6.26.13 [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.

Lazarus #1 (Image): It didn’t take long for me to realize that Lazarus was registering in my brain because it marries together two of my favorite genres of storytelling, good old crime family stuff with dystopian world-building. On top of that, Greg Rucka fills it with procedural jargon, which is something I totally have a weakness for. I mean, Queen & Country is still one of my favorite comics of the Modern Age, right alongside Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary, and that's a big part of the reason why. On top of that, Michael Lark comes along and just nails specific scenes like the silent fight choreography, in addition to the general aesthetic of the entire book. The liberal inks fit with a somewhat monochromatic palette, which pops at all the right times to punctuate blue sorrow or red blood. It’s almost sickening the way everything just works so well here, but I don’t want to give the creative team short shrift for all of the hard work involved. Rucka reveals in the satisfying back-matter that the duo has been noodling this story for about a decade, and the time invested, the thought given to every detail, really shows. That back-matter is a fun behind-the-scenes tour through the origins of the series, an assist from Warren Ellis, frightening stats about the pooling effect of global wealth, and the true, ground-out, hard-earned, collaborative work ethic between Rucka and Lark. Yeah, there’s a little mishap with oxycontin vs. oxytocin in the dialogue, but the story of Forever Carlyle, the enforcer, the protector, the avatar, the titular Lazarus of Family Carlyle, maybe not quite having the moral flexibility needed for her mission in life and recounting some recent physical and emotional trauma is so full of instantly realized potential. One of the reasons I think Lazarus works on such a primal level is that it plays on our intuitive fears surrounding what we already know. We already know that wealth is power. We already know wealth can buy you freedom, influence, access, justice, and control. We know that the middle class is rapidly being eliminated. We know that you are basically either a “have” or a “have not” and anything in between feels like a fleeting liminal state. Rucka and Lark take this future to a logical extreme, where paramilitary crime families run armed farm camps and use personal biotechnology that’s advanced through classic sci-fi means. You do that to survive in this world. You do that or you die. It’s clear to me that Lazarus is one of the best debuts of the year. It’s one of the best books of the year. It might even be a contender for THE best book of the year. It’s going to be an impossible challenge to down-select to my 13 finalists for “best of” later this year. I have double that number penciled in as contenders and the year is only half over! Bravo once again to Image Comics for being a home, a force, an advocate of Creator-Owned Comics and unleashing this type of raw and unbridled imagination. It’s books like this that are the future of the industry. Grade A+.

Mind MGMT #12 (Dark Horse): [Note: It’s a hectic week for me with work, friends and family visiting from out of town for summer festivities, SDCC looming and general comics “stuff” happening in the background, so this week’s reviews might be a little shorter than usual, with posts at odd times and intervals, I guess?] This intense issue is the culmination of so many threads that’ve come before. Matt Kindt weaves us through Meru’s revelations in her personal history, the history of the agency’s verbal field guides, and a somewhat Gaiman-esque library at the end of the world that has the objective recorded history of human events. In addition to Kindt’s trademark washes of color, there’s so much visual style in little flourishes, like the way a trench coat hangs or the way cigarette smoke pierces a panel border. This book just gets better and better as time goes on, working out clarity and intent, in what is probably the most aesthetically distinct book on the stands. Kindt is crafting a modern classic that manages a delicate and sophisticated balance between fiction and reality. Grade A.

Jupiter’s Legacy #2 (Image): Man, how about that Pete Doherty on colors?! I feel like there’s a real renaissance happening with colorists in the last couple years. This issue opens with Brandon committing an “SUI,” that’s Superpowers Under the Influence, leading right into an ugly public family squabble between him and his overbearing father Utopian. Meanwhile, Chloe is recovering from another drug OD, and she’s pregnant too! There’s a lot to like, from the SoCal setting, to the concussive force of her shout, to the secret rendezvous with the father. Chloe and Hutch have become the Romeo and Juliet of the story, star-crossed lovers, one the daughter of the most famous supe, the other the son of the most infamous villain. The turmoil continues with Utopian/Sheldon and his brother Walter continually at odds about whether to intervene in the global financial crisis with post-capitalist ideology, in this world unemployment is close to 50% in some states. As they argue over wealth creation and the basic economic infrastructure, it’s clear that the brothers are (too obvious) stand-ins for progressives and conservatives, but it’s so entertaining we don’t mind. Jupiter’s Legacy has quickly grown to be a mature look at celebrity culture, generational dissonance, and the emotional turmoil that happens to all families (drugs, pregnancy, competitive brothers, overbearing parents, and reckless children), even super-powered families. I’m still not sure what the line “is leading something that appeals in any way?” is supposed to mean. I’ve read it a few times and it’s some kind of wrong word choice or omitted word phenomenon, but with cool Uncle Walt manipulating the emotions of Brandon toward either a silent coup d’etat or an all out Superhero Civil War, it’s clear that all hell’s gonna’ break loose and I want to be on board for the post-modern ride. Grade A.

Think Tank #8 (Image): David Loren is taken into custody after General Clarkson caps Colonel Harrison last issue, but instead of a military tribunal under the UCMJ, he gets a closed congressional hearing, making it look like a cover up is in the works, because, y’know, it is. Loren takes a mature turn and decides to pay his respects to someone who was not quite a friend. Matt Hawkins maybe leans a little toward the expositional up front at the hearing and later during the counseling session, but with the best black and white art around from Rahsan Ekedal, and making you consider your own culpability in any organized system – a thing any great art should do beyond creating simple entertainment, you hardly notice the wordiness. There’s some hard truths along the way (“there’s a level of serenity in detachment”) as things bounce with military grade technology, man-made viruses, back door politics, black ops, and disinformation from Russia to Taiwan, setting up the next arc. I’m a strong advocate for back-matter in singles, and Think Tank is among the best. From meta gems like “word of mouth is the only real advertising that works anymore,” to giving credit for artist contributions to the story, to China training for a large scale conflict with the US and political ambiguity with regard to Taiwan, Hawkins’ dense but swift notes play like a tutorial filled with factoids and a perspective on things informed well-beyond the traditional walls of comic book writing. It’s like, if you put Brian Wood, Joshua Dysart, and Matt Hawkins in a room together, they’d probably corner the market on the most well-informed, politically progressive, and socially relevant writing happening in the industry today. That alone is worth the investment in this series. My only slight concern is how long Hawkins can sustain the book; there’s already a writing cycle established of Loren getting into trouble with the higher-ups, then always finding a reason they need him to bring him back into the fold under a weird pretense. It’s a little repetitive, but entertaining enough that maybe we don’t mind that structural mechanism. Grade A.

Prophet #36 (Image): The fact that I like looking at this book, but dread trying to craft a story summary for a review is essentially emblematic of the artistic dissonance I experience with the title. It’s visually stunning and engaging at some intuitive level because of the design sense, the colors, and the interesting characters. Yes, it’s imaginative and creative, but no amount of descriptors can escape the fact that the narrative became unwieldy and felt lost issues ago. It reminds me of my frustration with the X-Files long ago, about the middle of the run of the show, where it became clear they were making it up as they went along, there was no master plan, and the short term entertainment it offered was outweighed by the untidy long term resolution of motivations and plot. If I took the time to understand the arc structure better, it would be a candidate to jump off of and read in trade. Would it be at issue 38 if they’re all 6 issues each? Yeah, if I can figure that out, I could escape the inertia of buying out of habit, the tease of every issue feeling like something’s about to happen to allow it all to click into place, but that moment of satori never comes. As I said before, it’s become a successive series of disparate set pieces and creaturoids filled with slick wordplay, but there’s no fundamental story there. “Earth Empire’s Great Domus calls New-Father to the War-Womb, regrown at the whim of the Three Armed World-Raper.” If I just give you that sentence in a vacuum, WTF does it mean? It’s just words. Fancy fun words, sure, but still just a big ol’ word collage devoid of any inherent ability to grok, one that’s now bordering on self-indulgent. Hey, look, there’s a Malachi Ward back-up story and a Youngblood holo-crystal-flashback-bomb cameo thingamaroo. Grade B.


X-Men #2 [The Wood Pile]

X-Men #2 (Marvel): This issue immediately follows events in the first, with John Sublime and his twin sister Arkea bringing dire warning and wreaking havoc respectively inside the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning. An impromptu squad of X-Men including Storm, Rogue, Rachel, Psylocke, Kitty, Jubilee (and Beast, really) are forced to deal with a sentient bacterium with the power to navigate and control any technological host, now inhabiting Omega Sentinel Karima Shapandar. Got that? I hope so, because it’s the best X-Men book currently on the stands, courtesy of Brian Wood and Olivier Coipel. Whereas Sublime can control human minds, Arkea controls the tech, and Beast is tinkering away down in his lab when first contact is made with this new amalgamation of intimidating entities. It’s quite scary to see him feeling so threatened. For some reason, when the security lockdown protocol went into effect, I immediately thought about school shootings out here in the real world, maybe some residual concern in the zeitgeist that Wood subconsciously tapped into. It’s all the more chilling because of it. The entire issues ratchets up the intensity to 11. Rachel and Psylocke are given some great screen time and they do an on-the-fly shift from interrogation mode to crisis management mode. Beast and Rogue work together surreptitiously. These are smart people who are used to dealing with incidents like this all day long. The cast is slinging codes and executing tactical plans; it’s the type of procedural crap I totally eat up. In the middle of this mutant melee, we get an indication that the infant Jubilee brought home is maybe not an infant(?) because Betsy can’t get a psychic reading on it. It’s tough to write team books and get the cast on equal footing, with equal screen time, and equally strong character moments, but Wood juggles everything with style. I chuckled to myself when I read Arkea’s line to Rogue about being “stronger than the blue one, though her outward physiology presents as inferior.” It felt like very sly commentary about the gender politics and power dynamics inhabiting the very core of the book, while still keeping Arkea’s cold precision in character (“trouble mating?”). It’s all just really smart stuff, like Beast quickly deducing that it’s the tech allowing Arkea into Karima’s host body. Let me just say that Kitty reporting they’ve lost control of the Danger Room is a moment where she looks absolutely beautiful. I could be bold and say that Coipel has delivered one of the best renditions of one of my favorite mainstream characters in Kitty Pryde, but that would really be giving him short shrift for the remainder of the work. Take a look around. Storm looks exotic. Rachel looks futuristic. Sublime looks pissed off. The Blackbird looks menacing in the hangar. Coipel sells the big splash page of Rogue. There are some silhouetted shots that have a level of simple grandeur to them I’ve not seen since Eduardo Risso was hammering away on 100 Bullets. The colors are phenomenal as well, with moments like the white hot bluish jet wash of The Blackbird piercing the crimson sky. Hell, there are beautiful crimsons all over the place. By the end, you realize the cliffhanger was neatly tucked away in the corner of an earlier scene for anyone paying close attention. All of that said, Coipel has matched the perfect aesthetic to Wood’s perfectly taut script. I was fully engaged from start to finish. Grade A+.


The Massive #13 [Advance Review]

The Massive #13 (Dark Horse): Garry Brown returns as the regular series artist, just in time to accompany Brian Wood home to NYC. We’ve heard bits and pieces about what’s been going on in the United States, and we even got a laundry list of interesting factoids in the backmatter of a previous issue. But, since Wood made a conscious decision to craft The Massive as a non-American POV story after spending so much time with internal US politics in DMZ, this is the first time we’re seeing the city up close. When Civil War broke out in DMZ and Manhattan became the front, roughly half a million people stayed in the city when it was evacuated. You’ll find no such holdouts in the “Americana” arc of The Massive. Manhattan is uninhabited and under 70 feet of toxic water. If you managed to pick up a DC book called The Unexpected #1, you saw Brian Wood team with artist Emily Carroll for a short story also entitled “Americana.” If you didn’t get it, well, you should go do that now, because it's really good. Use of the “Americana” name is great because a) it’s just too cool a name to pass up, and b) it sort of subverts the idea of nostalgia. When you hear that name, you probably think of stereotypical baseball games and apple pies and Norman Rockwell paintings, not the idea of the United States as a failed third world state with both coasts abandoned and a way of life (economy, government, not to mention the very ecosystem) in total disarray.

The crew of The Kapital returns to New York (don’t worry, I’ll avoid outright spoilers) to, uhh, try and take care of a big dangling plot thread from the arc before last, one that’s explained as a demon from Mag’s checkered past. Their silent entry into Lower Manhattan is eerie as hell, making you instantly believe that land has receded due to aggressive siege waters. Jordie Bellaire has become one of Brian Wood’s go-to colorists and it’s very easy to see why in an issue like this. In most of the “newsfeed” world-building blurbs, there’s a sandy yellow glow that punctuates the way harsh environmental conditions are taking their toll on human civilization in the post-Crash world. Garry Brown is probably turning in his best art on the series so far. When he burst onto the title in issue four, there was a sketchy unkempt quality to his art that was full of the right kind of energy for that ragged trip to Mogadishu. Here, it’s almost as if he’s slowed down and controlled his lines for a more refined and fully rendered aesthetic. The early conversation between Mag and Ryan shows off the beautiful contours of her face. When Mag and Cal are at odds later, the softer quality to the outlines of the figures and more consistent inking allows the reader to linger longer on their frames and to absorb what they’re saying. That’s an important moment too.

The basic philosophical difference between the dispositions of Mag and Cal is essentially the key identity dichotomy that the entire series wrestles with. They argue over the continued execution of Ninth Wave’s mission. Mag feels that when the world’s lost, you pragmatically abandon the mission and its outdated principles because you have to be willing to do anything in order to survive. Cal thinks just the opposite, than when the world’s lost, that’s exactly when you hold onto your mission and uphold the principles the most fervently because they’re all that matters in the new reality. I really enjoy how Ryan is moved more to the forefront among the cast. As the only American aboard the crew, a young 20-year old who is also the newest member of the crew, the audience identifies with her as the entry level every-woman POV character to some degree. In terms of belly-feel, my gut still tells me that she’ll be(come) an important figure the further the series progresses, but that’s admittedly speculation. For now, we’re treated to a startling final page; it’s one I never saw coming and one that kicks this arc off quickly by placing the crew in a tense highly problematic situation, while they were already chasing another one of those to begin with. Also? Where can I get one of those Ninth Wave jackets like Mag and Ryan are wearing? Here’s to wishful thinking that Brian Wood extends his boutique apparel shop, Northern Boy, to include those coats! Grade A.


6.19.13 [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 #2 (Dark Horse): Honestly, there’s more going on in the first page of this issue than there is in most comics. Hell, you could probably take any random page of this issue and it would stand up to full issues of most of the other comics currently being published. Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood are an all-around powerhouse creative team. John Lincoln is still trying desperately to figure out what the hell happened to his girl and what the hell kind of world he’s gotten himself sucked into. He’s right in the middle of a huge criminal mess. The script is incredibly rich and crisp from Nitz. The crazy panel layouts are some of the most inventive and gorgeous I’ve seen in quite some time. The colors are immaculate. As someone who worked in law enforcement, it avoids one of my pet peeves by not getting firearms factoids wrong. There’s a matter of fact approach to violence here that is so welcome amid cartoony fetish treatment of the violence so prevalent in the majority of genre comics. Nitz and Smallwood deftly handle the origin of an intriguing new anti-hero who apparently is absorbing the memories and the skills of others, all set amid a complex murder investigation that leads into a larger criminal world. This thing has legs. Now, I have no idea how this mini will end, so perhaps this is premature to speculate, but if Dark Horse doesn’t make this an ongoing series via future mini-series as they’ve done with other books, I’ll be surprised. Here’s something it’s not too soon to call: Dream Thief is one of the year’s best books. Grade A+.
Conan The Barbarian #17 (Dark Horse): “Sometimes the fates spin true.” There’s been a considerable amount of backlash about the way Brian Wood has chosen to depict contemplative Conan in this run of the title, but when the results get you tales like these lingering psychological effects of the yellow lotus, or Conan reeling from the uncertainty and trust associated with love, then I’m totally pleased with the treatment. Conan and Belit come face to face with psychological motivations and fears in themselves and in each other. From self-reliance to self-doubt, Wood and Davide Gianfelice are treating us to a spectrum of emotional resonance. In non-linear fashion, we move from dream sequences to real life, to recalled events about what was, to speculative futures about what could be. Gianfelice handles it all deftly, particularly sequences with no text, like Conan slicing open a sea serpent underwater. Most of the time, audiences yearn for a stable creative team. One writer. One artist. Many issues. It’s oddly appealing that Conan The Barbarian has witnessed a new artist with every 3-issue arc and it’s been like a sequential art buffet of some of the finest artists working today. Sure, I’d love to see Becky Cloonan, or James Harren, or even Davide Gianfelice on every single issue, but I’d rather have it the way it is. It’s like every arc is the exciting start of a “new” series with a stellar new team. Grade A.
Harbinger #13 (Valiant): It’s clear that Joshua Dysart is pouring his heart into Harbinger, just crafting the world, and crafting the characters, and crafting narrative threads, fleshing out a complex quadrant of the Valiant Universe with a rich history and a plethora of realistic characterization. Bloodshot finally enters Las Vegas with his half of the psiot kids and encounters Pete and The Renegades, along with Cronus and the other half of the psiots. It’s a well choreographed ambushed that bounces quickly from being smartly planned to going totally south. Sometimes in these big crossover events, characterization gets back-burnered to make room for the 'splosions, but Dysart has been careful to still give us small moments like Faith reacting to some bad news or Cronus stepping up as a sorrowful leader for “his people.” At this point, Dysart has things perfectly positioned for what should be an explosive finale to Harbinger Wars. I’m excited for so many things in the Valiant Universe, the conclusion of the crossover, the continuation of the main series, and even Bloodshot seemingly taking over H.A.R.D. Corps. Valiant Comics is the place to be. Grade A.


Alternative Comics #4 [Small Press]

Alternative Comics #4 (Alternative Comics): If there’s any loose theme inhabiting the majority of the shorts in this latest anthology offering, then maybe it’s the pride-swallowing, ego-devouring, soul-crushing slap to the face that being an indie artist can sometimes be. You don’t have to ponder the $5.99 price tag very long when you see the diverse list of contributors. There are old favorites like Mike Bertino, Noah Van Sciver, or James Kochalka, along with some names new to me, such as Sam Alden, Grant Snider, or Andy Ristaino. For the most part, they all deliver. After the raucous fun of the Mike Bertino cover, Sam Alden opens things up on the inside front cover with one of the most direct-injection pieces concerning that would-be theme. It’s about where talent converges with insecurities and that converges with audience perception. Alden contributes a second piece, “When I Was 10,” that’s a more circular and contemplative story. Alden has that appealing “thing” that Nate Powell does, the ability to create fluid layouts, but with a much more robust ink line, which I always enjoy. Noah Van Sciver approaches things with a satirical slant, via a pseudo-historical escapade, almost as if he’s excising the last of any lingering demons from The Hypo in his work. Grant Snider quickly grew to be one of my favorite contributors, his one-pagers punctuating the others as brief interludes. His “Incidental Comics” always played satirical, yet somehow still innocent and earnest. “Checklist For An Epic Summer,” “Buried Secrets,” and Frustrated Artists Society” all made me long for a full feature length work from Snider. His art felt like such a light touch, free-flowing from panel to panel, with really attractive figures and fun layouts. Now, don’t get crazy, but I’ve never been a huge Kochalka fan personally (blasphemy!), but he does offer two pieces in this project, one quite long, so fans should be very pleased about that. “Blobby Boys” from Alex Schubert (who some might know as enigmatic “Zine Police”) delivers a story about being swindled by record execs in his trademark minimalist style. It’s followed by the anti-consumerism stylings of “Frothy Beverage Man” from Andy Ristaino, which is also a subversive good time, substituting the big sentient mug of beer for the Kool-Aid man. Alternative Comics will apparently now be incorporating reformatted Inkstuds interviews, this first with David Lasky. It’s followed by a Lasky piece which is an absolutely on-point reappropriated Superman tale, touching the plight of creators operating in commercially unfair work-for-hire practices. It’s got a sharp bite to it and is the type of thing that should have a useful life well beyond this book. We end with one of best bio sections I’ve seen, clearly identifying the creators in a unique and memorable style, with some notes on additional offerings from the publisher. The back page by Theo Ellsworth and Craig Thompson is a great way to end, a sort of manic sci-fi romp that aesthetically reminded me of Hector Mumbly’s Bagel’s Lucky Hat, a book that my kids love. I’m happy to see Alternative Comics back from hiatus; check out any of their promising books available soon. Grade A.


Mara #5 [Advance Review]

Mara #5 (Image): The penultimate issue of Brian Wood and Ming Doyle’s sports, media, superhero, identity affair opens with a serene sequence of Mara floating in space, and you can almost hear Pink Floyd’s “Learning to Fly” accompanying the majestic scene. As her wisps of hair unfurl like a plate of angel hair pasta in the zero gravity of space, it’s a beautiful bit of power recognition. With the glow of Earth’s atmo below her, she achieves an important realization, this mental shift toward a sense of ultimate freedom is the greatest part of her powers manifesting, finally understanding that she can be literally and figuratively above all of man’s petty strife occurring below her. There’s almost a parallel between Mara’s personal discovery and the professional journey the audience has seen artist Ming Doyle take during the course of this series. In the first issue, I thought Doyle offered some jerky and awkward art; there was a tentative quality almost holding back her own artistic power. By issue three or so, everything began falling into place, and became crisp, light, and stylish. Her own transformative experience working on this title has given her most recent artistic effort a sense of majesty and wonder and identity. Colorist Jordie Bellaire supports this endeavor with icy blues, amber Earth tones, and the deep purples of space. The conventional wisdom of national security forces back on Earth really has no method for interpreting Mara’s actions, much less reacting to them with any semblance of balance. Instead of any measured, proportional response by the Cheney-esque military doctrine, Wood crams about as much social relevance into the turn of events as he can. We see free market capitalism try to seize a sample of her DNA for an opportunistic cash grab with project “Skyward.” The societal perception remains mixed, backlash and awe running amok, reminding us how celebrity affection can turn on a dime with just one transgression. One minute you’re in, the next you’re out. The military leverages her brother as hard as they possibly can at the futuristic equivalent of a CIA Black Site. The military has no allegiance to its own people, only its own inertia. As the saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. With regard to Mara, if you look at the world through a militarized lens, all you see are potential weapons. This forces Mara to speak to them in a language they can understand. It’s almost a Watchmen-esque drive toward an ultimate solution. Will Mara burn this village in order to save it? Grade A.


6.12.13 [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.
The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #1 (Dark Horse): It’s tempting to say that I was “in” on this book the moment I opened it to the first page and saw the incredibly crisp and vibrant colors of Dan Jackson. I didn’t know who the eff Dan Jackson was prior to this, but he’s the best new colorist I’ve seen in a while, and this is amid a new crop containing some very stiff competition, including people like Jordie Bellaire and Gabe Eltaeb, so I’ll be looking for his name on future books. The truth is, I was “in” weeks ago when I picked up the Free Comic Book Day teaser and was captivated by a fascinating new world that I didn’t fully understand, but wanted to. By now, you’re probably familiar with the Gerard Way pedigree, SVA student and DC Comics intern turned successful rock front man turned Umbrella Academy writer turned former band front man turned back to comics. Whew. We’re glad he’s returned to an original passion. This time he’s brought Shaun Simon with him to assist on writing duties and the ever-evolving enigma that is Becky Cloonan on art. Now, I’m a Brian Wood guy since the late 90’s, so I’ve kind of followed Cloonan by extension, from Jennie One to Demo to American Virgin to 5, back around to working with Brian on Conan and Northlanders. It’s so nice to see her get these larger platforms to showcase her style. Let me state unequivocally that I think this is Becky Cloonan’s most accomplished art to date. It feels very refined, less sketchy and raw as time has gone on, but no less powerful in its ability to capture this pop-punk sensibility that almost reminded me of Michael Allred in spots. It’s a great match for the pitch of the script, which stands up immediately as something different. It’s got this rollicking pace and attitude with the language. Way and Simon propel the narrative through fair intrigue instead of lazy exposition, quickly dropping in memorable names like Tommy Chow Mein and DJ Cherri Cola, amid an equally memorable world-build. It’s a place where you get the sense that the good guys lost the rebellion, with key events already having transpired, fast-forwarding the audience straight into a living breathing universe. There’s something a little Orwellian about the roving bands of thought police mocked up in drac masks distorting reality. When it’s the end times, who better to jump into a wistful trek in the desert and serve as a pseudo-messianic figure than a rebel kid who remembers the past, who remembers the fallen fighters and bears guilt over the squad sent in to rescue her dying in the process, and a girl no less. It’s so refreshing to see this new crop of female protagonists taking over pop comic culture, from Mara to Leia to Belit to Petra from Luther Strode, to Rogue, Kitty, Betsy and all the rest, to The Girl Who Rode With The Real Killjoys. The Killjoyverse is a future dystopia; it’s the kind of post-apocalyptic drudgery I like, socially relevant because it's too easy to imagine as a plausible future, where there’s no longer a line between mega-corporations and the government, where women are forced to work the streets, where a lyrical DJ is the lone voice of the young disenfranchised. It’s an inventive new hit on the stands (with some slick as hell back-matter); kids in the nest vs. the behemoth of Battery City, where “ten years of looking at body bags and tumbleweeds has finally paid off.” Critics are going to try and throw all sorts of clever adjectives at this book, about it being “pop art,” or having “rock attitude” or “punk sensibility,” but the truth is much more simple and direct. Shame on you if you think DC Entertainment’s Superman Unchained #1 was the “it” book this week. It’s the era of Creator-Owned Comics, that's capital “C,” capital “O,” capital “C,” you feel me? The Fabulous Killjoys is one of the most visionary, aesthetically distinct, and attention-grabbing debuts this year. Grade A.
Thumbprint #1 (IDW): Joe Hill being involved in a new series is a big deal after the success Locke & Key has witnessed, so there was a lot riding on this first issue. It delivers. Occasional collaborator Jason Ciaramella (finally a dude with as many vowels in his last name as me) joins to write to Hill’s novella high concept, with Vic Malhotra providing the art. Thumbprint is essentially a basic morality play loaded with all kinds of social relevance, as it touches on the national security vs. civil rights (im)balance, our culture of war and the impact on those souls who must wage it, women in the military, the treatment of our veterans in their return to civilian life, and just outright universally recognizable guilt manifesting in its many variegated ways. Malhotra isn’t an artist I was very familiar with, but he’s one I’m instantly taken by. It’s a convincing neo-noir sort of aesthetic, at times feeling like a heady combination of craftsmen like David Aja or Michael Lark. If you’re a fan of artists in this milieu like Matthew Southworth (Stumptown) or Kody Chamberlain (Sweets), then do yourself a favor and check out Malhotra’s moody but swift style. The inks are fairly robust, emphasizing the heavy emotional toll, but the panels still flow effortlessly, not bogged down by the murky psychology of it all. Mal returns home from serving her country at Abu Ghraib and it’s just not going so well. There’s trouble with reintegrating, the ordeal of a mysterious antagonist messing with her via creepy "notes" and what must be tradecraftian surveillance, not to mention the why of it, and she’s really lost in her own head. She’s still processing the Zero Dark Thirty style interrogations, their efficacy in yielding results vis-a-vis the inhumanity of the means and the infrequency of the ends, and she seems to be seeking the approval of her country, her father, her awful peers, shit – anyone, even the weird stranger denies her that sense of self and identity, but so far she’s just failing miserably. I want to see where it goes. I care about the character. And that’s one of the best things you can really say about a debut. It feels like, perhaps, the most mature work I’ve seen from both Hill and Ciaramella to date, and Malhotra is an artist I can root for instantly, one whose work I’ll be investigating further. Grade A.
Harbinger Wars #3 (Valiant): I don’t have a lot to say about this issue, other than to say that I’m really enjoying it because I think it functions by avoiding some of the things common in Marvel and DC crossover fare. Harbinger and, by extension, Harbinger Wars under the care of writer Joshua Dysart approaches violence in a fairly realistic fashion. It’s unpredictable and nobody ever feels exactly safe. It’s unflinching and unapologetic, whether it’s a depiction of Bloodshot’s flayed head or the newly formed H.A.R.D. Corps gunning down a young psiot. There aren’t really traditionally archetypal “good guys” and “bad guys” either, which is one of the first things that attracted me to Dysart’s writing. There’s just this complex miasma of drivers and personalities and agendas converging in the Nevada desert. We’ve got Pete Stanchek and his Renegades, the remnants of Toyo Harada’s forces from the Harbinger Foundation, two groups of escaped psiots, Bloodshot gone rogue, Project Rising Spirit in chase, and oh, let’s just toss a crazy band of H.A.R.D. Corps operatives into the mix as well, along with some government goons recounting the entire thing in a debriefed flashback. All that said, Dysart is juggling about a billion plot threads relatively painlessly, Clayton Henry bringing it all to life in a very clean style, and the team is able to keep their eye on a fairly simple point of discordance: everyone wants the psiots as an asset. The “War” has really been about what the various players involved are, or are not, willing to do philosophically and physically about that dynamic. That means there’s both heart and action surrounding the tension that’s been created. It makes you care more about the real stakes involved than you would the mindless action and never-ending succession of death and rebirth and cancellation and reboot prevalent in the lines of the bigger publishing houses. Grade A-.


Star Wars #6 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #6 (Dark Horse): It’s gotten to the point where it’s almost pointless for me to review this book. It’s got action, heart, characterization, visuals, imagination, and smarts. It’s perfect. There’s no other way to say it. It’s not blind hyperbole because I’m a Brian Wood fan. You guys know I’ll call him on some shit if it feels off or if he’s paired with a less than stellar artist, but that’s just not the case, ever, with this book. It’s genuine entertainment executed like high art. He’s found the perfect voice for these characters and this universe. The tone of their speech sounds like the rhythms and cadence we’re accustomed to. Carlos D’Anda has captured the visuals we’ve been conditioned to for decades, with stringent detail and a “used future” aesthetic that echoes the nostalgia we’re drawn to without being a slave to it, still operating in a style that is recognizable as his own unique intellectual property. Gabe Eltaeb bathes it all in these astounding colors that enhance the detail and action being choreographed by Wood and D’Anda. If ever there was a colorist who wasn't, like, Dave Stewart, Laura Martin, or another newcomer like Jordie Bellaire, who deserved special recognition, it's Gabe Eltaeb. He's become an indelibile member of the squad. Things glow and spark and shine under Eltaeb’s palette. It’s there in the dramatic reveals of the Star Destroyers and the crimson menace that is Bircher amid the wild perspective shots of the T.I.E. Interceptors. It’s just a beautiful book that’s familiar enough to be comforting and nostalgic, but with enough new flash and creativity to keep readers old and new engaged. The issue opens with 2/3 of the book being devoted to an intense action scene that keeps you on the edge of your seat with alarm, despite knowing for a fact that people like Leia and Luke and Wedge will obviously make it out. It’s a crystal clear sequence that sees the crafty rebels largely improvising a way to get Leia in her banged up X-Wing out of trouble. You don’t fight a rebellion with the resources you want, but with the resources you’ve got. I don’t want to spoil the specifics, but (Stefon voice) it’s that thing where, like, there’s a bacta tank and a 2-1B medical droid, and it's got R2-T4, and a cool moment for Luke and Wedge courtesy of Mon Mothma, and techno-jargon about Incom T-16 Skyhoppers, fleshes out “B-characters” like Wedge or Tess or Prithi or wily Imperial officer Bircher, and has what is probably the beginnings of the fabled Rogue Squadron. Brian Wood’s Star Wars run maintains the emotional spirit of the originals, lovable misfit characters in a jam, underdogs who triumph, the essence of what we all want to root for deep in our core. This creative team has delivered a master class in successfully walking the tightrope of pleasing everyone. They’ve stayed true to the original, but balanced that with developing new important content that feels like connective tissue linking what we already know, in something that sits right with diehard fans, curious newbies, the corporate overlords at both Dark Horse and LucasFilm, and looks like it allows the creators themselves to have fun in the process. Not only is it everything I want from a Star Wars comic, it’s basically everything I want from any comic. Brian Wood and his Rogue Squadron of hotshot creators are outmaneuvering the competition like Lando at The Battle of Tanaab. If you like Star Wars, and that’s basically 94.7% of the human race, then you should be reading this. Here’s an unprecedented… sixth in a row… Grade A+.

Help Ryan Claytor Hit His Stretch Goal!

For those of you who may not be following me on Twitter, my friend Ryan Claytor at Elephant Eater Comics has launched his first crowd-funding campaign. While he expeditiously met his intial goal, he has just announced a great stretch goal. If you contribute now, you'll receive an additional FREE book as further incentive! You can go directly to the campaign page, or review the full details in this message from Ryan:

Here we are, three weeks into the campaign with roughly a week to go and I’ve got some great news to report; since last week’s update the $3,000 campaign goal was met and surpassed!!!

I’m starting to feel a little redundant, but my continued indebted thanks could not be more sincere. I’ve been shocked and amazed each week at your generosity and dedication to this project. Thanks for making this dream of mine a reality.

If you’re interested in the exhaustive update (complete with charts) you can head over to my website here: http://www.elephanteater.com/9000 But let’s get into the meat of today’s update.

Here’s the excitement I’m prepared to unleash; if my campaign can reach $1,500 above the original $3,000 goal ($4,500 total) by the end of the campaign deadline, EVERY SINGLE CONTRIBUTOR who pledges at the existing minimum book pledge (that’s all 124 funders thus far) will receive my next book at no additional cost or contribution!

So, assuming I get some help to spread the word to interested parties and the new $4,500 stretch-goal is met, every existing and new contributor will receive a copy of my next book, And Then One Day #10, in approximately one year’s time, at no additional cost.
And Then One Day #10 will consist of all new material, at least 24 pages of comics by yours truly, and will be professionally offset printed in full-color! After experimenting with full-color printing on our wedding comic, I’m really excited about the possibilities for And Then One Day.

Thanks, again, for making this campaign such an astounding success. Let’s see if we can propel this final week of contributions into a significant stretch goal for all of us.

Ryan Claytor

Blammo #8 [Small Press]

Blammo #8 (Kilgore Books): This is a good book to read in the bathroom at work when I want to dodge work for 20 minutes or so. Yeah. How about that? Where’s my cover blurb, Van Sciver?! It’s been a while since a new issue of Blammo hit, but if you picked up The Hypo (and really, why wouldn’t you?), you can probably understand the delay, and also be reassured that it was worth the wait. “Dog on Wheels” is an interesting one-pager that opens the issue and instantly sets the tone. It’s a quick strip about a rather innocuous child’s toy, but it highlights that sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants, even if it’s something that hurts the heart. It’s about that incessant pull of wanting to see and do things that you know aren’t going to sit well with you, but sometimes you can’t resist, either because you want to take a voyeuristic look, sometimes you’re just acting on impulse and kid yourself that it’s for a different reason, or sometimes just to see if you can get away with it emotionally. The eighth installment of Noah Van Sciver’s little cottage empire is a contemplative issue.

This vibe continues in the second piece, “Expectations,” a story about a guy named “Kramer” venturing to a party and encountering his ex-girlfriend Nikki, despite maybe not really wanting to see her, but knowing he’ll probably see her there all the same. Kramer and Nikki have one of those post-break up talks outside. The kind where you sort out that not only are you losing your significant other, but your best friend too, and sometimes the latter hurts more than the former, and it’s usually something you’re unable to reconcile. Kramer begins to understand that letting go is difficult when the comfort of the familiar feels like the only thing that will console you, souls once again being torn in two directions. With a creator like Van Sciver, who moves fluidly between autobiography and biography, I always wonder how much of himself he puts into projects like this. Is this guy Kramer merely a stand-in? Is it really Van Sciver who is suffering from a bout of depression, recently broken up with his girlfriend, and is wandering the streets at night encountering the specter of his former self?

“Charles The Chicken” is an urban post-apocalyptic number that humorously breaks the fourth wall. We see Van Sciver interrupt the story quickly, wondering where the hell this story is going, classic creative self-doubt, pulling and pushing one direction or another, wanting to see if he can actually pull this strip off despite maybe thinking it’s a lame idea. Meanwhile, Bill The Chicken is in hell, and it’s not exactly living up to his preconceived expectations. Van Sciver has a way of delivering hilarious lines in a totally deadpan way. “Death becomes me” being the best example in this latest issue. Next up is “The Wolf & The Fox,” which is adorned with these gorgeous decorative panel borders. It looks almost like an illustrated manuscript from the 1500s, with a level of cross-hatching and stylistic intent that almost reaches a woodcut style, all emphasizing the adaptation of a Grimm Fairy Tale. It’s always good to see NVS push himself to try other aesthetics and other genres, and he nails the free-floating text accompanying the imagery, deviating from the traditional comics sequence. It’s an interesting selection though, conscious or not, a story about a wolf who never learns from his mistakes, repetitive actions risk destroying his very being. Once again, it’s a story about a protagonist torn in two directions, instinct vs. logic.

“She’s Losing It” stars Bradley and Jimmy, an everyman and his inner demons embodied, on a quest to find true love. There’s a tragic and unexpected end that sort of gives new meaning to all that’s come before. “I Don’t Love Anyone” is an illustrated dream about the longing for a missing other. “Punks vs. Lizards,” like “Charles The Chicken,” is a recurring story, IIRC, featured in the Blammo series. With this one, Van Sciver seems to have a fascination with a rabid future world at the end of times. He wants to see what humanity will come to, no matter how horrific or absurd. It also features a character called “Brunetti,” as well as John Porcellino(!). Now, there are few things funnier in the world of small press comics than when Van Sciver draws mouth-agape friend and colleague John Porcellino. And, y’know, giant lizards fucking. Aside from the gags, this story is largely about not being afraid to settle the score, doing what’s right, even if it means your own death. It’s that mysterious pull against our own interests sometimes evident in the human experience.

“Dive Into That Black River” is an ethereal two-page spread about throwing caution to the wind and letting the chips fall where they may. Considering one of the NVS end notes about how he’s going to approach the art of comics-making moving forward, I couldn’t help but think this was totally self-referential for Van Sciver. It reminded me of an Anthony Bourdain quote as he fulfilled a lifelong dream to explore the Congo, often times at great risk to himself, and it's something I'd readily whisper to Van Sciver over a drink if we were personal pals: “Be loyal to the nightmare of your choice.”

The final four shorts are a shotgun blast of diversity, where Van Sciver (and another) change up styles at will. It’s just about having fun, and was a nice way to decompress from the sometimes heady dearth of positive emotion swirling around the preceding pieces. Matthew Thurber offers a strip as a guest, Van Sciver then uses what looks like some ink washes in another piece, and trickles out with some odd and entertaining self-referential photo collage (for lack of better descriptors) and some requisite shameless plugs from the artist himself in comic form, including a collaboration with Joseph Remnant. The back cover, “Gentle Souls” features a slightly effeminate, nerdy, not-quite-a-hipster self-consuming cultural archetype.

Blammo #8 is probably the most thematically cohesive issue of the series so far. I enjoyed the smaller half-page size, as well as what felt like heavier inks, especially in the earlier pieces, punching up the emotional weight Van Sciver was probably experiencing when putting this issue together. Anyway. Support Noah Van Sciver. I’ve been saying this for the 4 years I’ve been enjoying his work since I first discovered it. It’s a sad comment on our lack of vision, but he may not win any awards until future generations finally recognize he’s the Robert Crumb of our time. Grade A.


6.05.13 [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 #3 (Image): Well, I’m almost 100% certain that it’s probably the only comic you’ll read this week that has a sentient rhyming eyeball. The Three Horsemen come to consult Hunter and subsequently track Death toward the Imperial City as he seeks out his lost love. All of this could wildly upset the balance of things in this universe. My only little small tiny gripe is that Xiaolian’s blades basically look exactly like Klingon battleths, but I understand that’s being super nitpicky. Nick Dragotta’s flashbacks have this awesome fuzzy no-line panel border thing going on that gives a rich rustic quality. One more example of the artistic swagger all over this book is the way Dragotta lays out the stacked “T” and “H” on “THOOM.” Jonathan Hickman is careful to avoid exposition and doles out just a little more information with each passing issue until the world is fully formed and fully comprehensible to the audience. East of West has the latent potential to achieve GoT level intrigue with family allegiances and territorial alliances amid an insanely cool world-build. Bottom line, this is basically the new Saga. It’s the Saga for me. It’s the book I wanted Saga to be. It’s less tongue in check and more gravitas. You don’t have to choose in this golden age of creator owned comics, thank god, but if you did I’d be all contrarian and tell you to read East of West instead of Saga if it came down to it. Grade A+.
Ten Grand #2 (Image): I was a fan of the first issue, but this second effort is even better. From start to finish, this issue is an engaging descent into another more spiritual world lurking just below the surface of our own. The sense of resigned fate displayed by a character like Johnny is a somber signal to the type of story JMS is telling. What Johnny sees when he looks at Joe with his special sight is a clever juxtaposition of text and art, proving that Straczynski understand the true strengths of the medium. The way Joe explains what souls can hear that the ears simply cannot is also a clue to how this series is already packed to the brim with demonic creations and intuitive ideas that are so fascinating. Ben Templesmith offers these rich pops of color against dark shadows and heavy inks that are perfectly suited for a story of a secret war being waged by angels and demons through proxy individuals on the earthly plane. The narrative voiceover from Joe runs almost the entire length of the issue, so it’s maybe a little heavy-handed at times, but it’s also so enthralling that you hardly mind its presence. JMS is quickly positioning this as a bit of an existential exercise, examining how we either can, or cannot, make the most of the precious little time we’re given with the ones we love. I’m also more than a little amused at how badly this daring story puts the untapped potential of DC Entertainment’s John Constantine character to shame in the flaccid creative bankruptcy that is The New 52. Grade A+.
Astro City #1 (DC/Vertigo): Confession: I was all set to wave my hand dismissively at this book based on how I remembered it as a return to romanticizing the normalcy of do-good superhero archetypes. I am a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, superhero paradigm deconstruction guy after all, so this modernization of Golden Age feel-good comics just bored me to tears. Now, it’s still got whiffs of that, but it turns out it’s also executed much more intricately and clever than I remember. Right from jump, the introduction breaks the fourth wall hard, which is a high risk and high reward proposition that can make or break a book, and it’s self-aware nature poking fun at the very genre it operates in worked quite well. It’s almost as if Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson are paying so much homage to this style of comic booking that it borders on a type of reverse multi-layered satire, itself deconstructing how these stories and archetypes typically function. Shoot, there’s even the coming of a Kirby like figure who sort of stumbles his way through first contact in an endearing way. Along the way, we catch up with too-cute-for-her-own-good American Chibi, Samaritan, the uhh, Wonder Woman archetype, and the Batman archetype, both of whose names I’ve long forgotten, and an everyman with a destiny who gets instantly characterized with clever writing like “what he was working to do, he’s done.” With Brent Anderson providing some nice big spreads and utilization of perspective, along with the flipped endgame of the mysterious narrator, I’m all onboard for this smart return to Astro City, marking the 60th issue of what is now an ongoing title. Grade A.
Suicide Risk #2 (Boom! Studios): Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande deliver a follow-up issue that’s probably stronger than the debut. They make it clear that this is going to be a human drama first and foremost, merely set in a world where powers are commonplace. What I like more than anything is the attention to detail they pay every aspect of the story. It’s there in the investigative work on the law enforcement end, in the time spent fleshing out the family members, and in the little scientific factoids that are laced into the story. There’s enough familiar foibles for an audience to identify with, including the protagonist still figuring out his power set, along with the mysterious woman he sees in his dreams. We get the title explained in this issue, and overall this is a great new take on the realistic toll the superhero paradigm would take on individuals and society as a whole. Between this and Paul Jenkins’ work on Deathmatch (not to mention the way he's been speaking out against the corporate culture at Marvel and DC, which seems to favor the IP catalogue over human capital), the recent creator-owned surge has put Boom! Studios on my radar in a way that it never was before. Grade A.
Locke & Key: Omega #5 (IDW): In some ways, this issue of Locke & Key is reminiscent of the latest episode of Game of Thrones that preceded it, in that you can’t say much without venturing into spoilers. Joe Hill is able to bring several plot threads and themes to a head here. He hits these frantic emotional highs and just never lets up for the duration of the entire issue. Gabriel Rodriguez has got to be one of the most underrated artists working in the industry today. In terms of conveying complex human expressions, I’d put him in the category that also contains artists like Terry Moore or Carla Speed McNeil. There’s a clarity and flow to his work that many more prominent practitioners could learn from, despite this being his first major work in the American comics scene. As I understand it, seems like the end of this long-running tale may have gotten away from Hill a little. For a while, Omega was billed as the final arc, but now we expect two additional Alpha issues which will bookend this final arc and the entire story. Oh well, at this point Hill has banked enough credibility that I’m sure I’ll check it out, along with his new series Thumbprint coming out later this summer. Grade A.