Surveying The Habitat

Habitat #2 (Sparkplug Comic Books): This issue marks Dunja Jankovic’s follow-up to Department of Art #1, which I previously reviewed at Poopsheet Foundation. The recurring theme from issue to issue seems to be Jankovic arguing against the banality of a typical middle class existence and aspiring for something more unique and meaningful. It always seems obvious to me when a creator comes from a fine arts background and ventures into comics vs. a person who starts in comics and that skill set becomes the extent of their influences. The differences are apparent aesthetically with the painterly affects, the way the artist stages panels, and there’s generally an abstract quality to Jankovic’s work that even calls to mind some of the modern masters who worked in the field of abstract expressionism. What I admire the most about this approach is that it never veers into stodgy pretention; it’s pleasing to the eye, but not so challenging a composition that you can’t clearly interpret the actions or the meaning. It’s all very accessible despite the sophisticated attributes that it sometimes flaunts.

Jankovic isn’t just concerned with fine arts though, there’s plenty of room for the art of “comics making.” There’s an early full page title sequence that harkens back to Will Eisner’s Spirit, with the letters of the title becoming buildings and an embedded cityscape for the characters to inhabit, their habitat as it were. At its best, Jankovic’s art achieves imagery that is haunting and lasting, particularly the eyes floating in negative space that bring so much life to the black and white environs, or the superbly managed disintegration sequence which utilizes a mixed media collage that breaks existence down into its constituent parts. The narrative shows us how sometimes in life pragmatic concerns guide our actions (like how to pay the rent), rather than being fueled by listening to our desires and following our true passions in life. The collection of the rent becomes just one small representation of the various social strata in society. There’s always a “bigger fish” that can come collecting no matter your status, and whether you’re ant, rat, or human, all things exist on a relative scale of priority and supposed dominance. The true question plaguing us is how to break out of this societal pyramid scheme. Jankovic suggests ultimately that being self-aware enough to attempt a reinvention of yourself instead of drowning in the overwhelming mundane might be an out. I say find what you love doing and then get paid to do it, and you can probably help this creator do just that by purchasing the book. Grade A.


3.30.11 Reviews

Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #1 (Image): I don’t really remember Mike Huddleston’s art being this tight and detailed in previous projects like The Coffin or Deep Sleeper, but it really works well here. There are some forced perspective shots in the action sequences that possess the type of kinetic energy that makes figures or racing cars just leap off the page right into your gray matter. He colors his own work here too and it’s amazing that colors which should come off as garish and loud are actually warm and inviting instead. The book is ostensibly about a past prime superhero now living a lifestyle of sheer decadence. It functions as parody and satire of the same genre. It’s full of embedded references to Golden Age throwbacks like Liberty Belle, to modern subversive treats like The Comedian from Watchmen and Brian Wood’s Channel Zero. There’s the Jay Leno/Dick Cheney duo diatribe which sort of blurs the line between cheap entertainment converging with even cheaper politics, and an even more intricate hybrid of Ronald Reagan/Reed Richards/Elvis that is actually dubbed the "President of Reality." Along the way writer Joe Casey takes jabs at X-Men, Superman, and other properties that he’s actually worked on in past lives. One of the villains might even look a little bit like Alan Moore. The real treat though is him taking a look at what superheroes would actually do in this satirical world. Butcher Baker is for those who are finally ready to move beyond the idyllic fractured nostalgia of Watchmen, for those who deeply appreciated Casey’s run of Automatic Kafka and the examination of what fame does to the psyche. For that crowd, this book is a hit, and it's one of my favorite new things of 2011. Casey includes 6 pages of backmatter, in the style of Matt Fraction’s Casanova or Warren Ellis’ more luminous prose, and explains that this book seems to be a response to current market conditions brought about by the Big Two’s fleeting obsession with poorly written tragedy porn crossover superhero comics. I appreciate that Casey mocks his own flirtation with pretention and just charges ahead full steam in this unabashed way. I’m all for creators creating original creative creations. He dubs it “the endless presentation of the New,” and it’s something the industry could certainly use more of. We’ll see if by 2021, as Casey suggests, the powerful medium of comics can be a predictive profiler of “Low-Fi Futureshit.” For now, it’s an incredibly fun multi-layered ride with an underappreciated creator throttling the machine enthusiastically. Grade A.

Echo #29 (Abstract Studio): I’ll be sad to see Terry Moore’s little 30 issue opus go, because not many comics seeing the light of day in this era can pull off such a taut and well rendered slice of adventure. At the end of the run, you think you’d see Moore repeating himself and coasting to the finish line, but no, he’s still offering up new experiences like Annie’s monologue from her post-human state, engaging us with thought provoking lines like “death is an isolated state,” and setting up more action at full speed. There’s so much discipline apparent in the way Moore chooses to depict this tale; take a look at the extended opening scenes in the snowstorm. Look at the hundreds, if not thousands, of small unique snow flurries that these pages required. Look at the absolutely tiny figure scale he employs for the big dramatic shot. Look at the balance required to infuse humor into the dialogue amid the extreme circumstances. This is the real deal. Overall, it’s an exciting run-up to the big finale which will surely pit all of the players face to face for the fate of the future. Grade A.

Scalped #47 (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron pulls off another small floppy miracle in this issue. He takes what could easily be a throwaway story, or worse yet – no story at all, in the hands of a lesser writer, and makes it one of the most realistic and emotionally grueling issues in recent memory. He spotlights Dino Poor Bear and Carol Red Crow’s budding relationship and it becomes a lesson in the miscues that exist when you read into other’s actions. Sometimes we just see what we want to see, not what the facts actually indicate. It’s heartbreaking in a way that actually pulls the emotion out of you, I could feel my stomach physically sink as I saw what poor ol’ Dino was doing. It’s a rare creator than can manipulate the audience’s emotions so carefully and make us freak the fuck out over what might happen next. Grade A.

Caligula #1 (Avatar Press): My dad has pretty deep knowledge of the Roman Empire and is sort of fanatical about our Italian heritage, so from what I can tell between his ranting and my Wikipedia searches, David Lapham is doing an okay job of presenting the broad themes associated with this Emperor. The tyrannical nature, his claims of divinity, sexual perversion, and brutal acts, etc. While all of that is the backdrop, the story actually focuses on a “boy olive farmer” who seeks vengeance after his mother and family are brutally raped and slaughtered. Lapham gets a lot right in my opinion, noting the debauchery that would eventually bring down the Empire, the rapid influx of Christianity brought on by a young Jew from the Eastern Empire, and hits most of the real world atrocities, even if they seem a little sensationalistic at times. The only thing missing so far is Caligula infamously trying to make his horse a Senator, but we’ll see if he gets to that too-good-to-pass-up anecdote. Sometimes the narration feels really belabored and isn’t like the spry dialogue I recall from my old Stray Bullets hardcovers, but it’s admittedly been a while since I’ve read them. My biggest issue is with the art. German Nobile's art is at times painted beautifully, but on several occasions it’s awkwardly posed, full of improbable angles, and the painterly effect comes across muddy and hazy. If only the interior art fulfilled the promise of the cover art by Jacen Burrows. It does end with a wild bold cliffhanger, but I’m not sure if the total package is compelling enough for me to return and investigate how it all plays out. Grade B.

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Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 12 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: After a week long hiatus, Ryan Claytor returns to his weekly online publishing schedule. At the halfway point for this issue, I must say that I’ve enjoyed the different dynamic that reviewing a page at a time has offered. It’s allowed me to slow down and appreciate the craft more intensely than I probably would have/will when reading the entire issue in one sitting and focusing more on the overall narrative. This page is a good example of why it’s sometimes a joy to slow down. The first panel is something of a benchmark, at least in my recollection of Ryan’s work, in that I think this is *the* smallest scale that the creator has ever worked at. For me, the smaller the figure scale gets, the more detailed and nuanced the aesthetic becomes, and the more I enjoy it. There are a couple of flourishes here that just sing. First, notice how the line weight of the bird on the right side pulls your eye instantly to that creature. From there, the bird’s flight path drops your eye down to the second bird perched on the rooftop. From there, if you follow the line weights diminishing toward the horizon, your eye is pulled to the center of the page, with the cluster of the tree and the pole with the banners attached to it. From there, your eye is pulled yet again to the clever dotted line that becomes noticeable as it traverses the page from right to left and drags your eye across to focus on the two protagonists walking through the panel. The action is balanced, the panel is balanced, and it’s a compact exercise in beauty the way that Ryan has just masterfully controlled your eye movement and sensory perception of the page, without you even noticing it. Ryan and I once discussed the Latin phrase “ars est celare artem” in an interview. “The art is to hide the art.” He achieves it here; the reader is so ensconced in the dynamic that they don’t even consciously realize the pathway of their eyes has just been manipulated by a modern master. Man, that was just the first panel! Let’s charge on…

Panel 2-3: It looks as though panel 2 might just never end. There is so much depth and detail in the distance that you actually can’t identify the vanishing point on the horizon. It’s almost like it gets half the scale, then half of that, then half of that, then half of that, and just keeps receding into infinity, so small that it goes on forever and the naked human eye just can’t detect it. The trees, the buildings, and the clouds form this little vortex of illusion in the distance. By the time we get to panel 3, it becomes clear that Ryan is going to slow the pace of the larger story down and take us through a scenic stroll. Also notice how every panel here is operating at a different figure scale. How’s that for variety?

Panel 4: This is the figure scale I most associate with Ryan’s work historically. This degree of camera zoom is really in Ryan’s wheelhouse and has been his bread and butter over the years (how’s that for mixed colloquialisms?). With all of the experimentation going on in this page/issue, it’s nice to see a familiar return to what fans of his work are already most accustomed to. It’s a sensory anchor that comforts us and prepares us for whatever delight is sure to come next!

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Evaluating The Pull List

I’ve been mentioning for months now a growing perception that I’m not buying very much on a weekly basis. That feeling has certainly been supported by my annual statistics analysis regarding raw dollars spent, so it felt like time to do another one of these check-in lists. Here are the books I’m currently purchasing regularly, along with a few notes, caveats, exceptions, and some thoughts about what’s on the horizon:

Invincible Iron Man
Uncanny X-Force
The New York Five

As it stands, that’s just 9 books that I’m currently buying with any semblance of regularity. By my totally subjective eye, 9 is a small number compared to what I used to be buying on a monthly basis, and it gets even smaller when you dig into it. The last two books on that list, The New York Five and Sweets, are mini-series which have just a single issue left, so let’s cross them off. While Echo has been an ongoing series, there’s just one issue left of that as well, so let’s remove it too. DMZ will be concluded in December. So if you discount all of those, we’re now down to just 5 books being regularly purchased. Wasteland has had a very erratic publishing schedule the last year or so; based on that I’m inclined to almost discount it based on not qualifying in the loose “regular monthly series” classification. Along those lines, I didn’t include the very worst examples of late-but-not-officially-cancelled books like Desolation Jones (which seems ludicrous to even consider now that WildStorm is no more), Fell (though Warren Ellis swears he’s working on the next issue) or Kabuki (though we don’t hear much from David Mack any more either way). We have to draw the line somewhere though and not speculate on technicalities, like what if the quality of Uncanny X-Force starts to slip and it gets cut, or what if something beloved like Scalped, Northlanders, or Wasteland were cancelled (gasp!), so let’s hold it there at 5. That seems reasonable.

As far as possible additions to the line-up based on what I see online or in Previews, there’s nothing much I know about that would be a guaranteed buy-on-sight sort of deal. Jonathan Hickman just announced The Red Wing at Image Comics later this year, a 4 issue mini I’ll likely pick up since I tend to enjoy his creator owned stuff, but at 4 issues that obviously won’t last long to boost my numbers. If Matt Fraction’s Casanova ever gets beyond the colored reprints and publishes new material, I’d be on board. If Batwoman ever truly comes out, I’ll be picking that up. Brian Wood had hinted in an interview about a new ongoing that would fill the gap in the line-up left by the departure of DMZ, so if/when it materializes, I’m obviously on board for that or anything else he might have in the pipe. Warren Ellis is always good for a mini-series or two per year, but none of these are very concrete at the moment. You also can’t count what you don’t know about, a new mystery book, something like a Wasteland coming out of nowhere that you’re instantly attracted too. Unknowns aside, you can see the problem here. As books are phased out of my personal line-up, they’re not being replaced by anything that could be characterized as a proportionate response.

I’ve never done this before, but even if I trying pad the list and bolster the numbers by capturing small press and mini-comics titles, it doesn’t really help. Most mini-comics just don’t function as ongoing series, and even fewer boast anything resembling a monthly schedule. It’s just the nature of the beast. So while I know for certain that I’ll be purchasing forthcoming issues of titles like Blammo by Noah Van Sciver, And Then One Day by Ryan Claytor, Trigger by Mike Bertino, Reich by Elijah Brubaker, or Jessica Farm by Josh Simmons, these books are quarterly or annual at best. In fact, I think Reich might actually be on hiatus, and Jessica Farm is actually only published every 8 years, so it hardly counts. Even if I do count a mystery Brian Wood or Warren Ellis project on the horizon along with one of these elusive mini-comics in an effort to artificially inflate the pull, it only pulls the total number from 5 to 7, which is still pitiful to me.

I feel like my regular weekly pilgrimage is hanging on by a frayed thread. Let’s be clear that I’m totally enjoying most of what I buy and I’m proud of the fact that I’m not buying a bunch of crap just to dismantle it with snark. Of course you can argue that this decline partially reflects things like a) the nature of the evolving industry, ie: the death of floppies and drive to OGN or collection editions, b) my loyalty to creators and not characters or properties, c) consumption of shorter term “special” projects stemming out of both those dynamics, d) less disposable income and thus decreased perceived value, and e) an actual decline in quality regardless of discretionary income. Judging solely at face value though, 5 regular monthly books purchased in weekly schleps to the LCS is nothing in comparison to the 10-12 books I’d purchase weekly just five years ago or so. You can argue this is a quality over quantity phenomenon or any matter of subjective criteria, but the bottom line is that it kinda’ bums me out. It’s almost as if I can feel a hobby just steadily slipping away and can envision a future in which weekly trips would just waste gas because I’m not actually buying anything. Maybe a monthly trip to the LCS would suffice, maybe trade-waiting for 30% off and free shipping with an online Amazon trip would suffice, maybe the single huge annual San Diego Con trip would suffice, or worse yet, maybe what would suffice is no trip at all.

3.30.11 Releases

I’m probably most interested this week in Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #1 (Image Comics) by Joe Casey and Mike Huddleston. I haven’t seen anything from Casey in a while, The Milkman Murders is the last thing that comes to mind, and having just re-read my run of Automatic Kafka from him, I’m in the mood for more of his post-Watchmen subversive fun. DC continues their Jason Aaron masterpiece with Scalped #47 (DC/Vertigo), and Marvel offers up the Strange Tales II Hardcover (Marvel). Between the Rafael Grampa Wolverine story and Frank Santoro’s take on the Silver Surfer, and a few other treats sprinkled into the mix, it’s well worth the upgrade from the singles. Terry Moore offers up what I think is the penultimate(?) issue of his current series, with Echo #29 (Abstract Studios) hitting the shelves this week. I was excited to see him recently announce his next book, and would be doubly excited to be able to purchase the first issue of that, along with a hardcover omnibus of Echo during Comic-Con this summer. Lastly, I don’t usually pay much attention to Avatar Press books unless the writer’s initials are W.E. (best accompanied by an artist with the initials J.J.R.), but with David Lapham and some great looking art by German Nobile, I might check out Caligula #1 (Avatar Press).

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Send Me Your Books!

Yes. It is true. I review comic books. Right here, on this very site. From mini-comics, to small press, to the mainstream, I’m interested in what you’ve created. As you can see from this shot of the random images currently on my office wall at work, my personal taste is all over the place. You can see Paul Pope, Alphonse Mucha, Tom Neely, Warren Ellis & John Cassaday, Ed Ruscha, Nathan Fox, Brian Wood, Christopher Mitten, Shepard Fairey, Rafael Grampa, and Julia Gfrorer, just on that one wall alone. I’m continually shocked by how many creators seem surprised that I’d be happy to accept and review their work, as if the comics just grow on trees somewhere for me to mysteriously find.

Now, I can’t guarantee you’ll like everything I have to say, but I can guarantee I’ll have something to say. And you’ll get some free exposure out of the deal. Telling the truth can be a revolutionary act. To me, it’s worth the risk of offending someone if it means they can trust that every word is my true opinion. This means they can actually believe me when I compliment their work. So, if you’ve got a comic you want to get the word out on, if you’re willing to send me a comp copy for review purposes, don’t be shy, just click the “Email Me!” link to the right to obtain my mailing address, send your latest creation in, and I promise you’ll get a prompt and thoughtful review.

3.23.11 Reviews

The New York Five #3 (DC/Vertigo): Yeah, yeah, yeah, Brian Wood is a great writer. You’ve heard me say it dozens of times, and he does have his way with words here, richly populating the script with literary references, local landmarks, and biting comments like “you were always the smarter one.” There’s even a delightful little bit of fourth wall breakage from the writer regarding St. Mark’s Place, you’ll know it when you see it, but the real prize making this a destination title right now is Ryan Kelly’s art. I think I’ve seen everything Kelly has done over the years, including his own sketchbooks and creator owned titles, miscellaneous other mainstream work, and all of his other numerous collaborations with Wood, but I’m going to go ahead and say it, this is the best work of his career to date. The evidence is littered so thoroughly throughout the book that you almost miss the grandeur due to its pervasive nature. It’s there in the detail, the environments, the sense of depth, and the emotional content of the art. The full page shots are immaculate, and I like how they’re not gratuitous displays or story cheats, but organic masterpieces. Getting back to the writing, Wood gives us this portrait of young women who can occasionally come together, but are each torn in their own unique directions. He’s giving us a rare slice of reality, capturing what it’s like to be a young person learning as they go. It’s chaotic to an outsider, but critical for the actual participants. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Force #6 (Marvel): Esad Ribic continues to temporarily take over for Jerome Opena, continuing the story begun in issue 5, but needlessly interrupted by issue 5.1… got all that? It’s back to the Deathlok Nation, attempting to take over the World and trying to kill Fantomex in a move that must have something to do with his big unexpected action in the first arc. Ribic’s art has similar overall shapes and proportions as Opena’s, but much less detail and kinetic energy in the action sequences. The talking heads sequences are actually the better artistic offering, delivering a beautifully played Captain Britain “cameo” and by the end, the art was growing on me, with depictions of Logan and Brian that looked like John Cassaday had drawn some of the faces and eyes in particular. The fighting feels random, it all seems to be missing the narrative gravitas of the first arc, and none of the quippy dialogue is as effervescent or sharp. The line “one does not destroy a tool for its potential misuse” is incredibly hypocritical coming from Fantomex, considering what he *just* did. It all just feels like a random side story, one of hopefully not many, that will forever be chasing the perfection of the first four issue arc. Grade B+.

FF#1 (Marvel): Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting relaunch a behemoth title and there’s a nice balance of interesting bits with some head-scratchers, at least for this new reader. I do like the way that Hickman has managed to carve out a little “Hickman-verse” for himself amid the Marvel titles he’s currently on, including Fantastic Four, Secret Warriors, and SHIELD, by co-mingling the characters in his various titles. I like Reed’s resigned acquiescence to Johnny’s last wish. I like the back page spread that contains the type of graphic design elements of Hickman’s early work, when he burst onto the scene with Image titles like The Nightly News and Pax Romana. However, why is Sue in charge of Atlantis? Who is this odd mix of eclectic characters comprising the Future Foundation? Does this have the potential to be a true game-changer or will it peter out like all the rest? I’m mildly interested, but not quite sure I’m intrigued enough to give it another issue or two. Grade B.

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Creator Vs. Critic, Starring Mark Sable & Abhay Khosla

When you have some time to kill... this is a LONG read, but at times it is also a hysterical, illuminating, educational, terrifying, and insightful read. This is why I love Abhay Khosla. Dude is on a totally different level. Ostensibly, they discuss the opening arc of Secret Avengers, but it's a much longer rumination about the current state of superhero comics and the mindsets of both creators and critics.

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3.23.11 Releases

It seems like all I’ve been picking up is Brian Wood helmed titles lately; this week we have The New York Five #3 (DC/Vertigo), along with the Demo: Volume 02 TPB (DC/Vertigo). Across town, the competition is going to give their latest big death re-launch a go, with FF #1 (Marvel) debuting after the “death” of Johnny Storm and inclusion of (a) Spider-Man in the new FF line-up, only this time it’s called the Future Foundation. I might give it a try. They’ve also got Uncanny X-Force #6 (Marvel), a title which started extraordinarily strong, but has already started to stumble after the first arc wrapped. In the offered again department, there are a couple of graphic novels worth recommending, including Bookhunter (Sparkplug) by Jason Shiga and Comic Book Holocaust (Buenaventura Press) by Johnny Ryan. Chris Cilla’s The Heavy Hand (Sparkplug) also ships, which I picked as one of the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2010. Last up, we have a hardcover collected edition of Greg Rucka and Matthew Southworth’s Stumptown: Volume 01 (Oni Press).


3.16.11 Reviews (Part 2)

Uncanny X-Force #5.1 (Marvel): I had assumed that Rafael Albuquerque was on some type of exclusive at DC/Vertigo with the success of American Vampire, but perhaps if such a contract exists with either company it allows him to fulfill pre-existing creator owned series while still pursuing other work-for-hire projects(?). In any case, he seems to be doing his best Bill Sinkiewicz impersonation here, with a suitably dark tone that’s a bit more stylized than I’ve seen his earlier efforts. The transition between Jerome Opena’s work and his is a little jarring because of the inherent stylistic differences, but I definitely like Albuquerque’s contribution to one of the better (best?) X-books in existence at the moment. It’s time for Lady Deathstrike and the Reavers to wreak some havoc on the squad, featuring a well played sneak attack on Logan, and well scripted moments like Betsy ‘porting to Utopia while cognizant of wearing the X-Force uniform and potentially outing the covert team. I liked seeing that Scott still isn’t afraid of having his little secrets, the growing trust with Magneto, and the juxtaposition of Bets and Warren’s relationship as the killer/one-in-control positions seem to flip-flop unexpectedly. The only dead spot in the writing for me was surprisingly Deadpool, who Remender has previously handled perfectly (“nom-nom” comes to mind), but here Wade just doesn’t seem funny at all, with most of his lines falling flat, feeling overly contrived and awkwardly constructed. That aside, it’s written mostly well, the art is mostly good, and the only real gripey observations I have are probably best directed at editorial. First off, the entire “5.1” nomenclature of the POINT ONE INITIATIVE seems like excruciatingly dull marketing nonsense. It’s designed to provide the easily accessible jumping on point for civilians, but all it really does is confuse shit even further with a completely un-intuitive and meaningless descriptor. The first issue of a new arc (#5) just came out, and is now immediately interrupted by this. Who knows what next issue will bring? Are we back to the false start arc, is this issue self-contained, etc.? Not to mention the melee of extraneous crossovers heaped upon this issue. You can see Remender (wether by choice or by mandate) planting the seeds for the impending schism between Logan and Scott (crossover 1), Fear Itself is about to begin (crossover 2), there’s the Deathlok arc to return to (story thread 3), and whatever Remender probably wanted to do in the first damn place as a new writer (story thread 4). It’s a nightmare that they’re all co-mingling and now the POINT ONE nonsense has been inorganically shoehorned in as well (story component 5). It’s easy to see how a good book can quickly get off track and lose focus, and I sincerely hope sometimes that editorial would just bug the eff out and let a good writer and a good artist tell good stories of their own design, ala the first 4 issues. Hire the best people you can hire and then just get out of their way. The first arc should be proof of that. I guess my rant is over, oh, wait, there’s also the cover by Simone Bianchi, which is ok in and of itself, but I can’t help recall the involvement of Bianchi and Warren Ellis which was the first sign of the impending derailment of another great book, Astonishing X-Men. Let’s hope Uncanny X-Force doesn’t suffer the same ultimate fate, now forgotten as a "once it was great" book. Grade B+.

Invincible Iron Man #502 (Marvel): I still have no idea why this book is $3.99. Anyway… the fate of Manhattan hangs in the balance as Tony continues the showdown with Dr. Octopus. I’ve been noticing lately that Fraction seems to be pulling lines from movies a lot. “Are we clear” is straight from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, and even when I flipped through the Fear Itself Red Skull deal at the LCS this week, I noticed another line that I can’t recall without the book in front of me, but I think it might have been from The Usual Suspects. There’s even an allusion to a line from Apollo 13 later in the book. Ignoring all that, I think the mental battle while the two were seated was riveting, just as riveting as if they’d been flying around beating the crap out of each other, which really shows the strength of Fraction’s handling of the narrative. Dialogue swipes aside, he’s got the ability to dream up grand compelling ideas, but can also make individual scenes shine. He really can play both sides of the ball pretty well. I like how Tony tries to drop his smart ass shtick and appeal to “Dr. Octavius,” not Doc Ock, actually trying to reach the man in the machine, even though Otto isn’t having it and seems to change the rules of the deadly game mid-stream. Pimacher and Cababa shine, and it illustrates another strength of this series, which has been the inclusion of a large and very well-developed supporting cast. Larroca is still as good as ever handling both the big smashy bits and the talking heads portions with equal gusto. He also tries some new tricks on for size, like the translucent faceplate so that we can see Tony’s face underneath the armor. Despite all the strengths, this does feel like an “all middle” issue, simply an extension from the last, with not much progression beyond the sets. Oh well, I’ve been saying it for 3 years now; it’s still probably the best, most consistent, straight up superhero comic coming out right now. Grade B+.


3.16.11 Reviews (Part 1)

DMZ #63 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 9 Issues Remaining] Taking a look back at the last few issues of DMZ, several have opened with full page shots or scenes of carpet bombing and the relentless shelling of lower Manhattan. This issue is no different, but we also see a building toppling over to emphasize the dire point. We’re on the precipice of a huge change in the status quo and Brian Wood makes us feel it in our gut. We’re witnessing the beginning of the end of whatever Wood has envisioned for his modern masterpiece. It’s all calculated, and not by chance. Riccardo Burchielli depicts events with his usual finesse and power. We dive right in to a terse opening scene, as Matty tries to balance the information of the ubiquitous FSA Commander, his own principles, and the agenda of his military handlers. Wood has become a master at manipulating audience emotion; he cuts away to the news feed right at the precise moment we want more. One of the holy-crap-nice-touch moments was the shot of the “wanted” playing cards, just like those sets that US forces really use(d) in Iraq and Afghanistan. I don’t want to spoil the reveal too much, but there’s a conversation between two people we’ve been waiting on for some time. After so much tension and angst, it’s a huge emotional payoff for the patient audience that’s put in the time with the series. It feels like Wood is rewarding the fans and servicing his narrative seamlessly. This issue strikes a delicate and effective balance; it simultaneously resolves some emotion, but fuels a story cliffhanger, which is about as perfectly executed as a single serialized issue can get. Grade A+.

Northlanders #38 (DC/Vertigo): The Siege of Paris, Part 2, really shines with the art of Simon Gane. There’s some European flair to it, but also a blocky quality which reminds me of the Pander Brothers’ early work on Grendel. It’s able to convincingly depict hard men, a hard battle, and hard times. There are moments in the issue when Brian Wood seems to be channeling his inner Warren Ellis with the dialogue, impossible not to think of the Ellis one-shot Crecy when all of the battle tactics are being assessed. Dave McCaig also deserves a nod for helping to create such a believable environment. It’s a crimson soaked reality that helps Wood touch on one of his common themes; it’s about sweeping change, about the advent of technology and weapons supplanting more direct man-to-man conflict and impacting the culture. I enjoyed the secret chat with the Bishop of Paris, a prime battle of wits amid a story arc that examines the inherent cost of war, not only to the coffers of the king, but also to the human spirit, and the will of the men involved. Grade A.

Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 11 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1-4: After a slight delay, page 11 hits and it’s another good one that’s well worth the wait. From a dialogue perspective, there isn’t a whole heck of a lot going on besides the drop of David Chelsea, author, artist, and a noted 24 Hour Comics Challenge participant. The thing that did grab my attention here were the different “camera” shots that Ryan used. As you can see, he begins with a medium shot of the duo in panel 1, zooms in to focus on the figure speaking in panel 2, pulls back out to the original position in panel 3, and then pulls back even farther to emphasize the end of the sentence and continuation of their stroll. I kept staring at this sequence and something about it was pulling at me, just on the periphery of my conscious understanding. I kept going over it and trying to break it down; then it finally hit me. If you assign numerical values to the positions, beginning with a 1 for the camera position closest to the figures, a 2 for the next closest, and so on, then the sequence is 2, 1, 2, 3. The greater the number, the further away the reader is from the action. 2, 1, 2, 3. Now that probably doesn’t mean a great deal to the casual observer, but if you’re a total nut like I am, you may recognize that the 2, 1, 2, 3 repetition pattern occurs in unusually high frequency in nature and science, playing some primal role in everything from laser optics, to genome sequencing, to Japanese typography. Shoot, there’s even an online graphic novel called "NYC 2123" about a tsunami that devastates Manhattan. I think I remember my cousin (who is a music teacher at San Francisco State University) even mentioning that it’s a common set of values found in musical theory, but don’t quote me on that. I don’t know enough about music to back that faint memory up. Anyway, I’ll stop digressing and simply wonder if Ryan used this sequencing device intentionally or it was a happy accident buried in his human subconscious somewhere.

Panel 5: This half page shot is another terrific environmental composition. Ryan suggested in a recent post that he feels his artistry has made significant progress in the last year and I think this issue is strong evidence in support of that theory. I think if you look at the progression of his work you can see periods of strong concentration on figure work, then panel to panel transitions, and now a larger degree of environmental control. He’s steadily improving every aspect of his craft, not to mention the great peripheral abilities he has in marketing, networking, etc. This shot is full of things I love, the hard line weight on the palm tree emphasizing its foreground position to the observer, the detail and accuracy of the SDSU Aztecs banner on the right, the centering and line weight of the two primary figures that draws your eye right to them, the bricks, the benches, even the throwaway skateboarder. It’s the small flourishes like these, which are totally unnecessary from a narrative standpoint, that illustrate (heh) the extra effort he’s willing to undertake, that make for a rich reading experience, and that make you appreciate Ryan’s obvious love and passion for his chosen craft. Go, Ryan, go!


"Trust In Blammo. You Love It. It Loves You."

Blammo #7 (Kilgore Books & Comics): “Ignatz Award Loser” Noah Van Sciver returns for the latest issue of his best-known foray into the field of alternative comics. Van Sciver is making a noticeable effort to stretch his artistic muscles here and offer something beyond quotidian autobiographical comics. There’s something subtly dangerous and unflinching about Van Sciver’s work as his strips continue their self-effacing diatribe. The work captures the spirit of DIY creators and seems to playfully mock the passive navel-gazing hallmarks most associated with this type of small press effort.

I think Noah may have sacrificed a tiiiiiny bit of the opportunities for BIG LAUGHS in his attempt to vary the pieces, but the results are equally impressive. Noah has much more to say about the human experience than guffaw-inducing lines that make you stumble off your treadmill routine and draw curious glances from everyone else at the gym (true story, as told by my friend Ryan), and he does so with depth and panache. Noah gives us a plethora of stories that begin to shift away from straight-up autobio; there’s Bill the Chicken, the karmic morality play of Jesus and his working class foibles, along with the faux news reports that humbly deride his own work. They’re all funny, yes, but amid the Robert Crumb-style sweat beads and scintillating murder mysteries, these character focused pieces all carefully examine the world around him. His authorial voice appreciates the history of what made alt comics thrive originally, but also drips with modern sensibility. Noah might be using ciphers here to explore, but self-image and the way the world perceives people and their actions is still a central theme connecting most of the pieces. It’s why his comics are a more heady blend of consideration about the human experience than Those Other Books.

I most appreciate the bold visual style of pieces like “Foreword” and “Afterword” that highlight Grant and Veronica. Grant is a particularly effective character. He seems to leap from the page and transcend his comic book origins. Whether purely fictional or perhaps semi-autobiographical, he attempts to navigate the real world that we inhabit, not the false perfection of a made-up one, and he has no illusions about morality, or honesty, or the precocious nature of kids, or the inherent decency of people, or even the occasional need for violence to resolve conflict.

Noah’s work seems to pull you away from following a predictable path in life and desire something more unique for your troubles, almost like it’s the antidote to a middle class rote existence in suburbia. There are times as a critic that make me want to weep for our future and the majority detritus that our beloved field is capable of producing, there are also those minority times when I feel a glimmer of hope regarding the future of the industry. Those rare instances of encouragement are usually felt right after I read Noah’s work. Noah Van Sciver could save this sub-category of art for future generations. His work will endure because he possesses one of the sharpest voices and most instantly recognizable aesthetics working in indie comics today. Grade A.


3.16.11 Releases

DMZ #63 (DC/Vertigo) continues the penultimate arc “Free States Rising,” with only 9 issues of the series remaining. It’s a double-tap of Brian Wood entertainment this week; also due out is Northlanders #38 (DC/Vertigo), which continues “The Siege of Paris” arc with impressive art by Simon Gane. Over at The House of Ideas, Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca chug forward with Invincible Iron Man #502 (Marvel). Giving that a run for its money as best Marvel book being published today/best straight up superhero book being published today is Uncanny X-Force #5.1 (Marvel), though (big caveats) the second arc isn’t as strong as the first from a storytelling standpoint, the artist isn’t as strong as Jerome Opena on the first arc, and I do loathe the whole “Point One” initiative. There’s nothing like damning with faint praise. For the OGN aficionados who are musically inclined, Johnny Cash: I See A Darkness (Abrams/ComicArts) from Reinhard Kleist looks interesting and has been lighting up the European circuit with awards.


3.09.11 Reviews

Comic Book Comics #5 (Evil Twin): Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey dive into the “All Lawsuit Issue!” and chronicle every major case, from Siegel and Schuster’s battle with DC over the Superman rights, to the Air Pirates vs. Disney, the trouble with Fawcett’s Captain Marvel, and onto the Miracleman debacle which embroiled Neil Gaiman and Todd McFarlane. The duo do a nice job of explaining the convoluted history of copyright law and vexing nature of work-for-hire arrangements in the comic book industry, which seems to be an area of law constantly evolving and being unraveled (made up?) as time passes. The big exception on copyright infringement has traditionally been a work done for the purposes of satire or parody, but it’s extremely difficult to prove that. As the book progresses, some of the legal tales are dense and fairly dry, but Ven Lente and Dunlavey always do their best to entertain and throw in sight gags or interesting facts. I enjoyed a young Alan Moore with his foppish hat and oversized lollipop, as well as the startling statistic that Captain Marvel was selling 14 million comics in 1944 alone, even eclipsing Superman. By comparison, throw the same character in a book today and you’re lucky to break 20,000 units per issue. Another great truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment was the U.S. Marshal restraining one of the Air Pirates gang in a courtroom while he appeared in cowboy garb with a holstered banana(!). One bit of information I learned was that MAD Magazine’s “Superduperman” send-up was a big influence on Alan Moore’s deconstructionist tendencies toward the superhero paradigm. The creative team digresses pretty heavily with the introduction of Moore, chronicling the Watchmen saga and its impact. We see the door being opened to the “British Invasion” and a nice nod to Sturgeon’s Law regarding the industry producing 90% crap and 10% high art. The team is quick to point out the differences between a work with superficial “grim and gritty” elements, and a work with truly mature or sophisticated themes. In their urge to tell the Watchmen story, I think they lost the copyright throughline that connected all the chapters of the book somewhat, but it was still pretty interesting, and there’s no denying the sheer amount of research and fact-checking that went into a book like this. Even if the book had a few rough spots (including a couple bad typos like an extra “the” or missing “of”), I was impressed with the overall package and visionary effort. Grade B+.

Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #3 (Avatar Press): Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres finally get around to delivering the penultimate issue after a several month delay, and I can’t really say it was worth the wait. The entire proceedings just felt a little flat for me. I do enjoy the experimental gusto with which Caceres flips back and forth between the more traditional comic pages and the “woodcut” effect used in the scene breaks, but the regular pencils feel like they were rushed. They’re looser and thicker, without the more refined and controlled line I’ve come to expect from him on earlier works or even earlier issues of this series. The fight scenes appear overwrought or over-choreographed or something, certainly not organic, but there are occasional flashes of brilliance, such as the clever reflection in the glass blowing scene. I don’t recall much of what happened last issue, so motivations are a bit unclear, but it appears one of the pirates and one of the policemen have joined forces, and ultimately anoint a new Captain while a morally questionable Bow Street Runner attempts to track down the stronghold at Cindery Island. There’s at least two typos sprinkled about (adding to that rushed feeling), which just furthers the assessment that this is one hot mess. As an aside, I still don’t understand why a 4 issue mini-series takes the better part of two years to produce. It’s getting to the point where even a celebrated writer like Warren Ellis isn’t enough to get me to support such practices. You might as well write the scripts for the entire 4 issue series and get them penciled and in the can prior to the first issue debuting in order to release them at a reliable monthly, or even bi-monthly, pace. Announce your schedule, then stick to it, it’s pretty straightforward and shouldn’t be a mystery for any publisher. As is typical for Ellis, he touches on some interesting themes here, the danger of imposing social order, the willpower of men driven to a singular task, the guise of free knowledge accelerating the progress of the future, and the hierarchical morality of a class system. Unfortunately, it never quite congeals, and I find myself annoyed by his standard assault of: set up (ish 1), set up (ish 2), INFO DUMP (this third issue being the expository one), and then abrupt end (4th ish, which is sure to read anti-climactic). This rates a fairly low Grade B.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 10 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: For anyone who’s been on the San Diego State University (SDSU) campus and seen the plethora of public sculptures, from such notable artists as Donal Hord, the rich background details in this panel will certainly ring true. Even if you haven’t visited this particular campus, it’s obvious that Ryan’s background and general world-building aesthetic have grown tremendously in recent years. Once again we see meticulous attention to detail and a great effort to provide depth in multiple layers, from the main players up front, to random passersby at two levels of background in the distance. It’s apparent even with the inanimate objects, such as the sculpture, the buildings, and then the clouds in the distance. Ryan and Dr. Polkinhorn explain why comics criticism in the form of actual comics is such a rarely seen type of art, because it would require blending at least three different disciplines in a fairly competent manner – writing comics, drawing comics, and (if I can be so bold) the art of offering meaningful feedback and constructive critique to other practitioners – certainly a daunting task for anyone.

Panel 2: Here, Ryan uses that noteworthy texturing technique in the background again and the way it’s shaped, the dome really forces your eye down onto the two characters. Not only does Ryan capture great facial expressions and figure gesturing with this panel, but there’s something about the good-natured laugh that really gets me. I like the way that these two individuals, from different generations, with different sensibilities, and at least a couple decades of age between them, can share a hearty laugh and connect in this way. It’s almost as if Ryan’s look suggests that he’s surprised he cracked up the professor to the degree he did. It’s a fast little moment, but a realistic one, and I can only assume this is a fairly accurate representation of what it was like in reality, because I don’t think you can fabricate these complex little lightning-fast experiences.

Panel 3: This panel is another in a scale that is quickly becoming my favorite. For whatever reason, I keep calling out this “camera position” and seem to really appreciate Ryan’s figure work at this relatively smaller size. There’s something about the general size, not the look or feel, but the general size, that reminds me of an artist like Eddie Campbell. It’s almost as if the artists view the world through a distorted microscopic lens, and it really emphasizes the point that they are carefully observing the world around them, as well as their place within it. The detail also never stops; for me, I think a lesser artist wouldn’t have even bothered to include the trash cans to the right or the bench with the guy leisurely sitting, but Ryan always seems intent on giving the extra effort, and as a reader the resulting effect is well worth the labor involved!


Graphic Novel of the Month

Lewis & Clark (First Second): As creator Nick Bertozzi mentions in his brief introduction, this iteration of the Lewis & Clark story isn’t intended to supplant any canonical or existing historical accounts. This telling of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s transcontinental voyage to discover a water route to the Pacific Ocean does highlight the requisite benchmarks of their travels, but also gives a bit of a speculative behind-the-scenes accounting of the interesting motivations, hidden conversations, and entertaining anecdotes that fueled the voyage, based in part on Lewis’ diary of letters. It’s a rare work that can both educate and entertain, but the book does so, and it’s the type of text that I could see easily engaging middle school or high school classrooms for its sheer accessibility. It’s got a sense of humor and an open, airy quality to the art that invites endlessly, but it never fails to illustrate the many historically at-odds groups with an interest in the northwest territory, from the fledgling Americans, to the British, Spanish, French, and indigenous people of the early 1800’s. Artistically, Bertozzi isn’t content resting on simple straightforward presentation and takes several opportunities to push his craft. There are multiple variations of the panel designs, my favorite being how he manages the passage of time with these low-slung elongated panels. They provide a very tactile sense of the long arduous journey that was undertaken. Another example of inventive “comics-making” that stood out for me were the small but effective techniques Bertozzi would casually include, such as when the characters are using a form of sign language, and there’s an actual hand built into the design of the caption box to signify that it’s visual, not auditory, communication being reflected. Lewis was a fairly celebrated army officer, while Clark was more of an outdoorsman, yet their differing personalities joined for this meaningful expedition of discovery, the beginning of which actually pre-dated President Jefferson’s forward-thinking Louisiana Purchase. The tale is careful to depict impending paranoia, on the part of Lewis, and setbacks galore for the so-called Corps of Discovery. It’s one of many startling acts involved in the building of a nation. I appreciate Bertozzi’s effort to show occasionally duplicitous dealings, and also include what happened after the voyage and not gloss over the initial triumph. Despite their many accomplishments, the Lewis family was plagued by mental illness and we see the paranoid delusions of Lewis accurately grow toward suicidal tendencies in the wake of the voyage. The inclusion of this short epilogue showing the turns their lives took after the more popular elements of the story made the entire project gain some additional credibility with me. Lewis & Clark chronicles a rich piece of history and also functions brightly as a fulfilling slice of entertainment. Grade A.

3.09.11 Releases

It really feels like another extremely dull week, especially considering that the two books I’m most interested in have about a 50/50 shot at showing up on the racks at Sea Donkey’s Grotto. First up is Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #3 (Avatar Press). It’s a shame that one of the most ambitious and creative scribes of our time insists on starting numerous series and then having them stall out with several month delays in between issues. It shouldn’t take a year and a half to two years to get a four issue mini-series out, sorry. Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunleavy deliver Comic Book Comics #5 (Evil Twin), which is the penultimate issue in this telling of the history of the medium in comics form. This issue addresses several lawsuits and I hope that we’ll eventually see a collected edition compiling some of these hard to find issues. I never even saw #4 on an LCS rack. DC gets around to re-issuing Vertigo Resurrected: Finals (DC), which was a brilliant little four issue mini-series from Will Pfeifer and Jill Thompson. I gave dozens of these sets away that I rescued from quarter bins in its day. It’s a self-aware satire about college kids preparing for life in a comic book world, sort of a more dark and biting version of the film Sky High, befitting the Vertigo imprint. Morgan Spurlock and a host of artists, including Tony Millionaire, deliver Supersized: Strange Tales of a Fast Food Culture (Dark Horse), which is sure to simultaneously entertain and disgust. And if you’re looking for one of the best X-franchise stories to debut in years, then you need to pick up Uncanny X-Force: The Apocalypse Solution (Marvel), which collects the heart-pounding, witty, and sharp character portrayals of the first four issues of the new saga.


Pretty Ladies Fighting Robots

Pretty Ladies Fighting Robots is a 10 page jpg sampler I received featuring the web-comic stylings of Chris Schneider. While there’s no active URL yet, no ordering information, or even the faint glimmer of a print version on the horizon, it’s really frickin’ good! The most captivating visual component of Schneider’s work is the lush watercolor effect he uses. It’s extremely pleasing to the eye and it actually reminds me of a fledgling version of the work of French comics artist Joann Sfar. Schneider’s got a deadpan sense of humor, visible in some of the throwaway names used in the background details. His facial expressions are very emotive and warm, there’s a nice sense of depth and perspective to the environments, and he’s careful to vary the shots when he’s staging panels. The story revolves around some charmingly flawed characters and runs them through several funny break-up clichés, culminating with the requisite drunk drowning of sorrows and an attempted drunken visit that goes awry. Along the way, Schneider continues his graphic design sensibility, such as the bottom of page 2 and its use of black background that isolates the character and tonally suggests a sense of loneliness. It’s clear that Schneider has an ear for witty dialogue, evidenced by the introduction or Robo-Friend, the two protagonists, and heck, the speech patterns of just about everyone we meet in the cast. Visual cues like “insta-sobriety” or direct statements like “…this is EXACTLY what it looks like” are not yuck-yuck guffaws, but work with an intelligence that doesn’t insult the reader. There’s robot sex talk full of “hard drives” and “motherboards” that lands soundly on the laugh-o-meter. Page 6 is probably my favorite page in terms of the craft of “comics-making.” It’s full of humor, sexuality, and betrayal, delivering a twist I never saw coming. It does so completely silently, sucking all the oxygen out of the room as it levels a character emotionally. It’s a great example of profoundly successful panel to panel storytelling. Deep into the story, I started asking myself “Where are the ‘Pretty Ladies Fighting Robots’ exactly?” It’s clear that this sampler functions as a prequel of sorts, that introduces the characters, the world, and the premise of what is hopefully much more to come. It’s a good teaser and drops off with a great cliffhanger. Overall, I’d say that there is a subtle Joss Whedon vibe that harkens back to classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer territory, where extraordinary things are simply accepted in a self-aware fashion by the characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s young women fighting vampires or robots, they’re ready to rock and it pulls the audience effortlessly into the world that’s been created and allows the suspension of disbelief. Pretty Ladies Fighting Robots is one of the more accomplished art projects I’ve seen at the student level, and my only concern is its readiness to function at the commercial level. If Schneider were to up his game in terms of self-promotion and consumer viability, I know that there is a market for PLFR. Taking that leap and establishing a web presence for the work to function as a web-comic or even diving into the waters of self-publishing with an actual print version would earn this work an even higher mark than what it gets now, Grade A.

Chris has posted up his work here: http://scoogle.deviantart.com/gallery/#/d3aj55l


3.02.11 Reviews

Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 (Dark Horse): Written by Malachai Nicolle (age 6) and drawn by his brother Ethan Nicolle (age 30), Axe Cop was a web sensation that was tearing it up for most of 2010. Dark Horse worked hard to capture the brothers' manic play time ideas in print, featuring the adventures of Axe Cop and Dinosaur Soldier, fighting bad guys with their unorthodox training and style. I can assuredly say that Axe Cop works because it’s not trying to be funny or outlandish at all, it’s simply done in the joyous and freewheeling voice of a 6 year old. It is essentially the random way young kids tell you stories: “and then this happened, and then that happened, and then something else happened!” and on and on and on, with no clear causality stringing happening A to happening B. Putting on my dad hat for a second, the creations certainly ring true. My daughter (who’s 4, closing on 5) invented a superhero alias for herself named “Flower Girl.” She promptly dubbed her little brother her “sidekick” and named him the all-adjective “Surfing Water Power.” When asked what they do, well, he saves people from the water, and she saves people from gardens. Axe Cop works with that same sort of undeniable charm and innocent logic that you can’t really argue with, such as the “faint bombs,” which are for the “dumb good guys.” It’s not just for kids though, because it unintentionally dips its toe into more pop culture waters at times, delivering lines like “I’m thirsty. I want a drink of water.” Anyone into Tarantino's films will quickly notice that it sounds similar to Harvey Keitel’s Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs, saying “I’m hungry. Let’s get a taco.” Axe Cop is endlessly quotable, rejoinders like “they were pretty sure it was a bad guy planet” fill the pages. Nicolle The Elder’s art is fast paced, beautifully colored, and has a raw energy to it from sharp lines, caricature style figures, and real environments that give it all a slight air of believability. Malachai’s ideas are not restrained by common storytelling conventions, which allow things like the Axe Cop Monster Truck to occur, a brief pause for our hero’s daily 2 minute nap, or the entire US Army being stolen by giants. From robotic chicken brain bad guys… with swords, to Handcuff Man being created and terminated within 3 pages, to Wexter the T-Rex with machine gun arms, it’s all instant kitsch. I guess if you were going to cross the Scott Pilgrim video game sensibility and SFX with the outlandish monster humor of Hellboy and run it through the mental pacing of a young fertile mind, you might get something like Axe Cop. Also? "SCRTATK." Grade A.

Joe The Barbarian #8 (DC/Vertigo): Oh, let’s see, the last issue of this came out in… September of last year. I’d honestly forgotten all about it, but after investing in the first 7 issues, what the hell? In for a penny, in for a pound. The detail of Murphy’s art is still breathtaking, sort of the sinewy elements of Frank Quitely merged with the sharp angles of Kevin O’Neill, and I really hope he lands some additional work that I can check out. Protagonist Joe is still caught in between reality and a hallucinated world induced by hypoglycemic shock. The art is grand and there are elements of the parity between worlds I enjoy, but the internal mythology of the “dream” world is really convoluted, with some dang prophecy continually referenced but never explained, and unclear motivations of different warring factions, despite some expository attempts at wrapping it all up in a tidy package. By the end, some of the parallels between worlds are clarified and the note from beyond sets some things right and is emotionally effective. Even if you ignore the ridiculous publishing schedule, Joe The Barbarian remains an imperfect, but imaginative affair. I think it could be adapted into a dark children’s book that is about the right length for a feature film, hopefully working out the kinks in the process. Somebody get on that. Grade B+.

Moral Geometry #2 (1777 Publishing): [This book was not released this week.] This is the latest issue of Sean Andress’ 24 page, black and white, quarterly ongoing that blends some wry humor, horror elements, and surreal happenings into one interesting package. It’s a thought-provoking, nay – challenging, work that doesn’t rely on the crutch of dialogue. The cover grabs you with a mixed-media collage style cover and dives right into imagery that individually ranges from the disturbing to the sublime. Moral Geometry is all about cultural observation and seems most concerned with our perceptions of the world around us, self-image in an imperfect world, and the continual lack of empathy toward our fellow man, which usually leads to some form of judgment. Along the way, Andress touches on death, rebirth, and personal evolution. If it sounds like I’m talking around the story, it’s because at times the story throughline becomes a little fuzzy due to some isolated moments of disjointed transitions from panel to panel, but there’s no denying the appeal of the visuals and overall tone being achieved. If I cite a comparison, as I’m wont to do, I’d say that Andress’ art takes the thick lines of a luminary like Gary Panter and melds them with the Gothic inspired oddities of someone like Edward Gorey. It’s an appealing treat, and more information can be found at: http://www.1777publishing.blogspot.com/ Grade B.

Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 9 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: For some reason, I feel like this page is really near and dear to my heart. As a critic myself, I find it fascinating to take the ideas that Ryan and Dr. Polkinhorn are discussing and apply them to myself. I think the duo make an important distinction here by saying that most of what critics have to say should not be interpreted as empirical fact, but rather as opinion. Now, you can find critics whose opinions you may agree or disagree with, whose style you may like, whose tastes may fall in line with your own, whose statements occasionally challenge you to consider a work of art differently, but at the end of the day, it’s all just one person’s opinion, and remembering that would probably eliminate at least half of the flame wars on the interwebs. Artistically, this first panel is well balanced visually, with the figures to the left and the heft of the speech balloon over to the right.

Panel 2: I like this panel a lot because it shows off the range of facial expressions and figure gesturing that Ryan is capable of. There’s not a lot of artists out there, from the indie crowd to the mainstream masses, that could capture this squinty-blinked expression that we’ve all seen so many times before in our daily lives. It doesn’t have a common name, it’s hard to describe verbally, but as readers we know it the instant we see it visually. It’s a tremendous example of our visual symbolic language that only the medium of comics can get away with so beautifully and succinctly. Subtlety and nuanced detail add so much; try to imagine this panel without the four small motion lines surrounding Ryan’s hands and it would be a totally different effect.

Panel 3: This panel is incredibly strong on both fronts. Visually, it’s another painstakingly rendered panel full of life, detail, and depth. The line weight varies with each layer of depth and you can imagine the scene vanishing on the horizon just beyond the speech balloons in the middle of the panel. In terms of dialogue and ideas, this is the panel that really sold the whole page for me. Inspired by Craig Thompson’s one page intro/summary/brilliance of DC/Vertigo’s recent Daytripper collected edition by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Ryan and I were actually joking about how cool it would be to provide reviews of comics in comics format. It’s something that, to my knowledge, has never been done before; I could provide the review content and Ryan could illustrate, though with a weekly review schedule involving multiple books, I’m not sure Ryan would look forward to that penciling schedule! But, my heart still longs to try it as an experiment, a least once, in order to blur that line between critical critique and critical output. At the end of the day, ATOD #9 is shaping up to be yet another issue where Ryan pushes us to examine the way comics work functionally, and he’s doing it by utilizing the comics medium, something pretty rare and unique in itself. More, please!


3.02.11 Releases

It’s a bit of a snoozer this week, but here are a few gems that sparkled amid the detritus. Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1 (Dark Horse) marks the print outing of the web-comic sensation written by a kid, and illustrated by his older brother. Holy crap! I’d forgotten all about this book, but it’s the last issue of the mini-series, with Joe The Barbarian #8 (DC/Vertigo) finally shipping months later. Though I certainly believe in voting with your wallet and not supporting such ridiculous scheduling, it’s surprisingly coherent for Grant Morrison, and Sean Murphy’s art is usually worth the price of admission alone. I’m not a huge fan of Jeff Lemire’s Vertigo work, but with art contributions by Matt Kindt and Nate Powell, I’ll probably be picking up Sweet Tooth #19 (DC/Vertigo), which has taken an experimental turn of late. On the graphic novel front, we’re FINALLY getting a collected edition of Wildcats Version 3.0: Year Two (DC/Wildstorm). This is a Joe Casey joint which uses the type of prescient futurism that Warren Ellis has built a career on and pre-dates the type of corporate paradigm shifting drama that Matt Fraction has built his run of Invincible Iron Man on, only Casey did it years ago in the Wildstorm Universe, proof again why it was a fertile breeding ground allowing the type of creative freedom The Big Two only seem to arrive at a decade later. It’s got art by Dustin Nguyen and Sean Phillips, collecting issues 13-24. My strongest recommendation this week is probably Lewis & Clark (St. Martins Press), a feature length GN from Nick Bertozzi, the only doubt will be if it's the type of book Sea Donkey will have the foresight to have ordered.