3.27.13 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only 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 titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.
Deathmatch #4 (Boom!): I’m really growing to love this book! Paul Jenkins has been able to create this multivalent approach, making the story work in different layers. You have the basic action-oriented bracketing system, where heroes and villains simply face off in seemingly random matches to the death, which appear to be beyond their immediate control. You then have a deeper superhero thriller, a mystery about how they got there and what the larger story is with their captors and their shared past. On yet a third layer, there’s the sometimes subtle, sometimes in-your-face industry meta-commentary that tears up the familiar archetypes and works toward a deconstruction of the most prevalent and played-out genre. While the latter mechanism might feel a little “insider baseball” to some newcomers, it works because Jenkins has clearly spent so much time and effort world-building. There’s a complete and rich back story to these characters, their profiles, their first appearances, their previous adventures, their prior relationships to each other, and to their world around them. You really do feel like you’ve stepped into a universe that’s been running for decades. Carlos Magno is an incredible artist who miraculously channels the best parts of George Perez and Gary Frank and Juan Jose Ryp and creates this perfect tapestry of style and detail. Because of all the layers, I think there are so many entry points created. If you’re one of those fans who grew up with shared superhero universes from Marvel or DC, I can’t imagine you not being attracted to the examination that this offers to those types of characters, both nostalgic and skeptically modernized. Yet, if you’re new to this crazy little thing called comics, it’s inventive and refreshing enough that you can still enjoy it fully without all of that pre-existing baggage. Everyone should be talking about this book. It’s not even April and I can safely say that if Deathmatch continues with this fervor on this trajectory, it’ll be making an appearance on my Best of 2013 list. It’s been the most pleasant and unexpected surprise of the year. Grade A+.

The Legend of Luther Strode #4 (Image): “You’re a fucking psychopath. But I have to admit... this is pretty beautiful.” If I wanted to be a lazy critic, I’d be tempted to just post this line all by itself and let it suffice as the damn review. The book is manic and frenetic in all the right ways, but there’s an undeniable sense of artistry to the chaos. As the tales of Luther Strode continue on, I feel like, at the hands of Justin Jordan, it’s becoming a more “complete” property or world, organically creating everything an epic story needs. Petra is the love interest who defies type, Binder is a subversive twist to the “Whistler” character (if you happened to want a Blade reference), and Jack The Ripper is an incredibly strong foil. Tradd Moore has to possess one of the most kinetic aesthetics in the medium today. I mean, the only other guys that really come to mind are Nathan Fox or Rafael Grampa. That said, Moore is in a different league than most, nailing the bloody grindhouse mood that is the perfect marriage of horror and superheroics. Oh, he gets style points too. Check out the fun layouts, like that aerial diagrammatic view of the room that suddenly gets inserted to clarify the action. Ultimately, this issue amounts to an extended fight scene that’s so violent it almost becomes satirical laughter, but that perception would be missing the point. This book is about passion, passion for the medium, passion for the genres it works with, passion for the characters, passion for the act of creation and executing a unique fun vision. Grade A.

Guardians of The Galaxy #1 (Marvel): This book is all over the place and the end result is a disappointment. You know, I get the whole media angle of including Tony Stark, so these guys can be like “The Cosmic Avengers” or whatever when their big movie comes out (and shame on DC for not even getting a Wonder Woman movie out in order to move toward Justice League while Marvel is already going deep into the bench with a fucking Guardians of The Galaxy movie by the way, I mean, that’s just embarrassing), but the whole thing just isn’t played very organic. Tony’s presence continually feels shoehorned in. The mention of the Galactic Council, where we see Shi’ar and Brood, etc. is a tired reminder that this is supposed to be firmly entrenched in the Marvel U, and when the hell did J.A.R.V.I.S. become P.E.P.P.E.R.? Do I have Marvel NOW! to thank for that? Ugh. So, Star-Lord is in the Mos Eisley Cantina throwing his rap to a Kree babe when his dad interrupts. I don’t understand why the chick says “I can do it. I can do it!” as she’s ushered off. Do what? Who is she talking to? What does she mean? Papa Spartax’s whole law doesn’t even make any sense since it would be violated, oh, daily, with offworlders making incursions into Earth. I mean, has he heard of S.W.O.R.D.? There’s a whole agency dedicated to thwarting that. By the end, I’m not even sure why he told his kid that or whatever. What was his plan? He knew his kid wouldn't do what he wanted him to do so he told him what to do anyway so he'd do the thing he didn't want in order to accomplish some other thing he did want that includes destroying Earth and his son, or something? It’s just people saying words and talking in circles, totally convoluted. Rocket is fun, as always. Tony’s got some ugly ass armor on that looks like Sunfire. Star-Lord has an incredibly ugly and dumb helmet on that looks more like Nova or, no, let's be real, it looks like Power Rangers. His uniform is atrocious, looking nothing like any of the promo art. Star-Lord: “What are you doing out here?” Tony: “You invited me.” Star-Lord: “Oh yeah, I did.” That is some lazy ass illogical dialogue right there, boys and girls. There’s still some latent potential here, but this was extremely stumbly. Grade B-.


3.27.13 [Weekly 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
East of West #1 (Image): Wooooo-Weeeee! Where to start with this thing? First of all, Nick Dragotta’s art is just haunting. He’s able to seamlessly weave together so many different aesthetics, from Western, to warfare, to futurist, all with a design panache that’s so distinct, unique, and memorable. The uniforms, the structures, the landscapes, it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I think special appreciation should be paid to colorist Frank Martin, who just kills these pages. The colors are instantly up there with people like Laura Martin or Dean White, people who I consider to be among the best colorists in the industry. There’s no real exposition in the book from Jonathan Hickman, so as best I can tell, the story revolves around The Four Horseman of The Apocalypse, before, during, and maybe even after a dystopian future takes hold and ripples out from the late 1800’s, after a comet strikes the central United States and results in "Seven Nations" being created at an Armistice. It’s a sci-fi western. It’s a revisionist history that bounces to a speculative future. It’s presents a sort of alt mythology that’s deeply fascinating in the way post-apocalyptic films like, say, The Book of Eli are. It’s many things. It tickles a lot of the buttons that I like tickled. It maybe defies description. It’s a hybrid genre blender that is the strongest creator-owned debut we’ve seen so far this year. It’s already eclipsed Saga in my mind. This book should be getting all that hype and acclaim and more. It has the potential to eclipse things like Firefly. This is going to be the book to beat right now. I loved every second. Grade A+.
Think Tank #6 (Image): One of the most interesting aspects of this issue is the explanation of how the military can get around executive orders by manipulating loopholes, which essentially negates the checks and balances intended in our political system to provide mutual oversight between the different branches of government. Meanwhile, David Loren appears to be feigning content with a life he’s doomed to serve. As usual, there are frightening riffs on acceptable losses and margins of error, along with how quickly something like medical research can be reapplied to devastating military applications. The science in this arc is largely about targeted genetic warfare and the bleak morality of that makes the black and white art a very smart choice. It’s devoid of color (and to some extent, the insinuated emotion that color provides), just presents the facts in a straightforward fashion, and forces the reader to consider what they think about all of this. The senator’s wife running an anti-landmine campaign is a latent joke full of staggering hypocrisy. I’m still digging the backmatter and the fact that David is revealed to be running a very long con. Grade A-.
Clone #5 (Image): Despite Juan Jose Ryp being one of my favorite artists to emerge in the last decade, in all his violent visceral glory, I don’t think this book has proven to be very memorable beyond the basic storytelling conceit of “clones,” and the moral implications that follow that idea. There’s political machinations, decent action, and now a super-solider riff, in addition to… uhh… the main guy, I can’t even remember his name  now, that can't be a good sign, being revealed as the alpha. It’s a good book, not a great book, which for me means that I have to make the decision to vote harder with my spending power. I’ll be switching this title to my “buy it for cheap in trade” list. Grade B+.


Crying In Front of Your Dog And Other Stories [Advance Review]

Apple Trees In The Pacific Ocean. Yeah, the new book by Phil McAndrew contains a piece in which an unknowing traveler hurls an apple core into the Pacific Ocean and a tree springs up right there in the middle of that vast watery expanse. It’s one of the many indications that McAndrew’s work will not be relying on any strict adherence to the non-fictional laws of nature. There’s a slightly whimsical element to his stories. This streak inhabiting most of the strips contends with the problems of real life, but sometimes in outlandish ways in order to help us gain clarity by the juxtaposition of the fanciful and the factual. Visually, the ink spattered title page is an early cue that McAndrew is purposeful about composing an effervescent aesthetic that’s not afraid to eschew traditional panel borders. He leaves many of his images free-floating with sparse text devoid of any rigid confines. In fact, he leaves some pages almost entirely white, bare-boned paper that moves swiftly, and just lets the silence scream. The drum solo on page 22 is another example of the way McAndrew is able to capture sound elements visually, with ink splotches and tight control of the light source emphasizing the staccato fits and starts of the drum set. Crying In Front Of Your Dog is a lavishly produced book from publisher/editor Jordan Shiveley at Grimalkin Press. It’s well over 250 pages, containing a robust mixture of old and new material, spanning the last 5 years and time spent on both coasts for McAndrew. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself at TCAF (5/11 & 5/12), then I suggest you hunt down this French-flapped beauty and enjoy the experience for yourself. It’s also available for pre-order at Grimalkin Press.

McAndrew varies his style significantly over time. In some pieces, there’s an almost microscopic sense of detail in a style that reminds me of Norwegian illustrator Line Olsson, in the way that it pulls your eye along with it as it seemingly recedes into oblivion. There are lovely washes here from McAndrew; they soak into the paper and wring so much emotional depth out of what is basically black and white (and gray) line work. I also feel like there’s occasionally something a little reminiscent of Tom Neely’s work too, in the way that both artists have that rare ability to tell an entire story with static images, they imbue their single shot pages with that much life. “Are You Man Enough?” is the tongue-in-cheek opener in this book, which plays around with a standard assault on liberal arts education and how that’s perceived in society. By the end, there’s a delightful and almost literal transference of power captured with the end point: “Where did this motorcycle come from?” the girl asks. Her suitor retorts “I summoned it with my mustache.” “The Secret Thoughts of Harold Lawrence Windcrampe” contains a sequence from page 50 to about page 58 that’s a bold choice, proving McAndrew can manipulate pace with the best of them. “The Book” is a somewhat painful lesson in finite attention span. It proves the old business adage of “the elevator pitch,” that you basically have 30 seconds to grab and hook people or you lose them. It’s perhaps the most simplistic piece in the book, and the only one that really missed for me. If there’s any loose underlying theme that connects this collection of works, it’s overcoming self-doubt, in all the many ways that can manifest itself. It can be relationship, career, or intellectual insecurities. It can be familial or aspirational (like the ad campaign riff). It can be something as innocuous as the true agenda of cats, or a more complex form of social paranoia permeating our actions, as is the case with the pitfalls in “Tangible Connections,” or the story that follows with a regretful old man and a deal-with-the-devil morality play in “Pearly Whites.”

In the second part of the book, McAndrew seems to favor more full bodied panels in his more contemporary work. I enjoyed the visual “oomph” of pieces like “Internship,” “The House,” or “Tiny Al Gore,” which all seem to inhabit the page real estate more completely, pushing out to the edge of the page with more free-flowing ink. Then, out of nowhere comes “The Promotion.” It was hands down my favorite entry in the project. Speaking as a guy who keeps one foot firmly planted in my day job Corporate America confines and one foot firmly planted in the other world where I do, well, this, “The Promotion” was essentially everything I want from the high art of a low tech medium, exercising both sides of the brain. We see a lone nameless employee prairie-dogging his way out of a non-descript cubicle in a generic, dreary, drab office building somewhere. What follows is a total subversion of the traditional working world, done so in a primal visual language. Using this crafty symbology, life itself becomes this bland working world, the spilled coffee cup becomes a stand-in for corporate clawing and backstabbing and represents office politics, while an arcane mystic ritual with no apparent scientific rules replaces a merit-based ascension to management. I just adore this piece. It’s something I’d want to have the original art for and frame up in my office like some medieval polyptych painting. Honestly. “The Promotion.” Worth the price of admission all by itself.

Moving on, “Muddy Waters” answers the age old quandary of where Republicans come from. If, like me, you ever gasp to yourself “Who ARE these people?!” when they’ve pulled their latest economic debacle or unbelievable stance on the social issue of your choice, this will finally clear up that little mystery. “The Video Game” captures the quintessential paradox of modern life, offering up an interactive gaming console that actually forces you to go outside and discover nature in a non-tech fashion. “The Gathering” opens on page 230 with a dark and dense shot that reminds me of my favorite Southern California contemporary artist, Ed Ruscha, and a painting he did called “Nothing Landscape.” In these pieces, both artists have an ability to evoke mood so intensely, with just a few trees and a sort of preternatural control of light and dark. If, as I mentioned up top, McAndrew’s silence screams, then his darkness surely weeps. Page 232 is one of those Neely-esque panels I mentioned, punctuating the horror vibe on page 234 with a close-up of the cloaked figure. While it ultimately descends into relatively light satire and barbed social commentary, the opening shots of this piece are unforgettable. Similarly, the opening of a time travel portal in “The Warning” is an image that will stick with me. It’s a fantastic bit of ink being slung, a shot that leaps off the page in a multi-dimensional way like the tear in the very fabric of space-time that it depicts.

At the end of the book, McAndrew offers up a generous “thank you” list that comes off feeling very humble and genuine. These end notes are always an interesting way to get inside the head of a creator and I find it fascinating just to see who someone you don’t know, knows that you know. You know? I enjoyed the illustrated “more books by this author” section, which formed a visually eclectic little library. While this is only the second Grimalkin Press book that I’ve had the opportunity to review so far, it seems clear that publisher Jordan Shiveley has a good eye, a penchant for minimalism that understands the strengths of a visual medium. That stripped down, unfettered-by-anything-superfluous ethos is probably felt nowhere stronger than in the final piece of the book, the titular existential dilemma “Crying In Front of Your Dog.” There’s always a bigger picture. Things could always be better. Things could always be worse. Enjoy. Grade A.


The Massive #10 [Advance Review]

The Massive #10 (Dark Horse): This issue kicks off a trio of installments with art by Gary Erskine, Declan Shalvey, and Danijel Zezelj. While there’s not what most will consider a “major” plot advancement until the end of the issue, there’s still a lot of smaller scale pieces of intrigue coming together. The largest theme is probably that the very identity of Ninth Wave is disintegrating, as a mysterious death appearing to be a suicide gets quickly assessed, while other members of the crew question their very purpose and relevance, wondering if they’d be better utilized back in their home countries. Mag and Ryan are still keeping secrets from Cal, who’s now symptomatic in ways that he can no longer hide. There’s tension between Mary and Mag. While I think there’s probably always been some tension there (mostly on Mag’s part) surrounding who was best suited for second in command, this specific tension now seems to stem from Mary being suspicious about Mag not being completely forthcoming about his actions, probably related to what’s going on with Ryan. That might sound convoluted, but you can read it on Mary when she asks Mag what else he’s got. All the while, it seems that Callum has focused on just finding The Massive, it might be just the break he needs to bolster morale and hold the crew together in order to avert mutiny or mass exodus.

Brian Wood talked recently in an interview about seeding a series with access points, and this effort seems to do that in the context of his larger body of work. I’m guessing if anyone was stuck on a ship (or any job for that matter, trust me) for months on end with no clear sense of mission or purpose, they’d either want a change or they’d begin to regress and slip back into old habits. You can see that here, as Mag acts more of a mercenary, Ryan acts more withdrawn and timid, both with little stated direction from their captain. Wood wraps all of these story threads and human access points in a world he continues to push on and build. We again get the trademark three tiered news snapshots, where we basically have South America descending into local conflicts, with regions vying for resources in an attempt to define themselves, economically, territorially, or otherwise post-Crash. I love the way something innocuous like “Hudson Secessionists” denotes an entire other story element and visual with no additional explanation. I love the way Wood doesn’t bother to define terms like “O.A.S.” and just assumes, probably without even thinking about it, that if you’re reading a book like this, from him, you either already know what that acronym is, or would at least care enough to go find out. I love the way he uses this richly coded terminology, like “agribusiness paramilitaries,” that automatically denotes a conflux of environmental collapse, and the ensuing economic and social crashes that extend from it. It’s this unique verbal shorthand that, for me, is instantly recognizable as his own authorial voice.

John Paul Leon delivers the first in a trio of interlocking covers here that are just beautiful. They capture the global reach of The Massive and many of the story elements on deck, in addition to being visually cohesive and striking. On the interior, Jordie Bellaire is doing an admirable job following in the footsteps of Dave Stewart (which is really a beat that nobody envies!), using some of the same rich palette he established for the series. Unfortunately, that’s about where my appreciation for the art in this issue stops. Erskine’s art is consistent and clear in the sense that it tells the story and gets the job done without distracting from the narrative, but it’s also quite flat at times, depicting the faces and various settings two dimensionally with little sense of depth. There’s an odd shot where Mary and Mag are walking down a corridor and their feet don’t appear to be touching the ground. I have an advance PDF here, so benefit of the doubt, maybe it’s something that’ll be corrected prior to printing. I will say that I liked Erskine’s evocative shot of the moon on page 13 and also felt moved by that final image of The Kapital sailing off into the sad sky, but for the most part I found his style lacking the emotional heft of Garry Brown or even the cold precision of Kristian Donaldson, with no distinctive traits or memorable "pop" of its own. For my money, I feel like the art will progressively improve in this arc. Declan Shalvey is an artist who is becoming more and more on my radar screen (collaboration on Conan being key), and Danijel Zezelj has been a personal favorite for years. By the end, it’s crazy to think that in his attempt to hold it all together, Callum lost The Holle and half the crew in the process. If anything, it signals that the next arc or two will be crucial turning points for the remainder of the series, and I suspect it’ll all start moving faster as Wood nears the halfway point of his latest epic. Grade A-.


Joshua Dysart @ Yesteryear Comics [Signing]

I’m happy to announce that Yesteryear Comics has arranged their first in-store signing. Yesteryear Comics has been my retail sponsor for nearly a year now and is clearly the best all around LCS in San Diego. They offer very attractive discounts on new releases and their customer service is unparalleled in this region. They’ve arranged to have writer Joshua Dysart (Harbinger, Unknown Soldier, Greendale, BPRD) in the store on Wednesday April 3rd @ 9am, to coincide with the release of Harbinger Wars #1 from Valiant Comics. Harbinger Wars #1-4 marks the first big event in the new Valiant Universe, crossing over with Bloodshot #10-13 and Harbinger #11-14, for a total of 12 issues. Additionally, a CGC Representative will be on-hand to verify signatures for those interested in professionally graded books. I’ll actually be working the event and helping out my friend Mike, who owns Yesteryear Comics, so if you’re in San Diego, please come and join us! For more information, jump in and follow @YesteryearComic @JoshuaDysart @ThirteenMinutes or go to www.Facebook.com/YesteryearComics


3.20.13 [Weekly 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
Saga #11 (Image): I dig the flashback (“Please shoot it in my twat” will certainly live in infamy) that opens this issue, showing an alliance literally forged in the heat of the moment. BKV is doing a nice job balancing passion, irony, and a true-to-life relationship dynamics, what people are willing to do, say, compromise, or sacrifice for others. It’s a sci-fi soap opera that pushes both genres with equal force. It’s funny, sometimes when reading this title I find myself less interested in the actual story, and more interested in the very specific mechanics of what I’m drawn to. For example, the chilling silence as The Will tries to save Bubastis or whatever as the ship is losing pressure and he’s sucked out into the black vacuum of space. I’m fascinated by the cultural differences between the people of Landfall and Wreath. Alana seems much more hot-headed, yet conservative in her approaches, while Marko seems more carefree and impulsive. Is this just their personalities or their family’s genetics or representative of their entire race? One of the things I was most impressed by in this issue was the language of the people of Wreath. BKV showed a little in the last issue, I think, and it’s neat because it’s just close enough to a Latin-based language like French or Spanish or Italian that (knowing two of those) you can sort of make out the intent of what’s being said. It also helps tremendously that Fiona Staples art is incredibly emotive. She’s gotta’ be doing the best facial expressions in the business right now, no? Anyway, this is a really effortless, stylish, and fun read. Grade A.
Mind MGMT #9 (Dark Horse): I like Mind MGMT a lot, I’ve been a fan of Matt Kindt’s for years, but I find that this book is a hard one for me to review. I feel like I have nothing to say about it, or that it might read better (for review purposes anyway) in trade form, but I want to continue to support it in singles. So, Meru kind of transitions from being a writer to a real dramatis personae here. I don’t want to spoil it, but she gets very involved in the action. As a whole, her new family unit also goes from being a somewhat passive or reactionary group on the run to putting a proactive plan together to recruit old agents and oppose the forces against them. There’s a terrific visual moment on the bottom half of page 12 that nails this idea, in a very cinematic fashion. Kindt’s art is just washed in color, yet dusty and sun-baked all at the same time, striking a perfect tonal balance. By the end, this sort of descends into a weird projected set of Meru memories/soundtrack thing, either that or a Perrier autowriting text, who knows. I read it three times or so and though I’m not crystal clear on it, there’s no doubt this remains one of the freshest and most unique books on the stands. Grade A.
Batwoman #18 (DC): So, Kate is on some DEO backed boondoggle to go after Mr. Freeze and (I guess?) recover some of his tech for analysis. That’s pretty much the extent of the story content for this issue. Cameron Chase is directing Kate/Batwoman, while Colonel Kane is directing Bette/Hawkfire (I appreciate the attempt to forge a new identity, by the way, but I hate this particular name). There’s sort of a gratuitous Batman cameo which just emphasizes the question as to why Batman never showed up when Gotham City was under siege by Medusa’s forces in the last arc and though they try to comically dismiss it with a line, it only draws more attention to the illogical nature of it. Similarly, I don’t understand why Bette doesn’t have the time to just use her flamethrowers up front against Mr. Freeze, but does have time to quip to him about having them(?). So, I guess the writing seems like it’s off to a slow clunky start for this new arc, “treading water” would be the less charitable phrase, and although Trevor McCarthy tries hard to add some of the panache of JH3 with inset panels, bat outlines in the layouts, etc., it’s basically nowhere close. There’s some type of mystery guest at the end, which could be Manhunter or Renee Montoya, I guess (but who knows in the New 52), but all that really made me do is wonder where Kate’s sister was, didn’t they show her at the end of the last issue? Suddenly, you realize that JH3’s pencils were slightly more than half the magic here, and the magic is gone. I’m still marginally interested in what happens, but it would be really easy to just skip it all until JH3 comes back. I’m on the fence, but could easily be at a point where I’m giving up the last vestige of the New 52 and basically the only DC book I’m currently buying. This is a pretty low Grade B.
Star Wars: Legacy #1 (Dark Horse): Good God, I did not enjoy this issue. I think I must have gotten a contact high from Brian Wood’s Star Wars series and thought it would carry over to this title. Not so much. I read an interview with Hardman and Bechko that really made me feel as if they liked some of the things that I specifically like about Star Wars, so I decided to check it out. It’s supposed to be 138 years post-ANH, but the Stormtroopers look hasn’t really changed substantively? They basically have a slightly different more conical thing in the mouth area of the uniform, and otherwise identical? Was that a ship or a rocket or what that hit their ship? I didn’t get that the Imperial Knight guy lost his lightsaber in the duel because a) the fight choreography wasn’t clear and b) someone forgot to color the saber so you can’t really see it flying out of his hand unless you look reeeeeallly close. I don’t get why the Sith apprentice guy randomly kills his master in the middle of a fight. I don’t get why the ice collector thing seems to be perched on a planetary ring, but you know, those aren’t really stable structures, basically just dust and ice particles. I don’t get who shot up the probe droid thing. I’m not sure why the Sith guy is posing as the Imperial Knight guy and why nobody else even seems to notice that their hair color is different oh and I just realized I don’t even really care. Ania and the Mon Cal guy act like they don’t know what the lightsaber is initially, but a few pages later they call it by name as a “lightsaber.” At a very superficial level, it’s neat that this is Ania Solo, a descendant of Han and Leia, and I thought some of the very small political elements were intriguing, like the Mon Calamari being refugees (because I think I read their homeworld had to be evacuated(?), but that’s not even explained here) or the decay occurring on Coruscant, but those are extremely minor elements. There are moments when some of the static images are nice, there’s a murky quality to the art that seems like it might be at home here, but there’s really nothing going on in the story that makes me want to return. Thank God, I’ve got Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda’s book to roll with. Grade C+.

Conan The Barbarian #14 [The Wood Pile]

Conan The Barbarian #14 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood and Mirko Colak continue “The Woman On The Wall” arc with the award-winning color of Dave Stewart. Conan has basically been conscripted into a Shemite army attacking the fortress Ramah En Ram, and yeah, guess who Conan believes the woman on the wall to be? Belit. It’s a visually stunning issue; I detect some slight stylization like Richard Corben or Frazer Irving in there at times, but for the most part Colak’s style has a lifelike European quality to the art. It’s a robust aesthetic where sound figure work is more important than artificial poses and heroics. The backgrounds are these richly textured masterpieces, full of small memorable details like the way blood stains a blade in the moonlight, a bloody red sun almost drips off the damn page, or the suddenly silent sequence as Conan gets deeper into the fortress. Conan The Barbarian has been yet another Brian Wood book blessed with a stable of incredibly strong artists, some old collaborators, some new finds to my eyes, but I’m prepared to say that Colak is probably my favorite to date. When you imagine a “perfect” look for a Conan book, Colak’s line is essentially what we all imagine in our mind’s eye, so here it is finally realized. Wood is quick to make the point that “a proper siege lasts years” and war, all war, is essentially a war of attrition. It’s full of rich tactics in the dialogue, with talk of “battle calm” as some mysterious insider knowledge, or “the second arrow is in the air even before the first one finds its target,” but ultimately this is centered back on the relationship between Conan and Belit. Last issue, I said that the assault on Ramah En Ram reminded me of the Roman Siege of Masada for some reason. This time, I almost felt like we were getting a riff on the Battle of Helm’s Deep, only from the POV of the attacking force. I’m too lazy to look up which came first, the REH source material or JRRT, but it’s an interesting idea to wonder if one perhaps was inspired by the other. As has been the case in the entire series, I enjoy the characterization of Conan as a badass, but not an uber-competent warrior. Imbuing him with human emotion and making him fallible and beatable at times – possible, though perhaps not probable – has certainly made him a more sympathetic protagonist. Grade A+. Note: By the way, welcome to a new recurring column here at Thirteen Minutes where I review, like, all of the books written by Brian Wood.

Harbinger #10 [Valiant Effort]

Harbinger #10 (Valiant): The biggest draw in an issue like this are the physical stakes and emotional heart running throughout the book. Perhaps future Harbinger critics will look back on this and cite it as the official “moment” that a real team is born, as the unlikely crew thrust together is about to dive unknowingly into the Harbinger Wars. Joshua Dysart is great at capturing mood, whether it’s an introspective and regretful Peter, the always loyal and down for a challenge Faith, sliding in quick bouts of humor, or leading us to organic death-defying action scenes. Dysart’s dialogue is also very crisp and effective, there’s really nothing superfluous about it, nothing fatty to be found, just “meat on the bone” as one of my old bosses liked to say. Something as simple as Kris uttering “We die plotting” in a pinch, or Charlene saying “Thrust… Thrust… THRUST!” repeatedly brings an instant level of clarity and intensity to the proceedings. If the X-Men, as a concept, were created now, in the 21st century, instead of decades past in the offbeat 1960’s, it might look something like this. It’s no surprise given Dysart’s penchant for real-world politics fueling some of his work, like the lamented Unknown Soldier over at Vertigo. Here in Harbinger, we find the same social relevance as the original X-Men, but it’s been modernized with more self-aware and media savvy kids, hidden wars steeped in corporate malfeasance and government secrecy, and innovative action sequences that push the envelope. Dysart is cognizant about the type of fresh characterization he provides and how he can subvert audience expectations in the process. Faith is an obvious off-type female lead, while Peter stands among the best reluctant leaders, and (though not in this issue) Toyo Harada is a more complex and sympathetic “villain” than you’d typically expect to find in ostensible “cape” comics. For my money, Harbinger is a clear creative standout in a very strong line of books. My only slight gripe (there had to be one, you know me) is that I do wish there was more stability on the art side of the equation. It seems that every couple of issues features a different artist, with this issue bearing 4(!) artists listed, though I will say that the inks of Stefano Gaudiano seem to unify the styles fairly well. There are some individual moments that are visually brilliant; the doctor firing a handgun on the last panel of that page and the shot illuminating his face, or Charlene awkwardly trying to land both come to mind, but I can’t help the feeling that a more cohesive and consistent aesthetic would be achieved with a single artist. Needless to say, I’m all-in for Harbinger Wars, H.A.R.D. Corps, and wherever else this corner of the Valiant Universe takes us. It'll be a fun ride. There’s no doubt in my mind that the writing is straight A material, and if the art displays some opportunity for improvement, then this issue clocks in with a Grade A-. Note: By the way, welcome to a new recurring column here at Thirteen Minutes where I’ll be taking a look at select books in the Valiant line as we prepare to dive into Harbinger Wars.


03.13.13 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

Star Wars #3 (Dark Horse): Honestly, it’s a little difficult to review a book that’s basically perfect because there’s no room left to do anything other than restate the obvious. The first issue went to a third printing, Brian Wood mentioned on Twitter that his original 12 issue contract has been extended to 20, and if what happens in my LCS every month is any indication (wherein a steady stream of regulars purchase multiple copies), then the book is clearly resonating. Brian has always told stories about flawed protagonists amid a torn, or tearing, social fabric, be it New York City, the entire globe after a cataclysmic environmental disaster, or even here in the Galactic Empire. That makes for a perfect segue to show off his skill with characterization while staying true to the familiar characters at the same time. For example, Leia can be an overcompensating young leader. Luke can be an arrogant little bitch (until he gets his world turned upside down and his ass handed to him in Bespin). Vader is basically just a soldier following orders, Emperor Palpatine is the real villain (aside, but this is the story I’d be pitching to Dark Horse, sort of a Palpatine: Year One type deal, show him as a kid growing up, how he kills his mentor, etc., not sure if that’s been done?). Like Stefon on SNL hyping a quirky NYC club, I’ll just say that this Star Wars book has everything. It’s got Wedge, Mon Mothma, Han shooting first, flashbacks to the original, call-aheads to RoTJ, multiple story threads, love triangles, and satisfying technobabble. It’s that thing, where like, you have a bottle of Whyren’s Reserve and a Wookie goes “RAWWRRR.” Carlos D’Anda and Gabe Eltaeb are a powerhouse creative duo. The end result of their combined efforts are these gorgeous full page reveals, ferocious action, depth of emotion, and a slick glossy aesthetic that’s just as astounding now as the feeling was sitting in the theatre when we were kids and watching this universe come to life for the first time. Threading a needle like he’s making the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, Wood and company are hitting all the right nostalgic buttons, yet still managing to precariously balance that with innovative world-building in a very well-explored property. I’ve been writing reviews at this site since 2005 and it’s relatively rare I give a Grade A+. I’ve never ever given a book three Grade A+ marks in three consecutive issues. First time for everything. Grade A+.

Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #3 (Image): Can I just say that I love the wit and sharpness of the “Previously…” page? Yeah, I love the wit and sharpness of the “Previously…” page. Todd’s still in prison, Chief Hargraves literally comes face to face with his cluelessness, and the subversive parody of common storytelling archetypes and our collective social ills continues. I don’t have a whole lot to say about this issue, other than the fact that I enjoy every second of it and I have absolutely no clue where it’s going next. Ken Kristensen clearly has a gift for biting commentary on the writing end, and M.K. Perker knows how to vary the visual style on demand, more caricature when it needs to be, more realistic when it needs to be, in order to wring a lot of impact out of the proceedings. The jab at Battlefield Earth made me laugh out loud. This is one of the most unique books currently being published. Grade A.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #24 (Marvel): I really enjoyed the dire tone of this issue. I think it lends a real sense that this small band of mutants is putting everything on the line. Kitty and company are either going to make Ultimate Utopia work, or die trying. I thought it was an interesting spin to see people like Storm and Magma actually using their powers, not even defensively, but for humanitarian purposes, by radically terraforming the desert and almost making their own little micro Savage Land. There’s a ton of threads unfurling, the Kitty/Rogue/Storm group taking center stage, the Nomi/Warpath/Psylocke ring looking to upset everything, the imposition of the Karen Grant storyline (am I the only one seeing Tian as a sort of social corollary for Muslims?), and government machinations behind the scenes. Like Star Wars up above, there are multiple players on the board, and Wood is able juggle deftly between them and throw enough at the audience to keep them engaged. Mahmud Asrar is a welcome addition to the art stable. His style almost reminds me of early Sean Phillips, where there’s a blocky angular quality to the work, but no loss of emotive expressions and a real sense of movement brewing just below the surface. Grade A.


03.06.13 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
Sex #1 (Image): Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski drop their much anticipated new series and I’m instantly less concerned with the gratuitous sex (yes, even if it’s supposed to be some type of meta-fictional corollary for superpowers, it hasn’t served much of an organic narrative purpose yet other than saturating the world) and more concerned with the cool world-building going on with this prodigal hero returning to Saturn City. Fairly early into the proceedings, there are some awkward panel transitions and dialogue mismatched to the wrong people; Simon calls a person “Larry” who appears to be a woman(?), asks direct questions of people on and off panel which never get answered, so things feel choppy, and some other stuff like that. The sex scenes are also confusing visually. Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you have a pair of women in a 69, from the POV depicted in one panel, the other’s legs aren’t going the right way. I suppose this is neither here nor there really, and one could argue that they’re just random static images and not meant to be sequentially linear as the panels lead us to believe, but, I don’t know, if you’re going to make a book ostensibly about sex and hype up all the marketing that way, you might want to, and I’m just spit-balling here, but you might want to take the time and care to get the basic vaginal geography and sexual choreography down. The colors also look a little flat and one-dimensional at times. With those warm and wet gripes out of the way, I really dug the way there isn’t any blatant exposition that insult’s the reader’s intelligence. We’re dropped into this world essentially en media res, and it’s up to us to piece clues together to figure out who these players are, what their relations to one another are, and how things function in this sexualized Astro City that seems to be past its prime, suggesting a rich off-camera back story. I’ve always enjoyed Joe Casey’s forward-thinking scripting and experimental ideas, in particular subsuming the Tony Stark/ Bruce Wayne archetype here and running with it. There are bits of the backmatter/lettercol I enjoyed, like the  notes on re-appropriation of the superhero genre, and the appreciation of the strengths of the non-Marvel and DC books currently available, and the sometimes deliberate blurring of the creator lines between corporate and indie comics, but the tone also comes off as sorta’ pretentious ego peacocking, as if Casey is patting himself on the back for how clever and hip and daring his ideas are. Anyway, as an ongoing series, and with this type of pacing, there’s lots of time to unfurl this world, and I’m curious to see where it goes. Grade A-.


Mara #3 [Advance Review]

Mara #3 (Image): The art in this issue is stunning, and that’s not surprising considering it’s the best issue in the series to date. Not only are Ming Doyle’s figures utterly emotive and well-rendered, but there’s a beautiful design sense permeating the entire affair. All of that basically culminates with an uncomfortably realistic opening action concerning something happening to Mara. In the art, gone are the occasional wonky pose or instance of blobby tech that I heckled Doyle about, and which detracted from earlier issues. Along with Doyle, colorist Jordie Bellaire uses a very controlled color scheme, with a deliberate palette that shifts along with flashbacks or other narrative threads. The art has gotten exponentially better as the series goes on, and we’re left with Mara’s flawless personage, her incredibly realistic features that still manage to come across as superhumanly beautiful and exotic. As Ingrid and the emergency medical crew get a first hand account of Mara’s developing power(s), the strength of Doyle’s art makes us believe in the mystery that this seems to be a naturally occurring phenomenon of biology – not the result of drugs or surgery – and not what Marvel would call a mutant, or DC would have called a metahuman.

As is the case in his Dark Horse series The Massive, Brian Wood is careful to ensure that even in a sci-fi sports comic focused on uber-celebrity culture and media saturation, (not to mention a dose of military-might-as-foreign-policy skepticism), you can still see this world being extrapolated from our own as a possible alternate future, an entertaining cautionary tale. It’s like Supergirl meets Arsenal meets Jean Grey, with the powers of flight, strength, enhanced perception, a knack for projectile weapons, and now mind control too(?) as witnessed in the rooftop sequence. There are seamless nods making it discernible that this is Brian Wood comics. There’s the old-school Channel Zero style fascination with impromptu street art; you can imagine the “Who is Mara?” posters being wheat-pasted (or whatever the futuristic equivalent is) up all over the city. There’s the naïve/admirable, but palpable joie de vivre of youth, the direct young girl who doesn’t care what the media thinks, will kiss her girlfriend in public, and most importantly, tell the truth, lost sponsorships deals and ultra sleek modern apartments be damned. In order for Wood’s characters to be off on their identity quest, they must first find a way to be true to themselves, at times recklessly indifferent to the consequences. Look at Megan in Local. Look at the kids in DV8. Look at Matthew Roth in DMZ. Look at Callum Israel in The Massive. It’s time to add another great protagonist to the list of Brian Wood creations. It’s time for Mara Prince.

Wood’s scripting in this issue is extremely effective, particularly the one-sided phone conversation with who we assume is Ingrid’s mom. This young woman is not all reckless folly though, there’s an emotional maturity that’s in transition as well. Wood and Doyle come together in perfect synergy with a shot that sees Mara hovering over an iPod device. It’s an iconic image that I read as her centering herself in some sort of transcendental state in an effort to control her powers, quickly carving out a quiet mental space to listen to the faint whisper of her own intuition. It’s a controlled moment from the creative team that requires the reader to provide some closure and doesn’t insult the audience’s intelligence with rote exposition. For me, the crescendo wasn’t the cliffhanger per se, but Mara’s speech about waiting or being too patient; she’s wise beyond her years in a way we hope for in our heroes. Mara doesn’t lower herself, she tries to elevate the population instead. Now, I never liked Superman and I try to avoid anything that smacks of lauding a company-owned DC franchise, but this is what was always the key to characters like that. What makes someone like that a hero isn’t their inherent power, it’s their ability to make ordinary citizens see greatness in themselves, not some external savior. That’s their true power. Reading Mara reminds me of the famous Nelson Mandela quote that begins: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us…” and ends with “…as we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Grade A.

Storm Dogs [Shotgun Blurbs]

by Contributing Writer Keith Silva

Storm Dogs
Published by Image Comics
Creators: David Hine, Doug Braithwaite, Ulises Arreola

What It's About: In a far, far away future a team of investigators arrives on the off-off world mining settlement of Grievance on the planet of Amaranth to examine a string of seven mysterious deaths. The local law enforcement, who reported these occurrences (or crimes), isn't crooked per se, but it ain't straight either. In an 'asylum' like Grievance, guilt is relative, everyone is a suspect and to look the other way (to keep secrets) insures one's survival. At what cost and who profits is a minor detail to work out later in the reckoning. These beggars, borrowers and thieves stand in contrast to the sentient indigenous and peaceful (?) populations of the Joppa and the Elohi who share a symbiotic relationship; however, is their connection one of mutual benefit, is it parasitic in nature or is it like the scorpion and the tortoise, doomed by its own nature. Amaranth doubles as setting and character. Like a haunted house, the planet acts as a player, an omnipotent and indifferent force made to test its inhabitant's mettle. Storm Dogs raises big questions about dog-eat-dog Darwinism, nature versus nurture and the character of relationships. The crime here is a mere circumstance -- one in a long list of grievances -- what counts comes from and what one chooses to do with the information one finds within.

Why You Should Buy It: Few operators and fewer writers come off as sharp as David Hine. Speculative fiction requires the author to have all the answers, know the angles and exploit the dead spots. Hine conceives of ''the weave,'' wetware to assist with interstellar communication, memory and complex calculations like crime solving-- think Philip K. Dick's 'Minority Report' crossed with a pacifist Skynet. In order to keep the untutored aboriginals of Amaranth from losing their culture and their simple minds, technology like 'the weave' must remain verboten -- also, such a deus ex machina would make for a dull procedural. Not one to let a good idea slip away due to protocol and local jurisdiction, Hine imagines 'wireheads,' people who prostitute their minds (and their bodies) in order relay information weave-like to the highest bidder. Ideation like this proves Hine is a master storyteller as adept at plot and character development as he is with winks to his beloved Beats and Sci-fi forebears. Doug Braithwaite's panel composition, character designs and overall mis-en-scène say cinema and shout epic. Storm Dogs multi-genre mélange gives Braithwaite license to draw everything from Horror and Science-Fiction to Westerns and Noir and to do so in reasoned and thought-out manner. Braithwaite imagines a world so complete it triggers a kind of synesthesia in which one can smell rain, taste deserts and touch death. Ulises Arreola's colors give the entire production a feel both familiar and yet alien. Storm Dogs plays big in terms of ideas and art and boasts a sturdy and unique narrative as audacious as any action adventure mystery in this world or out among the stars.