is certainly not without its flaws, but it’s mostly enjoyable and seems like it could be a fun way to keep tabs on the “new” Marvel U. Grade B+.

5.26.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #28 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood is a clever guy. He uses a writing tool here that I’ve seen loosely referred to as “The Great Wish.” By juxtaposing two sets of images, one revolving around the way times bleakly are, and the other a nostalgic projection of things desired that may never come to pass, what comes out the other side of the equation is a set of visual ideals that fill in a lot of information about a character’s desires and motivations. One prominent example of this in popular culture is at the end of James Cameron’s Titanic (not that I'm a fan, but it uses this trick very well), after Jack and Rose have died, and you see that long shot of Rose ascending the staircase aboard the grand glory of the ship, passing by friends and family, finally meeting Jack at the top near the clock. Another example would be at the end of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator when General Maximus has died, and as he passed into Elysium (the Roman “Heaven”) he strolls through amber wheat fields to be greeted by his wife and son. The opening passages of this issue do just such a thing, contrasting the life desired and the unfortunate life actually present. On top of that, it also sets up the analogy of birds fleeing the cold. There’s just so much going on here, it’s deceptively simply, but is actually quite a complex script. Wood hits other notes about shielding your children from harsh realities, both mental and physical, the strength required of women in a world largely dominated by men, and the realization that sometimes being strong means being quiet or asking for help. Leandro Fernandez, whose art here bears a strong Eduardo Risso influence, helps Brian Wood bring this final chapter of The Plague Widow to a close, and it’s a subtle but emotionally satisfying conclusion. At the end of it all, Karin learns the greatest lesson about capable self-reliance, and even though her mother may have perished, she ultimately succeeded as a parent. Grade A.

X-Men Origins: Emma Frost #1 (Marvel): In an odd way, this book is a good example of my comic book buying habits today. I could really care less about Marvel, or the X-Men, or even Emma Frost, but I’ll follow my interest in Valerie D’Orazio’s writing to just about anywhere. It’s the same way that I don’t really have a thing for Viking comics, post-apocalyptic comics, or a strong interest in Adam Strange, but I will follow Brian Wood, Antony Johnston, or Paul Pope to any property at any company. Every once in a while, you get an artist you like and a writer you like who lock up on a title, and that becomes a quirky favorite. Warren Ellis? JH Williams III? Desolation Jones! Boom, instant cult favorite. But I digress… D’Orazio and artist Karl Moline present an overbearing father who is a bit of an over-the-top cliché, with lines like “simpering buck-toothed patsy.” If you add an emotionally absent mother to that mix, it’s a recipe for disaster that allows the entry of a person like Sebastian Shaw to show some attention and steer Emma’s energy toward her sordid past. Part of me felt that it was all a little pat and predictable, but also considered that level of stereotypical dysfunction was probably necessary to fuel Emma’s powerful psyche. I thought that the mixing of the Revolutionary attire, modern parlance, and stripper pole could be a confusing composition for anyone not steeped in Hellfire Club history, but I’m not sure if that describes anyone actually reading this book. Moline is a good artist, but I’m not sure that his slightly cartoony and cheery style is the right match tonally for the gravitas of this script. It’s interesting to see Emma go through life attempting to escape the ideology of her father, but ultimately realizing she has the ability to be more like her manipulative father than she probably cares to admit. The acquisition of power supersedes the binary choice of failure risking mockery and success garnering jealousy. My only real basis for writing comparison is D’Orazio’s recent work on the Punisher Max: Butterfly one-shot, and I don’t think the Emma Frost book is nearly as incendiary. There may be a few small glitches here, but for the most part it hits all of the right psychological notes necessary to highlight a complex character. It lacks the gut-wrenching punch of the Punisher book, but does end with a coyly familiar image for anyone steeped in classic X-Men continuity. I also really liked the Women of Marvel feature, this time with writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, offering a smart take on the stumbling bocks of new readership in comics. Also of interest are the house ads for Avengers Prime, with Brian Michael Bendis and Alan Davis. Grade A-.


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5.19.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Joe The Barbarian #5 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy makes those first page maps feel like coming home. It’s such a welcome invitation signifying your re-entry into this world. And as soon as you flip the page over, you get speed lines making objects jump off the page in a rousing chase sequence; it's a rousing chase sequence in a book that’s already been full of them. Murphy’s art, which here looks like a blend of Kevin O’Neill and Carlos Pacheco, never lets up, opening up further to reveal magnificent two page spreads. Todd Klein on lettering makes you remember why he won all of those Eisners for Promethea, with clever additions like “pedal pedal pedal” as the sloop ship dives. Yeah, it’s all here. With Grant Morrison, Sean Murhpy, Todd Klein, and Dave Stewart on colors, this is really a rock star creative team. It’s almost like you can see the pitch for this idea gestating in Morrison’s drunken Scot brain, taking popular genres from different media sources and toy properties, putting them in a blender, pulse-pulse-pulse, and then spitting out Joe The Barbarian. At times, the influences may be a little too transparent – the reveal of the Hall of Heroes bears a similar tone to Aragorn at places like Amon Hen amid the crumbling decay of times past, and the face off with the dog does smack of Gandalf at Kazadhum, wow, I’m really getting my LOTR on here – but at any rate, it’s a success that makes you want to plunge head first into the world, but also the possibilities inherent in the blender. Like, where are my action figures of the weird sail ship the issue opens with?! What I appreciated the most about this unison of scripting and art is how it’s not at all insulting to the reader. Some of the corollaries between real world and make believe are obvious, some not so. I enjoyed the duality of the Iron Knight’s presence, pairing the line “all to secure ten years of peace” with images of Joe’s father in real life. This parity continues with the alternating proportions and perspective of the dog in the hallway. Even in the art, you’re asked to participate and work things out. Notice during the opening chase, there is a panel of the rat drawing his sword. In the next panel, the sword is already impaled into the helmet of their pursuer. Look at how much action you had to imagine for yourself, and how quickly it must be done to keep up with the story. There’s so much closure occurring in your mind’s eye between the panels, it’s almost as if Morrison and company have drafted you to be a part of that creative process that can only take place as the story is actively consumed. Morrison displays a master’s ear for speech patterns, evidenced by the broken cryptic interrupted conversation Joe has with his mom on the phone. At the end of it all, you get so swept up in the momentum of the story and your participation in it, that you almost miss how Morrison has created a near perfect adventure, with the faint familiarity, challenge, adventure, charm, and psychological underpinnings of an instant classic. When you add in the amazing art, this just might be vying for contention as my favorite Grant Morrison project, clawing its way up and actually trying to duke it out with Flex Mentallo and All-Star Superman for recognition. Grade A.

Avengers #1 (Marvel): I have a few small quibbles with this book, but otherwise really enjoyed it. The tone of the Bendis script emotionally brought to mind the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run. It’s an assembling-the-team-for-a-new-era issue, a good mix of classic and “new” members, and the art is mostly grand. Steve might look a little too young, and Immortus might look a little too much like Stephen Strange, but I loved the shots in the rain, and Romita Jr.’s art has some terrific depth in the group shots that lend a vast sense of place. The art is probably best defined as “iconic.” When I envision an ideal Avengers book, the look and feel of Romita Jr.’s art is what I see in my mind’s eye. How and why Steve sets up the new Avengers’ teams is mentioned, but not explained very clearly. And I’m not sure how Thor wasn’t aware that Bucky was Cap, especially when they just spent like three issues together reviving Tony over in Iron Man, but that aside, the dialogue is effective at introducing the team, coming across crisp and efficient, without exposition. The book is rife with classic Avengers villainy, with a proposition that has lasting implications. The "Oral History of The Avengers" is a text back up feature that is an interesting experiment, having the feel of a VH1 Behind The Music Special or Jonathan Hickman’s early Image Comics work, but continuing it in another book is distasteful. Overall, the book seems poised to accomplish what it set out to do – a return to greatness with the potential to become a definitive run. Grade A-.

Invincible Iron Man #26 (Marvel): I remember thinking about the grand parity with which Matt Fraction was able to connect the first issue of this series with both the first Iron Man movie and Warren Ellis’ Extremis run . It seems to be happening all over here, someone walking in from Iron Man 2 could easily recognize the Hammer rivals fueled by a weapons race for supremacy, with some background Avengers notes to boot. The whole tone of Stark Resilient reminds me a bit of Spartan’s direction for the Halo Corporation in Joe Casey’s Wildcats run, wherein a real world “superhero” would likely be the guy that would end our dependence on fossil fuel. There are many fun threads here, Tony still coming to terms with his memory loss and attempting to reset his life, the introduction of Spymaster as a foil, and small foreshadowing intrigue like Captain America knowing what the password is going to be for the mayday switch. It’s almost like Superman giving Batman a chunk of kryptonite just in case, as a fail safe device. I still maintain that this is the best book Marvel is currently publishing, and certainly a contender for best mainstream superhero book overall, with Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca delivering 26 issues now, themselves, the very existence of that fact an odd anomaly in today’s market. If I have any criticism, it’s that this issue feels a little talky and repetitive, and after a long previous arc, perhaps a little more snap coming out of the gate would have been apropos. Grade A-.

Coming This Week: "My Drop Top's In The Parking Lot"

Vertigo is doing it right this week, releasing two sure fire hits with Northlanders #28 (DC/Vertigo) and Scalped #38 (DC/Vertigo). Brian Wood delivers the final issue of The Plague Widow arc, while Jason Aaron brings the Vietnam flashback issue, which promises insight considering his first breakout book. Both still priced at only $2.99, I might add. Also out from the Distinguished Competition is Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #2 (DC), which is kinda’ cool considering I hadn’t remembered this was going to be a bi-weekly affair. This one is another 40 pager for $3.99, with sometimes Grant Morrison collaborator, Frazer Irving on art. If nothing else, it will look terrific. The Wednesday Comics HC (DC) also makes its way to the shelves, clocking in at $49.99. I know it’s an oversized hardcover and all, but I swear I remember this being originally advertised at the $39.99 price point. It seems like a big mental jump for me. $39.99? Well shoot, it’s only two 20’s, those things are practically disposable once they get spit outta’ the ATM. But, $49.99? Dang, that’s half a Benjamin already! That just sounds expensive. This might be the type of thing I wait to find at the con for 30% off or something. Or, I guess I can still hold out hope that *just* the Paul Pope strip will be collected all by itself, since that’s all I’m really interested in owning anyway. I mean, sure, the Ryan Sook and Kyle Baker Kamandi and Hawkman are nice respectively, but not essential by any means.

Secret Avengers #1 (Marvel) marks the second of the “main” Avengers relaunch titles, this one by Ed Brubaker and Mike Deodato. This will sound like blasphemy, but I’ve never been a huge Brubaker fan, and Deodato has his good and bad days, but I really enjoyed the first of the relaunch titles, so if that’s any sort of a line-wide quality indicator, heck, I’ll try the first issue at least. Dazzler #1 (Marvel) is also out from Jim McCann and Kalman Andrasofszky, and all I have to say is: Really? Why? I'm excited to see X-Men Origins: Emma Frost #1 (Marvel) finally out. This one-shot is by Valerie D'Orazio and Karl Moline. I read on Val's blog that she knows certain parts are going to be controversial, so that should be entertaining. I really enjoyed her Punisher MAX: Butterfly one-shot, which should go down as one of the highlights of the year, but I sincerely hope that if I buy it, and if I give it a positive review, I don't get visited by the Jersey Troll again. While that was certainly good for hits, I'm just not in the mood to match wits with an aggressive buffoon. I see that Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1: MEGACON EDITION (Avatar Press) is also out. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m sorta’ weary of Avatar putting out, literally, seven different cover variants and con editions of a book that’s already come out last February, but they can’t seem to ship the second issue of a four issue mini-series, despite its original solicit date of March 2010. Boo! If you’re a Yoshihiro Tatsumi fan and somehow managed to miss it the first time around, there’s a new printing of the Good-Bye HC (Fantagraphics) out this week also. That’s good stuff, for only $24.95. The last thing that caught my eye was the Best American Comics Criticism SC (Fantagraphics). It’s only $19.99 for 360 pages. This thing seems to attempt a pretty wide swath of mainstreamy press, but the only real draw for me was seeing Doug Wolk as one of the contributors. Other than that, man, this sure turned into a little cottage industry since the Dave Eggers days, just slap a “Best Of” on a collection of something, intrinsically appealing to most consumers as “American,” and you’re off to a bestseller list.


5.19.10 Reviews (Part 1)

DV8: Gods & Monsters #2 (DC/Wildstorm): Brian Wood and Rebekah Isaacs' re-visitation of this property hums with a quirky and offbeat sensibility that’s full of smart wordsmithing. If you really study the subtle distinctions over Gem’s statement about being perceived as a god, or the description of Bliss’ power effect as “riding that wave of pleasure,” it’s clear that Wood is having fun with the language and the semantics of it all. Even from the first issue until now, it seems that Isaacs prowess as a sequential artist has grown too. Her female figures are really attractive, while still being natural looking. Some of the males are a tad bit stiff, like the awkward proportions of the width of Frostbite’s wrist, but that’s a nitpick. Overall, she employs a good variety of shots, varying the camera placement to reveal medium shots, small inset panels, and aerial establishing shots that all flow together really nicely. The night time sequence with Nikki is a favorite. It evokes a mood that’s obviously been intelligently planned and command’s attention. Issacs’ art is capable of achieving a soft line when it needs to, and alternately a hard edge when that’s what’s called for. It doesn’t matter if it’s a silhouetted love scene or any of the brief bouts of violence found in the book, they all reverberate with the correct tone, aided by the gorgeous colors of Carrie Strachan. Wood really captures distinct voices for Nikki, Leon, and Gem. If you tried to read their lines aloud without the actual visuals for reference, I think it’d be easy to ascertain who’s who. There’s a panel or two of tease for the debrief occurring on The Carrier, and I really want to see more of that! Down on the surface, it’s interesting to see the characters try to solve the mystery right along with us. They attempt to match powers to motives and sync that up to a certain tribe for a certain purpose, in an entertaining trail of logic. It’s an intellectual challenge not often associated with these particular characters, at least in their earlier incarnations. Wood puts a clever turn on his hallmark theme of identity, postulating that if superpowers would be interpreted as godlike by primitive eyes, then the terms become interchangeable in the right context. This book really seems to be about exploring how that idea would play out. I still don’t quite feel like I have all of the pieces here, but it’s due to Wood’s absolute restraint with any sort of exposition. There are very subtle clues along the way, like the sophisticated translation devices suggesting someone higher up is pulling the strings. In spite of the frustration at being out of control as a reader and having to wait for the next installment for further explanation, it’s a fun ride. DV8 operates with an intellectual swagger and visual appeal that’s instantly compelling. Grade A.

DC Universe: Legacies #1 (DC): This issue is really slow to get going, sluggishly steeped in period parlance which gets a little thick at times, stuff like “Say, I ain’t payin’ youse punks t’ stand around jawin’!” A little of that goes a long way, but unfortunately there is tons of it offered while establishing the time period, the rise of street level crime, and the response from the so-called Mystery Men of the era. If the scripting isn’t stellar, it’s balanced nicely by the artistic effort. There’s no denying that Andy Kubert’s pencils are terrific, with an interesting collaboration here as his father Joe Kubert provides the syrupy inks. The results are great; shots like the newspaper clippings pinned to the wall would come off as generic shots by lesser artists, but rendered by this duo they make you slow down and take all the headlines in and want to know more about the mysterious happenings afoot. The main feature presents a painfully straightforward moral lesson about youth on the periphery of crime making life choices. It’s overly simplistic, but again, has gorgeous art accompanying it, which makes it seem like more than the sum of its parts. The backup story, also written by Len Wein, is penciled by J.G. Jones, and the results seem to feel the same. It’s a lackluster story, accompanied by really good art. “Scoop” Scanlon is in high exposition mode, but the luscious art by J.G. Jones distracts you away from the plodding plotline. Jones’ covers don’t do much for me in general, but I really enjoy his sequential work. Overall, this project plays randomly episodic. It’s tough to see some sort of theme emerging that connects the disparate elements presented. I’m not seeing how selected parts like these are ever going to congeal and form an abbreviated history of the DCU. I *think* the lack of superheroics is an attempt to pull a “Marvels” and show the emergence of the powers from the POV of the everyman, but hey, that’s obviously been done before, and this rendition is a total snoozer. Perhaps it’s too soon to tell, but if the same creative team was on the whole project, I’d probably drop out now, but I might hold out another issue or two for some of the other artists coming down the line, like JH Williams III and Dave Gibbons. Grade B.


Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston Edited by Dave Kender, Dan Mazur, and Shelli Paroline

Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston (Boston Comics Roundtable):
  • The Granary by Erik Heumiller focuses on the infamous Granary Burial Grounds near Boston Common that houses Paul Revere and other historical notables. It’s an intriguing history lesson that gives the feel of being on an actual guided walking tour. The thin expressive lines are a fun way to open the book and provide an ethereal slant in tone with the story. Grade A.

  • New England’s “Dark Day” by Bob Flynn has a very cartoony style that, for me, sucks the gravitas out of an otherwise horrific and shocking incident. I also think the strip is much too short to really get going and achieve any otherworldly intrigue. Grade C.

  • Birth of a Nation by Matt Aucoin made me chuckle with its trademark New England accent, using words like “lobsta” quite effectively. It’s done in more of a caricature style, but provides an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the compromise it takes to build a new country. Grade B.

  • Cowpaths of Waltham by Dave Unger and Aya Rothwell possesses some really clever and unique art. The characters’ actions seem to be superimposed on maps within the panel walls. These facts are so unbelievable that they can’t be fabricated. This was very entertaining. Grade A.

  • Mrs. Henderson’s First Grade Class Presents Shay’s Rebellion by Will Clark has a relatively simplistic art style, but it’s not without its charm. It’s interesting to see the way kids would interpret centuries old characters and their actions. Grade B.

  • Boston’s 1st Duel by Erik Heumiller presents a completely different artistic style than his earlier entry. It’s a more refined and realistic style with heavier inks that allow a more full figured aesthetic, while still being clean and effervescent. It reminded me of Carla Speed McNeil, pulling us right into this small scale mystery as it unfolds. Grade A.

  • Pope’s Night by Baldemar Byars didn’t work very well for me, with rudimentary art, lettering from a shaky hand, and characters shouting non-sequitur lines with the occasional typo, such as “mechanicks.” Grade C.

  • Black Sam by Richard Jenkins showed off a solid, grounded, representational art style, reminding me of the Oni Press book Northwest Passage, as it whisks us off on a high spirited adventure. Grade A.

  • A Book And Its Cover by Jesse Lonergan tells a great story about a notorious book bound in human skin at the Boston Athenaeum. It’s about an old highway robber, with an angular art style high in detail. For only a $230 membership fee, you too can view the actual book! Grade A.

  • Heywood’s Brook by Franklin Einspruch highlights a Thoreau hangout with beautiful prose. The abstract washes aren’t really traditional sequential comic panels that tell a story, they’re more used to achieve mood, but I still enjoyed it. Grade B.

  • The Lost Pirate Treasure of “Dungeon Rock” by Ron Lebrasseur is a fun tale with compact and cartoony art that looked to my eye to be a mix of The Simpsons and LEGO people. Grade B.

  • The Boston Slave Riot and the Trial of Anthony Burns by Dan Mazur and Brad Derocher employs a very intricate overlaid collage style. The art looks like a crackling mosaic of leaded glass windows, as a fugitive slave is apprehended and 50,000 protesters take to the streets during the Civil War era. I think there might be a small mix-up with the artist’s name, listed as “Doug” on the story page, but “Brad” in the table of contents. Still one of the better pieces in the book. Grade A.

  • The Last Act by Susan Chasen and Dan Mazur was one of my favorite pieces in the anthology. Mazur’s art has a depth and detail to it, achieved by grayscale washes and inky lines. I was really impressed by the sense of texture he was able to achieve in a 2D space. His control of shadow and presentation of richly rendered characters lends an Eddie Campbell vibe to the endeavor, as we’re taken inside the mind of John Wilkes Booth and his enigmatic political views and love life. Grade A.

  • Littery Men by Matt Boehm and Ellen Crenshaw uses a compact dynamic style to tell a story of Mark Twain and a speaking engagement gone awry. It’s full of fun facial expressions and detailed backgrounds, but unfortunately the text is a little too dense to allow the story to breathe. Grade B.

  • Old Ironsides by Braden Lamb uses a very attractive sketchy style to accompany the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem about the famous warship, the USS Constitution. Grade B.

  • Moxie by B.K. Smith does a fantastic job showcasing the so-called snake oil salesman of the era, and focuses on the titular soft drink from Lowell, Mass. It’s a fun artistic style, with lots happening in the panels. The period parlance is equally engaging and kooky, with lines like “Egad! The vigor!” Grade A.

  • The Amazing True Rags-To-Riches-To-Rags-Again Story of Charles Ponzi by Dan Mazur was another fantastic entry. We see how the Italian immigrant’s quest for the American Dream becomes synonymous with corporate greed and unethical behavior. The art’s got all of Mazur’s strengths, rich detail, panel to panel storytelling chops, creative use of varied panel design, a penchant for cross-hatching, and humor based in irony and contradiction. I loved the shot of the angels singing above Ponzi’s head, proof that Mazur is a very gifted artist, able to relay so much complex meaning purely visually. Grade A.

  • Blood by Matthew Reidsma uses a simple but effective style to relay the Sacco & Vanzetti story. It’s an interesting behind-the-scenes anecdote about the unbreakable human spirit. Grade A.

  • The Old Howard by Cathy Leamy combines intricate art and lively text about the changing face of modern Boston, where the general public would rather see a performer juggle three Yorick skulls than actually perform Hamlet. Grade A.

  • The Great Boston Molasses Flood by Jaime Garmendia and Dirk Tiede is such an odd story that it can only be done in a comic, here with the perfect balance of realism and unbelievable action in the art. It’s the story of an exploding storage tank that killed children and literally swept whole buildings toward the sea. Grade A.

  • Harry “Bucky” Lew: Original Baller by Joel Christian Gill uses an odd disproportionate art style that is detailed but cramped, yet still fun to look at. There’s some manga influence here, as the story of the first black basketball player is recounted. The text was much too small and I thought there was a little too much conjecture, tipping the scale more toward fiction than fact. Grade B.

  • A Method for Reaching Extreme Altitudes by Carl Tsui uses a clean, almost sterile art style, with fascinating results. I was definitely engaged by this story about Dr. Robert Goddard’s pioneering experiments that became the basis for modern rocket science and led to a 49 year old newspaper retraction. Grade A.

  • In da’ Chowda’: A Rough Surf History of Boston by Kevin Kilgore covers the topic from the Revolutionary War era to now, addressing all of the significant people and highlights, blending a good level of humor and history. The art is full of fun and lots of detail, particularly the panels with smaller scale figures. Grade A

  • Send it to Zoom! by Tim Fish possesses a cartoony manga bent, more of a slice-of life-teen tale, like the work of Chynna Clugston-Major. At one page, it feels much too short, with some indecipherable meaning behind the text. Grade C.

  • James Brown: Savior of Boston by Steve Polakiewicz and David Fernandez focuses on period racial tension, employing very simple figures, but a dead accurate rendition of James Brown. By the end, it works more as a teaser for another full length story. Grade B.

  • American Confusion by Joshua Santa Cruz covers unconstitutional segregation in the city, with somewhat stiff art that managed to capture the energy and instability of the time period, with an iconic image of the American flag being used as a weapon during a protest incident. Grade B.

  • William Moulton Marston by Raul Gonzalez addresses gender politics in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fashion, along with stereotypes in early comics that are still being carried out today. It’s nice to see the Wonder Woman creator covered in a bit more detail, wishing to create an archetype with all the strength of Superman, coupled with the natural allure of a beautiful woman. There’s a powerful quote about girls not even wanting to be girls if society portrays them as weak and submissive – that beautiful full page alone was nearly worth the price of admission. Grade A.

  • A Day in the Life of Al DeSalvo by Lindsay Moore and Roho introduces a Boston Strangler victim, achieving a creepy tone, with a refined line that you’d expect to find in the MOME anthology, ready for life in prime time, beyond the world of mini-comics. Grade A.

  • The Great Sordid History of Boston Punk Rock! by Eric Boeker provides a nice overview of the topic. I liked the subject matter immensely, but the art was kind of cartoony and distracted from the rich wicked cool music tradition of influential acts like The Modern Lovers, Dinosaur Jr., or The Pixies. The script was first rate, if a bit text heavy, with overlapping punk, alternative, and garage rock genres, with the charm of lines like “Again with the bastardized Longfellow?” Grade A.

  • Roxanne by Jen Vaughn is a piece where the backgrounds are more interesting than the figures in the foreground, but overall is a nice ode to an influential radio station that The Police credit much of their early success to. Grade B.

  • The Gahdner Heist by Line-O really delivers the New England accent in full force, enjoyable repartee like “Drop the chahges for the Gahdner aht” swirl around the real heist of $500 Million in art in 1990. The author looks into the heist by faux-interviewing other works of art that were at the scene of the crime. The piece has very tight and compact art that kind of pushes your eye away from the page, but it’s still a clever idea and engaging subject matter. Grade B.

  • Now by The MCC uses random factoids that are strung together like early Jonathan Hickman work at Image Comics. Not much “there” there. Grade C.

  • Lucky Seven by David Marshall covers Boston Celtic Dee Brown’s case of mistaken identity, highlighting some poignant embedded prejudice in society, with a bank robbery suspect that’s got very little in common physically with Brown, other than generally being of African-American descent. Grade A.

  • Wanted by Lawrence Gillette has a very unique art style that relies on iconic imagery tell much of the story about a mobster who disappeared and remains on the FBI’s Most Wanted list. Grade A.

  • The Berdovsky Kids by Troy Minkowsky and Samuel Ferri operates with an affable art style with unique perspective shots, about the advertising savvy of youngsters being mistaken for terrorism, a bit of a non-sequitur. Grade B.

  • Factory Town by David Kender and Ron Lebrasseur attempts to use a panel flow that is totally counterintuitive, panels starting in the lower left corner of each page, but the actual art is attractive, and the strip succeeds in spite of itself. It’s full of meaty ideas and astounding facts about the interesting history of Harvard and the Cambridge area, largely influential in government, commerce, art, and culture. Grade A.

While I enjoyed the thematic connections of this anthology, overall it’s an extremely art-centric book, even going so far as to credit the artists before the writers in the table of contents. This isn’t something usually seen, but it does live up to its self-proclaimed premise of showcasing up and coming artists in the greater Boston area. For those not in the know, the Boston Comics Roundtable is a loose conglomeration of artists (and writers!) that publish an anthology twice per year. This book was from 2009 and presents a very strong diversity of style. It covers a plethora of subject matter, from colonials, to pirates, to slaves, assassins, and poets. At 140 pages for only $12, it’s packed with material and really could function as a marketing brochure, being housed at museums, hotels, and tourist information centers. In terms of comic books, it manages to avoid the most common pitfalls of anthology style books; it not only achieves a high level of quality, but is miraculously able to sustain it throughout the project for the most part. I say this as someone who isn’t really a fan of anthologies simply because I’ve been habitually disappointed by their inherent inconsistency, but this is probably one of the best anthology books I’ve ever read. With grades clocking in as mostly A’s, a few B’s, and nothing lower than an isolated C or two, this is largely a win. Grade A-.


Coming This Week: "Don't Go Away Mad, Just Go Away"

I thought it might be fun this week to sort what’s on the horizon by publisher. First up, we have Art of Blade of The Immortal HC (Dark Horse). I’m a bit of an on-again-off-again fan of the Hiroaki Samura epic, but these “Art of” books from Dark Horse have been stellar. From Hellboy to the Usagi Yojimbo volume, they’re really beautiful coffee table books. For only $29.99, this will be tempting. Also out from Cheval Noir this week is End League TPB: Volume 2: Weathered Statues (Dark Horse). Shoot, I forgot all about this book. I bought the first couple of issues penned by Rick Remender, but when they started changing artists part way through and then there were multiple month delays between issues, I gave up. I’m not going to pay $16.99, but if I ever find it for 50% off, it might make decent reading. The book always seemed to have a strong core premise, but the execution was all over the map.

DC is going to end up with a large portion of my spend this week. DC Universe Legacies #1 (DC) is the first in a ten issue series from writer Len Wein that supposedly tells the history of the DC Universe over the course of its run. That doesn’t sound very enticing on the surface, but Len Wein was responsibe for many of the DC books I enjoyed as a kid, and when you factor in Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, and J.G. Jones on this issue, it’s gets better. When I realized it was $3.99 for 40 pages and that JH Williams III and Dave Gibbons would be on forthcoming issues, suddenly I was very interested, and this could certainly be worth a look. Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC) could be an interesting chance at getting a foothold on this property, aided in no small part by Paul Levitz. Zatanna #1 (DC) also hits the street this week, and while the covers from Stephane Roux and Karl Story look fantastic, how long before this Paul Dini penned periodical gets cancelled? Zatanna seems to be one of those characters that everyone likes, yet is incapable of sustaining her own series. Brian Wood and Rebekah Issacs deliver DV8: Gods & Monsters #2 (DC/Wildstorm). Random anecdote, but I was chatting with the proprietor of an LCS last week about Brian Wood projects and he felt this title was inaccessible and that if you’re seeing characters for the first time, you need some info. I informed him that it had been a long time, but certainly wasn’t the first time, with Warren Ellis and Humberto Ramos delivering this Gen13 spin-off in the early/mid-90’s. I was met only by a blank stare. Since that’s neither here nor there, let’s move on to Ex Machina #49 (DC/Wildstorm), which means there’s only one more issue to go, and as far as my buying habits are concerned serves only as a footnote to Ex Machina: Deluxe Edition HC: Volume 3 (DC/Wildstorm). One of the best modern series around, though I gave up on single issues around #30 or so, realizing that it would all end at #50 and it reads so much better collected. Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy continue their quirky little tale, part self-aware, genre-blending fantasy adventure, part examination of psychological hallucination vis-a-vis insulin withdrawal, with Joe The Barbarian #5 (DC/Vertigo). Aside from all those “Grade A” assessments, I don’t often pimp specific books, but if there’s anyone out there who still hasn’t tried Scalped by Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera, please please please check out Scalped #1 (DC/Vertigo) for only $1 this week. I’ll be doing my part by purchasing Scalped TPB: Volume 6: The Gnawing (DC/Vertigo), which I think I read has an introductory essay by Matt Fraction.

Moving on to Marvel, here’s what the Diamond Comics New Releases List looked like around the Avengers area;

AGE OF HEROES #1 (OF 4) HA $3.99
ATLAS #1 HA $3.99
AVENGERS #1 HA $3.99

Now, here’s me in my LCS;

“Umm. Yeah. Hi. Umm. I’d like to buy a book called, uhh, I think it's... Avengers #1, by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita, Jr. Is that, umm, can I do that?”

I mean, I know that resetting Avengers to a post-Dark Reign-Age of Heroes-Heroic Age era is a priority and I’m sure a bunch of new #1’s with variant covers or whatever seems like the capitalist way, but sheesh, we’re not even on to New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Avengers Academy, and all that yet, and I’m already confused. There’s just nothing like devaluing your brand by saturating the market with tangentially related properties. I guess I'll try Avengers #1 (Marvel).

Anyway, on top of that cluster, we have Rescue #1 (Marvel) which could be an interesting one-shot about the Pepper Potts arc reactor suit, by Matt Fraction’s better half, Kelly Sue DeConnick. I haven’t read all of these recent Marvel one-shots, but the ones I have read have been great. Also up from Matt Fraction himself is the best book Marvel is currently publishing, Invincible Iron Man #26 (Marvel). Last up is Girl Comics #2 (Marvel). I remember being largely underwhelmed by this anthology, and then basically forgetting about it. The delay between issues didn’t help matters.

Sadly, there really isn't anything on the indie front this week that looked interesting, unless I missed something due to glossing over from the onset of "Marvel Malaise."


5.12.10 Reviews (Part 2)

Daytripper #6 (DC/Vertigo): It’s no undiscovered secret that Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba are terrific artists, but what really struck me this time was the degree of versatility in their artistry. Whether it’s a dank truck stop illuminated by the dim glow of exterior parking lot lights, or the vibrant airy crisp refreshing limitless feel of an airport on the very next page, one begins to comprehend their phenomenal range as visual storytellers. Of course, the entire effort is invigorated enthusiastically by colorist Dave Stewart, really turning in the work of his career here. He’s got an immaculate control of color hue, understanding intuitively how to pair color tone to story theme. His colors are earthy and warm when they’re needed to reflect the somber mood of the story, and alternately pop with striations of bright color when that sharp clang of visual emotion is necessary for the script. Moon and Ba play with the collective consciousness’ post-9/11 paranoia, and underscore the overlooked importance that obituaries play in the process of psychological closure. It’s smart of them to personalize the tragedy for Bras by introducing the possible impact to his friend Jorge. That personal connection tempers his writing with so much more humanity, even for people he doesn’t know. This near death experience functions as a wake up call to make every day count, and that idea serves as a primer for the entire series. It’s almost as if Moon, Ba, and Stewart are reminding us with this powerful treatise on the old idiom, that no matter what direction your life takes, it’s about the journey and not the destination. You have to appreciate the journey of your life, the moments along the way, because in the end, everyone’s final destination is all too similar – you die. It’s serendipitous to me that Karen Berger’s essay about the passing of industry veteran Dick Giordano bolsters this notion of living life in the moment. While Giordano’s professional innovations are impressive and certainly noteworthy to the industry community, Berger remembers the character of the man and what he meant to her personally more than any would-be bullet point on his resume. In order for life to be about a person’s fullest potential, it must center on the warm personal relationships that linger on in memory, not the cold material accomplishments that fade with time. Grade A.

DMZ #53 (DC/Vertigo): Part 3 of the M.I.A. arc is a quick read, but it certainly furthers the spiraling emotional journey of series protagonist Matty Roth. As more info is leaked out from Radio Free DMZ regarding the true nature of the recent nuclear detonation and those responsible, familial concerns are introduced, and Riccardo Burchielli’s figure design for Rose Delgado is really sleek and impressive. Brian Wood positions Matty here in a reflective state around who he’s been in the DMZ to various people, to handlers, to himself, to factions of the government, and to Parco, possibly realizing his true destiny for the first time. It’s not simply to counter the attempted portrayal of Parco Delgado as a terrorist, but to bear witness to the real story of the DMZ in the years he’s become an inhabitant. I really enjoyed the sort of religious overtones that seemed to seep in as Matty considers himself an official watcher and realizes he’s in a position to write a holistic account that’s sort of the “DMZ Gospel According to Matthew Roth.” Grade A-.

5.12.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 (DC): For me, artist Chris Sprouse and long time inker Karl Story are the real draw here. They deliver an outstanding performance that seems to be informed by early Joe Kubert work. The overall aesthetic is strong and hard-edged, yet still full of vibrant emotion. The dialogue is fueled by interesting speech patterns; the story is told from the perspective of prehistoric men, so Bruce’s “foreign” speech is almost indecipherable to them. Simultaneously, there’s just enough for the audience to parse; it’s done in a very clever fashion, so that a slurred statement like “thayawlmannsted” is able to be deconstructed phonetically to arrive at “the ol’ man’s dead.” There are interesting ideas at play, the tale firmly entrenched in Bronze Age DC properties, the emergence of a prehistoric “Robin” archetype, Justice Leaguers tracking Bruce through time with ominous overtones, and an interesting notion of Bruce’s rebirth in the DCU rippling through time. Simply put, the art is fantastic, but I’m not sure if I love the Grant Morrison story. I do really appreciate that it’s very different, making it unique and interesting enough to come back for more. I thought it was a nice package holistically, with a Tom Strong preview, and even an ad for the impending oversized hardcover version of Wednesday Comics. Grade B+.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis (Marvel): I really didn’t want to buy this Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews book just on principle, since it’s been 5 months since the regular Astonishing X-Men book stalled mid-arc, but I just needed something to read on a plane flight home from a business trip. The issue starts in a ludicrous fashion, with a goofy ass cover including Emma’s awkward contorted pose, the lumpy contour of her rump, Wolverine’s comical hair, Storm’s under-boobs, and overall unnatural poses that appear slammed together in mismatched fashion like collaged People Magazine clippings that a high schooler would do of Edward and Bella. The interior art ranges from pleasant enough (with strong background environments), to very off-putting (as the weird anatomy continues). There are sideways pointing boobs, impossibly thin waists, frail wrists, Emma’s clothes changing back and forth, and weird dialogue during the delivery scene about re-used 20 year old condoms. It’s gross and disturbing, not in an entertaining way. It’s just creepy. Large portions of the dialogue are in high exposition mode, mostly whenever T’Challa or Scott are talking. The story revolves around something about possible mutant babies being born in Africa, but it’s really not very good. There is mismatched dialogue, and a really weird panel composition on the double page spread. There’s a close up of landing gear, the Blackbird in flight, and the team walking “dramatically” toward the reader, all merged into one impossible image. The African political views are a little too transparent, ringing with a grandstanding authorial voice instead of coming organically from the characters or the story. If you really want to learn about the history of modern strife in various African countries, you’d be better off reading The Unknown Soldier over at Vertigo. It’s done much better, more responsibly, and it isn’t masquerading as an X-Men book. This issue is basically: T’Challa talks to Storm, the X-Men bicker and then fly to Africa, the end. That said, why would I be interested in script pages in the back of such a poorly crafted issue? This might be the lowest grade I’ve ever given a Warren Ellis book. Grade C-.


Coming This Week: "I Break White Ponies For Breakfast"

There are a mere two books I can say I’ll definitely be purchasing this week. Those are Daytripper #6 (DC/Vertigo) and DMZ #53 (DC/Vertigo), which is part 3 of the M.I.A. arc. Aside from those two gems, there are bunch of hmm-I-should-take-a-look-at-that type entries. Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1 (DC) doesn’t sound like the type of book I’d normally buy, but with additional story content for the $3.99 price tag, Grant Morrison, and especially Chris Sprouse (really, this guy should be working more), it starts to get tempting. Birds of Prey #1 (DC) reunites Gail Simone and Ed Benes, with a cast of fun characters, but I’m not sure I’m ready to commit unless this is really astounding. Justice League: Generation Lost #1 (DC) has all the makings of fun nostalgia porn, Keith Giffen handling Booster Gold, Captain Atom, Fire, and Ice as they look into the attempts on several old JLI comrades, but Judd Winick’s involvement doesn’t bode well, I don’t feel like Michael Keaton being my Booster Gold, and it seems less than surprising that the “secret” new villain will probably be a returned-from-the-dead Maxwell Lord. I think it’s disgusting that The House of Ideas is offering Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1 (Marvel) from Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews when Ellis still hasn’t finished his regular Astonishing X-Men run, which stalled mid-arc with #33 back in December if I recall correctly. It’s sort of reminiscent of the clusterfuck they pulled during Ellis’ first arc on the title, where they took a multi-month stall to flop out that Ghost Box mini-series mid-arc. It’s kind of insulting to expect your audience to support a mini-series when the company/creative team can’t get their act together on the main title that the mini supposedly supports. Lastly, I’ll take a spin through Daredevil: Cage Match #1 (Marvel), which is a one-shot from Antony Johnston and Sean Chen. Fans of 13 Minutes know that we’re big Johnston fans around these parts, and it’s exciting to see him becoming a rising star in the Marvel U, with subversive work on the main Daredevil title, this one-shot, and the upcoming Shadowland mini-series.


5.05.10 Reviews (Part 2)

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #1 (Archaia): Luc Jacamon and Matz bring us another tale about the eponymous Killer returning to the only occupation he knows after a period of inactivity. The book hits all the right thematic notes, monotony leading to boredom, and boredom leading to depression. This time out, he’s got more to lose personally, which adds a heightened sense of tension as he comes out of pseudo-retirement. The jobs are suddenly more brazen, closer to home, and the Venezuelan oil connections provide an offbeat mystery that begins to unfold. Even moreso than the first volume in my recollection, the book is full of thought provoking ideas worthy of further contemplation, inducing that brand of self-reflection that qualifies it as "art" in my subjective definition. There’s an interesting page of digression which reads as a primer on the inherent hypocrisy of organized religion. The Killer himself, and by extension – the audience, attempts to find his place in the world, to navigate his existence and how he interacts with the world around him. Surprisingly, he finds himself with an ethical objection that runs contrary to his chosen profession. There’s smart placement of other literary references, like the Gabriel Garcia Marquez selection, which is a particularly interesting choice for anyone who’s read that specific Marquez classic. Amid the pleasant variety of earth tones and stunning use of color and shadow, there are disturbing philosophies about culture, about people who “have to hang on to their shitty lives because they know it could all get shittier any moment.” Like it’s phenomenal precursor, Modus Vivendi continues the rich tradition of being a fascinating character study, a deep look inside the complex psyche, and the conundrum of moral flexibility. Grade A.

Echo #21 (Abstract Studio): I’m having a really hard time with this book, because I’m running out of ways to explain how great it is. Maybe I’ll just start limiting my text to 140 characters, Twitter-style, in an effort to challenge myself or something. Everything about it just hums with perfection. Look at the level of detail on the outdoor landscape in the opening sequence. The sheer amount of attention and effort that went into what would otherwise be a bunch of throwaway panels for a lesser artist becomes staggeringly beautiful in the hands of Terry Moore. He doesn’t believe in throwaway panels or superfluous lines of dialogue. Every pencil line or word choice has a purpose, like the squinty eyes on Dillon’s father; they relay a precise emotion that lets you know instantly what their past relationship has been like, without the aid of any dialogue. That level of masterful control comes across in the penciling, in the dialogue, in the story and character development, it’s their in every scene, between Dillon and his dad, Will and Annie’s former coworkers, and Hong and Ivy discussing alloy 618. It’ll sound like marketing hyperbole, but it’s fact even for a chapter which feels like “all middle,” this book is perfectly executed. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #524 (Marvel): So, Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson are first to cover the fallout from the last issue of this multi-series crossover. I didn’t read the actual previous installment since it’s in a title I no longer buy, but I hear that Kurt Wagner, Nightcrawler, is dead. He gave his life to save Hope and ensure she arrived at the Utopia compound. While I heard that was handled in a lame, needless, and illogical fashion, I did find some things to like here as his death gets addressed. I enjoyed the awkward charm with which Nathan introduced hope to Scott – as his father. I always like seeing Scott’s more contemporary portrayal as less of a whiny whelp, and more of an incident commander handling a crisis he’s been trained for his entire life. There’s trouble afoot as Donald Pierce is MIA and has managed to fool Danger, while Utopia is under silent siege. I liked the tension between Hank and Scott, and even seeing Wolverine in a rare vulnerable and emotionally affected state. Finally we get a tight script, one that has everything you’d really want in it to achieve the gravitas necessary to avoid Kurt’s death being cheap and in vain. But, unfortunately, it’s a shame, because the art isn’t up to the task at hand. Sure, you can’t tell who some of the generic characters are in the background, but most importantly the pencils don’t fit the same serious tone. There’s no edge to the art, it’s alternately too soft, too cartoony, too simplistic, too awkward and stiff, or too melodramatic. It’s always slightly off, just enough to distract you from the emotional journey of the writing and make you consider the technical failures of the panel on the page instead. One of the more interesting macro-observations is that Fraction lays on the Jewish analogy pretty hard here, complete with biblical passages at Kurt’s funeral that reference rising armies, Hope, and Israel. If the remaining mutants in the world are the Jews, and Utopia is Israel, I guess that makes the X-Men like the IDF, or maybe the Mossad. In spite of a few technical flaws, that’s a bold storytelling choice and it’ll be interesting to watch how it plays out. Grade B.


5.05.10 Reviews (Part 1)

Demo #4 (DC/Vertigo): “Waterbreather,” Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s latest, superficially reads like a disturbing primer on childhood torment. However, it’s more like the first volume of Demo than perhaps any of the other issues in the second volume to date, in that it focuses on the weird manifestation of latent adolescent powers under duress. It’s almost like Wood’s indie mutant riff, probably informed by residual lines of thought from his time on Generation X. I think if you put this tale in context with his larger body of work, you see the familiar motif of disenfranchised youth trying to find their place in the world. It’s another strong example of the writer’s core competency, shared thematically among the majority of his stories. His characters might be power usurped Vikings, or half Japanese/half Swedish mobsters, or embedded war correspondents, but they all share his fascination with identity. It makes me want to write a book about Brian Wood, the way that Timothy Callahan wrote Grant Morrison: The Early Years. I think I’d call mine Brian Wood: Master of Identity, or Brian Wood: Identity Revealed, yeah that’s better. Heh. Anyway, I found the back matter interesting, particularly the gap between a true full script and plot-style scripting. It really shows the true collaboration between writer and artist here. It’s deceptive to see how easily Cloonan shines; whether it’s the inky water, birds flying through the tree line, stray wisps of hair, or facial expressions, she makes translating words on the page really look effortless. I guess my only real complaint is that the story feels like it ends a bit abruptly. I’ve realized that, at times, Wood’s writing can be a lot like Warren Ellis’, and I mean this as compliment, that it’s not so much about the satisfaction around the story’s ultimate destination, but about the style and subtlety, the glorious points of digression, along the journey. If you’re waiting for the big blockbuster payoff to blow your ears back, you have to consciously adjust your mindset to get maximum appreciation. His work is more cerebral, and in an age of spandex spectacle, that's a welcome shift, even if it does require some additional effort on the part of the audience. Grade A-.

Batman & Robin #12 (DC): I enjoyed the idea of Deathstroke’s involvement revolving around retaliation for his daughter and old grudges since Dick’s time in Bludhaven, Damian showing ever-increasing loyalty to Dick, the duo confronting Talia, the temporal Bat-signal, and Dick’s detective skills leading him to the true identity of Oberon Sexton, probably the one person besides Dick and Alfred who would probably most desperately want Bruce back for a sense of… completion. Clarke’s art is an odd beast though, sometimes emulating the razor sharp detail of Frank Quitely or Gary Frank, sometimes bearing a little too cold and sterile general aesthetic. There are also some moments of awkward character positioning and several rough jump cuts, the most glaring being the transition to the page with the bat-attack and Dick being treated by Alfred. Surprisingly, sometimes Morrison’s dialogue is a little too saccharine and after school special-y as well, “can’t you just love me for who I am?” *Sniff* Still, it’s more fun than not, with the denouement of Damian being labeled an “enemy of the House of Al Ghul.” Is everyone thinking El Penitente is The Riddler, or is that a red herring? Grade B.


The Way It Crumbles by Dan Mazur

The Way It Crumbles (Boston Comics Roundtable): From the very first page, I could tell instantly that I was going to like the new comic from Dan Mazur (danmazur@aol.com). I love the extremely detailed backgrounds, like the opening page establishing shot of a decayed village street. In other panels, it’s a fun Easter Egg hunt, trying to find all of the various fantasy tropes, characters like the scarecrow, death, pan, minotaurs, and centaurs are typically found lurking in the backgrounds, providing a sense that the world he creates extends beyond the panel borders. Mazur’s art has a complex, lived-in look that he achieves by varying the line weight. Sometimes he uses light crosshatching to achieve the desired texture, other times we see thick syrupy inks to provide the right mood. Looking at the way he stages shots and frames panels, it’s easy to see Mazur’s cinematic experience shine through. He also has a natural ear for dialogue that’s probably been aided by script writing. It’s complete with the small pauses, stammers, and stutters which mar real speech patterns and have been hallmarks of guys like David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin for years. It’s the mixture of these realistically flawed speech patterns and smart effective word choices that pulls readers into this tale about a culinary reporter investigating the authentic cuisine of the “magick folke.” Mazur also displays a fluid understanding of how the medium works, relying on many silent panels to tell his story visually, such as the sequence of the drunken elf informant passing out on a table. The tale quickly spins into one of forest elves baking cookies in a hollow tree. Sound familiar? When the commentary about corporate greed winning the battle of culinary creativity is coupled with stoic deadpan humor like “I make a mean patty melt,” it’s a hit. It almost feels like a dark children’s story, proof that Mazur’s job experience in other sectors is a boon to his success in sequential art. This is definitely a creator I’d like to see more from. Grade A.


Coming This Week: "I Didn't Get You Any Chicken"

It seems like a rare week when so many things catch my eye. Oh, I’m not saying I’m actually going to purchase all of these books, but an inordinate amount seemed noteworthy. In order to separate the wheat from the chaff, let’s begin with what I will definitely be buying. First up is Batman & Robin #12 (DC). It’s the last issue with artist Andy Clarke. I was skimming all of my back issues over the weekend and sheesh, even “the good ones” by Frank Quitely appear to have been better in my memory than in person. I think I’ll stick it out for the next Frazer Irving arc and then seriously evaluate my need to continue on with this title. Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan deliver Demo Volume 2 #4 (DC/Vertigo). It gave me a panic-filled feeling when I realized the series is already half over; it seems like it just began. If the first two issues were more cerebral and subdued, the third certainly woke me up and seemed to move with the most overt energy. I’d have bought them all anyway, but seeing the cover and blurb for the sixth issue recently solicited really sold me, since it seemed reminiscent of Volume 1’s last issue – Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi – which became an instant favorite single issue of all time. Uncanny X-Men #524 (Marvel) is also out this week and I finally realized why I keep buying this series, despite having some problems with it. Here’s a funny little secret – I own a run of Uncanny X-Men from #94 (yeah, that one) to #266 (yeah, the first appearance of Gambit) and most of those are CGC graded and “slabbed” at 9.6 or better (except the #94, which is an 8.5). I did that a long time ago when I collected Silver and Bronze Age books pretty hard. Around the time I was putting this run together, a friend of mine mentioned that he has a run that he began collecting as a kid that goes from #200 up until the present, and that he bought those all individually as they came out. At some point, I remember saying to myself, huh, I wonder if I could ever buy 100 issues in a row, new as they came out. I think I started with #500. While I’ve enjoyed-more-than-despised the majority of Matt Fraction’s run so far (the scale does tip in that direction slightly), it’s sort of weird to think that I’m already a quarter of the way there. And when I say “weird,” I mean slightly embarrassing, because I think I’m subconsciously doing it for the wrong reasons. Ugh. Help. Now, The Killer: Modus Vivendi #1 (Archaia) is the type of comic I should be buying. I loved the first series, the Franco-Belgian thriller from Luc Jacamon and Matz, and I hope this six issue series lives up to the quality of the first. Rounding out the definite buys is Terry Moore’s Echo #21 (Abstract Studio), which never ever disappoints. It remains simply one of the best books being published today.

Hellboy In Mexico or Drunken Blur: One-Shot (Dark Horse) reminded me that I haven’t checked in on the Mignola-verse in quite some time and I just thought that title was pretty funny, maybe I’ll check it out. Remember when “event” comics used to be restricted to big summer crossovers? Not the case any longer. With Brightest Day #1 (DC) out this week, it’s another blatant reminder that it’s just one long series of series of series overlapping all year long, one setting up the next, ad infinitum, ad nauseum, ad hoc, err… ad somethin’ not good. Doesn’t it crack you up that word on the street is that Great Ten #7 (DC), solicited as Great Ten #7 (of 10), has been cancelled with #9? When’s the last time a mini-series was officially cancelled mid-stream? Sonic Disruptors? I bought the first couple because I had fond memories of Scott McDaniel’s pencils on Nightwing back in the day, but it didn’t hold my interest. I think it’s cool to see DC really consistently offering $1 issues of some of their hit or ongoing books; Jonah Hex #1 (DC) is next up with that treatment, well timed considering the impending movie. Spider-Man: Fever #2 (Marvel) is the Brendan McCarthy story about Doctor Strange, featuring Spider-Man, but rebranded as a Spider-Man story to assumably, well, you know, sell more. It’s good, but I’m not sure it’s essential enough for me that I pick it up. Jason Aaron and Adam Kubert sure sounds like a can’t lose creative team, but with fondness for neither character, I’ll say “maybe” to Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1 (Marvel) and hope it passes the casual flip test at the LCS.

I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, so I’m curious to peruse the Stuff of Legend TP (Del Rey/Villard); for 128 pages, the $13 price tag might be a steal. I really can’t believe my eyes, but it appears the Lone Ranger: Definitive Edition HC: Volume 01 (Dynamite Entertainment) might finally be coming out. It was advertised as early as October of 2008 and I basically gave up hope. If I recall, it collects the first 11 issues, assumably with some bonus material. It’s a great series and it would be nice to have it in a definitive edition, but the $75 price tag and uncertainty as to whether or not there would ever be a Volume 02 makes me very skeptical, ‘cuz you know, I’m such a format whore. Moving right along, there are basically three reasons I started reading comics as a kid and that it specifically became a hobby. The first was an issue of DC Comics Presents, #58, that my mom bought off of a 7-11 spinner rack. Oh, I can still see that Gil Kane cover now, with Superman, Robin, and Elongated Man. That led to my love of Robin (Dick Grayson) and the consumption of many Batman comics. The second book that pulled me in was Green Lantern. I came in right around the time that Dave Gibbons was doing the art, there was the melodrama of Carol Ferris, the fleshing out of Kilowog, Tomar-Re, Arisia, and the greater Green Lantern Corps mythos, but for the kid in me at that age, it remains one of the strongest single storytelling engines of all time – space cop with a magic wishing ring. The third book that I stumbled across in an old junk shop for just 10 cents an issue(!), and I bought nearly the entire run of, was Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar series. I had never seen intricate long form storytelling done with such planning and grace, from a guy who did the words *and* the pictures. So, it’s kind of a delight to see Dreadstar: The Beginning HC (Dynamite Entertainment), which collects a few odds and ends, but mainly the early story that was first serialized in the old Epic Illustrated magazine.

Free Comic Book Day 2010 Report

I can’t say that this will be much of a report, more like my general impressions, but it’s become tradition around here so I couldn’t resist posting something. The bottom line is that since moving to San Diego, I’ve really been soured on the experience by retailers who don’t seem to understand the point of the day and completely botch its execution. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I’ve ranted at length about it numerous times before, but to me there are two primary tenets to understand about the day. One, the point is to give away free comics. Now, that might seem like a Master Of The Obvious comment to make, but you’d be surprised how retailers don’t seem to grasp that this is an opportunity to get comics into the hands of non-readers with a no-risk proposition. Two, the promise of free comics only gets people to your store, it’s up to you to do something with them once they’ve arrived, namely converting their interest into sales, sustained sales if you can, by growing your customer base.

I went to two retailers that day, along with one of my friends, and my daughter. I think we were in and out of both places in under an hour, because it all just seemed so stupid. At the first store, the free comics were outside, which is okay I guess, but it meant that a lot of people simply rolled up, grabbed their comics while the car was running, and then went about their day, never stepping foot inside the establishment. But then again, you could only take 4 comics per person, on free comic book day, when all the comics are labeled as free, so who would want to go inside to see what other debacle awaited? This is the same retailer who has all of the previous years' free comics up on a spinner rack still for sale for 30 cents or something, and not one of them has ever moved. So, I’m glad to see that there’s some point to limiting the freebies. Way to understand how to move your free inventory, pal. Wouldn’t you be better off having given them all away, freeing up your floor space for actual saleable merchandise, secure in the knowledge that you just “did the right thing” and gave away all of your free comics and exposed the masses to them? You're not supposed to make money on them, jackass. They're meant to be loss leaders to stimulate other profitable sales. Duh. There was some arcane “check out” system being employed where some woman who wasn’t really paying attention was bagging up your free comics and then tying the bag shut, assumably to make sure you didn’t “steal” any more free comics(?) This retailer had some type of sale going on, but it was printed on a small flyer, nearly indecipherable, that was so busy it looked like a computer screen full of pop up ads. I guess the bottom line was that you could get like 10% off any item (gee, thanks for covering the sales tax for me, let me buy you a pack of gum and show you how to chew it) or $5 off an Iron Man trade, or something something about a lamp with Incredible Hulk on it. I guess the guy was trying, but it felt completely weak and not anything substantial in the slightest. The store was so cramped, not from throngs of customers, but from poor layout and design, that it went into complete gridlock anyway. It was not conducive to shopping. It might have smelled too. After 5 minutes, my friend and I took one look at each other and agreed we were done.

The second retailer looked insanely busy. There was a parking lot full of GI JOE toys for sale, people drinking beer, excessively in some cases (awesome for a family friendly day) and violating California’s open container law, news crews rummaging around looking to find what exactly they were supposed to be reporting on, a guy live-blogging… something, and a nifty CGC’d copy of Action Comics #1 on display. So, I give this guy a lot of credit for the sheer effort, trying to draw a bunch of attention and attracting a massive crowd, but it was like nobody knew what to do with themselves once there, and it was just a bunch of blokes standing around uncomfortably trying to figure out what all the hubba bubba was about, and why they were being shown a $24.99 mint-on-card Major Bludd action figure. Nothing was on sale. No comics anyway. The free books were out on a table in the parking lot baking away in the sun. The biggest thing this retailer did right was to say “hey, there’s no limit on free comics, just don’t be a d-bag” about it, and most people self-policed in an admirable way. However, by the time I arrived, there were basically none of the FCBD free comics left, save a couple like Love & Capes, and I think the John Stanley YOW! book (which is an interesting bit of commentary in itself, which are the last free comics left standing, assumably with the least interest, all things being equal). The retailer had made a great attempt to on-the-fly supplement the free table with $1 bin comics, but the content was questionable. I’m sorry, but nobody really wants a copy of Sam Keith’s The Maxx or some dusty old copy of All Star Squadron. Some of the books that came out also were most certainly not kid appropriate, I flipped through a copy of Joe Casey’s WildCats (a good book to be sure), but the first page I stopped on had a choice “motherfucker” right up in it. That was next to the John Stanley book, just for reference.

In all of the stores I’ve ever seen, in all of the year’s that FCBD has existed, I’ve never seen anyone do it better, or even come close, to Lee Hester of Lee’s Comics in Mountain View, CA. Lee gets crazy, there’s a booth out front, he typically has all of the day’s offerings, there is typically no limit, he typically supplements the FCBD freebies with quarter books for free, I’ve seen free donuts, pens, t-shirts, in-store creator signings, 50-75% off trades, $1 bins, quarter bins, 50% off sets, 20% off Silver Age, 10% off new books, toys being blown out for $2, coverage from radio stations broadcasting live, newspaper coverage, friendly staff, a workable process for the day, taking pictures for his web-site, chatting up customers, generally having a ball, etc., etc., etc. There’s just no end to the innovation the guy will try, and succeed with I might add, to get hundreds of people into the door, get them as much free stuff as they can handle, indoctrinate them with an overwhelmingly positive experience, and convert their interest into further sales and frequenting of his store(s). The guy does it right and he should be writing books on successful retailing, because trust me, most of the retailers I’ve seen could use the pointers. It's worth noting too that Lee doesn't just wait for FCBD to do this either, he has multiple events all year long (probably quarterly on average) that look just like this. It always strikes me as quite ironic that the city that’s the home of the world famous San Diego Comic Con has some of the absolute worst comic shops I’ve seen.

Oh, the books? Well, you know me. I like numbers and statistics and shit, they can tell a story, so let’s break it down a little... There were 33 official free FCBD books available that day (we won’t count the War Machine HeroClix, because gosh, with a big action movie sequel coming out, what kid would ever want that cool little thing, but for the record I didn’t see that either). Let’s start at the very top; which books did I actually even see at either establishment? I saw 14 of the 33 books available. That’s 42%, not even half. So, if I’m a total newbie and I have no idea what you’re gonna’ do or what you’re gonna’ order, and all I have to go by is the list of stuff I saw on the FCBD web-site, there is only a 42% chance, that by going to two different stores in a major metropolitan area, that you’re even going to have the one I happen to be interested in. That’s disappointing. I did not see the other 19 of the 33 books available. That’s 58%. So, the majority of the free books on free comic book day, I can’t even get, I don’t even have access to them. I didn’t even see these, I’m not even talking about getting them, I never even saw them physically! Do they exist? Are they unicorns? Why didn’t I see them? Out of the 33, I’d say that there were actually only 7 books (or 21%) that I was personally interested in checking out. These would be: Iron Man/Thor (it’s Matt Fraction and John Romita, Jr.), the Radical Sampler (Antoine Fuqua, Leonardo Manco, etc.), Stuff of Legend (positive buzz), Sixth Gun (new #1 from Oni Press), Doc Solar/Magnus (returning), Atomic Robo (positive buzz), and the Bongo Comics Free For All (is usually hilarious). The rest I really couldn't care less about. Out of those 7 books I was interested in, do you know how many of them I got. Do you want to guess in your head real quick before I reveal the actual number? Well, I got 2 of them (Iron Man/Thor and the Radical Sampler, for the record). By going to two stores, I got 2 of the 7 books, 29% of the ones I was actually interested in, or 6% of the original total available. That’s pitiful. At this rate, I don’t even really see the point in me going to Free Comic Book Day. The intent of the day is not really geared toward me, and the vast majority of the books I’m not interested in, if the precious few I am interested in never make an appearance, then what’s the point? I will say that I would go just to support a great local retailer, but I think we’ve covered that little vacuum of quality. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but it’s times like this when I really miss the San Francisco Bay Area.

My daughter really liked her Shrek and Toy Story comics though. So, I guess that’s something…

Graphic Novel Of The Month

BodyWorld (Pantheon): On the back of this hardcover book, David Mazzucchelli’s pull quote pays homage to music critic John Landau’s description of Bruce Springsteen and reads “I have seen the future of comics, and its name is Dash Shaw.” I don’t disagree with that bit of projection, but in the here and how, I’d say that Dash Shaw is the Gary Panter of our generation. Instead of infusing comics into his Fine Art the way that Panter did, Shaw seems to infuse Fine Arts into his comics. To see the most ostensible connection between the two artists, look no further than Shaw’s “Origin Story” for Johnny Scarhead. For me, it was a big signpost that called to mind the uncredited work that Panter did for Marvel’s reimaging of Omega: The Unknown about the origin of the Omega Corps. If that’s an obvious visual cue that connects the two, the more subtle clues in their shared approach involve the way Shaw blends so many cultural influences and nods to various arts into his work. There are literary references to John Norman’s Goreans, advertising imagery, the still life of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, dance moves from Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal video, and plenty of sci-fi nods to George Lucas’ “Outer Rim,” and James Cameron’s “No Fate” carved into a table. All the while, Shaw is careful to root the endeavor in comics, with some panel emulation of Charles Burns’ Black Hole, a copy of Ross Campbell’s underrated sleeper Wet Moon in the background, a Professor X and Magneto analogy, and Alan Moore’s The Courtyard from Avatar Press, which seems to be a seminal work in this 2060 setting.

Shaw also continues his fascination with maps and cut-away diagrams. There’s an early shot in BodyWorld of a floorplan that reminds me of an early shot in Bottomless Belly Button that was a cut-away of a family riding in a car. Like the various maps and dieball court layout, not only are these terrific examples of world-building, but they seem to highlight the way Shaw is concerned with man’s place in a man-made world. It’s an odd dichotomy of natural beings attempting to navigate the unnatural environment they’ve created. The journey is aided significantly by faces which are penciled so full of emotion. If you happen to notice the way Miss Jewel reacts to being photographed or Billy’s sexualized panic at his teacher wiping down his chest with a wet towel, you’ll see pages of emotion being conveyed silently in a single static shot. I remember Bottomless Belly Button’s black and white rendering fondly, but BodyWorld reads as a completely difference experience in full color. If Belly Button seemed to use black and white as a means for you to slowly draw emotion out of life’s daily monotony for yourself, then perhaps they are polar works, and BodyWorld pushes you to retreat from the garish colored futurism it presents in order to find the very same emotion that’s been lost in the pseudo-utopia. Structurally, Shaw begins with a fairly rigid approach, relying on 4 rows of 3 panels to create a 12 panel grid that probably mirrors the pacing of the original web-comic. It’s worth noting as an aside that Shaw is very adept at pacing, his use of all black panels as story beats shows masterful control of the passage of time and what he expects the reader’s eye to do on the page. As the story progresses, he begins to use overlapping forms to represent figures and thought patterns. This complex presentation is more like what David Mazzucchelli did in Asterios Polyp. I think that’s also an interesting inter-textual reference since I feel those two books will be forever linked, as they were generally considered the best two books of the year when they debuted. I’d be surprised if Shaw doesn’t rack up another Eisner nom for this work as well. Shaw really pushes the synaesthetic experience hard, forcing his audience, through his characters, to perceive multiple layers of meaning embedded in the narrative, both textually and visually. The best example of this is the dual running paths of panels where Billy and Paul’s paths converge and they ultimately undergo a very intense drug trip together.

Hopefully that’s a nice segue into discussing the drug. It’s discovered near the school and Paul is sent to investigate its properties through actual consumption and experimentation. The drug causes users to “read” other people and experience their memories as well as their physical form. Often times, these experiences involve reading people at their most revealing or embarrassing moments. The drug only seems to work when people are in close proximity, and has no effect when taken alone, which emphasizes the connectedness between people. The entire tone for these shared experiences is unapologetic and accepted, echoed in the way Billy’s mom matter-of-factly discusses her cheating. There’s no attempt to edit herself; she mentions it casually and without shame. That need for connectedness is an important theme that runs throughout this book. In this sterile future marred by a recent Civil War, man – as a single super-organism on the macro level – attempts to reconnect to the natural world. Miss Jewel insists on licking the sap of the mysterious drug when in plant form. She is quick to put her feet in the dirt. Paul is eager to smoke the new plant, eat it, or climb trees in one of the only remaining forests. The dieball players smear their bodies with diegunk, so that they can feel anything, even a loss of mental acuity. Female characters are seen reveling in the sweat of the boys they’re interested in. Building a camp fire is a lost art that’s carefully explained, drug trips appear as communing with nature, everyone is desperate to connect to someone else, even teachers justifying ways to connect with their students. They’re all desperate attempts to connect to something real and earthy, not the artificial future that’s been homogenized for them. We learn that the closed society is being watched by an alien race that is attempting to homogenize the humans. Through the drug, by engineering common experiences and perceptions, they eventually become all the same, and are thus easier to control. It creates a hive group-mind, stressing that it is actually strength in diversity that keeps societies afloat. Paul is a very liberal guy, fearful of bureaucratic and Orwellian thought police in the age restricted zone, frequently seen doing drugs with students. His path is fraught with failure, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, the conformists that succumb to groupthink are equally culpable in failure. This suggests that there is a happy medium of diversity which is appropriate for survival. There were a couple of oddball typos that distracted me, I don’t know where else to mention them, so I’ll just do it now before I sum up. There was “mam” instead of the more common ma’am, things like “donno” vs. dunno’, “fellah” vs. fella’, and one “seperated” vs. separated.

Those very minor quibbles aside, an overwhelming response for me was that I kept thinking about James Cameron’s box office blockbuster Avatar. Let me say in no uncertain terms that I absolutely hated Avatar, and when I say hated, I mean almost everything about it. I didn’t find it that interesting visually; I thought the blue people were dumb, ill-functioning, and hilariously stupid. The 3D gave me a headache, the CGI envelopment was off-putting, and the whole affair lacked any identifiable humanity. I detest being hit over the head with the big stick of meaning. I’m sure the shouty environmental messaging appealed to the lowest common denominator to ensure mass market appeal, and you can blame the system for that – “hate the game, not the player” – but, players are capable of changing the game by their actions. In addition to blatantly ripping off the major arcs of Dances With Wolves, Avatar beat its simplistic points home with a big rock, using overt methods, and stereotypically horrible and clichéd acting performances. It’s too long, too loud, too predictable, and too obvious. For me, everything that Avatar tried to be in its big spectacle of intentions-on-the-sleeve manic reaching, BodyWorld does with careful nuance and subdued subtlety. BodyWorld is for the more discerning consumer. It’s the opposite in so many ways. It doesn’t preach, it converses. It doesn’t tell, it shows. It doesn’t force, it allows organic expansion. It uses homage, it does not steal outright. It doesn’t insult, it elucidates. It doesn’t sacrifice humanity for achievement. It doesn’t sacrifice substance for style. It proves that yes, millions of moviegoers actually CAN be wrong; the Avatar phenomenon is the very groupthink mentality that BodyWorld argues against. It proves in the most natural way, without the aid of multi-million dollar digital production, that man has an inextricable link to nature and when that symbiotic relationship is strayed too far from, bad things can happen. As for pull quotes, “I have seen the thinking man’s Avatar, and its name is BodyWorld.” Grade A.