5.29.13 [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 #6 (Boom!): Paul Jenkins recently signed an exclusive contract with Boom! Studios, posted a “goodbye letter” of sorts to Marvel and DC that made the rounds on the web today, and essentially said it’s because he’d rather be doing creator-owned material like this. That’s just fine with me. Deathmatch has done everything right. The $1 introductory issue made me purchase a book I might have otherwise skipped. It instantly transcended what could have been a gimmick involving a Final Four bracketing system. It moved quickly into dismantling established superhero archetypes and into industry meta-commentary territory. The art is this bad-ass composite of, like, George Perez and Juan Jose Ryp that marries the past with the future. What’s not to love? The world-building going on in this book is top notch. Jenkins has already killed off half a dozen characters that were better than most of the characters being used in several ongoing titles currently being published by some of the very companies he just walked out on. I love the swagger. Omni-Engine’s losing it, Dragonfly is onto something, Sol Invictus and The Rat face off this round, as do Mink and Melody Toon. With each match, the stakes are upped because not only are the surviving fighters just better, but because we’ve spent half a year with these character now and they’ve grown on us as we’ve come to know them. I don’t want to see any of them leave because I want to learn more about this world, so it’s emotionally devastating each time one expires. That’s the type of emotional investment I felt sorely lacking in Marvel and DC fare because nothing they did ever seemed to have any consequences when you can just Lazarus Pit people back to life or say ohbutwait that one you killed was actually an LMD or reboot the entire stupid universe at will when all of your creative approaches have atrophied. I’m already hoping Boom! makes a big ol’ expansive hardcover someday that collects this series, along with the character profiles and more bonus material about their exploits. Hell, I’d pay to see faux covers of the characters' first appearances, or the spin-off crossover mini-series to The Rift story. Yeah. More like this please. Grade A.
The Wake #1 (DC/Vertigo): This is a strong debut from Scott Snyder (who is on fire in mainstream circles right now) and Sean Murphy (who should be more on fire that he is based on his talent) that triangulates around the horror, mystery, and classic sci-fi genres. Murphy’s art is slick as ever, helicopters, and Flak Jackets hats, and it really excels in the hyper-detailed environs like aboard the sub. If you caught Joe The Barbarian with Grant Morrison, you know he kills this stuff, and I look forward to more of it. Looking at Snyder’s writing on American Vampire, and even the way he’s able to weave fictional history into a cape comic like Batman, I would also anticipate that we’ll get some type of folkloric or mythic aspect informing this as well. I mean, there’s no reason that, uhh, thing down there couldn’t take us to Atlantis or ancient civilizations or alien visitation, or whatever. The possibilities are limitless. Things like the time shift in the narrative structure could wear thin if over-used, but I tend to err on the side of trust with this particular writer. With 9 issues left to go, there’s plenty of time to explore and connect the timelines. Now, I’ll stop short of using the word “derivative” because it sounds pejorative and I can’t make a strong case for it (the basic layout and visual elements of these interlocking covers do smack a little of John Paul Leon’s recent triptych on The Massive though), but there certainly does seem to be something in the zeitgeist involving the sea and post-apocalyptic dystopian futures. Pop culture tends to go in waves as “idea studios” compete; you’ll see a cluster of movies about asteroids hitting the Earth, then you’ll see a batch about terrorists, you’ll see lots of comics with pirates, and then zombies, and then vampires, always vampires, and now there’s a lot of oceanic interest. Recently, we’ve got The Massive, Great Pacific, Post York, The Wake, and probably a few others I’m forgetting. Anyway. This has heaps of potential and I’ll probably stick it out until there’s a reason not to. Grade A.


X-Men #1 [Advance Review]

X-Men #1 (Marvel): Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel deliver the long-anticipated re-launch of X-Men #1. I know, I know, there have been many X-Men re-launches over the years, but this issue immediately distinguishes itself as something special amid the complex morass of the mutant publishing effort. Wood and Coipel are able to quickly tap directly into what makes the X-Men such a primal concept in the industry. They facilitate our ability to identify with a group of disenfranchised outsiders forming a family unit willing to go to the mattresses for each other at a moment’s notice time and time again. Like the story involving Gabriel Shepard and the proto-mutants in his prior X-Men run with David Lopez, Wood also seems fascinated by the very origins of the species, here returning to a story of origins featuring John Sublime. For those not totally steeped in X-Men lore (no shame if you’re not, I had to look this up myself), Sublime was created by Grant Morrison and is essentially a highly evolved sentient bacterium that inhabits host bodies. He’s incredibly powerful and evolved in tandem as the mutants began to evolve into being; he may have even been directly involved in the rise of mutants and subsequent societal perception of them. The catalyst for this story seems to be that Sublime isn’t alone. No. There is another. Sister. He has a twin sister. Sorry to back door my way into some Star Wars dialogue, but it’s not a bad segue to something that Brian Wood fans will hopefully notice.

This treatment for the X-Men has some strategic similarities to what Wood is doing on another high profile company owned property at the moment, namely Star Wars over at Dark Horse. (Now that I mention it, you could probably also apply most of this literary topos to Conan The Barbarian). Think about it at a high level. He’s working on a decades old property that’s become a household name through multimedia saturation. He’s hitting lots of nostalgia buttons for a very rabid and very vocal fan base by re-focusing on the inclusion of some of their most beloved characters. Yet, he’s still able to keep it fresh and exciting by doing some world-building of his own within a very well-established universe. He’s including several strong female protagonists which feel like organic extensions of pre-existing characterization, in a fashion that in no way threatens the male characters and their status in the canon. Yet, he’s still enduring some questionably motivated fanboy fury (overly purist, blatantly sexist, generally change-resistant, or whatever) over these progressive creative decisions. It’s like, sorry fellas, but you don’t specifically hire Brian Wood to maintain the storytelling status quo and just put two big-muscled males in a room and let them pound each other into submission. Rebel Alliance or Children of the Atom, I’d rather see something different. I’d rather see Leia running black ops. I’d rather see Rachel and Psylocke interrogating John Sublime.

The issue itself opens with the exciting rush of a meteor falling to Earth and some foreboding voiceover which taps into the nature vs. nurture divide, while positioning science and tech-forward thinking as a central conceit of the story, because there will always be social relevance in a Brian Wood joint. Before the two converge in a dire cliffhanger, this thread segues to another thread featuring Jubilation Lee (that’s our beloved SoCal orphan mallrat, Jubilee) on the run with a baby, which seems to possess some strange technological powers as revealed in the art initially. Jubilee is running halfway across the globe and looking to the school as something of a safe house, and her running to ground is an important bit of characterization in itself. Jubilee reads like the intelligent young person she is. Despite her surface attitude and fashion sense, she’s not an airhead. Now, I haven’t kept tabs on her during the whole vampire debacle, but she seems more mature and capable. Maybe she’s grown in the last few years as a result of her experiences, or maybe this is just Wood’s take on her, but she’s certainly not a damsel in distress. She’s not freaking out; she’s processing her surroundings and making tactical judgment calls. She knows enough about basic tradecraft to know when she’s being followed. She’s not helpless, but she is smart enough to know when she needs help, and that’s an important distinction to make when you’re writing female characters and want to avoid the cliché archetypes of the uber-competent assassin or the classic princess awaiting her savior. Jubilee’s on neither end of that polar spectrum, but somewhere in the realistic middle.

There’s characterization like that permeating the entire issue. I like little things like the way Kitty says to Jubilee regarding the baby “he’s cute, Jubes.” That innocuous little shorthand nickname flourish is exactly how these two young females who’ve known each other for years would engage in friendly banter. I like the way John Sublime speaks about humans. It’s detached. He’s been walking among them, even living as one for years, but he most certainly is not one. In fact, his entire introduction is off-type and subverts reader expectations. He doesn’t mustache-twirl behind the scenes. He doesn’t kidnap Jubilee. He doesn’t attack the school. He walks right up like John Doe, kneels calmly, interlaces his fingers behind his head, and he surrenders in order to avoid a confrontation and efficiently get his greater point across. Hell, he probably isn’t even the ostensible “villain” in this story. Wood is usually pretty careful not to throw around those black and white labels and offers more multi-dimensional characters. This brings us to the greater threat, a hybrid entity ultimately calling itself “Arkea Prime.” John Sublime refers to it as his “sister” and later says that he alone can’t stop “her.” Jubilee and Kitty refer to the baby the entity inhabits as a “he.” Wood also refers to the baby as a “he” in the lettercol. By the end of the issue, the entity inhabits the body of what appears to be a female. I don’t think any of this she/he gender fluidity is by chance. Perhaps this entity is evolved beyond the point of gender, perhaps Wood is making some anticipatory meta-comment regarding backlash, or perhaps it’s all just simply dependent on the host body. It’s just an observation for now. Suffice it to say, someone as powerful as John Sublime yelling “The infant! Secure the infant!” is intense. If this guy is freaking out, it must be bad.

With all this talk of characterization, new directions, and bold storytelling choices, I hope you don’t get the impression that it’s devoid of action. The creative team doesn’t devote the introductory issue to set-up alone; there’s satisfying action that’s also choreographed smartly. Not only do things go boom real good, but it also allows every member of the team a little moment to shine, introducing them, their powers, and their personalities. The entire book does that, so whether you had to wiki John Sublime or not, whether this is your first X-Men comic for a while or forever, there’s an accessibility here to the cast, to their place in the world, and to the mysterious threat that’s literally brought to their doorstep, which is sometimes sorely lacking in the X-Men’s generally convoluted continuity. In fact, if you judge this book by what it sets out to do in terms of stated objectives, which is a fairly common business methodology, it succeeds on all fronts. Wood reveals in the lettercol that the team intended to provide a “high action” and “plot dense” story. He may have even thrown the word “iconic” around. When you throw in the visually striking work of Olivier Coipel on top of Wood’s rich script and robust character work, the very first issue is already satisfying the results rubric.

Speaking of Coipel, his art here gives off a few different vibes, all of which I enjoyed, all of which truly belong. There were a couple instances when it reminded me of Chris Bachalo’s edgy work, especially his recent effort with the general design of Rachel and the sense of presence she oozes. There were times that it had the smooth high gloss of John Cassaday (Astonishing X-Men being the last time an X-Men re-launch was really stellar), especially the opening scenes of the meteor (due in no small part to the talent of Laura Martin on color). But, most noticeable for me is what felt like an aesthetic nod to old-school Jim Lee in places. There’s that level of granular detail, pencil precision, and artistic consistency filling these pages. It made me think of some of that early Jim Lee work, of the halcyon days of the X-Men, featuring some of these very same people. If you’re going to do an X-Men book, with these characters, a subtle stylistic nod to Jim Lee’s influence is far from the worst thing you could capture. That balance of respecting the past, but transcending it seems to fuel the book. It doesn’t matter if it’s the seemingly simple inclusion of Grand Central Station or Psylocke’s striking psychic bow as she’s perched atop the school. The former taps that nostalgia button, calling back to the period of time when Kitty was first introduced and the gang would take frequent trips into NYC. The latter offering a modern interpretation of Betsy Braddock’s powers. To Coipel’s credit, the end result is a visual mixture of classic looks and new stylistic elements, which tonally syncs up with what Wood’s writing is channeling. That’s the definition of a perfect match.

Jubilee. Kitty. Rachel. Storm. Rogue. Psylocke. So, sure, it’s largely an all-female cast. But, I guess I never noticed? I mean, who cares? I don’t understand the objection. It’s not like these six women are locked in a story vacuum and never interact with males. Brian Wood has hinted that other females may join. I saw Pixie. I’m sure some fans will want X-23. I saw a whole bunch of other characters too. I saw Beast. They mentioned Wolverine. But, again, who really cares? None of those individual choices inherently make or break a story. First and foremost, I hope I speak for everyone when I say that I want a well-told story with striking art, regardless of property or characters. I don’t really care if the characters happen to be heroes or villains, mutants or non-mutants, young or old, classics or new creations, males or females. If for some reason you really want an exclusive sausage-fest, there are plenty of other X-Men books out there to choose from. There are plenty of other male dominated superhero books to choose from in general. This is no gimmick. It’s the X-Men. It’s a compelling story. It’s visually memorable. It’s great characters. They happen to be women. There’s so many other things swirling around in this premise that if you specifically notice the low percentage of men, fixate on that, and are disturbed by it, well, there’s probably another deep-seeded reason for that reaction, regardless of the content of the book. Besides, in most professional endeavors, if you’re not pissing someone off, you’re probably not doing a very good job in the first place.

It’s another random observation, but I noticed that this story segment entitled “Primer” is part 1 of 3. It makes me wonder how long the initial and forthcoming arcs will be. Wood has been experimenting to some degree with shorter more crisp and dense three-issue arcs over at Dark Horse on both The Massive and Conan The Barbarian. Instead of the tendency toward decompression that sort of came and went in the last 15 years or so, this three-issue approach is a tendency toward the opposite, toward being very compressed, well beyond the density of typical 5 or 6 issue story arcs currently being collected in comics. In those other books, Wood’s been following the old screenwriter’s adage of getting into scenes as late as possible and getting out as early as possible, not wasting time, cinching up words and actions, leaving a lot of activity occurring between the panels in the gutters, forcing the reader to participate in the process in order to provide closure via the tertiary information delivery system that combines words and art, in the interactive way that Scott McCloud articulated in Understanding Comics. So, I’m just curious to see how that would play out in X-Men.

Well, three years have already passed since I declared that “Brian Wood is the voice of our generation” after going back to read and analyze his entire body of work. It goes without saying that I will always prefer creator-owned projects as a general guideline, but hey, I’ve always liked the X-Men. It’s also very rewarding to see someone who has put in years of hard work earn a high profile project that will ideally lead to greater recognition of his unique talent and draw attention to his entire catalog. For as good as projects like X-Men and Star Wars are, you’d be missing the real gems by ignoring works like The Massive, DMZ, or Northlanders, just to name a few relatively recent examples without digging terribly deep into the Brian Wood library. I certainly hope that next year’s Eisner Award Judges are paying closer attention to his stellar bibliography and the momentum being sustained across multiple genres. X-Men is another perfect debut in a robust mixture of creator owned and company owned projects that displays the versatility and potency of a modern master. Grade A+.


5.22.13 [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.
Wasteland #45 (Oni Press): It’s always been interesting to me that these interlude issues between arcs a) feature a guest artist, and b) tend to play around with the timeline in this world. We’ve seen issues take place 10 and 50 years after The Big Wet, for example, and this one takes place 101 years after, when the entire series is set at 100 years after. That said, I think it’s the first time writer Antony Johnston has done a small “flash-forward” like this. It allows us to join Jakob back at Newbegin, who is wallowing in alcoholic self-loathing, perhaps some lingering guilt over Golden Voice’s death, and disappointment at his own ability to take out Marcus and shake-up the stranglehold he has over the town. If nothing else, after the internal politicking of this issue, the forthcoming arc looks like all that’s going to get resolved in typical startling, bloody, and creative fashion. Chris Mitten is probably doing the work of his career, in a relatively stealth fashion, not on interiors, but hiding in plain sight with this recent series of covers he’s turned in for this series. I’ve always liked his work, but it looks magnificent in full color. On the interior, Johnston is joined by Omar Olivera for this issue, whose style is just scratchy and realistic enough in the foregrounds and figure work to sell the world, even if it starts to lack a little bit of detail in the backgrounds, or need a second read through some of the fight choreography for clarity. If you’re keeping score, there’s only 15 issues left in this series and the closer we get, the more apt I am to get excited and move this to the top of the read pile. Grade A.
Mind MGMT #11 (Dark Horse): This issue focuses on Duncan, who the team recently picked up. There’s a joke in the lettercol about how you could probably make a mini-series out of page 10 alone, but it’s totally true. The lost Bamiyan Buddha is a rich throwaway line, but that page is also just marvelous to look at. It’s the kind of striking piece of original art I’d want to own, the kind that stands on its own as a work of art, and showcases Kindt’s unique talent. Likewise, his visual take on the ethereal memories of the woman known only as The Eraser is a beautiful bit of danger. The team finally finds Shangri-La in this issue, and along the way I kept staring at Henry Lyme. It’s funny, I’ve been bugging Brian Wood about having Matt Kindt do an alternate cover for The Massive, or even an entire issue, and this installment has me convinced; Henry Lyme totally looks like Callum Israel in spots. It’s great. This issue maybe feels a little lighter than some recent ones, with the back half dedicated to “getting there,” but it’s still a great read. If someone were to chronicle Kindt’s career, I think history will mark this series as the turning point where he went from talented up-and-comer to full-fledged star. Grade A.
Sex #3 (Image): When searching for adjectives to throw at Sex, “intriguing” is probably still the best word I can conjure to describe my feelings toward this book. I’m not sold on it yet. After three issues, I still don’t really know what it’s about or where it’s going from a plot standpoint. I still don’t know why some of the dialogue is color-coded. If you’re one of those people who buys into the whole tried and true three-act structure bit, then I don’t know a) what the protagonist wants, b) what the obstacle presented for dramatic tension is, and c) what he’s willing to do to resolve it. That said, it is a cool world being built where superheroing is in the past and that psychological draw has been redirected and sublimated by all things sex. The juxtaposition of those thematic devices is great. The art is great, popping between dark shadows and bright colors, but the whole doesn’t feel like it’s coming together yet. The character threads aren’t intersecting yet. By the end, there’s maybe a hint of a direction, but we’re already three issues in. This is the type of book I’ll probably give the benefit of the doubt to, and try the entire first arc before deciding if I’m committing to it long term or not. For now, it’s just more of the same exact thing it’s been for the preceding two issues, frustrated ex-hero with repressed sexuality mopes around, while other characters sort of revel in their stations. Grade B+.
Occupy Comics #1 (Black Mask): There’s an interesting cadre of talent assembled here, but the results are mixed, resulting in an overall middling effort, as is the case with so many anthologies. It’s also interesting that, in fine comic book fashion, the whole idea of an “Occupy Movement” comic is a day late and a dollar short. I mean, is anybody even really talking about this topical social issue anymore? Is anybody making “Occupy Twitter” jokes anymore when it crashes for an hour? Its moment has already passed in the collective consciousness. It’s been eclipsed by other meltdowns and tragedies, but of course that hasn’t stopped the DC cash-in juggernaut from trotting out it’s The Movement and The Green Team books either, but I digress. So, Occupy Comics. I enjoyed Molly Crabapples’s pinup, Douglas Rushkoff and Dean Haspiel’s historical strip, and Ales Kot, Tyler Crook, and Jeromy Cox turning in what is probably the strongest piece in the book. Theirs was “Grade A” and I could have used an entire feature length version of that project and been quite satisfied. Templesmith’s was biting, Ronald Wimberly’s was clever, Joshua Dysart’s was fact-filled. Matt Pizzolo and Ayhan Hayrula turn in a piece called “Channel 1%” (maybe a nod to Brian Wood’s Channel Zero?) that was very smart in how it framed the conflict of interest hypocrisy of protests by the 99% being filtered  through the 1% distortion lens controlled by the media, back at the 99% for consumption. Alan Moore’s meandering essay was about twice as long as I could stomach and ultimately didn’t have a destination. Everything else in the book was just sort of there and felt flat. Grade B.
Half Past Danger #1 (IDW): Well, there’s certainly no arguing that the book looks absolutely beautiful. I really appreciated how the cover went against type, with a retro feel that captures the blend of genres, dancing between WWII comics and generic “monster” comics that generally preceded the inundation of the superhero genre in the Silver Age. Writer/Artist Stephen Mooney clearly has love for these types of stories and the overall aesthetic that fuels them. The downside to this labor of love is that, judging from this effort, he seems to be a stronger artist than a writer. I know he’s paying homage to a bygone style of storytelling, but that doesn’t escape the fact that many characters felt like stock clichés at times. The soldiers were straight outta’ Sgt. Fury’s Easy Company or Saving Private Ryan, the Nazi Pacific Island base looked like a set out of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a Japanese guy flies in all Kato style and uses karate, there’s an English femme fatale, a stoic Steve Rogers dude, a brooding anti-hero with a past. We’ve seen it all many many many times before, and in order to shake up expectations you have to do something very different and, so far, despite a T-Rex and some V’Raptors, it’s not happening. On top of that, I found some of the weaponry things problematic. The ranking officer has a Thompson, which makes sense, but at other times the sound effects don’t match the semi-auto weapons other members of the squad would have. Theirs wouldn’t really go “RATATATATATAT!!!” as indicated, it’d be more of a “BAP!-BAP!-BAP!,” and I also hate when law enforcement or military personnel refer to magazines as “clips,” but this is all admittedly being really nitpicky. You also have to buy that dudes can outrun a T-Rex and V’Raptors on foot, something Jurassic Park surely taught us just isn’t plausible. It’s not quite strong enough for me to support in singles, but this is something I might check it out in trade eventually. Grade B-.
The Bounce #1 (Image): Joe Casey and David Messina deliver what is an attempted modernization of the classic Spider-Man or Speedball archetype. The art is clean and serviceable most of the time (expect for that horrible Bizarro Nightwing look that the first villain had), with some visually interesting tech, so my lack of enthusiasm has more to do with the scripting. I guess I can buy the whole drug fueled aspect of the story and maaaaaybe even the dude’s goofy-ass bouncing ball powers, but I started to lose interest when corny stereotype drug dealers rolled up, or self-aware metrosexual Matrix reject characters with names like The Darling or The Fog show up and start monologuing and naming themselves in totes inorganic fashion. This is the type of book I pick up in trade for 50% off at Comic-Con. Grade B-.


Natural Satellites [Small Press]

Titan #1 (Family Style/Press Gang): There’s a plethora of great comics at the Study Group Comics site, but you guys know my personal preference for print, so I was very excited to check out this first tangible installment from Francois Vigneault. It did not disappoint. In the far-flung future of 2192 on Saturn's moon of Titan, MNGR Joao da Silva is dispatched to resolve production inefficiencies exacerbated by labor disputes. The union problems seem to be rooted in racial inequality between the Terrans and Titans, the former’s management and security staff of 568 heavily outnumbered by the latter’s genetically engineered workforce of 50,000. Complicating negotiations are some hot-headed Terran officers and equally ill-tempered Titans on the other side of the equation, MNGR da Silva maybe acting too bold for his own good, and a very subdued and odd sexual tension between him and his Titan liaison handler Phoebe Mackintosh. Vigneault constructs the world of Titan and the basic story premise in the tradition of the best kinds of sci-fi. While exploring a logical progression of fascinating speech patterns and technological advances (things like iPhones and iPads simply become the “i” and just the “i,” where your entire body and its functions are internally networked via voice commands), we find that the specific details may be different, but the tensions are essentially the same. There will always be differing worldviews between management and entry level line workers, there will always be power struggles, there will always be economic tension, racial tension, and sexual tension. There’s no false utopia presented in Vigneault’s future world, merely an aspirational sci-fi narrative that allows us to reflect back on our own social issues through the lens of this re-contextualization process. Vigneault’s lines dance between a sort of Herge influenced European classicism, complete with ligne-claire coifs of hair, and the full-bodied beady sweat style of many modern alt cartoonists, running the erratic lineage from Robert Crumb to Charles Burns to  Noah Van Sciver. Vigneault is generous with his world-building backgrounds, and offers a warm tri-color glow of black, white, and an orange hue that gives the impression of what life must be like on a distant moon orbiting a gas giant planet. Compiling the first two installments of a planned six, complete with an unexpected intimate cliffhanger, it also gives me the impression that I can’t wait to see what’s next in this series. Grade A.


The Massive #12 [Advance Review]

The Massive #12 (Dark Horse): I’ll caveat this whole deal by saying in seafaring parlance that it’ll be difficult to review this book without venturing into some spoilery territorial waters, but I’ll give it a try out of respect for the series and where it’s likely to go. It’s the end of this three issue run featuring some diverse guest artists and we’re offered a heartbreaking denouement to this arc, which has led The Kapital on a targeted 6,000 mile search up the Pacific Coast all the way into the Arctic Circle Zone. I immediately liked how Lars is already leaning forward a bit, exerting influence, and stepping in to make leadership decisions in response to the confidential conversations about the future of Ninth Wave that he had with Mary in the last issue. The Massive is in limbo, neither lost nor found, the crew of The Kapital incapable of confirming either status for their sister ship, so Callum Israel stands in solitude up on the bridge, self-imposed exile or social pariah of sorts, like Melville’s Captain Ahab. He’s weary, obsessed, and doggedly repeating futile radio traffic that goes unanswered, on the very precipice of being destroyed by his quest.

I’m not entirely certain which issue of The Massive is my favorite if I was pressed to say; issues 4 and 5 are up there, yet I think this is now a strong contender, and a significant reason is the art of Danijel Zezelj. Every time he and Brian work together is magic (see DMZ #58 and I could easily rest my case). I think this is simply the best these characters have ever looked in terms of pure design work and capturing their personalities. I’ll be a dick and say that my only extremely minor, not even a quibble, but a question, is seeing bearded Cal in flashback because (I think?) we’ve always seen him clean-shaven in the Blackbell PMC era, but that’s not to say he couldn’t have obviously grown a beard on assignment somewhere. If you’ve ever seen Zezelj’s black and white work, you know that to color it is almost a sin. Color can actually mute lively black and white art, and Zezelj’s lines need not be tamped down with any further adornment, no disrespect to the palpable palette prowess of Jordie Bellaire. It’s a very raw aesthetic and his use of negative space to give objects contour is remarkable. Bellaire swiftly recognizes this and shows incredible restraint, letting the inks and not the color do most of the heavy lifting. You notice how it’s the empty un-inked areas that tend to define objects in Zezelj’s moody space. It’s there in the ice shelf on a random coastline, the way the hair hangs heavy around Lars’ face, or how Cal’s beard appears like it’s chiseled out of marble. Zezelj also uses a certain texturing effect (I guess that’s just splotchy stippling?) that makes for ominous shadows, or lends a general grit to the way things appear.

Zezelj is a Croatian artist that I’ve loved forever, having appeared in numerous Eastern European anthologies and being prolific as hell there, yet he’s had relatively few projects pop up in the states outside of his work with Brian on both DMZ and Northlanders, Luna Park at Vertigo, and Rex from Optimum Wound. Simply put, this guy should be a superstar in this industry and if something about his grounded aesthetic doesn’t seem particularly marketable to American audiences conditioned toward superheroics, then American audiences need to have their damn eyes checked and alter their precious artistic sensibilities. Ahem. Nobody is better at capturing the bleak emotional and physical terrain of what’s contained in a book like The Massive, especially a somber issue like this one. It’s particularly evident around page 12 and the disturbing sequence which follows. It’s predominantly just shots containing silent expanses of ice, while Wood complements what he knew Zezelj would deliver visually, in what is the ultimate act of faith in an artistic collaborator for a writer. Wood consciously clips his words and phrases, letting the art shine to convey both narrative and emotional intent, as Cal walks solemnly and contemplates in flashback how he acquired the ship originally, pulling something of a Malcolm Reynolds in the episode “Out of Gas,” if you’re a Browncoat.

The other flashback is one of those historical moments, the crew have all had them (Cal seems to have experienced a few that had a cumulative effect), which functions as a turning point leading toward his decision to recuse himself from private military contract work and form Ninth Wave. Mary’s words “be better” continue to ring in Cal’s ears and influence his decision-making. “Be better.” It’s why he left his old life. It’s all he’s ever wanted for himself. It’s all he’s ever wanted to provide for his crew. It’s all he ever wanted for the world. He believes in the promise of change. He believes in hope. It’s one of the most romantic notions this book has ever put forth. By the time this issue wraps up this leg of the Pacific Coast journey, Cal confronts the disappointing pot of coal at the end of this erratic radar blip rainbow and it boxes him into an emotional corner. He feels that nearly all of that hope has been lost. Grade A+.


5.15.13 [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.

Dream Thief #1 (Dark Horse): Well, there’s two independent books that came out this week with “dream” in the title, but this is the one you definitely want. Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood are two creators I wasn’t familiar with, but now I will make it a point to be. This is the type of new comics experience I live for. Walking into the LCS on Wednesday to discover a new book, new creators, new approaches that seemingly come from out of nowhere and grab my interest. Smallwood handles all of the art, inking, coloring, and lettering duties on the title. His art style immediately reminded me of latter era Sean Phillips, only better. There’s more life in these lines, sans the angular and sometimes stiff edges that accompany an artist like Phillips. Smallwood’s style is quite accomplished, especially when bathed in the warm and welcoming color palette he uses. Additionally, Smallwood is able to deliberately shift his aesthetic at times, like during the memory sequences, or by including visual shorthand like $ signs and “like” symbols in thought balloons, as well as play around with conventional panel layouts to emphasize the disorientation of, say, waking up next to dead bodies while wearing a mask you stole from a museum after assuming you blacked out during an alcohol fueled chronic bender. Ahem. The theft of the artifact and scenes in an art museum were near and dear to me, since I work in one. I particularly enjoyed the complex morality presented with some of the (without spoiling things) decisions that John Lincoln has to make and the ways he finds to justify them. There’s just a fresh, vibrant, effortless sense of discovery to reading this book. It comes across in the engaging characters, the natural dialogue, and the cover story that John quickly starts putting into place, fueling the series, and giving hints as to where things might even go. I’m already wondering how sales and critical reaction on this book will be. It’s probably too early to tell, but at this point it’s certainly the type of story that seems to have the potential for the creators to return to for additional adventures or an ongoing series. I’d welcome that. Grade A.

The Legend of Luther Strode #5 (Image): Remember that artist Tan Eng Huat? Yeah! That’s what Tradd Moore’s art sometimes reminds me of, only more dynamic. It’s kinetic and stylized and refined. There’s probably no end to the adjectives I could sling at this thing and do it justice. There’s a fine sense of detail that’s like dancing on a razor’s edge during the action sequences. Holistically, Justin Jordan has always positioned Luther Strode as a genre hybrid of horror and superhero, and I think this issue taps into that nicely. It’s got all the reader engagement of the latter and the journey toward the redemption of sins of the former. Between them, Luther, Petra, Binder, and Jack end up resolving one personal issue, but one threat is still very much looming for the climactic showdown. This is the type of comic that critics tell people “if you’re not buying this, you just don’t like comics.” It can only be done on paper, in this medium. I love this book. It’s everything a fun modern comic should be. Grade A.

Think Tank #7 (Image): I always enjoy the way Matt Hawkins is able to so strongly infuse the research he does for this book directly into the narrative. This issue opens with the notion of the feint, of balancing small scale tactics with looking at the bigger picture strategy. It suggests that people actually make life-changing decisions every single day, often with insufficient information and limited perspective, probably without even realizing it. The script then dives directly into positioning the players in a military style feint and dealing with the unintended consequences. With biomimetics and advanced drones, we see a surgical strike against Iran, supposedly to halt their nuclear capability, but with the added benefit of diverting attention away from a DNA targeting weapon possibly being used against China. All the while, the White House will probably need a fall guy in this whole mess. Bet you can’t guess how that plays out. Rahsan Ekedal is an artist who should be a superstar in the near future. The decision to showcase his art devoid of full color and using just gray tones really lets it shine instead of tamping down any sense of pop. You can actually see the various line weights, the expressions, and the postures of the in-fighting colleagues and how to tell a visual story sequentially. Hawkins’ back-matter concerning drone carriers, mimetics, and more is very informative, and sometimes startling, regarding material that the mainstream media shows little interest in covering. This issue ends with a huge “holy shit!” moment that’s going to have many political and personal consequences. Grade A.

Conan The Barbarian #16 [The Wood Pile]

Conan The Barbarian #16 (Dark Horse): Damn. Every issue of this series has been what I’d call “very good,” but this one is simply great. Brian Wood re-teams with Northlanders collaborator Davide Gianfelice and the results are electric. I’m prepared to say this is some of, if not “the,” best art we’ve seen on the series to date. Gianfelice brings an expressive danger to the proceedings, and when paired with Dave Stewart's lavish colors, it’s a can’t miss creative effort. It makes me miss those issues of Northlanders. Seeing Gianfelice come in to work with Wood feels like old friends catching up over a drink after years of being apart. They might not talk every day, but they can pick right up where they left off, and you understand immediately by eavesropping on this artistic conversation why they’ve remained friends for so long despite the distance. While some might view this detour to the pleasure city of Ianthe as superfluous, it’s an important step in Conan and Belit’s love story. It offers a brief respite after the many ordeals they’ve endured, a space where they can simply enjoy each other, trust in each other, and build the type of intimacy and bond that only forms through shared experiences. I’ve already seen a review that pejoratively suggests the sex and drug use is somehow gratuitous or out of character, present merely for the sake of itself. Bah. If anything, I think it reflects everything I just said, a brief moment where the two young lovers can relax and be carefree in an otherwise very dangerous and unpredictable world that could end at any second under the right set of stressors. It reflects where they’re at in life’s journey, their age and bold sense of experimentation, but also their willingness to trust in the other and just let go in the presence of the other. This sets them off on some sort of yellow lotus mind trip, the type of Native American vision quest that forces Conan to confront his own insecurities, regrets, and guilt over those lost in the tumultuous time period shared with Belit. This thoughtful examination of the character adds an emotional depth and complexity to what could play as a rather two dimensional archetype in the hands of lesser writers, those content to simply do their rendition of what's come before. It seems like there are purists out there who for some reason desire a word for word pictographic adaptation of the REH source material. That’s not why you hire Brian Wood. You don’t hire him to maintain the status quo. You hire him to create what's known as a "discontiguous process" in the innovation discussions of Corporate America. That’s how you modernize a property and engage a more sophisticated audience, one who's grown savvy to traditional storytelling approaches. Another reason this issue, and the series itself, works so well is the structure involving three-issue arcs. Not only is it a perpetual showcase for artistic talent, parading in amazing artists, one after the other, shit - it almost feels like showing off at this point, but like The Massive, it makes the single issues and compressed arcs feel dense. Each issue is packed with information, fighting the passé tendency toward decompression. It takes a while to chew through an issue of Conan, and I like that. It makes me feel as if I’m getting my money’s worth, getting a complete story or at least a significant chunk, not just a slice of a single conversation. I don’t find the transitions between arcs or artists jarring. If anything, issues of Conan are like storytelling shots, distilled down into an intense experience that can be enjoyed singularly or in succession. So, if you're in the area, I recommend you slip up to the bar in one of the many brothels in the pleasure quarter of Ianthe and have yourself a taste of Conan The Barbarian. Grade A+.


Personal Market Share

It’s been years since I’ve done one of these “personal market share” posts, which amount to little more than snapshots in time of what titles I’m currently regularly supporting, but I like looking at the statistics periodically just to get a general sense of trends. Keep in mind the metrics below do not include any of the material I’m fully comp’d on, which would skew things all outta’ whack. So far this calendar year, I’ve consumed a total of 169 total singles. However, 94 of those (56%) were fully comp’d. If you were to include comps, the metrics would further skew toward mini-comics and small press since 57 of the 94 comps (61%) I received were that type of indie material and wouldn’t be considered “mainstream” titles.

So, for purposes of this post we’re just dealing with the remaining 75 of the 169, which equates to about 22 total titles currently being purchased regularly in the traditional “pull list” fashion. These were all relatively mainstream titles, which, even factoring in my healthy discount thanks to my retail sponsor, I did make a conscious decision to actively support in some way financially. And that’s what this post is supposed to be about, analyzing what I’m currently voting for with my wallet at the distribution and retailer level. With all of that convoluted preamble out of the way, let’s dive in and take a glance at where my money is going.

Breaking things down by publisher, it seems I’ve become a de facto Image Comics spokesperson, with exactly half of my buying power supporting the “new” Image Comics. I attribute this to their phenomenal “Experience Creativity” creator-owned campaign. They attacked this in all sorts of ways, including reeling in big names on buzz books (Saga, East of West, Jupiter’s Legacy), featuring books by creators I’m loyal to (Mara), blurring the line between indie and mainstream (Prophet), and elevated talent with unique projects that stood out for me in ways Marvel and DC could never compete with because of the very nature of their IP portfolios (Danger Club, Luther Strode).

Dark Horse makes a strong showing in second place with 18% of my total dollars. Off the top of my head, I think a large part of this is due to writer Brian Wood (The Massive, Conan, Star Wars) with a little Matt Kindt thrown in (Mind MGMT) for good measure. Boom! Studios and Valiant Comics tie for third with 2-3 books each. That’s surprising because they sort of came out of nowhere. Boom! is a company I never really found a foothold with, but they have two solid series for me right now. Valiant made a big splash and thanks to Joshua Dysart, I’m pretty engaged in what’s going on in the universe. Oni Press, IDW, and Marvel are in a three way tie for fourth place, with essentially just one book each.

There are no DC books I’m supporting regularly. That’s 0% (!). Batwoman would have been on the list, but I stopped after JH Williams III was off of art duties. There’s just one book I’m getting from Marvel, which is Ultimate Comics: X-Men, and that’s only because Brian Wood is writing it. Sure, I expect to also be picking up his adjectiveless X-Men book too, but that hasn’t come out yet and it’s not fair to track things that I expect to purchase (X-Men, Lazarus, etc.).

50% Image
18% Dark Horse
9% Boom!
9% Valiant
5% Oni Press
5% IDW
5% Marvel

Speaking of Brian Wood, I thought it’d be fun to look at how many books I’m buying just out of loyalty to this one creator. As you can see below, he represents 23% of my total buying power. I think that’s a pretty strong commentary about the power of personal brand building and creator loyalty. There’s no other creator I can cite who would come close to that and enter double digits.

23% Brian Wood
77% Everyone Else
The other logical category I tried to sort titles into was genre. This isn’t a precise science obviously. Is something like Wasteland or The Massive principally a sci-fi or adventure book? Is Sex a crime book or a superhero book? What’s Todd The Ugliest Kid on Earth best classified as? Not wanting to get too hung up on semantics, I just took a rough pass at this to get a general sense. Roughly 33% of the books I support ostensibly involve superheroes. Granted, you could sub-categorize and say that most of the ones I buy as personal preference involve deconstruction of the paradigm (Danger Club, Deathmatch, Jupiter’s Legacy, etc.), but they are superhero-ish nonetheless. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ;-) The next easily identifiable category was surprisingly sci-fi, with about 29% of the pull. Star Wars leads the charge here, with things like Prophet and East of West backing it up. Things get a little fuzzy toward the bottom of the list, but I grouped 26% into the loose adventure category (Mind MGMT), with 12% sort of making up the rest, including horror, crime (Ten Grand), and a couple other misc. genres lumped in.

33% Superhero
29% Sci-Fi
26% Adventure
12% Horror/Crime/Other

I’m not sure how much further you can read into these genre numbers, aside from the obvious. Superheroes as a genre still comprise the majority of the creative output of the larger North American comic book publishers. We already knew that, but it looks like I’m starting to gravitate toward other genres according to the diversity of the numbers. I would have expected that superhero number to be closer to 50% just a few years ago, particularly when I was not boycotting Marvel and DC Universe titles as a general matter of principle. I guess I didn’t expect Sci-Fi to be so high? I don’t know. It’s not like a actively see out sci-fi titles. I generally follow creators I like and books that just click with me regardless of genre.


5.08.13 [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.
Harbinger #12 (Valiant): Peter and The Renegades finally engage with Cronos and the psiots holed up in The Bellagio in Las Vegas, in what is a rather tenuous gettin-ta-know-ya meeting. Not a whole lot happens in this issue since it’s smack dab in the middle of the crossover event and feels like something of a stall, but the thing I enjoy, which keeps me coming back to Harbinger amid all of the growing list of Valiant titles, is that it’s written really well. Not only do we get more of the super-entertaining Toyo Harada back story, but Joshua Dysart is able to infuse the script with enough casual humor (like the way Faith and Pete name their team “The Renegades” in a seriously impromptu fashion), enough genuine emotion, and the promise of real stakes danger, that the believability factor is actually pretty high. Man, I’d pay like 2x the cover price for this title if Clayton Crain was the regular series artist. He handles just one page of flashback in this issue (uncredited?) and it just sings. To me, that’s the caliber of artist that Dysart has earned on this book. The other art from Khari Evans and Trevor Hairsine is serviceable, but doesn’t have the “wow” factor that Crain does. Grade B+.
Chin Music #1 (Image): Right off the bat, I enjoyed how Tony Harris was able to carry so much of this story visually. The last time I really paid attention to his art was when he was doing Ex Machina with Brian K. Vaughan. The needs of that story demanded a more superheroic sheen obviously. Here, the style is much darker and more muddy, which seems to suit the needs of the story. On the scripting end, Steve Niles has always been fairly hit and miss for me, and this issue a good example of that. At a high level, I really enjoy the odd mix of genres here that seems to be more than the sum of the parts flung against the script to see what will stick. There’s noir detective stuff mixed with Egyptian Indiana Jones stuff mixed with gangsters mixed with the whiff of superpowers mixed with heaping doses of the occult mixed with speculative fiction about Eliot Ness and Al Capone. It's all over the place and hasn't quite congealed yet. It’s sort of half muddled, but half unique enough that I’m interested to see where in the heck this is going to go. The problem with mushing all this stuff together is that there’s the potential for inconsistencies to occur. Much of that depends on when exactly this story occurs. Judging from the cars and clothes and appearances of Ness and Capone, it would seem this is during the late 1920’s/early 1930’s. There’s a gun that's a top-breaking revolver in one scene called a Webley (I’ve owned two) that was widely used in the 30’s and 40’s, manufactured from 1887 to 1923, but used all the way up until 1963, so that doesn’t help straighten things out. At one point, Ness says “I’m a police officer,” which a Federal Agent would never say. Trust me, Feds are quite proud of being Feds and not local cops and making the distinction. He then flashes a badge which says “Internal Revenue Service (IRS)” on it. One, Ness was never an IRS Agent. Two, the agency wasn’t actually called IRS until the 1950’s. Despite the Brian DePalma film The Untouchables, Ness was never really involved in the tax evasion part of the Capone investigation and subsequent prosecution, he was strictly working the violation of the Volstead Act angle. Ness was a generic Treasury Agent at the time, assigned to a unit that morphed over time and would have been considered more of an ATF Agent in modern parlance, though that agency wasn’t called that until 1968 (I worked for ATF as well, which is why all this annoys me, and probably only me). Ness was in Chicago from 1927 to 1931ish, then in Cleveland and DC from 1931 to 1957ish. To my knowledge he was never in Egypt, which I don't mind since it's clearly getting into speculative fiction, but I still don’t know what the hell is going on or when this story is supposed to take place. So, yeah, intriguing, but flawed. There’s a bold hook at the end, and I’m curious enough to give this wacky mash-up another issue or two. Grade B+.
Prophet #35 (Image): This will probably sound contrarian as hell, but man I’m really starting to lose my patience with this book. I enjoy the art of Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Giannis Milonogiannis, but we’re not getting Graham’s art anymore on the book and the combined writing efforts of the trio leave something to be desired. The visual world-building is obviously very imaginative and unique, but for me there is some serious plotting lacking. It’s like it’s gone from being a crisp rendition of “Sci-Fi Conan” to just a Sci-Fi Brainstorming Session Gone Awry. It now feels like a never-ending succession of meandering oddities being introduced. So you can have all the ambulavit pod arc mother probes , mind mortar Johns, Parabalani Johns, Thauilu Vah spires, Hydathode slugs, and mucus lines of slaved schechus you want, but no matter how visually compelling and creative they are, if I don’t understand why anyone is doing anything they’re doing and what consequences it has to whatever their objective is, then you’ve kind of lost me. It was dope seeing Malachi Ward art on the backup story, but I feel like I'm going to end up just catching up on this series in trades. Grade B+.

Star Wars #5 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #5 (Dark Horse): In sound journalistic fashion, I’ll try not to bury my lead. This is the best issue of the series to date, and it’s going to receive a very high rating today, which actually presents something of a problem for me, since I’ve already been giving the single issues my highest rating.
Now, a few of the guys who shop at my LCS and buy the book have expressed the idea that having Leia out in the field dog-fighting in an Incom T-65 and running off-book stealth missions perhaps strains credibility since she’s the “leader of the Rebellion” (their words). I've heard this fan griping before and frankly, I'm sick of it. Is it really 'cuz she's a leader? Is it 'cuz she's piloting? Is it really 'cuz she's an icky girl? 
Not only is it important to acknowledge that her having the technical skill to do so is quite well established, in the very canon of the films no less, but c'mon, it’s not like she’s POTUS out with the SEALs on the Bin Laden raid. Meaning, she’s not actually the top person in an established government. First, while Leia is certainly a high ranking and important member of the Rebel Alliance, it’s Mon Mothma who's calling the shots, which is why she eventually goes on to serve as the Chief of State in the New Republic.
Second, the Rebel Alliance is also not an established government. It’s a rebellion. Rebellions are often street-fights. Rebellions require hit and run guerrilla tactics. Rebellions require that everyone roll up their sleeves to participate, get dirty, and Boushh it up a little. Washington did cross the Delaware after all.
Diving in, Wood expertly juggles three plot threads and pushes every one of them hard. Leia and her strike team get pounced on by a group of Star Destroyers, and Bircher is deployed with some elite TIE Interceptors. The space battle is choreographed in an extremely engaging fashion, and without spoiling it in great detail, well, I’ve just never seen an X-Wing that battle damaged. It actually makes your pulse quicken and I felt a twinge of fear for the occupant, despite knowing Wood can’t really kill off any established characters at this point. That’s how emotionally invested I was.
We also follow Han and Chewie on Coruscant, doing what they do best, getting in over their head in seedy back alley bars, rolling among dangerous bounty hunters and all manner of galactic creatures and races, including a capable new female character named Perla. As if seeing Boba Fett up close and personal wasn’t exciting enough, The Hound’s Tooth must be parked somewhere on Coruscant, because everyone’s favorite Trandoshan bounty hunter is riding shotgun with him. It’s not all just set pieces though. Wood manages to squeeze in characterization during all the razzle-dazzle, stuff like Boba Fett weighing the pros and cons of delivering Solo to either Jabba The Hutt or Darth Vader.
Wood also touches base with some pilot named Luke and his wingman Prithi, who appears to be not only a love interest for Luke, but a little force sensitive as well. We’ll see where that goes. Oh, I lied, there’s actually a fourth plot thread as well, with Vader deputizing Birra Seah as an Acting Moff, which has all sorts of potential, not the least of which is a female in the Imperial command structure, which I don’t think we’ve ever seen before(?). 
Carlos D’Anda nails everything! The camera placement and perspectives during the action, the way Bircher is bathed in a menacing red glow inside the TIE cockpit (thanks to Gabe Eltaeb on colors), the ability to convey speed and motion in space, the close-ups of Fett and Vader, from explosive action to intimate facial expressions, there’s a slick dirty sheen to the proceedings that’s perfectly suited for what Lucas envisioned and Wood enriches.
Yeah, I think “enriches” is the word I want to use now, the word I meant when I kept saying in previous reviews that Wood is still able to world-build in an incredibly well explored world. The Star Wars tree has many branches and off-shoots, if you’ll forgive this analogy, but Wood is able to fertilize the thing, grow some branches of his own that bloom with life and freshen up this nearly 40 year old evergreen. For those keeping score, this is the fifth perfect score in a row for this title, setting a record in these parts which I doubt will ever be eclipsed, not even by the twin suns of Tatooine. Grade A+.


Burning Down The House [Small Press]

[Originally Published @ Poopsheet Foundation]


I first became of aware of Zwirek’s work on a 2009 project he edited about Chicago gangsters entitled Pinstriped Bloodbath (which was in fact the very first comic I reviewed at Poopsheet Foundation), so it was great to see the result of this successful Kickstarter campaign come to fruition. Burning Building Comix is probably the most innovative comic you’ll see this year from a construction and storytelling standpoint. The hardcover folds open to reveal two interior booklets, for a total of 10 rows of panels. These rows function as “stories” in two different ways. They’re meant to represent both the actual physical stories of the building, and they also each contain a different story featuring varied building occupants. It’s an interactive experiment that asks the audience to alter their typical reading behavior. You start at the very bottom of these unfolded pages, work your way across, then up to the next row, across again, and repeat, until you’ve reached the top of the building and have raced the fire up the structure as it attempts to engulf the building.

This unique approach creates a dynamic where Zwirek can tinker with many different aspects of sequential storytelling. It allows him to play with the passage of time and control the reader’s eye movement across the page, and to have activities within the rows of panels intersect from floor to floor, such as two people from different stories meeting at a party, or a dog barking which is heard between the floors/rows. In addition to Zwirek pushing the boundaries of a traditional comic book narrative, he also challenges himself to tell this story sans dialogue. It forces him to create an aesthetically expressive cast of characters with pantomime actions, pictorial speech balloons that symbolize ideas, and to lace the backgrounds of the panels with some visual clues. Zwirek perhaps pushes the suspension of disbelief a tiny bit too hard at times. For example, I find it hard to believe that someone could “unhang” themselves or that an average run-of-the-mill dog might be able to use his water bowl to attempt to drown out an incipient stage fire, but that would otherwise hamper some of the humor, and it’s admittedly being very nitpicky regarding an otherwise stellar work.

Either because I’m just contrarian by nature or an absolute idiot, well, maybe it’s really because I was inspired to experiment as a reader, as this creator was inspired to experiment with storytelling, that I also read the book a second and third time. During these reads, I purposely did not follow the intended instructions, and this yielded some interesting results. As an aside, I did this for Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, for whatever that’s worth. Instead of following the “Choose Your Own Adventure” style, I also read that book straight through in order to catch pages I might have missed. With Burning Building, I read it from the top down, from left to right one time, and this was interesting because it was the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do, causing you to move against the fire, and not with it. This means that it appeared as if the incantation guy actually started the fire with his spell(!). I then read it a final time, reading the first panel of every story, then moving onto the second in unison, so I read from top left down, reading in columns, and moving forward with all stories at once incrementally. The dynamics fell out of linear sequence at times, the pace intensified with fire seemingly occurring on multiple floors at once, but it was just as interesting. Things like the dog barking fell in line just fine.

Burning Building Comix is worth the price of admission for the sheer craft of bookmaking and the innovative approach to storytelling alone, but it’s not a solitary gimmick that the book relies on by any means. The stories themselves are actually very telling and enjoyable with regard to human nature, particularly if you consider that the building itself represents life, and each player is merely a different aspect of self. It’s compelling to see how people from different walks of life, different ages, genders, and personalities, all react differently to the prospect of being consumed by fire, or just being consumed by their own issues. Grade A+.


The Final Year [Shotgun Blurbs]

Over a year ago, I pitched a column called “Creator-Owned Spotlight” to a certain person at a certain magazine in order to, uhh, spotlight some of the creator-owned books that I felt were deserving of wider recognition. The magazine ultimately turned non-responsive on the entire premise of the column or on me pitching ideas in the first place or on who the hell knows what, so I decided to repurpose what I felt was a decent bit of writing I’d done for the first Danger Club sample I submitted.

Eventually, my friend Keith Silva joined me for this soiree and it became a recurring feature here at Thirteen Minutes. We renamed it “Shotgun Blurbs” after organically stumbling onto that sobriquet. We were hyping the newest monthly installment on Twitter and I think I said something like “Keith Silva ‘shotgun blurbs’ Prophet” or whatever the particular book was that month. We got plenty of appreciative RTs and decent hit spikes, but ultimately decided to shutter the column after one year in order to meet the caustic demands of our many financially non-feasible and non-accredited writing assignments elsewhere.

Thanks to Keith for consistently delivering like a pro and enhancing Thirteen Minutes with a much different voice occasionally booming from behind the megaphone. Here’s a message from Keith and a link dump to reference for the entire set of entries. Thanks for reading!

I want to thank Justin for this opportunity to highlight creator-owned work. I feel we will have succeeded if even one person hits on the idea that once in a while it's better to put one's faith (and some cash) in the hands of a creator rather than a corporation -- who roots for Dow Chemical anyhow?

The indies are in ascendancy, let's try to keep it that way. Sales figures and box office receipts don't determine quality, only popularity. If a thing is good, people will come (eventually), they always do, and let's remember popularity is fleeting as well. I want to read comics and not have an adjective like 'superhero' or 'mainstream' or 'DC' dictate the marketplace. Maybe that means I live in a 'comic book,' who knows.

Justin called 2012, 'the year creator-owned comics won.' Here's hoping 2013 continues the creator-owned groundswell and in ten years we'll all be watching Red Team, The Massive, and Mind MGMT on the big screen or streaming an entire season at home. And who knows, by 2023 we'll be due for an Iron Man reboot, so there's always hope.

5.01.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Ten Grand #1 (Image): J. Michael Straczynski and Ben Templesmith come out swinging with an impressive debut for Joe’s Comics that deserves all of the acclaim its currently garnering. I’ll tell you, If I was DC Comics, I’d be embarrassed as a motherfucker by this book because there’s absolutely no way that they couldn’t be doing a similar treatment with John Constantine. It just goes to show that the magic of a story in this medium is dependent on the strength of the creators involved, not the inherent juice that any particular character or property possesses. The creative team seamlessly fuses a seedy crime story with strong supernatural elements with the subtle essence of a love story fueling the narrative. Joe the mob enforcer basically stumbles into some mystical shit (“deep [necro] ‘mancy” in local parlance) during what should be a routine hit, and that puts him on a collision course with the world of angels and demons. He’s offered the chance to spend just 5 minutes in heaven with his slain lover after every cycle of orchestrated deed and death that’s carried out from that point forward. If you were to put elements of Midnight Nation, Fell, Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse, Hellblazer, and even Blade of The Immortal into a genre blender and pour it onto Templesmith’s gloomy and dangerous canvas, it might look something like Ten Grand. The dialogue is crisp and fun, the color palette is effervescent and tonally on point, and you’d be hard pressed to find a single flaw in this book. For just $2.99 and the transparent dedication to sequential storytelling evident in the end note from the writer, along with flashes of art and impending projects from the Joe’s Comics imprint, this is shaping up to be a huge win for creator owned comics. Grade A.

Wasteland #44 (Oni Press): Antony Johnston and Russel Roehling deliver a very satisfying issue of The Big Wet. From Roehling’s effective composite of caricature and figure drawing to the clues that Johnston is able to lace the story with, it pushes a lot of the buttons that long-time readers want. As the cover reveals, Michael and Thomas are reunited with Abi as they inch closer to A-Ree-Yass-I and encounter a small tribe of people claiming to have an oracle near The Golden Sea. The identity of the oracle is something I won’t spoil, but I sure wasn’t expecting to see that. It’s a suggestion as to the way life might evolve after the cataclysmic events in The Big Wet Universe. The oracle also whispers a foreshadowing and foreboding line that’s pretty creepy. Johnston has offered clues in the past about downed satellites and nuclear devices scorching the sky. Early guesses as to where/what A-Ree-Yass-I might be have included many things, including a visual/phonetic pronunciation of Area 51, though Johnston has denied that. In any case, it seems like all of these parts are converging to something that might involve military testing. Roehling helps out the mystery by inserting a beat up weathered sign into the last panel of the book. If you examine that carefully, you see things that might say “US Bombing Range” or “Nellis Bombing Range” (referring to Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas?) or  the words “Trespassing”  or “Warning” or what looks like “US Air Fo…” One of the best Roehling panels for me was when Michael head butts a sand-eater; there’s a sense of movement to it that typifies his strengths as an artist. I also love the way the Ankya Ofsteen journal entries in the backmatter seem to become more relevant as time goes on. In this issue, she seems to reference runways on an airfield and “flying trucks” with “gods [that] came down from the sky to bless people.” It’s amazing to see how 100 years later, actual events have degenerated and morphed into myth. I also thought it was terrific the way Ankya’s story about the light flashing off the glass in her “binnox” bookends the very first page of the issue. And hey, if you can spot the reference to Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, then good on you. With something like 16 issues of the book left in this multi-year run, I’m enjoying every second of these latter issues with increased intensity. There’s nothing quite like Wasteland; it should go down as one of the epic tales of the modern age. It's one of the best books you're not reading. Grade A.

Suicide Risk #1 (Boom!): Boom! Studios seems to be ramping up their creator-owned wing and making me take note. I’ve really been enjoying Deathmatch and now I can add Suicide Risk to my pull list. Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande demolish San Diego (the Manchester Grand Hyatt is on the cover, references to El Cajon, etc.) in a story involving regular cops trying to contain supes breaking bad for some unknown reason. Carey does some instantaneous world-building with great character names, clever substitution codes, and intriguing mentions of an apparent superhero database containing something called “krypts,” which I’m envisioning as encrypted protocols on how to stop them(?). It’s a world where villains outnumber heroes and the heroes aren’t just losing this battle, they’re losing the entire war, unless a game-changer is introduced. Casagrande’s gritty street level art is a perfect match for these consequences. I enjoyed the way the artists depicted the fact that when not powered up, these people are just regular dudes. For example, when Extended Remix has his powers dampened, one huge blow to the midsection takes him out. It’s quite realistic for a book with multiple supes rampaging down the streets. The first issue offers 17 dead cops, 12 wounded cops, and 14 dead civilians, in a world where you can buy black market powers on the street. There’s a maturity to the tone and aesthetic of the book that, for me, blows away something like Bendis’ dated Powers, which has some similarity to the premise. It’s instantly better and I’m instantly hooked. I was all set to award the coveted Grade A+ to this title, advancing it ahead of Ten Grand, when I started detecting glitches. I felt that Leo’s ultimate course here was telegraphed too hard, especially with the hesitation on Dr. Maybe’s face when he’s apprehended and their interaction in the jail cell. I wasn’t a fan of some of the specific word choices, which felt very dated or curious. I don’t know many women that would, even jokingly, refer to themselves as a “hussy” in the heat of the moment. Hey, I’ve heard “bitch” or “slut” or even “whore” used in self-aware sexual self-deprecation, but “hussy” is a term from a generation or two past. Unless you’re in an episode of Happy Days, nobody says “bubkis” either. While we’re at it, nobody, especially not a criminal in a dark alley, is ever going to say “oh spit” when “oh shit” will do. I also didn’t understand how that same dealer could get in close quarters and get the drop on Leo with his p-wand when we’ve already established Leo was drawn down on him. That wasn’t choreographed particularly well, but that’s the end of my little list of gripes. Overall, there’s nice world-building, nice character development (mixed race couple, son's birthday party, father-in-law interaction, etc.), nice mysteries being established, and an effort toward social relevance, with things like the debate over secret identities touching on the balance of personal freedoms and collective security. Grade A.

Harbinger Wars #2 (Valiant): I’m really enjoying the handy visual reference guide on the inside front covers of these issues. It helps keep track of a large cast that’s pitting Peter and The Renegades against Toyo Harada and The Harbinger Foundation against Bloodshot and one group of psiots against another splinter group of psiots called Generation Zero. In this issue, we get a recounting of the confrontation between Harada and Bloodshot, which kicks off the automatic activation of something called The Harada Protocol. In the process, writer Joshua Dysart also lays the groundwork for re-activation of The H.A.R.D. Corps, or Harbinger Active Resistance Division, “decommissioned in the 90’s” (!), which seems to be a more organic division of Project Rising Spirit used to track down psiots and counter Harada’s forces than the now unreliable programming glitches found in Bloodshot. Got all that? It could play a little convoluted while naturally feeling like “all middle” in this part of the crossover event, but Dysart and artist Clayton Henry keep it together, juggling many players in this complex tale of morality while expanding the boundaries of the burgeoning Valiant Universe at the same time. Grade A-.