Kenan Rubenstein Quartet

I reviewed a group of 8-fold mini-comics over at Poopsheet Foundation.


01.30.13 Reviews

Sponsor Plug: Thanks to 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 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
Mara #2 (Image): I gave Ming Doyle some static in the review of the first issue about various aspects of her art, but you can detect marked improvement here. While I didn’t like the design of the jet fighters doing a flyover or the ugliness of the handguns in the first issue, I really like the design of the corporate jet that Mara and Ingrid find themselves on in this issue. I also gave her some grief over how the security team’s physical posturing was depicted. It’s better here, but they’re still kind of stiff and problematic when attempting to control the crowd in a couple shots. For the most part though, I feel like she settled on a comfortable figure scale to operate most of the script with and the results are very lean and consistent and I find myself enjoying the art more. On the script side, Mara’s secret is out globally and her team attempts some spin control. I know that at the time Brian Wood wrote this script, the Lance Armstrong stuff hadn’t really broke fully yet, but the timing is now serendipitous and I thought it was interesting when they discussed the public being willing to forgive nearly any celebrity transgression, so long as they don’t lie about it. The best part for me was lines like “Point is, it’s not really much of a contract when they can terminate anytime.” You have to wonder how much of that is informed by Wood having navigated the shark infested waters of corporate comics. Like the end of the first issue, there’s another reveal here that keeps pushing on the idea of celebrity superpower manifestation occurring in front of the entire world. I’m not sure where it’s going to go next, but it feels like a fun poignant ride regardless. Grade A-.
Deathmatch #2 (Boom!): I’m still surprised to be really enjoying this book! The art from Carlos Magno has just enough detail and surface polish that I think it dips its toe into Juan Jose Ryp waters at times, and that’s a pretty endearing quality to have. I like the way the dude draws women and hair and the way the costume designs just hang on the characters feels “right” to me. On the script side, Paul Jenkins finds a way to make the story transcends the basic notion of “characters are bracketed off like the NCAA Final Four Tournament and kill each other.” It has the tang of taking these familiar archetypes and breaking them, which lends a very post-modern flair to the proceedings, something I’m always up for. The first two issues have now been repetitive in construction, but in spite of itself, I’m engaged by the characters, I dig the character profiles, and for the first time in a long time, I feel like we have a superhero universe being unpacked in front of us and it’s not making me throw up in my mouth, but actually feeling engaged and interested. I’m not sure how long I’ll be enamored of all this for $3.99, but for now it’s a little sleeper hit. Grade A-.


01.30.12 Shipping Report

Mara #2 (Image) is the only sure-buy single for me this week. It’s the tale of a superpowered athlete who has her life turned upside down and I dig the Kirbyesque retro 50’s romance cover from Ming Doyle. The other single that is a maybe is Deathmatch #2 (Boom!). I’m not sure I’ll like it for full price, but Paul Jenkins is always a capable writer and I found the $1 #1 issue to have more depth than the basic bracketing-off gimmick would suggest, so I’ll give it a hard look. I’m also pleased to recommend Global Frequency TPB (DC) which collects all 12 issues of the old WildStorm title in one volume for the first time. It’s Warren Ellis performing the lost art of the done-in-one while a larger story lurks in the background, with a buffet of cool artists, and original covers designed by Mr. Brian Wood.

UPDATE: I missed these the first time around (blame the flu!); the X-Men: Blank Generation TPB (Marvel) and Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand HC (Marvel) are both out this week too. I can wholeheartedly recommend the former with artist David Lopez, which will surely give all you new fans some idea of what the impending X-Men run (yeah, the one with all the women) from Brian Wood will likely feel like. The Ultimate Comics HC is a huge piece of entertainment, collecting the X-Men, Ultimates, and Spider-Man recent activity in the Ultimate Comics world.


01.23.13 Reviews

Sponsor Plug: Thanks to 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 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

Batwoman #16 (DC): It’s all out war on the streets of Gotham City, with the forces of Medusa, a Hydra, Abbot’s crew, Director Bones and the DEO, Maggie Sawyer and GCPD, Cameron Chase, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Flamebired, et al converging! People will, rightfully so, marvel over the eye candy from J.H. Williams III, but he should also get credit for juggling such a truly ensemble (mostly female) cast through so many plot threads at the high level, while still nailing the small details like the brutal hand-to-hand combat tactics (“palm to the nose, heel to the side of the knee, elbow to the throat”). Diana and Kate make great foils for each other, and what is there left to say? It’s a stunning issue from a stunning creative team (Dave Stewart is doing Dave Stewart x 10 here). It’s visually arresting with compelling characters. This was a pure joy to experience. Grade A+.

Mind MGMT #7 (Dark Horse): This is one of the best recap pages I’ve seen in a while, making it crystal clear that things have looped back around to show another “cycle” being completed. Meru searches for Henry Lyme, finds him, learns the secrets of Mind Management, has her memory wiped, only to start again. BUT. The big “but” is twofold; one, there’s residual feelings, memories, or bouts of déjà vu each time, and two, it looks like this go-around might be the time that Henry helps Meru break the cycle. It’s a brilliant bit of plot weaving. As usual there’s lots going on here, interactivity occurring in about 3 ways on the page, online, in the lettercol, etc. That strip running across the bottom of the pages was like some kind of Sergio Aragones espionage thing. I love how Kindt stages the taut action scene, culminating with the page 15 layout where he skews the panels to track the shot. It was slick. Eagle-eyed readers will no doubt spot Henry Lyme lurking in an early crowd shot, ala Rorschach in Watchmen, that’ll have you flipping back pages to investigate. There’s a pretty major hint at Meru’s “power” here too, as she was apparently immune to an assassination letter. Grade A.

Prophet #33 (Image): Amid all the rave reviews for Prophet, let me run contrarian and tell you about something I don’t like. I’m not digging these last few covers at all. I’d just prefer if any of the great interior artists churned them out. They’re in a completely dissonant style and are so generically some type of “organic sci-fi” that they don’t engage at all. I still give Graham, Roy, and Milonogiannis (as the primary architects of this series) props for doing a great reimaging and some very inventive world-building. There really is nothing like this universe in American comics. That said, as Old Man Prophet and his motley crew journey to the Woman Armada, I feel like the larger narrative thrust is treading water somewhat. I don’t have a real grasp on the mechanics of the story or what exactly they're trying to accomplish other than, uh, they’re doing something to fight the reemergence of the Earth Empire(?). Anyway, it’s still fun to see Die Hard as a recurring character and I enjoyed decayed Supreme 10,000 years in the future. Grade A-.

Stumptown #5 (Oni Press): The best part of this book is probably the way Rucka realistically portrays the time after an incident goes down. From the scummy corporate lawyers to going blind on paper work and spending an entire day taking statements from witnesses, to crafting the official “narrative” per the powers that be, I just really appreciated that accurate depiction of the procedural side of things. The great little epilogue scene connects this mini-series to the first mini-series, building a little Portland PD/PI/Organized Crime Universe in the process. That was a nice surprise and way for the creative team to establish larger storytelling parameters that these individual cases can fit into, and that they can return to. I think Matthew Southworth and Rico Renzi have done a better job of delivering a consistent aesthetic for this issue, but it still bugs me that the longer shots have characters in the back with small little dots for beady eyes. Maybe just a personal preference. Grade A-.


01.23.13 Advance Review [The Massive #8]

The Massive #8 (Dark Horse): One of the things that comes with being a critic is that I read a lot of (mostly boring) comic book reviews. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone comment on the 3-issue arc structure that Brian Wood and his collaborators have been delivering on this series. It’s the distillation of a classic formula: Act 1 is the set-up of a compelling story proposition, Act 2 ratchets up the conflict, maybe has some action, and Act 3 offers some form of resolution. I remember, I think it was Warren Ellis, saying that this is one of the tried and true approaches he uses; in his paraphrased words, Act 1 is “what does your protagonist want?” Act 2 is “what obstacles does the person encounter?” Act 3 is “what is the person willing to do to overcome said obstacles?” Doing this in just 3 issues as The Massive does, instead of stringing it out over 5, or 6, or even 8, is like some kind of direct injection narrative delivery system. I’m hooked on the stuff. You get into scenes as late as possible, you get out as early as possible, and that well-used David Mamet method tends to avoid insulting the intelligence of the reader (aka: exposition), doesn’t try the patience of the audience while they await forward progress, and dodges the biggest sin of all, being boring, because it forces you to engage with the work instead of being a passive observer. For example, there’s a late scene in this Act 2 installment where some Moksha Station soldiers rough-up Callum Israel. On the next page, he’s already in the hospital bed being woken from the ordeal. You never see him carted off down the hall or anything that occurred in between. It’s the very opposite of last decade’s tendency toward decompression in comics. It’s a hyper-compressed method that forces the audience to interact with the story and provide “closure” in the gutters between the panels. That’s where Scott McCloud said all of the real action actually occurs in comics. You have to process information fast, and that makes me feel kinda’ smart. This issue, this approach, is one of the best recent examples of Wood really understanding the true power of the medium. Like all good Act 2 offerings, there’s plenty of action here, all in different micro-sets. The super-cyclonic storm hits, the station is on lockdown. That’s probably jarring enough. Cal is banged up, essentially held captive. Lars is aboard The Kapital solo, being asked to carry out some drastic orders. Mary has apparently gone rogue, and makes a startling discovery below the surface. We have the interesting strike team of Mag, Ryan, and Georg heading off to meet a contact, in the form of the old Soviet engineer Yusup (which is a reminder that I seem to be enjoying the b or c-characters even more than the main cast, I loved Yusup, while Ryan and Georg have quickly grown to be favorites as well). Garry Brown is one of the emerging artists of our time, capturing all of these disparate moments and weaving them together with a unifying aesthetic style that is perfect parts warm and emotive, cold and gritty. He helps Wood bring everything right up to the precipice of change, the direction of events abruptly turning on a dime, everything is in flux and the tension around who’s carrying out which task under who’s orders is palpable. It underscores what a fragile existence Ninth Wave occupies in the post-Crash world. John Paul Leon is another artist not to be underestimated. He brings a smart cover that skews the cover layout for the first time and thematically mirrors all of the fractured story threads contained within the book. As we await the final chapter of "Subcontinental," we see that loyalties can upend control, power is subject to whim, and survival hangs in the precarious balance, subject to cunning, but also to basic human error. I still miss the print backmatter, but there’s a robust online substitute you should check out at www.the-massive.net. Grade A.


01.23.13 Shipping Report

It’s a strong week, with THE MASSIVE #8 (Dark Horse) leading the pack, and MIND MGMT #7 (Dark Horse) hot on its heels. I’ll be curious to see how this volume of the title wraps up with STUMPTOWN VOL 2 #5 (Oni Press) also hitting the shelves. With the Brian Wood and Matt Kindt goodness I mentioned up top, here’s yet another title that was on my Best of 2012 list, it’s PROPHET #33 (Image). Lastly, as the lone corporate comic I show any interest in any longer, BATWOMAN #16 (DC) is also coming out this week. Enjoy the JH3 involvement while you can, because once Before Sandman comes out with Neil Gaiman, I think he'll be off the title for a good while.

Now here’s a whole string of titles that I would have once been pretty stoked about, but I’ll probably just give them a requisite flip at the LCS. Uncanny X-Force #1 is a title that I have no interest in the creators, but contains some cool characters. Young Avengers #1 is the opposite; don’t care about the characters much, but something I’d excitedly look at just for the Jamie McKelvie art. Uncanny Avengers #3 has that slick John Cassaday art, but the story has been a snoozer, and he’s not even staying on the book! I’ll boycott that just on principle. Avengers #3 is probably the closest to making it home, because regardless of writing, it’s Jerome Opena and Dean White on art. But, you know me, I’ll just skip all this noise and wait for the Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel debut of X-Men #1 in a couple months!


01.16.13 Reviews

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

Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth #1 (Image): Ken Kristensen and M. K. Perker (who I last saw on the underrated Vertigo series Air with G. Willow Wilson) open things with some very precise characterization on the roster page which instantly sets the subversive tone. Perker shifts his art style here to a very compact aesthetic that packs a lot of punch. Overall, I felt like this was some sort of heady blender of Peanuts (attempting to reconcile the way life is, versus the way life should be) and Joe Casey work like The Milkman Murders (a scathing take down of suburbia) in the way it carries itself. It’s dark humor that’s a cult classic in the making. As a Korean family moves into the neighborhood, so do we, meeting titular Todd and his bagged head, his emotionally absent parents, his childhood tormentors, oblivious teachers, overzealous cops, and even the local serial killer. The strongest theme in Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth is probably the dueling notion of outsider status and a sense of belonging, and with that you have a smart indictment of jingoism. Artistically, Perker is just as clever, using transitional devices like a floating leaf to get from scene to scene, or the unflinching intra-panel view from cleaved frog brains. Beyond readily discernible themes and fresh panel to panel storytelling, I found this to be a powerful slice of commentary about a wide spectrum of social issues. We have detached parenting, over-medicated youth, socialized ethnocentrism, homophobia, desensitized violence, materialism, victim-blaming anti-feminism, the allure of fame, bullying, lack of respect for authority, the wrong people being rewarded, the oppression of the innocent, and all manner of aberrant behavior crammed seamlessly into a beautiful debut. I loved every second of it. Honestly, on the day President Obama released his recommendations on comprehensive gun control, shit, if you want to curb gun violence and want to address our culture of violence, send this book to Obama and have teachers us this as a learning tool. It’s a parody of everything wrong with our culture. It’s a dark satire featuring a cornucopia of explanations for our societal breakdown, masquerading as a really funny, really weird comedy. Image Comics has another hit on their hands. Grade A+.

Conan The Barbarian #12 (Dark Horse): Conan is one of those books that I really enjoy reading, it feels dense but effortless (read: you get your money’s worth of entertainment), but I often feel like I don’t have much to say about it. It’s crafted exceptionally well and one thing that instantly jumped out at me when I read Conan differentiating between avoiding a point and missing it, is that Brian Wood really loves language. He knows that words are powerful and if you explore the vocabulary, you can create stylish tension right out of that, regardless of script. In a more Hemingway-esque “pure” sense of language use, he also gets the value of short, crisp, declarative sentences. “I am the wolf” is a chilling, simple, and devastatingly effective little sentence when you’re not expecting it. I dug N’Gora’s characterization, as well as the brilliant action sequence that sees Conan snatching a spear out of mid-air and turning it on his attacker, all in one fluid motion, which is brought to life by Declan Shalvey’s chiseled lines. I was surprised to realize that, at this point, Wood is basically halfway through his run at 12/25 issues. Even Conan begins to reflect on this period of his life. He and Belit have already experienced test after test of their budding relationship in this period that will help shape the identity of young Conan for years to come. There’s a line, a moment, that occurs unexpectedly, late in this issue, which literally made me gasp out loud. I love that feeling. Grade A.

Saga #9 (Image): The short version is that this book is good, but does not deserve all the hype and praise it gets. It is just too self aware for my taste. For example, the lines about The Will wanting a “contract-killing apprentice” reek of Vaughan’s appreciation for films like The Professional, just to name the one probably most apt. For example, the new Freelancer saying “This is why I never trust reviews.” If the former was a wink at the audience, the latter is a slap in the face. There was a time, in the late 90’s or early 00’s, when I would have eaten that level of meta right up. But after reading stuff like Joe Casey’s Automatic Kafka way back when, it just feels dated and played out now. It’s so self-aware that it basically borders on breaking the fourth wall, and a little of that goes a long way before it starts to feel like gimmicky writing. I have a hard time with this book. I like it, but I’m sick of the general BEST. COMIC. EVER. mentality that seems rampant about it. It didn't even make my Top 13 for 2012! It probably would have been on my Top 20 of 2012 if I pushed it out that far. So, yeah, there's like at least 19 comics better than this or something. I have a hard time separating my legitimate enjoyment from my true annoyance at the hype from my generally contrarian tendencies. I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain why BKV can be a good bright writer, yet still pull stunts that feel like a second year creative writing student playing games with the audience which just play as “too smart by half” as my Brit friends would quip. Similarly, I like Fiona Staples art a great deal, but it’s got some issues too. Her figure work is incredibly strong, and getting better just within the space of 9 issues. However, her backgrounds still feel too stark and sterile to sell the level of world-building Vaughan is aiming for. They feel rushed and sparse and simple. I keep comparing Saga to something soap opera-ish like the new 90210. I recognize that it’s cheap entertainment, yet I keep watching. In that way, it succeeds because it accomplishes what it set out to. It’s great at being what it is. But what it is, is great light entertainment, not high art. It’s not terribly complex or challenging, but it’s fun and creative. Anyway. The whole issue basically moves away from Marko and Alana and focuses on The Will trying to free Slave Girl. I was also just wondering why some panels are clipped with blunted corners like BSG documents. Grade A-.


01.16.13 Shipping Report

Most people would probably call this a light week, but in terms of volume it’s basically back to normal for me. We’ve got Conan The Barbarian #12 (Dark Horse) from Brian Wood and Declan Shalvey with Saga #9 (Image) from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as sure buys. I’m kind of interested in Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth #1 (Image) because the art by M.K. Perker looks interesting. Other than that, my only recommendation is One Trick Rip Off / Deep Cuts HC (Image). This is a reprint of one of Paul Pope’s early works, but it’s presented in color for the first time by colorist extraordinaire Jamie Grant, who did All-Star Superman. If that’s not reason enough to pick this up, the book runs 288 pages total, but 150 pages of that is comprised of new material printed for the first time. Namely, the manga story Supertrouble that Pope produced for Kodansha in Japan, which was never released.


Homesick @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed this brilliant book over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Sean Azzopardi Quartet @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed four of Sean Azzopardi's mini-comics over at Poopsheet Foundation, including 100 Days of Winter, Nine Months of Beige, Eight Tablet Dream, and Same Day Return.


01.09.13 Reviews (Image Comics Edition)

The Legend of Luther Strode #2 (Image): Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore have created a character, a property, a universe for themselves that has all the style and charm of your favorite cult movie. I already liked this book, but the return of Petra extends its prowess even further. Similarly, Moore’s art was already really strong, but you can see improvement here from the first volume of this book. It’s a pure eye-popping joy to wander through, some crazy mixture of Frank Quitely and Ashley Wood, the only person who even comes close in style would be an artist like Tan Eng Huat, but Moore’s thin-line material is even more damn lively with kineticism. Whether it’s the silhouetted dudes getting plowed through like they stepped off a page of Frank Miller’s 300, Jordan’s Whedonesque lines for self-aware Petra, or the fact that Moore just gets all of the firearm details right (a pet peeve of mine), with the right style of front stock tactical grips or the aesthetic of the slide on a Kahr hangun, every page, every panel, every line is something to be savored. By the time you get to Luther using a dude, another human being I’m saying, as a projectile to fling through a wall, you suddenly realize... YES. This is what comics are for. It’s grindhouse with a heart. In the same way Tarantino invigorated cinema in the 90’s, say hello to the new generation of comics creators. Grade A+.

Clone #3 (Image): This burst of entertainment offers some shocking commentary on the state of human existence and some of our base impulses, with the exceptional visuals to match. David Schulner and Juan Jose Ryp’s story operates with movie pitch clarity, offers high level political intrigue with stuff like embryonic stem cell legislation, as well as the in-your-face action people want. It works on the big scale and the small scale, but for me, Ryp is the draw. Pun intended. It’s exactly the type of art I enjoy, insane detail, but not so bogged down in minutiae that the figure work or panel to panel storytelling suffers. It’s clean and clear, with a distinct style that you can instantly recognize as his own unique intellectual property. This will sound mean, but this series probably isn't going to win any awards, yet it's one of the best crafted series I've seen in a while. Grade A.

Think Tank: Military Dossier #1 (Image): This is a fun “sourcebook” (to use an old term) that offers some diverse bonus content, ranging from short story set-up, to character profiles, to an overview of sample DARPA projects, which tickle the former federal employee in me. It’s undeniable that Matt Hawkins framing an issue like this leads to obvious staged exposition that sounds like the characters are citing researched facts in a staged manner, because, well, they are, but it’s so interesting you hardly mind. Rahsan Ekedal’s art continues to be strong and expressive, probably some of the best black and white (and gray) art in the business. The variety of material means that we get everything from some cheap laughs, to interesting factoids about the characters’ educational backgrounds, personality assessments, and security clearances (I enjoyed how it requires a POTUS Executive Order to take action on the series protagonist, which is an incredibly cool sound byte, but also pragmatically ensures his handlers can't just easily eliminate him, thus ending the series in an awful hurry), and family issues that could be fodder for forthcoming story elements. These are all the type of things that background investigators look for to be possibly exploited for blackmail with key government hires. Anyway, this was a good appetizer to tide the audience over until the next chunk of the series comes out. Grade A-.

01.09.13 Reviews (Rebel Alliance Edition)

Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda pick up events in motion directly following the destruction of the first Death Star, with Leia, Luke, and elevated b-character extraordinaire Wedge Antilles searching for a replacement home for the outed rebel base on Yavin 4, all while dealing with the personal emotional fallout of the many lives lost in the name of the Rebel Alliance. Let me just say up front that there’s so much to like about this book! Carlos D’Anda’s art is crisp; I loved the sharp clean precision of the hangar bay and the shots of Leia with a blaster dealing the unflinching disposition of a TIE fighter pilot. It’s evident that D’Anda “gets” the Star Wars Universe; it’s there in the bulgy pouches, the detail of the uniforms, and all of the technology, from gleaming lightsabers to the bridge of the Star Destroyer, which isn’t gleaming clean, but dirty and tattered, capturing the “used future” of the Lucas originals. Wood delivers a seamless re-immersion into a familiar world, managing to capture the voices of all your favorites. We are quickly introduced to emotionally-guarded Leia, smirking cavalier Han, openly introspective Luke, capable soldier Wedge, and the barely-controlled-rage of Vader, with even a story-driven reason for putting a more serious spin on the comic relief character of C-3PO, thus leaving his mark. The comfort of the known is there (look for the homage instances of omniscient narration like you’d find in the old 70’s and 80’s Marvel Comics), but Wood is also careful to add layers of new intrigue and just… frickin’ cool stuff… in a script that feels dense with content, but still moves at a swift pace. There’s a good balance of action hook and talky bits that set up this new direction, with Leia acting as headliner, mixing it up with the boys as a soldier-statesman, leading covert ops with two very precise mission objectives from Mon Mothma, as the survival of the rebellion hangs in the balance. Notice that there are two incredible female leads driving the entire premise. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Wood’s penchant for diligent research that this book has an authentic sound; it gives good ear with its “ion plumes,” and “TIE Interceptors,” and talk of “Sienar Fleet Systems,” and the “Incom T-65,” when lesser writers would just go ahead with the common vernacular and say “X-Wing Fighter.” Honestly, I entered this hopeful, but with a little hesitation. I thought that maybe the creative team, any creative team, would be hard-pressed to provide fresh thrills to someone like me who grew up steeped in the Star Wars mythos, had the action figures, acted out every fucking scene of The Empire Strikes Back with my cousins and the neighborhood kids, read the technical manuals and encyclopedias – not to mention all the various comics, won college trivia contests because I knew what a damn Bothan was, and watched the films countless times. For good or bad, our generation is one that can often see the world of pop fiction through a Star Wars lens, everyone became a pseudo-expert on Joseph Campbell’s notion of crossing the threshold and monomythic self-discovery by sheer galactic osmosis, without ever having read the book(s). It’s obviously a credit to Lucas for tapping into something so primal and imagining a world with such limitless possibilities, but I have to admit I’m genuinely impressed with this incarnation from Wood and D’Anda. They’re immediately knocking it out of the park with compelling entertainment that taps the nostalgia button, but also adds a modern flair for stakes, tone, and style, while filling in the logical gaps in the interstitial space between movies, and building toward an incredibly rousing payoff to this issue that would make the audience cheer if it took place in a movie theatre. I’ve read tons of Star Wars comics and this instantly ranks the best. Everything feels right. It’s hard not to imagine existing comic book fans eating this up, hard not to imagine this functioning grand as a gateway drug to the medium for any curious moisture farmer civilians, hard not to imagine the LCS circuit ordering this by the thousands, and hard not to imagine the interest spilling over to other deserving Brian Wood titles. So, if it takes the inherent draw and mass appeal of Star Wars to make people finally realize that Wood is the voice of our generation, then so be it, reroute auxiliary power to the front deflector shield and punch it, Chewie! Grade A+. 


You Thought We Forgot

It’s that time of year again. Ryan Claytor and I will be posting our annual collaboration for the fifth year in a row! Get on over to his site @ Elephant Eater Comics to read my introductory message. The fun kicks off Tuesday the 8th, where I’ll interview Ryan on the state of his involvement in comics for 2012. One week later on Tuesday the 15th, he’ll return the favor and interview me about all of my irons in the comic book fire. Follow us @thirteenminutes and @elephanteater to stay posted. Thanks for reading.

The Black Beetle [Shotgun Blurbs]

by Contributing Writer Keith Silva

The Black Beetle
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Creator: Francesco Francavilla

What It's About: Listen. Through the crackle of the æther you can near hear the resonant baritone of the announcer say: 'In the early days of 1941, a masked man patrols the megalopolis of Colt City, on the hunt for malefactors and forces malevolent. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the dark shadows comes … the Black Beetle!'

An ancient amulet of legend, a certain hollow lizard, once lost and now found, awaits its debut at the CCNHM*. The Nazi's Werewolf Korps means to take this arcane artifact back to the Vaterland with the dread directive: leave no witnesses. Only the lightning-quick wits and twin .45s of the Cerberus of Colt City, the Black Beetle, stands in the way of these Mauser-toting, jackbooted goons.  

Why You Should Buy It: Nowadays, noir and pulp comics are a dime (novel) a dozen. This pulpy glut makes it a chore to fish out the frauds from the real McCoys. Francesco Francavilla possesses an academician's fervor for the Saturday matinee serial, he's what you might call a noir nerd. 'Night Shift' a/k/a Black Beetle #0 collects three chapters (or better, reels) from Dark Horse Presents. What Francavilla calls a 'mystery novelette,' feels like the best of Indiana Jones cape comics cross, and yet, none of it feels like an exercise in style-by-numbers. Like George Lucas, Francavilla has an instinct for the rhythms and grace notes of serialized storytelling.

Francavilla draws the suspenseful and the mundane with equal assurance. The clothes, costumes and uniforms of the characters look tailored, but not in a fussed over way as if each wrinkle were drawn on meth bender. The same goes for the backgrounds, everything is in its place: uncluttered and clean. An actioner like this requires excitement and Francavilla brings the bang, blam and the brat-tat-tat. 'Night Shift's ' dim naves and eerie alcoves make the colors come off like muzzle flashes and splashes of blood. This is classic storytelling from an artist and writer who's got pulp in his veins and noir under his nails. The Black Beetle: No Way Out #1 streets in January and has already set the bar for the best of 2013. 

(*Colt City Natural History Museum -- Ed.)


01.09.13 Shipping Report

If you’d told me when I was reading Channel Zero in 1997 that the same guy would someday be re-launching this bold new direction for this particular property, I probably would have muttered “not bloody likely.” What a difference a decade and a half makes. The only book you really need to know about this week is Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse) by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda. It ignores everything superfluous and picks right up after the destruction of the first Death Star, prominently features all the classic characters on the run, including cult favorites like Wedge Antilles, and positions blaster-wielding, Incom T-65 X-Wing Starfighter-piloting, Rebel Alliance-leading, Princess Leia Organa as the series lead. From what I’ve seen, it’s quite obvious that both writer and artist intuitively “get” the universe. It’s going to be the next big thing. And if you’re anywhere in Southern California this coming weekend (Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego), don’t miss Brian Wood, Carlos D’Anda, and letterer Michael Heisler at Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim, CA on Saturday 1/12 at 1pm signing Star Wars #1. I’ll be there. As for additional floppies, Wood also has Ultimate Comics: X-Men #21 (Marvel) out this week, if you happen to prefer Marvel Mutants to Mon Mothma. If you need some bigger chunks of Wood, both classic and current, I can also point you to Northlanders Volume 07: The Icelandic Trilogy (DC/Vertigo), collecting the 9-issue tail end of the show, not only marking the very last volume in the series, but (I think) the official end of Brian Wood’s forthcoming collected editions for now from former employer DC Comics. You’d also be well-served picking up Conan HC Volume 13: Queen of The Black Coast (Dark Horse), which is the first piece of the story helmed by Brian Wood, with art by Becky Cloonan and James Harren. It’s quite good! Continuing the (non-Wood) collected edition thread this week, it’s worth noting that Batwoman HC Volume 02: Drown the World (DC) is also out, which I think is the second volume of the so-called New 52 run of this title. Which finally brings us to the rest of the floppy stack, including the fantastic Legend of Luther Strode #2 (Image) being an early contender for Best of 2013 (already!), Clone #3 (Image) with the usual art insanity from Juan Jose Ryp, and Think Tank Military Dossier #1 (Image) from Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal, closing out the powerful Image Comics trifecta this week. It’s also worth mentioning Thor: God of Thunder #4 (Marvel), which is still surprisingly on my radar given Jason Aaron’s unique tertiary narrative structure and Esad Ribic’s crisp “You Keep Comparing Me to Jerome Opena!” aesthetic. What a week!


01.02.13 Reviews

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
Godzilla: The Half Century War #4 (IDW): In this issue, James Stokoe builds a three-way brawl between regular Godzilla, a Mecha-Godzilla robot created by the AMF, and a crystalline Space-Godzilla conjured by the impropriety of a scientist in 1987 Bombay, India. This series has been grand because it attacks the audience on three fronts as well. If you’re part of the base audience that just wants a good old-fashioned Godzilla monster fight, you will be perfectly sated by the masers and panicked residents fleeing down crumbling cityscapes. If you’re purely an art nerd who values the aesthetic over the narrative, it’s literally impossible not to be drawn to Stokoe’s insane level of minute detail poured onto every immersive page. He follows in the tradition of Geoff Darrow and Rafael Grampa and Juan Jose Ryp, etc. If you want a little more meat on the bone, you also get this extended treatise on man’s own mortality juxtaposed against the beast, as seen through the eyes of the weary AMF soldiers tasked with combating this monster for 3-plus decades now, finally coming to the realization that it’s probably going to outlive them all. The only slightly unfortunate part of this issue is a double-tap typo in the same sentence. It reads “...regulated to surveilliance work” when it should have read “...relegated to surveillance work.” That aside, you’re looking at a perfect comic book and I’ll be sad to see it go next issue, but here’s hoping that Stokoe either does more with the property, or that this higher-than-usual-profile project leads to additional different projects. If I had any power whatsoever at DC or Marvel, I’d be beating down Stokoe’s door for pitches and trying to tie him up on a multi-year exclusive contract like my job actually depended upon it. Grade A.
Prophet #32 (Image): I’ve been keeping my eye on Simon Roy ever since I found his old creator-owned book called Jan’s Atomic Heart last year at San Diego Comic-Con, so it was great to see him “own” an issue of this series from top to bottom. The narrative thrust is a little cleaner and clearer than it’s been in the past from Brandon Graham, so that was a welcome shift. The art is just as strong too, using all sorts of little visual shorthand flourishes, like the way the “King of The Feral” Brother’s brain stem lights up when the neuro-drone latches onto him. It was great to see the POV shift away momentarily from the main John Prophet we know to a female advance recon model while the larger story about the Earth Empire still played in the background. One of the great things I’m just now noticing about this incarnation of Prophet (I’m slow this way) is that it’s set in a world where man is no longer the dominant species in the galaxy, or even around Earth. It lends a sense of desperation and importance to this series, which is largely lacking from other space-faring adventures. Grade A.
Punk Rock Jesus #6 (DC/Vertigo): I think this was the last Vertigo book I was actually picking up regularly (and one of only two DC books, counting Batwoman), so I’m kind of sad to see it go for that reason alone. If it wasn’t clear before, it’s in sharp relief here that Thomas McKael is, and always has been, the main character of the series, not Chris the clone, aka: “Punk Rock Jesus,” lead singer of The Flak Jackets. It’s ultimately his story of redemption, in the same way you might say that the original trilogy is actually about Anakin Skywalker’s denouement more than it is the ostensible Luke Skywalker story, if you wanted to use a familiar Star Wars analogy. I can’t get too much into the plot specifics without ruining things, so let me just say that everything that happens in this issue follows through to its logical, realistic conclusion, and as far as I can tell, Murphy hasn’t left any loose threads, calling back to events in the first issue. His fine anemic lines are full of life and energy and just when you find they’ve pulled you into some small little detailed corner of a panel, you get slapped in the face with a big bold one-page spread like the downed chopper with the busted up rotor blades forming a rudimentary cross. It’s really special. It’s been a frenetically paced series from the start (word has it there will be extra story pages in the trade), but hasn’t been mindless action, always stopping to consider the morality of the players’ actions and the very nature of belief in the absence of empirical evidence. It’s been thoughtful and fun, well-constructed and well-dialogued, and though the black and white was a nice play on the gray area ambiguity of moral flexibility that worked, I enjoyed it, the only way I can think of to improve up on it would have been to soak it in color (like Joe The Barbarian). It’s solid work and I’m up for whatever is next from Sean Murphy. If DC hasn’t locked him up on additional projects, well, that’s just being foolish. All in all, a very strong week, 3 books, 3 Grade A’s, and all three of these titles just recently appeared on my best of 2012 list. Grade A.