Xeno Kaiju [Small Press]

Xeno Kaiju (Hic & Hic Publications): The latest offering in the Newsprint Revivalist Movement is Xeno Kaiju by Pat Aulisio, published by Matt Moses and the illustrious Hic & Hoc Publications. Aulisio quickly dazzled me with his Bowman 2016 series, and here he applies his bravura brand of ballsy bookmaking to imaginative monster battles in the Japanese tradition, feverishly tinged with xenophobia. There ain't a single word in this robust story, but it’s basically a three-act play with an epilogue: Aliens Arrive (it’s not even debated that they exist, just fast forward to the good parts), Monsters Are Awoken (don’t ask how, it’s just sci-fi magic with ill intent, they aim to misbehave), Cities Are Destroyed (in all their fiery urban glory!), and Planetary Forces Retaliate (in a brief, meager, vain attempt to halt their rampage at the very end). If you can imagine a highly unrestrained, even more indie eye-candy version of James Stokoe’s Godzilla: The Half Century War, or some sort of cosmic bender including the lovechild of Rafael Grampa and Geoff Darrow on methamphetamine with his mouth duct-taped shut, or uhh, something like that (pffft!), then you might be somewhere in the neighborhood of Xeno Kaiju. Aulisio’s work is bold, epic, and flawless for what it is. His monster jam comic fills nearly every crevice of the page with textures, patterns, technology, and matter, swirls of ink coalescing to form nascent imagery. It’s full of unchecked imagination and a sort of claustrophobic sense of glee. It’s subtly humorous too; from the alien POV, it basically devalues the human experience entirely. The inhabitants of the planet are just play things, non-entities, ants, the planet is just a playground for monsters. Aulisio controls the colors and line weight so well, running the gamut from black and white, to shocking and vast splashes of red, to eerie and serene smoke as the dust settles. The scale of the oversized pages and “chunky” wood pulp newsprint also makes me feel like if I was a kid, I’d be tempted to color in all these black and white panels with uneven zeal. They are ripe for the taking to my 5-year old mind’s eye. I’ve basically never met a Hic & Hoc Publication that I didn’t like, and Pat Aulisio is a creator who can always be counted on to further this impressive record. Xeno Kaiju is the best sequential art binge hangover I’ve had in years. Grade A+.

Mara #6 [Advance Review]

Mara #6 (Image): If you were left wondering about the brinksmanship of that cliffhanger in the last issue, the delayed finale of Mara clears it up with glorious introspection that’ll leave you pondering our collective future. Not only do we learn the truth about Mara Prince’s ultimate tactical decision, what she did, when she did it, and why she did it, but Brian Wood sidesteps the obvious to discuss something more observational and aspirational about man’s place in the universe. By the end, Mara, as a series, has grown to be a rich examination of the superhero genre. Mara uses her power in the best ways possible for a story like this, not to wield it mercilessly against a cardboard cutout villain, or to splash it around like a spoiled kid with a new toy, but to learn, to teach, and to lead by example. She can both inspire, and be inspired by, her fellow man. Dare I say there’s something Watchmen-esque about the genre deconstruction in Mara, a similar comparison I threw at Wood back when he wrote the criminally under-appreciated series DV8: Gods & Monsters. In some ways, Mara is not unlike Jon Osterman’s Doctor Manhattan retreating to the lunar surface to gather his thoughts about humanity’s frail existence, or Adrian Veidt’s Ozymandias crafting his ultimate gambit for a higher strategic purpose.

The entire issue is basically an open-ended “To Whom It May Concern” letter via matter-of-fact voiceover narration from Mara as she travels in space, while actions take place back on Earth precipitated by some of her decisions. Mara is a beautifully rendered examination of fame, power, and identity. It’s a lesson that, in the hands of a skilled writer, the capability exists to unpack realistic issues in this mostly unrealistic genre in a way far beyond the cyclical mindless brawling, or the editorially-mandated events, that too often mar superhero comics. Mara is cape comics for mature adults, with a level of introspection seen too seldom by the likes of Marvel and DC. It’s what a book like Supergirl or Wonder Woman could be, what it should be, if there was any sense of experimentation or risk-taking left in the DiDioVerse instead of creative bankruptcy with their intellectual property catalogues. It’s about grasping to find your place in the universe. It’s a means to a crisp identity quest, the type of thematic journey that’s fueled this writer for over a decade. Mara might just be the pinnacle of that idea, of the trademark Brian Wood Identity Quest I’m always rambling on about, one that’s reflected in the mostly blank title page by Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire so beautifully. Mara appears mostly in black silhouette, deliberately like a blank canvas. When you have the power to do literally anything, including building your own identity – What do you do? Who do you become? How do you act?

Speaking of the art, I think this book should be catapulting artist Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire to well-deserved fame. I think this series was really the first time I paid any attention to Jordie Bellaire, or was even made aware of her work in a way that registered. Suddenly, it seems like her career just took flight. She’s basically coloring, like, every book right now. Bellaire does the color dance well, shimmying her hips back and forth between the sheer pop glee of some scenes, to the somber muted moodiness required of others. I don’t know if she’s a terribly “fast” artist capable of handling a monthly book or two, but I find myself a little disturbed that Ming Doyle isn’t more sought after, because I’d really like to regularly see more projects from her. Her style and confidence grew tremendously in the space of just these six issues. While you can certainly admire the rainbow bursts of color indicating Mara’s limitless speed, the shots on the moon here are probably most exemplary of their combined artistic magic. These open airy panels are full of cold blues and velvety grays, deep purples and soft ambers, as Mara Prince essentially signs off (I kept trying to work in a Truman Show “good afternoon, good evening, and good night” joke in here, but alas, why denigrate serious work with something only I would find funny?). The contours and the colors seem to mirror the sense of isolation she feels, the feeling of constantly being disappointed by people and how wearing that can be spiritually.

There’s a moment when Mara is resigned to just walk away, guided solely by her own internal moral compass: “ I couldn’t imagine anything mattering less than what you all think of me right now.” Now, if you’ve been able to piece together any of the stray clues that Wood has let slip in interviews and on Twitter about his departure from DC Comics, which hasn’t been nearly as publicized as some of the other more recent flurry of departures, I get the sense that all of these ideas, looking back to see how your past – parentage, nature, nurture – all inform your future, the notions of being on the precipice of change, the kind of world we might be leaving our young kids to inherit (mine are 7 and 4, very close to Wood’s if I recall correctly, and trust me, in can induce a state of constant fretting), consciously crafting an identity – professional or personal, and willful genre experimentation, are all swirling around in his subconscious and sometimes leak out into the dialogue, infusing it with this edge that rings true to life. I try not to delve too deeply into personal matters out of respect, or to stray too far away from the material we’re presented with by reading too far into things, in what is ultimately just a throwaway little comic book review, but that’s my cumulative take on where a book like Mara comes from in the genesis of creation.

Toward the end of the issue, there’s a nice washed out flashback that sort of fills in the origin of young Mara Prince, prior to obtaining her powers. It’s a coming-of-age story, the typical bildungsroman that Wood can sometimes include for his strong female protagonists (Pella Suzuki, Megan McKeenan), the kind that’s about taking a plunge into the unknown, and how that may echo current events. The denouement of Mara is about taking in the worst the world has to offer and molding it into a story of redemption. As an ambassador to the heavens sets forth, it’s about having your faith renewed, slivers of humanist emotional hope, when logical statistical examination might suggest otherwise. It’s about the hope that there will be a holistic return to favoring humanitarian exploration vs. mutually assured annihilation. Brian sometimes takes heat from readers about his inconclusive endings that result from characters being poised on the precipice of change. But, when you look closely, all the parts are usually there, enough hidden clues and overt cues to draw conclusions without needing to have it all spelled out for you. There’s a timeless quality about that approach. The work is richer for it, and so are we. Grade A+.

Ken Kristensen @ Yesteryear Comics [Signing]

After some uncontrollable delay, I’m happy to announce that the Tickle Party is back on! My retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics has their fifth in-store signing scheduled for 2013, featuring LA-based film, TV, and comics writer Ken Kristensen. He’ll be in the store this Sunday, October 6th from 12-3pm to celebrate the release of Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #5 and #6, published by Image Comics. The series is now ongoing with back-to-back release weeks for these two issues to get things rolling again. As I described in the pull quote for the first trade, Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth is “a cult classic in the making… a parody of everything wrong with our culture, all masquerading as a really funny, really weird comedy,” with fantastic art by MK Perker. Come get your Exclusive Yesteryear Comics Variant Cover for #5. Additionally, a CGC Representative will be on-hand to verify signatures for those of you interested in submitting books for professional grading. I’ll be working this event, so if you’re in San Diego, please stop by to say hi, meet Ken and support the renaissance of creator owned comics, and to support my friend Michael, owner of Yesteryear Comics. They’re the region’s best retailer and winner of the San Diego A-List Award for Best Comics Shop in 2013. For more information, jump in and follow @YesteryearComic @KenKristensen @ToddTheUgliest @ThirteenMinutes or check out Facebook.com/YesteryearComics.


9.25.13 [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.

Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth #5 (Image):  If you’re a fan of Stephen Colbert style send-ups that subvert Middle American conservative values, then Todd The Ugliest Kid is the book you should be reading. Writer Ken Kristensen pulls no punches, with unstoppable humor that's knee deep in cultural satire with deadpan delivery. The humor ranges from Tickle Parties to Wet Dreams, Urinal Angels to hymen-slamming step-incest, Reservoir Dogs pulls, to demolishing Comic-Con, and some jabs that get all up in Marvel Comics’ grill. The meta-industry line “Close… I write for Marvel Comics.” had me nearly spitting out my drink at the little deli I was sitting at when I read the issue. I always thought humor in comics was extremely difficult to pull off, something I never really warmed to, but Ken Kristensen is my new comedic guru, honing subversive insight that brings to mind the modernization of Steve Gerber’s Howard The Duck under the MAX line in 2001, with MK Perker dealing all kinds of dark visual contortion to tonally fuel the ideas. Yeah, it’s been over a decade since we’ve had something even close to the wicked power of Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth and its ability to induce literal laugh-out-loud moments. PS - I'll post some details next week on the upcoming Ken Kristensen signing at my retail sponsor, Yesteryear Comics. They've got an Exclusive Variant Cover for #5, and with #6 already shipping next week, this is the perfect time to get onboard the Todd Tickle Party Train. Grade A+.
Jupiter’s Legacy #3 (Image): Lateness aside, Jupiter’s Legacy nearly lives up to the incredible Millarworld hype machine. It upends staid genre conventions with ballsy action willing to make the drastic moves that company owned properties simply cannot. Brandon and Uncle Walter (mostly the latter) continue to engineer their superhero coup d’etat under the guide of sweeping social change to better mankind, and it all starts to rapidly unfold in this issue. Boy, does it, that's a frickin' understatement. While this largely family conflict plays out, every hero in the world gets pulled into the divide. Chloe and her mom are targeted, while Utopian gets suckered into a false flag feint. That’s the propositon, anyway, half going according to startling plan, while the other half derails and creates two distinct tracks for the book to follow moving forward. I’ve  been a fan of Frank Quitely since forever, and this is probably the best work of his career to date. This book is fucking crazy good, thematically resonant and visually stunning. If you're the kind of reader who, like me, was kinda' sick of the over-the-top Millar ticks, then this is probably the one for you. There are deeper ideas afoot and the visuals alone guarantee a no-shame purchase. Grade A+.

East of West #6 (Image): Hickman and Dragotta continue their alternate future universe where a strange event near the Civil War fractures the country into somewhat secular nations vying for power while attempting to parse a somewhat nebulous prophecy. This time out, we don’t really see Death or the Four Horsemen, but via a raucous meeting of the ruling council at Armistice, we spend some time with one of its members. Dragotta adds some Judge Dredd style future visuals so that Hickman can reappropriate a modernized futuristic reinterpretation of The Lone Ranger mythos and deliver the rise of the Texas Rangers in this reality. It’s phenomenal work as usual, with each successive issue of East of West getting better and better, methodically fleshing out corners of the burgeoning world-build. Dragotta inking his own work is really something special, using heavily shadowed grimacing faces to really sell the action. Frank Martin’s colors also lend a washed out nostalgia to the flashbacks, while adding crisp detail to some of the forced perspectives. East of West remains one of the most imaginative creative calamities to shake up the competition in 2013. Witness the raw power of Creator Owned Comics. Grade A.
Sex Criminals #1 (Image): Ultimately, the search for companionship is such a sweet journey that Sex Criminals is probably the most romantic comic you’ll read this year. If you were a fan of Tarantino’s True Romance, the way it was ultimately a love story masquerading as a great crime film, then Sex Criminals does a similar shimmy, a story of Bonnie & Clyde lovers on the run (we think) that’s masquerading as some sort of sexualized supes affair, though the latter genre conventions are thankfully barely present. With Chip Zdarsky’s indie line, Matt Fraction's leisurely script initially plays more like the type of relatively quotidian autobiography you might find being published at Drawn & Quarterly. That’s not meant to be pejorative, I'm in love with the way the line between indie and mainstream is being so blurred of late, it’s a refreshing approach that favors relationship dynamics, matter-of-fact coming-of-age concerns, and burgeoning sexuality over bland superheroic origin stories. Zdarsky’s art is smart, with intelligent camera placement that brings to life Fraction’s confluence of humor, tragedy, and drama. I love how the book takes its time, giving the story room to breathe and expand, time to pause for meta-commentary about senseless real world workplace violence incidents, the sly ability to evoke time and place with a mere Sarah McLachlan drop (hello 90's!), a fourth wall-breaking protagonist that speaks directly to the reader in full Bueller-ian glory, or the introspection about sex being an escape that risks leaving you alone, which will all surely position Sex Criminals as one of 2013’s “it” books. Grade A.

The Wake #4 (DC/Vertigo): Scott Snyder and Sean Murphy are an incredibly strong creative team, churning out a series that feels like a summer action movie blockbuster, but with a brain. Snyder goes the extra mile with researched historical vignettes, which are maybe too easily shoehorned into the narrative just when they’re needed to advance the plot, but no less interesting. Murphy is someone whose career I’ve followed with great interest, his stylized art is the kind of aesthetic I’m easily drawn to. Here, he really pushes on the medium from a technical standpoint, reversing camera angles so that characters are looking at video screens out at the audience, using the perfect detail of a mounted CCTV camera to transition into the next panel, just all manner of visual cues that are both stylish and substantive, form and function in lockstep tandem. At times, Snyder can maybe use a little too much pop culture sensation (“carbonite”), but there’s no doubt in my mind the cinematic brutality of this series is primed for a film adaptation if anyone at Warner Brothers is really paying attention. Grade A.
Wasteland #48 (Oni Press): It really takes some effort to make me nervous, but man I could feel my heart clenching a little at a couple points in this issue. The Festival of The Founder gets underway in Newbegin and you have the “abomination” outside coming for a reckoning, absolutely laying waste to the city’s defenses, a botched assassination attempt simultaneously underway that basically had me screaming out loud like “OH!” when that dagger was finally unsheathed, and then muttering “JESUS CHRIST!” when those “oh shit” moments are abruptly halted. There’s a lot of flourish visually (even in the lettering for that matter, in the way that one set of parenthetical info is used, you’ll know it when you see it) from Justin Greenwood. I loved the brazen visual panache of a man standing down the pub with two daggers in the air wildly yelling “It’s up to us to save the city!” Antony Johnston is playing a game of audience emotional manipulation, leaving some things dangling intentionally until next issue, but quickly answering others. For example, the “Does Dexus Suspect Jakob?” question is introduced and then just as swiftly answered, cranking up the heat for a showdown that’s literally been years in the making. It keeps bubbling up to me that there’s only about a dozen issues left. At 60 total, Wasteland will be the second longest series that I’ve actually reviewed every single issue of. DMZ takes the lead at 72, for what that’s worth. Interesting statistics are something I’m always aware of. Grade A.

Sex #7 (Image): I still really enjoy the way Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski are playing sublimation and transference exercises with superpowers and sex, superheroes and politicians, power and money, fame and status, mystery and exposition. While it’s refreshing to see a series take its time, not be in a hurry (I think I previously made some type of painful foreplay analogy), and allow the story time to breathe and unfurl naturally, that languid pace can sometimes be frustrating, because Casey is playing a long con, and we really just don’t know where this is going or what it’s really about at seven issues in. Maybe that’s what I like about it. At this point in my comic book reading career, it’s nice to still be surprised and see something slightly different in a post-supes examination. As they zero in on the Saturnalia, well, the guys might as well have used “Fidelio” as the house password, but I think Casey is smart enough to know his audience would spot the similarity, so maybe he’ll play with audience expectations yet again. I like it for its quirkiness, despite some narrative delayed gratification, so I’m planning on sticking it out. Grade A-.
Saga #14 (Image): I enjoy reading Saga, and I enjoyed reading this issue, but it always feels like “all middle” to me and this issue never really advanced the plot much. The Will and Gwen and The Kid are still doing stuff, Marko and Alana and The Writer and Hazel and whatserface-in-law are still doing stuff. Yeah. There are notes I like, such as the parent/kid relationships that seem to be getting examined in different ways subtextually, the personal toll that war continues to take on all sides of the conflict, and the meta commentary around insidious “blurbs” was pretty funny. But, until all of these plot threads finally converge, and you have, say, Alana, Marko, The Will, Gwen, and Prince Robot IV in a room together, I don’t feel like there’s much there there beyond an amiable fun read with Fiona Staples’ nice and emotive art. I guess, “it’s the journey” and all, but the journey feels like it’s been going about a dozen issues, a sort of high calorie, low nutrient affair, with only a couple that contained any real zip. Not to be all contrarian just for the sake of being so, but Saga is a really good book, it's not the be-all, end-all that some are making it out to be. There are at least half a dozen better books being published right now. Grade A-.

Rat Queens #1 (Image): I’m in that rare minority who doesn’t really get what the big deal is with Kurtis J. Wiebe’s other book, Peter Panzerfaust, and this is likewise pretty borderline for me. On the positive side, it has some charm and there’s a willfully playful quality about it that’s probably generally lacking in the market today. As accessible as that may be, I found a lot of the dialogue to be unrealistically staged and just trying too hard to have that Whedon-esque cadence and speech pattern that comes so effortlessly to ol’ Joss. The art, too, was a mixed bag from Roc Upchurch. At times, it is crisp and beautiful, at other times there’s a fuzzy grainy quality to the foreground figures, with backgrounds that seem phoned in and lacking detail with an overly CG quality to them. Add all of that up and you basically have a very inconsistent book. This is the kind of book I usually look for just as generic reading material when I’m scouring the 50% trade bins at SDCC. It’s not the kind of book I can wholeheartedly support in singles, not when there’s so much other great material coming out, especially from Image Comics. Not horrible, just not stellar. Grade B+.


Thor: God of Thunder #13 [Kamak’s Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

Thor: God of Thunder #13 (Marvel): Who wants to hear about the humanistic side of Thor? Sure, the last issue was a nice break after the “Godbomb” arc, it served as a character-builder for Thor and added a level of emotional depth. We met his old flames, saw him counsel a man on death row, and help out the average Joe. Again, it was nice to see the softer side of Sears Thor. But after that brief respite, thank Odin for issue 13. The “God of Thunder” is back to swinging Mighty Mjolnir at the baddies. 

Where the hell is Esad Ribic? I’ll never quit you! We were introduced to artist Ron Garney in issue 12, but I thought Ribic was just on vacation at some topless beach in France. Boy, do I miss him (bromance!). Garney’s work is very good, but does not live up to the level of Ribic’s absolute mastery on this title. I find his figures too geometric and cartoony. They lose a bit of the believability that the series previously had. Svorcina’s coloring is spot on. The transition from an ice-filled world to its eerie depths is flawless. The dark presence of the elves against the bright arctic setting sets the tone perfectly. The shading on the single panel page  of Malekith The Accursed gets my seal of approval. Kudos to Ive Svorcina.

I’ve read way too many comics that that contain a ton of violence, but lack depth and empathy. Jason Aaron is a superstar in the comic book world. He’s molded the perfect balance of brutality and storytelling. [Editor’s Note: For once, I don’t have much snarky commentary for Kamak. Shocking, I know. I recently read the first trade of Thor: God of Thunder and really enjoyed it. Leave it to Jason Aaron to bring a fresh approach to a character I never before had any reason to care about. While I’ll always prefer a creative team like Jerome Opena and Dean White on the art side of the equation for a regular ol' Marvel U book, Ribic really did help set the tone early on by varying his style to suit each of the three time periods the story operated in. Aside from Brian Wood’s X-Men, this is probably the best straight-up 616 title Marvel is currently publishing. So, you get the double recommendation from Kamak and Justin; you’re crazy if you’re not buying this!]

**Minor Spoiler Alert**

The story begins with Dark Elves entering the frozen land of Niffleheim. Once they land their boats upon the icy shores, they’re met with an unsettling image of what may happen to them, a frozen death making them one with the land. They cannot escape this torture, even in death. Once the Elves make it to the Halls of Nastrond, they face a silent terror, giant poisonous tarantulas. For me, this was the height of hair-raising creepiness. The Dark Elf Scumtongue is poisoned by one of the giant arachnids, but before the poison induces a scream, Scumtongue cuts his own tongue off to prevent his cries of pain. That is all you are going to get out of me on this issue, there is plenty of Jason Aaron’s magic left to be had. 

Thor: God of Thunder is still one of the best titles on retailer shelves. If you have not read this title before, this is a great jumping on point. I’m positive we will not be disappointed by “The Accursed” story arc. Grade A.


Death Sentence #1 [Advance Review]

Death Sentence #1 (Titan Comics): In sound journalistic fashion, I’ll try not to bury my lead: Death Sentence is the best offering I’ve seen yet from Titan Comics. Truthfully, while there’s been intrigue, not all of their new titles have really connected with me personally. But, there’s a moodiness and introspective quality to Death Sentence that pushes a lot of the buttons I crave in my pop culture diet. Monty Nero and Mike Dowling invent a unique world built from a great premise, where the G+ Virus is a sexually transmitted plague that infects the host with remarkable powers and abilities, but then kills them within 6 months of acquisition. My comp copy even arrived with a personalized letter from North London's G+ Testing Clinic, indicating that my own test results were negative with a .02% chance of error(!).

In this first issue, we follow three principal protagonists as they react to their positive diagnoses in a myriad of interesting ways. The filter of three distinct personalities manifests with everything from a deep plunge into drugs, debauchery, and self-loathing, to a New Age-y annoying media personality being interviewed by a Piers Morgan look-alike, to the piece de resistance for me, Verity Fette, a female graphic designer with a strong determination to simply do more before her time runs out. This latter thread seems to be steeped in a whiff of resistance to an oppressive totalitarian government, the kind of cultural blowback which sparked some of the UK writers in the 1980’s to invade what was largely thought of as the American Comics Scene at that time. Yeah, there’s a lot going on in Death Sentence. The world feels a bit cloudy and nebulous, an uncertain future with an apocalyptic air about it. It has a desperation to it, where people question the point of life in the face of staggering indifference. It’s got real heart, where ego-driven characters intersect with larger social theory, societal aspirations, fame, identity, and culture all coalescing.

Death Sentence is visually engaging and thought-provoking, while rising above just the strong sensationalism of the hook to become something totally unique. Mike Dowling’s art is like a breath of fresh air in an aesthetic landscape that's still too largely dominated by simplistic superheroics. The colors are moody and emotional, a nice tonal match for Nero’s script and edgy dialogue. Dowling reminds me of what would happen if the chiseled but emotive work of someone like Sean Phillips were tasked with something like a low-budget BPRD story. There’s an edge to the dialogue as well. For example, the characters use profanity and a harshness to their actions, yet it’s not for the sake of over-the-top contrivance, but rather a sense of realism and agitation. The script and art find ways to achieve a point and counterpoint rhythm. For example, early on, Weasel wakes from a panic-fueled night of sex and drugs, wondering if his G+ diagnosis was all just a terrible dream. The next panel is a solemn quiet moment where he hangs his head with the realization that it wasn’t. It’s subtle and very powerful.

Death Sentence #1 debuts on October 9th and is the first of six issues. It wastes no time and opens right into the plot unfolding en media res. There’s also a bit with a crucifix that should go down as one of the most memorable moments in comics this year. Ahem. With all of that said, as well as interesting backmatter in the form of an ongoing writer’s guide, I strongly urge you to give this series a look. I’ll be picking it up for sure. Grade A.


Rejoice. Rejo i c e. R e j o i c e.

Rejoice. (Grimalkin Press): It’s interesting to note that Minneapolis-based, Autoptic Co-Founder, sous chef-cum-small press publisher extraordinaire Jordan Shiveley named his new project “Rejoice.” and it has that damn period after it. I believe this is a deliberate move that signals an entry into a world of deadpan humor. I once heard someone say that using exclamation marks (or any excessive punctuation) in your writing is like laughing at your own jokes. You get more mileage out of restraint than you do from any over-the-top adornment. The restraint allows the audience a sense of discovery and prohibits the writer/artist from essentially spelling it all out for the reader in a prescriptive manner. Yes, less is more, and this is a dynamic Shiveley intuitively understands. Shiveley presents a straight-faced story billed in library-style classification as “Comics/Mouse Erotica/Calamity” sans any punctuation that would fall into that trap. Everything about the book subtly screams world-weary dry presentation of facts, and avoids the overt insinuation of parody or satire, and that absence is what actually creates all the funny, all the introspection, and all the emotion.
This restraint, this uncluttering of his words with the unnecessary, is as smart artistically as Shiveley’s phenomenal March 29, 1912 was in the way it eschewed dialogue completely in favor of full audience engagement. For example, take the index page in the back of Rejoice. It exhaustively lists entries for things like “Callous Disregard pg. 3, 4, 10, 12, 25, 30, 31, 32” or “Dawning Premonition of Disaster pg. 1, 26, 33” or “My Twenties Encapsulated pg. 13” and just presents them dutifully without comment. While I think there might(?) be a typo in one long entry, where commas between numbers are suddenly periods for some reason, it’s otherwise one of the smartest, most subtly funny things I’ve seen in quite some time. There’s also a stray typo on “questionaire” (and the utility of correcting typos during reviews is something Shiveley and I have bantered back and forth about, so I’m now scrambling to proofread this review for typos), but don’t pay any attention to that. There are more pertinent things afoot in Rejoice.
Rejoice. is largely concerned with the contention between the wonderful and the meaningless in life. “Rejoice.” Period. The characters are doing anything but. As a pure objet d’art, Rejoice. was printed at Zak Sally’s La Mano Press on risograph, with patterned pages that encapsulate minimalist mouse misadventures as they navigate the choices we’re presented with in life. What I like about Shiveley’s art the most is that he isn’t afraid to sling ink when the story calls for it. There’s the dark void of the unknown hole in wall the mice encounter, perfectly represented by that big expanse of black ink. I also like how their eyes are just tiny round circles of ink, yet they somehow are able to convey apprehension, agitation, or longing.
The hole with unseen mousetraps lurking inside becomes a stand-in for how we deal with danger, there are riffs on certainty and self-doubt, submitting to the routine semi-post-hipster life of “flat-fronted trousers” and “farmer’s markets” vs. exposure to new adventures, and being caught up by those ultimately meaningless distractions in life vs. finding the time to build meaningful relationships with people. The mice are contemplating finding happiness through external things, “the right combination of words, people, places,” and the viability of that. Their “Supermouse” dreams touch on feeling as if we’re destined for something greater vs. the “is this all there is?” phenomenon in life. I could go on, but Shiveley is so very poetic with words and these feelings at times, maybe best exemplified by: “I want to settle into happiness like we are old lovers in a chance meeting… and we have just remembered each other’s names.”

If I dared to venture a personal guess, I might suggest a small-scale mid-life crisis of sorts (though I don’t know exactly how old Shiveley is) has seeped into his work. As he nails down the big job, the new place, the steady g/f, the flourishing side business/hobby, maybe hitting that point in life we all experience where you feel you’re certainly on track, but start to question if that’s the right track for you specifically, the track you always envisioned for yourself, which admittedly is an instance where reality typically deviates from your original vision. Grade A.


Second Banana @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Tessa Brunton's new book, Second Banana, over at Poopsheet Foundation.


9.18.13 [Weekly Reviews]

"Weekly Reviews" is a column brought to you with generous support from our retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your first and only destination in San Diego for great customer service and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new titles during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

Conan #20 (Dark Horse): It seems odd now that Brian Wood only has a few more issues left on his Conan The Barbarian tenure. Now that we’re nearing the end, it feels like it went by incredibly fast. In any case, Paul Azaceta and Dave Stewart help deliver part two of the “Black Stones” arc. It witnesses Conan and Belit on the run over the matter of a strange artifact, holed up in the Forest of Ghouls, and huddled around a campfire telling stories. The art in this sequence is particularly grand; Azaceta and Stewart create an environment dense with shadows. In fact, some of the small inset panels are like 80% darkness, with the fire lighting up only about 20% of the faint outlines of their figures. Night is enveloping them, just like the forces hunting them over an object whose power they don’t quite understand. Azaceta and Stewart hit these tonal beats, totally in sync with Wood’s script. The strength of the art runs the course of the issue, from the creepy-ass crows/ravens straight from Beyond The Wall in Game of Thrones, to the silent panels which carry the actions of their pursuers, to the way Azaceta flips the POV between Conan and the bowman, to the light of the relic being activated, which pushes nearly everything else off the panel. The list goes on, you can almost take any panel at random and study the way the composition is full of smart storytelling choices. Conan’s story itself is interesting. Superficially, there are elements similar to his own predicament, but ultimately it’s not just a dark disturbing tale, or a parable parents teach their kids to make them listen. Ultimately, it’s a story about belief. It’s about how belief can be stronger than reality, belief in something, belief in your inner strength, belief in a lifestyle, in a mission, in having the fastest horse, or the belief in each other between two lovers. The belief in young idealistic love, that it will outlast any challenger, that you’ll reunite despite the odds, the belief in a lover’s skill and her final gambit. The love between them is so comforting that it really drives a lot of their adventure, forcing them to throw caution to the wind and just let the chips fall where they may. It’s why you can look back and see the effects this all has on Conan and his life to come, how you can mark time in the Conan canon (interesting, just flip the two vowels in those words around) before and after his time with Belit. Wood uses the omniscient narration to great effect in this series, getting into Conan’s head in a way that feels true to the character, and with the cover for the next issue one of the most beautiful in recent memory, I can’t wait to see how this arc wraps up. At some point, it’s going to be the beginning of the end of Wood’s stewardship of the title, probably feeling as bittersweet as Conan’s time with Belit. Grade A+.

Harbinger #16 (Valiant): Joshua Dysart and Barry Kitson, in just the space of these two issues, have taken us on a roller coaster ride of emotion in this “Perfect Day” arc. The team paused for some R&R in the last issue after the Harbinger Wars, they relaxed on some of the beaches near where Dysart lives in LA (always dig those personal references), the team collectively took stock, and Dysart seemed to being giving the characters everything they wanted/needed in some nice exchanges of character development. But, then he just cliffhung us real good last issue with Kris experiencing some kind of breakdown or mind control and demolishing Torque. The issue picks up right there, with Charlene and Faith coming in to find the mess, allowing Kitson to give us some great reactions. From there, Kitson (who seems to be channeling someone like Scott McDaniel when he’s really on) also just nails (what we guess is) some sort of psychic projections gone awry. You get pulled into this. It feels like one of those fun old detours they’d do in Byrne/Clairemont X-Men comics, where the gang would hit another dimension or just take a fun trip into the city. Here, it’s Torque’s weird heaven, “Torquehalla,” where everything is so over-the-top tough and never dies. His monster truck can be spotlessly reincarnated now matter how bad he thrashes it. Dysart writes so forcefully that you start thinking, yeah, maybe this is the type of overcompensated projection that a disabled kid’s scarred psyche would deliver, maybe this is where his mind would go in some form of afterlife, or a purgatory as he clings to life, the kind of place he might actually want to stay in order to stay dead and not return to the harsh reality waiting for him. Maybe his crazy powers would pull his friends into this world, where in a bizarre Dungeons & Dragons meets the Valiant Universe mash-up, they do need to solve something in the weird plane in order to solve the actual problems in their own reality, ala those Bronze Age X-Men stories I alluded to. Their reactions are realistic, more sound than the choices that typically happen just to advance the plot in schlocky comics or TV. Yeah, Dysart lulls you into thinking he’s *just* telling that kind of story. But, leave it to Faith and her keen powers of observation, which seem to best her powers of flight, to start unraveling what’s really going on. I won’t spoil it outright, but it’s a clear WTF ending that nobody will see coming. It’s one that upsets a good chunk of what’s come before. It’s proof yet again that Dysart keeps defying audience expectations, as well as genre conventions, fucking with us in the best ways possible. Grade A.

Dream Thief #5 (Dark Horse): Jai Nitz and Greg Smallwood have been traipsing all over the damn place with this series, from porn stars in Wilmington, to the clan in Tupelo, to gangsters in Memphis, all the way to a dimly-lit dive restaurant in Spanish Harlem. This “final” issue sort of wraps up what is, at heart, a murder mystery. The entire plot isn’t resolved by any means, but there’s enough solid evidence put into place that it feels like the satisfying conclusion to what, I guess, is going to function as the first arc. It’s clear from where the story left off, as well as the letters and ads in the back, that the story will continue either as an ongoing, or perhaps a series of mini-series(?). “Dream Thief,” as a title, sometimes feels like a bit of a misnomer, it could have just as easily been called Memory Thief or Ability Thief or Identity Thief. How do you describe what is sometimes referred to as being “possessed by ghosts” due to an aboriginal mask, but also includes the innate ability to not only recall their memories, but to duplicate their physical skills and abilities as well? It’s an intriguing premise that has miles of storytelling potential left beyond the personal/familial turn that this introductory foray demonstrated. In any case, this issue functions aesthetically as those before it, being one of the most progressive books I saw all year. The action is well-choreographed and pops with color, and the layouts and panel designs are particularly innovative. It’s like, the outline of a stray “WHAM” in a fight scene will function as a panel border that integrates the kick which delivered the SFX. Writing and art is being synthesized into one “thing,” which blurs the line between the two. In many of these panels, there’s isn’t the writing over here, and the art over there, the two actually become one act visually. It’s really capitalizing on what the medium can do. It’s just storytelling. Grade A.


Minimal Comics @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Graeme McNee's first mini-comic over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Battling Boy @ Comics Bulletin

I reviewed Paul Pope's latest with "The CB All-Stars" over at Comics Bulletin.


Alamo Value Plus #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Rusty Jordan's new book from Revival House Press over at Poopsheet Foundation.


9.11.13 [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.

Locke & Key: Alpha #1 (IDW): Hey, I’m all for celebrating the planned ending of a critically acclaimed sales boon in your line, but seriously, 25 variant covers seems a little ridiculous and self-congratulatory. That aside, Gabriel Rodriguez is responsible for some of the most amazing art in the last decade and I think him toiling away on a single title which might fly under the radar of the collective Marvel/DC horde means that he’s really underrated. Dude should be able to write his own ticket after this. There are many sequences in this 48 page behemoth ($7.99 is a little steep, but I don’t think these fans are going to care in light of the perceived valued proposition) that require very minimal dialogue, if any, because the strength of his art is such that it can carry the drama. His panel to panel storytelling ability really does rival some of the masters. Well, this is Dodge’s final assault, a nightmarish proposition for terribly cute Kinsey and guy-friend Jamal that earns its horror street cred with blood splotches against black backgrounds just to punctuate the nastiness, all in plenty of dark shadows. I particularly like how Rodriguez’s eyes are so emotive, the whites really pop against the bold line weights of all his figures. Rufus is also inbound, Tyler is making more keys, and there are extremely cinematic cuts scene to scene riffing on the theory that “humanity has too much doubt and too little courage.” Dodge’s speech about family as the elemental unit of power (his delusions of grandeur aside) is a nice treatise on what the series has meant thematically from Joe Hill. Nearly every single long-running plot thread converges here, there are fun tributes, Michael Kaluta extras, and it all runs up to cliffhanger casualties as we await the final issue. It’s emotionally satisfying in a way that doesn’t sacrifice visceral gut-punch for saccharine denouement. Grade A.
Astro City #4 (DC/Vertigo): Kurt Busiek has proven that he’s not only a modern master, but why Astro City remains sort of a seminal work that has legs decades after it first debuted. In every issue of the new series so far, he’s sidled up to the superhero genre and come at it from a different, non-direct angle. He’s got a knack for taking the periphery side stories that would be throw-away world-building bits in the hands of lesser writers and found ways to make those stories the primary concern of each issue. This time around, he focuses on blue collar workers who just happen to have random powers. There’s a choice in life and it’s not limited to the otherwise binary choices between being a superhero or a villain. They can be actors, consultants, artisans, designers, or DJ’s, all finding ways to use their powers by finding something offbeat to dedicate their life to that they’re somewhat passionate about. Brent Anderson’s art has a way of grounding it all in a believable aesthetic that leans toward realism, while still having enough “capes and tights” in his style to pull off that end of the proposition. I was never that into Astro City in its heyday because it always seemed a little too “Boy Scout” to me, but there’s a social anthropology edge to the way the world it creates affects the “real” people that I now find quite interesting. Grade A.

X-Men #5 (Marvel): I haven’t read the first two parts of this, since this is the only Marvel book I actually support currently, but this is billed as Part 3 of the "Battle of The Atom" crossover. It’s basically caught up neck deep in the middle of one of the latest Marvel events, which doesn’t leave all that much room for the plot threads that Brian Wood was introducing in his first few issues. It looks stunning. David Lopez almost seems to be channeling a John Cassaday vibe in spots with his austere clean aesthetic, with some Jerome Opena/Dean White moments ground into the close-ups for good measure. I’ll go on record as saying that David Lopez is responsible for my favorite rendition of Psylocke, like, ever. She just looks so perfect in terms of capturing her history and character. I was glad to see Wood satisfy whatever editorial necessities he was given, but also find the time to work in touches of his team dynamic and further his characterization of people like Jubilee. Rachel, in particular, also shines through, with the recent difficulties she’s finding in Storm’s leadership all having some bearing on what she does here, and how she reacts to the time-jumping exploits of the characters in this crossover. Her small coalition seems to grow, as she ropes in Kitty Pryde for a defiant little mission, utilizing Chinese takeout, self-confessed impulsive “irrationality,” and one extremely badass car. So, there are some crisp moments to be found and I wouldn’t use the word “derail” by any means, but overall it’s got the requisite feel of manufactured drama required of any event book weighing it down, and the cliffhanger-y ending perhaps relies a little too much on the reader’s knowledge of the distinctions and personalities of the crop of other current X-books. Grade B+.
Brain Boy #1 (Dark Horse): This is a perfectly fun action-adventure series from Fred Van Lente, featuring an on-loan Secret Service agent with telekinetic powers. I’d imagine someone who can scan and read minds is pretty handy to have on the presidential detail, and he quickly gets embroiled in a scandal with a visiting dignitary. The re-imaged plot is sort of as kooky and over-the-top as the original concept, and the art from R.B. Silva is really crisp with its hard-edged lines and wide-eyed faces. I’ve never really been one for humor comics or books that are this light-hearted, I guess, because I’m totally a serious bore. It’s good, but just chalk it up to personal preference, I won’t be sticking with it. It is, however, the type of book that I could see me picking up for 50% in trade at a con, which has quickly become my backhanded compliment way of saying it’s good, but not good enough to support in singles. Grade B+.

Kings Watch #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): Man, I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The premise of mashing up The Phantom, Mandrake, and Flash Gordon sounds like pulpy fun from Jeff Parker, and the art by Marc Laming is pretty solid (especially the cover!), but the way the scenes were cut together was very choppy and didn’t flow well at all. By the end, the throughline of the story just never seemed to coalesce, all you can really glean from what’s presented is that uhh, stuff is happening around the world, and I guess they’re sending some random blokes into space to check it out(?) There’s really no effort to show or suggest who these three are, why these three are around to begin with, why these three would need to get together (let alone consider it), or even if they are going to get together, and basically what the whole point of the damn book is in the first place, as contrived as it all is to begin with. I guess it could have used a little more exposition, which is a weird thing to say. Grade B.
Eternal Warrior #1 (Valiant): There are very few things in the world of comic books that catch my eye like the dark disturbing photorealism of a Clayton Crain cover. Oh, how I wish he’d actually do interiors again. He brought me back into X-Force when it started getting good again, which eventually led to the Remender/Opena/White era, which should probably go down as the pinnacle of the dreadful ethical examination of that covert mutant hit squad, but I digress... I’ve never really warmed to Greg Pak’s writing, and this script was a little too steeped in “Nergal Lord of Darkness bestow your eternal blah blah blah” made up religiosity. I always get a little annoyed when writers get too bogged down in their own fictional mythologies, which this issue was really front-loaded with for no discernible reason. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty dramatic entry into the new Valiant Universe for The Eternal Warrior. Trevor Hairsine delivers a well-choreographed extended battle sequence, but don’t ask me why we’re supposed to care about what’s happening or who is fighting who or why they’re doing it. I think they’re just meant to be fighting because war, eternal wars for an eternal warrior and all. Pak introduces all kinds of family squabbling to propel the narrative and I liked the bits about the mental toll of being an immortal. It’s interesting, the tension that gets created when one person gives up the life and one person embraces it. I’m not sure why you would be surprised your sister is alive if you’re both immortal though. There’s some beautiful colors. There’s a bunch of LOTR Oliphants and Wringwraiths. It’s a mixed bag for me, perfectly ok, but nothing stellar. Middling efforts are sometimes the hardest books to review. There’s nothing egregious to really wail on, and nothing innovative to really advocate. I won’t be supporting the singles, but here’s another book that I’ll pick up in trade for 50% off at con, or when I have a bunch of Amazon credit that I need to burn. Grade B.

Memory @ Comics Bulletin

I reviewed the impressive Memory anthology over at Comics Bulletin.

Chew #36 [Kamak's Corner]

By Contributing Writer Brian Kamak

Chew #36 (Image): I’m biased. Chew is my favorite title, but it’s definitely not for everyone. Actually, it’s for the select few degenerates that are anti-cape and on the search for a book that’s truly unique. If you’re familiar with this title, then please skip to the next paragraph. If not, then stick around. Chew is the 2010 Eisner Award Winner for Best New Series. It focuses mostly on FDA Agent Tony Chu and his cibopathic power, which is the ability to psychically see what any object has been through via ingestion. For example, if a cibopath was to come across a dead body, all he’d have to do is take a nice big bite of the decomposing flesh to learn what happened to the departed. There are a handful of stunningly crafted supporting characters that vary from Tony’s bionic partner John Colby and the ultimate weapon, Secret Agent Poyo (he’s the badass rooster that makes Batman tremble in his boots), to the straight-laced and always irritable FDA Chief Mike Applebee (he has a secret relationship with Agent Colby). This is just skimming the surface of the cast, there are enough characters to always keep you entertained, yet never overwhelmed, they flow in and out of the arcs seamlessly. The setting is a near future where an Avian Flu Pandemic has caused an FDA ban on chicken. The FDA becomes the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, predominately intent on arresting chicken smugglers. Chew is quite possibly the darkest humor I've ever read, while maintaining some truly dramatic moments that focus on family and relationships. 

*Spoiler Alert* This story is a prequel of Toni Chu’s death (Tony Chu’s twin sister). Writer John Layman integrates the story perfectly into the “Space Cakes” story arc, while kicking off the new “Family Recipes” story arc. The story focuses on Toni Chu, who is aware of her untimely demise and her final days leading up to it. Layman brings us even further into the Chu family by providing true-to-life dialogue that’s all too familiar among siblings. Although this seems like a downer of an issue, Layman does a great job of keeping it heartwarming and comical. 

Rob Guillory’s art has been, and still is, brilliantly consistent throughout this series. The art has been described as a “streamlined cartoon” style.  All I know is that it may be viewed as cartoonish, but great attention to detail is everywhere. The expressions of the players’ faces make it so you can imagine what’s going through their minds without speech balloons. Guillory leaves Easter Eggs throughout the pages. If you spend enough time examining the panels, you’ll notice hilarious little tidbits such as a get well card that states “Look at the bright side... you’re already in a coma.” The covers are always cleverly done, and in this issue it’s an ode to Warner Brothers’ Porky Pig and his signature “Th-Th-That’s All Folks!” Guillory’s style is akin to that of Underground Comix’s R. Crumb. Sometimes I wonder if he’s holding back or if he’s truly cuttings lose and letting his wild side shine in his art. 

If you love Batman and hate The Big Lebowski, then look elsewhere. But, if the idea of a cibopathic government agent who only enjoys eating beets, a totally badass rooster, and a brilliantly-crafted world filled with larger-than-life characters sounds intriguing, then Chew is for you. If you’re never going to read Chew regularly, then at least pick up this issue for the awesome two-page spread of Secret Agent Poyo battling Mutant Corn and Superfish. That alone is worth the price of admission. Special thanks to Brian K. Vaughan, who signed my copy of Chew #35 and wrote “Layman is a nerd” on the cover. If you don’t get the connection, in that issue Tony Chu’s daughter is rocking a Lying Cat t-shirt from Saga, a brilliant little “crossover.” Grade A+.


Star Wars #9 [The Wood Pile]

Star Wars #9 (Dark Horse): Seriously, they should just go ahead and start calling him Ryan “Killy” instead, because Ryan Kelly is killing it. There are very few artists who can pull off this aesthetic Kessel Run, plotting a lightspeed course which jumps seamlessly from small details like getting the belly of the X-Wing correct, to the elegance of Princess Leia Organa in her white pilot’s jumpsuit strapped with a blaster, to the dope-ass close-up of Bossk amid the chase scene in the Coruscant skyline. When you break that statement down, that’s Ryan Kelly nailing everything from the used-future tech, to the human emotions, to the dizzying array of races and creatures, and all of the pulse-pounding action (with eye-popping colors thanks to Gabe Eltaeb), which is basically everything the Star Wars Universe was foundationally fashioned upon. I’ve been a little rough on any of the cover artists that were not Alex Ross on this run (an impossible standard, I know), but I’m perfectly happy with this Hugh Fleming number. Fleming is not an artist I’m familiar with, but it’s got a rich old pulpy quality to it, reminiscent of those 1950’s sci-fi paperbacks that were the type of material which helped inspire George Lucas to ultimately find his life’s work. 

Writer Brian Wood is equally adept at jumping around to different sets in order to continue his miraculous world-building within an already well-established world, with some hard-stop cinematic cuts to link it all together. Leia stumbles onto a remorseful Imperial officer floating around in a relic ship amid the ruins of Alderaan she found in the last issue, and is able to quickly suss out what her gut tells her just isn’t quite right about the whole situation. It’s interesting to see Leia struggle with the morality of what actions truly make someone a war criminal. It’s sort of an age old quandary, if the action itself, or just the intent, just providing the means and “following orders” is what qualifies someone, or if that can ever be a plausible defense. The man she finds is now amassing lost Alderaanian artifacts. For me, it was reminiscent of the story “Looted” that Brian Wood wrote back in DMZ #50, involving a man who had salvaged priceless works of art from Museum Mile during a Second American Civil War ravaging the streets of Manhattan. Both men are looking well beyond current events, trying to preserve the culture of a destroyed world, taking the long view of the conflicts they’re mired in. It’ll be interesting to see how this thread resolves.

From there, it’s a sharp cut (you can almost imagine one of those fuzzy screen wipes that Lucas did in the films separating these narrative threads) to Chewbacca piloting the Millennium Falcon above Coruscant, trying to outrun the Hound’s Tooth. From there, it’s Wedge and Luke infiltrating the Star Destroyer. It just never lets up. It never lets the reader settle or become complacent before being whisked off to another fun set. It’s like you get the equivalent of three or four different books’ worth of adventures all consolidated into one. Nitpick Alert: There was one transition that perhaps wasn’t as smooth as it could have been. In one panel, Luke is holding a blaster, he and Wedge are quickly fired upon by Stormtroopers, and then we see Luke defending himself with his lightsaber. The scene never really cuts away, yet we don’t see Luke make the transition, holster his weapon (though they don’t appear to even have holsters) or drop it, and retrieve his saber before igniting it. It’s hardly a showstopper, and I think there’s plenty of redemption in this part of the script otherwise. Wedge drops a reference to Kuat Drive Yards, and the creative team make an interesting decision to largely portray this scene from Wedge’s POV, as he reacts to Luke’s Jedi skills and what they’re doing in a very lucid moment. I’m so ok with Wedge being a main character. The only thing better would be Lando Calrissian. (Sorry, this is a running joke I dish to Wood, constantly nagging about the need for a Lando cameo or even some oblique reference to his existence).

Before you know it, we’re back on Coruscant as fan favorite Boba Fett just up and dives out of his ship in mid-flight. It’s a rollicking good time that will induce smiles in the reader. As we know, scenes with Boba Fett are so scarce, as are his precious lines of dialogue, so they’re all relished. The book is no different. With one utterance, “Drop the blaster, Solo.” you can just imagine that deadpan tinny hollow rasp of his voice. I always seem to enjoy the scenes with Prithi for some reason, and here we see her make an on-the-fly decision that could have immediate positive repercussions, but also some longer term negative consequences, depending on how they’re all extricated from this situation. The scale of her little T-65 fighter compared to the girth of the Star Destroyer is also terrific, because you have to play “Where’s Waldo?” for a moment to find her on the hull. It’s another example of the sense of fun I hope Wood and Kelly are having themselves as they share it with the audience. What’s also so ridiculously good is that final shot of Vader, just gleaming and menacing. Ryan “Killy,” y’all, Ryan “Killy.”
By the end, Birrah Seah reveals a huge piece of information to Vader, which is the latest example of the type of indispensable connective tissue that binds ANH to ESB. When you were watching ESB for the first time and saw Vader mercilessly coming after Luke on Hoth, did you ever ask yourself how he suddenly knew there was another Skywalker in town? In the past, the audience always had to provide this type of closure on their own, and now we have a whole series dedicated to gloriously doing it for you in that interstitial space between movies. Marrying those type of logical story extensions with fleshed out characterization and crisp lively art is basically the currency that Wood and Kelly are dealing in so expertly. This series will no doubt go down in history as one of the essential entries in the Star Wars canon. Grade A+.


The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #4 [Make Some Noise!]

The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys #4 (Dark Horse): The pure plight of “Blue” and her mechanical lover “Red” feels like something influenced by the humanistic and metaphysical science fiction writing of Philip K. Dick. There’s something about porno droids finding their humanity under the watchful eye of an authoritarian government that sets an example for actual humans, causing some introspection for us regarding the cost of collective modernity to the soul. The very first inset panel on the first page of this issue is the image of a boot-stomp, representing the didactic oppressive regime of Battery City, one which Blue and Red seek to flee, literally running away from the city in order to die on their own terms. If they truly have to die, one with a dwindling power source, and one simply without the other, they’re going to pick the time and place in a final act of romantic defiance, thank you very much. I don’t throw the words “brilliant” or “expert” around too often, but they certainly apply to the craftsmanship of the way this sequence ends under the hands of Shaun Simon and Gerard Way. That top-left boot is bookended by a mirrored bottom-right butterfly in tight zoom. It’s the other side of the thematic equation, a man-made object with cold hard brute force being met with the warm transformative properties of a natural creature in flight. The simple sense of freedom in this symbolic imagery is tidy and powerful in a way that most comics can merely grasp at.

The butterfly also makes for an elegant and stylish segue to The Girl in the desert, our girl – the chosen one, presently shacked up with Val Velocity and the Ultra V’s. While she’s getting her new ‘do and continues to make ready her ability to take out roaming dracs with a ray gun (schematics and gun safety guidelines found in the backmatter, love it!), Becky Cloonan frames her shots with all manner of clever eye-catching aplomb, silhouetted figures forming borders, centering on the figures of cats (important later!), seemingly random squints with her trademark flicks of ink under the eyes, or high-set horizon lines that lend a sense of urgency to everything that inhabits them. Cloonan knows how to push and pull the reader’s eye around the page, this much she’s learned about panel to panel dynamics, to draw you into what is the best art of her fabulous career to date, certainly “young and full of juice,” and I’ll eagerly keep tracking her career, from the early days of Demo to whatever she’ll be doing a decade from now. Shit, if she’s gotten this good in the last decade, there’s no telling where she’ll be when another passes. Lit by the colors of Dan Jackson, Cloonan gets me good in the quiet times, clutches my heart with a simple shot like the image of Blue leaning against a rock in the desert: sad, solemn, and beautiful.

Out in that desert, the party happening isn’t just empty teenage rebellion, but a purposeful call to arms. Korse, too, is experiencing a rebellion of sorts, but his conflict exists in his mind, in his heart, and threatens his very being. Korse is the best kind of villain. Not only is he just visually iconic, with the obvious meta reference to music videos and corporeal manifestation via comics shaman Grant Morrison, but he’s a deliberately multi-faceted character. He’s not purely benevolent, ‘natch, but nor is he purely evil in the stereotypical ways. He’s emotionally conflicted, making his villainy all the more tragic, undergoing his own brand of struggle for love within BLI’s Battery City. Oh, his boss! Placing her in dominatrix gear as this existential crisis is occurring isn't just eye candy, but another very interesting juxtaposition that reveals the fact that true love always comes with a little pain. Tragedy is so closely tied emotionally to romance, the two are intertwined in the best most timeless love stories (one need only consider the prototypical Romeo & Juliet to rest this particular case). Whether it’s loss and longing in a general sense, or exterminating Killjoys and hiding his own forbidden love in a more specific example, the death of life and the birth of something passionate are like thematic peanut butter and chocolate, two great tastes that taste great together.

Korse, Blue & Red, The Ultra V’s, The Girl, DJ Cherri Cola, pick your character of choice, basically all of their narrative elements exist in a state of conflicted turmoil. The character arcs for most of the key inhabitants of this series involve carving out a quiet space to listen to the faint whisper of their own intuition, their inner nature telling them what’s right and suggesting a direction vs. the totalitarian system rigged to keep them down and avoid that individuality at all costs. They’re all different manifestations of this universal struggle. In a nutshell, that’s the primal power of The True Lives of The Fabulous Killjoys. It’s speaks to freedom, of the utterly American sense of revolution, of the inner hero lurking in all of us, a subscriptive desire to set free whatever physical and emotional bonds exist within our own insecurities or in our actual reality. It’s the burnt orange crackle of that boom box, the electric charge signifying that “the future is bulletproof,” and the constant threat of that last minute reveal which seeks to test the urge of that primordial theory.

As the creators suggest, there’s definitely a hurricane brewing on the outskirts of Battery City, and just on the waking edges of the periphery of some of its inhabitants too. It’s all embodied with a lone DJ fighting for his life and filling the illicit airwaves in a disenfranchised pop culture tradition that includes everything from Christian Slater’s pirate radio station in Pump Up The Volume (Soundtrack: “Everybody Knows” by Concrete Blonde), to Radio Free DMZ in the hands of Brian Wood (Soundtrack: “Just Like Honey” by The Jesus And Mary Chain), and Malcolm Reynolds broad-banding the truth all across the ‘verse (Soundtrack: “Club Foot” by Kasabian) because “you can’t stop the signal,” and the true Killjoys will always burn to make that sweet, sweet noise. Grade A+.


I'm A Horse, Bitch @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed Lauren Barnett's new mini-comic debuting at SPX over at Poopsheet Foundation.


9.04.13 [Weekly Reviews]

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Deathmatch #9 (Boom!): Ohhhhh, it’s just too good! This round we have Melody Toon vs. Manchurian and Dragonfly vs. Cube. Meanwhile, Sable and Dragonfly are basically the only sane people left as the remaining combatants dwindle down to just a handful, the only ones capable of figuring out what’s going on and how they came to be imprisoned in this NCAA Bracket Thunderdome. I was definitely not expecting either of the outcomes to those matches, but as usual, everything makes sense within the reality of the deconstructionist world that Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno have so expertly crafted. As things race toward their inevitable conclusion, the narration from Sable this time out is brutal, and dark, and her realization about pre-determination is utterly heartbreaking. Jenkins and Magno are pouring their hearts into a world they’re slowly dismantling, but the effectiveness of the results shows. When Dragonfly and Cube face-off, it was reminiscent of Spider-Man and Doc Ock, leading up to an OH SHIT ending that leaves me gasping for the next issue. My only slight quibble with this particular issue is that we didn’t get all of the backmatter that we’ve become accustomed to; otherwise, you’re looking at one of the year’s best books. Grade A.
Trillium #2 (DC/Vertigo): I was intrigued by the first issue from Jeff Lemire (who’s hit and miss for me), but didn’t really feel like the gimmick of the flip book format added much to the story. Thankfully, he jettisons that device for this second outing and I think the work is stronger without the distraction. It allows us to focus on the mystery of the situation, which is deeply engaging. There’s an ease to Lemire’s dialogue that is very inviting; it never reads like comic book writing. There’s something of a time-jumping “first contact” scenario that plays out, and the dialogue between the two principal characters plays about as realistic as it can given the sci-fi underpinnings. The methods with which the two try to communicate are clever and charming. The only real head-scratcher for me was why both of their heads “pop” with knowledge when just Nika eats the trillium, but I guess we can chalk it up to some kind of mind-meld. At this point, I’m invested and will be riding out the series. Lemire’s art has probably never looked better, and while I’m not sure it will make my ultimate list, this certainly feels like the type of book that more mainstream outlets could cite as one of the year’s best, certainly indicative of the push that Vertigo is trying to make in order to (re)claim some of their lost marketshare in the creator owned space. Grade A.

Satellite Sam #3 (Image): I’m a little torn on my ultimate feelings for this issue. On one hand, I don’t feel like a whole heck of a lot happens in this issue and it’s more of a slow burn affair as the plot finally settles in. On the other hand, I feel like that settling in is a good thing, it has focus, it feels like Michael’s attempt to discover who killed his father is finally off and running. Cunnilingus aside, it spends the most time with Michael and Kara exploring the secret life of the man who was Sat Sam. Chaykin is another creator who can be wildly hit and miss for me, but his black and white art is tonally perfect for the Mad Men meets Star Trek milieu that Matt Fraction is diving into. From a more macro perspective, he’s addressing the seedy underbelly of the perception of the idyllic 1950’s in a way that probably still needs to be exposed for the masses. In that way, it might have a wider cultural significance than most of us are giving it credit for. Oh well, my favorite part was selfishly the full page ad in the back for Umbral, the new Image book from Wasteland creators Antony Johnson and Christopher Mitten, which features a pull quote from me right in the center. Look for it. And buy Umbral. Grade A-.