01.02.13 Shipping Report

I guess this is a good start to the new year since all the titles that I’m picking up in singles this week appeared on my best of 2012 list. First up is Godzilla: Half Century War #4 (IDW) by James Stokoe. Next is the final issue of this great mini-series, with Punk Rock Jesus #6 (DC/Vertigo). The last in this great trio is Prophet #32 (Image). Speaking of interesting sci-fi in done in a European style, I’m curious about Orbital: Vol. 01: Scars (Cinebook, Ltd.) and Orbital: Vol. 02: Ruptures (Cinebook, Ltd.) by Sylvain Runberg and Serge Pelle. They’re both around 50 pages for $12 and the art looks like something that you’d find in a Humanoids publication, so I’ll give them a flip. I can also recommend The Killer: Vol. 01 Leather Bound Edition (Archaia), which is $39.95 for only the first 4-issue volume, but it’s a limited edition of only 400 with superior design and production quality. It’s a great dramatic series about moral flexibility by Matz and Luc Jacamon, but at that price point I’d imagine this edition will only appeal to die hard completists or fans looking to upgrade their existing singles or trades. Too bad they didn’t make something like this available prior to Christmas.


12.26.12 Reviews (Mara Edition)

Mara #1 (Image): In a gleaming cityscape of the future, Brian Wood and Ming Doyle bank on the audience’s intuitive perception of pop culture, using all manner of narrative shorthand. In Wood’s familiar DMZ-style newsfeed, we learn that entertainment, the games, the sport, have become an opiate for the masses distracting them away from the reality of economic collapse, monopolization of resources, and prolonged warfare “in the ‘stans.” Mara’s world is not unlike the Roman Empire of old, enjoying games at The Colosseum while the northern borders became a sieve. It’s also more like the current United States than most would care to admit, where more people watch the Super Bowl than actually get out and vote for the next POTUS. Everything has been taken to an extreme in this future world, one which we can easily project out 20 years or so from our own, class differential, ubiquitous technology, and divisive global unrest, all pushed to their breaking point, all captured in snippets that rapidly form a mosaic of Mara’s reality. The games themselves are basically an embedded form of military recruitment, and Mara is thought to be a perfect specimen, the ultimate celebrity athlete in this world. I love how the clatter of the world abruptly cuts to a quiet shot of Mara sitting in a locker room in silent contemplation as she prepares to play the hyper-idolized game. I enjoyed the modern parlance projected, stuff like Mara manipulating social media in real time into her wireless mic: “Upload, broadcast to my channel, cross-post to Ingrid’s, monetize.” Mara Prince is a compelling female creation, the near-perfect embodiment of strength and grace, humility and confidence, the charm of the girl next door, with the exotic leanings of something more. There are some subtle clues preceding it and then something big, something very big, happens in the particular game we see. I don’t want to spoil the reveal in total – though it’s not hard to find online or in solicitation copy, so imagine if David Beckham or Mia Hamm were... something more. But regardless of the particulars, Wood pushes his character right up to the precipice of change, there’s the identity stuff I know and love in his writing, there’s the dystopia masquerading as utopia, the cultural commentary, and the social relevance, yet it takes place in an ostensibly new genre so it also feels like he’s stretching himself as a writer. On the art side, there are rare occasions where I’m not positive the polish and Saturday morning vibe of the aesthetic from Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire stands up to the tone of story. One of the reasons I like Brian Wood’s writing is that it’s usually a serious affair; it has gravitas, and can never be dismissed as light or inconsequential. The more confectionary instances I’m detecting in the art might just rob the story a little of that weight. Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe that gloss fits the whole hyper-sporterized distraction, diverting the reader, in the same way the populace in Mara’s world is, from the problematic underpinnings of this society. At times, I think there are some awkward shots as well. The weapons and planes look wonky, as does the stiff panel where the security team draws their weapons and one of them is pointing a gun in the air, while the other is pointing weirdly at the crowd. It just looks odd. I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening. Similarly, when that key big event occurs, the art cues weren’t crystal clear and I had to rely more on the nudge from the text that accompanied it to help clarify what transpired. It’s obvious that Doyle has a flair for overall design sensibility. That said, these glitches were the minority and I think she absolutely nails some of the more static and quiet shots throughout the book. The full-pager of Mara in the locker room that I mentioned is absolutely terrific. The right emotional content in the art is always present, whether excitement, hesitation, or secretive glances, making it work in spite of the occasional tic. All told, it’ll be interesting to see Wood and Doyle push their exceptionally gifted ideal of Mara Prince toward the repercussions of what happens in this introductory issue right out in the global public spotlight. Grade A-.


12.26.12 Shipping Report

THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE. It's the last shipping date of the year and if you're willing to cede the point that this small week is a representative snapshot of what's going on in the industry [and trust me, there *is* a case to be made for that idea, with Dark Horse reprints, Before Watchmen and New 52 dreck from DC, a slick creator-owned debut from Image, big franchise Marvel event hooha (Spider-Man #700), and shlocky (Deathmatch) multiple cover deluge (Crossed: Badlands) from the the rest of the publishers], then it means the one book I'm picking up this week is in the top tier. Mara #1 (Image) by Brian Wood and Ming Doyle is 1 of 10 distinct floppies coming out this week, among 17 actual items inventoried on the Diamond Shipping List, which means this creator is in the 90th percentile, producing in the top 10% of the material currently being churned out by the industry. You can't argue with math. My review of Mara #1 is already written and will be posted late Tuesday night or early Wednesday morning. Happy Holidays!


Super Fun Serialized Follies Summary File

SF #2 (Closed Caption Comics): Ryan Cecil Smith’s luminous follow up project to SF Supplementary File (which was on my list of Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2012) trails orphaned Hupa Dupa as he’s picked up by the Space Fleet Scientific Foundation Special Forces, amid their conflict with Seductress and the Space Pirates. If I ever got to interview Smith, I’d surely ask him where the fascination with the letters “SF” came from. Hupa and Ace (the leader of SFSFSF) are on a mission to retrieve Admiral Condor from a guy named Armorio on Planet D. Smith slings this b-movie sci-fi jargon pretty rapidly, but it always goes down easy. Smith never forgets to have fun either, taking time out for laughs or running gags, like the way Admiral Condor’s surname is continually butchered by people and spelled differently every time it appears. At first I thought it was a typo, but then got the gag (though there is another typo in “seperate”). SF is a nostalgic mélange of influences, from Philip K. Dick, to LucasFilm, to the Japanese cultural touchstones of Matsumoto Leiji that Smith openly references. When the characters speak, it’s in a kitschy retro style with rhetorical questions they sometimes answer themselves, though it never plays derivative or as clunky exposition, but as loving homage to a time when names told you exactly what a person did or what their motivations were, as is the case with “Armorio” or “Seductress.” Smith’s line is an equally heady blend of styles which I'm tempted to classify as what Paul Pope sometimes refers to simply as “world comics,” in that their cultural point of origin isn't obviously singular. The line weight reminds me of old Tezuka or Tatsumi, but there’s also a more western aesthetic in there too, which reminds me of someone like Giannis Milonogiannis in Old City Blues. I suppose this makes sense, with Smith being an American transplant to Japan. I'm sure there are other comic references he could cite I'm unaware of (another good interview question). I enjoy how the panels are so densely populated, except when they’re not, which is done for intentional effect, like when Ace’s ship blasts away from Planet D (this is the page of original art I’d want to own, if you were going to ask). There’s also a tension in the narrative, always subtly present, between the natural world and the progress represented by these interstellar “Scientist Fighters” (there’s that “SF” again). This issue is basically separated into two chapters, the rescue of Admiral Condor and then the group’s return to the SFSFSF station where Hupa is indoctrinated into the team via a tour by fellow SF member Duke. We meet Hupa’s sultry roommate Lucy and by the end we’re reminded of Ace and SFSFSF’s larger mission objectives, which also emphasizes the comic being done in a glorious serialized tradition (and that panel of Seductress in the cockpit is just terrific, by the way, as I'm now realizing I used a lot of parenthetical asides in this review for some reason). SF is fun and cool and essentially a love letter to the type of comic we don’t get to often see sitting in the US, a reminder of a vibrant larger world. Grade A.


12.19.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at Yesteryear Comics for sponsoring this week’s review books. Make Yesteryear Comics your first destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard. www.yesteryear-comics.com
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #3 (Image): I think this book is actually review-proof. There’s nothing I can say that will sway you one way or the other. If you’re a fan of Brandon Graham or this style of art and/or storytelling even in the slightest, you’re going to fall in love with this book. If you’re not, then you’re just not. Nik and Sex are still holed up in the hotel, Nik’s getting content just travelling around with his love and working on his machines, and Sex is starting to miss the old hustler life: “I need to see what I can get away with to feel like I’ve got freedom.” The puns and wordplay are still coming fast and furious, from putting legs on a car to get it running again to brewing some Chai Guevara. They’re so rampant, you could probably read it twice, slowly, and still miss a couple. Multiple Warheads is so many things, love story, road trip book, off-beat sci-fi, treatise on food and cultural tolerance and their resiliency to the ebb and flow of old wars, a master class in world building, and the type of fun, slick, cool comics that I’m proud to be reading and proud to show my non-comics friends to demonstrate the immersive experience and powerful potential of what comics can do when people are left alone to do what they love. Grade A+.
Wasteland #42 (Oni Press): Abi and Michael go their separate ways in search of A-Ree-Yass-I and this issue focused on Abi’s time in the town of Sunspot. She connects with people who were familiar with Fire Walker, who was the grandfather of Golden Voice, the Singer that Abi was most closely allied with. Got all that? Hey, if you're not keeping up, that's on you at this point. The issue centers hard on Abi’s (fluctuating) abilities and how she might fit into the overall Mother Sun and Father Moon myth. Russel Roehling is probably my second favorite artist the book has seen, second only to cover artist Chris Mitten. Roehling’s style is such a unique blend of an emotive caricature style with a detailed life drawing style that lends believability to this rugged universe. Oh, and the end here is kind of heartbreaking. Not much else to say. At this point, you’re either on the Wasteland train (or, I guess that’d be Sultan Ameer’s Caravan?)  or not, and nothing I can say 42 issues in is probably going to move the needle. I’m loving the continual stream of clues and, as always, can’t wait to see what happens next. Grade A.
Saga #8 (Image): I’m still liking, but not loving this book. I keep struggling to explain why I don’t seem to be as head-over-heels in love with it as the majority of the online community. I like it when I’m reading it, but it’s not terribly memorable. I don’t remember what happened last issue other than Marko’s parents showed up at some point. It feels like it’s got the in-the-moment empty caloric value of a soap opera. The idea of grown-up baby Hazel narrating is cute and well written, but it’s also a dead giveaway that everyone makes it out ok to a certain extent, so it tends to rob the story of any real consequence. I enjoy the creativity of some of the world-building, such as the organic ship, but most of the time the book is written in such a self-aware fashion (ie: the meet-cute reference) that it always feels like it’s winking at the audience and attempting to obviously subvert audience expectations. It wears that dynamic on its sleeve, which isn’t a very natural stance to be taking. It’s juking you, you know it’s juking you, so instead of just enjoying the story, I find myself trying to outthink the juke, anticipate the cliffhanger on almost every page, looking for traps in how its constructed, never quite escaping the feeling that I’m being manipulated. I keep saying the same thing over and over in different ways, about the saccharine formulaic aspects of the thing. The art, you say? I really like Fiona Staples’ figures. They look clean and appealing and she’s very good at conveying a sense of movement, a wild-eyed sort of glee is there on the page in all the foreground work. Something I’ve been poking her about is the backgrounds, which have had a tendency to be quite austere and skimpy. Heck, even in the cool behind the scenes back-matter she admits she is looking for ways to “speed up” the backgrounds and the complexity of the environments. But, I think they’re slowly improving. I felt like I could detect more effort or time in this issue dedicated to actually placing her beautiful figures in a believable environment, as opposed to some vague washed out objects in the distance that barely registered a sense of place. Another good thing I learned in the back-matter is that she’s hand-lettering Hazel’s narration, which is really cool. So, yeah, call me contrarian, but Saga is sweet, fun, and inventive. But I call that high entertainment, not high art. Grade A-.
Locke & Key: Omega #2 (IDW): I was all set to go on some tirade about Grabriel Rodriguez being one of the most under-the-radar artists working today and that his art is really first rate in the business. Lo and behold, I started detecting some glitchy stuff, which may be issues with his art directly, or some type of miscommunication between him and writer Joe Hill. I love Rodriguez’s earthy and realistic aesthetic. It’s full of emotion and detail. But, umm, if the characters are complaining that it’s 90 degrees out and all, why are most of them wearing sweatshirts and sweaters? Why does Kinsey go from totally normal to tears streaming down her face just one panel later? Who is that black dude driving Rufus to his new home? He just randomly appears, wasn’t in the prior scene, and I have no idea who he is. Aside from all that, the art does shine. Kinsey in her prom dress seeking the approval/permission to look pretty and not be a tomboy for just one night from her big bro is just precious and well-played. Dodge is still doing his thing inhabiting Bode’s body, though his master plan to open the Black Door seems to be moving as slow as molasses, Bode's spirit or whatever is still incorporeal, and I guess the big news is that Rufus can see Bode in that form. So, some art glitches and a story that feels like it’s all-middle and treading water. Maybe there was a reason I was reading this in trade. Grade B+.


12.19.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at Yesteryear Comics for sponsoring this week’s review books. Make Yesteryear Comics your first destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.
Avengers #2 (Marvel): The trio of Ex Nihilo, Abyss, and Aleph talking creation myth and the end of the world is the type of high stakes threat that’s worthy of the Avengers assembling on the magnitude they are. Tony and Steve are assembling the team, the movie team and an eclectic “then some,” that includes some very interesting picks like Cannonball and Sunspot that should really mix the dynamic up. So far, there isn’t much room for character moments beyond Tony and Steve’s repartee, but Hickman is oomphing up the bad guy set in a way that feels like what Remender did over in Uncanny X-Force. Creation and apocalypse, alpha and omega, life and death, through it all Jerome Opena and Dean White represent a new generation of artist that makes the genre shine, using different tonal palettes for the organic, the tech, and the mythic. Avengers feels like a worthy flagship for the new Marvel line, with a gravitas and sheen I found surprisingly lacking in Uncanny Avengers, despite the creator pedigree. This is really building toward being “the” core title in The House of Ideas Universe. Grade A.
Thor: God of Thunder #3 (Marvel): I think Thor might be technically as well executed as Avengers, but I just like those characters better personally. The best part of Thor is that you essentially get three books in one. You get old-school Conan-Thor, you get present day God-Superhero-Thor, and you get a future Thor that is in the best traditions of the Marvel Universe, a sort of Days-Of-Future-Past-Thor. Jason Aaron is leveling up in a big game, beyond the Gods of Asgard, with “The Parliament of Pantheons” and “The Nexus of All The Gods.” Thor is still tracking the elusive God Butcher, finding crucified Gods lost for centuries along the way, in literally every realm of expansive existence. Esad Ribic nails it all, with a washed out aesthetic slightly ethereal enough to sell the supernatural and otherworldly elements. If the Ribic-Opena look is the new house style at Marvel, they’re really killing DC right now on a purely visual level alone. My only quibble is that the text can get very dense at times and can sometimes be a chore to wade through, even with Aaron’s great ear for it. Still, it bears repeating, Thor is one of my least favorite characters, one I find the least engaging on the surface, yet Aaron and Ribic have reeled me in for multiple issues now. Grade A-.
Batwoman #15 (DC): Seeing the JH3 art on the very first page really made me appreciate how great he is. The way that Kate’s costume fits her body and wraps around her seems to emphasize that it’s not painted on in the way so many superhero artists depict, it’s actually clothing on top of a realistic feminine body. That said, the jump to Trevor McCarthy on the next page is really jarring. McCarthy is a fine enough artist, somewhat reminiscent of Cully Hamner’s blocky line, but *any* artist following JH Williams III is just going to look lesser by comparison. It’s a tough act to follow. This issue is an interesting diversion, as the GCPD deals with Medusa Soldiers on the streets of Gotham, the entire issue is from the POV of Detective Maggie Sawyer, who has all kinds of interesting relationships with everyone from Kate Kane to DEO Agent Cameron Chase. Grade A-.

Smoo Comics #6 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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



The Massive (Dark Horse Comics): The Massive is essentially everything I want from a modern comic book. It’s wrapped in an immensely cool and diligently researched world-build, with realistic action scenes amid globe-trotting adventure, intriguing atypical characters speaking memorable lines, unforgettable art solidifying its social relevance, innovative back-matter and even a companion process site, from a creator whose ethos I actually respect. In many ways, the romance of environmentalists trying to doggedly redefine themselves and their mission after they’ve already lost this devastated world is the sum of Brian Wood’s creator-owned capabilities poured into a single project.

Danger Club (Image Comics): My pitch for Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones’ dark post-apocalyptic mess is that “it’s like Warren Ellis riffing on 1960’s Teen Titans,” in that it’s the best post-modern superhero deconstruction currently happening in the field. As the undisciplined inherit the Earth, this creative team proves that there’s still worthwhile nooks and crannies left unexplored in the industry’s most mined genre. The exception proving the rule, sharp readers will notice that it’s the only ostensible “superhero” book on this list.

Prophet (Image Comics): This sprawling European style sci-fi fantasy epic is from the fertile mind of agile creator Brandon Graham. Prophet was the flagship leading the charge for Image Comics’ creator-owned resurgence, proof-of-concept that deliberately blurring the line between mainstream and indie is a viable paradigm yielding remarkable results. With a horde of artistic talent on display like Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, et al, from its complete unpredictability, to Hemmingway style prose, to lack of insulting exposition, to utterly inventive cool factor, there’s a reason it’ll be on nearly every critic’s best-of-the-year list.

Scalped (DC/Vertigo): Paging every premium cable TV executive, like, everywhere: If you’re not seriously looking at a Scalped adaptation as the next big Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead style phenomenon, you’re just not doing your job. Scalped was on my best-of list every single year it was being published, with more “holy shit!” moments than any other book in recent memory. As we finally say goodbye to its dark majesty, we should remember it for being not just one of the best crime books ever, not just one of the best Vertigo books ever, but just one of the best books ever. Period. It’s best when examining the cyclical nature of crime and violence with startling and heartbreaking intensity, amid a decaying and often disregarded stratum of American culture.

Mind MGMT (Dark Horse Comics): I’m surprised at how many comic book aficionados turn out to be closeted foodies. Weirdest segue ever? Maybe. But in the era of craft beer and eclectic gastropubs with widespread appeal, here’s an example of “craft comics” from a mainstream publisher, propelling “the guy who made all those cool indie comics” into the well-deserved spotlight. Everything about Matt Kindt’s one-man-band coming out party feels lovingly handcrafted to tell a tale of pulpy espionage and the secret sun-bleached histories permeating our global society.

Godzilla: Half Century War (IDW): James Stokoe wasn’t so much hired as he was unleashed onto this property. With his trademark eye-candy detail insanity, he repurposes what is frankly a stale old monster convention and uses it as a through-line backdrop to tell more personal stories about the military men assigned to take down the beast. In doing so, we learn what it says about the people and their insecurities, and by vicarious extension our civilization’s collective fears as a whole, with each issue cascading through the waning decades of the 20th Century.

My Friend Dahmer (Abrams ComicArts): Derf Backderf doesn’t go for the easy path and present the shock value serial killer we’ve all seen in popular media, but digs deeper to examine the more systemic horror. My Friend Dahmer depicts a disturbing portrait of the holistic society that failed young Jeffrey, including his family, friends, teachers, and local law enforcement who were all given ample warning signs and opportunities to intercede. With my criminal justice background, I’m no apologist, I refuse to blame anyone else for a perpetrator’s actions, and sometimes evil is just evil beyond help. Yet still, the truly disturbing aspect of this case is that it may actually say more about the perpetual breakdown of our familial bonds and isolationist social units in our culture than the nature of one man’s horrific compulsion.

Goliath (Drawn & Quarterly): Tom Gauld’s story of David & Goliath, this time from Goliath’s somewhat conscripted point of view, is an exceedingly successful exercise in minimalism and restraint. With stark imagery, he presents a time-lost tragicomedy of a reluctant and surprisingly introspective man, offering a subscriptive vs. prescriptive reading experience in the process. Goliath is thin on dialogue and exposition, but high on emotional potency and visual impact.

The Making Of (Drawn & Quarterly): Brecht Evens’ long-form tale is full of heart, full of humor, and full of gorgeous undulating washes. It’s an intelligent and honest story about one singular realization of truth, that the artistic process is as valuable, if not more so, than the end result it seeks to produce. Art is a goal unto itself, but the sheer momentum of the journey is where actual knowledge and experience lie. Evens makes it known by developing his own visual language to convey dreams, personality, and emotion, in what is probably *the* most beautiful example of comics-making this year.

Wasteland (Oni Press): Artists have come and gone in different capacities, but writer Antony Johnston’s post-apocalyptic vision has endured. Johnston has conjured a strong world-build as a primary feature, but the series has legs beyond the hook because of the universal themes of religion, love, betrayal, belonging, the quest for our origins, and pure survival, all timeless to the human experience. As we near what should be approximately the last two years worth of issues, it’s the series I’m most excited to devour when a new issue hits, because it defies prediction.

20TH Century Boys (VizMedia): Post-WWII reconstructionism in Japan is the underlying fuel that influences this epic narrative, as a group of youngsters attempt to take control of their destiny and build themselves the future they were promised. 20TH Century Boys is the twisting and turning generational tale of what goes horribly wrong when they do. I’m excited to see how what is hailed as “the Watchmen of Japan” wraps up for the final two volumes which have transitioned to 21ST Century Boys.

Get Jiro! (DC/Vertigo): In this urban Mad Max style culinary apocalypse, Anthony Bourdain and Langdon Foss position cult chefs as the new center of power in the crumbling culture of Los Angeles. It’s a non-stop ride full of social commentary and, obviously, food, which is always an entry level method of surveying cultures. Like the late Seth Fisher, Foss’ expressive art is an immersive experience that just makes you believe. The creators are careful to point out that extremism of any kind is dangerous, and I loved the notes about doing the mainstream sell-out work in any profession to fund your more personal indie losses.

Punk Rock Jesus (DC/Vertigo): I came superficially for the intricate Sean Murphy art, but also got an unapologetic examination of hot button religious issues. Murphy is an all-around entertainer, weaving in great action sequences, memorable poignant moments, and a rich cast of characters. It’s hard to say this when I haven’t read the final issue, but it’s the kind book you want to see develop with additional mini-series or an ongoing treatment. One of the few bright Vertigo spots left in the wake of DMZ, Northlanders, Scalped, and other departing critically-praised series.

NOTES: It was a great year. This is the only year I remember having far more contenders than available slots. It was really a toss-up for that last slot, which could have just as easily been Think Tank (Image Comics) by Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal. I literally had to go back and count which got better reviews, and with more issues in the can, Punk Rock Jesus edged out Think Tank by a very slim margin. I tried so hard to get Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity (Image Comics) by Brandon Graham on the list. At one point, I thought I’d just be contrarian and slide it in instead of Prophet. But, I only saw two issues of Multiple Warheads and that seemed slim by comparison. I also wanted to stick with my loose guideline that no creator should have more than one entry in order to spread the love around, otherwise half of my picks would honestly just be Brian Wood books. Speaking of, there’s no reason that his Conan The Barbarian (Dark Horse) adaptation or adjectiveless X-Men (Marvel) run with artist David Lopez would look out of place on this list. I enjoyed Saga (Image Comics), but it felt more like a Top 20 selection. I enjoyed Secret (Image Comics), but with a pitiful two issues from Jonathan Hickman before stalling out like so many of his creator-owned series, it just didn’t feel right to reward a woefully incomplete tease. I was very into the Juan Jose Ryp art and introductory premise of writer David Schulner’s Clone (Image), but with a partial project underway, there were other contenders with more skin in the game. While it ended up being a creator-owned extravaganza, the company-owned title that came closest, and was even on the list at various points throughout the year as the exception that proved the rule, was Batwoman (DC) by JH Williams III, who is one of the premiere artists of our time. He’s taken what is otherwise a simple set of themes and added so much psychological gravitas through his unique layouts and aesthetic. On the GN front, I also failed to find places for the terrific American Barbarian (AdHouse) by Tom Scioli, Coldest City (Oni Press) by Antony Johnston, The Strange Talent of Luther Strode (Image Comics) by Justin Jordan & Tradd Moore (though I have a good feeling about The Legend of Luther Strode for 2013!), and yet another one from Brandon Graham, King City (Image Comics).


12.19.12 Shipping Report

It’s a huge week as the final shipping date before the Christmas Holiday, which also means that the following final week of the year will be ridiculously small, with something like only 10 whole books actually shipping. But, first things first, let’s sort through the deluge this week, beginning with what I’ll definitely be picking up. Leading the pack is Wasteland #42 (Oni Press) as the series charges toward the end at the hands of Antony Johnston and Russel Roehling. Next up is Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #3 (Image) by Brandon Graham. It’s utterly enjoyable from start to finish and if you like comics at all, I can’t imagine you not liking this. I’m still, relatively passively and of a somewhat contrarian nature, on the BKV & Fiona Staples train, so I’ll be checking out Saga #8 (Image) as well. As long as JH3 is on art, I’ll also be picking up Batwoman #15 (DC), the lone exception that proves the rule with regard to the creative impotence of DC Entertainment’s New 52 Initiative. I think this reads better collected and I’ve been reading it in trades up to this point, but decided to jump on the singles for the final act, it’s Locke & Key: Omega #2 (IDW).

The book that could most easily make the jump from the “maybe” pile is The Black Beetle: Night Shift #0 (Dark Horse) by Francesco Francavilla. I think the whole pulp noir mystery thing is very played out, but if nothing else it will look gorgeous. I have to say that I was done with Quentin Tarantino right after Pulp Fiction, with that, Reservoir Dogs, and True Romance forming a perfect little trifecta for me, so I’m not very interested in Django Unchained #1 (DC/Vertigo), except for the fact that RM Guera is on art, hot off of Scalped. I’m also curious about JSA Liberty Files: The Whistling Skull #1 (DC), because I’ve enjoyed much of the work of B. Clay Moore and Tony Harris. I’m not sure if Masks #2 (Dynamite Entertainment) will be strong enough to make the cut. I enjoyed the first issue on a purely visual level, seeing all of the characters come together in spite of a paper thin story premise, so it will probably depend on who they plug in for art instead of Alex Ross for this little bait and switch. Over at The House of Ideas, I’ll flip through Avengers #2 (Marvel) to admire the Jerome Opena and Dean White art, along with Thor: God of Thunder #3 (Marvel) for the Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic goodness, but they’ll have to perform stellar in the casual flip test to actually create a sale.



One of the nice things about having a blog is that you have the freedom to talk about anything you want to talk about without being beholden to an editor or to content guidelines or to anything other than your own internal moral compass. More than a couple friends and coworkers have asked me recently what my thoughts were about the school shooting in Connecticut, since I’ve worked in federal law enforcement and currently work in corporate security, often defending against this very type of incident with training, drills, background investigations, etc. They think that I might know a thing or two about a thing or two. I am often responsible for conducting emergency response drills, which could be simulating anything from a relatively routine medical emergency like sudden cardiac arrest, to a natural disaster, all the way up to a full blown workplace violence incident. Coincidentally enough, this past Wednesday, the day after the mall shooting in Oregon, I charged forward with a workplace shooting scenario, which had already been planned for weeks, that included a random shooter entering the workplace complete with cap gun, actors in place playing victims so that my emergency responders would have a more realistic scenario. The shooter “shot” and “killed” one person and “shot” and “injured” three others in our scenario. I’ve long been a believer that realistic drill scenarios prepare first responders for the unthinkable. They can practice the incident command system for scene management, handheld radio transmissions using the right codes and phrases, patient triage for treatment and transport, and all manner of security protocols.
I would like to think that the number of people asking my opinion and general outcry I see over Connecticut online and in the media, which seems to be eclipsing what occurred in Oregon, or even Aurora, or even Columbine before it (interesting that one word now, just the name of a city, lets you know instantly what we’re talking about) means we’ve reached some sort of tipping point and that real change may occur. Maybe this is because of the sheer number of people killed, or the disturbing fact that most were young children. I took to writing as I often do because it helps me clarify my own thoughts and may encourage you to do the same or at least instigate some type of discussion. We need all that and more. I also think, egotistically, that I may have an interesting position on this issue because of my unique background. It’s probably no secret around these parts that I can be extremely liberal minded when it comes to social issues, but I think I tend to be a little bit closer to center on this particular debacle. Let me get one burning question out of the way right up front.
I own two guns. One I purchased and one was given to me. I have my grandfather’s Ross .303 rifle from 1905. This is a family heirloom and one of the only things I have from my grandfather. I never met him. He passed away when my dad was only 5 years old. My sister owns the American flag that was draped over his coffin at his military funeral. He was in the Army during WWII. I own a gold ring that was his, along with this Ross rifle, which is very rare, originally commissioned for the Canadian military. I don’t own ammunition for the Ross, I’ve never shot the Ross, and I never will shoot the Ross. Anybody who knows anything about its internal cam “deadbolt” locking mechanism knows that it isn’t the safest weapon to shoot. But it means a great deal to me as a sentimental family piece. I also own a Sig-Sauer P228 9mm handgun, which I’ve owned for about 15 years now. I originally bought it to carry as a duty weapon. It’s now a highly regarded rare model, a finely crafted piece of German engineering on the higher end of weapons one could purchase, something that’s been carried by Federal Agents and US Navy Seals for years. Both of these guns are in a safe that my kids don’t know exists, I carry the only key to the safe at all times, I carry the only key to the case they’re locked in within the safe at all times, only my wife and I know the combination to the safe, which you need in conjunction with the keys to access the weapons. The guns are not loaded and the ammunition is locked away in a separate location. At the moment, I have 100 rounds of 9mm on hand for the Sig. They come in boxes of 50, so I have two boxes.
Sometimes people start a discussion with me by prompting me with the fair question “Why do you own a gun?” There are a few reasons. Before moving to the very urban SF Bay Area, I grew up in a relatively rural area about 90 miles east of the bay. My paternal grandfather I mentioned, who was in the Army during WWII, owned several guns, and was an avid hunter. He actually hunted bear with the Ross. My maternal grandfather, who was stationed in England in the Army Air Corps during WWII, owns several guns, some shotguns and an extremely rare Colt .45 from the turn of the century, which was given to him by his father. Before I was born, my dad owned several guns purely as hobby. My dad is in the antique business, so he often is in possession of weapons (guns, swords, bayonets, etc.) from about the Revolutionary War era to the US Civil War, to the Spanish-American War, all the way up to WWII, where legally it then becomes a little sketchy for him to buy and sell anything more modern because of the way the laws are written. I grew up on a farm in the very early years of my life, and it was not uncommon for me to see my dad wielding his .38 revolver to rid us of skunks or rabid coyotes or numerous snakes. It was a tool of some utility. I say this all to state that I guess guns have been a part of my personal culture of origin. I grew up with them, I was taught to respect them, how they worked, what they were worth, and how to use them. I never considered them toys, I never tried to sneak them out to play with or handle or show my friends for kicks or whatever. As I said above, I also own one because I had to carry one when I worked in federal law enforcement. That line of work came with extensive additional training. I also enjoyed guns as a hobby for a while, going to the range regularly, perusing gun magazines, etc., but those are things I haven't done for years. I’ve kind of lost my interest in them, grew out of them if you will, not to mention the fact that it’s a really expensive hobby. You can easily spend $100 per session going down to the range and paying the fees and buying targets and popping off 200 rounds or so, which doesn’t even address the cost of the guns themselves, most decent handguns being in the $500-$1,000 range. I just don’t have the discretionary income for that any longer, or the time frankly. I guess I also believe in the idea that it could be used for home defense or personal protection. When I graduated from college and started working, I was home at one of my seedy apartments during a home invasion, an attempted burglary. I actually held the person at gunpoint until the PD arrived. It was terrifying, even though I’d had all kinds of training by that point. On one hand, it’s nice to know you have that available as an option on the rare chance you’ll need it. On the other hand, with my gun now locked away like it is, I’m not sure I could do something similar in time today. On the other hand, we live in a pretty upscale neighborhood now and it’s not something I’m terribly worried about. On the other hand, that sort of ignores the readiness argument that it can happen anytime and anywhere. Complicated issue, huh? Like voting, I also believe that you should exercise your rights. The law says that I can own one, so admittedly – right or wrong, there’s a small part of me that wants to own one simply because I have the right to. In terms of the Second Amendment, I will say that I agree with the spirit of what the Founding Fathers intended, that an armed populace tends to keep a potentially tyrannical government in check, but I believe things have obviously evolved drastically beyond their limited foresight and that the letter of the law and its application desperately needs to evolve along with the times. While I am a believer in the Second Amendment's "right to bear arms" clause, it's also more than 200 years old. Technology has evolved. There is a difference between a musket that takes 30 seconds to load in order to fire a single shot, a semi-automatic hangun that carries 10 rounds for home defense, and a fully automatic military-grade assault weapon with a 40-round magazine. One of the brilliant things about the US Constitution is that it's a "living document," designed to be interpreted and evolve with the times.
All of that said, I’m not one of these rabid Charlton Heston NRA types. Those guys make me sick. If the government decided tomorrow morning that I could no longer purchase a weapon, or even own one for that matter, I wouldn’t be heartbroken. Unless you’re active duty military or law enforcement personnel, I don’t think that anyone should have the right to own, or even have access to, a) an assault weapon like an AR-15 or an AK-47 or an HK MP-5, or b) anything that’s fully automatic, or c) anything with a high capacity magazine. In the State of California, where I’m most familiar with the law, you can own handgun magazines with a 10 round capacity. This means that my Sig actually can carry 11 rounds at any one time, with 10 in the magazine and one additional round chambered. This is what the term “10+1” means if anyone cares. Now, if you’re law enforcement, you can own high capacity magazines. This means that, as a former federal officer, I could go down and flash a badge and purchase a 13, 17, or even a 20 round magazine for my handgun. I haven’t done that. I think it’s ridiculous that there’s so much gun activity that is not regulated, particularly in the secondary market. Even though I’m prohibited from owning certain things in California, all I’d have to do is set up a PO Box in Arizona, order things online to that address, and then drive across the border to retrieve them. Even easier, I could just go to a local gun show, which is the very definition of the “gray” market. Nothing is tracked, cash deals are done under the table, and I can buy assault weapons, high cap magazines, conversion kits that transform a semi-automatic weapon into fully automatic, often times without a background investigation, without a waiting period, without any automated flag to any authoritative body, and without any of the ATF paperwork required of a legitimate dealer with a Federal Firearms License (FFL). There’s a lack of legislation around the industry enhancing existing laws with new laws. There’s also a lack of resources available to enforce the existing laws. Now keep in mind this is all pre-9/11, but at the time I worked in federal law enforcement, my agency only had 2,000 active agents, while the FBI had close to 10,000 by comparison. We were woefully understaffed and only audited or investigated something like 20% of the eligible participants in our audit program. If you want a true horror story, ask me about the case I helped investigate involving a high level school employee dealing weapons to students. Thankfully, as far as it was proven, nobody was ever killed with one of those weapons. Thankfully, this person is still in prison.
You can dive into all sorts of scary statistics, but that’s not really the point of what I’m writing. I did hear one in reference to Connecticut which stood out to me, that went something like this: Since Columbine, there have been something like 31 school shootings in the United States. If you add up all of the other school shootings in all of the other countries in all the rest of the world in all that time, there have been only 14 by comparison, less than half. That’s appalling. As a parent who lives across the street from the school my two kids (age 6 and 3) attend, this terrifies me. I understand and appreciate the school’s aggressive security protocols, but as someone who works in the security industry and is responsible for developing and testing similar protocols, I also know that they are fallible. The best systems and the best procedures are still subject to human error. It all comes down to behavioral issues as to whether or not these protocols function as designed. And if someone is determined enough to intrude, no intrusion detection system, no physical barrier, none of the best trained staff, and no procedural kerfuffle is going to prevent an armed person from finding a way to do so. Nothing is foolproof 100% of the time. They are all deterrents, some very good, but passive deterrents nonetheless. The bottom line is that in terms of regulation, it’s harder for me to get a driver’s license, comprehensive health care, the interest rate on my damn home loan lowered, or a marriage license if I’m gay than it is to purchase a firearm.
I’m tired of all the arguments I hear about gun control. I’m tired of hearing those Charlton Heston types belt out “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” Of course guns kill people. They are built solely to do just that, to kill things, bigger, better, and faster. Their very existence is for that specific purpose. Now, they can’t kill a person all by themselves, they’re a tool used to do so, but we’ll get more into that later. I’m tired of these tired analogies the pro-gun lobbies try to make. “Well, cars kill people too, are you gonna’ ban those?!” It’s a faulty facile argument. Cars are designed for transportation, not to kill. I’m tired of the “Well, if someone wants to kill you, they’ll find a way to do it anyway, with a knife, explosives, a can-opener, etc. so it won’t matter if you ban guns!” argument. This is facile as well. Guns are the easiest and most effective method, so why not reform gun control to limit some/most of these types of offenses? Will there still be crime? Will people still get killed? Sure. But, with dramatically lowered frequency and severity if you take guns largely out of the equation. I’m tired of clowns like Mike Huckabee or Rudy Giuliani getting on TV and blabbing their opinions with absolutely no credibility about “God in the schools” or the regurgitation of conservative gun lobby speaking points or whatever. Really, just shut the fuck up already, ok? I’m tired of the way the media covers these events, how they sensationalize the crime by focusing on the perpetrator. Conversely, I’m tired of the way they insensitively try to interview 5 year old kids about the killings they just witnessed. Stop. I’m tired of the rigidity of the Second Amendment advocates citing the “well regulated militia” clause. Seriously, when is the last time you and your farmer neighbors took up arms against a foreign invader? Easy, Paul Revere. It ain’t Red Dawn out there. Seriously, when is the last time you took up arms to march on Washington, DC in mass protest against any number of domestic or foreign policy issues in order to keep your government in check? (Now, I’m not saying that couldn’t happen in some type of DMZ scenario – had to work in a comic book reference, didn’t I?). I’m probably the most tired of American Presidents I voted for and assorted politicians saying that “now is not the time” to debate gun control, immediately following an incident, but a time for mourning and condolences. That doesn’t fix the problem. All of these issues are tangential rabbit holes that distract and divert attention away from the core issues. Now is the time. It’s the best time. If it hasn’t already been done, as it should have been done numerous times before, decades before, then “now” is always going to be the best time to stand up and finally draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough. The time for change is always “now.” If not, then when? Not to be an insensitive dick, but if a bunch of dead 5 year old kids isn’t going to prompt action, what in the hell will? It’s getting to the point where not a week goes by without an incident. We’re so busy mourning the last one that another one happens and we never get to this mythical point in the future where it’s “ok” to now start having the debate and making real change. The time is now. It’s always a good time to push this issue.
Part of the problem, maybe the biggest problem, is that there’s a lot of finger-pointing among all of these different groups, and when you finger-point rather than discuss, you tend to oversimplify things and give the impression that the underlying cause of a problem can be narrowed down to just one factor in terms of causality. It’s not that simple. There’s a myriad of inter-related issues surrounding the gun problem in this country. In my mostly lay view of things, I tend to see three tracks to this problem that would need to be addressed simultaneously to achieve any form of comprehensive solution to this problem. The first problem is that we obviously need sweeping reforms around gun control, specifically who is allowed to own which types of weapons. There needs to be a much stricter and more regulated process, from initial application, all the way up to much stiffer penalties for violations, including criminal violations, to highly de-incentivize skirting the law in the gray market by private citizens or outright breaking the law on the black market by criminals. There needs to be automated flags to investigate when a set threshold is breached for anyone stockpiling (either by wrong type or by quantity) weapons and/or ammunition. In a nutshell, I'd start with banning assault weapons, banning high capacity magazines, and requiring mandatory background checks, along with federal registration of serial numbers. This will require money and resources at the federal, state, and local levels of government. We spend literally billions of dollars abroad chasing the specter of terrorism, yet holistic attention here at home to what could easily be labeled “domestic terrorism” is woefully inadequate.
The second area of concern is the mental health care system. There needs to be better screening, reporting, intervention, and access to sustained care in order to intercede before violence ensues, whether this is with a firearm, or the mythic knife, explosives, or can-opener that a would be perpetrator would use “anyway.” As many avenues of violence as possible need to be shut down in order to prevent the most crime, whether this is addressed on the “means” end of the spectrum with access to physical objects or the “willingness” end with the psychological motivations to do so. While these are complicated and would require a multi-administration commitment over a prolonged period of years, they’re actually the easier of the two problem areas because they can be legislated.
The final, and perhaps most important, area is addressing our Culture of Violence in the United States and attempting to change it. It's a tough situation to put on law enforcement and the government in general when you try to implement a legal solution to solely address what is partially a social problem. Whether you like me saying it or not, we do have a violent culture that glamorizes, fetishizes, and systematically condones violence as a means of conflict resolution. It’s in our entertainment, our books, our comics, our movies, our video games, and our toys. And it’s in our foreign policy, in our elective desert campaigns, our covert drone warfare that many barely acknowledge, our general response to problems on the world stage. It’s in the way children are conditioned to think they’re invincible. It’s in the way we idolize the very important jobs that the police and service members perform. It’s there in the way little boys play with guns or swords. True, there may be some innate aggression in their DNA, but I think this is largely being mirrored when they’re bombarded with imagery and ideas supporting guns as a viable means of interpersonal dynamics. Neurobiologists will tell you that aggression and risk-taking are hard-wired into male brain chemistry, but not violence - that's learned behavior. Socioeconomic factors and education level and teaching basic logic and empathy to our kids and the skill level of the parents, and the fact that our culture has evolved away from small tribes of family and friends to becoming disparate connections where we’re taught to be afraid of the “other” all play a role in this dynamic. Now, I really didn’t want to get into some social anthropology debate, but unless we address this basic social “ability” for our kids and our citizens to even consider gun violence as an option for whatever they’re experiencing, and all three of these areas, gun control reform, mental health care, and the Culture of Violence are addressed, that’s the combined “willingness,” “ability,” and “means” to carry out an act of gun violence, until all three are systematically addressed, these incidents will probably continue to occur. It’s interesting that the language I ended up using here, “willingness,” “ability,” and “means,” is the same language I was taught to use when possibly deploying my weapon in law enforcement. If a subject is exhibiting the willingness, ability, and means to immediately harm your life or the life of another, then authorization for the use of deadly force exists. I never thought I’d be applying that logic to addressing the greater problem of preventing deadly gun violence in our culture. It just goes to show that ideas can evolve, change, and be reapplied, just like what needs to happen with regard to the Second Amendment.


12.12.12 Reviews (Image Comics Edition)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at Yesteryear Comics for sponsoring this week’s review books. Make Yesteryear Comics your first destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.
Clone #2 (Image): I think it’s safe to say that I love everything about this book. I love the dark mirror reflection of the credits page. I love how the opening sequence, and the times we revisit that segment of the story, offer clues to the larger conspiracy surrounding a DARPA stem cell experiment from the 1970’s. I love the way Juan Jose Ryp’s art is so detailed and intricate that it provides a grizzled sense of life and animation on every page. I love the chilling black and white scene with implantations happening in assembly line fashion. I love small little flourishes like the implied “SCREECH” of the record scratch that stops a conversation dead in its tracks. I love how David Schulner’s script explores the effect of time, specifically how the global connectivity of social networking unraveled the greatest experiment in human history. I love how his story never forgets to be a human drama first, but is rooted in a realistic bit of sci-fi. I love the idea of loss of identity and the psychological impact this would all have, specifically the example of having to watch yourself kill your wife as you are trying to kill you. I love that we’re offered two possible explanations for what may make our protagonist so special, the pacing of the story and the interest of the reveals it contains are all deftly handled. There are fair twists and turns here, and I just love the fun entertainment this offers, the thought provocation, and the gorgeous art. It makes the act of creating fun, smart, beautiful comics look effortless. Grade A.

Change #1 (Image): I was pleasantly intrigued by the art, including the first couple of black and white pages that seem to merge the styles of Frank Miller, David Mack, and even hints of Howard Chaykin. It switches to color from there for squarely story-driven reasons, which I appreciated. At times, the color art gets very inky and drippy in a way that even reminded me of Paul Pope, which is high praise indeed. As intriguing as the art is, unfortunately, this book degenerated quickly for me because of the schizophrenic story that feels like it can’t decide what it wants to be about. This meandering all over the map touches on screenwriters and a movie treatment stuck in development hell (though I’m not sure why), which may have something to do with Lovecraftian Cthulhu babies being murdered(?), a manned mission to one of Jupiter’s moons returning home (though they never explain if this is the future or how a human would survive such prolonged space travel), some chick with gray diamond shit on her face, annoyingly named characters like "W-2," "Rhubarb," and "Labia," which were not nearly as clever as someone must have thought they were, and contrived highly improbable lines such as “You must look like two sphinx cats trying to form a sex donut. With decorative baroque folds.” I think the creators were going for some type of ape of insider commentary mixed with big wacky ideas like you’d see from a writer like Joe Casey, but they get lost in this circular space time thing mired in pervasive paranoia about drones, “the other,” and a sense of an impending space time apocalypse. I want to reiterate that the art is very pretty in spots, but with no proper credits I couldn’t tell you who is responsible for what. It’s just a  long string of disparate players and locales. I appreciate not assaulting your audience with exposition, but without any foothold it’s definitely possible to cross the line into being obtuse and not really telling a story. That’s not fun. That doesn’t give me a reason to return. Can’t tell who is talking in some caption boxes… Musical bonus stuff I didn’t get… Astronauts and home invasions… Grade B-.

12.12.12 Reviews (Brian Wood Edition)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at Yesteryear Comics for sponsoring this week’s review books. Make Yesteryear Comics your first destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

The Massive #7 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood and Garry Brown's modern art blend (Sean Phillips, Jim Lee, even collaborator John Paul Leon, traces of all to be found) kick off the next 3-issue arc entitled "Subcontinental," which centers on the ostensible utopia of Moksha Station. The thing to remember about utopias is that they're usually disguised dystopias in pop fiction, and it's certainly looking like this is no exception. I'm excited to see the mileage and dramatic tension that the creative team is going to draw from that dichotomy. It's interesting to see how quickly it goes from Mary encouraging Cal (and the audience by extension) to accept Moksha Station at face value, to a complete authoritarian state during lockdown procedures, where you basically surrender all personal rights in the name of security. If you've been reading Thirteen Minutes a while, you probably know that one of my writing tics is to make weird analogies in an effort to make my points. Well, with Callum Israel and crew wandering the world in an attempt to survive, and encountering the seeming paradise with a hidden underbelly of Moksha Station, let's juxtapose that with The Walking Dead. One could say that Rick and his crew are to Woodbury as Callum and his crew are to Moksha Station. I did that deliberately because there's certainly no reason that The Massive shouldn't be selling The Walking Dead numbers on a regular basis. I'll go ahead and be an elitist prick and use my powers of reverse psychology and say that if The Massive doesn't succeed financially it will be because it's just too intelligent for most people. I guess for the masses it's just easier to grok people shooting zombies in the head amid the collapse of all humanity as a single central theme in a zombie apocalypse than it is to parse a more meaningful fight for survival amid the collapse of the entire fucking planet in a more realistic environmental apocalypse. I mean, heaven forbid you actually have to think in a non-linear fashion or Google an acronym like U.L.L.C. or F.P.S.O. in a diligently researched Brian Wood script. Easier to just passively watch somebody getting an axe through the skull, I suppose. Don't you want your entertainment to stretch your brain a little bit? Doesn't bother me. My dad never provided me age appropriate reading material. He let me read the books he was reading and just gave me a dictionary along with those challenging books and said if you come across a word you don't understand, then look it up. If that doesn't work, come ask me. Wow, I'm really going off on a tirade here, but I'm just so passionate about this book and I can't comprehend LCS orders decreasing every month. It's disappointing. Anyway. Something else I noticed in this issue around the time that Mary encourages Cal to "be better" is that you can almost draw lines between Cal's identity and the personalities of the crew and say that they comprise aspects of his being. For example, Ryan is the young naïve do-gooder with blind commitment in him. Mary is the optimist part of him that believes in people and wants to bring out the best in them, Mag is the pragmatic paranoid security guy, Georg may represent the last vestiges of pure merc in him. By the time we learn more about Lars or potentially other crew members, maybe this little theory will flesh out in the way you can make the same argument for, say, Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity. There's that analogy bug again. The only thing preventing this from getting the "+" is that I truly miss the innovative back-matter in print, but at least we now have a digital counterpart. Grade A.

Conan The Barbarian #11 (Dark Horse): The silent opening sequence is just masterfully put together, great teamwork by writer and artist all coming together to equal more than the sum of its parts. I did freak out a little when Conan kissed Belit on the mouth. The lay epidemiologist in me got the heebee jeebies. I enjoyed this issue because a place like Bakal is exactly where I like seeing a character like Conan. He's out of his element, desperate to find something when he's not even sure what he's looking for or where to look. He's outnumbered, but certainly not outmanned, carving his way through the unknown with a compelling mix of sword skills and pure cunning. Declan Shalvey's art, on rare occasion, pushes some angles and proportions around characters' faces that seem odd and inconsistent, but I do love the way he uses shadow and silhouette to emphasize mood. Brian Wood is delivering a fresh spin on Conan that still manages to stay loyal to the spirit of the source material. I like the younger, more introspective Conan, who actively considers how his actions reflect upon his loyalties and values. He's balancing risk and reward, survival and implied promises, in an engaging story that offers so much more complexity that mindless brawling. Grade A.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #20 (Marvel): Carlo Barberi is on art duty this time out and I enjoy the look of his lean sinewy art, though it can get a little cheesecakey at times, like the focus on Storm's boobs or Kitty's ass-up morning stretch routine. Jimmy Hudson continues his land survey as the band of mutants settles into their Federal Land Grant (aka: Reservation) in a "deal that's getting worse all the time," as Lando Calrissian would quip (can't resist a Star Wars nod to the on-deck Star Wars writer!). When you get past the housekeeping bits of what Jimmy finds, the divisive actions of Psylocke and Nomi, and the mystery of the gift from Fury, and finally arrive at the modified seed stock plot thread, it's as if we're finally getting to the story Brian Wood wanted to tell all along. It's speculative sci-fi with environmental roots and social relevance. The repercussions of super seeds that grow and adapt to any conditions and the entry of Mr. Tony Stark make such slick thought-provoking use of these Marvel properties. Kitty is taking a long term gamble for her people, looking at the total world benefit vs. a short-sighted windfall purely out of reactionary monetary need and immediate survival. It's great to see them gearing up for a more ideological war after the literal war they just endured. I still have some issues with the art, but the script's sense of interest is on overdrive. Grade A-.

The Great Statistical Purchasing Analysis of 2012!

Welcome to the 5th consecutive year that I’ve tracked my comic book purchasing and provided some commentary about the data. I still enjoy analyzing the information because I’m fascinated by patterns and the way the numbers change over time, but I do fear that it’s becoming less meaningful because a variety of factors are skewing the numbers away from being a truly accurate snapshot of what I actually consume. Nevertheless, I’ll present the data, make some basic numerical observations, and try to walk you through what’s skewing the metrics. In short, remember that this is a purchasing analysis, meaning that it represents only my out of pocket expenses, not the total quantity of what I consumed, meaning that it does not take into account comp copies.

Essentially, this dynamic is still in play: I perceive less value remaining for me with the vast majority of what’s currently being published, and I have less discretionary income available to throw at comics, thus there are fewer titles I’m willing to adventurously plunk down money on for a single time or to habitually spend money on in a sustained fashion. Price points holistically on the upswing are intersecting with enjoyment on the downswing, coupled with fewer creators I feel any personal sense of loyalty to. With those caveats aside, let’s just dive in… I’ll start with the TOTAL QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased from 2008 to 2012.

2008: 259
2009: 197
2010: 169
2011: 125
2012: 143

For the first time in 5 years, there’s a year to year uptick of 14% from 2011 to 2012, yet still a whopping 45% decrease from 2008 to 2012. I’m buying nearly half of the floppies I was just 5 years ago. While I quit buying Marvel and DC books that weren’t creator-owned halfway through the year, those were essentially replaced by a new crop of creator-owned Dark Horse and Image Comics. Wild Card: what this 143 number doesn’t factor in are the comp copies I received, which I actually tried to keep track of for the first time this year. When you combine print copies comp’d for review purposes (the majority at roughly 90%) and their digital counterparts (the minority at roughly 10%), that’s another 113 singles consumed, which would be a big number to tack on if they’d been paid for, pushing the number up to 256, extremely close to the original baseline of 259 in 2008. Looking at the same category of SINGLE ISSUES in terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT, the results are as follows.

2008: $777
2009: $697
2010: $616
2011: $458
2012: $455

This is interesting – even though total volume of floppies was up 14%, the TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT was down from 2011 to 2012 by just a hair, at .007%, with an overall decrease from 2008 to 2012 of 41%. This disproportionate decrease in dollars spent vis-à-vis total single issues purchased is something I attribute to one single factor. Starting in the middle of the year, I began receiving a VERY deep discount from my new LCS sponsor Yesteryear Comics. On those review books, this meant I was spending 40% less than cover price on average, but still consuming roughly the same quantity of material. That’s something that’s likely to continue and will drastically skew the numbers if run out and applied to an entire year of purchases in 2013. You could also try to factor in my 113 comps just for kicks. If you affix an average price of $3.50 per item (which is a guesstimate because the price point on the indie portion dances around), that’s another $396 worth of material consumed – but again, not purchased. That would actually push the total up to $851 if it were added, well beyond the initial baseline of $777 in 2008. Moving on, since comics are periodicals and the weekly sales pattern is endemic to the business paradigm, I like to look at my purchasing habits on a weekly basis as a meaningful metric as well. Here is the AVERAGE QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased per week over the period.

2008: 4.98
2009: 3.79
2010: 3.25
2011: 2.40
2012: 2.75

Basically, I would buy about 5 SINGLE ISSUES per week on average in 2008, and that’s slowly declined to about 2¾  per week on average today. While it’s a 15% increase from 2011 to 2012, it’s an overall 45% drop from 2008 to 2012. We can also take a look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week on SINGLE ISSUES.

2008: $14.94
2009: $13.40
2010: $11.85
2011: $8.81
2012: $8.75

In 2008, I’d spend approximately $15 per week on SINGLE ISSUES, and by 2011 and 2012 I’ve dropped into single digits, spending just under $9 per week on average. That’s a barely noticeable 6 cents, or a .007% drop from 2011 to 2012, with a 41% drop from 2008 to 2012. Moving on to the GRAPHIC NOVELS AND/OR TRADE PAPERBACKS AND/OR COLLECTED EDITIONS AND/OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THEM BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN category, I tracked all of the metrics in the same manner. First, here is the TOTAL QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased.

2008: 55
2009: 26
2010: 18
2011: 12
2012: 07

This is a 42% drop from 2011 to 2012, with a drastic decrease of 87% from 2008 to 2012. Now, keep in mind that these metrics are for books purchased, not consumed. You’ll definitely get tired of hearing me make that distinction by the time we’re through. Thirteen Minutes has flourished in the last couple of years and the number of comp copies I receive has increased dramatically. Another factor is the sheer amount of Amazon credit I accumulate. I’ve tried to do a better job of tracking the combination of review comps and comics via credit I received this year. By my count, one way or another, I acquired, with no out of pocket costs applicable for a purchasing analysis, at least 64 additional TRADES/OGN, which would obviously push the total number of items consumed in this category way up to 71 if we added it, blowing past the initial baseline of 55 in 2008. Let’s move on to look at TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN.

2008: $1,200
2009: $521
2010: $413
2011: $103
2012: $78

From 2011 to 2012, this is a 24% decrease, with a staggering 94% decline from 2008 to 2012. I’ve nothing more to add here other than emphasizing that this year’s $78 in no way reflects my reading habits accurately in terms of what I actually consumed. As I mentioned, I received tons of comp copies from all over the place, and I also ended up with a ton of Amazon credit that I burned up on TRADES/OGN, but those “sales” transactions weren’t included here as gross purchases because they didn’t represent any net monetary cost to me as an actual out of pocket expense. This becomes harder to calculate, but just for kicks, even if you figure for the ease of computation that average price print on one of these items is just $20 (it’s probably higher), that’s an additional $1,280 (on my 64 comps mentioned above) worth of TRADES/OGN actually consumed, which would more than double the initial 2008 baseline to $2,480. But, repeat after me, this is a purchasing analysis, not an analysis of raw consumables, hence their exclusion and heavy caveat. Let’s look at the weekly averages in this category, starting off with the AVERAGE QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased on a weekly basis.

2008: 1.06
2009: .50
2010: .35
2011: .23
2012: .13

That’s a 43% drop from 2011 to 2012, and an 88% drop from 2008 to 2012. It’s still staggering to me that I was basically buying 1 full-on TRADE/OGN per week in 2008. Now that the number has slipped to .13 per week, it’s almost a meaningless and insignificant entry in and of itself, but it does equate to about 1 every 8 weeks, if we sliced it that way. In terms of AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN per week, the numbers shake out like this.

2008: $23.08
2009: $10.02
2010: $7.94
2011: $1.98
2012: $1.50

As you can see, this is a continued decline of 24% from 2011 to 2012, and an overall 94% whack from 2008 to 2012. Lastly, and mostly for kicks, we can look at combined units for both floppies and collected editions, that’s all “things” qualifying as “comics.” Here’s the overall TOTAL UNITS PURCHASED.

2008: 314
2009: 223
2010: 187
2011: 137
2012: 150

That’s an uptick of 9% from 2011 to 2012, and a substantial 52% drop from 2008 to 2012, meaning that I’m essentially buying half of the comics I did 5 years ago. That’s a pretty powerful bottom line statement, all things considered. In terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TOTAL UNITS, it looks like this.

2008: $1,977
2009: $1,218
2010: $1,029
2011: $561
2012: $533

This equates to a 5% decline from 2011 to 2012, with a 73% overall drop from 2008 to 2012. I went from spending nearly $2,000 on comics 5 years ago, to spending just a quarter of that, in the $500 range this year. Add it all up and *cringe* it looks like I spent about $5,318 on comics in the last 5 years. Sheesh! That’s a used car. However, yet another way to look at this is that if you offset that 2012 cost by what I was paid for various freelance gigs, I’m coming out way ahead, totally in the black with the “job” part of comics paying for the “hobby” part of comics, and then some. But that’s sort of an abstract correlation to be making that’s outside the scope of these proceedings. To begin summarizing, yet another way to look at the big picture is that if you factor in the 113 singles and 64 trades I was comp’d on and project the dollar amounts out, reality today is that I’m actually SPENDING WAY LESS, but CONSUMING WAY MORE, which is a hard combination to beat. In short, if you put aside inherent artistic quality and just look at it purely financially, COMICS WIN. That’s the key message to take away from this year’s analysis. To run things out, as for AVERAGE TOTAL UNITS purchased per week…

2008: 6.04
2009: 4.29
2010: 3.60
2011: 2.63
2012: 2.88

This means that I went from purchasing 6 total “things” that could be classified as comics per week (whether singles or trades) in 2008, to not quite 3 in 2012. Those metrics represent a small uptick of 10% from 2011 to 2012, with a 52% drop overall from 2008 to 2012. Lastly, we can also look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week as applied to TOTAL UNITS.

2008: $38.02
2009: $23.42
2010: $19.79
2011: $10.79
2012: $10.25

This is another pretty straightforward metric that seems to ring true based on my perception of what I actually do in the LCS on a weekly basis. It means that in 2008, I was basically dropping $40 per week, and now I’m only dropping about $10 per week on average. This comes out to a 5% decline from 2011 to 2012, with a 73% decrease from 2008 to 2012. That feels like what actually occurs for sure. I usually buy 2 or 3 singles per week. Questions? Comments? Can you stand the mighty power of the numerical excitement!? Shall I keep going next year?