4.24.13 [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.
East of West #2 (Image): This might be the only time you ever catch me saying I don’t fully understand a book, but I really like it at the same time. Hey, I even thumbed through the first issue again and all it really did was confuse me further about what was going on in this second installment. Yet, I don’t think it’s an exercise in style over substance. Hickman is clearly doing something here, but it remains to be seen as to what it is exactly. Death kills the President in the first issue and then 3 of the other 4 assumed Horsemen of The Apocalypse come along and kill the (another?) President and most of the cabinet in the second issue. I know in the first issue there’s a scene about them being reborn without Death, and there’s verbiage around something happening to Death in a previous incident, so I’m guessing there’s some cyclical pattern emerging here from the event that occurred at Armistice(?) or it created some kind of divergent timelines or something(?). It’s like you can intuitively understand the themes working in this book, the cautionary aspect of what man does to the planet, and the warring states, and the post-apocalyptic world-building, but the plot, the narrative itself, lies somewhere on the very periphery of understanding. I do believe there’s method to the madness and am willing to stick with it. I kind of enjoy the challenge, and in the interim the book is absolutely stunning visually. Dragotta incorporates a contemporary superhero aesthetic, Naoki Urasawa style manga, western riffs, Marvel cosmic vibes, and a 1990’s Vertigo sensibility that all converge into a style that feels authentically fresh and new instead of a pastiche of worn-on-the-sleeve influences. Quantitatively it might not register on some analytical scoring rubric, but it’s got that indefinable “x” factor that makes it hot. Grade A.
Deathmatch #5 (Boom!): Considering this is one of my favorite new books, I’m surprised that I don’t have anything (new) to say about it. It’s a great example of effortless world-building from Paul Jenkins, making us instantly care about the characters, feel intrigued by their rich back story, and engaged in how their current relationships will affect the outcome of their current predicament. The archetypes offered and the world built here is just so damn cool. With the power temporarily out in the containment compound, we take a quick break from the planned death matches, so that every issue the surviving characters seem to get one step closer to figuring out some of the larger questions in the series, which seem to point toward Meridian’s secret and a secret voice that only Omni-Engine can hear. I’m going to go ahead and say that Carlos Magno is George Perez for the 21st Century; there’s a slick level of detail and consistency in his figures that’s crisp and inviting. It lends a rich quality to the art that makes you want to linger in panels and pore over the figures. Grade A.
Mind MGMT #10 (Dark Horse): It’s the all Duncan issue, as Henry Lyme and Meru try to re-recruit him, but how do you catch a guy who can anticipate your every move? Finding Duncan advances the larger objectives of the strike team Lyme and Meru are putting together, but this issue functions even better as an in-depth character study. Duncan is a lesson in “be careful what you wish for,” something that sounds like it’d be fun as hell (and I’m sure it was at first) becomes boring and predictable, and without challenge in life, you’re ultimately led down a road of unhappiness and depression. As far as the extras go, the Dream Walker short up front owes a little to Neil Gaiman’s work on Sandman, but Kindt seems to increase the relevance of the text in the margins, showing how Duncan can process all of the chatter within a 15 mile radius; at one point, it even bleeds into one of the panels in a seamless way. As different and well done as Mind MGMT is, if I'm being honest, I have to admit that for some reason it's not a book I look forward to reading as much as I used to, at times even feeling like it's treading water a little. Grade A-.
The Wizard School #1 (Minion Comics): I got a comp of this two year old book, and that’s the end of the positive things I can say about it. It’s a blatant Harry Potter knock-off, complete with "Professor Bumblebane" running the school, Sabretooth in the Hagrid role, and flat blocky art that’s lifeless. It’s way too offensive and grotesquely misogynistic and materialistic to be directed at kids and way too puerile and hollow to be directed at adults, with vapid humor that’s funny to neither, so I’m not sure who the intended audience was in the first place. Grade D-.

Jupiter's Legacy #1 [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.

Jupiter’s Legacy #1 (Image): Mark Millar and Frank Quitely deliver their much anticipated multi-generational treatise on the industry’s most prevalent genre. To my slight surprise, it’s really good. I have no doubt it’ll be one of the buzz books this year. My hesitation really had everything to do with Millar, but absent are the over-the-top Millar tics I’ve come to loathe, and in their place is a more restrained, more mature, more thoughtful, and less gratuitous examination of human fallibility juxtaposed with super powered beings. Yes, it’s actually more Ellis Planetary than Millar Kick-Ass. While Planetary seemed like Ellis’ love letter to the entire history of the medium, Millar’s self-described epic appears to be something of a contemplative and reflective letter to the superhero paradigm, expressing “everything I’ve ever wanted to say about the genre,” as he recently stated in an interview. It doesn’t really reference familiar visual archetypes or overtly common dialogue tropes, it doesn’t even really touch on them, so much as subtly glance in the general direction of recognizable properties like Superman or Spider-Man. Sheldon Sampson dreams of an island that contains secrets, ruins of an ancient university laying in wait “millions of years” to heal America’s woes post-Crash of ’29. It’s a pulpy opening full of intrigue, winding its way through dimly lit bars and wearily wise ship captains in North Africa. While the script tries a little too hard to make connections to present day social unrest, multiple unfunded wars, austerity measures, “bad loans and reckless bankers,” there’s no denying the mysterious charm of establishing a creation story for the Golden Age, or a modern superhero myth as Grant Morrison would probably say. It struck me that most comparable stories would have started in the present day and offered up this origin in flashback. Jupiter’s Legacy offers a reversal that makes you feel like the search for the island is the main story and everything subsequent is a flawed flash forward. I appreciate those little structural differences. Like the titular Roman Sky God, Sheldon “Utopian” Sampson (notice the eagle sigil), brother Walter, and their generation of heroes rule with might, vanquish ostensible corporeal foes, yet never seem to cure the underlying problems plaguing society. By condensing the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomer era into one group (notice that the math doesn’t add up, Grace is ~100 years old and looks half that, it’s never explicitly stated, but this assumedly resulted from powers attained on the island), it’s left to their modern day children to continue the legacy. This dynamic creates an internal post-modern superhero deconstruction, which I’ve always been a sucker for. The younger entitled generation is knee deep in public adoration and media saturation, some trying to carve out a legacy when there’s nobody cool left to fight, (and 100 heroes roll out when there is), and seem more concerned with the lifestyle (drugs, groupies, and bottle service), with building personal brands amid corporatization and commoditization of their powers, than actually serving the greater good. There’s nice tension there and I also found the tension between brothers Sheldon and Walter very interesting. They’ve grown apart and represent the dichotomies in the political spectrum, conservative and liberal, one based in belief, one rooted in pragmatism. I thought it was telling how Walter humanely separates mind and body as a villain is getting dismantled. He realizes that physical prowess is not the answer to societal problems in an asymmetrical age, unlike his brother. Visually, Jupiter’s Legacy is constructed by Frank Quitely and colorist Pete Doherty, who also handled the recoloring of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s cult classic Flex Mentallo. It’s everything you’d expect to find from Quitely’s anemic style, capturing figures in a quirky but somehow true-to-life style, the early pulp inspired Earth tones, the garish superheroics, and even new feats like the oft-touted VR projection panel. Quitely seems to have a polarizing style that people either love or hate, but you can always count me in the former. By the end, I didn’t feel like the “cliffhanger” hook was very strong, but we’re left with plenty of other interesting questions that will play out. Not only do I expect the inter-generational and fraternal conflicts to come to a crossroads, but Sheldon says “we never talked about what happened in those mountains.” God, I hope by the time these 10 issues wrap we’ll get a glimpse into that. There’s a ripple effect that will emanate from whatever was discovered on that island; the possibilities of both pure storytelling and examining genre conventions are limitless when you consider everything from ancient civilizations, to off-world involvement, to more naturalist powers. I’m also concerned as to how their children have powers; at this point we don’t know if they’re something passed down genetically or if they were granted from an external power source or higher plane of mental enlightenment found in the academic ruins. There are plenty of little clues in the dialogue and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Grade A.


The Massive #11 [Advance Review]

The Massive #11 (Dark Horse): For the second installment of this arc featuring different artists, Brian Wood is joined by Declan Shalvey. This memorable issue sees the Ninth Wave Marine Conservationist Direct Action Force command vessel The Kapital continuing to track intermittent radar blips far up the Pacific Coast in an effort to locate their lost sister ship The Massive. One of the things the series has made great use of so far is allowing time for these quick detour junkets that support the larger objectives, though something always seems to go incredibly wrong in these hostile locales, and this issue is no different. Here, Mary and a pilot take a chopper to scout ahead, more aggressively attempting to get a lock on The Massive’s erratic location. It picks up after events in last issue, where Cal inadvertently ended up losing half the crew and one of the (last?) fast attack zodiacs. Cal, with some input from the command crew, has decided to focus on a dedicated mission to find The Massive, in order to lend a last desperate whiff of hope in an effort to unite the remaining crew and give his dwindling organization a sense of purpose to their post-Crash existence.

Shalvey isn’t an artist I’m super familiar with (Conan collaboration notwithstanding), but he’s able to jump right in fairly seamlessly. He captures the look and feel of the crew members and is particularly adept at balancing their emotive characteristics with their natural surroundings. From the craggy shores of The Farallones, to the heart-stopping visage of the prehistoric Megalodon, to the beady-eyed humans stressed out and consumed by the harsh conditions that envelop them, his style lends a crisp intensity. The lines are fine, almost delicate at times, emphasizing some of the quieter character moments, like Lars’ reaction to Mary’s bit of news, and her alarming questions regarding the future of Ninth Wave. The fine lines give way to some beautiful “tricks” up Shalvey’s artistic sleeve, stuff like the silhouetted silent beat panel between Mary and Lars, or the low slung final full page shot that laments a lost crew member. There’s latent power in Shalvey’s work too, hard and fast movement ready to pop off at a moment’s notice, as in the literal sea full of sharks with the massive shadow lurking beneath the surface, or the sharp skew of the panels when the chopper is in trouble. There’s a page where we see sharks diving deep into the ocean and they proceed down the page within long narrow panels. It’s an approach I noticed back in issue 5 when Garry Brown depicted Mary and Ryan diving down a bore hole. At the time, I gave Brown credit for that sequence, but perhaps this repetition now owes more of a debt to Wood’s script and his general design sensibility.

Along those lines, there are familiar rhythms in this series when your eye has acclimated to them. For example, we’ve come to expect another trademark Wood tool in this book. The stacked widescreen panels offer what is not so much “newsfeed,” like the excerpts of news reports we saw in DMZ, nor are they the type of ancillary Hickman style infographic charts and layouts that’ve become so popular. Wood’s efforts with these information stacks are more omniscient narration embedded in the story, world-building blurbs that contrast what Ninth Wave is doing in the micro with what’s going on in the larger macro world, allowing the audience to question what good they are, or what their purpose is, when there’s so many other dramatic events shaping this reality. If you’ve paid any attention at all, you also know that Wood is a strong researcher, and this issue reveals that flair more than most in an already well researched series, with a marine biology lesson encapsulated in the opening pages, explaining The Crash’s impact on local ecologies in sharp relief to lesser writers.

World-building counts for next to nothing but cool sound byte concepts if not grounded in character though, and thankfully Wood delivers on both fronts. In this issue, there’s another interesting shift away from Callum Israel toward the POV of two of his most trusted crew members. By now it’s no secret to the readership that Cal is sick, so Mary and Lars discuss his condition briefly and even go so far as to discuss a possible successor. Mary is one of the smartest and most intuitive characters in the book, and she can clearly see Cal’s need for a personal legacy in the form of Ninth Wave. Sonny Corleone questioned who was best suited to be his wartime consigliere, and it makes you think about who might be best served to lead Ninth Wave in a post-Crash, even a post-Callum, world. Poor Jim Gibson sort of typifies life post-Crash. This might sound contradictory given the way he goes out, but I didn’t find it particularly flashy, and I don’t mean that as a pejorative. I mean, for no reason at all, a giant shark simply leaps up and snatches you from a craggy shore off the coast of California. It rings true. That’s life in a new reality that’s completely unpredictable. There’s another scene, so intense and startling that I had to read it twice before it really sank in. It displays Mary’s almost preternatural power, as she’s in tune with man and nature. Wood once admitted that for a time he was subconsciously writing DMZ’s most prominent female character, Zee Hernandez, as the physical manifestation of New York City. With subtle hints along the way in The Massive, it makes you wonder if Mary herself isn’t written as some sort of Mother Nature composite, a corporeal Sea Goddess, or mythological Gaia figure. Grade A.


Comics Bulletin [Self-Promotion]

Three points make a trend, so I figured it was time to post a link-dump style announcement for a semi-regular gig outside of Thirteen Minutes. If you weren’t previously aware of this (probably because you don’t follow me on Twitter, so correct that now @thirteenminutes), I’ve been doing some writing over at Comics Bulletin in the form of roundtable style discussions with two other critics. Thanks to CB head honcho Jason Sacks, and my boys Keith Silva and Daniel Elkin, for inviting me in to participate. To date, we’ve logged three such excursions all over the comics mindscape, probably hitting around 20,000 words or so in total, so check them out.


4.17.13 [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.
Conan The Barbarian #15 (Dark Horse): DMZ collaborator Andrea Mutti joins Brian Wood for part 3 of “The Woman on The Wall” in an issue that closely examines Belit’s heritage. Mutti’s style is very balanced, with soft natural lines that also manage to capture the harsh environment of Shem. It’s an utterly fascinating story that reminded me of the story of Isaac and Ishmael, with Belit being cast out despite being the (“illegitimate”) Princess of Fortress En Ram. By extension, it’s also an interesting look at gender politics and what it takes to survive and forge an identity as a woman in a patriarchal society that might not be big on women’s rights in the first place. Conan guiles his way inside the fortress and by trying to understand Belit on her actual home turf, he does so both more and less at the same time. This is probably one of the best written Conan issues in recent memory. By the end, it wraps back on itself in a very poetic way that highlights one of the central lessons of the story. It organically sneaks up on you like a scorpion in the desert wilds of Shem. This issue is crammed full of an emotional roller coaster of a story that touches on lineage, identity, love, relationships, and family; being a classically romantic book is probably the last thing you’d expect from something called Conan The Barbarian, that is, unless you severely underestimated Brian Wood’s versatility as a writer. That’s something I wish the Eisner Award judging panel took into greater consideration. Ahem. Grade A+.
Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #4 (Image): Let’s face it, Ken Kristensen writes that intro page better than most other books are written in their entirety. Todd’s oblivious innocence is completely charming. Tickle Party! I love the little surprise throwaway moments, like the cops suddenly discussing “complex conceptual metaphors,” because they prove the great care and attention to detail this creative team is executing. MK Perker’s art is a great mix of exaggerated caricature and realistic details. The whole thing is just off-kilter enough to delight, with chatty cockroaches and a beautifully played Heat reference. Todd’s dad continues to cavort with the actress, who has an interesting proposition that could well fuel the future of the (now ongoing) series, the PD is still bumbling their way through the obvious, while Todd’s mom comes through by bailing him out. Now, trust me when I say that I’m not selling wolf tickets for some kind of literary road kill to ninja turtles on the river here. This is a real Cadillac comic that I hope continues for, like, Buck Rogers time. I’m no yobwoc or anything, but I’m also not afraid to dry snitch from the ghetto penthouse that this creative team has a real juice card with this jack mack of a comic. Grade A.
Bloodshot #10 (Valiant): It feels, a little, with this issue that you don’t really need to be reading Bloodshot to be enjoying the Harbinger Wars crossover currently underway. I suppose that’s a double edged sword. On one hand, it’s nice not to get roped into having to buy multiple titles to experience a cool story. On the other hand, I’m not 100% certain I’ll come back since I don’t buy this title regularly; I may just go on picking up Harbinger and Harbinger Wars. So, there’s that. I do enjoy the complex morality of placing these sheltered psiot kids between Harada and Bloodshot, two very dangerous men, one with a very distinct agenda, and one with something of an identity crisis currently underway. Bloodshot’s got the kids on the run and temporarily holed up in a make shift safe house, and him wanting desperately to protect these kids from further harm is a good lesson in the fact that everyone does good and bad deeds, one doesn’t wash away the other. Not a lot else happens in this set-up issue, but Barry Kitson’s art is really nice and consistent, with some moody dark inks from Stefano Gaudiano. I’m used to seeing him on bright superhero work, so this was a great visual change of pace. Grade A-.


Danger Club #5 [Advance Review]

Danger Club #5 (Image): It’s the long-awaited return of one of my favorite new series, the delay apparently due to some extenuating family medical drama experienced by one of the creative team, so be kind with your heckles. Within just a handful of issues, Danger Club has become a real contender for best deconstruction of the flawed superhero paradigm, a tradition I'm quite fond of. Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones have taken their knowledge of familiar archetypes and ripped them limb from limb as they subvert the common storytelling tropes associated with the industry’s most prevalent genre. If you could imagine these events happening to, say, Cap, Bucky, and Robin, you suddenly realize how chilling it all is. As one generation of heroes mysteriously disappears to face a cosmic threat, their younger protégés scatter to the wind, some in hiding, some killed, some turned villain themselves. The iconic patriotic hero of this world, American Spirit, becomes the aged First President of the Global Unites States and has essentially turned into the very thing he originally vowed to fight against. Fallibility has always been the real-world human tendency that would make super-powers dangerous and that misguided power dynamic has certainly infected the soul, as American Spirit’s Presidency has resulted in a fascist dictatorship in the name of building a perfect utopia to remake reality without any heroes, villains, or anyone else who would oppose him. The small band of sidekicks that’s risen up against overwhelming odds is here executing a secret plan, with American Spirit and his former teen sidekick Jack Fearless coming face to face. Mild spoilers, I suppose, but the stakes are incredibly high for both Kid Vigilante and Jack Fearless. The denouement of this issue involves a fantastic last gambit “malignant apocalypse” code word that just might counter the President’s machinations. In the process, Walker opens up some exciting and limitless possibilities for the future of the series. Eric Jones' fast-paced violent aesthetic is so strong on so many fronts, both stylish and technical. He’s able to continue the retro flashback intro pages that condense mass amounts of characterization and world-building into just one page. There’s a disturbing level of detail everywhere, in the President’s Palpatine facial qualities, the copious amounts of blood flying around the page, and the way the art works at every figure scale and bears the same crystal clear quality in the fore and backgrounds. I know that Walker is from the SF Bay Area, maybe Jones is too, and I couldn’t help feeling like that glorious shot of the large hangar was homage to a similar one that exists at Moffett Field, which I used to pass weekly on my way from my job at Cisco to Lee’s Comics in Mountain View, CA. Anyway, leave it to Image Comics to be the home of the wildest new indie universe and one of the boldest new properties. Of course, I hope the delays with the title are over so it can once again gain some traction and force readers to take note, but truth be told, it’s one of the very few comics worth the wait. Grade A.


Mara #4 [Advance Review]

Mara #4 (Image): This issue opens with Mara undergoing a battery of tests at the hands of her military handlers. Mara sees a possible new avenue for her life, “a reason,” as she says, assumably to move forward with a sense of purpose. She doesn’t know what’s happening to her. She doesn’t know who she is. The military isn’t interested in answering those questions for her though, all the military sees is a potential game-changing weapon. The thing to remember about Mara Prince is that she’s still very young. Even though she’s clearly continuing to manifest these amazing powers, which neither her nor her handlers fully comprehend, from apparently not needing food and water to proficiency with small arms to various martial arts, flight, strength, limited foresight and telekinesis, she’s still lived the majority of her life as a sheltered kid, one whose identity has never fully developed.
She’s been forced to let go of one identity, the sports superstar, because of media saturation and public backlash after revealing her powers, skepticism, apprehension, and fear of the unknown rampant. Now, she desperately seeks a new identity. Right or wrong, the military is offering an out, something she perceives as that “reason” she described. Though they leverage that desire, their real concern is only manipulating her toward an end. It’s an insidious way that they psychologically apply pressure, manipulating her family, sense of patriotism, and her hungry ego. By cutting off her ties with the real world and creating isolation in her heart, they also create dependency on her part, which is what master manipulators all excel at. I think the real crux of this series, what the denouement could offer in the last two issues, is her attempting to break free of those bonds and forge her own independent sense of self.
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The art of Ming Doyle is rapidly improving. After being slightly underwhelmed with the consistency of the first issue, she steadily won me over sometime around the last issue. Doyle employs a sense of precision that comes across in the fine line detail. There’s an almost anemic line that bubbles with sumptuous life because of the uneven fluctuations in it, which remind me of early Paul Pope. If Pope were to draw a single line down the page, it would wobble deliciously, plumping up and thinning out at will, overall delicate yet powerful and emotional, and I see that same interesting dichotomy now developing in Doyle’s aesthetic. It’s there in the sinewy muscle, the medical gear, the uniforms, the floating capital ship, the disintegration of a humvee type vehicle, the osprey type aircraft, and especially in Mara’s piercing eyes. If you talk about the art, you can’t really ignore the Jordie Bellaire color that it’s all bathed in. Perhaps the most exemplary and beautiful sequence is when Mara flies up in a frenetic rush and breaks atmo. The colors are pure gold. If Bellaire continues to improve at this rate, it won’t be long before we hear her name whispered in the same circles as Dave Stewart, Laura Martin, Dean White, and other top industry talent.
I didn’t really anticipate saying this when Mara first appeared on the stands, but it hit me that Mara has suddenly become a very pure “Brian Wood book,” in terms of the sheer volume of the writer’s hallmarks it includes. We see a well written woman on the very precipice of change, at a point in her life where decision-making is absolutely critical to decide a future course and bears heavy consequence, but the protagonist doesn’t quite yet possess all of the life experience tools to make said decision, and tons of dramatic tension gets squeezed out of that. There’s informative newsfeed, social upheaval, the prescient sense of futurism, and the identity theme I’ve largely written about in Wood’s work is front and center. All of those story elements are placed in a precarious nexus, in the intersection of tension between the media, the government, and sense of self. Grade A.


J. Michael Straczynski @ Yesteryear Comics [Signing]

I’m excited to share that my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics has already recently announced their second in-store signing, featuring J. Michael Straczynski (Rising Stars, Midnight Nation, Babylon 5). He’ll be in the store on Wednesday May 1st @ 3pm to coincide with the release of Ten Grand #1 from Image Comics. Ten Grand marks the return of the Joe’s Comics imprint; it's officially underway with the first of what will be an entire new line of original titles. Ten Grand looks to be seedy crime caper meets supernatural thriller, with covers and interior art by Australian artist Ben Templesmith, most widely known for 30 Days of Night with Steve Niles and Fell with Warren Ellis. Ten Grand #1 will also feature a variant cover by the legendary Bill Sienkiewicz and a CGC Representative will be on-hand to verify signatures for those interested in submitting books for professional grading. Once again, I’ll be working the event and helping out my friend Mike, owner of Yesteryear Comics and the region’s best retailer, so if you’re in San Diego, please come and join us! For more information and periodic updates, jump in and follow @YesteryearComic @Straczynski @ThirteenMinutes or check out Facebook.com/YesteryearComics.  


4.10.13 [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.

Sex #2 (Image): I’m still very intrigued by this series, though I do have a couple quibbles with it. I know, big surprise. First, I totally appreciate the level of experimentation Joe Casey has tried to bring to all of his work, but those highlighted words are totally distracting. They’re not color coded by speaker, there’s no theme to the words highlighted, when you string them all together there’s no hidden message, and I don’t think they’re meant as bolding to stress certain words or phrases. So, what’s the point then? Maybe I’m just not savvy enough to have cracked the code yet. I still don’t know why Simon refers to what appears to be a female coworker as “Larry.” Will it be revealed in this hyper-sexualized world that this is some kind of transgender character or something? Ok. In the interim, it keeps jumping out at me. It’s the kind of little thing that needs to get resolved in the next issue or two before I’m fully annoyed and think it’s stupid. Some of the action choreography is a little jerky in the chase sequence. Something about the tone of Casey’s egocentric backmatter still irks me, but the basic message of post-modern self-aware tinkering with the industry’s most prominent genre is totally acceptable. In the end, the positives outweigh the negatives though. I enjoy the idea of taking a has-been Astro City style set of characters and sublimating the overt use of superpowers with all things sex. It’s like Simon is the classic Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark archetype who no longer has the outlet of superheroing (or the self-expression of sex for that matter) to channel his energy, to explore needs, rights, wants. By juxtaposing one societal dynamic for another, we often deepen our understanding of how it works. The character intro page was nicely handled. The art seems to be finding its groove, I detect some Guy Davis influence in there at times, and the colors seemed more stable, except for those pesky action scenes when they appeared muddled. I’m drawn to this story, I want to understand the backstory, the mysteries, the world being established, and in this issue they begin to slowly fill in some of the secret identities. It seems like this is a big world to explore and information is being doled out at a decent pace, in a way that will engage and not frustrate. Let's hope the creative team can find that optimal balance and sustain it. Grade A-.  

Saga #12 (Image): The way that this issue opens up with a brutal flashback dream about the war between Landfall and Wreath is an interesting bit of characterization for Prince Robot IV, but also an example of how the creative team can instantly make you care about a character and then gut you emotionally for doing so. Saga still has all of the same rich world-building and clever writing it’s always had, and I found myself enjoying the politics of war going on as well, the pressure from handlers for Prince Robot IV to put an end to this whole Alanna Marko thing simply for PR purposes, for example. Robot IV is trying to track down the writer of the book Alanna and Marko are so fascinated with as a possible lead. The conversation between the writer and the robot visits the scribe’s motivations and the intersection between commerce and art in a way that’s a little too meta-winky-winky for me. This has largely been my chief complaint for most of this series (and maybe of BKV’s style in general), that the craft is a little too apparent in the work. “Ars Est Celare Artem.” The Art Is To Hide The Art. It’s one of those unofficial artistic rules that BKV occasionally tramples on, thus pushing out the reader. I always feel a little too aware of genre manipulation, the tools being used, meta-commentary, influences, and the actual mechanics of storytelling. That probably won’t bother most readers, and it’s easy to get distracted by Fiona Staples’ lush art too. Though there’s one page where the colors look really washed out, almost as if there was a printing error, it’s otherwise top notch visually. The best thing about Staples art for me is how emotive she renders everything, the emotional intent of the characters and the action is always crystal clear. So, there are some minor quibbles overall, but I’m mostly taken with the way this issue handles the danger of ideas, whether it’s PTSD with regard to combat vets or the efficacy of radical pacifism. By now, you know there was some online kerfuffle over some sex, whether Apple or Comixology intentionally censored the book, simply appeared to have refused to carry it by oversight, or some desk jock just accidentally didn’t click the right button and inadvertently created a shitstorm, honest mistake vs. outright negligence getting totally lost in the convoluted finger-pointing. There was at least one retailer that also didn’t wish to carry the title for fear of liability, which the CBLDF was quick to offer some free legal clarification on. Nothing seems that objectionable to me. We’ve already seen weird hetero sex in this book, giant alien testicles, and one of the main characters yelling for her man to “shoot it in her twat,” so a gay beej really shouldn’t rattle anyone. Love the twist and that last bit of voiceover, never saw it coming. Grade A-.


Star Wars #4 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #4 (Dark Horse): I love this book. No other way to say it. It hasn’t had a misstep since it came charging out of the gate like a rabid tauntaun. Han and Chewbacca continue their mission on Coruscant, Luke and Prithi remain grounded largely for their shit attitude, and Leia leads an away mission with her stealth squadron to the Pybus System in search of a replacement home for their outed base at Yavin 4. Vader gets something of a protégé, or maybe a challenger(?), we’ll see, but it’s already a great dynamic that moves a new cunning woman onto the board. In true Star Wars fashion, nothing goes as planned, forcing everyone to stay sharp and think on their feet, continually adapting to social change, something Wood excels at. On the Alliance end of things, Leia and Mon Mothma hold the two positions of power, and while you can definitely read “girl power” into this, it’s very organic and natural. You never get the sense that there are well written strong female leads merely for the sake of doing so, they’re just interesting characters in power positions who happen to be women. Gender does not equal character all by itself, and Wood gets that. It’s character first, gender second. Wood also continues to thread a needle where he’s able to world-build within a universe that’s already incredibly well explored. He does this by seamlessly dropping in some familiar and unfamiliar things and mixing it up. For example, we see the inclusion of a Mon Calamari bridge officer long before we’d ever meet this race in the movies. We see Luke peering out the large window of a frigate, just like he and Leia do at the end of ESB. We're almost subliminally conditioned to recognize and like shots like this. We see races of people we’ve seen in the Clone Wars cartoon and in the prequels, but we also see new races that I’m not familiar with. There’s new ships, old ships, new places, old places. There’s an employee of Kuat Drive Yards, which is a company you might not be familiar with unless you read any of the myriad technical manuals associated with the property. The writer is pulling from all over the place and just nicely “living in” these scripts. Carlos D’Anda and Gabe Eltaeb are an art/color team that deserves so much credit for the success of this series. They’ve managed to find a way to capture the look and feel of the universe, the tech, the people, while making it stylized enough to stamp their own mark on the aesthetic and accentuate the things we adore about the source material. So, Vader looks like Vader, but his mask is different, sharper, more menacing and glaring, you can feel the resentment and spite dripping off of him, sticking an Imperial Officer in the back with his saber only punctuates that dread. The Mon Calamari look like Mon Calamari, but the eyes are bigger, the alien features more well defined, beyond the big rubber suits we saw bobbing up and down as Ackbar uttered “It’s a trap!” in ROTJ. C-3PO looks just like C-3PO, but the sharper lines of his shoulder plates and wider “smile” somehow make him more effeminate and more chastising. X-Wings look like X-Wings, only sleeker, cooler, faster. The visual style is incredibly slick overall, Alex Ross covers, forced perspective shots, the sheen of the paper quality, contrasting bright and dark colors, it all pops incredibly well. There’s nothing visually not to like. The characterization and events are all on point, in a slick package that taps nostalgia buttons and pushes into new territory. It’s the perfect brand of escapism, flawlessly executed. This book is a pure joy to read. If you’re keeping score, with last issue I said I’d never given three Grade A+ marks in a row to a book. Well, here’s the fourth. How the hell long can this team keep it up? Grade A+.

Harbinger #11 [Valiant Effort]

Harbinger #11 (Valiant): Joshua Dysart opens this issue with a 1960’s flashback that shows the tenuous relationship between early incarnations of Harada International and Rising Spirit Securities. Flashbacks of Toyo Harada are always fun in this series, but more importantly here we see how the two organizations are corporate competitors that pit different worldviews against each other. Harada operates with a bold sense of idealism, while Rising Spirit is more concerned with cold pragmatism guiding their actions. These competing paradigms inform the present, establishing the roots of the conflict between the Harbinger Foundation and Project Rising Spirit. In the present day, Peter and his crew are on a road trip headed to try and intercept the released psiots, while the Bleeding Monk urges Pete to “become what you are meant to be” on the mental plane. I really enjoyed the way this issue dovetails so cleanly with last week’s Harbinger Wars #1. There are shots and several lines of dialogue that are the same, so that if you chose to read both issues it enhances the overall experience, yet if you chose only to follow one or the other book – the regular series or the mini-series – you can still grasp the core essentials of what’s occurring. It’s the latest of many examples of how very smartly Valiant and their creative talent have chosen to methodically build their universe and craft their stories. The art team of Khari Evans and Trevor Hairsine establish a more consistent, more stable look, along with some weighty inks from Stefano Gaudiano, particularly in the 60’s flashbacks, that add a level of dark realism which is right at home in the moral complexities of this series. Peter is feeling the weight of leadership, trying to lead impulsive kids, and trying to really think through their decisions and their next play. It’s superheroics with smarts, something the industry could certainly use more of. Grade A.  


4.03.13 [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.

Godzilla: Half Century War #5 (IDW): James Stokoe is a one-man band who’s delighted and impressed with this rock-em sock-em series. I don’t want to give it short shrift though, it shouldn’t be dismissed as just a monster book. While it does offer plenty of nostalgic action, it’s got a warm emotional center as well that hooks the reader. Murakami realizes, here at the end of his life, that’s he’s spent the better part of his existence doing something that he doesn’t fully understand. In a last ditch effort, he confronts Godzilla, along with two other creatures, inside a Mecha-Godzilla suit fashioned by the AMF. Murakami ultimately succumbs, attempting to get Godzilla to simply acknowledge him as a man, as an opponent, to give his life some meaning, instead of just being swept away and dismissed like a gnat. One of the big themes of this series, and the original to some extent, is not just that Godzilla was steeped in post-war atomic paranoia, but a message of “Don’t Fuck With Mother Nature!” because she’ll bite back. Of course, we all know that Stokoe is a staggeringly good artist, in this new school of artistry in the same category as people like Brandon Graham or Paul Pope, which may have been influenced by people like Geoff Darrow in their detail insanity, but also incorporate a more global style, with European, Manga, and other tendencies in their work that relies more on visual iconography to tell stories… you’re sensing a “but,” aren’t you? But, the insane thing is that Stokoe is a really strong writer as well! He cranks out some choice turns of phrase with very deliberate words choices. I enjoyed how Godzilla has left “half the globe in cinders,” as well as the talk of him “making landfall,” emphasizing his impact being like a force of nature. While there are some issues with the timeline (the war would have been more than 50 years ago, not “nearly 50 years ago”) and the book was more than a couple months late, this was still a very enjoyable old fashioned monster jam with a modern heart. Grade A.

Locke & Key: Omega #4 (IDW): This is issue 4, but the indicia says issue 3, while the cover dress says 3 issues left when I think it’s actually 2, and what the hell happened to the thicker cover stock while we're at it?! So, yeah, the book is kind of all over the place even before you dive into the story contents. The good news is that the interior is a barnburner on all levels. Gabe Rodriguez has got to be one of the best, most underrated artists working in the industry today. He’s like the bastard lovechild of George Perez and John Cassaday, with all the slick sheen of the latter and the emotive detail and sense of place of the former. He nails the action, the talking heads, the quiet character moments, the big jaw-dropping double page spreads, and the slick layout tricks like the panel-within-a-panel x-ray device showing Duncan and Tyler hiding in the trunk of a car. I can’t really say too much about the story without heading toward spoiler territory, but needless to say the shit starts to hit the fan. There are two major “oh shit!” moments here that should have lasting consequences, but… oh, god, that’s all I can really say. Just read it. Dodge/Bode breaking character is one of the most chilling scenes I’ve see in comics in quite some time. Grade A.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #25 (Marvel): As the US Senate votes to suppress the resource rights of a fledgling mutant nation within its borders, Kitty and company struggle to keep it all together within their own borders. Brian Wood has done a great job in the latter issues of this series providing some balance, and presenting both sides of the argument instead of just soapboxing his own beliefs. Whether adopting a pacifist stance or one more aggressive, each approach has it’s pros and cons that test the mettle of Kitty’s leadership capability. Even Nomi appears to be losing control of her splinter faction to some degree as a handshake deal is struck between soldiers on the ground for the future defense of Utopia. There’s pressure from all around, from the US, from within Utopia, and now from Jean Grey infiltrating at the same time. While this issue is lots of talk and no real action, Wood is staging the pieces on the board for another high stakes showdown, which the series has offered in waves. It’s the second issue with Mahmud Asrar on art and I think it’d be a coup if he was somehow snagged as the regular series artist. His work reminds me of early Sean Phillips, a style that’s lean and angular, but never ceases to bear emotional weight in the lines, particularly the facial characteristics. Grade A-.


Harbinger Wars #1 [Valiant Effort]

Harbinger Wars #1 (Valiant): Now, perhaps I’m biased because I had the opportunity to meet Joshua Dysart at an in-store signing on the day this book was released and he was a very class act, but when the contents are this good, it’s hard to argue with. If you’re tired of enduring these written-by-committee, editorially-driven, empty calorie value, milking annual sales cycle, trumped up mega crossover events that always seem to ring hollow and never actually change the status quo despite claims otherwise, then Here. You. Go. If all that stuff is a disease, Harbinger Wars appears to be the cure. This is an organic, logical, character-driven series of incidents that features a three-way conflict between Pete’s Renegades from the regular Harbinger series, Bloodshot/Project Rising Spirit, and Toyo Harada’s Harbinger Foundation over a new band of escaped psiots. This “shadow war” is about to go very public. It's gonna' be big, loud, and have lasting effects in the Valiant Universe. Essentially, the higher ups at all of these organizations aren’t necessarily in control of what they think they’re in control of. Perhaps Joshua Dysart’s greatest strength as a writer is a character-first focus, throwing together a rag-tag band of uniquely-voiced off-type individuals in a very insane situation. The art is fantastic. I’ve given the regular Harbinger series a little bit of grief over occasional art rotations, but here they own the fact that they have three artists on this issue and absolutely run with it. Clayton Henry, Clayton Crain, and Mico Suayan rotate scenes, each one taking either the present day, the flashback, or the astral plane sequences to great stylistic effect. Crain is my favorite of the trio, but they all nail their sequences. It’s an incredibly strong first issue that promises a story of great consequence. Don’t miss out on what could be the event of the year. Grade A.


Deathmatch [Shotgun Blurbs]

Published by Boom! Studios
Creators: Paul Jenkins & Carlos Magno

What It’s About: If you’re like me and you grew up really interested in college basketball, you’ll immediately be cognizant that a host of super-powered entities are being conscripted by their captors and bracketed off NCAA-style to unwillingly fight each other to the brutal death. But instead of Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils vs. the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV, or Rick Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Huskies of UCONN, you get character pairings with names like Sol Invictus vs. Mink or Manchurian vs. Dragonfly. These beings are essentially walking WMDs with the power to tear holes in the very fabric of the cosmos and we quickly learn how precarious their existence would be with their fallibility in the real world. The characters all arrive as fully fleshed personalities (thanks to some robust character profiles and assorted misc. bonus content) with a larger macro story just now beginning to play out. Deathmatch is a cult classic in the making with room left beyond the initial premise for spin-off series or even prequel books that dive into the rich history of how this world and these people came to be.

Why You Should Buy It: While the grabby premise is pure joy, Deathmatch quickly transcends the simple visceral allure of its basic March Madness system to become a post-modern deconstruction of various superhero archetypes. By taking silly old 1960’s straw men tropes and placing them in a 21st century setting with very real consequences, Jenkins and Magno are squeezing new life and understanding out of a genre long thought played out. Jenkins seems to efficiently run in every direction at once and manipulates the archetypes of everyone from Batman to Iron Man, Cap to Superman, The Joker to She-Hulk, Rorschach to a host of other familiar b-stringers, and even Crisis-like events whispered about in flashback, taking on a whiff of sly industry meta-commentary in the process. Carlos Magno is clearly an artist to watch, as he channels some of my favorite bits of George Perez’s figure work and Juan Jose Ryp’s enveloping detail. So, come for the killing, but stay for the extremely rich world-building. The creators deliver a universe with pre-existing history, characters with pre-existing relationships, and make us believe it all in a perversely satisfying and utterly convincing way.