The Ultimate Post

Ok, at the time of this writing, I’ve consumed Ultimate Comics: Hawkeye #1-4, and Ultimate Comics: Ultimates #1-6, and Ultimate Comics: X-Men #1-9. I originally thought I’d keep going and get to Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man, but as much as I’m intrigued by Pichelli’s art, I’ve just never been into Spider-Man, and the Bendis factor is honestly a detractor. That said, I thought I’d share my general observations about this whole universe thus far.


There’s a real deliberate effort to maintain continuity in this world, unlike, say, everything else published by Marvel and DC. For example, there are scenes that are essentially duplicated in UCH and UCU showing Nick sending Clint to the SEAR on his mission, which spins out of the main book and into the mini-series. I really appreciated that level of care.

UCU feels very global in scope, Nick inside the monitor womb of a SHIELD Helicarrier felt vaguely like the old Stormwatch books where “Weatherman” Henry Bendix was controlling the entire world from a 20 x 20 room.

Hickman’s pretty good about operating his books with a solid underlying theme, here it’s essentially Science vs. Religion, with Tony’s tech and SHIELD government funded might against the Power of The Gods.

“Bold” is a good word for UCU and UCH, the proceedings are made to feel important, the lines are appropriate to match the tone, and the action feels consequential, that anything could happen, or more likely, go wrong at any given moment.

It’s not often you see Thor getting his ass kicked, and I just appreciated that type of intellectual honesty in the face of this new threat. Similarly, I enjoyed the transposing of Jamie and Brian Braddock, and the decimation of the EU Captain Britain Corps or whatever that group’s official designation was.

The dystopian elements of UCXM really grab me. There’s a very “Days of Future Past” vibe to the whole thing, with Sentinels patrolling Mutant Concentration Camps. There’s a palpable sense of dread here. With Professor X, Magneto, Scott Summers, and other big players all dead after an apocalyptic event, Captain America in hiding, Jean Grey concealing her identity, it’s as if everyone’s worst fears have already come to pass. With that out of the way, it opens up a whole new world of story possibilities. What happens next?

Kitty “Shadowcat” Pryde, with Alex “Havok” Summers a close second, is my favorite X-Man of all time, so I was pleased to see her front and center in UCXM. On top of that, initially positioning her as some type of mutant terrorist was a lot of tense fun. I could do without The Shroud guise, but it looks like that’ll fade away. Judging by the first promo cover I saw in the recent announcements (up top there), I’m glad to see that new writer Brian Wood will continue using her with his impending tenure on the title beginning in June (with #13, which obviously tickles me). The redesign of her new white costume with X arm band elicits an elegant effectiveness that calls to mind the yellow Bruce Lee style track suit that Uma Thurman rocked in the Kill Bill movies.

The use of Mutant Concentration Camps in UCXM is a great way to modernize one of the socially relevant 1960’s themes when this property was initially created. In a post-9/11 world, how do you strike the right balance between National Security and personal liberties?

I was surprised to not be annoyed by the Nick Fury and Clint Barton relationship. Nick is the strategic guy, with Clint his go-to enforcer at the tactical level. The quality of the procedural mission banter brings a level of intelligence to the espioactionthriller genre. I like that Fury is not infallible or uber-competent as he’s sometimes portrayed. You get the sense that he’s great at his job, has some tricks up his sleeve, and there’s obviously a reason he’s the man in charge, but here he’s just faced with something never seen before and is struggling to keep up in this crazy new world.

There’s lots of recontextualization going on, one of the hallmarks of contemporary art. For example, the notion of The Runaways means something totally different, like they’re setting up an idea for a new book for another writer to come along and take advantage of, which is really generous world-building in that sense.

As a fan of the old X-Factor series by Peter David and Joe Quesada, it’s always a treat to see anyone use Valerie Cooper in her government liaison role.

The villains Xorn and Zorn are pretty fun, as opposing forces of “enlightenment” and “entropy,” which is a phrase I obviously remembered, so that’s always a good sign.

Reed Richards is kind of transposed as a Doctor Doom figure here, using his incredible intelligence and ability for all the wrong reasons, but from his perspective obviously thinking he’s in the right.

The insidious nature of the government creating mutants through experimentation vs. genetic mutation brings a brand new angle to the entire mutant dilemma.


Let’s just call it what it is and point out the 800 pound gorilla in the room, the titling of this line is just silly. I mean, “Ultimate Comics: Ultimates?” C’mon, y’all can do better than that. If you really believe in the multiverse or whatever, and if the main Marvel U is established as 616, then just call this the 617 line or whatever. Marvel 617. That’s infinitely more interesting than using the same tired word you already used for another line, and I literally just thought of that as the first thing off the top of my head as I was typing this sentence. “Ultimate?” isn’t that like a played-out 90’s word? “Ultimate Comics: Ultimates?” Really? “Ultimate Comics: X-Men” after you already had “Ultimate X-Men?” Confusing. Dumb. Not Imaginative. Try Harder. Be Better.

I actually loved Spider-Woman weirdly lurking in the background and not saying anything, but she’s never really taken advantage of, that character doesn’t seem to pay off in the books I read. Maybe that’s coming?

Quicksilver’s characterization started strong in the White House scenes and quickly devolved into something I hated. Speaking of that old Peter David and Joe Quesada X-Factor run, one of my favorite singles ever is X-Factor #87, which was an infamous issue where Doc Samson came in to psychoanalyze the team following a particularly traumatic mission. For me, that was the quintessential Pietro Maximoff interpretation, a guy who is a hyper-intelligent asshole simply because he’s 100 steps ahead of everyone else operating at as snail’s pace, and is frustrated. Seeing him turn into a whelp here is off-putting and, I think, missing the point of his character.

Similarly, the interpretation of the Stryker kid is disappointing. He goes from being a very militant fanatical leading the religious zealot Purifiers to being an insufferable whelp that I compared on Twitter to the infamous Johnny Fontane in The Godfather when Vito Corleone is berating him for not being a man and bitching about his petty problems.

I actually like how the acronym SEAR rolls off the tongue, the South East Asian Republic. But, the more I think about it, the more I don’t like the vague ethnocentrism of this title one bit. DC and Marvel have always invented their own countries for nefarious purposes, from Khandaq and Quraq to Latveria and Wakanda. But the genericism of the “South East Asian Republic” is weird. It’s like how some writers kind of treat Africa as one big country. Try telling Egyptians, Ethiopians, and South Africans they’re all the same. Shit, try telling a New Yorker, a Louisianan, and a Californian that. My wife is Filipino and she doesn’t even consider herself Asian. SEAR? I mean, what country is that? What would the North East American Republic (NEAR) be? The states formerly known as New England forming their own sovereign nation? Some loose confederation of former Canadian Provinces and New England? I don’t really care what it is, just explain it so I don’t assume you’re being The Ugly American.

UCXM is a fairly dark and serious book, which I like, so the misplaced humor between Iceman and Human Torch is awful. Maybe it was a deliberate attempt to lighten the mood or remarket these two as the wise-cracking mutant buddy cop duo of the Ultimate Comics ‘verse, but for me it’s a fail. Their powers are essentially Fire and Ice, is that like Tango & Cash? Their dialogue is like a watered down attempt to emulate Bendis style banter, but falls completely flat. Hey, giant mutant assassin robots are killing your entire species and you’re basically a terrorist outlaw, so let’s make boob and Twitter jokes while we fight!

If I liked the villains for the most part, I was not a fan of how Stryker’s dad was characterized. So over-the-top evil as a parent that he might as well have been twirling his moustache and tying young female mutants down on the nearest train tracks. This was kind of ridiculous.

Stryker, The Purifiers, Nimrod Sentinels, I’ve really seen it all done before, and better, in recent various iterations of X-Force. So this was a little tired. Again, unless you’re really going to recontextualize something, why repeat what the audience has probably already seen? You’re being given carte blanche in a Whole New Universe. Be more creative, please.

Art inconsistency is weighing down most of these titles. I don’t recall the exact style in my mind’s eye now, but I remember thinking the UCH art was dynamic and detailed, so we’ll give that a pass. UCU started strong, but I remember it feeling rushed and a little wonky toward the end of that first arc. UCXM under the hands of Barberi was always a little light and cheesecake and Saturday morning cartoony for me, particularly when you consider the tone of this dystopian world. I mean, look at Storm’s enormous angularly sloping tits. I rest my case. By the end of the run I read, Medina jumps on and that was a huge improvement. His style is less affected by say, J. Scott Campbell, is cleaner visually, and has more compact detail and finish to the backgrounds, really giving you a sense of place for all the characters and action in the foreground.

Generally speaking, I don’t feel Nick Spencer was a good fit as a writer here. There was way too much TELL TELL TELL vs. showing any substantive story mechanics. In almost every issue, he spends a few pages up front recapping everything with tons of omniscient narration style exposition, seemingly taking the “every issue is someone’s first” mantra way too literally. He could have easily chopped out 2-3 pages of text per issue and front-loaded the “Previously In…” section instead, maximizing the page count real estate for some actual storytelling.

Agree? Disagree? What did you think?


3.28.12 Reviews

Scalped #57 (DC/Vertigo): This issue does one of the things that Jason Aaron is so good at as a writer, which is to set several plot threads into motion, and then propel them toward one another on a collision course. There’s old murders, new murders, the ultimate direction of Dash Bad Horse’s life, and the ultimate fate of Lincoln Red Crow all intertwined. You’ve heard that phrase “knowing where the bodies are buried,” and it’s a literal interpretation that comes back to haunt current events, with Red Crow’s legal team still trying to build a case against Dash, with or without his help. As always, I dig the harsh authenticity of the language, and am surprised to see not that Sheriff Falls Down is such an honorable man, but that’s he’s becoming yet another favorite character this late in the game. There’s only 3 issues left, so at this point, shit, start buying the trades I guess, because this is one of the best modern series ever. Grade A.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #0 (Marvel): First impressions? The art is a little cheesecake, even for Frank Cho, I mean, I’ve seen his stuff look much better, much healthier. The dialogue is also a little silly, especially the lead Scarlet Witch story from Bendis. I still find the overall story idea interesting, but the merit of a good idea is all in the execution. The opening action scene feels terribly inconsequential, and all 3 women (Carol, Wanda, and Spider-Woman) all have the same voice, none of them distinct. Also? THE VISION CRIES. Deep down, Aaron has more success with the Hope story, trying to get her to break free and formulate her own identity, not Cable, not Scott, not on the run, not The Mutant Messiah, but just a girl who wants to understand her purpose in life, all while the Phoenix Force is inbound. But then, throwaway GI JOE reject villains, and those over-the-shoulder poses where you can see ass, face, and tits all at once. Sigh. Some sloppy copy editing too. Where is that scene with Tony and Steve at the White House? Was that a #1 preview or something? That was better than this. This was a let down. Grade B-.


3.28.12 Releases

As far as singles go this week, there’s only two things really on my radar. Scalped #57 (DC/Vertigo) continues the emotional climax of the series that saw a fairly significant flash forward in last issue. I’m excited to see how this all wraps up with just 3 issues left. I’m also fairly certain I’m going to get sucked into Marvel Event Madness with Avengers VS. X-Men #0 (Marvel), which kicks off the 12 issue series. The previews I’ve seen look fun enough and I like some of the artists, so I’ll probably give it at least a couple issues. Most of the interest this week is on collected editions. DMZ Volume 11: Free States Rising (DC) marks the penultimate collected edition. And of course, I can’t let that go without a reminder that DMZ Volume 12: The Five Nations of New York (DC) hits the street June 6th, and I wrote the introduction(!) so be sure to check out the finale of the 6-year 72-issue saga! Marvel has a great one out this week as well, with Warren Ellis’ run collected in Secret Avengers Volume 3: Run The Mission, Don’t Get Seen, Save The World (Marvel). Sure, the title is a mouthful, but it’s an accurate portrayal of the energy Ellis went for, and largely captured, with some of the greatest artists working today. Lastly, Drawn & Quarterly continues their ongoing commitment to Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s work (largely considered the father of Modern Manga), with the editorial aid of Adrian Tomine, by reprinting softcover editions of Abandon The Old in Tokyo (D&Q), Good-Bye (D&Q), as well as The Push Man & Other Stories (D&Q).


3.21.12 Reviews

The Massive #0.3 (Dark Horse): Yup, it’s officially Dark Horse Presents #10, but you know where my heart lies. For the last part of the prequel trilogy, Brian Wood opens with a history lesson about man’s abuse of the planetary ecosystem. It runs all the way up to the Deepwater Horizon and Fukushima Daichi disasters and sets the board for the loose mission parameters of the group Callum Israel now leads. Ultimately, I like the idea that if you push on the planet long enough, it’s bound to push back. Kristian Donaldson’s work has never looked better, crisper and tighter than some of his early frenetic sketchiness that inhabited titles like Supermarket. This prequel exercise really solidifies Cal’s origin and the change of heart he had regarding his purpose in life, and adds to the mystery that is Mary. It all sets the stage for what promises to be a thrilling and socially relevant ride, and we’d expect no less from Wood. With so many books dropping in June from the writer, I simply can’t wait, but this will undoubtedly be the crown jewel. Grade A.

Batman #7 (DC): The short version of this review is that this is basically everything you want a Batman comic to be. It juxtaposes Batman with a historical backdrop, making Gotham City a character itself. It has dark mythology matched by detailed intricate visuals, touches on the many relationships in the Batman family, and features a sinister and worthy opponent in Talon and The Court of Owls. I enjoyed the death visions that tend to rewrite the mythos to some degree, placing the Owl, not the Bat, as the natural hierarchical predator at the top of the food chain. I thought it was a little heavy on exposition when Bruce was explaining the reanimation of dead tissue via electrum deposits, but the reveal of who William Cobb was is a great payoff. Though, I will say that I find it hard to believe nobody ever noticed a silver and copper implant in that tooth before. Did that person never go to a dentist? As you can see, I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers. By the time you get to the cliffhanger, you don’t even notice that Snyder and Capullo have methodically led you through a prelude. It’s a prelude to war. Grade A.

Prophet #23 (Image): Before we even get into the comic, can I just say that I friggin’ love the “Experience Creativity” ads adorning this new crop of Image Comics? This time, there’s one with Fiona Staples. I wish you could purchase a set of prints or something, so I could just hang them all over my office at work. I would *totally* buy that, Image Comics! There’s even an interesting little back-up story. Anyway, let’s get to the main feature. I keep being struck by how much unique content is here visually and verbally. Brandon Graham and Simon Roy are rivaling the world-building of Herbert, Martin, Tolkien, and Lucas. It’s bits like “the living missile” as this form of organic technology that’s so fresh and original. John doesn’t even skip a beat, having lost an arm or an eye as he makes his way toward the tower with the G.O.D. satellite. I enjoy the omniscient narration because it makes this story feel like an ancient text, like we’re being told an old story, an important story, one that sucks you in because you want to know so much more. I like having questions, not frustrated questions, but intrigued questions. I love the sense of hope and change this ended with, with other humans, and the “rebirth of the Earth Empire.” It lends the sense that one chapter has closed, and another will open as a new artist rotates in. It’s a perfectly managed transition. Grade A.


Culinary Apocalypse OR The Best Book I Bought @ WonderCon '12

Menu (Ashcan Press): Hey, it’s another shady camera phone pic, this time for the "West Coast Convention Edition" of Menu. This book sees various tales featuring Paul and his dog Trafton roaming the wastelands of the gastropocalypse. Writers Patrick Kindlon and Matthew Rosenberg have created a very chilling and compelling end of the world scenario, introducing us to a society with no food and a population that simply can’t sustain itself. Witness the total breakdown of society, and social mores such as, say… oh, wait for it… cannibalism. This edition opens strong with a Tom Scioli cover and jumps right into the first short featuring art by Matthew Wiegle. It’s hyper-violent, with suitably garish coloring, in an aesthetic style that strikes me as a delicious blend of Josh Simmons and Gary Panter. The second piece is “Aggressive Salesmanship” with art from Jason Copland. It’s a brutally direct campfire conversation about what it means to survive, and what happens to human relationships when the end comes. The stark black and white washes, and the angular shapes that contain them, match the harsh tone of the story well. Tom Scioli and his trademark Kirby style return for the third piece entitled “What’s That In Dog Years?” It certainly feels like it’s meant to function as the feature, and it’s definitely my favorite of the lot, though the first entry is a close second. This piece boasts some really funny dialogue as two estranged brothers face off during a uhh... cookout, of sorts. The fire creates a nice Kirby “crackle” effect in the background as the two figures fight in the foreground. It culminated with a magnificent two-page spread that really pops, looking like it’s jumping out at you right from Kirby’s Fourth World at DC. The fourth piece was a little flat artistically for me, and relied a little too much on exposition to propel the plot forward. Lastly, there’s a one-page “day in the life” type piece featuring Trafton that wrings out the fun irony. Overall, this was a great mini-anthology, building out an expansive world with two familiar throughline characters loosely connecting all the pieces. There were definitely more winners than losers here, somehow overcoming the most common pitfall of many anthologies, and that’s maintaining a high level of consistency. I’ll nitpick a little and say that I think the book would do better with a catchier, more precise title, but this was probably the best new work I picked up at WonderCon 2012. Hopefully that doesn’t sound like a backhanded compliment and is a reflection of the strength of the title, not my slightly passive reaction to the con itself. Grade A-.


Riding With The Devil

The Urn #1 (Ashcan Press): Forgive the shady camera-phone pic, but I couldn’t find cover images of these creators’ books anywhere online. The www.ashcanpress.com web-site doesn’t appear to be updated super frequently. Anyway, this is the first of a planned 4-issue series written by Patrick Kindlon and Matthew Rosenberg, with art by Leandro Panganiban and Richard Yayon. There’s also a back-up story by Tom Scioli, of Godland fame with Joe Casey, and even a pin-up from Benjamin Marrra, a name that indie aficionados will instantly recognize. I found the font a little tough to read on the credits page, but overall The Urn has great production quality, apparently the result of yet another successful Kickstarter crowd-sourcing campaign. The story taps many familiar crime noir tropes, boasts some clever turns of phrase in the dialogue department, and is light on exposition (save one out loud monologue on the side of the road to the titular urn full of ashes). The story centers on ex-con Sun, out for the plain and visceral revenge of a dead lover. There’s a quick pit-stop at the lover’s sister’s place to collect her ashes and Sun is quickly plunged back into the world of low level organized crime and the Closed Caskets Motorcycle Club. Sometimes the dialogue is a little stilted and robotic: “How did you think that was going to go over?” But for the most part, the overarching story is full of base compelling ideas that are full of intrigue. Artistically, the pencils range from occasional skimpy backgrounds to a gorgeous level of panel detail and kinetic energy. The coloring is also attractive and the whole package is fairly accomplished for a journeyman publication. Tom Scioli’s psychedelic 60’s aesthetic is perfectly suited for the back-up feature, and even makes some of the kitschy dialogue sing: “You should have told me how fancy you are. You are magnificent.” I enjoyed Kindlon’s afterword (typos notwithstanding), especially the dichotomy between responding to situations and shaping them, which provides a nice contextual backdrop for this type of story. Holistically, I most appreciate the energy this title is able to capture, full of hard-charging action that is ready to pop off at a moment’s notice. This was one of the few unexpected surprises I picked up at WonderCon 2012 in Anaheim this past weekend, and I’m glad I did. In part, it assures me that there are still indie guys coming up with fresh original material tucked away in the corners of the industry that I’m not routinely exposed to. Grade B.

3.21.12 Releases

After the deluge of titles that made it home last week, my wallet thanks the All Powerful Comic Book Gods for a week’s financial reprieve of only 3 titles that will make the jump. I’m most excited for Dark Horse Presents #10 (Dark Horse) since it houses the final prequel installment of Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s The Massive. With news coming out of WonderCon this weekend that Wood will be helming not one, but two, X-Men books beginning in June, it’s certainly shaping up to be a massive (pun intended) year for him. (PS – That’s X-Men and Ultimate X-Men that he’ll be writing, in case you missed it). Next up is Batman #7 (DC), which has remained consistently one of DC’s best in the New 52 relaunch. With Batwoman waning in quality and creative shake-ups, who knows? Maybe Snyder and Capullo will pull ahead and position this book as the best DC has to offer. I’m also really looking forward to Prophet #23 (Image). If the team of Brandon Graham and Simon Roy wasn’t good enough, this issue sports a cover by the amazing Farel Dalrymple. What looks good to you?


WonderCon 2012 Single Day Report

I attended WonderCon 2012 in Anaheim for just one day this year, Friday 3/16. These are my general observations.

I went with two coworkers and we made good time to Orange County, making it from my house to the parking lot at Garden Walk (just a couple blocks down from the Anaheim Convention Center) in 1 hour and 15 minutes. My personal land-speed record from San Diego to Disneyland is 1 hour flat, but that was in a race-prepped BMW. It’s typically 1.5 hours, up to 2 with traffic, so 1.25 is very good.

We arrived around 11:30, traffic was a non-issue, and we rolled right into the parking garage, promptly finding space. It was a quick walk to the Convention Center, and we found a Girls Volleyball Competition next to the WonderCon hall, along with a Cheerleading Competition down at the other end. It made for a pretty interesting mix of people, stormtroopers, a nice cosplay rendition of Khal Drogo and his Khaleesi Dany, and zombies comingling with parents from Iowa wondering what the hell was going on in SoCal. We then met up with a friend of mine from the SF Bay Area.

I think the entry process could have been managed a lot better. There was no signage directing people to the main hall entrance or to the badge pick-up area. We asked some staff and they were incredibly dopey. We had luck just kind of following the crowd, but we also came in through an unsecured door, were not challenged by staff, and inadvertantly cut in line in front of about 300 people. Oh well. As a security guy, and one who is a big fan of efficient process, this was kind of a mess. Not a hassle, actually quite easy, but not very clear and not very secure. Badge pick-up probably took 3 minutes, and I found it interesting you didn’t have to show ID. Just scan your barcode and you’re in. Not a very secure process. Badges also don’t come with pre-printed names, so there’s nothing to stop you from swapping, scalping, etc. Not a very secure process. Sensing a theme? For all the noise I hear about cracking down on this at San Diego Comic-Con, the company made no effort to prevent it at WonderCon.

In general, I like the location of WonderCon. It’s an area of Orange County I know extremely well, so it made navigating easy. You’re blocks from Disneyland and if you know how to avoid the tourist traps and just go slightly off the beaten path, there are plenty of interesting restaurants, bars, etc. for after hours cavorting. I hear conflicting reports that this was a “test” for a permanent move for WonderCon from SF to OC, or for Comic-Con from SD to OC, so I hope it was a success. It’s easier for me to get to than SF WonderCon, and much less hassle than the spectacle San Diego has become. Generally speaking, I’d put WonderCon somewhere in between Comic-Con and the APE in San Francisco, which is basically right in my wheelhouse as a fan and critic, so fine with me.

In terms of basic size, I’d say the WonderCon main floor was 1/4th to 1/3rd the size of San Diego. My party made two thorough passes of the entire hall, taking time out for one panel, in the course of a 7-hour single day, and still probably had an hour to spare to make targeted runs back to specific areas. Keep in mind this was also taking into account cruising around with 3 other people whose interests varied widely and were darting around erratically all over the place.

The most notable thing for me was that there was a real lack of what I’d call second tier publishers representing. Most notably, there was no Oni Press (who usually occupy the corner of a main thoroughfare at SDCC, which I kind of make “home base” for the show), and no Image Comics, who are having such a fucking great year creatively, I think they could have killed at this show. I had several retailers pimping books like Glory, Prophet, The Manhattan Projects, etc. to me. Candidly, I thought the DC booth was a joke. They had plenty of statues and video games and blah-bitty-blah, but not a single fucking comic to be found. That’s incredibly lame.

The second tier publishers that did attend represented very well. IDW had the simplest, boldest, best banner drop, which made for an easy landmark to coordinate junkets with our party from. Slave Labor Graphics had a surprisingly enticing little corner. Archaia goes a little over the top with their tarted up marketing aesthetic and booth staff who sometimes don’t know their own product, BUT they certainly had the best sales proposition of the con. It was essentially a Graphic Novel Extravaganza: Buy 1, Get 1 Free. Or, Buy 2, Get 3 Free. Kind of ridiculous when you think about getting 5 books for the price of 2, that’s like 60% off or something, if my math isn’t failing me. Unfortunately, only older merchandise was eligible in this promotion, and I’ve read everything that was eligible. There were a few new books that piqued my interest, but I wasn’t in the mood to pay full price for something without further sales incentive.

CBLDF was just around the corner and they had a terrific selection of donation worthy items. One of my party picked up The Blot from Tom Neely on a recommendation from me. I typically donate about $100 per year on average to CBLDF, but I’ve actually never been a member. I decided to fix that and just become a member. Got two free signed comics, and a nifty CBLDF button with a detail of the image that Cliff Chiang did for the membership card. Was proud to sport the button on my badge considering the recent win in that Canadian Customs debacle.

Across the exhibit hall, there was the same general mix of comic and non-comic related stuff. We tended to steer clear of the Silver Age/CGC dealers, the vinyl toy junk booths, the posters, the clothes, the anime, and the merchandise folks, though I’ll admit I was soooo tempted to pick up a Stark or Targaryen patch. Heh. We also encountered con stalwarts like Lou Ferrigno, Richard Hatch, and the guy who played “Boomer” in the original Battlestar Galactica. Shit, we even saw “Soup Nazi”(!) with autographed soup ladles. I’m so not a sucker for merch, but I was cracking up at this. Frickin’ Soup Nazi. I think my favorite part of strolling across the floor, was that you could do just that, stroll leisurely. What a nice change to not be bumped and jostled incessantly every 5 seconds by 100,000 of your fellow sardines, or not have the idiot stop right in the middle of the aisle in front of you to take a picture of Elvis Tusken Raider or ogle the booth babe wearing dental floss. Nice change of pace.

When we weren’t at the small press areas listed above, we spent at least a couple hours combing the numerous 50% trade/GN bins. There was actually some really good stuff in there. Members of my party were scoring whole runs of, for example, The Walking Dead trades and/or hardcovers for 50% off, one person was amassing the Starman Omnibus Editions for 50% off, there was just all kinds of good reading in nice condition for 50% off. $14.99 trades become $7, $30 hardcovers are now $15, it really felt like substantial savings, and I was happy to see so many 50% booths. For me, I either own, or have read, the majority of what I saw, but I did score a few gems, which I’ll recount in a minute.

I attended only one panel, for sort of a friend of a friend, Ryan Sook, who is also from San Jose, and hung out with a loose conglomeration of friends I was a part of for over a decade. Ryan is insanely talented, and I love how his style has transitioned from being heavily influenced by Mike Mignola, to one that is cleaner, with less heavy line weight, something more akin to John Cassaday. Ryan turned his panel into an informal and intimate Q&A session, and I found him to be so humble and informative about his evolving style, his approach to visual composition, and even some dirt about behind-the-scenes business processes at DC Comics.

Strolling through the self-publishing/artists alley area was not as interesting as I thought it would be. I caught up with a couple old friends, met some people in person that I’d only had relationships online with previously, but for the most part I didn’t really find anything that interesting! It was a little disconcerting to find that several hours into it, probably 25-30% of the people supposedly tabling in this area were not set up and nowhere to be found, just a ghost town. Maybe they’re going to be there Saturday or Sunday, but I won’t be, so… oh well. I did find a couple interesting books written by Patrick Kindlon from Ashcan Press, which I’m anxious to read and review. He and his art partner were enthusiastic, had fun pitching me on their books, and were genuinely excited about having their wares reviewed. I like this dynamic. Probably my favorite WonderCon “moment” was strolling up an aisle to find Rebekah Isaacs and Fiona Staples (who were tabling across the aisle from each other) totally admiring each other’s work. They were laughing and bantering back and forth as Isaacs appeared to be geeking out over Staples work on the recent Saga #1 with BKV. Now, I like the work of both of these women, and I wouldn’t have minded chatting with them, but I wasn’t about to interrupt, and decided to just let them have their moment. It was cool to see these two women standing in solidarity, not in competition, excited for the other, and enjoying the mutual work for sheer love of the game.

At the end of the day, I spent around $80 total (and that includes my CBLDF membership), so my total take away wasn’t all that much. I actually spent around $100 on dinner and drinks, which I always use as an interesting barometer. I was home by about 10:45pm, roughly a 14 hour day, also making it back from OC to SD in 1 hour and 15 minutes, despite some light drizzle around San Onofre. Anyway, here’s what I did pick up;

CBLDF Membership: $25, received free signed copies of Glory #23 and CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011, both of which I already bought, so I’ll pass them along.

The Urn #1 of 4 (Ashcan Press): Paid full price, $4

Menu (Ashcan Press): Paid full price, $4

The Finder Library: Volume 2 (Dark Horse): 50% off, paid $12

Like A Dog by Zak Sally (Fantagraphics): 50% off, paid $11

Neonomicon (Avatar Press): 50% off, paid $10

Freak Angels: Volume 5 (Avatar Press): 50% off, paid $10

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes #1 (DC): 50% off, paid $3

WonderCon 2012: Grade B+.


3.14.12 Reviews (Part 3)

Saga #1 (Image): Well, you can believe all the hype. The new, err, saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples is really that good. They do more world-building in the first 6 pages or so than most books do in their entire first story arc. It mines the comics format for all it’s worth, using the primary, secondary, and tertiary layers of delivery into your brain. There’s what you see, what you read, and a third layer that combines the two and is sometimes enumerated by the background text voice-over. It’s full of all kinds of relevant social allegory about our own cultural customs, pushing a futuristic Shakespearean vibe about interstellar war, with our two protagonist lovers caught right in the middle, and on the run, while examining how the choices we make largely determine the merit of our life. If you’re one of those people who comes in late to a critically acclaimed series years too late when they’re already on the 5th arc or issue 67 or whatever, now’s your chance to get in on the ground floor of the next big thing. BKV is back. It’s like 40+ pages for $3. This is an easy Grade A+.

Glory #24 (Image): If you were a fan of Alan Moore and JH William III’s Promethea (and really, who wasn’t?), then this is a book you should be picking up. It’s got a more warrior culture, but similar, blend of myth, magic, belief, and dream. I always enjoy self-aware characters, and seeing Glory examine her purpose of being, while regretfully recruiting another into her army gearing up for war is very engaging. It’s centered on a female Oedipal type of family strife, and Keatinge’s dialogue works so effortlessly to bring these huge fantastical elements to life. Ross Campbell’s art is so fun to look at, the larger panels are particularly compelling, inviting you to wander through simply to see what you can find. The best example of this is probably the, uhh, Glory Batcave, or the Glory Bush? Glory Hole? Heh. ANYWAY. This is good comics. Image Comics Wins. Grade A.

Wasteland #35 (Oni Press): I really enjoyed the heft of the text recap on the inside front cover (the typo at the bottom of the second column notwithstanding), yet another reminder of the vast world-building and storytelling Antony Johnston has squeezed out of 34 issues. It never fails that Michael’s “hrrr hrrr” reminds me of Rorschach as he interrogates Gerr. One of the best parts of this book for me was the dichotomy between the scenes with Michael and Abi. If Michael is largely using his strength and powers to get out of a sticky situation, then Abi is largely using her wits and guile, they’re such a formidable combination. After some delays, this finally feels like the story that Johnston and company were meant to get to, with information steadily being revealed at an exponential pace, clues abounding. If for some shameful reason you haven’t been supporting Wasteland, this is the arc that proves why you should have been all along. Grade A.


3.14.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Batwoman #7 (DC): I don't really have much more than what I tweeted about this (follow me @thirteenminutes why don't you?) but here goes... I still maintain that this is better than the vast majority of the New 52 in the DCU, but it really is slipping toward that mediocre morass without the confectionary art of JH Williams III. I dig the psychological underpinnings of the book, I love the recurring appearances of DEO Agent Cameron Chase, as well as Bette Kane, aka: Flamebird, but the art is about half off. The superhero scenes when Kate is geared up are okay because Amy Reeder is really trying to ape the high sheen and inventive panel breakdowns of JH3 (which I'll give her a pass on), but during the civilian sequences there's all kinds of stiff awkward art and just funky posturing. It pushes me right out. I'm also noticing that Dave Stewart isn't coloring this anymore, so that's yet another special thing taken away from it. Ironic that DC seems intent on f***ing up one of their best books. I guess Reeder is off the title for something like "creative differences," with another fill-in coming in to pick up the slack until JH3 can come back. This is probably one of those rare instances where I'd prefer to wait 2-3 months for a JH3 art affair and sacrifice the monthly shipping schedule with a less than stellar artist. Grade B+.

The Secret History of DB Cooper #1 (Oni Press): I usually have pretty high hopes for Oni Press books, after stalwarts in my collection like Queen & Country and Wasteland, so I'll try just about all their new #1 issues out. This, however, failed to grab me. I did like the very first page, in how it captured the real-world elements of the DB Cooper history succinctly, but the second it dives into this light rendition of Hellboy/Mage, I was largely out. It's a strange composition of those elements against a Catch Me If You Can vibe that never quite congeals. Everything is washed in this cartoony style, the fantastical elements feel out of place, and I found myself very bored just a little beyond the half way point. I feel like I never got a handle on what the intent or direction of this book was, therefore I can't tell you if it succeeds, and I wasn't entertained or engaged in the interim. I actually enjoyed the 5-page Bad Medicine preview from Chris Mitten, Nunzio DeFilippis, and Christina Weir a lot more than DB Cooper. If you want a more psychedelic version of the CIA mucking around in real world events, I'd actually suggest a book called The Sinister Truth, about the CIA MK Ultra mind-control experiments and their multiple failed attempts to assasinate Fidel Castro. So, this didn't work for me, but your mileage may vary. Grade B-.

3.14.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Conan The Barbarian #2 (Dark Horse): Wow. This thing is utterly perfect in pitch, tone, intent, and execution. It’s like Brian Wood is channeling the spirit of REH in the dialogue. From the first real look at Belit, to Hyrkanian bow strategy, to a decisive naval battle, to the sexual tension between Conan and Belit, to the “tmp tmp tmp” sound effects of footfalls, it is simply flawless. Becky Cloonan’s art has never looked better, it’s like it’s getting this symmetry between a manic Guy Davis sense of detail, with the clean precision of someone like Cliff Chiang. I’m sure Dave Stewart colors don’t hurt that dynamic one frickin’ bit. Wow. Just… Wow. Grade A+.

Saucer Country #1 (DC): Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly turn in an enticing first issue that can only be described in elevator pitch style as “X-Files meets The West Wing.” It has the otherworldly mystery and intrigue of the former, with the behind the scenes political machinations of the latter. Kelly’s art has the clean effervescent feel that you’d expect. Though, I did spot one little gaffe where a caption box says “La Hacienda Bar” and the art puts us in “Silv’s Saloon,” but otherwise Kelly’s work is effortless and his depiction of women is considerably strong, calling back fond memories of The New York Four and The New York Five with Brian Wood. Cornell’s free-flowing dialogue feels completely natural, driving toward an in your face cliffhanger confessional that’ll likely have the audience back for more. Grade A.

Northlanders #49 (DC/Vertigo): Man, Danijel Zezelj just slays this stuff; this guy should be a superstar artist already. Look at those close-ups of the eyes! You wrap that aesthetic up in a rousing Brian Wood script that’s been building for months and drench it in Dave McCaig’s colors, and it’s really something special. The penultimate issue of the series sees Oskar plunge the Haukssons into war, to the chagrin of papa Godar, who shares a devastating prediction for the future. Can Freya’s strength and perseverance bridge the generational gap between these two men? Find out next month! Grade A.


3.14.12 Releases

This is the biggest week seen around these parts for years. It’s an interesting mix of old and new for Brian Wood, with Conan The Barbarian #2 (Dark Horse) hitting the shelves, along with a double-tap of his harsh generational saga, with both the penultimate Northlanders #49 (DC/Vertigo) and Northlanders Volume 6: Thor’s Daughter (DC/Vertigo) coming out. Vertigo tries to hang on to some of the magic by releasing a small crop of potential replacements in the line-up, but the only one that really caught my eye was Saucer Country #1 (DC/Vertigo) from Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly. It’s got a fun high concept, engaging politics, and was the only thing to stand out as above mediocre in the recent sampler. It’s quite ironic that DC just can’t seem to get anything right with the handling of what is arguably their best title, as Batwoman #7 (DC) comes in the wake of the announced departure of artist Amy Reeder. I always preferred JH3 myself, but this book just can’t handle one more thing which threatens its shipping schedule or very existence without significant delays. Maybe it’s just another sign that “Big Two” comics are hurting at the moment, as the indie publishers offer up a plethora of appealing alternatives. Glory #24 (Image) sees the second issue of this stellar book hit, with what will probably be the focus of the week in most circles, Saga #1 (Image) from back-at-it Brian K. Vaughan and the always awesome Fiona Staples. Not to be outdone, another creator owned safe haven belts out Wasteland #35 (Oni Press), along with The Secret History of DB Cooper #1 (Oni Press). At this point, I’m buying this title in trades, but I’ll point out Locke & Key: Clockworks #5 (IDW). I usually don’t pick up many of these “art of” style books, but man this one looks gorgeous, and this particular artist was pretty influential for me during my formative reading years in establishing an aesthetic I was drawn to, on titles like The New Teen Titans and The Avengers. It’s The Art of George Perez HC (IDW), which will set you back $50. What looks good to you?


Entering Crime World

Crime World #3 (Reliable Comics): I once called David King’s Lemon Styles something like “Charles Schulz for the 21st Century.” That dynamic slyly blends an aesthetic that looks like it’s ostensibly for laughs, but there’s a deeper social commentary embedded in the whole thing. We see a cast of characters continually trying to reconcile the way the world is vs. the way the world should be. Crime World borders on being a post-apocalyptic version of that, and comes off as a unique example of world-building. Now, I’ve never read the first or second issues, which may have contained some form of set-up or continuity, so I’ll caveat that I could be off base here, but this seems to be an environment where a “poor” class is subversively created by means other than monetary. Despite having vast amounts of wealth, there’s no guarantee that the people have access to food, clean water, or a consistent power source. This socio-economic condition has saturated parts of the city, and the feeling of despair is so ubiquitous that it’s nearly subliminal what’s actually occurring on the page. It’s millionaires who literally cannot buy food. And it’s simply because there doesn’t seem to be any, hence the rise in crime, and criminal activity in pursuit of that precious commodity. It essentially turns the whole financial system and familiar way of life on end. Like another of King’s projects, The Shortest Interval, it makes for an engaging thought exercise. Visually, King’s black and white style seems faster and looser here than the aforementioned book published by Sparkplug Comic Books, with its relatively lavish production values, and rare bursts of color. Perhaps this is just the pragmatic result of self-publishing or perhaps it’s a deliberate artistic choice, but either way, the result is a visual tone that operates in sync with the crumbling way of life being presented. In some ways, the visual style reminds me of Trevor Alixopulos’ work in Mine Tonight, how seemingly erratic lines reflect the panicked thought processes of the protagonists. Crime World is perhaps less refined stylistically than the aforementioned bounty of Lemon Styles, but is no less energetic or effective in capturing a weird thematic dichotomy in a wholly unique and cautionary world. Track down the series at www.reliablecomics.com Grade A.

3.07.12 Reviews (Part 3)

The Manhattan Projects #1 (Image): I’ve always said that Jonathan Hickman’s creator owned projects at Image are where it’s at, so just ignore all that Marvel franchise work, ok? I loved me some Pax Romana, and appreciated stuff like Transhuman for how it captured the Silicon Valley boom mentality I lived through juuust right, but this here has to be his best effort yet. Nick Pitarra has also never looked better, aided by Cris Peter on colors, who is surely a rising star among colorists with that pop art palette and the sense of glee it brings. Pitarra’s art is full of lean detail, Frank Quitely-ish I’d say, but with a thicker line weight (something akin to Chris Burnham in Officer Downe) to give it some more oomph, then with a dash of Geoff Darrow thrown in for good measure on those full pages battle royale scenes. The hook is strong, about Oppenheimer (heh) operating beyond the discrete context of the atomic bomb, and Hickman does his best Warren Ellis impersonation on the sci-fi. We’re talking about “mining pan-dimensional space for fringe materials” and the “sentient origami incident.” It’s manic in the good way with abundant creative ideas, a backbone that’s a serious examination of two brothers, one the darkness and one the light, both necessary for the other to exist, Einstein locked away for some mysterious reason, the most obvious twist that no one saw coming used to fuel this alternate history, and the intent to explore that old scientific paradox of balancing what can be done with what should be done. Grade A.

Hell Yeah #1 (Image): I wasn’t very familiar with Joe Keatinge, but the strength of Glory urged me to check out this new book as well, and… I’m not so glad I did unfortunately. The first think I immediately noticed was that the art is rendered with this fuzzy blurry overly-digital looking quality up front. It’s almost as if it was done so deliberately by illustrator Andre Szymanowicz to capture like an amateur video effect(?) or something, but there’s no clue in the script that that’s why it looks the way it does. If you get past that, you’re then treated to all kinds of exposition about who the kid is, what the school he goes to is supposed to be for, painful flashbacks that are highly expositional, etc. It settles down from that blurry quality, but then becomes stiff and wooden in spots, with all of the posturing being just a little screwy and unnatural. Deep down, I think there might be an interesting core premise here, sort of an anti-Sky High vibe, with the latest generation of heroes in a super-powered world being socialized into carrying on their parents’ roles, but this one is snotty and poor at it. The sudden emergence of a group of JLA/Authority type heroes and their “Michelangelo Moment” that will change the world just feels a little tired, like another recycled set of ideas. Hell Yeah lacks the sense of “new” and “fresh” that the other Image titles of late have embodied. They can’t all be winners, so check out Prophet, Glory, The Manhattan Projects, or wait for Saga, Mara, or any number of the upcoming Image releases instead. That’s my recommendation. Grade B-.

3.07.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Goliath (Drawn & Quarterly): I was really impressed with Tom Gauld’s latest feature length project, principally for the restraint he showed. There’s a sense of minimalism in both the aesthetic choices and the dialogue, as Goliath is conscripted into a plot to maintain dominion over the Israelites. Somehow, with a conglomeration of relatively simplistic lines and otherwise flat dialogue (had it been taken and viewed out of context), Gauld is able to wring intense amounts of emotional clarity out of this reluctant participant. The audience is able to glean everything they need to know about the story from subtleties in the craft. Less is definitely more in this case, and it's hard to imagine this book not making an appearance in several critics' best of 2012 lists, mine included. Grade A+.

Winter Soldier #3 (Marvel): I’ll tell you from the top that I think this book is done fairly well, but I just don’t think it’s for me. It strikes me as good genre work, and if you’re into this brand of espionage then you’ll enjoy it, but for me it never transcends the genre in a way that something like, say, Queen & Country did. I’m just tired of this formula, the noir/superhero/espionage thriller sub-genre, which has been milked, and used, and mined for something like 10 years now. It’s time for me to step away from this book and let others enjoy it. When I hear about SHIELD and Norman Osborn and Nick Fury and Doombots and The Cold War and black market Soviet arms dealers, I start to glaze over, and all I really hear is “wonhh-wonhh-wanhh-wanhh” like Charlie Brown’s teacher is talking. It’s just not exciting to me personally. It’s technically proficient, a dark story that’s decently scripted, but it doesn’t really push any of my buttons to become more than the sum of its parts. There are still some fairly imaginative layouts that capture something akin to the link network diagramming the FBI started around the time I was learning about it in college in the early to mid-90’s. But, the art somehow seems flat. Maybe it’s the inking, or the monochromatic color palettes, but it’s lost some life. They’ve lost the characterization of Natasha for me. Von Doom has become sort of a caricature of himself. By giving this title up, I think it’s interesting to note it’s my last ongoing Marvel title. I have one mini-series with 2 issues left, and then barring some interesting creative announcement, I won’t be purchasing a single Marvel title for the foreseeable future, in a year that’s shaping up to be the year that Image Comics/Creator Owned Comics largely won, and it’s only March. Checking out with a not very enthusiastic Grade B+.


3.07.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #3 (Marvel): I still feel that this is a pretty light read, probably not as heady as other Brian Wood books I've consumed, but maybe that comes with the genre. It's still a compelling premise, having Logan and Armor on the run and questioning not only their status as mutants, but their very reality in the process. The cover from John Tyler Christopher is really nice, I actually mistook it for a John Cassaday cover at first glance, and it's sort of a more anemic, thinner line weight, less inky version of JC. Mark Brooks' interior art is similarly clean and vibrant, while Boschi's more minimalist and angular Westchester sequences are just harsh on my eyeballs. Despite uneven art(ists), I find more to like than not like. The idea of Logan's id unchained in berserker mode is scary, and Wood really captures Quire's voice as an insecure kid who just so desperately wants someone to appreciate his Omega Level brilliance, that he'll act out for attention in all the wrong ways. I mean, just look at his self-image in the construct. I also am really enjoying the portrayal of Rachel's personality, her sarcastic frustration in trying to keep the school together, which kids of begs the question: where's Kitty in all this? Grade B.

Aquaman #5 (DC): [Not on regular pull, picked up for coworker]. I will say that the art here is kinda’ striking from Ivan Reis, and seems to be a step above the generic DC House Style, but man, my main issue is the writing. I think, at times, Geoff Johns can be a decent "big idea man," but I don't enjoy his actual scripting and dialogue very much. There are shreds of interesting notes (the "A" glyph, the Atlantean history), but usually your choices are either high grandstanding exposition or awkward unnatural dialogue. Ultimately, the tone of the book can’t decide if it's being done in earnest or being done tongue-in-cheek, sending a very mixed signal, with action completely devoid of consequence. It's all noise and no substance. Grade C+.


That Thing I Was VERY Excited About

DMZ Volume 12.

“The Five Nations of New York.”

The final volume of the critically-acclaimed, 6-year, 72-issue, contemporary classic by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli.

The final fate of Matthew Roth and New York City during the Second American Civil War.

The final chapter in the series commemorated at LIVE FROM THE DMZ.

June 2012. Collects issues 67-72. 144 pages. $14.99.

Written by Brian Wood.

Art by Riccardo Burchielli.

Cover by Brian Wood.

Introduction by Justin Giampaoli.


3.07.12 Releases

The most anticipated book of the week for me is The Manhattan Projects #1 (Image) from Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra. As I’ve said before, not all of Hickman’s creator-owned books connect with me, but they’re always worth a look. Pitarra is the artist from the recently wrapped The Red Wing, and I enjoyed his sort of Frank Quitely meets Chris Burnham vibe just fine. If my interests this week are any indication of what this year is going to be like, then Image will probably occupy the majority of the mindshare. They’re also offering Hell Yeah #1 (Image), which is from Glory scribe Joe Keatinge. The strength of that book in one short issue has already earned this book a look, which probably would have not been on my radar otherwise. To top it off, Image is also offering Prophet scribe Brandon Graham’s King City TPB (Image), which is 400+ pages and collects issues 1-12. That’s highly recommended. Over at The House of Ideas, Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung wrap up their LONG confluence of Avengers, X-Men, Young Avengers, Dr. Doom, Magneto, and the Scarlet Witch in this opus, with Avengers Children’s Crusade #9 (Marvel). I’m sure it will have some bearing on the upcoming AvX crossover, but I just really enjoy it for the tightly crafted melodrama and Cheung’s crisp clean art. Winter Soldier #3 (Marvel) is also one of the better offerings from this publisher at the moment, and let’s not forget Brian Wood’s Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #3 (Marvel), featuring Wolverine and Armor on the run from Quentin Quire in a PKD-esque, future-esque, virtual-esque mental construct, with control of the school hanging in the balance.


Vortex #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest mini-comic review at Poopsheet Foundation.

Jetpack Shark @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest mini-comic review at Poopsheet Foundation.



Nathan Fox is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Please join us at the DMZ companion site for our interview with series collaborator Nathan Fox. Nathan contributed to the DMZ tapestry numerous times, most notably to the “Friendly Fire” story arc, the DJ Random Fire story, as well as the last story featuring Wilson, “The Ghost Protector of Chinatown.” Nathan delivered a very thoughtful interview and was very generous with providing production art.

DMZ chronicles journalist Matthew Roth stuck in New York City, which has transformed into an active war zone in a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War. LIVE FROM THE DMZ is the only site dedicated to Brian Wood's contemporary classic, taking a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the series, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more. There’s nothing like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and his series collaborators.