5.30.12 Reviews

The Spider #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): The publisher rushed out a second printing of this book after it “sold out” (which is a bit of verbal trickery publishers use to push meaningless hyperbolic press releases indicating that their deliberately low print run of 5,000 initial copies were all gobbled up by the Diamond Monopoly™ to fill orders placed by retailers – the real customers in the direct market – so now be astounded at the popularity of their wares that they must print again (huzzah!) to fill more of those same LCS orders they couldn't accurately compute the first time around, completely regardless of what the end consumer is or isn’t actually purchasing). You see, in this model, the supply has precious little to do with demand. It’s a fantastic bit of smoke and mirrors created by the final order cut-off and (non-)return policies permissible in this dog-choker of a supply chain. I think this totally upends classical supply and demand Keynesian Economics, but you probably didn’t come here for an undergraduate crash course in Econ 101. Dynamite has published exactly one (1) book that I enjoyed before; I stuck with Brett Matthews (screenwriter turned comic book writer, Joss Whedon disciple from the Firefly era) and Sergio Cariello for all 20-some issues of The Lone Ranger. It was dope. It had voice. It looked slick. The Spider was getting ALL KINDS of buzz online, to the point that I felt like I was missing out on something. I wanted to sit at the cool kids table too. And it sure is hard to resist those clean John Cassaday covers; he’s one of my favorite artists working today, though I do wish he’d just jump on an ongoing title instead of turning in that lucrative cover work. How dare he take the higher-paying flashier job and make my enjoyment of interiors suffer! See how commerce and art are two competing paradigms continually at odds? If you’re sensing a “but” in all this, then your Spider-Sense, your Spydar, your Comic Fu, is indeed strong. There’s a pretty egregious typo about a third of the way into the book that yanked me right out. This is about the time I started noticing the totally illogical panel layouts and contradictory lines. For example, the panel where some douche cop is looking at the protagonist through the hole of his handcuffs was one of the most awkward layouts I’ve seen in a while. It was an attempt to do something stylish and different, but it just failed. It didn’t make sense, didn’t flow, and makes you overtly aware of the derailing craft. Ars Est Celare Artem. That’s a Latin phrase The Old Masters used which means “The Art is To Hide The Art.” If your audience becomes overtly aware of craft, then you’ve effectively broken the fourth wall and interrupted the all consuming experience that “good art” is supposed to temporarily induce. This is what you get for paying attention to a blogger who works in a museum, and I try to reconcile Fine Art principles with a blatant Batman knock-off. The creative team does all sorts of things to distract you from that, but at the end of the day, that’s essentially all it is. The guy is the son of wealthy philanthropic industrialists, he’s a vigilante with gadgets, has a relationship with cops and network of covert supporters despite the public at large considering him a menace in a crime-ridden Gothamesque city, and goes around shooting people with web guns. Batman, meet Spider-Man. And before anyone tries to Nerd Court me, yeah, I know the book is based on the 1930’s pulp character of the same name, so you could probably argue Batman stole from this character, but it’s not like modern audiences are going to appreciate that sequence. You need to deviate harder for this to be a true reimaging for a modern audience (see the aforementioned The Lone Ranger from Dynamite, which was true to the spirit of the original, but not a rote by the numbers recreation that played this dated). Sure, it’s in an alternate reality NYC where dirigibles fill the sky. Cool. Sure, they try to go against type and make the “Commissioner Gordon” character fully aware of The Spider’s true identity. Sure, they insert a love interest who also knows his identity. Sure, they try to create a sympathetic minority character; but when you name the Sikh guy “Singh” that’s about one step away from naming the Chinese guy “Hop-Sing,” the Italian guy “Guido,” or giving the Korean guy the last name of (there’s only two choices, right?) “Lee” or “Kim.” On second thought, (Mental Note) using "Kato" as a comparison probably would have sold that last sentence more effectively. That contradictory dialogue I mentioned involves a scene where former flame invites protagonist up to meet her new husband (assumably for the first time, “he’d love to meet you,” etc.) amid a flirtatious “we both want to fuck, but know we shouldn’t” undercurrent. Flip over a couple pages and it’s obvious that protagonist already knows new husband, because they work together. It doesn’t make any sense at all. If the prior scene is some type of flashback, there’s no signpost for it, and it plays totally linear and chronological. It’s just dumb. Yet another example involves protagonist voice-overing that he's divulged his vigilantism to former flame, but a mere 4 pages later he explains that Ram Singh is *the only* one who knows his secret. Huh? Hello, does Dynamite have editors that, y'know, edit? The entire project is also steeped in that annoyingly over-used voice-over noir narration about a hard man on even harder streets. Blah, blah, I have my own moral code, The Concrete Jungle, drizzly streets, The Hooker With a Heart of Gold, it’s Mickey Spillane’s classic Private Dick archetype, and it’s so, so, so tired because we’ve seen it literally 576,899 times now. Ed Brubaker has been hybridizing this noir pulp thing meets superhero riff for something like 10 years. I didn’t like it when he first introduced it, and I like it even less when we get a sea of endless copycats. The art is also very photo-referenced, to the point that it’s distracting. One guy looks like Elvis, another guy might be Taylor Lautner, and one of the cops might have even been cribbed straight from Batman’s own Detective Harvey Bullock. You can play with familiar tropes to achieve new results and provide meta-commentary (see the amazing Danger Club over at Image Comics), but there’s a fine line between reference on that end, to homage in the middle, to blatant swipe on this end of the spectrum. So, don’t believe the hype. The cool kids aren’t eating anything different than what you have at your table. The cool kids are also never as cool as your fantasy would lead you to believe. The reality hardly ever lives up to the fantasy. I don’t believe there’s anything that special here. The book totally violates the tell vs. show rule and dumps some history on us too, by the time the zombie vampires show up at the end (I’m not even making that part up), I realized that every other reviewer on teh internets seems to have fallen for a conglomeration of clichés and stock characters cobbled together to make them believe they were seeing something wholly original, or at least coming at familiar tropes with a fresh spin. But, let me repeat, Bruce Wayne has web-shooters. Oh, but there are blimps in the noir sky so I guess it’s wildly inventive? What’s next? A book called “The Bat,” starring a Peter Parker clone driving a tricked out car called the… Bat… Mobile…? Maybe if you spell it “Bat-Mobile” with a hyphen that will be different? Or maybe criminals killed his parents and it fuels his life choices? Yeah, just make him a war hero and that will be “different enough.” Usually mediocre books are the hardest to review. If you love something, you can gush at will over it and espouse its virtues. If you hate a book, you can usually trash it to the ends of the Earth and have fun in the process. Despite the 1,300 words I just wrote about The Spider, I honestly don’t hate it. I obviously don’t love it either, it’s just *there* dead in the middling water. I was going to give it a flat Grade C, but since it made me write a lot, I guess that’s worth something? Grade C+.
Grim Leaper #1 (Image Comics): This book isn’t nearly as rough as The Spider, but I have dramatically less to say about its mediocrity. You get the sense that the creators really do have a genuinely new idea to play with here that is their own intellectual property, and they actually execute it. So, it really all comes down to how much you enjoy that idea and the mannerin which they choose to deliver it. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a one-note joke that takes an entire issue to play out. We all have one of those friends (sorry, Sean) who can’t tell a story or a joke to save their lives. They drone on and on stopping to fill you in on all sorts of tangential irrelevant detail, so that you sort of lose the throughline and tune out, and by the time the punchline finally arrives it doesn’t pay for the 10 minutes of preamble you just had to sit through. I guess that’s how I feel here? The main character keeps dying and getting reincarnated as different people, fully aware that in each new life he’s a walking magnet for random Final Destination style violence. There’s a subversive tone to the humor, the art is really inky in a way I enjoy, the violence is treated darkly in that it’s comical, etc. At the end (Spoiler Alert? Maybe? I don’t know. It says on the cover it’s “A Love Story To Die For”) he meets a girl who… wait for it… suffers from the same curse. He loves her simply for their shared worldview, then… wait for it… she dies abruptly. See the irony? The End. Grade B-.



DMZ VOLUME 11: FREE STATES RISING is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With just one volume in the series left to be commemorated, it’s time to visit the only site dedicated to Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s 6-year, 72-issue, Vertigo epic. DMZ is a contemporary classic that chronicles would-be journalist Matthew Roth stuck in an active war zone called Manhattan, in a not-too-distant future America plunged into the Second American Civil War.

LIVE FROM THE DMZ is a companion site that takes a behind the scene’s look at the series, with “director’s commentary” style interviews with the writer and artists, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we provide you a backstage pass to the flagship title from one of the most important creative voices of our generation. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and his series collaborators.


5.30.12 Releases

Well, there’s really only one book this week that I can wholeheartedly recommend and that’s Channel Zero: The Complete Collection (Dark Horse). It’s absolutely perfect timing for this new edition containing all the CZ stories and bonus materials to be hitting the shelves. With DMZ having finished its single issue run in December (and collected editions next week), and the The Massive about to kick off, now’s about as good a time as any to offer up the idea of the trio of Brian Wood books forming a loose thematic trilogy. In short, here’s what I’ve been telling people: Channel Zero was about a girl and her broken city, DMZ was about a boy and his broken country, and The Massive is about a man and his broken world. Anyway, this is where it all started as Brian Wood burst onto the scene in 1997, bringing about comics with dangerous ideas and graphic design-meets-street art sensibility. It’s just $19.99 for 296 pages. If your LCS only carries Superman and Spider-Man or you just don’t have a local retailer, then Amazon has a swell deal, currently 46% off at $10.74, which is dirt cheap. Don’t miss it.

Let’s see, what else is worth mentioning? I know at least one person who will flip for Monsieur Jean: Singles Theory (Humanoids), which is a hardcover from the team of Dupuy & Berberian, featuring everyone’s favorite Parisian bachelor from the book Get A Life. I’ll probably also give Grim Leaper #1 (Image) a flip. I don’t know much about it, but all of the debuts from Image Comics this year deserve at least a serious flip for your consideration. Lastly, it looks like there’s a second print of The Spider #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) already out, and I might grab that since it’s a light week, I’ve heard nothing but good things about it and want to see if it lives up to all the pulpified hype, and my LCS must have only ordered 2 copies because I never even saw it on the stands.


5.23.12 Reviews

Mind MGMT #1 (Dark Horse): I’ve been sitting back, kind of slowly cataloguing the slew of pop fiction that’s come out in our post-9/11 world specifically featuring airplane tragedies. I’m talking about stuff like Lost, Flash Forward, Fringe, The Event, a couple other TV shows I’m forgetting, some recent Avengers work, and now Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, which all open with some sort of airplane disaster. Even a decade past the events of September 11, 2001, this scar in our psyche is so deep that it’s been manifesting itself in fictional tales where uncertainty fills the skies. It’s like an airplane crashing into a building, or some unexplainable phenomenon aboard a plane, is now the absolute scariest thing we can imagine. That’s not meant to be a pejorative slight against the originality of Matt Kindt’s work, just an observation that it’s happening in a broad fashion. In this original series, there’s an “Amnesia Flight,” where all the passengers, save one child, lose their memory, and all the passengers, save one, are accounted for. One is mysteriously missing. This mystery is placed against the backdrop of a secret government spy agency that utilizes agents with mind control powers. I’ve been a fan of all of Matt Kindt’s projects to date, but this seems like it’s the pinnacle of where he’s been heading for a few years. There’s the fusion of historical elements with covert agencies and his fascination with all things espionage-twinged. His ink washes and muted Earth tones seem to bring warmth to everything as he uses modern techniques to achieve a more classic pulp-inspired aesthetic. The other part of this book I really love is that Kindt is offering bonus material that will be exclusive to the floppies, much like Brian Wood’s plan on The Massive, also out from Dark Horse next month. These guys are trying to resurrect the art of the floppy by incentivizing the purchase with "only here" material. Kindt overtly states that he’s a trade-waiter and he’s trying to make a monthly comic book that would make him buy monthly comics again, so he’s offering something of an interactive experience, with clues, puzzles, cryptic messages that test your pattern recognition skills, that exclusive content I mentioned (in the form of bonus strips that fill in the history of the world he’s working in), and that’s all on top of a riveting mystery rendered in his lush style. Anyway, I love that dedication and action aimed at the ailing floppy. It's really putting your money where your mouth is. This book is clearly a hit right out of the gate, and I hope it sticks around for a while. Grade A+.

Prophet #25 (Image): Giannis Milonogiannis steps in for art duties (even though Farel Dalrymple was billed in all of the solicitation copy, grrrr) with a more blocky, slightly representational quality to his art that felt downright Mignola-esque in isolated spots. It’s still a great contribution to this sci-fi/fantasy series, but when you’re expecting Dalrymple, nothing else will quite do. It felt like a bit of a rough jump cut from the interior spaceship we left off at last issue, but I suppose the gaps between every issue have been hyper-compressed and make the assumption that you’ll provide some closure and fill in the gaps between issues. Brandon Graham is really pushing the world-building extremely hard, throwing down layer upon layer of new information without ever pausing to explain anything to you or bothering to have his characters exposit. I appreciate him not insulting our intelligence, but it is very much a challenge to the reader to stay in step with the constant stream of ideas pouring out. Now we see a team of John Prophets, a “Six Prophet Arch,” but only three of the six seem to remain. There’s an “Arch Mother,” which appears to be like a hologram of the organic shipboard computer/person they use. The team is hunting a Nephilim on yet another world and encounter all manner of organic artifacts along the way, as well as weapons like the home-grown “Teuthidan Lance” which spits acid, and wet pinwheel missiles which attack them. By the end, ruins are smote, familiar headgear is found, and even though this is probably the greatest sci-fi adventure of this period in comics, I’ve got to deduct a little for narrative clarity. I seem to have lost track of our protagonist. Is he still on the ship? Was he one of the three of the “Six Prophet Arch” we saw? Is he this new one being reborn? Is “ours” even in this issue? I'm actually a little lost. Grade A-.

Batman Incorporated #1 (DC): Well, there should be no arguing that visually this book is an absolute wonder. It’s like Chris Burnham takes all the quirky spirit of Frank Quitely, but then improves the clarity of the facial expressions, jams in more small-figure scale background detail, and infuses the action with a greater sense of kineticism. I still prefer the Dick Grayson Batman paired with Damian Wayne Robin, but this’ll do. My only real complaint is exactly where I thought it would be, in that Grant Morrison’s script just feels really uneven. I never feel as if I have a firm foothold on what’s going on or why. It’s just, hey! Crazy action and crazy lines! Leviathan! People wearing animal masks! Bat-Cow! Cannibalism! Something about Talia Al-Ghul! Umm, ok. I guess I’ll play along for an issue or two because the art is just so good, and there is some good wry wit toward the end thanks to the great characterization of Damian and his unyielding attitude, and I’ll admit I am curious to see how Morrison will explain what happened at the end. Will he carry it through? Will he back away from it? How soon will it connect to the opening scene? Etc. So this clocks in with a very tentative mostly-for-the-art Grade A-.


5.23.12 Releases

My wallet appreciates this rather light week, but at least 2/3 of what’s coming out I’m very excited about. It’s a very close competition for the top slot this week, but I’ll go with the debut of Mind MGMT #1 (Dark Horse) from the inimitable Matt Kindt. I’ve loved just about everything Matt Kindt has released on the indie scene as well as from smaller press publishers, so it’s nice to see him moving more toward the spotlight with a creator-owned series from Dark Horse. The premise of a secret organization of super spies with variable mind control powers is also very intriguing. Prophet #25 (Image) continues the great reimaging of this series from writer Brandon Graham and why-doesn’t-he-work-more NYC artist Farel Dalrymple, finishing up his little two-issue burst. Lastly, we have Batman Incorporated #1 (DC), which I think is supposed to be Morrison’s last gasp of creativity regarding the Batman Mythos, concluding his 6-year commentary on the character. I’m a very passive Morrison fan at best (as I think he's become the very thing his characters and voice and fans seem to want to think they're rallying against, not to mention his work is very hit and miss for me, mostly the latter...), but the Chris Burnham art is a real draw for me, somewhere in between the styles of Frank Quitely and Sean Murphy. What looks good to you?

Literally Interpreting The Figurative

Spider Monkey #1 (Domino Books): Jesse McManus and Austin English offer a stark bit of originality with this offbeat story ostensibly about adventuring kids. There are so many ideas at play amid the varying-length shorts which are tangentially related here, but the feature-length story up front bears the majority of the narrative push. The panels are so rich and dense with heavy line-weighted action searching out every nook and cranny of the frame. Nako sits on the shoulder of Spider and self-referentially comments on the way Spider is actually drawing him for the comic. It’s a nice bit of thought regarding the act of creation, or the inspirations for creativity, and where they may originate from. Whether Spider interacts with Nako or talks to other animals, like one wolf in particular, you get the sense that Spider, and maybe his creators ciphering through him, are concerned with man’s primal need to create as proof of existence. I heard a saying once which I’ll probably paraphrase incorrectly, that you take what you need from the world in order to live, but that your life is marked by what you give back to the world. If that isn’t a philanthropic or artistic call to arms, then I don’t know what is. Spider Monkey is full of dichotomy, and that’s a dynamic I always enjoy, because it also speaks to man’s duality. There’s fun and simultaneously scary elements on this adventure with the kids venturing to some underground carnival, visuals which are strangely crude yet consistently accomplished, to divergent meanings about the ritual way Spider’s sister enters a room and runs her hands along the walls (is it OCD? some odd protection spell? just a quirky kid?), to how masks used for identity are treated as commodity at the corner store. The concept of masks is perhaps emblematic of this entire story. We all use masks, figuratively if not literally, there’s the one(s) we wear for all the world to see, and then there’s a darker more hidden side. Spider Monkey, at times, attempts to discern a literal interpretation of the figurative mask, and that’s a thought-provoking intellectual exercise. I also appreciated the concern the creators expressed over “voicing the proper appreciation” of art. It’s a small piece of meta-textual commentary about small press and mini-comics being either valued by those in-the-know or categorically dismissed by the ignorant. It gets at the heart of the fickle nature of fans, and you realize that between all these oppressing issues, artistry in any capacity is actually a very solitary act. I’d encourage you to seek out Spider Monkey, praise the creators, and make the dynamic a little less singular. Spoiler Alert (I guess?), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Spider Monkey on my end of the year list of “Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2012.” Grade A.

Autumn In New York

Dark Tomato #1 (Domino Books): Sakura Maku’s conflicted love letter to New York City was the initial publishing offering from Domino Books, and it was a smart choice to establish the credibility and aesthetic of the line. I’ve always felt that the term “art comix” was a bit of a pretentious effort to bridge the hi-brow and lo-brow gap, but when you see something this great it makes you want to use a term like that to create synthesis between the elusive realm of Fine Art and the beloved craft of “comics-making.” The story centers on NYC MTA driver Prince Tamlin Tomato, a woman who runs the route from “Jamaica Queens to LES to Coney Island.” Maku has a playful way with her wordplay, from things like “Red-Robstering,” assumably capitalizing on any number of Asian accents (or just avoiding copyright entanglements), to peel and eat shrimp (so common on the East Coast, yet nearly unheard of as menu items on the West Coast) becoming “peel and heal your soul.” Artistically, Maku shows off a range of clip art collage, to the lost art of decoupage, and then dull ink washes, in a luminous effort to show the strengths of mixed media composition. It’s as if you rummaged through the halls of any university art program to see a cross-section of the finest work, with words and art blending together in a very analog street art style. Despite the wondrous craft on display, I probably enjoyed Tamlin Tomato’s dreamlike discovery of the city and her place in it the most. She finds it to be a living breathing entity, full of circle motifs (sun, moon, street lamps, etc.), itself an artistic melting pot and simply The Greatest City On Earth, The Capital Of The Word, warts and all. While there’s confidence in this effort, there’s also the uncertainty associated with experimentation. Maku plays with secondary meaning being laced into some of the text. For example, the line “THEY’RE MAKING ME FEEL…” has individual letters differentiated in such a way that the message “HEY KING ME” pops out, urging you to go back and look for more secret messages which may never be realized. With touches like that, and the way that Maku is not afraid of ink, showing off her willingness to get in and just muck up the page, it creates a real sense of joyful bravado. These pages are just pulsating with rhythm, “tunnels tunnels underground so they can make it safe and sound.” The shots of the city are simply inspiring, often times feeling like the sensation one would get walking the streets of NYC on an autumn night. This is an uncommon effort, the only thing I can think of that even comes close is some of the work I’ve seen from Olga Volozova at Sparkplug Comic Books, but even that isn’t a fair comparison to either artist. The “shabby chic” of Dark Tomato is as much a statement about urban understanding as it is a personal quest for meaning. Grade A.

Commerical Dystopian Nightmare

Difficult Loves (Domino Books): Molly Colleen O’Connell brings an almost expressionistic style to her sketchy, slightly uncontrolled lines, with plump figures looking vaguely like the Venus of Willendorf, or something you might find scrawled in futuristic cave drawings. The panel composition is very ornate; for example, the first time you see a bevy of snakes they’re almost slithering out of the panel borders with writhing detail. Much of the story centers on “Trollhatan,” which is billed as an erotic city that has crude phallic monolithic structures. The nature of the city is a little obtuse perhaps, but the setting still entices with curiosity. From the perspective of thematic interpretation, it’s interesting that perception in this world is always slightly off. From that we can extrapolate that context = perception, meaning that our surroundings can shape our mindset. Difficult Loves and the characters that inhabit the story feel like they’re longing and fleeting, it’s a stream of consciousness style of storytelling vs. the straight linear narrative that most audiences might be comforted by. The increased size does help the reader parse the art though. What I found most curious was the two blue and pink one-page inserts that seemed to be examples of the structures the snake protagonists are navigating. The insertion of these objects is treated almost as if they are precious idols to behold. At the mid-point of the book, there’s a wistful page that’s simply amazing. It’s “A+” work on its own, with a lady being prepped for burial. “Never had someone scrubbed my skin with salt and almond oils, brushed my lips with berries, and perfumed my pubic hair with jasmine oil.” It’s an exquisite blend of copy full of coy mystery and tactile eroticism, with (what I think are) ink washes and Eastern design flair, making for an abrupt aesthetic change that juxtaposes death with sensuality. Additionally, there are some shorts like Erotic Pots and the Strip Mall experience full of nightmarish shops from a commercial dystopia, with names like “Alien Greeting Cards” and “TVs & Tube Tops.” It’s a nice bit of commentary on what fascinating unofficial talismans and totems say about the society that covets them. Grade A-.


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5.16.12 Reviews (Conan Uber Alles Edition)

Conan The Barbarian #4 (Dark Horse): They told me his name was "James," but I’m just gonna’ go ahead and call the guy “Rough Hewn Harren,” because that’s how his glorious pencils strike me. The single panels are good, the full pages are great, and the double-page spreads are breathtaking. They have an almost Sergio Aragones level of detail about them, without the humor obviously. His hard-chiseled men look like they’ve brawled and been knocked around, and that’s all juxtaposed against the sumptuous eyes of Belit’s female form. I think I actually like this art better than Becky Cloonan’s (which I like a lot) because it feels more at home here, more rough and tumble, not as (and I hate this term) “cartoony” or light. You can’t really talk about the art without acknowledging the best-in-the-business colors of Dave Stewart. Whether it’s warm Earth tones, the crisp blue water, or a starry moonlit sky, the world just leaps off the page in a way that grabs you and demands attention. It’s interesting to see a younger Conan, one not as self-reliant as in his later years, willing to trust, work as part of a team, depend on other people, be swept up in their plots, give into emotions, and even let himself fall in love. At times, Wood’s script may lean toward being a little dense with omniscient voice-over narration, but it’s so rich and engaging you hardly notice. It also generally fits the tone of the source material well, which could be heavy with descriptive prose. It’s a difficult thing to strike a balance between being faithful to source material (close enough to avoid fanboy fury anyway) and striking out to tell your own tale. At nearly $4 with tax, this still feels like you’re getting your money’s worth. It’s dense, it takes time to digest, and is impossible to fly through. I hate to invoke the name of a writer who only wrote one book I honestly like, but the poeticism of Neil Gaiman and Sandman kept popping into my brain toward the end. As Conan plunged into the icy waters of despair in his dream, we learn that one of the most powerful things, more powerful than his physical prowess, more captivating than a pirate’s greed of gold, more alluring than the raw drive and freedom of adventure, or even the primal attraction he bears for Belit, is hope. And there you have it, "despair," "dreams," all balanced with "hope," key words for any Gaiman scholar. It’s a handful of the most intense universal forces you’ll find, fictional or otherwise, from California to Cimmeria, from Vermont to Messantia. Grade A.

Saucer Country #3 (DC/Vertigo): Ahhh, it’s just so effortless. It’s like you’re watching a TV show, you can just sit back and be entertained as the natural words pour over you and the images flow seamlessly from one visual to the next in front of your eyes. There’s no hiccups, no pauses, no difficult transitions, it’s just so fluid, words dancing around pictures dancing around script dancing around plot. It’s really good. There isn’t like some blow you away moment, but Paul Cornell delivers a high quality drama from start to finish with slightly off-center characters that instill a real curiosity about what’s to come. It really makes you think that his TV writing experience has finally come bearing fruit and prepped him for this oft sound-byted “West Wing meets X-Files” project. Ryan Kelly’s art has been getting better and better with every project, and just when you think you’ve seen the best it can be (New York Five), it can look even more polished (admittedly, probably due to the color). Point being, he’s absolutely ready for prime time rockstar artist status. Vertigo should be signing him to an exclusive deal already and getting him on some even higher profile creator-owned projects, so he can continue to fund his own (Funrama!) ventures on the side. This issue sees Professor Kidd coming aboard staff complete with his own psychosis, with several other fringe groups investigating extraterrestrial theories in their own manner. Cornell has a way with the language, tapping ideas like “myth bridging the gap between truth and lies.” Also? Blue Bunnies! Grade A.

Scalped #58 (DC/Vertigo): Man, I can’t believe there are only two issues left! I still remember picking up #1 years ago and the thrilling instant hook of leafing over to that last page to learn that Dash was an undercover FBI Agent. It absolutely makes me tense and my skin crawl whenever Dash and Red Crow face off. You never know if they’ll continue their weird “honor among thieves” credo or give into their base instincts and shoot the hell out of each other. And what the hell is Catcher doing? One thing you can say about Jason Aaron is that he’s a closer. With the credibility in the bank that this book has established, he could have probably just coasted across the finish line, but instead he’s still charging ahead like a runaway freight train. Honestly, I feel like I can’t really review this thing until it’s all in and all done. I mean, the art is lovely, the language is scary, and it’s one of the best comics created, like, ever. What the hell am I gonna’ say now on issue 58 out of 60 that’s gonna’ move the needle one way or the other? Grade A.

Batwoman #9 (DC): Has it been a while since this book came out last? I ask because I have zero recollection of the overarching plot thrust here. Something about missing kids? Or was that the last arc? I remember the name “Falchion,” but couldn’t tell you who he is or what he’s doing here. I recall nothing about Sune either, feels like I missed an issue, though I’m positive I didn’t. Anyway, the art from Trevor McCarthy was actually a really pleasant surprise. Honestly, I expected to hate it, but I like it more than Amy Reeder’s work. It’s still not as good as JH Williams III (what is?), but the line work is nice and tight and the layouts are particularly effective at aping JH3’s overall style and ornamentation, to the point that I’m wondering if Jim actually did some layouts for Trevor? Despite a faded plot hook, despite DC revolving door artist shenanigans, I’m still really enjoying this cast of amazing women. This book would be hard to give up if I ever gave up Marvel and DC books some day like David Brothers did a while back. I’m just sayin’. From Kate, to Maggie, to Cameron, to Bette, and now to Sune as would-be sidekick, it’s pretty rare you see not only well-written women (by someone other than, say, Brian Wood), but an entire ensemble cast of well-written women carrying a mainstream property title. Also? (Spoiler Alert, I guess?) I’m deeply concerned about the status of Bette Kane, aka: Flamebird. Her flat-lining while her uncle watches, and her cousin being oblivious to what’s going on, does not bode well at all. Grade A-.

5.16.12 Reviews (Image Comics Edition)

Danger Club #2 (Image): Landry Walker and Eric Jones are nailing these retro one-page character introductions. They are exceptionally good. In one fell swoop, they give you the origin of a character, offer crisp characterization and a fun nostalgic aesthetic. The balance between that first page and what comes after reflects the balance between the story’s alternate history and dystopian future. Danger Club is instantly grappling with the unflinching idea of people being handed power who are not ready to wield it. This issue focuses on Kid Vigilante and Yoshimi Onomoto. While Onomoto dances with former colleagues in Micro-Tokyo, and women’s rights in the process, Kid V. reveals his underground base. He finds himself in a topsy-turvy world where former enemies are now allies, and former allies have gone bad. In the process, he’s struggling with his own identity, as former teen sidekick, as brother, as leader, as who he risks becoming, when all he really wants to be is just “Andrew.” The art is clean and vibrant, but still has a raw edge to it that feels as dangerous and unpredictable as the world it depicts. Walker’s script is self-aware about the familiar archetypes he’s playing with, but still manages to tell a fresh and original story. These kids are all searching for who they are now, pulling out of the shadow of their former selves, and will hopefully save the world in the process. This is one of my favorite new books. Grade A.

Saga #3 (Image): BKV has managed a very compelling blend of fantasy, sci-fi, and drama. All eyes are on Marko & Alana as they try to protect their baby girl Hazel. It seems they can’t escape this war no matter what they do, and them being embroiled in the mess provides story fodder for this long form epic. Like Y: The Last Man, it seems like we’re going to start building an eclectic cast, here adding Cleave “ghost” Izabel to the band of outcasts. Fiona Staples’ art is a nice match for BKV’s intentions, capturing the ethereal color washes for the fantasy elements, the cold metallic sci-fi parts, and the emotional expressions of the drama. All of the scenes keep building the world, the Wreath prisoner sequence is particularly memorable, and while Vaughan is using some old storytelling tropes, you’d never know it because characters speak with modern parlance that's simply been adjusted for a galaxy far, far away. The bounty hunter banter is always fun too. I guess you could call this story decompressed, and that’s not intended as a pejorative for once. He’s slowly evolving things, and these things take time in their decompression, not just for the sake of spending 4 pages to show two superheroes Mamet-ing their way across the street (Bendis!), but for the sake of actually building a new world and letting characters journey through it. Maybe one of the most pleasant things is that I don’t know what they’re going to do or where they’re going to go or what's going to happen, and that feels original in a sea of crap that mostly isn’t. There’s a good old-fashioned letters page too, and Vaughan wasn’t even afraid to print a letter calling him out on soapboxing his liberal views and metrosexual lead (ala Yorick). Marko & Alana are an intergalactic Romeo & Juliet, representing not their houses, but their entire species on a planetary scale. Grade A.

The Manhattan Projects #3 (Image): Pitarra’s art is like a Frank Quietly and Farel Dalrymple bybrid which is quite good. It’s lean and sinewy with plenty of energy. The only time it slightly falls apart in my opinion is the depiction of military men, uniforms, and their weapons. It’s weirdly stylized in a way that doesn’t fit their counterparts at all. It seems like this whole thing is a lesson in duality. There’s a choice of two weapons, balancing war with peace, science vs. belief, mortality vs. immortality, two ways of interpreting scripture that would favor man over the natural order or vice versa, the divine right of those with the means to do something, and the old adage of being so preoccupied with whether you can do something that you never stop to ask if you should, all intersecting the ideas of science, war, discovery,  and humanity. It would be easy to let this book slip into mindless quirky action, but Hickman is smarter than that and instead focuses on these intricate philosophical debates on the very nature of… stuff. I enjoyed Einstein as an aloof genius, frustrated when he sees lesser intellects struggling with problems that would seem like tying your shoes to you or me. There’s FDR as Shadow Government AI. There’s Harry Truman the Freemason. And things like the “all we have to fear is ourselves” sequence provide you the type of secret alternate history that spark your imagination. It’s riveting to think about what actually led up to the Enola Gay dropping the bomb, considering what really did, or what really could have, happened to prompt these things that may have been kept from public knowledge. Through fiction we can consider our own reality more carefully. Grade A-.

Glory #26 (Image): Joe Keatinge and Ross Campbell are still telling an offbeat reinterpretation, as Riley trains despite flashbacks of her futuristic vision, while the enemy is closing in. This is the first time that I’ve felt as through the art may be a little childish or something in spots, as if Riley appears to be 5 years old instead however old she’s supposed to be. Not much else to say, this was over super fast, not a lot happens, all middle, and it’s mostly a staging exercise for the next issue which looks like it should be crazy. Grade B+.

5.16.12 Reviews (“I Think My Coworker is Tired of Me Critiquing The Books He Buys” Edition)

Winter Soldier #5 (Marvel): Is there a more clichéd Russian name in fiction than Dmitri? How about Ivan? Boris? These are the types of little things I get distracted  by and think about when I find myself becoming bored with the rote plot. Isn’t it hypocritical of Nick Fury to criticize Doctor Doom so hard about him having all these Doombots running around when Fury himself has had LMDs trotting around the globe for years? I think the best part of this book is actually Butch Guice’s art, which seems to have matured over the years, at times there’s a, dare I say, Kirby-esque thing happening where he’ll play hard with figures in the foreground and then have action occurring in the background, and the juxtaposition creates a really forced perspective aesthetic. I like that. While I realize that Bucky Cap Winter Soldier Barnes has a personal connection to this mission, it still manages to feel rather generic. Rather than him and Black Widow, you could substitute in, say, Hawkeye and Spider-Woman, or Captain America and Sharon Carter, and the end result wouldn’t really be any different. That’s a generic thrillnoir espiohero story. So, what, every arc of this story will now focus on the duo going after one of the lost Project Zephyr agents? Snooze. It’s getting to the point where it doesn’t matter how much I like to imagine the raging clit boner I’d give Scarlet Johansson in my fantasies, I’d rather just point people toward Greg Rucka’s four digest-sized Queen & Country trades for some really good espionage of consequence. It’s getting to the point where it doesn’t matter how competent this book is, I’d rather have people support Antony Johnston’s The Coldest City for some Cold War artifice just on creator-owned principle alone. Grade B.

AVX #4 (Marvel): Wait, so now there’s three factions? Scott wants Hope to host the Phoenix Force. Cap wants to contain/destroy the Phoenix Force and protect Hope. Wolverine wants to kill Hope. With 12 different locales and 48 cast members listed on the roster page, you can imagine how incredibly choppy these scenes play. It’s a lot to juggle, it becomes unwieldy, and pretty soon every panel feels like it’s just quickly glossing over something else that happens somewhere else. There’s hardly ever the sense that you’re present in a given location. You know something must be rotten in Denmark when Logan just willy-nilly agrees to go with Hope even though she never explains how he could stop her if things go south with the Phoenix Force. It’s totally illogical and the arguments these characters use for coming down on the side of the Hope issue they do is usually just a bunch of talking in circles, but I guess the art is purdy in most spots so that’s ok? There’s also a bunch of mental mumbo-jumbo with Emma that isn’t terribly clear. That last scene on the moon is pretty cool though. Hmph. Grade B-.

AVX VS #2 (Marvel): I guess the “VS” concept of an extended fight sequence excerpt is an interesting experiment conceptually, but I seem to find the execution lacking. The intro text attempts to be self-effacing about the whole thing in an effort to disarm criticism, but it just comes off as Marvel Editorial laughing at their own joke, which wasn’t all that funny to begin with. The Cap vs. Gambit bout is the better of the two here, and it was a fun surprise to see Gambit hold his own longer than most pepole probably thought he could. While you expect Cap to win, I appreciate the fact that he does clearly win. As opposed to the more troubling Colossus vs. Spider-Man bout, where the lesson *should* be that in an unconfined space “fast” beats “strong,” but some weird thunderclap suddenly gives Colossus/Juggernaut (I still don’t get that) the upper hand. I don’t really like fights like this because  they don’t end naturally or end when one person has clearly defeated the other, it ends just because the page count is over and one person has to basically run away abruptly. That feels incomplete. If you’re going to bother having a “fight” comic then shouldn’t they fight until one has clearly won, not until one just leaves? Daredevil leaves this fight so that Colossus and Spider-Man can fight, then he comes back and pulls Peter out of the fight. Why didn’t they just leave together in the first place, then? It doesn’t even pass the common sense test. Also, Larroca’s art in this piece wasn’t even as close to his good work on Invincible Iron Man, maybe we can blame that on the coloring? I guess this book is still going to be fun to a certain demographic, but for me it’s utterly pointless and doesn’t even seem to follow its own internal premise. Grade C+.


New Mini-Comics Reviews @ Poopsheet Foundation

I recently posted a whole mess of mini-comics reviews over at Poopsheet Foundation. Check them out if you’re so inclined.

RELICS by Whit Taylor

CLAMJUICE #1 by Carrie Q. Contrary

CLAMJUICE #2 by Carrie Q. Contrary

LIVING IN LA LA LAND #1 by Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz

IN THE WAKE OF HEROES by Lee Kolinsky & Sham Arifin

THE 50 FLIP EXPERIMENT #15 by Dan Hill


5.16.12 Releases

You could pick just about any book on this list this week and say it’s the book I’m most excited about, but I picked Danger Club #2 (Image) to represent the creative push the publisher is on this year. It seems like every book I’m currently into must be shipping this week too. Also from that publisher is Glory #26 (Image), Saga #3 (Image), and Manhattan Projects #3 (Image), a group which alone would comprise a very solid week. But, on top of that there’s Conan The Barbarian #4 (Dark Horse). Things get a little more unstable with Batwoman #9 (DC) as I try to decide if I should be sticking with this as the art quality slowly slips into the abyss. Vertigo is in a transitional phase, as evidenced by Scalped #58 (DC/Vertigo), as the series marks just two issues left, and Saucer Country #3 (DC/Vertigo), which is attempting to fill a hole in the Vertigo line-up. I’ve been buying this series in trades, but I also wanted to point you to Locke & Key: Clockworks #6 (IDW) which puts an end to this arc/volume. If I recall correctly, Joe Hill is planning just one more mini-series proper to wrap up the story, followed by an additional volume that will collect all of the stray one-shots(?). I’ve been waiting for this book to come out for a very long time, it’s the Cold War espionage thriller The Coldest City (Oni Press) from Antony Johnston and Sam Hart. Lastly… heh… I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to give Female Force: Carrie Fisher (Bluewater Comics) a guilty flip at the LCS just to ogle Slave Girl Leia and momentarily rekindle a fondly remembered 1983-style stirring in my pants.


New Mini-Comics Reviews @ Poopsheet Foundation

I recently posted a whole mess of mini-comics reviews over at Poopsheet Foundation. Check them out if you’re so inclined.

ROMP #3 by Aaron Lange

RIPTOID by Brian Leonard


GET THE MESSAGE! #2 by Various


GOOFY FUNNIES #3 by Dexter Cockburn


DMZ VOLUME 10: COLLECTIVE PUNISHMENT is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With the series wrapped last December and just one collected edition left to see print in June, it’s time to jump on board the series and visit the only site dedicated to Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s 6-year Vertigo epic. DMZ is a contemporary classic that chronicles would-be journalist Matthew Roth stuck in an active war zone called Manhattan, in a not-too-distant future America plunged into the Second American Civil War.

LIVE FROM THE DMZ is a companion site that takes a behind-the-scenes look at the 72-issue series, with “Director’s Commentary” style interviews with the writer and artists, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we provide you a backstage pass to the flagship title from one of the most important creative voices of his generation. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and his series collaborators; VOLUME 10 includes Andrea Mutti, Nathan Fox, Danijel Zezelj, Cliff Chiang, and David Lapham.


5.09.12 Reviews (All The Books I Picked Up For A Coworker Edition)

Wolverine & The X-Men #10 (Marvel): I usually think Rachel is the best bit of Aaron characterization in this book, but we get a really weird extended looong and boooring monologue from her about Warren here. I also usually like like Bachalo's quirky art (DC's The Witching Hour being a favorite performance), but some of the oddball panel layouts here are just odd for no apparent reason. I feel like this convoluted AVX plot is getting more coy in terms of what exactly Logan and Scott are trying to do. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they're civil, and here I guess the school is neutral ground or something? I do like the way Scott tries to box him in and force an answer: Avenger or X-Man, friend or foe? There was one cool panel layout as they tour the mansion, but it's just sooo damn talky. Like every other book this week, this had stuff I hated and some stuff I liked. The shoehorned in Shi'ar bit at the end was gross. But by the end, this issue nicely highlights the difference between Scott and Logan. Logan is a tactical warrior, certainly the best there is at that. Scott can do that too in the field, but he's also a master strategist. This whole thing was a ruse. He knew he wouldn't get Logan to jump sides. But he pulled Rachel, Gambit, Iceman, and Chamber in the process. Smart. For that clever move alone, this almost gets the "+" mark, but with all of the other glitches it's still a Grade B.

Batgirl #9 (DC): This opens with a painfully boring origin story about the female Talon. Babs spotting her circus acrobatic similarities to Dick high above Little Jakarta was either really cool or totally unbelievable. Ardian Syaf's art is actually really cool. It's much slicker than most of the Generic DC House Style and I particularly like the nice use of silhouettes and negative space. The Gordon threat scene was chilling, and once again this tied in nice to the other Court of Owls books this week, with repeated stuff like Alfie's broadcasted distress call to the Bat Allies. Like most of the other books this week, this had a rocky start, but rallies by the end to redeem itself, with the incredible line: "I think we just lost Gotham." Grade B.

Batman #9 (DC): You do have to appreciate all of the playful history lessons which have become something of a hallmark with Snyder's work. Bruce and Alfred are still under siege in the Bat Cave, with Batman fighting off the Talons by tasing them, slicing them with his battle armor, running over with them with a redesigned Bat Mobile, freezing them by lowering the temp in the cave, and then using one big fucking dinosaur to unleash Bat Hell. Capullo's art is slick as hell too, with high octane transitions and a sense of kineticism; I especially liked the clever interior cutaway "helmet cam" as a blade pierces it. I really liked Bruce being most concerned about protecting Alfie even as he blacks out. It was also nice to see Lincoln March back in the story after being MIA for so long, though after so much intro and build up of his character, I felt he was dispatched rather abruptly. The problem with this issue is mainly the sub-par back-up story featuring Alfred’s dad (Jarvis? Really? C'mon). The issue itself, as slick as it looks, was basically just an extended fight scene, that's all it is, and the one-note melodrama of the bonus story did not justify the extra $1. Grade B.

Batman & Robin #9 (DC): I do appreciate the way this syncs up well with the other Court of Owls books this week, but the target Damian is sent to protect feels like inconsequential filler. I'm also not sure about the logic of Damian's rockets suddenly disappearing so they don't burn the Colonel guy as they try to evac. There's a page of pointless decapitations. The art is very flat, as is the entire first chunk of the book, but then it really seems to get going around the time Damian drops a Von Clausewitz reference. As a guy who was trained in it by FEMA and then some private sector agencies, seeing Damian basically take over Incident Command was a treat. The interesting two-page splash by a different artist was a fun way to sneak in a Snyder-esque history lesson, though General Washington in Gotham City is a bit of a jarring marriage of fiction and non-fiction. By the time Damain makes a piñata out of one of the Talons, I was fairly convinced to just surrender and go along for the ride. Grade B.

Uncanny X-Force #25 (Marvel): After it's been thematically danced around for so long, it was nice to finally see an on-the-nose discussion of the consequences of this covert amoral mutant hit squad. Wolverine's line about "an alcoholics anonymous meeting with a mandatory drinking contest" sums this up nicely. The emotional fallout of that seems to hit Psylocke and Fantomex the hardest as they seem to exit stage left. I'm now very worried that with two of the only three (Deadpool being the third) great characters leaving the team, this will severely disrupt the magic. Hey, Marvel! Everyone just wants Jerome Opena as the main artist! Why is that so hard to figure out? No matter how good Remender's scripts are, and even though other artists occasionally get things right - like making Psylocke look Asian, without Jerome Opena, I'm just not interested. He defined the aesthetic of this book early on, and anyone else will forever be chasing him unsuccessfully. And, sorry, but the Omega Clan? C'mon, such a generic set of villains. Might as well just bring Omega Red back, even though I don't know where he is or what happened to him. The back-up stories are also really bad. They don't even come close to justifying a $4.99 price tag. Deadpool Fart Power? Really? C'mon. Grade B-.

The Walking Dead #97 (Image): I think I read up to about issue #50 before getting bored, so this was going to be an interesting experiment to see if I could tell WTF was going on. Let's see, Rick, Glenn, Andrea, Michonne, Maggie, and Carl are still around. There's a bunch of other people I don't know who are planning... something. There are walkers in the trenches. I guess they're trying to make some place called Hilltop defensible? They're in some turf war with another gang? There's a chance for optimism it seems, but with an arc entitled "Something To Fear," I think that means there's a fear of losing it all? The art seems really "blobby" compared to what I remember, like there's too much ink slathered on the page and the lines aren't very refined at all. The whole issue moves with an incredibly slow pace and the very Bendis-y lettercol leaves something of a bad after taste. Grade B-.


5.09.12 Reviews (The Only Book I Really Bought Edition)

Wasteland #37 (Oni Press): I’ve reviewed every single issue of Wasteland since it came out, and earlier this week I was thinking about new things to say or new ways to look at the book. I think one of the things that differentiates this as a post-apocalyptic story is that it’s really a post-apocalyptic drama first and foremost. Most post-apocalyptic creations in film or comics are primarily action/adventure type stories, and are pretty thin on anything other than that flashy whizbang. Wasteland does have moments of action, but the uhh, prime directive, if you will, is that it’s a drama full of social commentary which just happens to be set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. I mean, why show the end of the world unless you’re using it as a tool to comment on our own? Looking at this issue specifically, oh it’s so hard not to spoil anything, so let me just say there continue to be clues all over the place. There are clues in the introductory “previously in” text piece, dialogue clues like Abi thinking about “6 months ago,” and I still maintain that Ankya Ofsteen’s journal (overlooked by some) is a hotbed of subtle clues. So, Abi takes one of the sole surviving copies of the bible hostage, an old man dies, we see the ascension of Zakk, as Michael, Abi, and Gerr get the EFF out of Godsholm, yet still have unfinished business to resolve. Justin Greenwood's art continues to be a lively and energetic depiction of events, and I'm waiting patienly for someone to do a custom animated project online using his slick style. My favorite part was probably seeing Michael step in on Zakk’s behalf when he really didn’t have to, he’s really a man of principle doing the right thing just for the sake of itself with no direct benefit. I’m wondering why Johnston and company lingered so long on Zakk and Templar Rikkerd after the trio left, as they try to separate Church & State? It was either because they’ll figure more prominently in the story, or simply to show that in the wasteland, you have to believe in something in order to survive. It’s a raison d’etre litmus test you can apply in an interesting way to every single character in The Big Wet Universe. Overall, I enjoyed the story in Godsholm, but I’m glad we’re moving on because I’m so anxious to see what happens next. One of these days I’ll have to start the official Wasteland Countdown Clock™ as I’ve done with other superb series nearing the end of their runs. For now, there’s 23 issues to go, and this one clocks in with a Grade A.

Birds With Bannered Messages

The Complete Talamaroo (Hic and Hoc Publications): When people ask me what I think about digital comics, instead of trying to explain what would be lost to the endemic nature of the tangible artifact, I could just as easily indignantly throw a copy of this book in their face. "See! You can’t do this with digital." The printing process on the cover, the hand assembly of the book jacket, and even the custom signing and numbering of the limited edition run of 200 (I have copy #44). "You can’t do any of that with a fucking computer!" I’m not sure if Alabaster is a nom de plume, the creator’s last name, some super cool anagram I’ve yet to crack, or what, but it doesn’t really matter because the book is super cool. It chronicles the travails of this anthropomorphic creature (who is a “she” we eventually learn) that appears to be a funny looking squatty cat critter, or a “half-witted retarded cat-munchkin” as the book insults. The part that immediately stands out as a unique signifier of creativity are the little birds with banners flitting around; these banners carry the bulk of the narrative messaging, eschewing more traditional dialogue or caption boxes. It’s a smart move that allows those birds to function as sort of “angel” and “devil” figures flying above the shoulders of Talamaroo and guiding her through her adventures. Those adventures are fairly open-ended too, there isn’t a shred of exposition to assault you with meaning or bludgeon you to death with obvious plotting tools. The ostensibly simple happenings and penciling style just present themselves and invite you to develop your own interpretation. In that way, the story isn’t afraid to interact with the audience about the nature of the comic itself. There are even a couple instances where characters will break fourth-wall and appear to address the reader directly. I also appreciate how Alabaster isn’t afraid of rough language or graphic violence, this is juxtaposed against the superficially “cute” aesthetic and belies the impurity that exists in the world. By mid-swing, it’s clear that Talamaroo is off on the type of existential identity quest that defines so much of Western Myth. Along the way, we’re allowed to voyeuristically examine her inner insecurities, personal demons, childlike curiosity, and ultimate self-reliance, which are all apart of the true nature of the universal human condition. This is a book that would make Joseph Campbell proud of the modern narrative language that he helped to define. The Complete Talamaroo reprints several issues from 2010 to 2011, with pragmatic discoveries, and glorious two-page spreads full of whimsy, to the point of an almost fractured reality. It gets to the point that you begin to wonder if little Talamaroo’s reality is truly fractured or if this is just a manifestation of her own damaged psyche and how her brain perceives the world. It reminded me of Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s take on Omega: The Unknown, and the suggestions that the entire tale was a depiction of the way a child with Asperger’s Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) would interpret the world. There was a time in college when I probably could have made that clinical connection to the DSM-IV, but I’m not that guy anymore! I want to stress that it isn’t relayed in an obtuse manner though, there’s actual story progression here, which is something I find lacking so frequently in today’s hacked out mini-comics scene. As the issues (which now function as chapters in collected format) progressed, it was interesting to note less reliance on words as Alabaster’s confidence as a storyteller grew. The lack of dialogue or narration increases the sense of isolation Talamaroo feels on her search. That begs the question, what or who is she searching for? “The world’s mostly populated by idiots anyway,” we learn. Ultimately ‘Roo finds Talamarand and his affection upends all conventional wisdom. He values her because she’s plump and quirky. She begins to internalize less and express her emotions. It's a healthy relationship. The duo endure a typical relationship cycle, with bouts of jealousy over Talamalula, flirting with the abject identity horror of merely being a player in your own story, and a Three’s Company style mix-up that, once resolved, leads to a very happy ending. Isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Grade A.


The Next In A Long Series Of Shameless Plugs

It's only 1 month away!
DMZ Volume 12.
“The Five Nations of New York.”
The final volume of the contemporary classic by Brian Wood.
The final fate of Matthew Roth and New York City.
The finale of 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.

5.09.12 Releases

Wasteland #37 (Oni Press) has one of the best looking covers I’ve seen in a while, thanks to Chris Mitten. I’m betting the interior contents from Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood will be just as enthralling. So happy to see this book back on a regular schedule as we caravan like Sultan Ameer toward #60. Courtney Crumrin #2 (Oni Press) is also out from this publisher and, like Chris Mitten’s cover work, takes an already great artist and blows the roof off by showcasing it in full color. I think Batman #9 (DC) closes out the "Night of the Owls" storyline, in this title at least, which will likely be a make or break moment and determine who sticks with the title and who takes the convenient jumping-off point. Hint. Uncanny X-Force #25 (Marvel) is a little disappointing. I was considering jumping back on because I thought Jerome Opena was back. It turns out, Mike McKone is actually the artist, and Opena is just doing some back-up story, which pushes the price up to $4.99 while simultaneously pushing my interest away. I’ll give it a flip, but I’m not sure it will make it home.

FCBD 2012 Reviews

I've basically given up on FCBD because I'm not the target demographic and my LCS options don't seem to "get it" and do anything I can really get out and support, which I've previously written about here and here. So, I skipped it, but through a connection I managed to get my hands on 22 of the 42 books (52%) that were offered. It's a little disconcerting that the handful of people I spoke to said they didn't even see the Archaia Hardcover because the shops they went to are more mainstream oriented, so they didn't even bother ordering it. Sigh. I was basically only interested in 4 books (9%): Archaia Hardcover, Bad Medicine from Oni Press, Serenity (for the Fabio Moon art!), and the Bongo Comics Free-For-All (which is usually fun). I ended up getting 2 of them (4%). I don't have the desire to belabor points I've already written about, so I'll just say that you can see how those percentages (and the scores below) reveal my disinterest in the day. Here we go...

Serenity: Hey, for me this is huge just for the Fabio Moon art alone! With Cris Peter on colors, it looks fan-frickin-tastic. Zack Whedon seems to have the voices of the characters and the cadence of their speech down by the very first page. Moon nails the acrobatic martial arts of River Tam. Like the other Dark Horse offering, we get the Brian Wood essay on The Massive, a different Alabaster teaser, and a Star Wars flip side that's a great introduction to their whole line of SW properties. It's pretty cool to see the similarities between Malcolm Reynolds and Han Solo when they're juxtaposed like this. I think Dark Horse probably wins this year for the consistent high quality of their offerings which truly understand how to work FCBD. Grade A.

Yo Gabba Gabba!: Oni Press was super smart with this job, offering kids something recognizable to transition them from TV to comics. I'd probably read a spin-off series featuring Blue Blaster 5 if those dope colors came with the joint from Mike Allred and Jamie S. Rich. You even get an Evan Dorkin back-up story with Super Martian Robot Girl. My kids (6 and 3) both went crazy when they saw this. Grade A.

Superman Family Adventures: Well, if we can't have Tiny Titans anymore from Art Baltazar, then this is the next best thing. The visual banter between Lois and Clark is grand, the whole thing is self-effacing and charming in all the right ways, and it's the perfect rendition of blustery Perry White. My 3 year old son liked the panels with him shouting, which he could discern meaning from without reading, just from the emotive facial expressions. He was cracking up. The Green Lantern story is way too wordy and the Young Justice one never gets going. It's just "hey, here's Artemis, here's Robin, and we're out." Probably woulda' been a straight "A" if it was all Superman Family Adventures and wasn't bogged down by the lackluster other two, in fact, probably closest to an "A+" this year. As is, Grade A-.

Avengers: Age of Ultron: I like how this is just so squarely planted right in the center of the Marvel U. Even if you're totally new to the U, you get the sense that this would all make sense and that you could sort out all the players, unlike, say, what's going in in the DCnU right now. This is a great introduction to all the various Avengers teams, Abigail Brand of S.W.O.R.D., and there's plenty of X-Men crossover too. It's an actual story in itself, and it leads you right into something massive to follow up on. It gets, perhaps, a little lost in bad guy monologuing for a moment, but overall charms you into wanting more from a huge classic threat. Grade A-.

The Guild: This is a nice high-energy introduction to the characters and the premise of the property. Also, "Uncle Tapatio" had me laughing. There's also a full page essay from Brian Wood about The Massive, a fun space adventure with Buffy and Spike on the flip side, and a Caitlin Kiernan Alabaster short. Dark Horse just gets it, with plenty of places go on all of these selections if any of them were to grab you. Very smartly done. Grade A-.

Finding Gossamyr: This is done in a great animated style, with great colors, and leads right into a book coming out from Th3rd World Studios. It's not something I'm going to buy, but at least they understand how FCBD works. The Stuff of Legend (which I have sampled) gets a nice teaser on the flip side for this dark, heartfelt, and elegantly unique idea. The visuals are stunning, if a bit wordy. Grade A-.

Donald Duck Family Comics: This Fantagraphics edition is not really my thing, but it's a great sampler of the collections that specialize in the Disney Ducks or the Mickey Mouse strips of Floyd Gottfredson. There isn't a gateway to an ongoing series per se, but to the many collected editions. Grade A-. 

Graphic Elvis: This teaser is from the Liquid Comics hardcover commemorating the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis. I'll be a party-pooper first and say that I'm not sure this qualifies as "comics" when it's just pin-up material, but aside from that, it's really cool! Various comic book artists pay tribute to The King and illustrate key single page pin-up moments from his life and interpret quotes about him from other musicians. It contains some of my favorites like Paul Pope and John Cassaday, though Tony Millionaire has the best piece in the book hands down. It's gorgeous. I was particularly fascinated by the meeting The Beatles had with Elvis at his Bel Air home in 1965, including the impromptu jam session that nobody thought to record. D'oh! Grade B+.

Overstreet's Comic Book Marketplace: This is a very fun and interesting history lesson about key horror comics publications, all the way  from classic EC horror to modern stuff like The Walking Dead or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I'm not sure what value it really brings to the purpose of FCBD to show an $8,500 copy of Eerie #1. Will that make civilians engage with the medium? And if they do, will it be for the right reasons? Grade B.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All: Hrmm, that's a great cover, but these usually do a much better job of capturing the magic of the show. Nice that it's a full length story, and there's a Sergio Aragones strip too, but I could do without the Spongebob flip side (though it was kinda' funny they attempted to spoof the old Nick Cardy Aquaman visually). Basically underwhelming. Grade B.

Atomic Robo: I guess I've always thought of this property as a comedic version of Hellboy & BPRD when I've sampled it, and that pretty much holds water here too. It's a little too much "haha" and anime aesthetic for my taste, but it's well done for what it is, and includes some teasers for Neozoic and Bonnie Lass. Overall, it just seems pretty light and forgettable. Grade B.

Spider-Man: Season One: The talky teen drama of Peter Parker has never been my thing, but maybe this would be an ok introduction? I can't imagine younger people being very excited by this, it seems very dated and boring. FWIW, I've tried 3 of the Season One projects now, and this is the worst, with X-Men taking the top spot, and Daredevil being a distant second place. Grade B-.

Voltron Force: It's kind of weird to see Viz Media putting this out when I thought IDW held the license. Everyone knows that Lance is the coolest of the Lion Force pilots, and he gets all of 3 lines in this whole thing. The entire first half of the book is about Lotor doing something I don't care about because the Lions never actually face the threat he's concocting, so this issue would have been better served going right into right into an extended intro to the new team instead. Grade B-.

The New 52!: I guess there's some decent art to be found, but the story is just magic nonsense about Pandora (the chick in the background of all The New 52! comics), but the only people who care about that are the people already deeply concerned with The New 52!, which is not really the crowd that FCBD is supposedly aimed at. If some civilian picked this up, they'd be thoroughly a) bored and then b) confused. They'd see totally bland characters like Cyborg and a bunch of peripheral agencies in the DCnU, it's basically the most boring stuff DC  has to offer. It's like DC blew their creative wad on the Jim Lee 4-panel gatefold deal, which is just some advertisement for something else. I don't think a civilian could makes heads or tails of this. I mean, they'd be seeing three different versions of Batman alone, DCnU Batman in Justice League, Morrison's Batman in Batman Incorporated, and Earth 2 Batman, shit, I can't even tell you what the differences between them are, and I read comics. Because there are some misc. previews and the couple pages of Chris Burnham art on Batman Inc. are nice, I'll ratchet up a "+" and go with a Grade C+.

The Hypernaturals: It's kinda' interesting to see Boom! put forth these titles that are all San Diego-centric in their own way, but with this art they're certainly not putting their best foot forward. It's awful. I also expect a lot more from the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning writing team, especially when it involves cosmic stuff. This, however, is a fairly regurgitated future superhero team, with commentary about culture and media. Yawn. It's too earnest to be humorous, and too humorous to be done in earnest, so it's really nothing. You'd be better served pulling old issues of Joe Casey's Wildcats or Intimates outta' quarter bins. Grade C.

The Intrinsics: This is billed as adventures "from the Arcana Universe," as if that's something anyone's ever heard of before. I guess it gets points for providing a full length issue, but when it says this issue is the culmination of an effort since 2004, I'd hate to see what they could come up with on a monthly schedule if this thing took 8 years. It's a generic super team trying really hard to be offbeat and interesting, but it's just stiff art and some dialogue that goes a little something like this: "Look out! I don't... Can't keep this up... What the...? Ut. Silence. I can't..." It's utter gibberish and it sounds like my kids made it up. Also, do young women really parade around in their panties at the breakfast table in front of their would-be mother-in-law? Grade C.

Lady Death: The Beginning: I don't really understand the Boundless Comics logo, it looks like "cb" crammed haphazardly into a little box. The art is sometimes actually fairly decent in spots, provided this is the type of comic you want. But, it seems like the only people who want a Lady Death comic are people who are already into Lady Death comics. I wouldn't hand anyone this to get them into comics, even if they were into this genre. I'd at least hand them a copy of the new Azz & Chiang Wonder Woman, so that I wouldn't feel like a total creep handing them this pasty buxom demon lady in a thong fighting for... some reason. Sheesh, there's alternatives like Belit in Conan or Big Barda in the New Gods, or... oh, never mind. Grade C-.

Zombie Kid: Here's a frustrated not-really-rhetorical question: Why's Antarctic Press still in business? Are they known for something? Sorry, but there's way too much text to wade through here, at least half a page, on every page, accompanying some fairly simplistic free floating drawings. To qualify as a "comic," doesn't there have to be some semblance of a sequential visual narrative? That's not really present here. Grade D.

Worlds of Aspen 2012: Is anyone still clamoring for Fathom and the cheesecake detritus of Aspen Comics? The creators of this book seem to think so, because they jump right in to address all 12 members of the so-called "Aspenation." All due respect to the late Michael Turner, but all these entries are just paper thin excuses for stories concocted by Scott "Starfire-is-an-intergalactic-space-slut-welcome-to-The-New-52!" Lobdell. They're set up so that mediocre artists can copy Turner's sinewy never-gonna'-be-as-good-as-J.-Scott-Campbell anemic style, and draw 28 year old high school teens in Catholic schoolgirl skirts with knee-high socks. I find it appalling that a civilian could walk into an LCS and come away with the impression that this is what comics in the year 2012 are all about. Cashing in on the late 90's bad girl craze, swiping at the steampunk aesthetic, The Hunger Games, reality TV, and more. It's so tired. It's as mediocre as some of the Grade C's I've given, but even more offensive, so... Grade D.

My Favorite Martian: Good lord, who in their right mind thought the zany shenanigans of Martin would lure the youth of America into comic shops everywhere so they could go and... what? Buy Gold Key reprints of a 50 year old TV show that wasn't even funny then? This is embarrassing. Grade D.

Burt Ward: Boy Wonder: Just who is the target demo for these Bluewater Comics atrocities? It's dumbed down as if it's for kids, but (Holy News Flash Batman!) kids don't know or care who Burt Ward is. This is utterly wasted effort and natural resources. It appears it was created by Burt Ward himself, so it's basically a vanity project? I couldn't even get through those prose pages on the flip side of the Wrath of the Titans nonsense. I guess there are a couple of interesting factoids on the Burt Ward side, otherwise  completely pointless. Grade D-.  

Jurassic Strike Force 5: I swear I didn't make this title up. I'm always morbidly fascinated where these companies come from, the ones we didn't see before FCBD and won't see after FCBD. Silver Dragon Books? Ok. There's no attempt at story here, it's just dinosaurs in robot armor and they uhh... fight stuff. I think this is just a means to sell the action figures advertised at the end? Grade F.