5.02.12 Releases

Dude, what’s going on? It seems like another dud week, with the only definite purchase being the new Yoshihiro Tatsumi book Fallen Words (Drawn & Quarterly). I never read any of the former incarnations of the book, but X-O Manowar #1 (Valiant) looks interesting, with the return of the much maligned publisher, 40 pages for $3.99 including a teaser of an impending Harbinger book, and the solid creative team of Robert Venditti and Cary Nord. I find Venditti a little overrated, but if nothing else, it’ll look purdy under the hands of Nord, whose work I enjoyed on the Kurt Busiek Conan run. Brian Wood’s got the last issue of this mini-series out, with Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #5 (Marvel). Moving along, 30 Days of Night #7 (IDW) is notable for me because Chris Mitten is doing interior art, and that’s always worth a look. The bulk of my genuine interest seems to be at Image Comics. I’ll give interested flips to Mind The Gap #1 (Image) from Jim McCann, Rodin Esquejo, and colorist Sonia Oback (whose work I enjoyed on a past run of X-Force), Epic Kill #1 (Image) by promising looking newcomer (I think) Raffaele Ienco, and Supreme #64 (Image) with story and art by Erik Larsen, because, I guess these are now all new stories(?). I never got into Savage Dragon or was a huge Larsen fan, I think I read a few Alan Moore penned issues dredged out of quarter bins back in the day, and don’t know much else, so who knows if this one will pass the casual flip test. I’ll also give some of the second round of New 52 books a flip, including Dial H #1 (DC) from China Mieville, Earth 2 #1 (DC) which is about, uhh, something, and World’s Finest #1 (DC), with Power Girl, Huntress, and hopefully some decent art with George Perez and Kevin Maguire aboard.


Jennifer Lopez, Brendan McCarthy, and David Bowman Walk Into An Alien Bar...

Bowman 2016 (Hic and Hoc Publications): Let me go ahead and pull the curtain back and just reveal a personal desire here… I imagine that this is what having sex with Jennifer Lopez must be like. It is so overwhelmingly enjoyable that I can hardly articulate the emotion I’m feeling at this moment. It’s touched me in a deep and primal place that I’m not even ready to discuss. If Rufus Dayglo, Brendan McCarthy, Gary Panter, and Jack Kirby had some type of acid trip homoerotic circle jerk, the primordial (seminal?) sludge that resulted from that sweaty barnburner would be what these creations evolved from. Let me put it yet another way; if you’ve been enjoying the more mainstream critical darling called Prophet at Image Comics by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Farel Dalrymple, then this is the hyper-indie mini-comics equivalent. Bowman 2016 is the second part in a trilogy from Pat Aulisio, that witnesses the titular David Bowman as a lost astronaut journeying through a post-pop psychedelic alien wasteland. Aulisio’s claustrophobic scraggly line is really something to behold. The best examples are probably the shots of the bustling city, where he has the bravery to generously fill every nook and cranny of every panel with life and detail, providing depth, texture, and vibrating potential. It’s not mindless manic, though, he perfectly controls the reader’s eye in calculcated fashion, pushing you in and out, in and out, zooming in for close-ups, and pulling out to widescreen shots, in and out, in and out, in an almost sexualized hypnotic experience. At times, there’s an unabashed pop culture glee to the whole thing too; Bowman almost looks like a guy wearing a Skeletor mask riding an emaciated Garfield. Let me repeat that; it’s Skeletor riding Garfield. On top of that, it’s hard not to enjoy the unrestrained enthusiasm for the form that Aulisio seems to be reveling in, with lines like “I am David fucking Bowman.” It’s fun sci-fi adventure with heaps of attitude. There’s one small typo, “gawdy” vs. “gaudy,” but you should ignore that and pay attention to the main character’s willingness to embrace xenophobic tropes as a means to fuel the storytelling tension. He’s briefly imprisoned by these “dumb bastard” aliens, so that we can get one immaculate prison break sequence (with the aid of his new mysterious weapon), that takes us further down the rabbit hole. It’s some sort of wormhole/teleportation/crude volcanic Boom Tube thing, which culminates with the arrival of what looks like SpaceGod reality cops. YES. Even when Bowman is getting his ass kicked, he admits in adrenalized self-aware glory that “this is the coolest beat down I have ever seen,” which is exactly what the audience must be thinking with this transformative reading experience. This book is totally ape shit in all the right ways, not for the sake of just being an obtuse and reckless bout of storytelling, but for the sake of a creator tapping his unbridled imagination and capturing it on paper, which just happens to allow us to be taken along for the wild ride. Well, folks, I’m spent, out of breath, and ready for that satisfied post-coital smoke. So, thanks to JLo, thanks to Pat Aulisio, and thanks to Matt Moses at Hic and Hoc Publications. In a bid for total world domination, this dangerous new boutique publisher is now 3 for 3. So, watch out world, here they come. Their comics are the bizness, what are you making? Yeah, more like this, please. Grade A+.

Everything + Connectedness = Everythingness

Everythingness (Hic and Hoc Publications): The first thing I noticed about Neil Fitzpatrick’s latest offering was actually the exquisite production quality from Hic and Hoc Publications. There’s that slick paper feel, right alongside the crisp coloring and subsequent printing. Diving into things, it seems apparent that Fitzpatrick has been influenced to some degree by Ernie Bushmiller’s old Nancy strips; you can see it in the style of the big bulging blacked-out eyes and the general proportions of the figures. Fiztpatrick is by no means a one-note creator though. He’s a bit of an indie comics renaissance man, having put in his time doing web-comics and minis, bouncing back and forth from inclusion in key publications like Sammy Harkham’s Kramers Ergot to the creation of some very cool custom vinyl characters. This book opens with a fourth wall-breaking intro, which cleverly plays with our perceptions of creation. One of the things I appreciate the most is the creator’s use of sparse bold confident lines. In short, he’s not afraid to ink up the page. Honestly, at first I was thinking that “Everythingness” seemed like kind of a silly title, and that it’s a pet peeve of mine when creators make words like that up in an attempt to live into some artsy-fartsy stereotype that just comes off as pretentious. Ahem. Anyway, the more I read, the more that title seemed absolutely apropos. The majority of the strips are concerned with the characters’ connectedness to everything around them, a dynamic which helps to define their existence, whether it’s an omnipotent God, a potential lover, or a stray bird in the sky. One strip in particular is concerned with what makes an act (for example, swimming or flying) “magic,” and reveals that it’s all in our expectations and the language of perception. Typically we explain things with language, which is a man-made construct in the first place, so its fallible in its ability to articulate how the world truly works. You’ve heard scientists explain this, that a sufficiently advanced technology would appear as “magic” to a lesser developed being that hadn’t the sufficient interpretive mechanism available to comprehend it. That said, I found this to be a deeply philosophical work (which I was not expecting), despite the downright “fun” aesthetic it comes with. The contemplation of this state of being was handled with a childlike sense of curiosity via the characters, but revealed a more adult sense of interpretation, which created a great balance between the fun and the poignant. The ultimate denouement was one of role reversal, wherein the author goes from creator to creation, in a bit of a Mobius Strip loop back to the very first page. Considering the deep contemplation of Lauren Barnett’s Me Likes You Very Much, and now Neil Fitzpatrick’s newest project, it feels like Hic and Hoc Publications is quickly branding itself as the home of thinking man’s funny books. Grade A.


The Feeling is Mutual

Me Likes You Very Much (Hic and Hoc Publications): Since I’ve already confessed my adoration of the adorkable Brooklyn-based creator Lauren Barnett after reviewing a handful of her mini-comics, I’ll try to enter this as objectively as possible. This stout collected edition is billed as Lauren’s first “not-published-by-her” book. It’s 5 years worth of “best of” material from her daily web-comic, and a huge step-up from her diverting work that’s sometimes been transitioned to short mini-comics format. It’s got a full color heavier stock cover and quite a few color pieces sprinkled into the largely black and white affair. It’s 192 pages of perfect bound awesome sauce, so kudos to Matt Moses’ Hic and Hoc Publications for finally providing the type of treatment that Lauren’s work deserves. In several disarming swoops, Lauren displays, just like the cover advertises in a tongue-in-cheek manner, the sheer versatility of the medium. I can see how if you didn’t really pay attention to the content, it would be tempting to dismiss this as “cute” animal and fruit cartoons. But, let me warn you now that it’s deeper and more intricate emotionally, so don’t you dare dismiss it. With a colorful eggplant guiding us through chapters of “stuff,” which have actually been carefully curated, Me Likes You Very Much plays like an extended gallery show which blends Barnett’s wry humor with her world-weary observations. The full page animal spots (lion, fish, rabbit, butterfly, etc.) which punctuate areas of the book are representative of the way that Barnett playfully juxtaposes the literal and the figurative, both visually and with the language itself. There’s a lot of fruit. There’s also a lot of birds used as recurring characters; I like the ones staring up at the stars, wondering if anyone would notice if they’d died, in pure existential crisis mode. You have to wonder if birds are just something that Lauren likes to draw, or if these are cipher devices, with their ostensible fickle nature being the type of lens through which Lauren herself also sees the world. I enjoyed strips like the one involving Jelly’s anger at Peanut Butter’s infidelity with Apple. These are the strips where Barnett is unafraid to invoke over-the-top curse words in order to poke fun at our faux outrage over ultimately inconsequential things. For example, there’s also the bird who just drops his drink on the sidewalk. That’s all he does, yet he blurts out “motherfucking shit ass cocksucking crappy poop face taint.” These types of strips are actually the key to Lauren’s work, I think. The strips are honest above all else. They’re all honest. They’re honest about what we really think but are afraid to say, honest about the imperfection of our actions based on our ego, and honest regarding the imbalance of our reactions rooted in our insecurities. That’s Lauren Barnett’s ultimate power as a creator, she speaks the truth. With that dry humor and quirky observational style, you can almost imagine her forsaking the life of an indie comics creator and playing the stand-up comic circuit in New York. I’m glad she’s sticking with us instead. Grade A.


4.25.12 Reviews

(Sound of crickets chirping)

(Sound of my wallet thanking you)

(Sound of a silent internal cardio weep)

Yeah, I didn’t actually buy a single book this week, but still want to heartily recommend Top Shelf’s exquisite reprinting of Brendan Leach’s Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City. That said, I thought I’d just repost a couple tidbits. First, my original review. Second, the short blurb that accompanied it as the headlining selection in my annual “best of” list.

(Review, Originally Published @ Poopsheet Foundation 6/30/10)

If you can imagine a mainstream-y blend of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen coupled with DC Comics’ recent Wednesday Comics project helmed by Editor Mark Chiarello, you’d be getting close to the visual production wonder of Pterodactyl Hunters. It’s a 36-page comic on newsprint that’s made to look like a faux newspaper edition of The Sun from an alternate reality New York, circa 1904. The “front page” is brilliant; it combines the perfect rendering of cheaply printed images and blurred text just past recognition, with plenty of Easter Eggs hidden, including mentions of Gary Panter and David Mazzucchelli. I also enjoyed the back page advertisements with references to some Southern California haunts like Oxnard and Ventura. A couple of the interior pages are also cleverly inserted as dual use images, so that they can be removed and hung as impromptu one-sheet posters. The whole thing is just pretty frickin’ charming, and if you don’t immediately fall for it, well, then what’s wrong with you? The story revolves around the 20-year tradition of the brave men in the Pterodactyl Patrol battling the “Ptero Terror,” in what looks to be hot air balloons, with flare guns, and harpoons rigged with dynamite (“bomb lance”). The Pterodactyl Commission has pledged to end the dinosaur onslaught (and apparently the last two remaining creatures) by 1905. Demographically, the book takes inspiration from reality in fine New York City fashion, where certain ethnic groups are drawn to certain professions and a respected rivalry exists between them. Leach makes a smart narrative choice to focus on family here, specifically two brothers in the Ptero Patrol with different ambitions, personalities, and values, along with the generational rift between them and their father. This focus really grounds it and makes it accessible as a personal drama first, with the fantastical story elements as an attention-grabbing backdrop. The results are thoroughly original, an engaging aesthetic that compels you to become enamored of this created world and be completely entertained. Leach’s dull gray ink washes come alive with the crackling energy of his imperfect pencil lines and all of the depicted action. The lurid tale rings with an air of a pulp cinema experience. You can feel the H.G. Wells and King Kong classic monster horror influences blending with more subtle sci-fi elements and the big grand adventure fueled by man’s societal paranoia. Do yourself a favor and get over to www.iknowashortcut.com and order yourself a copy today, just $2 to cover the shipping costs. And let me tell you, that’s a bargain. I can’t recommend it highly enough. This is seriously one of my favorite new things and I’ll let it slip right now at the year’s midway point that this will be standing proud on my “Best Mini-Comics of 2010 List” here at Poopsheet Foundation. In a recent TCJ interview, Leach revealed that he’d like to do stories set before and after this one, rendering this the second installment in a trilogy. I certainly hope that’s a formal plan and not just a passing desire, because you can sign me up right now for copies of each. This is definitely the type of work that will spread via strong word of mouth, blogger buzz, and retailer commitment, finding the larger audience it rightfully deserves. Grade A+.  

(Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2010, Originally Published @ Poopsheet Foundation 12/28/10)

Ptero Hunters is the clever cornerstone in what I’m calling the “Newsprint Revivalist Movement,” joining mainstream offerings like DC’s largely uneven Wednesday Comics and indie breakouts like Pete Hodapp’s The Yawning Void. Leach presents a scraggly-lined story that’s epic in scope, utilizing the grand spectacle of action adventure that the name surely implies, but wisely roots it in the effortless accessibility of emotional family drama. It blew me away.


Top 13 Reasons To Like “The Strange Talent of Luther Strode”

You have to appreciate the creative honesty of a team that tells you what they’re going to do and then just does it. In an introductory essay by writer Justin Jordan, we learn the stated goal of blending the horror and superhero genres together, and then watch as the team seamlessly does just that.

I enjoyed the mental correlation I was making with the Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely book Flex Mentallo; the fascination with the Charles Atlas archetype, the seminal comics which contained mail away ads, and the latent fantasy magic that seems to exist within them.

Tradd Moore’s art is a confectionary treat. I’m always fond of making comparisons in an elevator pitch style, so why stop now? This style struck me as a blend of the lean compact detail lurking within Kevin O’Neill’s lines and the exuberant emotional content of someone like Joe Quinones. Drenching it all in the vibrant colors of Felipe Sobreiro is just icing on the cake.

For a book largely concerned with the topic, I was smiling at all of the Easter Eggs you could find visually, revealing the culture of violence that the story is steeped in, one that reflects the darker elements of our own culture. Voorhees, Scarface, 100 Bullets. It’s all there informing the background.

There’s a hip visceral edge to this story as it operates simultaneously with a perfect balance of unpredictable violence, slick humor, and embedded sexuality.

It’s rare you see a book that brings with it full narrative and visual efficiency. There are no shortcuts or tricks, but Luther Strode doesn’t insult your intelligence. It’s devoid of exposition, expecting you to be smart enough to pick up the visual transitions and all of the verbal entendre without feeling the need to pause and explain it away.

After reading a couple books recently which were absolute clunkers in the dialogue department, this was simply effortless. It’s refreshing to hear dialogue that flows so naturally, it never stumbles or pushes you out of the experience. It’s just honey to your ears.

So many stories fall apart with their use of skimpy stock supporting characters. Not the case here; from Luther’s mom, to his girlfriend, to his best friend, it’s never clichéd or annoying.

Perhaps the best of that grouping is the arch-nemesis with panache – The Librarian.

The great thing about being self-aware with the genre tropes you’re working with, is that it allows you to subvert audience expectations, and that process creates a degree of mental interactivity with the audience.

I deeply appreciate the unflinching display of the true cost of this lifestyle. Infusing superhero work with “realism” is an over-used accolade for a post-modern superhero comic, but here it rings true. If you’ve ever asked yourself the question of what would really happen to a kid with powers, Luther Strode answers it for you with uncommon accuracy.

The book ends with the ultimate heroic act, and it’s a surprising denouement. On top of that, it’s very much a tight closed loop, a self-contained story, yet it ends with the possibility of more, a nod to all good horror.

It puts the empty hustle of the Mark Millar milieu to shame. If, like me, you think stuff like Kick-Ass is silly and over-rated, you’ll like this instead. If you liked that book, hey, you’ll like this more. Full stop.

4.25.12 Releases

Why does it seem like it’s always feast or famine week to week? Some weeks I’ve been surprisingly buying into the double digits, and some weeks it’s down to a single item of interest. I own the original of this book, but I’m happy to see it being reprinted. It’s Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City (Top Shelf) by Brendan Leach. The original is in foldable newsprint format, so it’ll be interesting to see how Top Shelf handles the reprinting of this fantastic book. It won a Xeric Grant in 2010, headlined my list of the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2010, made it into the 2011 Best American Comics series, and hopefully will continue additional accolades with this printing, which it very much deserves. What looks good to you? What am I missing this week?


4.18.12 Reviews (Indie Comics Forever Edition)

Prophet #24 (Image): American Indie Comics Creators Reappropriating & Recontextualizing With European Sci-Fi Flair. If that little outburst turns you on, then you should be buying this book. Period. It’s like, I don’t know, a sci-fi rendition of Conan done by Jodorowsky or Tarsem. Yeah, that’s probably the closest I can some using Earth language. Farel Dalrymple jumps on this short arc, most readers of this site will know him from his work on titles like Pop Gun War and Omega: The Unknown. His art has never looked better, those instantly recognizable refined stylistics of his line infused with Brandon Graham’s playful camera angles and singularly original thoughts. So, John Prophet wakes from some type of suspended animation on a spaceship containing “the pod row of an Earth Empire pro-embryo” which itself has crashed into massive city/capital ship L’Horizon in low orbit over a fabricated planet. Didja get all that? See, there are more inventive ideas at play here in a few stray lines than most books get around to sharing during their entire run. This ain’t Star Trek, with its gleaming utopian future; it’s a bleak and vile place, completely foreign to human sensibilities. Prophet is a unique vision from powerful creative forces, showcasing the limitless potential in the medium still largely untapped by the vast majority of creators. Comics like this make me excited about comics. That’s the best praise I can bestow. It’s beyond liking it, beyond poring over every panel, and beyond recommending it to buy. It makes me still want to do this. The art snob in me will tell you that the reappropriation and recontextualization of found imagery in order to derive new meaning from that juxtaposition is basically the definition of contemporary art. So, this is no longer just great comics, it’s now impregnated the elusive elitist realm of Fine Art. And you can trust me on that, I work in one of the top 5 contemporary art museums in the country. Grade A+.

The Manhattan Projects #2 (Image): I’ll say up front that I think Hickman is probably the most successful post-Warren Ellis sci-fi writer, because of the way he can bounce between more intense indie projects and the application of some of those manic high concepts to the mainstream properties. Fraction probably comes a close second, but is a lot more inconsistent with the mainstream stuff (his early Iron Man work not withstanding that generalization). Anyway, the only real problem I have with this issue is that it feels like a very rough jump-cut from the first issue. It’s like the POV character and raison d’etre has now shifted. We began with a first issue that was concerned with the split “personality” of Oppenheimer, and now we shift more to Richard Feynman and the larger recruitment drive of German scientists to the US Manhattan Projects. It’s a hard throughline to connect. If you can get over that issue-to-issue stumble, I certainly enjoy the subversive revisionist history going on, featuring everyone from FDR to Einstein to Hitler, Fermi, and the real prize – Werner Von Braun. At its heart, the book seems to be fascinated with the old idea of examining preoccupation with if something can be done, not if it should be done. Apparently, in this alternate history, the German propulsion tech advances at such an accelerated pace that we take a quantum leap past the moon landing and have an exploratory “Forever-Class Frigate” breaching the edge of the solar system. That said, it seems like this should really take off next issue. On the art side, Pitarra’s work feels less rushed here, more controlled, and doesn’t have the wild details straining out of place like I felt the first issue did. There are times when it looks like some of the background characters just walked off the set of BPRD or Joe Casey and Tom Scioli’s Godland, but for the most part it’s a visual treat. Grade A-.

4.18.12 Reviews (Garbage Edition)

Near Death #5 (Image): I got this for free, so I'm going in totally blind, heck, I don't even know if it's an ongoing or a mini-series. First impressions? Bland art, stiff dialogue, and the story involves a plane (maybe?) or something that hit a building? Oh no, wait, it was an explosion and a girl got hurt. The main guy is sad about this, but doesn’t know what to do! He's on the run from the cops! But he has answers! Honestly, not much clue what's going on. It feels like a very generic Hollywood thriller pitch, with stock tough guy types, attempts to root things in familial drama to make you care, but ultimately it never gets picked up by the network. I don't know, any book that cites Jon Sable: Freelance as inspiration reveals its boring Comico Comics era influences. At least Jon Sable had sexy women (by 1980’s standards anyway) and sexy guns (like the infamous Mauser machine pistols). This book doesn't have any of that. It’s not awful. It’s not good. It’s just there. Shoot, it doesn’t even warrant my time finding a picture online to accompany this. Grade C.

Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: A Graphic Novel: Volume One: Free Special Edition Preview (DC/Vertigo): While it does win the award for most ludicrously long title, it doesn’t win at much else. I have not read the books, I have not seen the movie. I remember liking Leonardo Manco’s art years ago (was it on Deathlok?), but here it just looks “okay,” as if it’s lost some of the stylish qualities I recall liking and has just softened to be a little more homogenous. The end result of this free preview? I don’t really know what’s going on other than WEIRD LADY IS APPARENTLY GOOD AT HER INVESTIGATIVE TYPE JOB(?). All of the other disparate elements don’t quite coalesce, and I tuned out around ¾ of the way into it, lost in a sea of words and characters who all looked vaguely the same, except for something about WEINER-STRUMMING, which sounds vaguely erotic. Also, if it’s free, then why did my LCS try unsuccessfully to charge 93 cents plus tax to get to an even $1? It says free right there on the cover and right there in the actual title of the book. Grade D.

4.18.12 Reviews (Big Two Summer Crossover Edition)

Batman #8 (DC): Night of the Owls officially kicks off, and it’s immediately evident that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are just pouring their hearts into this book, unleashing a story they’ve been setting up since DC’s New 52 began. It’s essentially an extended assault on Wayne Manor by the Talons, and I’ll tell you what… it’s pretty rare that a comic book actually makes me feel nervous. Bruce is simply overwhelmed by the Talons, Alfred is hiding out in the Bat Cave, and ultimately they retreat to an impromptu safe room in order to try and mount a counter-offensive. It’s a very tightly paced issue, as Snyder picks a great moment to pause and end the issue. Capullo really is a master of using shadows and silhouettes, at times bordering the drenched-in-darkness feel of someone like Eduardo Risso on 100 Bullets. At times, he might dip his toe into the waters of style points vs. logic (for example, a metallic bat mounted on the rooftop weathervane of the manor might be a big tipoff for anyone investigating the identity of Batman!), but for the most part I feel like he was simply born to illustrate these characters and this city. Despite a few very minor eyebrow raises like that, this is certainly shaping up to be one of the most memorable runs in franchise history, and is certainly in the (small) upper echelon of great books coming out of the main DCU, err DCNU, err DCNEW52, or whatever the heck the kids are calling it these days. Now, for the price increase of $1 to $3.99 you’re given a “back-up” story penciled by Rafael Albuquerque. Honestly, I could do without the decidedly non-essential passage and would just rather have my dollar back, kthxbye. I mean, Albuquerque is a good enough artist, but the transition in styles is pretty jarring. It’s also not really what I’d call a "back-up" per se, but a direct continuation of what just occurred when it’s not off on a boring tangent about the Gotham City Comptroller. Once Alfred initiated the widespread distress call, I also found it distracting that Batwoman was prominently NOT displayed. I guess that book isn’t participating in this? Grade A-.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #2 (Marvel): As an exercise in outright fanboy stimulation, this thing hits all the right buttons. I’ll get my little quibbles out of the way first with a couple of book-end examples, and then get to the good stuff. First, am I the only one who thought that the fighter jets coming off the SHIELD Helicarrier looked suspiciously like Colonial Vipers launching out of the Battlestar Galactica as it did that freefall move on New Caprica? I am? Oh. Ok. At the end, Thor’s words with the Deep Space Team also smack of Worf piloting the USS Defiant in the Star Trek: First Contact movie, you’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em. Anyway, there are some other pop culture buttons being tapped (like Cap’s advance on the beachhead playing to his WWII roots) and I’m not sure how much of that is deliberate and how much is just so pervasive in pop culture these days that it should be called out as slightly derivative. I have to say, though, that for the most part, Jason Aaron’s scripting is much better than Bendis’ in the preceding issue. Aaron uses wit too, but it’s very subtle, and not annoying like the constant stream of misplaced Bendis Banter™ usually is. He’s also better at these lyrical lines that emphasize the gravitas of the situation, if being a little narration-heavy in the process. John Romita, Jr. (not to mention Laura Martin’s coloring) is a great fit for this series, able to capture the static nobility of these familiar and iconic figures, but also able to deliver the kinetic action scenes. And there are plenty of those fan-pleasing, unbelievably cool match-ups. Off the top of my head, you have Red Hulk vs. Colossus, Luke Cage & Thing vs. Namor, Emma Frost & Magneto vs. Iron Man, Storm Vs. Black Panther, Magik vs. Dr. Strange, and some small throwaway moments that just tickled me, like Warpath vs. Daredevil, or the way Warpath is a brawler always at Scott’s side. It’s probably annoying that Cap and Scott have time to talk in what we’re continually reminded is such a loud manic battle, but the more they do, the more you begin to realize their calcified positions. As they flip between tactical and strategic thinking so that Scott can “protect Hope, at all costs,” you understand that this is a battle of wills, not logic. So if you’re able to suspend that disbelief and just be entertained, I think you’ll like this. Grade A-.


First it Was "The Death of Elijah Lovejoy," Now it's The Death of an Entire Genre

1999 (Retrofit Comics): You know what always makes me happy? New Noah Van Sciver Comics! For this feature length story, we meet Mark, a loser who drops out of school, lives with his mom, has a shitty job, no girl, no life, and basically no future. Van Sciver starts with the last 10% of the story and then rewinds hard to run us back through the first 90% to show us how Mark got to that point. The clever juxtaposition of this story is that Van Sciver sets the sordid tale against the backdrop of the year 1999, when the impending Y2K paranoia was at its peak. This deft move allows Van Sciver to perform the ultimate subversion of existential navel-gazing angst, by not only mocking that brand of self-absorbed vanity press, but by mocking our fascination with self-importance as a whole society. In the face of nihilistic attitudes about the apocalypse, and the death of everything from technology, to romance, and social graces, Van Sciver completely obliterates an entire stereotypical genre of self-published autobiographical mini-comics in the process. He does this with a great self-referential mirror, by creating a faux, a pseudo, a pretend autobiographical comic. It’s such a simple, smart, and effective artistic choice. I’m sure some members of the audience will wonder if Mark is a bit of a cipher character for the great Noah Van Sciver. I’d actually argue the opposite. I think this is a continuation of this phase of his career, which sees him moving away from his pure autobiographical roots. He’s moving toward straight biography (with the epic The Death of Elijah Lovejoy and the impending book The Hypo, chronicling the early adventures of Abe Lincoln) and into speculative fictional accounts of autobio-like figures, which gives him the freedom to explore a greater range of stories as a creator. I think he’s made the mental switch, recognizing that this step is necessary to ensure his career evolves beyond its point of origin. Getting back to the plot, Mark’s journey through meeting horny coworker Nora, and then losing her, displays the progression of how boredom ultimately leads to depression. Van Sciver brings his usual strong art skills to the story, full of emotive lines that are so used to capturing emotions on the negative end of the spectrum – exasperation, surprise, grief, anger, etc., but then does something else. There’s a playful sense of experimentation with background patterns used to emphasize mood, and one terrific example of an abstract Picasso-inspired dream sequence. At the end of the day, I’m just happy to see this creator continuing to push himself in new directions. I’ll keep pushing him too, so that one day when the movie is made about him (like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor) or they adapt the HBO series about his foibles (like the unfortunately underwhelming HBO series Girls by Lena Dunham), I’ll just position myself as a “Noah Van Sciver Historian” (Coolest. Job Title. Ever.), say I knew him when, and try to ride his coattails to the stardom he deserves. ;-) Find more great books at nvansciver.wordpress.com and retrofitcomics.com. Grade A.

Desperately Seeking...

Stranger Two Stranger #3 (Self-Published by Robert Hendricks): It’s the next volume of real life Craigslist “missed connections” ads taken from Chicago, New York, Detroit, and San Francisco, then illustrated and interpreted by the author/artist. Overall, the contents of this issue felt relatively light and quick as compared to previous installments, and there didn’t seem to be any that jump out for me as being particularly memorable, yet I still enjoy the project immensely from a cultural anthropology standpoint. The pieces range from those involving David Lynch, to size 16 shoes, another foot fetish, STD results being broadcast into the ether, and a tough one about a man hitting a woman’s dog, killing it, and then using this as an in to ask out the particularly “hot” girl. I think some audience members may find these pieces polarizing, in that you’ll either love the cross-section portrayed, or be repulsed by it, but contextually they all punctuate moments in time about lonely souls desperately just wanting to connect. Hendricks has, knowingly I believe, captured this odd cycle of the rise of technology impairing face-to-face social skills, but then empowering these awkward attempts to connect by providing a nameless and faceless venue. It’s a seedy underbelly, and one of them most robust exercises I’ve seen in revealing the strange dichotomy of our Modern Age. Grade A-.


4.18.12 Releases

After the high that last issue ended on, I’m excited to check out Prophet #24 (Image), especially considering that Farel Dalrymple is jumping on the art. He’s easily a favorite and in that special group of artists that I wish worked more so that I could enjoy their art more regularly. Manhattan Projects #2 (Image) makes it a duo from the publisher this week. I think that Secret (the other Hickman Image book going right now) might overshadow it, but it’s still got some juice. The art in Manhattan Projects is much too over-the-top in spots, but the ideas are the sort of manic sci-fi that remind me of Warren Ellis. I was pleasantly surprised to see 3 Story: Secret Files of The Giant Man (Dark Horse), a late follow up from Matt Kindt, which I’ll probably check out. And from New York, we’ve got Batman #8 (DC) marking just about the only straight superhero book the publisher is doing right at the moment, and Avengers Vs. X-Men #2 (Marvel) which (not counting the #0 issue) has been surprisingly palatable so far. Lastly, if you’re looking for something a little meatier this week, I can wholeheartedly recommend Naoki Urasawa’s “Watchmen of Japan,” with 20th Century Boys: Volume 20 (VizMedia). It’s planned to run 24 volumes and the plot is so complex you’d better start with Volume 1! What looks good to you?


4.11.12 Reviews (Image Edition)

Secret #1 (Image): This is yet another reason why Image Comics is going to totally dominate 2012. This new ongoing series from Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim is where it’s at. This is the type of book that Mark Millar wishes he could do. The way the conversational nature of threats and violence are handled is really intimidating. Artistically, the washed out black and white, with bursts of color to emphasize light, threat, blood, calm, danger, contemplation, or whatever, is just so damn effective in directly controlling the mood. I always thought Ryan Bodenheim’s art was pretty cool, but I’m pretty sure this is the best it has ever looked. There are a few panels where it looks like you’re taking in some crazy hybrid of old Dave Gibbons and Jamie McKelvie, with that clean austere finish both of them are capable of producing. The security guy in me LOVES this book, with all the corporate espionage and talk of backgrounds and NDAs, and the clever spins in the dialogue about the industry standard who, what, and why in the investigative process. It’s all high pressure and fast pace, with Mr. Miller and Mrs. White instantly sparking my interest in this con game. I probably like the raw high concept of something like Hickman’s Pax Romana better, but in terms of execution I think this is basically the best thing I’ve seen him do in the creator owned arena. It no longer feels like he’s shouting and grandstanding his political worries or social commentary, but embedding them in a story first approach. The angry whispers of this book are so much more convincing than the blind fury of, say, The Nightly News. If this keeps up, I could easily see it making My Thirteen Favorite Things of 2012 list. Grade A.

Saga #2 (Image): I’m really enjoying the first rate figure work of Fiona Staples, but I’m not sure those open space backgrounds in the early passages really hit me just right. They looked like fake 1980’s CG work from The Last Starfighter or something. Maybe this was an intentional effort to make the vast emptiness of space look ethereal or otherworldly or something, but it just came off as cheesy and dated. But, I want to stress, most of the art is good. The creepy critter designs and fun sense of world-building are really working well for the most part. I’ll go ahead and co-opt a Brit phrase and say that sometimes this issue is “too clever by half.” For example, the bounty hunter calling his agent kind of screams at you and breaks the fourth wall, intimating *wink* *wink* “psst – the guy has an agent like he’s a Hollywood actor. See what I just did there? It’s funny, huh?” And we all know, laughing at one’s own jokes renders them instantly not funny. This might as well have been Vincent Chase calling Ari Gold considering how satirical it played (Anyone? Entourage? Hello? *Tap* *Tap* Is this thing on? Can you hear me in the back?). I enjoy the voice-over narration of the (assumably) grown baby, though at times I feel like the font or general aesthetic smacks a little of that old book Moonshadow. Overall, I dig most of the humor, and the relationship stuff rings with an authenticity, a set of universal truisms that resonate, and the whole feel of the book is just quirky and inventive enough to keep me coming back to see how it all plays out. Not quite as strong as the first issue (page count?), but still a cut above. Grade A-.

Glory #25 (Image): This really is a game-changer of an issue, certainly altering the course of where many thought the series was going to go. It’s due to an in-your-face and very startling 500 year flash forward, a glimpse into the future from Riley’s perspective. There are a few panels here that look like James Stokoe could have done them, with a more compressed sense of detail. Riley’s role in this world comes front and center as Joe Keatinge sucks the harmless sense of adventure out of it and lets you know that now he’s telling a story of bitter consequence. On rare occasion, I find Ross Campbell’s art to be a little too… “scrunchy” and light to capture the tone. But, for the most part it’s appropriately visceral and my mild complaint is more a personal stylistic one than anything wrong with the mechanics of good storytelling. Grade A-.


4.11.12 Reviews (DC Edition)

Northlanders #50 (DC/Vertigo): LAST ISSUE. First off, congratulations to Brian Wood and company for delivering another long-form epic to the medium, which is a rare accomplishment these days. He’s joined by artist Danijel Zezelj and colorist Dave McCaig, who are an insanely powerful art duo. This is the conclusion of the multi-generational Icelandic legacy of the Hauksson clan. The main source of tension is the generational divide between Oskar and his father Godar, and then, to some extent, the gender inequality between Oskar and Freya. In short, Oskar’s ego pushes him to a place of entitlement, where he attempts to demand respect rather than earn it. He’s also a warrior, and as the old saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail. It’s all set against the larger context of a civil war and the dominion of European powers, including the church. If nothing else, Oskar reaches a point where he’s self-aware despite all of his other flaws, realizing he’s just a warrior – not a leader, and ultimately removes himself from the faulty equation in the desperate hope he can salvage some shred of dignity. That’s the plot, I guess, but I really enjoyed the larger theme Wood plays with more than anything. It’s captured in this dichotomous piece of dialogue: “Is it the death of a culture? Or the birth pangs of a new nation?” I enjoy that so much, the sense of inborn fatalism, and the tension between the conceptual idea of a society, and the actual people who inhabit it in reality. Like the best of Brian Wood’s work, there’s something analogous to our own culture and society to be taken away from what we’re seeing on the page. Northlanders was a brave experiment on so many levels (quieter than DMZ, not as popular as Conan, rotating artists, protagonists, and settings, non-linear arcs, etc.), and I doubt we’ll really ever see anything like it again. Grade A.

Saucer Country #2 (DC/Vertigo): This issue doesn’t waste a second, picking right up where the last issue left off, suggesting it’ll read even better once collected. New Mexico Governor turned Presidential Candidate Arcadia Alvarado reveals her abduction story to her inner circle. The best thing about this writing is how realistic it plays. Chloe’s disbelief comes across intense, but realistic, while Arcadia’s more measured response, as a political candidate, shows you why she just might be perfectly suited for office. Paul Cornell makes it clever and smart in the way an Aaron Sorkin script is, and it looks terrific under the hands of Ryan Kelly. When you put this writer and artist together, you get two honest-to-goodness craftsmen, who are not preoccupied with just laying down cool shots or scenes, but a good story. It’s just a good story, a new story, an interesting story, first and foremost, and that’s why it succeeds. I appreciate how it doesn’t pull any punches or shy away from uncomfortable subject matter, just attacking it methodically in an honest and direct fashion. It’s thoroughly enjoyable, with a cast of broken people who just might come together to try and do some good, simultaneously touching on both the fear and fascination with the unknowable in our collective consciousness. There’s heaps of potential here, and the best part? I have no idea what’s going to happen next. Saucer Country is one of the freshest new tales to come out of DC/Vertigo in a long time. Grade A.

Batwoman #8 (DC): One of the worst things to see in life is squandered potential. Q: How do you take the best superhero book on the stands that you’re currently publishing and totally ruin it? A: You fail to manage your house and create volatility resulting in sub-par artistic contributions. Let’s face it, it’s unfortunate for any artist, hero or hack, that has to come in after JH3, because guess what? You’re not going to be as good! You’ll be forever chasing that comparison. It’s a shame the art has degenerated to such mediocre quality, because JH3 is actually pulling his weight on the scripting end. He captures the creepy factor of the world he and Greg Rucka already built, the characters operate with distinct voices, the interplay between all of the strong eclectic female characters is gold, the investigative angles are believable, down to clever details like the activation codes being acronyms for B.A.T. and D.E.O. But, you just can’t escape the sinking feeling that only half of the cylinders are firing here. Amy Reeder started ok in her run, almost a passable attempt to mimic the JH style and infuse some of her own, but at this point you can almost sense her frustration on the page. It comes off rushed, scattered, awkward, and just slightly off, with paltry attempts to emulate the intricate page layouts of Jim Williams. Trevor McCarthy is apparently up for the next arc, and he really isn’t that great either, more of the DC Generic House Style. At this point, I’d be willing to accept this as a bi-monthly book, give me 6 issues per year written and drawn by JH3, and I could live with that. And then? JUST. LEAVE. IT. ALONE. Don’t fuck up the recipe. Shit, you could even have W. Haden Blackman take over writing completely and allow JH to focus on the art on either a monthly or bi-monthly schedule. The book wasn’t broken, so why does DC keep trying to incessantly “fix” it? Grade B.


4.11.12 Reviews (Oni Press Edition)

Wasteland #36 (Oni Press): This book makes me feel greedy! I mean, it makes me yearn for the eventual collected edition, single installments are just not enough of a fix. When I get toward the end of an issue, I feel myself slowing down, savoring every line and not wanting it to end. So, Marcus wants Gerr to kill Michael and Abi if they find A-Ree-Yass-I. Yeah, I'm wondering why? I mean, has anyone really asked that question? Why would he want that? That means there's some truth there that threatens him, some resource there that could shift the balance of power, some bit of knowledge that incriminates him, or... what? It's something. And now, Abi knows that Marcus sent Gerr after them because of what she found. Anyway, I keep really liking Abi's physical prowess, in addition to her healing powers. I keep really liking the subtleties of Michael, but also his telekinetic(?) ability, and how there's such a biblical overlay of all these things. The Ankya Ofsteen journal entries keep getting more and more interesting, and I'm starting to feel like they're going to intersect with the main narrative(?) and if (when?) that happens, all hell is going to break loose, or a million questions will be answered. It's strange to think that issue 40 is right around the corner, meaning that the book will be 2/3rd into its planned run. I've reviewed every issue of this book, and if I haven't sold you by now, then that ain't me, that's on you. Wasteland is one of the most unique books ever crafted. Everything about it is special. Grade A.

Courtney Crumrin #1 (Oni Press): First of all, man, this looks absolutely beautiful in color. The Special Edition HC of the first arc also looked great in color, and I loved the matte paper quality, I came *this* close to buying it, even though I've already read the content. Overall, I thought this was a great intro to Courtney (if you haven't read her before) through the eyes of a POV new girl character. Perhaps Ted Naifeh's greatest strength (I mean, in addition to his ridiculous artistic ability) is that he can write kids really well. It's such a tough thing to do, making them intelligent with slight attitude, without making them annoying or unbelievable. And making them self-aware, without being precocious. He pulls it all off, making everything flow so well, the voice over, the visuals, and the dialogue. The book was rocking 90% of the time. The small 10% that chipped away at my confidence in the title, ever so slightly, was that I thought the turn of Holly Hart was pretty much telegraphed. I anticipated it, and because of that, was wishing that she became a true friend. I thought Holly could have played Willow to Courtney's Buffy pretty well, she could have created her own Scooby Gang, and when that didn't come to pass, I was annoyed that I had accurately predicted the direction the plot did take. The only other thing, and I admit this is fairly petty, was that Goblin Town smacked of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley. This is largely a win though, finally a title that makes me want to hand it right over to my daughter. Grade A-.

4.11.12 Reviews (Caveat Edition)

The Caveat: Yeah, none of these books are on my regular pull, but I picked them up for a coworker.

Winter Soldier #4 (Marvel): The art, the art, the art, umm, the art definitely captures this Modern Noir vibe, but there’s something very retro about it at the same time. It goes from this very blocky Sean Phillips type of look to, for example, the Ops Room with Nick Fury and that floating console doodad, which looks, dare I say, Kirby-esque? So, kudos to Butch Guice for marrying those two aesthetics in unison with Brubaker’s genre blend. It’s a good match for the writer’s sort of crime noir superhero mash-up. All of that said, this is actually a really good comic, but I’m just personally tired of this type of genre work. It’s probably why I’ve never really been sold on Brubaker’s writing talent. If that genre is your thing, then it’s fantastic, but if you’re out on that genre, there’s not much to go on here, with the wake of Cold War policies and aesthetic values, all “comrade” this and “Dmitri” that, the voice-over narrated fights that are drenched in rain, and the muted color palette, with characters so self-aware in the moment, in the way that only fictional people usually are. It just feels, I don’t know, mechanical? Or empty? It’s like the story has been elaborately constructed just to set up these really cool fight scenes, but I have no idea what Doom is doing, who Arkady is, why they’re going to the UN, or what the clear motivations of Bucky and Natasha are, other than, y’know, punch stuff. And I read the first 3 issues. Grade B+.

Batman & Robin #8 (DC): Mick Gray is a really good inker (and also from San Jose, so special shout out!), but even he can’t get the art to rise above that generic DC House Style I always refer to. It’s just kind of there. I do appreciate the effort to maintain bits of the old Frank Quitely aesthetic, with the design of the Batwing ship and all, but other than that nothing particularly stylish stands out. There are some isolated moments of interest, Damian looking really hurt, the bloody domino mask, Bruce losing his cool because his son is hurt, or the fact that Damian killed someone and that calls into question the effectiveness of the whole self-imposed moral system of these vigilantes. This book isn’t as offensive as most of the DC fare, more neutral I guess, but I keep going back to this question: Why does this title, why does any title, need to exist among the morass of other Bat titles? What makes it special? What is its raison d’etre? Barring a compelling answer, it’s just kind of futile publishing white noise fueled by the fumes of inertia. Grade B.

Batgirl #8 (DC): Considering that it took 3 artists and 2 inkers to make this thing, it’s surprising that the art in one of the sequences (the superhero one) manages to rise above the level of the generic DC House Style. The civilian sequences, on the other hand, are the pinnacle of mediocrity with their dopey homely aesthetic. In the superhero scenes, I appreciate the way that Barbara looks like she’s actually wearing a costume, rather than just colors painted onto her skin. I don’t know, any story that has to reference The Killing Joke this much probably a) is never going to rise to that level, and b) isn’t attempting to do anything original on its own. It’s got these revisionist tendencies all over it, and the melodrama just never seems to progress. I’ve checked in on this title around issues 1, 5, and 8, and it’s the same old survivor’s guilt shtick, and Babs has issues with her family ‘round the horn, dad, mom, and brother. Feels like this is still stuck in second gear. It’s also 2012 and I’m surprised we can’t come up with a more imaginative title for a villain than Mr. Grotesque. Grade B-.

New Avengers #24 (Marvel): I think I saw this on an episode of 90210 one time. It’s the Great Break-Up Conversation Between Luke & Jessica. Nah, it’s really an AVX tie-in, which means it’s basically all filler and not crucial to the main story, filling in what happened just before the events in AVX #1, as Cap rallies the troops for their attack on Utopia. Deodato’s Helicarrier is purdy, but I’m not sure I like the figure work. It goes from kinda’ digestible model/actress photoref that isn’t nearly as bad as, say, Greg Land, to some really wonky disproportionate qualities, which might actually be from the inking the more I look at it. One of the things that originally made Jessica Jones such a popular and unique character was that she looked like a real… y’know, woman. Here she looks like every other tarted up, tiny-waisted, big-chested, puffy-lipped superhero in the Marvel U. Not sure I liked Luke’s “preachin’ out front” characterization. I’m left with a few questions, actually. Is it free “rein” or free “reign?” Since when is Red Hulk, like, an articulate tactical commander? If Wolverine and Warbird tell Cap exactly what Scott is going to do upon his arrival, why does Cap proceed? Why does Cap let Ororo go if she will go and assumably tell Scott the Avengers are coming? That’s Sun Tzu element of surprise 101, no? Tony also brings up a good point, this ENTIRE event is predicated upon the idea that two very capable and intelligent men, Steve Rogers and Scott Summers, two grown men who are esteemed in Marvel history and ultimately respect each other despite their difference, that these two leaders simply CAN’T sit down and have a rational discussion, but will instead just… fight? That’s such a huge leap. Also, there’s Bendis dialogue, which goes a little something like this: “Wolverine runs a school now? Yup. You run a school. Yup. A school. Yup. With children. Yup.” I like David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin too, but this has almost become a parody of itself. Grade B-.

4.11.12 Reviews (Dark Horse Edition)

Conan #3 (Dark Horse): I like the way this book opens because it puts some context around the direction Brian Wood might be aiming for with this series. It’s as if he’s taken the identity theme in his work to the extreme, here examining what makes people who they are at the very core of their being, and looking at how that affects the way they relate to the world around them. I used that word “extreme” deliberately because this also feels like an exercise in intensity, be it the intensity of identity, violence, or even sexuality. This issue is as intensely passionate as the brutal lightning quick action of last issue. Lines like “with this fair skinned young tiger cat” are dripping with lust, just ripe with passion, and Becky Cloonan is right there matching the tone with her art. Notice how she zooms the camera in a little too close during the sex scene with Belit, just close enough to emphasize the claustrophobia, the intense sexuality, the frenetic all encompassing nature of an intense soulful fuck. Pardon my French. But it's true. And then… there’s that full page that allows you to catch your breath and punctuates the whole experience. She’s exhibiting so much control over the page, your eye movement, your reactions to the art, it’s all very masterful. There are so many parts to like about this book. I really liked N’Gora and they way he and Conan quickly earn each other’s respect, the way that they’re storytellers in their own right, it just feels very rich. It’s immediately convincing why the crew would have such fanatical devotion, almost religious devotion, to her, and to the very freedom she provides, though I’m sure all the gold and silver helps too. There are the small motion lines and emotive eyes in Becky’s art, how she’s able to move beyond basic storytelling mechanics, to infuse her art with style now. There are Dave Stewart’s “best in the business” colors. There is the idea that Conan, as the sole survivor of the Argos, is just that – a survivor. If you’re reading The Massive too, Wood’s fascination with the sea seems to permeate this arc of his career. It’s really got it all, a fresh introspective take on the character, one on the precipice of change in his life, along with ravaging action and fiery romance, what’s not to like? Grade A.

Alabaster: Wolves #1 (Dark Horse): The best thing about this book is the cover. The contents are merely good, but that cover is great. Greg Ruth? Wow. Man, I haven’t seen him since, what was that book, Freaks of The Heartland? He’s kinda’ from that Jason Shawn Alexander school of painterly comics, yeah? Anyway. The protagonist here is Dancy Flammarion, which I’m told is a character from Caitlin Kiernan’s novels, which I have not read. I remember liking Kiernan’s writing back when she was helping Neil Gaiman flesh out The Dreaming, or one of those other peripheral Sandman titles. While her writing is definitely a cut above most of the stuff I see on the stands, I also feel as if maybe she’s a little too influenced by Mr. Gaiman? The bird sidekick here comes off like Matthew The Raven quipping to Lord Morpheus or Merv Pumpkinhead. The riddle duel smacks a little of that time Dream has to retrieve one of his power trinkets from a demon and he wins that 8 Mile style word battle with “I am hope.” At the core, I think there’s an interesting premise to be had here, examining if Darcy’s mission is truly Divine Right, or if she’s just found a justification for her sinful actions. That’s got some potential. But, this issue, largely set-up I know, was basically an extended verbal dance between “Snow White” and “Werewolf” that skewed very close to being a purely expositional conceit. Let’s talk visuals. I think Steve Lieber started strong and finished on the weak side. Up front, there’s a nice establishment of mood, the opposing forces of dark and light (thanks to rising star Rachelle Rosenberg on colors), and the art really does pulse with energy. During the transformation sequences, I think it fell apart. It got more sketchy and rushed looking, the action felt choppy, and the figures just didn’t move or flow smoothly on the page. It pushed me out. Overall, I’m intrigued, but not enough to come back for more $3.50 installments. This is one of those collected editions that I would be really happy to find in a 50% off bin at a con some day. I’m not saying that to be mean-spirited, but in earnest. Grade B.


Interested In Thirteen Minutes of Sophisticated Fun?

Come see intrepid new comic book blogger/reviewer Keith Silva, of Interested in Sophisticated Fun, and I attempt to breach Jack Kirby’s Source Wall and tear a rift in the fabric of the multiversal space-time continuum as one blogger interviews another blogger, about blogging, for his own blog, which I will now link to from this blog. It is The Nadir. It is The Omega. It is The Apocalypse. Honestly, it was a lot of fun. Keith grilled me with Thirteen Questions for Thirteen Minutes, where we skip from a book called Ready Player One, to touching on the state of comics blogging then and now, making and reviewing mini-comics, the digital divide, blurring the line between objectivity and opinion, some writer you may have heard of named Brian Wood, and the use of Twitter. We also use important sounding words like “ephemera” and “objets d’art.”

4.11.12 Releases

Well, I guess I can’t complain any more that there aren’t any good comics coming out or that I’m tired of these slow weeks where I only pick up one or two issues. This is certainly the biggest week for me so far this year, and probably well into last year. It’s tough to pick just one to lead with, but I’d probably say I’m most excited for Wasteland #36 (Oni Press) because Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood have been on such a tear in this arc, revealing secret after secret about The Big Wet Universe. However, a very close second is Conan The Barbarian #3 (Dark Horse), because the second issue was one of the best singles I’ve read in quite some time and it’ll be interesting to see Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan attempt to sustain the magic they’ve already bottled. Speaking of Wood, Wednesday marks the end of one of his most epic series ever, with Northlanders #50 (DC/Vertigo). DC tries to offer up a long form Vertigo replacement in the wake of books like DMZ, Northlanders, and Scalped all coming to a close, with Saucer Country #2 (DC/Vertigo) from Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly. I was intrigued by the debut, so I’m hoping this book will quickly hook me and I can keep a foot in *something* Vertigo. The Distinguished Competition is also offering Batwoman #8 (DC) this week, but who the hell knows what’s going on with the art shake-ups in that book. I’m scared to death that what has served as one of my favorite titles in recent memory is on the verge of being dropped. Gasp! Image Comics continues their run at total domination of the 2012 Comic Book Scene, with Glory #25 (Image), Saga #2 (Image), and Secret #1 (Image) from the always interesting Jonathan Hickman, with art by Red Mass For Mars collaborator Ryan Bodenheim. I’m also very curious to check out the collected edition of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode: Vol. 1 (Image) after someone I know has been raving about it. It looks like The House of Ideas offers me just one slight possibility this week, with Secret Service #1 (Marvel/Icon). I’ve never really warmed to Mark Millar’s writing, but the Dave Gibbons art will surely get the requisite Casual Flip Test at the LCS. I was also pleasantly surprised to see an ongoing version of this series of mini-series from Ted Naifeh, with Courtney Crumrin #1 (Oni Press). Timed just right, the publisher is also offering remastered hardcover special editions of the series, starting with Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things Special Edition: Vol. 1 (Oni Press). I read all of the collected editions of Courtney Crumrin long ago and recall it as being that rare book that is clearly aimed at a younger demographic, but isn’t totally dumbed down, allowing adults to enjoy it just as much. It lives sort of in a dark place between stuff like Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Locke & Key, etc. It’s really good!


The Next In A Long Series Of Shameless Plugs

It's only 2 months away!

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 6, 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.


4.04.12 Reviews

Casanova: Avaritia #3 (Marvel): I think I said something on Twitter like this was a no holds barred effort to instantly distill the manic pure beautiful imperfections of Fraction’s brain directly onto the page. There’s so much ape shit crank the volume to 11 energy to like here that it rarely gives you a moment to breathe. As you still try to parse what’s on the last page, Fraction is already 5 steps ahead of you waiting for your human brain to catch up to his idea machine. To some degree, the plot is almost irrelevant. It’s the themes that I like. At the end of the day, Cass is really ultimately struggling with the quintessential existential dilemma that defines our existence. What is our purpose? How do we best serve the world? It’s a challenging read, one that infuses the lost art of textual superimposition into the narrative, stops to discuss the perception limitation of lacuna, and just keeps charging fearlessly ahead at 100mph. Gabriel Ba’s art is a perfect match. Stylistically, it’s manic and kinetic enough to keep up with Fraction’s script, while being just slightly realistic enough to anchor the reader in the proceedings. I really only have two gripes about this thing. One, I didn’t even realize it was $4.99 until I started wondering where my $20 bill went. That feels expensive, especially when a portion of that price point assumably went toward 8 pages of rambly fan letters discussing illegal downloading or something. Honestly, it’s the first time I haven’t read the backmatter because it wasn’t backmatter in the traditional sense, not the kind that Fraction has treated us to in the past. Two, the long delay between issues here is absolutely hurting the flow and resonance of the book. You’re dealing with a non-linear narrative involving time jumps, space jumps, multiple realities and timelines that repeatedly fold in on themselves, and intersect with causality loops, all of which absolutely cannot be read in single installments with long gaps between issues. They read better when back to back monthly, and best in collected edition. Grade A.

Avengers Vs. X-Men #1 (Marvel): I’m one of those guys who sometimes bashes Bendis and turns up my nose at the majority of his superhero work (Alias notwithstanding) and says “I only like his old stuff.” But, I will give him some credit here. While there is some infantile dialogue up front, and some flat and misplaced humor, he does a really good job at diving right into the action and getting into these scenes late. We’re just a couple pages in by the time there is emergency action with the Phoenix Force hitting, and Nova basically crash landing on Planet Earth to warn of the impending arrival of said cosmic entity. On the whole, this is *so* much better than that sickly meager uneven #0 issue that came out recently. A large part of the success is the aesthetic; this is a visually stunning issue. John Romita, Jr. is totally on point, using more fluidity than his sometimes blocky lines can demonstrate, and Laura Martin’s coloring is superb, particularly her light-sourcing. The only real bit that rubbed me the wrong way was the cheap shock value of the plane crash. I mean, is a commercial airplane crashing into the Empire State Building really the scariest, best thing we can conjure up in an 11 year post-9/11 world!? That’s it? There’s nothing more terrifying in our collective consciousness, in a world with superheroes in it no less? If you dismiss that, the issue is actually full of positively memorable moments. There’s Nova with the simple utterance of “It’s coming.” There’s Scott getting cooked by Hope, the gravitas of The White House scene, Scott’s willingness to do anything for the survival of his endangered mutant species, at any and all costs. Scott has essentially become the militant aggressive Magneto archetype, while guys like Magneto himself and Cap are taking a more passive protection stance, serving as voices of cautious reason. Protect Hope vs. empower her? The Namor vs. Cap insinuation is interesting, and the crescendo of “You do understand I wasn’t asking?” with “I understand that completely” is the kind of hair-raising moment that makes you think there might actually be hope for summer crossover events like this. Side note, but at first I was asking myself WTF are those little “AR” notes along the bottoms of some of the pages. Thankfully, the house ad answered that with an “Augmented Reality” option. However. Ahem. I sort of feel like those silly attempts at “new media” are going to be tomorrow’s AOL start-up discs you used to get in the mail, the countless millions that are now clogging up our landfill. So, Art vs. Story wins, Action vs. Dialogue wins, making Avengers vs. X-Men #1 a pretty light but entertaining summer popcorn event, like I guess it’s supposed to be, clocking in with a Grade A-.

Danger Club #1 (Image): Landry Walker and Eric Jones basically take an indie Teen Titans paradigm and presuppose that their JLA mentors are lost. Right away, I respected the scripting because it offered limited exposition, and just expected you to figure things out and keep up. That’s smart scripting. Jones’ art was also instantly appealing, using lean slick figures and strong coloring to create a moody atmospheric style that was fun and energetic. In the wake of the heroes being lost/dead/we don’t know yet, the rest of the younger heroes become fractured. Some step up to lead in an effort to fill the vacuum with less than altruistic motives, some simply fall in with that, while our small protagonist group rebels against that sweeping tide. Danger Club plays with the familiar Strongman and Vigilante archetypes in interesting and satisfying ways. Readers in my age group will probably instantly recognize the “Dark Knight Returns” sequence where the (I guess) Dick Grayson/Bruce Wayne character defeats the Ubermensch god-like entity with the equivalent of Kryptonite Brass Knuckles. That said, the premise of the series is not entirely original. Several creators, at Image Comics no less, have come along and tried to attack the genre from this post-superhero angle, but few have been this well executed. It’s a dystopian slant, and you all know I like that, so I’ll definitely give this a couple issues to see where it goes. Grade B+.


4.04.12 Releases

I’m a little torn on the pick of the week this time out. Honestly, I’m probably most looking forward to reading Casanova: Avaritia #3 (Marvel/Icon). But, on principle I feel like not supporting Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s latest effort since the last issue came out 6 months ago. At this rate, it’ll probably take the guys a year to wrap a 4-issue mini-series, but hey, maybe they’re hiding behind the “art takes time” defense. Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #4 (Marvel) is also out this week, and I’ll be curious to see where Brian Wood ultimately takes this. As far as other singles go, Image Comics has a couple that I’m not instantly sold on, but I’ll probably give them a flip at the LCS to see if they pass muster. First, Supreme #63 (Image) doesn’t quite continue the reimaging phenomenon the publisher has been engaging in with other title such as Prophet and Glory, it’s just a… continuation, I guess, with an Alan Moore script and Erik Larsen on art. I was never into this title before, and candidly, I think Alan Moore is over-rated, so this is passive interest at best, based on the general strength of everything else going on at Image currently. Danger Club #1 (Image) probably has a better shot of making it home, with intriguing art and an interesting premise about a band of heroes who disappear, and their teenage sidekicks taking up arms to do… something, continue their legacy, or find them, or maybe both. No doubt the pick of the week for collected editions is Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery Deluxe Edition HC (DC). Hey, I still have the long out of print single issues from the early 90’s, which are something of a novelty, so I’m not sure if I’ll pick this up. But, if for some reason you never got your hands on this story, this book comes with the highest recommendation. It’s one of the few Grant Morrison books I actually own, and the rare tale where I feel the Drunk Scotsman’s writing ability actually lives up to the deified hype surrounding him.