2.29.12 Review

Scalped #56 (DC/Vertigo): Yeah, SPOILER ALERT or whatever… One of my favorite TV shows was Six Feet Under on HBO. It’s right up there with The West Wing and Game of Thrones as favorite shows of all time. One of the amazing things they did on that show was flash forward in the very last episode in order to gain some perspective on the evolving arcs of the main characters. It really resonated. I see Jason Aaron doing the same thing here by skipping ahead just 8 months. So much activity is transpiring, Sheriff Falls Down is seen supporting the rebuilding of the Gina Bad Horse Community Center in the shadow of Lincoln Red Crow being arrested by former FBI Agent Dash Bad Horse. While Lincoln is incarcerated facing charges ranging from money laundering, to corruption, to murder (and I gotta’ believe the Feds would try to pin more on him than that under the RICO law), we fly through so many rich characters. Nitz is living it up, Dash is being characterized as equal parts hero and traitor by the media – eager to pin a label on him without understanding the nuance of the situation, Catcher is still “missing,” and Carol, oh, sweet, sweet Carol. That scene broke my heart. Dash seems like a changed man attempting to make peace with himself, with his life on the rez, and with both of his dead parents. Meanwhile, Red Crow has a huge decision to make while incarcerated. He could easily help his case by introducing Dash’s involvement in any number of drug, murder, or missing FBI Agent charges (Diesel!), but like Matthew Roth in DMZ he also has to feel that someone, some man, is held accountable for everything that went down. Maybe he’s that man. I guess this isn’t so much a critique as much as it is a plot summary, but it’s hard to be critical of a book I’ve loved for years finally coming to its conclusion. There’s equal parts hope and heartbreak here, no good guys, no bad guys, just people with different paths and motivations trying to make things right as they see them. Scalped was never just a Native American story, but an American story, a little microcosm of the breakdown of the larger society it’s a part of. About how things get fucked up despite our best intentions. This first installment of the final arc, “Trail’s End,” definitely has that somber feel, that Jason Aaron and RM Guera are closing down all these various story threads for characters we have so much invested in, in a very emotionally satisfying way, one that stays true to the book’s true colors. Grade A.


The Dark Zack! Empire Strikes Again

Ugly People! #2 (Self-Published by Zack! Empire): I was really happy when Zack! contacted me about sending in a review copy of the new book, because I always enjoy reading his stuff. Overall, things are improving in terms of production values. The slightly oversized package is attractive and has good print quality. I’ll confess that I was a little disappointed to see the stark front cover, all of the title info is hidden on the inside front cover, which I felt was a step back from the first issue that had it more prominently displayed. The sheer number of typos was a concern in the last issue, and it remains so here. It’s definitely improving in terms of volume, but the same types of mistakes are systematically being made with apostrophe confusion between plurality and possession, the dreaded your/you’re distinction, and many missing vowels in the spelling gaffes (for example, “intresting” and “definitly”) being sprinkled throughout the book.

The first entry features probably my favorite character, Big Daddy Bacon, who is a pretty vile cat who uses and abuses his friends, and is most concerned with how many chicks (usually co-workers) that he can slay. It’s obviously puerile, but you can’t say it’s not entertaining with the sheer glee with which he conducts himself. When it really gets good, the funny is even superseded by mocking the very stereotypes it purports to function with. You have to get over a small logic hole in this (why would Big Daddy Bacon owe his employer any money if they’ve already been docking his pay for some time for the meals he takes?), but once you do his oblivious indignation is really priceless. For some reason, I enjoy the supporting character “Lonewolf,” perhaps because he reveals how Empire’s crisp pencils allow you to glean all of the character’s personalities from their aesthetic alone (his women are particularly striking in this regard). It’s true of the whole package, the gritty, dirty, slimy background details of the environment in a place like the “C**T HUNT,” the gentlemen’s club they work at, looks and feels as skeevy, grimy, and smelly as you’d imagine it to be. You also have to admire the honesty with which Big Daddy Bacon sometimes operates; at times, we’d all like to interject to a coworker “Listen, I’m already bored with you, so let me get to the point.” Ultimately, BDB is duped into working as a bounty hunter in an attempt to make some quick cash, which sets up the forthcoming installment of this story nicely.

For me, the Big Daddy Bacon entry was certainly the headliner, but there are a couple more also-rans. “4 Months” features recurring character Jerkface, who desiring more creative output, seeks “motovation” (misspelled like that every time it appears, which is often) to come up with some story ideas to create periodic comics. The gag seems to go on a little too long without much funny, but does culminate well when the torn-in-half “To-Do List” guy begins critiquing the panel borders and scene transitions of “Completed Page” guy. This one has a wry sense of humor that gets right to the heart of the act of creation in this medium with some good old fashioned meta-commentary. “Kitchen Magic” is the last of the trio in this issue, and is an extended infomercial style piece featuring (I think) “Lloyd Rivers” (spelled as “Lylod”), who manages some great quips like “That’s not rugburn, it’s herpes!” He offers a series of coffee maker recipes including sweet tea and instant noodles that promise the delicious “favor” of “tomotos.” I keep harping on the typos, but they really do tend to derail what would otherwise be an abrasive wise-cracking character who makes you laugh as he insults you in the process. Similarly, all three blurbs in the back for forthcoming issues make we want to read those issues, but all three ads also have typos in them! Argghh! I want to edit these comics. They’re funny, but the typos are not. With some editorial guidance, this would certainly rate higher than Grade B. www.itszackempire.blogspot.com

VERY Close to Spilling About Something I've Been VERY Excited About a VERY Long Time

Here's a clue...


Enjoying The Slaughter

Successful Slaughter (Self-Published by Marek Bennett): Bennett offers up a bit of a travelogue style series of strips about his time in Slovakia. The book opens with an immediate attention grabber rife with culture shock regarding cigarette warning labels. The creator uses anthropomorphic stand-ins that seem to be a bit influenced by James Kolchalka. While the main thrust of the story centers on Bennett being invited to a bull slaughter, the book is jam packed with diverse and entertaining cultural observations on everything from the military, to 9/11, to religion, to family, to Eastern European politics, to customs surrounding cuisine, drinking, and hospitality. The only really nitpicky critique I can give the book is that some of the page cuts have a slightly rough hewn production quality to them in that they’re not perfectly square and don’t line up. Other than that, this is quite a cultured accomplishment and something that makes you feel good about yourself after you read it. In my view, the best autobiography isn’t just futile navel-gazing, but it helps you a) learn something by exposing you to some set of experiences you might not otherwise be exposed to, and b) introspect and examine your own culture and sense of self because of what you just saw and read. Successful Slaughter fits the bill on both counts. www.marekbennett.com Grade A.

Everyone Has a Tell

The Tell (Self-Published by Chris Kawagiwa): I’ve been assured that Kawagiwa has corrected all of the numerous typos for forthcoming printings of this book, and that’s a good thing, because they’d just detract from an otherwise great package. The Tell operates with a lot of intrigue and centers on an inventor subtly investigating the mystery surrounding an enigmatic ringmaster in a slightly steampunky circus. It’s a deeply engaging done-in-one (in a world left open for future adventures) with striking visuals done in gray tones and what looks like lush ink washes. My only slight reservation with how events are portrayed is that there isn’t one shred of dialogue, it’s all done in voice-over narration. On one hand, it seems to violate the “show, don’t tell” rule, but on the other hand, the recounting of the tale in this manner does seem to add to the mysterious intrigue since it’s a tale told in hindsight. Kawagiwa’s bulbous distinct figures and their emotionally charged body language keep things exciting. His style seems equally adept at figures, costumes, lions, environs, action, and the more contemplative bits. This is someone I’d like to see more work from, which really is high praise these days. www.chriskawagiwa.com Grade A-.

2.29.12 Releases

You all know that I unequivocally love Scalped. It’s one of the best, if not the best, Vertigo books, err – make that DC books, err – make that any publisher’s books, in recent history. However, I can’t help the feeling that it’s a harbinger of some kind of death knell, and that when it wraps in just 4 more issues, it will be the end of an era at the Vertigo imprint. Vertigo used to consistently be the home of probably the best, most consistent material around, somewhere around 5-10 years ago. But when most of their high-end creators get snatched up by Marvel exclusive contracts or are pushed out for one reason or another and end up delivering their creator-owned material elsewhere, something feels amiss. Scalped, and the few issues that remain, seem like the last vestigial remnant of this era. With all of the amazing Image Expo announcements coming out over the weekend, it’s like Image is the new Vertigo, the home of cutting edge stories and a destination showcase for uniquely talented creators. In any case, it’s Scalped #56 (DC/Vertigo) this week, picking up from an absolutely shocking cliffhanger last month that went a little something like this: “FBI. You’re under arrest.”

I doubt I’ll pick up Orc Stain #7 (Image) after sampling the contents of the first trade, but this will undeniably be on some people’s pull lists this week after something of a publishing hiatus. I like much of what James Stokoe has produced in some anthology work here and there, just not so much on this main title. That’s it for me, what looks good to you?


If a Mini-Comic is Made in The Forest and Nobody...

Lumberjacks Make Art Too (Self-Published by Jacob Hudgins): The first thing I noticed about Lumberjacks was that it’s a very accomplished package. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see material like this from creators tabling at a small indie-friendly show like APE in San Francisco. You can also certainly see the influence of Hudgins’ MSU professor Ryan Claytor. That creative osmosis is there in the extra mile of the little design flourishes that most self-publishers avoid. It’s the border of the wood grain cover, the paper stock of that same cover, the small spot illustrations on the table of contents, and the general attention to font and layout. The detailed approach to the presentation gives it the best chance of distinguishing itself in a marketplace pretty crowded with not-so-great work.

There’s one unfortunate typo glaring out in the affable introduction that caught my eye (“snippit” vs. snippet), but that’s hardly a show-stopper. Hudgins’ aesthetic style is light and effortless, I might even dare to sound erudite and say “ligne claire,” but I do think Hudgins could increase the emotional heft of his stories by varying the line weight and being more adventurous with the ink. I think those touches would allow his strong figure work (I especially like the shot of “Zombie Jacob”) in the foreground to pop against the occasional skimpy background.

I enjoyed the notion of art providing a differential identity with his twin. “How I’m Getting There” is a short which features the creator dreaming in class and so much of the story is told without dialogue or exposition. It’s a very strong panel-to-panel dynamic which never causes the reader to question meaning. “Speed Bumps” is hands down my favorite piece in the book. It’s an interesting exercise in sequential portraiture, making an incredibly compelling set of imagery that forces the reader to notice small changes in the accoutrements of the panel contents. It’s the most thought-provoking of the pieces, allowing the reader to bring in some independent analysis and interact with the work, not simply consume the relatively straightforward stories in the other fairly typical autobio entries. I can also easily imagine oversized versions of these full-page panels showing well in a gallery setting, so just something to think about, Jacob! For me, this piece delivers a strong message about art having the power to push despair out of monotonous life. The last piece is a bit of a confessional about a 27 year old toy addict. It’s a fun note to end the book on after the more cerebral “Speed Bumps,” which art snobs like me will naturally gravitate toward. *Wink!*

With a couple of very minor glitches aside, this BFA student in sculpture shows a lot of promise in the low-fi indie comics scene, having produced a very strong project for a first time publication. Contact lumberjackart AT gmail DOT com so you can send him your $4. Grade A-.

Am I A Reviewer Or Not?

So, this happened…

@PeterDavid_PAD: RT If you are an accredited reviewer who would like to receive copies of Crazy 8 titles, write to me at padguycrazy8@gmail.com.

@thirteenminutes: @PeterDavid_PAD Love your work, but what the heck is an “accredited reviewer?” What agency do I apply to for accreditation?

@PeterDavid_PAD: @thirteenminutes I think it’s one of those “if you have to ask” things…

@PeterDavid_PAD: @thirteenminutes Basically we’re trying to separate people who write, “I just read this book. Meh.” from pretty much everyone else.

@thirteenminutes: @PeterDavid_PAD Ok, not trying to be surly, just fascinated by the notion of some commonly accepted qualifications to be a reviewer

@PeterDavid_PAD: @thirteenminutes There’s a difference between a guy who writes a blog w/three followers and one who regularly contributes to major site.

@thirteenminutes: @PeterDavid_PAD Slippery slope, but I hear what you’re saying. Thanks for responding (and for X-Factor 87, still a fave!)

I don’t follow Peter David’s writing career religiously or anything, but I generally think he’s good. I thought his X-Factor run back in the day with Joe Quesada was the business. I’ve enjoyed the current run, especially the early issues with Ryan Sook. I started following him on Twitter because he jumped on about when I did and seemed to have all kinds of entertaining energy. I have only peripherally heard of his Crazy 8 project and don’t really care one way or another if I read the material. What really jumped out at me in this otherwise innocuous tweet was the “accredited reviewer” verbiage.

I think that idea is rubbish.

Now, benefit of the doubt, maybe he didn’t think too hard about that word choice, “accredited,” and I know it wasn’t the main crux of his tweet, but he said it, and it sure bugged me. I think we all have some idea of what he meant... or do we, really? I can see in hindsight that my original message to him may have come off aggressive and fairly smart-ass, so that’s my bad. With all that prefacing out of the way, I want to get into this idea.

The bottom line is that there are no qualifications to be a reviewer. Period. There’s no commonly accepted credentials that are prerequisites, nor is there any governing third party that would validate that, other than the irrational court of public opinion. Reviewing comics at CBR is no more/less “reviewy” legitimate than reviewing comics at John Doe’s Comics Blog. You don’t need any qualifications to bloviate about your opinion on comics online. You start a blog, you talk about comics, and guess what? You’re a reviewer! You might not be a good reviewer (let’s not even go down that rabbit hole about what makes a “good” reviewer, I’m still just talking about what makes an adjectiveless “reviewer”), but nonetheless you are technically a reviewer.

I’ve been reviewing and/or blogging about comics in one form or another online for something like 10 years now, 7 here at Thirteen Minutes alone. I’m currently actively involved in 3 sites, one of which is a paid gig, one of which is with a major “name” creator, I can walk into any comic shop or Barnes & Noble and find one of my pull quotes, tens of thousands of hits involved, and a small but loyal following. Hey, I think I’m fairly successful. I self-identify as a reviewer. I have never once written a review like the one Peter fears: “I just read this book. Meh.” But despite all of that, I’m guessing that I’m not an accredited reviewer by Peter David’s subjective definition because a) until today, he’s probably never heard of me, and b) I don’t write for CBR (nothing against CBR, just an example).

Ultimately, I decided to try and close this conversation thread with Peter down because a) it was early in the morning in California and I felt like being conciliatory, b) I didn’t really feel like arguing once I saw where his head was at, I wasn’t going to be able to move the needle of his perception, and c) I don’t think Twitter is a feasible venue to get deep into a topic like this, that’s what blogs are for. Suffice it to say, I thought his retorts were fairly dismissive and over-simplified. Obviously there’s a simple difference between a person who writes a blog with a limited following and a person who contributes regularly to a major site. Kind of a straw man argument, that one. Not to mention, there’s so much subjectivity in it. For example, what qualifies something as a “major” site? Because someone has heard of it before? Popularity does not equate to quality. If that were the case, some recent dreck like Justice League #1 would have been considered "the best" comic. Is one of the criteria of being a "major" site hits, or unique impressions? If you get 1 million hits, that's pretty successful, but 3 hits isn't. What about 100,000? What about 10,000? What about 1,000? Where's the line? What becomes a credible source? This is my point. It's a slippery slope argument, with no hard and fast rules.

My main point is that he cited two polar extremes that are not binary mutually-exclusive choices. They exist on a continuum, hence my slippery slope description. In an era where everyone’s famous on the internet for 15 people, where is the threshold between obscurity and success? I’m genuinely asking the question, because I don’t know the definitive answer, and am suggesting that one doesn’t actually exist. It would be near impossible to get anyone to agree on the conditions. I’m neither the guy blogging with 3 followers (I easily have 10 times that amount! Haha!), nor am I the guy contributing to whatever is considered a “major” site. I exist somewhere right in the middle.

I consider myself fairly qualified by my own internal compass. One of my first jobs as a kid was working in the neighborhood LCS, I’ve read comics most of my life, with two distinct multi-year gaps where girls, cars, and soccer trumped them. I was interested in writing from an early age, devoured books, wrote for school newspapers, real newspapers, etc. I’ve had several paid writing gigs in pop culture that did not involve comics; my first paid writing gig ever was actually writing movie reviews for a real ball-buster of an editor. In comics, I cover depth and breadth, from the mainstream, to indie small press, to the most rudimentary mini-comics. I’ve made my own mini-comics, one of the best pieces of “training” for being a reviewer I can imagine. Most importantly, I’ve worked outside of comics professionally for, oh, 17 years now. I’ve worked for the Federal Government, I’ve worked in the private sector, I’ve worked in Corporate America for a Fortune 100, and I’ve worked at a small NPO that’s an art institution. I have a degree, but not in journalism or art. I guess my point is that, again, there’s no commonly accepted set of qualifications or credentials to be a reviewer.

As far as I can tell, the only qualifications to be a decent reviewer are a) don’t suck, and b) self-promote. That’s it! Interestingly, I think these are the exact same qualifications needed at the most fundamental level to be a good creator. As far as I can tell, I sort of sit on the fence between being an inbred fanboy and still being an objective outsider with some worldly experience to draw from as a point of reference. Perhaps that’s reflected in my reading habits. I can absolutely get down with Scott Snyder on Batman from DC Comics, which is about as mainstream a title as you can get at the moment. I can also totally get down with the latest mini-comic from Tom Neely, Julia Gfrorer, or Noah Van Sciver. You probably haven’t heard of these people, and if you have, it’s only because I’ve hyped them to you before. Sometimes, the most interesting things happen in the gray area between the two extremes, where a creator like Kody Chamberlain lives; a book like Sweets is totally in my wheelhouse. It’s where I like to live as a reviewer. Creatively or critically, you find voices you personally like for any multitude of reasons, and you follow them. That's it.

Sometimes people with paper qualifications, journalistic training, or academic provenance can produce the driest and most boring review. Sometimes people without these types of ostensible qualifications have the most interesting things to say simply because they do come at it as an outsider who brings a fresh approach and perspective that is illuminating. There’s no journalistic training, no academic pedigree that makes me a reviewer. I review, therefore I am.

“Accreditation” as a reviewer is a false distinction that exists only in limited perception of the world. It is exclusive, not inclusive. Having a byline from a recognized “brand name” site is fairly meaningless in terms of the quality it guarantees. So much of these labels and categorization involve highly subjective matters of personal taste. It’s the same with creators as it is with critics. I follow people, not brands. I’ll buy The Massive from Dark Horse Comics because Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson created it, not because of some blind loyalty to the DH brand, or loyalty to some set of franchise characters. Similarly, I read reviews from Tucker Stone, or Abhay Khosla, or Kelly Thompson, or Matt Clark, or Keith Silva because I happen to think they’re intelligent and entertaining, not because of their background qualifications, or because they happen to write at Comics Alliance or CBR, or their own damn blog with the infamous "3 followers" for that matter. The masthead does not ensure quality. On its face, nothing establishes or guarantees credibility. Quality, accredited, credentials, qualifications, and credibility are all nebulous terminology in this world. What's credible to one person is crap to the next. It’s all a subjective illusion.


2.22.12 Reviews

The Massive #0.2 (Dark Horse): I know, I know, it’s really Dark Horse Presents #9, but when all I’m really interested in is the second installment of what is basically a zero issue split into three origin story segments, I’m going to go ahead and call it The Massive #0.2 okay? First, quickly, the rest: Paul Pope adds some frivolity to a lunar mission from 1969, the Lobster Johnson story was dark and gripping, I enjoyed the striking visuals of the slightly steampunky pirate maybe-kid-friendly female protagonist adventure of Amala’s Blade, and it’s always good to see more Richard Corben and Caitlin Kiernan. But, you know me. I’m here for Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s The Massive, and it’s another incredibly strong installment. This time we learn about Magendra’s origin and how he comes to know Callum Israel, who we met in The Massive #0.1. Donaldson’s work has simply never looked better, especially when Dave Stewart is coloring those moonlit water scenes. I’m going to go ahead and lay claim to the critical notion that Channel Zero (1997), DMZ (2005), and The Massive (2012) not only mark three distinct periods in Wood’s writing career, but that they also form a loose spiritual “trilogy” of sorts in the way they handle sense of self within the context of different social settings. Simplified, if Channel Zero was about a girl reacting to a city, and DMZ broadened the scope to become about a boy and his fractured country, then The Massive looks to zoom even further out to be about a trio of figures and their entire world. It’s a worthy successor to DMZ, a cautionary tale global in scope regarding the destructive parasitic relationship our civilization seems intent of perpetuating with our host planet. If you wander up and down the aisles at the typical LCS, you can point to most books and say this title is like blah, or that title is like blah meets blah, but you can’t really do that with The Massive. Which means it’s a unique artistic vision, a wholly original concept brimming with authorial intent, a well researched factually rich endeavor that provides proof of the fruits of a year that seems to be witnessing a (re)burgeoning creator-owned paradigm. Also, for some reason I kind of want M.I.A. to create some hybrid world music rap beat soundtrack to this, maybe it’s just because one of her songs came on as I was driving to the LCS today. Grade A.

Prophet #22 (Image): “Sci-Fi Conan in Space.” That’s all you really need to know about this title if you want to pitch it to a friend, it takes a world-weary adventurer like Conan and drops him into a sprawling field of imagination that plays like old-school Science Fiction from the 1950’s. John Prophet is wandering the wastelands of a diagrammatic landscape, encountering life forms from many different cultures eking out their existence. The caravan sequence introduces the great diversity present in a world that feels used, lived in, and past its prime, as if we’re just coming in on the tail end of things. It really challenges the reader to keep up and is an effective storytelling approach. I’ve got to say that Prophet, under the hand of Brandon Graham, is one of the best examples of sheer world building in recent memory. It moves quickly from set to set at a brisk pace, as the era of decompression seems to be closing behind us. Simon Roy’s figures are washed in predominantly Earth tones, but they get the occasional infusion of ambers and purples that seem to glow with dim dangerous life. And, The Biomech!!! That’s my term, “biomech,” but the instant you see this second double page spread, it takes your breath away with sheer ingenuity. In Roy’s pencils, I see some Richard Corben, some Geoff Darrow, European flair with American sensibility that feels like a perfect match to this story. I’ll say that I didn’t care for the back-up (though I appreciate the idea of including one), but the issue does end on a terrific cliffhanger that promises a huge brawl next issue. Grade A.


2.22.12 Releases

The roster for Dark Horse Presents #9 (Dark Horse) makes me feel better. Just when I thought I was potentially only buying it for one story and essentially paying $7.99 for a single installment of Wood & Donaldson’s The Massive, they throw in a Paul Pope story, a Mignola Lobster Johnson story, and something called Annala’s Blade, which I’ve been encouraged to check out. I’m also happy to see the next issue of this title, with Prophet #22 (Image Comics) hitting shelves, and continuing this great new genre mash-up from Brandon Graham and Simon Roy. Both of these next titles were recently yanked from my pull list, but I’ll give them a flip at the LCS just to ensure I made the right call, even if temporary. I’m referring to the Marvel Irregulars, Secret Avengers #23 (Marvel) and Uncanny X-Force #22 (Marvel). The former hit an interesting high thanks to Warren Ellis, then slipped dramatically under Remender's watch, while the latter has been continually penned by Rick Remender with the problem stemming from varying quality in the scripting department, in additiotn to being totally hampered by a rotating artist stable, none of whom wow me like Jerome Opena. Yeah, inconsistency's a bitch. On the graphic novel front, I’m interested in My Friend Dahmer (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) by Derf Backderf, a guy who went to high school with young Jeffrey Dahmer and recalls, in very straightforward fashion without much hyperbole, his memories of his pal, and maybe a few 20/20 hindsight red flags along the way. Lastly, I can wholeheartedly recommend the next installment of the epic “Watchmen of Japan” in Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys: Volume 19 (VizMedia). It’s only going to 24 volumes, so there’s still time to catch up before the last translated edition hits American shores. This book made it on My 13 Favorite Things of 2011 list, so do yourself a favor and check it out if you haven’t already.


VOLUME 09: M.I.A. Now Broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ

DMZ VOLUME 09: M.I.A. is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With the series recently wrapped and just two collected editions left to see print, it’s time to jump on board the site dedicated to Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s 6-year DC/Vertigo epic. DMZ is a contemporary classic that chronicles Matthew Roth stuck in a Manhattan war zone in a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War.

LIVE FROM THE DMZ takes a behind-the-scenes "Director's Commentary" look at the creation of the series, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we examine the flagship title from one of the most important creative voices in the last 15 years. There’s nothing else like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and his series collaborators.


2.15.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Batman #6 (DC): I guess you could argue that it’s just the illusion of change, but that’s a pretty damn startling initial image on page 1 that picks right up where last issue’s cliffhanger left off. I enjoy the sense of history The Court of Owls brings to Gotham, especially with how they want to “honor” their “valiant enemy.” Some of these moments are very compelling; they have the same sort of energy that Stanley Kubrick brought to the social judgment scenes in Eyes Wide Shut when ol’ Tom Cruise doesn’t know the password at the mansion. There’s such a terrific dichotomy between reality and what Bruce thinks he’s seeing. This arc/villain feels right up there with the Professor Pyg stuff that Morrison and Quitely were doing. Capullo’s style is full of interesting line work, and attention to very generous detail. I like how his shots are inked, lit, and colored in this cacophony of talent that makes it more than the sum of its parts. They certainly make you feel like they’re really going to break Bruce mentally and physically. This is one of the best examples of straight-up superheroics, a shining example of how good the genre can be under the right creative team with fresh ideas. The Court of Owls and their Talon enforcers is shaping up to be one of those memorable “best runs” in modern history. Anyone can churn out mindless fisticuffs, but few creators can craft original ideas that actually tap into the essence of a character, making a story unique to that property. Grade A.

Winter Soldier #2 (Marvel): I’m still not blown away, but this is a good solid book that sees Bucky and Natasha tracking one of the Zephyr Agents hired to attempt an assassination of Doctor Doom. Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice somehow make a machine gun toting gorilla with a jetpack seem plausible in this post-Cold War espio thriller action mystery, with superhero overtones. No other way to describe it, but it’s a pretty seamless blend of all those tropes. The extended snowy fight scene is a thrilling start to a mission that begins to derail and yield many more clues. There are a few art “tricks” I’m enjoying, like the rendering of the security camera footage at the Latverian Embassy in NY, or the sly use of the panel gutters, which have this weird tech/intel imagery floating in some of the background layouts. At the end of the day, it has a certain old-school feel about exploring forgotten corners of the Marvel U, rather than reliance on some self-conscious big event bullshit, a plot that’s thickened with all kinds of Hammer, Doom, Pym tech on the open market, and some of the most striking covers around. Grade B+.

2.15.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Wasteland #34 (Oni Press): I was telling Brian Wood this the other day, do you know what I really love about a comic? When it makes me look up a word. One need only Google “Nephilim” to get all sorts of insight about the surprisingly effective thematic overlay Antony Johnston is working with in this arc. I also appreciate the manner in which there are clues littered all over the place in this issue, but Johnston shows restraint as a writer and doesn’t beat you over the head with them. It’s not the type of book where some villain is going to monologue in the third act and explain the plot, the denouement, and everything you missed along the way. He respects the intelligence of his audience, and that’s a rare gift as a writer, to operate on a level totally devoid of annoying exposition. There are clues about locations and relationships and Michael’s powers, and what’s transpired in the history of this universe in order to get the characters to this point. I guess when you add all that up, it means, simply put, that nobody is better at world-building than Antony Johnston. When it’s packaged in the easily digestible fluid-looking style of Justin Greenwood, it really sings. I keep wanting to label Greenwood’s style as “animated,” but it’s actually more than that. True, there are some caricature characteristics that make it border on that, but the emotional content of the facial expressions and the gestures of the body language add a nice level of realism that makes a great marriage. There’s energy behind these pencils and they never appear as static lines on the page. Kinetic? Is that the word I’m looking for? Maybe. It’s hard not to comment on the religious overtones in the issue, I’m no biblical scholar, but there’s old stuff here, like Old Testament stuff about lesser deities and the tension between pagan culture and Christianity, along with the obvious Christ-like figures at play. Wasteland, yep, she’s still got it all. Drama, disaster, action, sex, politics, and religion in one of the most fast paced issues in recent memory. It’s a veritable witch’s brew of hot button social topics in one slick looking cauldron. Cliffhanger too! I mean, what the hell happened to Michael and Gerr?! I gotta’ wait another month for this?! C’mon! And thanks for the pull quote on the front cover, guys! Here’s to a very enthusiastic Grade A.

Glory #23 (Image): Not sure if I mentioned it in the Prophet review, but you know what I love? I love how they decided to just continue on with the numbering scheme as if nothing ever happened, in sort of a thumbing-of-the-nose to THOSE OTHER COMPANIES who beat us over the head with an endless sea of relaunches, reboots, renumbering, and ultimate revulsion at their continued publishing practices. If nothing else, you gotta’ love the energy coming out of Image Comics this year with their Image Expo and commitment to the “Experience Creativity” marketing campaign. The lesson? Support Creator Owned Work. Follow Creators, Not Characters. Anyway… if Supreme was Superman, then Glory was the Wonder Woman analogue back in the day, so let’s see what Joe Keatinge and Ross “Wet Moon” Campbell have up their sleeves, no? Right from jump, I like the type of narrative involvement used in relaying the world this is set in. The creators dive right in and never look back. The women look like women, and on the scripting end this taps into the industry’s pulpy, sci-fi, mythological roots without getting lost in genre fetish, with plenty of accessibility for a modern audience with a little more refined palate. The colors are immaculate and Campbell’s art has this inky Paul Pope, Jack Kirby framing, and sinewy Frank Quitely shit all over it. I love it! It’s really fun stuff, especially the meta-commentary about the resurgence of superheroes in the modern era, and how that relates to the fallibility of man. There’s a real sense of consequence about it; shoot, I can already tell that I like this even more than Prophet. The parallel storytelling with the two female protagonists is absolutely on point. God, I bet DC is gonna’ be so damn jealous that this isn’t the type of direction they were remotely capable of taking the new Wonder Woman in! Grade A.


Assembling The Thirty Six

The Thirty Six #3 (Fossil Creek Productions): I'm still so enamored of the high concept, the chosen few emerging from anonymity to save the world. The idea taps into a universal human condition concerning destiny, in that everyone wants to believe they are special. In this issue, Noam seeks to discover who released The Golem of Prague, as Lenore seeks additional information from her aunt. Writer Kristopher White has made an effort to clean up the pesky typos, and now I think the only slight tic he needs to continue to overcome is the occasional reliance on overt exposition, such as when Noam info dumps what he learned after reading the Golem's memory. It's such a fine line to create characters who talk to each other organically rather than talking at the audience to inform their understanding. For the most part though, the dialogue flows well, and I particularly liked the exasperated discussion about why Noan chooses not to date Lenore. Though George Zapata sometimes isn't very generous with backgrounds, his confidence is growing with the foreground figures, and also with the types of shots he uses. There's a real sense of variety and playfulness to the camera placement, and I love seeing things like the occasional inset panel to break up a sea of otherwise symmetrical layouts. The crisp coloring also helps, especially when there's unexpected action, like the Ivan/"Noah" character and his zealotry with the snakes converging. There are very cinematic shots and fun "special effects" when Noam tries to recover The Staff of Moses. Lenore and Noam have a very "Lance and Mia Wallace" moment from Pulp Fiction (you'll know it when you see it!), but overall White is doing a good job at introducing larger machinations in the plot that make a good effort toward original world-building. There are also some unstated connections which probably aren't coincidence; for example, I find it curious that Shira and Lenore's aunt are both in comas. I'm hoping there's some connection there yet to be revealed. By the end, this Mage/Hellboy/Kaballist story ends on a terrific cliffhanger that has suddenly become deeply personal for Noam, with the Leviathan: Harbinger of Doom threat. www.the36.net. Grade A.


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2.15.12 Releases

It’s a small but potent week, with a handful of titles I’m looking forward to, but without a doubt Wasteland #34 (Oni Press) is the one I’m most excited about. C’mon, look at that cover! It’s a nice spread this week, with one book each from Oni Press, Image Comics, Marvel, and DC. Continuing the publisher’s creator owned resurgence, we have Glory #23 (Image). If it’s anywhere near as good as Prophet, we’ll be in business. Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo continue the best Batman book out there at the moment, with Batman #6 (DC). Finally, Marvel manages to grab my attention when their other titles have been flailing around (Uncanny X-Force & Secret Avengers, I’m looking at you!) with Winter Soldier #2 (Marvel). What looks good to you?


“I’m Young, But I’m Devoted”

The Offering (Self-Published by Anna Bongiovanni): I like to imagine The Offering as a softer version of Julia Gfrorer’s Flesh & Bone, which was one of the best books I read last year. It has that same sort of flickering line weight, this rustic quality that reverberates with kinetic potential. There’s an air of mystery to this short parable that immediately entices the reader to continue along the journey of siblings, one eager, and one more reluctant. The duo finds a free-spirited coven in the woods, about to make a surprisingly willing sacrifice. What I think I love most about this book aside from the raw aesthetic is the lack of embarrassment with which the characters operate. They are unashamed in their spiritual beliefs, unashamed about baring their female forms, and unashamed to express reckless abandon with regard to their emotion. That emotional content is there in the slight hash marks that exist under many of the figures’ eyes as they dance naked and display sweaty frenetic irreverence to societal norms. Ultimately, what begins as a three act tale of curiosity, revenge, and consequence, teaches us a hard lesson about messing with a craft we don’t fully comprehend. It plays with mystic folklore and religious resurrection to become a powerful little morality play. The cover alone exhibits a professional polish that that looks more like it came from a small press publisher like 2d Cloud or even Sparkplug Comic Books than from a lone self-publishing effort. If that same passion brought to the task was also applied to little touches like the intro pages and inclusion of contact info, it would be a huge help in self-promoting some fantastic work. More information on this title and the creator can be found at www.annabongiovanni.com and www.softandfleshy.blogspot.com Grade A.


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2.08.12 Reviews (Bonus Edition)

Batgirl #6 (DC): Not on my usual pull list, but I picked it up for a coworker and thought I’d give it a spin! Ardian Syaf’s art is pretty dynamic. I like how the women are rendered and it seems like the style has settled down from the first issue I sampled and lost some of the more cheesecakey elements. Gail Simone’s script has quite a few touching moments from what is now very convoluted New 52 continuity, but I liked the emotional connection that builds between Bruce and Barbara. No idea who Alysia is and I started to zone out when the text got dense in the second half, but for the most part I enjoyed the interest that Babs takes in Lisly Bonner, aka: Gretel, because believing in her redemption means believing in her own due to their similarities. Grade B+.

Batman & Robin #6 (DC): Same caveat as above, not on my usual list, but ended up in my stash temporarily. Peter Tomasi has always struck me as a “solid” writer, but has never really blown me away, and that assessment holds true here. Patrick Gleason has the same type of awkwardness I associate with “DC House Art,” whatever that means. Mick Gray is a good inker. There’s one really good early line: “the dangerous ones set subversive goal and achieve them bit by bit…” After that it’s a pretty generic struggle over control of Damian, featuring generic tech banter and a generic villain in the form of the Ducards. I found the characterization of Damian to be particularly weak, and the writing exposes a fundamental misunderstanding of what Interpol is/does that seems to be so common in comics and movies. Overall, this feels like a paltry copy of the much better Batman by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo. Buy that book instead! Grade B.

2.08.12 Reviews (Regular Edition)

Batwoman #6 (DC): It’s the first issue with Amy Reeder handling all of the pencils and… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed. When JH3 is on art duty, this is hands down one of the best, if not the best, looking books on the stands. That said, it’s hard to come in and see the occasional awkward lines, weird angles, off perspective, and odd proportions after what is usually perfect stylish art. It’s just not as accomplished. The early pages see Reeder trying to emulate the gloss of the figures and clever panel layouts that Jim Williams offers, but after that, even the combined skills of Richard Friend (inks), Guy Major (colors), and Todd Klein (letters) are juuust barely able to keep it all together. The cover and the superhero sequences are definitely more satisfying than the civilian ones, particularly shots like the two page spread of Kate doing a standard Secret Service “flay” move to protect DEO Agent Cameron Chase. Thankfully, the writing is strong, focusing again on the web of (mostly female) relationships that exists with Maggie, Bette, Kate, and Cam. Anyway, this is a title that usually scores “A,” if not “A+,” so it’s just a little bit of a downer to see it slip toward above average mediocrity with a Grade B+.

Secret Avengers #22 (Marvel): Sigh. The short version is that a) Remender tries to squeeze way too much into this issue, but b) the art is pretty good. If you like that Michael Lark/Michael Gaydos/Butch Guice/Winter Soldier sort of aesthetic, then Gabriel Hardman is your man. I really have no quibbles with the art. It’s not my favorite style, but it’s consistent and does its job without distraction. My issue is really the scripting. The more Rick Remender books I read, the more I start to pick up on his weird tics. It’s like he’s trying to pull a Jonathan Hickman and create his own little Remenderverse within the Marvel U. There’s overlap between what’s going on in Uncanny X-Force, Secret Avengers, Ghost Rider, Venom, etc. But… I don’t get how what Captain Britain is currently doing in UXF gels with this, still don’t approve of Hawkeye as team leader after what happened in the 21.1 boondoggle, hate all the Otherworld crap, can’t stand Venom, and expect Ghost Rider to show up any day now to totally kill whatever enthusiasm I have left. There’s a dopey conglomeration of villains at the end, the humor is totally flat, the Avengers Lighthouse Space Station is basically the JLA Satellite HQ, and Hawkeye doesn’t come off like a lovable smart-ass, just an annoying douche. Also – THERE’S A LOT OF TALKING. JUST TALKING TALKING TALKING. Yet, I still don’t quite grasp the main thrust of the story. Blah, blah, gathering the team. Blah, blah, The Ideal, The Origin, The Urn, The Swine. Blah, blah, some Fire Eater Woman. Blah, blah, The Descendants. All the choppy disparate parts just don’t coalesce. The art saves this from getting any lower than a pretty low Grade B.

2.08.12 Reviews (Brian Wood Edition)

Northlanders #48 (DC/Vertigo): In a startling turn of events, Northlanders actually takes the top spot this week. I really expected Conan to be the book I’d rave about the most, and the first issue is great, but this issue of Northlanders was something on an entirely different level. Northlanders has never been my favorite Brian Wood book to tell you the truth, and sometimes I feel like I don’t have much to say about it, but when it’s on like this, shit, it’s on fire. It’s bittersweet to acknowledge that the series is most definitely ending at #50, but there’s nothing like going out on a high note. Danijel Zezelj is one of my favorite artists and one of the most underrated guys working today; I only wish American audiences would embrace his moody reverberating style more than they do. This is Part 7 of 9 overall, and part 1 of 3 in this third act of the trilogy, entitled “War 1260” in the Icelandic settlement. Zezelj previously worked on a short Northlanders arc entitled "The Shield Maidens," which might be my second favorite after the initial "Sven The Returned" arc, but it looks like this is going to give those a run. Perhaps part of what makes Zezelj’s work shine is the coloring by Dave McCaig. His colors are a good match because they stand up to the bold inky lines of Zezelj, striking a very dangerous tone. This issue is full of generational tension, with a father and son possessing conflicting views on how to position their family amid times of chaos and change. That tension is one of the many themes that Wood excels at. With Freya acting as a Shakespearean advocate for killing the king, we see a man on the precipice of change, and being completely self-aware about that moment in time that could fork left or right depending on his decisions. Everything that this issue is thematically about is so in Brian Wood’s wheelhouse as a writer that it’s a shame more people aren’t around to see it in its full glory, situated at the tail end of a cancelled book. Grade A+.

Conan The Barbarian #1 (Dark Horse): You know the first thing I noticed about this book? It was that old-school typewriter looking text, with inky blobs, that does all kinds of things. It makes you think you’re reading some pulpy old tome, it makes you imagine Robert E. Howard banging out these stories in some smoky room somewhere, it makes you feel like you’ve unearthed forgotten stories about this Cimmerian swordsman, it calls to mind the way that the Kurt Busiek run used them to great effect. Anyway, I’ve never actually read any of the original Howard tales; what I know of Conan comes from a) the silly movies b) the Marvel comics of the 70’s and 80’s I’ve dug out of quarter bins (some nice Gil Kane art in some of those), and c) Dark Horse’s own run, which started with Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord. I still own all those hardcovers from Busiek and Nord, and I love them. I thought it would be impossible to surpass their achievement, but it certainly looks like Wood and Cloonan are gearing up to attempt just that. Brian Wood. Becky Cloonan. Dave Stewart. Richard Starkings. Massimo Carnevale. Yup. Sounds like a dream team to me. Before you even realize it, Conan is leaping from dock pillar to dock pillar, diving into action embedded in foreign lands, and we’re off and running on one of the most revered stories of all time. Along with the adventure and romance required of this arc, Wood is also toying with the class system and conflicting values, things that are right up his alley. Cloonan’s work looks beautiful in color, you can see traces of her indie roots in some of the line work, sometimes calling to mind peers like Vasilis Lolos, but it's certainly accomplished, slick, and polished enough to be ready for prime time. When Conan says “I pay with steel,” it was hard not to imagine a Greyjoy from the Iron Islands talking about “paying the iron price,” but that’s just me. I like that Conan is young here, he’s still capable of making mistakes, but you’d never know it because of his charm and steely-eyed sense of justice that always seems to clash with local corruption. The first issue walks a fine line between feeling really dense and satisfying, yet flowing smoothly in the dialogue department. There were a couple of panel transitions that were a little confusing the first time through, ie: which ship Conan was on, when he was in the water, dreaming, on a ship, or not, but that could just be me. For the most part, Cloonan impresses, particularly in the backgrounds of Kush, with the design flair in the archways and sickly looking palm trees. Wood has clearly done his homework, he knows the geography and is able to relay the environs. As Conan becomes embroiled in all things Belit, you get the sense that it’s partially his sense of integrity, but also just horny curiosity. It’s a great combination that captures his personality at this point in his life. At the end we get a nice introduction to this creative team and why it’s a good match for the property, hopefully making everyone feel like settling in for a nice long adaption that would make Howard proud. Grade A.

Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #2 (Marvel): I’m still really having a hard time with the art of Roland Boschi and Dan Brown on the Westchester sequences, but Mark Brooks’ work on the construct portions is really nice. I like small touches, like the way he depicts Armor, uhh, armoring up. It seems a fitting nod to John Cassaday, who did it the first time. It’s funny to see an Omega Level Telepath using his ability to simply torment his teacher, if only someone could channel that energy for good, but I guess that’s what this story is largely about. Poor Quentin... youth - wasted on the young. Brooks does a nice job capturing the mélange of pop culture references in his head, GI Joe, a James Cameron style HK, and a dystopian Blade Runner future that almost connects to the X-Men’s own Days of Future Past timeline. Logan is also growing suspicious that something is going on, he can’t seem to recall his own immediate back story, and clearly there is a “glitch in The Matrix” as some figures become pixelized during the fight scene. I like those parts. I guess the only down side is that I feel like nothing much happens. Logan and Hisako are still on the run, meanwhile Quire desperately tries to get someone, anyone, to notice him and appreciate his genius. Grade B.

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2.08.12 Releases

It’s actually a huge week for me, although I can’t ignore the fact that 3 of the 6 books I’ll be picking up are written by Brian Wood. In some odd way, the books this week are fairly representative of where his career is at currently and the transition it’s recently undergone. First up, we have Conan The Barbarian #1 (Dark Horse) with the inimitable Becky Cloonan, which represents one of his major new efforts. Then you have Northlanders #48 (DC/Vertigo), which we can use as a marker of his “old” career at DC. The series ends at #50 and will wrap up that phase of his career; aside from various forthcoming collected editions, he’ll then have no regular ongoing series coming out of DC (I'm not counting that Supernatural mini-series). We also have Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #2 (Marvel), which signifies a work-for-hire project at The House of Ideas. I guess it would just be perfect if an issue of The Massive also shipped this week; the inclusion of a new creator owned title would just about encapsulate every aspect of his career right now.

Anyway, The House of Ideas also has available Secret Avengers #22 (Marvel) from Rick Remender and Gabriel Hardman. After the hot mess that was #21.1, I’m curious to find out if I’ll still be purchasing this title. It’s a make or break moment. I came in with Warren Ellis, and I feel like I might be going out with Warren Ellis, unless Remender can somehow bottle the magic of the Uncanny X-Force issues with Jerome Opena and pour that awesome sauce all over this title. We’ll see. At the Distinguished Competition, JH3, Amy Reeder, and W. Haden Blackman continue their impressive run, with Batwoman #6 (DC) hitting shelves. For something a little less mainstreamy, Jason Lutes churns out Berlin #18 (Drawn & Quarterly) and it’s good to see this title returning to something resembling a regular publishing schedule.


"You Deserve That Much For Your Bravery"

The Thirty Six #2 (Fossil Creek Productions): The second issue continues Noam further identifying “the guardians of humanity” as he attempts to save Lenore from the “Trench Coat Man” and his 12 new golems! Writer Kristopher White opens the issue with a nice thank you to the people who supported a successful Kickstarter campaign backing the project. Overall, The Thirty Six succeeds because of its primary reliance on source material that’s seldom explored in pop culture. The creative team certainly gets points for bringing forth an original idea, something that the mainstream segment of the medium is sorely lacking, but seems to be alive and well in the small press.

The only real down side to this issue was that there was a string of typos littered throughout the issue that began to distract me. It was stuff like “indy” (which is short for Indiana Jones) instead of “indie” (which refers to independent comics, press, music, etc.), an instance of “we’ll” when “well” was intended, the last name bouncing from “Lowenstein” to “Loewenstein,” spelling “therefore” as “therefor,” and an extra word inserted in to the phrase “even if he you trap him again.” None of these small mistakes are the end of the world by any means, only proof that extra care should be taken by someone acting as an editorial eye prior to production. The strongest parts of the writing for me are items like the “Symbol of Secrecy,” which infuse bits of myth and religion into the tale, and I’d be glad to see more of those elements incorporated into the work to make it a little more compelling for my taste.

The idea of piecing together more members of The Thirty Six is so strong though, that I’m all in on the high concept. In some ways, this story reminds me a bit of the Kevin Smith film Dogma, only in that it assembles a motley cast of spiritually powered individuals for a discrete mission, the act of modernizing figures from ancient texts makes it so palatable and enjoyable for younger generations. It’s sort of like this Kaballistic Dirty Dozen. Times 3, I suppose. I also enjoyed Levi performing the type of X-Files forensic investigation that would make Dr. Dana Scully proud. Don’t worry, my pop culture references, like The Thirty Six, won’t stop there! White and artist George Zapata also pull off what I assume is a rousing homage to Gandalf on the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, with Noam stabbing his staff into the ground and belting out “Let There Be Light!” This moment, with the attack of Gollum, err, golems, was totally fun and actually gave me goosebumps.

Speaking of Zapata, I was really taken by the manga influence in some of his work this time out, things like speed lines, which convey a nice sense of motion. The coloring is still excellent as well, particularly the imaginary visions of the woman in the care facility, calling to mind the pop of early Matt Wagner work on his seminal Mage title. Zapata’s facial expressions are also strong, making me want to see a printed version of the book. I can imagine such a hard-copy doing quite well at indie friendly shows such as the APE in San Francisco. White falls momentarily into the trap of having his villain monologue his motivations at the end, but it’s quickly redeemed by the charming romantic potential and a close to the first segment of the story that has me anxiously awaiting more. www.the36.net Grade A-.


Who Are The Thirty Six?

The Thirty Six #1 (Fossil Creek Productions): Kristopher White delivers a really strong high concept hook with The Thirty Six, essentially adapting a Kaballistic legend with the type of built-in potential that already feels like a movie pitch, about 36 individuals each possessing special powers that are able to save the world from certain doom. You can hear the movie man’s voice-over in the trailer now, can’t you? “Ancient legend says blah… but when dark forces rise to blah, and the world is threatened, there are always… The Thirty Six!” White teams with artist George Zapata, whose work I’d previously sampled in Rockstar Scientists, and it’s still quite strong. There’s a rare occasional panel that feels a bit rushed or is devoid of any background detail, but for the most part Zapata’s aesthetic is full of heavy line weight, interesting “camera” placement and angle choices, along with nice variations in figure scale – all little things I look for to determine how accomplished at visual storytelling up-and-coming artists are. Another clue is the raw panel to panel ability, and while Zapata has some scene transitions that feel a bit choppy (Noam and Lenore getting into the car, for example), it’s clear and smooth for most of the journey. The crisp coloring from veteran film colorist Micki Zurcher also lends tremendous energy, particularly in the kinetic action sequences, such as when the golem breaks into Levi’s house. Overall, the art reminds me of a hybrid of a more indie Guy "BPRD" Davis and someone like Jeff “Interman” Parker. On the scripting side, I found White’s dialogue rusty in just the earliest passages. For example, lines like “the name’s Noam” just don’t pass the “out loud test,” as nobody really ever talks in staged phrases like that, except in movies. However, the writer quickly works the kinks out and things are humming the deeper into the story you get. The writing is filled with enough pop culture drops (Tolkien, Trek, Dr. Who, etc.) and has enough engaging mythological/religious/historical facts, such as the protagonist currently possessing The Staff of Moses(!), to resonate with a modern audience. It’s a compelling premise executed with vibrant indie flair. Check it out at www.the36.net. Grade A-.

2.01.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Winter Soldier #1 (Marvel): I actually have no idea if the first issue of Winter Soldier is any good, but since I read it right after UXF #21 (below), it felt goddamn Shakespearean by comparison. Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice deliver an engaging blend of noir/espionage/superheroics that hummed right along. It could have just as easily been called The Adventures of Winter Soldier & Black Widow, and that’s just fine with me. It’s always nice to see a softer, more personal side of Black Widow in addition to her superspy bad-assery. If you like art in the neighborhood of Gaydos/Lark/Southworth, then this will be right up your alley. Guice packs the issue with inventive panel layouts and a dark murky style that matches the moral flexibility of the world. I would even dare to say that the art feels a touch claustrophobic at times, but that’s actually intended as a compliment. I think it captures Barnes trying to process so much information at once about Department X and the Russian Mob and Sleeper Agents as he tries to find himself in this overwhelmingly complex world. I wasn’t blown away, but there’s heaps of potential here and I’ll likely check out another couple issues at the very least. Grade B+.

Uncanny X-Force #21 (Marvel): You know you’re in trouble when the best thing about a book is the mediocre Leinil Francis Yu cover. The interior art is largely an exercise in style over substance, which kind of reminded me of Simone Bianchi’s work on Astonishing X-Men. At first glance, it looks amazing, but the closer you look, you start noticing the muddled composition, chintzy backgrounds, and the fact that none of the panel transitions really make any sense. Tocchini’s figure work just doesn’t have the clarity or gravitas of Jerome Opena, and I’m afraid that any artists who come on in his wake are forever chasing him unsuccessfully. At the core, there’s the seed of an interesting idea here, about the Braddocks and Fantomex locked in opposition, to the point that the Captain Britain Corps wants to erase his entire existence retroactively through time and all dimensions, but you’d never know it when it’s buried beneath all this snoozy Otherworld crap that has absolutely no pizzazz. It’s choppy, it doesn’t flow well, and what the hell is Wolverine doing? When Remender's on, he’s capable of producing LOL banter between many of these characters, particularly Deadpool. He’s off now though, so instead, we get absolutely flat dialogue with contrived LOTR and Frazetta references. I also have no idea who the person on the last page is supposed to be. My, how the mighty have fallen. This book was on my Best of 2011 list and now just 2 issues later, I’m suddenly considering dropping it?! It’s very frustrating. Dean White does his best on coloring, keeping this grade from dipping any lower than Grade C+.


2.01.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Dark Horse Presents #8 (Dark Horse): It’s a little disconcerting that I essentially paid $7.99 for a single 8-page story, but when the results are as compelling as The Massive, I don’t mind one bit. Worth is largely determined by a consumer’s subjective perceived value, and I certainly feel that I got my $8 worth of enjoyment out of this first look into the world of The Massive. First off, Kristian Donaldson’s work simply has never looked better. Dave Stewart drenches it in this greenish-blue that perfectly captures the cold isolation of the set, and that first two-page splash of the rig tells you instantly what a grand scale this story is going to take on. For readers who might somehow be new to Brian Wood, the inclusion of the "rogue" Draupner Wave is a good clue as to the type of research that informs his work. He’s not just making fictional shit up, as fun as that can be for some writers, but rooting it in science and history in order to lend an air of authenticity and plausibility to the work, making it more powerful and accessible in the process. I’m surprised that so much information is being relayed so tight and crisp in just 8 pages here, another clue that Wood’s writing might be taking an important leap forward, something he partially credits his Dark Horse Editor Sierra Hahn for. It’s evident that this is immediately spooling up to be a dream team collaboration on all fronts, from Kristian’s best-in-class art, to Brian’s thought-provoking scripting, to pulse-pounding colors, distinct lettering, and what appears to be a very healthy relationship with editorial. I think this installment is important because we get an origin story of sorts for (one of?) the series protagonist(s) right before game-changing disaster strikes. So, say hello to Callum Israel. If The Massive boasts the sort of political dynamics and personal intrigue that DMZ had, and pairs it with the post-apocalyptic vibe of, say, Wasteland, then I must be in the right place, considering those are two of my favorite books in recent memory. This is certainly Grade A work. Of course, there were a bunch of other stories here. I read them all, but can’t say any of them hooked me. The BPRD story was solid, no surprise coming from Mignola, Arcudi, and Fegredo. It had an ominous and mournful tone, with very engaging dialogue, certainly what you’d expect from the franchise. I enjoyed it. Rich Johnston wrote some Miss Crabapple story or something, and I remember that only because I thought the art had a nice Tim Sale type energy. Other than that, nothing was terribly memorable or made any effort to hook me, mostly silly, boring, or clichéd genre work in varying percentages. I guess if I went into this holistic book blind and then discovered that I only enjoyed 2.5 out of 10 pieces, the overall grade wouldn’t very high. But, considering I entered for one story, which I was completely satisfied by, the grading scale really becomes a little moot in this unique circumstance. So, buy it for The Massive if nothing else. Buy The Massive when it becomes a regular ongoing series later this year. It won’t disappoint.