5.28.14 [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.

Trees #1 (Image): There’s really nothing Warren Ellis does better than classic sci-fi, and Trees catapults the reader into that world by asking one of his compelling “what if?” questions. What if there was an alien “invasion” in the form of gigantic tree-like structures that abruptly planted themselves all over the world, oozed sludge from strange glyphs in their massive columns that reached to the heavens, inactivated nukes and biochemical weapons within their proximity, and otherwise totally disregarded the presence of humans altogether? Cultures around the world react differently to their arrival and lingering state, from Rio to NYC to China, and Ellis sets it all against a mayoral race in New York to ground it in social policy at the interpersonal level. It’s rife with post-9/11 paranoia (is there any another kind in pop fiction these days?) where “the other” is among us. Jason Howard is a great artistic match, working here in a loose style reminiscent of sci-fi contemporaries like Simon Roy or Giannis Milonogiannis that suits the rough and tumble environs Earth has descended into. This’ll become one of the buzz books of 2014. Grade A.

Sheltered #9 (Image): Man, that is a killer cover! I was a little saddened to hear Ed Brisson explain that Sheltered would be coming to a planned end at issue 15 after three arcs of five issues each, yet there’s something to be said for crisp storytelling with a finite beginning, middle, and end. Nancy’s plight in this issue is really emblematic of the entire community of Safe Haven, and you can extrapolate its meaning to things out here in the real world. If she failed because she wasn’t prepared, she can’t leave and admit she was wrong, because then it means all of the wrongdoing the group undertook was for nothing. It’s a chilling psychological catch-22 that questions if the end always justifies the means by default. There’s a ton of moving parts in this issue, all of them totally exciting, from Curt and Justin’s side mission coming to a head, to Victoria saving Lucas out of a sense of personal integrity, to the point-counterpoint of ice and fire brought on by the visuals of Johnnie Christmas and Shari Chankhamma, to the fate of the lone man who escaped the shootout. The denouement in the random guy’s house is a tutorial on how to choreograph an intense action sequence. Christmas depicts the random scatter of gunfire with wild pops of sound effect placement. It’s a really good visual track that shows how manic and crazy and imprecise real shootouts are. At the end, Lucas tries to recapture some of the moral high ground, and with only 6 issues remaining, I’ve never been more excited to see how it’ll all unfold. #TEOTWAWKI Grade A.

Deadly Class #5 (Image): With 80’s pop culture drops abounding, it’s clear that Rick Remender is composing an examination of identity for himself and the rest of us Gen X’ers. Ostensibly the issue is about Marcus’ role in Billy’s dad’s demise, but the larger thematic concern is kids who don’t want to be defined by their parents, something all generations seem to struggle with. Wes Craig does quite a number with the acid trip droplets, skewing the visual perspective for an altered casino-wandering reality. As if Marcus didn’t have enough going on, he gets in the middle of Chico and Maria, creating a literal threat to his life, and a more figurative threat to his developing feelings about another character. With some bonus process backmatter, this is the best issue of the series to date. It has action galore and finally bears a strong thematic constant. It’s existential meaning amid an adrenaline-fueled fight or flight episode. #SorryT Grade A.

Southern Bastards #2 (Image): Like Scalped before it, Southern Bastards is quickly becoming a portrait of a little understood slice of American Culture, which stands-in as a microcosm for society at large. The South is but one thread in the American Tapestry, but you can see all of the ills of the greater nation played out in this small fishbowl. I enjoy the way that Jason Aaron has infused his love of football (“Roll. Damn. Tide.” should not be foreign to you if you follow him on Twitter) into this mess. “Coach Boss” is the local Hutt and Friday nights in the South can mean only one thing – football. Earl Tubb is packed and ready to go, but there’s something stuck in his craw here in Craw County, something he just can’t let go. Jason Latour’s football game is all kinetic beauty, the characters staged in such a way, flowing from one panel to the next, that you can almost see the figures moving on the page. Earl stumbles into the middle of a botched hit in a town where everything is a scam, from corrupt cops to rampant big-fish-in-a-little-pond syndrome, and trouble has a way of just finding you. Earl is fighting his past demons and trying to step out of a big man’s shadow, trying to find his true place in the world, and at times I fear this might have a little too much in common with Scalped structurally and thematically, a little too on-the-nose, but it’s still charmingly dirty. I enjoy the neighbor kid as some sort of devil-on-the-shoulder Redneck Yoda. There’s a slightly, let’s call it “not-quite-supernatural” turn that the story takes, but I’m still in. One can only hope that the hordes of fans who dug Aaron’s Marvel work and followed him to Southern Bastards will go back and read Scalped, which was his breakout creator owned book before creator owned books became all the rage. Grade A-.

The Fuse #4 (Image): Ralph and Klem are still doing what they do, chasing leads all over the orbital station to explain why the mayor’s man Birch would kill the mayor’s long-lost brother and then apparently go all self-inflicted gunshot wound. Something doesn’t quite add up, and by the end of the issue, there’s forensic evidence from the autopsy that suggests otherwise. It’s a bit of a talky issue, but we get to meet Klem’s son and the complications that brings, more of the FLF is explained, and there’s even some notes in the letters about gender politics in pop fiction. Justin Greenwood’s art seems to grow and evolve with every project, here it’s the backdrops in Central Park, with a sense of depth and layers that were perhaps missing from some of his very early work, visually extending Antony Johnston’s already strong world-build. Ralph wanted to further indoctrinate himself in the intricacies of Midway culture, and uhh, be careful what you wish for! #SpringRolls Grade A-.

Sex #13 (Image): Annabelle Lagravenese finds herself in the middle of a weird domestic sitch, where her work concerns have bled over into the personal life of one of the girls in her employ. It’s a total aside, but this is the third Semisonic lyric I’ve caught in a comic within about two months, so there’s something in the zeitgeist, I guess? As if Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski’s comic wasn’t odd enough, let’s just cut to the “Dance Meeting” between Dolph and Cha-Cha. I’ll just leave that right there for a second. Good? Kowalski always seems to sell the over-the-top elements with the emotion of brilliant facial expressions, but Casey makes him earn his keep here. The issue is all over the place, between oral on the dance floor, to The Prank Addict on the loose, to Tanaka’s death, to callbacks to The Armored Saint’s days, to the uhh, whereabouts of Warren. It doesn’t always feel cohesive, but there’s something still oddly compelling about Casey’s willingness to substitute repressed sexuality for superheroics in a post-action treatise on “what happens after the shared universe concept?” Grade B+.


The Massive #23 @ Comics Bulletin

I wrote a quick advance review of this week's The Massive #23 over at Comics Bulletin.


Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey @ Comics Bulletin

I teamed up with Jason Sacks and Daniel Elkin to review Nick Bertozzi's Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey over at Comics Bulletin.

Game of Thrones S4E7 “Mockingbird” [Thirteen Things]


1)   The Eyrie is still not in the opening credits!

2)   “No. Not Ser Meryn.” That’s a great scene between the Lannister boys, from their honesty about all Jaime’s done, to mutual spite for Tywin, all bouncing between small bouts of humor and a sense of dread. These Lannister boys are so entrenched in being Lannisters, and Tywin’s worldview, that it’s like they both have to hit rock bottom before their paradigms shift. I will say that I don’t like the new actor cast as The Mountain at all, he’s sort of cartoony big and simple, and doesn’t look like he could be related to The Hound as much as the old actor did.

3)   For some reason, I just really loved Arya and The Hound’s ability to be completely honest with the dying man. They’re honest about his prognosis, who Arya is, and what The Hound is doing with her. I love when the old man says “There’s no balance anymore.” No shit! Welcome to Westeros. Arya’s sense of fatalism is growing too, as is her swift skill, almost to the point you think she’s ready to fly solo. Once again, the show dupes us into rooting for her as she makes a glorious kill, and we really shouldn’t be.

4)   The Hound is also wounded. This is important. It’s one of only three moments that really push the show forward and set up things to come.

5)   “Have you ever seen a giant, Ser Alliser?” Jon is growing bolder, a man of experience rather than a man of position or titles, and you can almost sense the power dynamic shifting in his favor. There’s a moment of hesitation where the First Builder seems to want to side with him, but caves to pressure from Ser Alliser.

6)   Bronn is the ultimate sellsword. Zero Loyalty. At the end of the day, that lingering handshake is hard to watch, two men who totally get each other and can amicably part company. Tyrion respects Bronn for staying true to himself, even though Bronn doesn’t stay true to Tyrion. I like this succession of visitors to Tyrion’s cell as well, Jaime, Bronn, and Oberyn, all would-be champions with different outcomes.

7)   I like Dany’s power play. It’s SO sexy without even showing sex or a naked female. I try not to regurgitate what other writers say, but Sean T. Collins had a line about Dany staring at Daario’s exposed Naharis that I just can’t unhear now!

8)   Jorah and Dany have a really good scene, one that exhibits their complex relationship. Obviously Dany doesn’t quite reciprocate Jorah’s desires, but she also recognizes him as her most important advisor. They come to a philosophical compromise here as Dany understands that you can’t just kill everyone who disagrees with you, or eventually you’ll have nobody left to rule.

9)   HOT PIE! That was a fun surprise. This inn he works at is turning into something you’d see in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, The Inn At The End Of The World, a dark crossroads where all pivotal events seem to touch. Podrick and Brienne make such a good team, total buddy cop drama. I say we lobby for a remake of Lethal Weapon starring these two.

10) Prince Oberyn Martell’s story of meeting infant Tyrion is one of the most touching things I’ve heard from the show, enough that even Tyrion starts to well up. It’s a testament to Tyrion’s reality, about a poor guy who has literally been despised since birth, by the people who were closest to him and supposed to care for him. “That’s not a monster. That’s just a baby.”

11) As if the episode couldn’t pull at enough heartstrings, Sansa seeing snow and getting a small taste of home. Awwwww! I gotta’ say, I like Littlefinger’s parenting style if he approves of Sansa smacking Robin Arryn. Littlefinger tries to be so smooth here, his attempt to play Sansa by suggesting that the only reason he had Joffrey killed was because he’d slighted Littlefinger’s great love, Catelyn Stark, is a thing of manipulative beauty. Littlefinger’s ultimate play here is a good one. He’s just become the de facto ruler in The Vale, and since he assumes Tyrion will soon be dead, that frees up Sansa for a betrothal and an heirship to Winterfell. Petyr probably figures he’s going to rule the entire north, from Bear Island to The Fingers.

12) The Eyrie has quickly become Dysfunction Junction. Not a healthy pairing in sight. Lysa & Robin is creepy. Sansa & Robin is creepy.  Sansa & Petyr is creepy. Peter & Lysa is creepy. Sansa & Lysa is creepy. It’s all just chaos. Well, like Petyr said, chaos is a ladder. Or a Moon Door…

13) I think the dominant theme for this episode is truth. Blunt, harsh, unexpected, honest truth, that when uttered hits like a ton of bricks. Every scene is infected with it. Tyrion is honest with Jaime about who he is, Arya and The Hound are honest with the old man, Petyr is honest with Lysa about who he loves, Dany is honest with what she wants from Daario, Oberyn’s story is all about honesty vs. perception, Brienne is honest with Hot Pie, Hit Pie is in turn honest with Brienne and Pod, Bronn is honest with Tyrion, Jorah speaks truth to power with Dany, etc., etc., etc. When it’s all about truth, titling the episode “Mockingbird” is nothing short of genius. Well, with only three episodes remaining this season, I count at least three major events that still need to occur, or shoot – maybe four depending on how soon they’re going to (re)introduce something that spins out of The Red Wedding.


A Voice In The Dark #7 @ Comics Bulletin

I wrote an Advance Review of Larime Taylor's A Voice In The Dark #7 over at Comics Bulletin.


5.14.15 [Weekly Reviews]

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

Wasteland #54 (Oni Press): Abi and Michael venture down the shaft/silo/chute under the hatch they found in the last issue and it leads them to the lab with the mysterious symbol that’s been used for The Big Wet since the first issue. I was flipping these pages so hard with excitement! Chris Mitten laces the backgrounds with a half-sign, something the team’s done in the past for clues, pretty sure it says “Project Adam,” and it all gives way to an absolutely brilliant extended flashback sequence. We see NYC underwater, the ice caps melting so that most of Liberty Island is submerged, and I’ve just never seen Mitten’s black and white work look better. He pulls so much life out of the look, with gray variations, more confident figure work, smart inking, and dope light-sourcing. Without spoiling the specifics, Antony Johnston basically begins to let us understand the origins of The Big Wet Universe through congressional debates about climate change, cautionary tales of genetic engineering, and a last page reveal about a startling discovery under the ice. I’ve never been more excited about Wasteland, something crazy to say about any series at #54, because the anticipation building for years is all paying off in spectacular fashion. Grade A+.
Star Wars #17 (Dark Horse): Artist Stephane Crety and inker Julien Hugonnard-Bert continue their mission with writer Brian Wood and colorist Gabe Eltaeb, depicting Princess Leia Organa in an arranged marriage with the Prince of Arrochar to secure a suitable location for the Rebel Base. This issue mostly advances the plot machinations of the dubious dealings of some of the Arrochar factions, and leads right up to a very rousing cliffhanger promising loads of frantic action. There’s apparently only 3 issues of this run left, so I’m curious where the arc will end. Most have been 3-issue arcs, which would suggest it’ll end next issue at #18, and then leave two issues as something of an epilogue. Hang on… yes, a little Googling at Dark Horse reveals a new storyline in issue #19 potentially involving IG-88. Grade A.

Starlight #3 (Image): Goran Parlov’s visual style is a perfect balance of pulpy throwback and self-aware modernity for the continuing adventures of Captain n Duke McQueen. We’re introduced to a resistance movement, and it’s easy to detect Gould and Caniff in those lines, a sense of rustic raw retro imagination that runs past the panel borders. We get a great new villain in Kingfisher, world-building notes about Faeries being massacred and their sacred lands scorched, mining the planetary natural resources dry, and great street-level action that wins the spirit of the locals to McQueen’s side. There’s also some interesting political realities, as a population of refugees becomes a slave class. The introduction of Tilda as a female Han Solo-esque new character will surely delight fans. Grade A.
Astro City #12 (DC/Vertigo): It’s getting a little old hat to continually express how consistently enjoyable this title is. Although Brent Anderson is absent this issue, the inclusion of artist Graham Nolan is a nice aesthetic fit, and it doesn’t stop Kurt Busiek from doing what he does best, showcasing alt POV stories that push hard on world-building. The story of the Gentleman Bandit is just such a tale, one that fleshes out stray corners of the universe, while capturing a tone of regret, brushes with fame, and a compulsion to do what the heart wants, despite the brain knowing better. Grade A.

The United States of Murder Inc. #1 (Marvel/Icon): I’m not exactly sure why I picked this up. I guess I wanted to have another book to read, and there wasn’t much else in the creator owned milieu that piqued my interest this week. I enjoyed Powers way back in the day, the very first run, until about 3 to 4 arcs in when it just became repetitive. If you like Powers, I guess you’ll basically like this, since it’s essentially Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming doing their Powers thing to a modern mob universe. I did enjoy the basic premise of the United States ceding the entire East Coast to the mob as a sovereign nation, but past that it felt fairly rote and predictable, including the “twist” of the undercover Federal Agent. I know it was intended as a quick hook (ala the reveal of Dash Bad Horse at the end of Scalped #1), but this had enough other stuff going on, that it made me wonder why Bendis didn’t sit on this reveal for a whole arc or two. It would have been huge. Grade B.
Think Tank: Fun With PTSD #1 (Image/Top Cow): I’ve been a fan of Think Tank since the beginning, but this one-shot was certainly not the strongest issue. It has an unfocused feel that shoehorns in multiple story elements, including a “fake” Zero-G sequence, David volunteering to help kids for some reason(?), reveals Mirra is in counseling for domestic troubles and glosses right over it(!), introduces a new military liaison (ok), and finally gets to the heart of the issue (whew!) by addressing the sad fact that less than half of vets with PTSD actually seek treatment, and other staggering real-world statistics, like the fact that last year there were more military suicides (185) than soldiers killed in combat (176) in Afghanistan. Matt Hawkins has clearly done his research, everything from legal defenses around dissociative episodes, to the perception of PTSD as “weakness” in military culture, all embodied in the plight of Navy SEAL Morgan, the guy who helped save David a while back. This is a well-intentioned issue, a good cause, a decent issue that sees David trying to do something to help vs. just weaponizing all of this R&D technology. Hawkins is even donating 25 cents of every extra dollar for this 68 page thing, and that’s all admirable, but I still felt that as a single comic, it was a bit all over the place. In addition to all the narrative threads, there’s a preview of the new book Wildfire, which comes off as a very talky info dump, a throwaway insinuation that suggests psychology is not a hard science (which could piss some people off), and some ugly obvious typos like “case story” vs. the commonly accepted “case study,” then “JAG Advocate” instead of just JAG “attorney” or “lawyer,” since “JAG Advocate” is basically redundant considering what the acronym stands for – Judge Advocate General. Speaking of the JAG, call me nitpicky, but “JAG Core” vs. “JAG Corps” multiple times in a script is just inexcusable these days for a pro writer writing about the military. My services are available as a freelance editor. Call me. Grade B-.

Game of Thrones S4E6 “The Laws of Gods & Men” [Thirteen Things]


1)   Finally a change in the opening credits! It was great to see Braavos, and what a killer reveal it was as Stannis and Davos sail under The Titan. It felt like a very Tolkienesque visual.

2)   The Iron Bank of Braavos. They keep the books. The books have numbers. The numbers don’t lie.

3)   Davos Seaworth delivers a nice impassioned plea for Stannis Baratheon as the rightful King of Westeros, it seems that Stannis always pays his debts too. Davos has an interesting take on things, including a foreshadowed image of Westeros without Tywin Lannister as the most powerful figure.

4)   Most scenes are better with Salladhor Saan, my friend.

5)   The Iron Islanders assault on The Dreadfort is a thing of dark visceral beauty, from Yara dispatching her tour guide without a second thought, to the mental status of Reek, to the emergence of Ramsay Snow. It made me wish for a heads up fight between Yara and Ramsay, and the image of the shirtless bastard also made me feel like he’d make a good low budget Wolverine. Not sure why Ramsay wouldn't just kill the Ironborn though, and how'd they outrun the dogs back to the boat?

6)   After straight up steamrolling her way through several cities, it was nice to see Dany get a hard lesson on the political nuance of actually ruling, that she’s got to win over the “middle class” of these cities, and not just the freed slaves. Jorah Mormont shoots her a priceless look, as if to say “hey, you wanted to do this, sister!”

7)   The Small Council Meeting is one of the three best scenes in this episode. Varys running down an accounting of Dany’s military assets is great, and it’s clear that Tywin, Varys, and Oberyn all “get it,” they’re all on the same page, while Cersei is blind, and poor old Mace Tyrell is completely out of his league. Oberyn’s casual smarts (his refusal to stand when Tywin enters is pure psychological power play) are so charismatic.

8)   It was fun to see Varys get a new verbal sparring partner in Oberyn, especially with Littlefinger away from the capital. Oberyn is particularly good at reading people, and he susses out a new appreciation for Varys and his abilities, right along with the audience.

9)   Finally, we see that the first half of the episode was basically all lead-up for Tyrion’s trial. It becomes obvious fairly quickly that the entire deck is stacked against him, in a confounding mixture of truth, distortions, and outright lies, from witnesses recounting out of context moments that stretch back seasons.

10) Jaime and Tywin’s scene is one of the three best moments in the episode. Jaime’s incredulity at the entire trial being a sham, followed by a display of pure love for his brother, followed by the speed with which Tywin pounces on Jaime’s unexpected offer is just a triple threat of emotion. This is another example of the show (especially for non-book readers) totally juking the audience and lulling them into a momentary false sense of security, since neither Jaime or Tywin anticipate what Tyrion will do, essentially invalidating their little deal.

11) Tyrion knows this is a kangaroo court, but it doesn’t negate the raw emotion he’s able to pull out of the scene. If Varys broke his heart and betrayed their brief friendship, then Shae comes along and stomps all over that heart, then eats it like she was the bride of a Khal. It demolishes him to such a degree that it literally knocks him off his feet. He just wasn’t ready to see Shae reappear, and then be coerced to testify to incriminate him, revealing their most intimate moments in the process.

12) One of the themes that emerges in this episode is a string of people pretending to be something they’re not. Stannis acts like he’s the King at the Iron Bank, Theon assumes the role of Reek (and is then asked to “pretend” to be Theon while he’s Reek – mindfuck!), Dany plays at being Queen, Mace Tyrell pretends he can hang with the real power players on The Small Council, Jaime pretends he’s ok with being the heir to Casterly Rock, Shae pretends she was under duress during her entire relationship with Tyrion, Grand Maester Pycelle pretends he has the poison necklace when we last saw it with Littlefinger (I guess? Or did Olenna have *several* copies made?), etc. This includes Tyrion’s end monologue, which is of course THE other of the three moments in this week’s episode. He wants to pretend to be the monster that nearly everyone in Westeros believes him to be, not because he truly wishes ill of anybody, but because it would simply be easier to just be the monster, than to continually try to prove himself to people who are predisposed to hate him.

13) The culmination of the trial is Tyrion proclaiming that he demands trial by combat, which is a stirring moment, but the most interesting bits past his monologue are the reaction shots. Tywin is incredulous that Tyrion has found a 50/50 shot at escaping his King’s Justice – ditto Cersei, Jaime is startled and pissed that Tyrion couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough to take the mercy of The Wall, shoot, even Loras Tyrell has a quick look of recognition as to what this means since he’s a seasoned knight, and of course, Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne certainly admires Tyrion’s craftiness and has his curiosity piqued.


5.07.14 [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 Woods #1 (Boom! Studios): James Tynion IV has come up quickly through the ranks at DC Comics writing various Batman titles, and I was first made aware of artist Michael Dialynas in the Dark Horse Presents shorts featuring Amala’s Blade. That said, I was really interested to see their new creator-owned project at Boom! and it didn’t disappoint. Writing reviews is a funny business wherein some segment of the audience just wants the sound byte, while other readers will actually dive into what makes the story and art tick. For the first crew, let me give you this – The Woods is like dropping the cast of The Breakfast Club onto the island in Lost. Good? Ok, let me explain. The Woods works because it captures the high school drama, all the various personality archetypes that the audience can identify with, all of the uncertainty of that time in our lives, where we question our direction, as parents and school administrators are forcing us to focus on test scores, college applications, and choices of major, all while we’re still trying to figure out who we are and what our grand purpose in life might be. Tynion and Dialynas’ story takes that precarious period and quickly adds an engaging layer of mystery twinged with sci-fi. This seems to be a recurring narrative motif in the marketplace today. I’m fond of books like Brian Wood’s The Massive or Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari’s The Bunker, which take equally sound high concepts and marry them to these types of character dramas and present the characters with ideas that question their reality - situations which might unexpectedly provide an answer to the "what is my purpose in life?" question, all amid cinematic sci-fi threads. It’s a great genre mash-up space to be in, and The Woods comes charging right out of the gate, wasting no time in an effort to claim its stake in the territory.

The story itself revolves around 437 Milwaukee high school students, 52 teachers, and 24 administrators (including one seemingly inept principal) being suddenly whisked away to another planet, moon, or dimension, we’re not quite sure yet. The appearance of a strange monolithic object adds a chilling sense of the foreign to the space they occupy on the edge of the titular woods. Dialynas’ art works particularly well because his lines feel consequential, they are hefty and durable, aided by thick ink and rich color laid on top, an aesthetic result which gives the sense that the kids are able to stand up to whatever is going to be thrown at them. Thematically, my favorite part of this is really the sociology that pervades the proceedings. I mean, look at literature like Lord of The Flies. You stick a bunch of kids in a “closed room” and look at what happens. When I was in college getting my undergrad degree in Criminal Justice Administration in order to work in federal law enforcement, I decided to minor in Behavioral Science. At the time, this was a mix of cultural anthropology, psychology, and sociology, and one of my favorite classes ever was about culture and personality, taught by Dr. Jan English-Lueck. It was about how your culture of origin shapes your personality and how that might in turn influence your ability to commit crime. Reading The Woods, I had a flashback to a paper I wrote about the Chinese educational system. One item that I always found interesting was that teachers were trained NOT to step in and break up verbal conflicts and minor physical confrontations among students. They wanted students to resolve conflicts on their own. The group should develop an internal mechanism to resolve issues, an ability to govern itself without a formal authority figure stepping in (like that inept principal). They wanted a leader to emerge and to avoid something dubbed "The Missing Hero Complex" in society. I see that thread in The Woods as characters’ strengths and weaknesses start to emerge, and the story identifies the alpha members of the group and the more passive followers. I think this is going to be good, so come for the sci-fi hook of the premise, but stay for the interpersonal dynamics that form a thrilling high-stakes drama. Grade A.

It’s also worth mentioning that James Tynion IV will be signing at my retail sponsor, Yesteryear Comics, on Saturday May 31st. So, if you’re in San Diego, come out and say hey! You can get your copies of Batman Eternal and The Woods signed, and meet a dynamic emerging writer. I’ll be working this event and we’ll even have a CGC witness on hand if anyone is interested in submitting books for professional grading and slabbing.  


Game of Thrones S4E5 “First of His Name” [Thirteen Things]


1)   Seven Hells! I can’t believe the season is already half over. You basically wait an entire year and then it’s half over in one month. Past that, I’m growing increasingly frustrated with the opening credits just not having the variation and custom narrative tailoring that previous seasons seem to have had. I mean, why show The Dreadfort or Dragonstone in this ep and not The Eyrie? Lame.

2)   “First of His Name” is ostensibly about the coronation of King Tommen, but that belies the theme of this week’s show. Westeros might be a man’s world, but this episode was all about women of power allowing themselves a moment of vulnerability to get things done. There’s that alarming moment when Cersei steps into frame to interrupt the flirty looks between Tommen and Margaery. Now, the audience has been so conditioned to expect fiery barbs from Cersei that it’s a shock when they don’t come. I’m going to say that this scene is the best in the episode and I attribute that to those sideways glances that Natalie Dormer keeps shooting Lena Headey, studying Cersei to see if it’s some verbal trap or actually genuine emotion. Dany and Jorah’s scene also continues this theme of powerful women allowing themselves moments of vulnerability. Like Cersei’s scene with Margaery, it’s not about projecting overt power. Short of professing love for him, Dany does Jorah the hugest solid by excusing everyone but him and having a real heart to heart about what’s next with her longest and most trusted advisor. We see this action of strong women becoming vulnerable in one way or another all through the episode, Cersei with her dad, even Lysa’s weird sex screams in their own way, Arya at Needle-point, Cersei with Oberyn, etc. It’s tempting to think that Cersei may be showing a true moment of vulnerability, that with the death of her beloved son, maybe she really is just tired of all the fighting and wants peace. But, it’s also easy to track that Cersei is just biting her tongue as she strategically makes the rounds to grease the wheels with the three trial judges. 1) She makes nice with Margaery knowing it’ll get back to judge Mace Tyrell as she acquiesces to a Margaery/Tommen pairing. 2) She is extremely pliable with her father, judge Tywin Lannister, agreeing to wedding dates, her betrothal to Loras, and the importance of the family legacy with no pushback whatsoever. Finally, she finds common ground with judge Oberyn Martell in their love of their daughters and share a moment. Knowing the complexity of Game of Thrones though, it doesn’t have to be binary. Cersei doesn’t have to be genuinely emotionally vulnerable OR just playing the game, the best read is her doing both at the same time.

3)   I like Dany getting a little dose of what King Robert Baratheon knew all too well, that conquering is sometimes much easier than actually ruling. But, instead of getting sloppy drunk, whoring it up, and delegating it all away to capable Hands, she actively wants to gain that experience and will actually attempt to rule as a sitting “Queen” in Slaver’s Bay. The location of this scene even sort of forward-echoes that sentiment, shot at the top of the Meereen Pyramid, it’s almost as if she’s holding court in her own Red Keep with her de facto Small Council.

4)   Littlefinger running down the history lesson about The Bloody Gate in The Eyrie is just great, laced with subtext about capitalizing on your strengths to overcome odds despite otherwise modest abilities (a harsh lesson first instilled by Brandon Stark), and the cinematography is just gorgeous. Sansa with that cloak over her head looks like she just stepped out of a Vermeer painting. I loved the simple line “Welcome back, Lord Baelish.” It makes the audience go: “He’s been here before? He’s been here before. Oh, he’s been here before alright!”

5)   It’s not quite GoT trademark sexposition, but Lysa Arryn blurts out another huge reveal concerning Petyr Baelish. In all her horny wild-eyed glory, she cops to poisoning her own husband Jon Arryn, at the request of Littlefinger no less(!), and generating the bogus letter to her sister Catelyn Stark pinning his death on the Lannisters, basically the catalyst for kicking the entire show into motion and all the awful shit that’s happened since. Once again, we get proof that Lord Varys was right, and something book readers are already hip to, Petyr Baelish is the most dangerous man in Westeros. Kate Dickie, who plays Lysa, is phenomenal in her ability to alternately channel moments of lucid near-believable warmth and then bouts of manic lunacy. It’s almost sad to see Littlefinger knowingly prey on a woman with a clear mental illness. Also? ALERT! We have been reminded of the presence of The Moon Door in The Eyrie!

6)   Am I the only one who noticed that characters are now pronouncing “Westeros” differently? Jorah and The Hound are now saying  it like “Wes-tuh-ross” instead of “Wes-ter-ose.” I wonder if this is just casual character interpretation or an actual purposeful course correction.

7)   I’m growing tired of the Pod humor already, but I did appreciate how Brienne perked up at the reveal of the young unassuming squire having killed a Kingsguard.

8)   That one-handed cartwheel Arya does when water-dancing! This makes we want to see Maisie Williams cast as the Jedi daughter of Han and Leia in Episode VII.

9)   “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls.”

10) For some reason, I really enjoyed seeing Locke skulking around Craster’s Keep. He’s obviously a man with some skill, the actor has a very engaging screen presence, and it’s further proof that even the bit players are fully fleshed out personas. Speaking of casting, the kid who plays Jojen Reed is outstanding. I love just watching that dude’s eyes and facial expressions, so much going on there.

11) Qarl openly mocking Jon for being taught proper fighting skills (true) by some old man in a castle (very true) and to fight honorably (all true) was fairly priceless. I mean, everything he says is absolutely correct, and Qarl basically wining this fight dirty Bronn-style, Wildling two-sword-style, spit-in-your-eye-style until Jon gets a little help is another indication about the Death of Honor in Westeros.

12) Bran warging into Hodor is the new Master Blaster. Hey, Locke! Who run Craster’s Keep? Hodor run Craster’s Keep. Louder. HODOR RUN CRASTER’S KEEP.

13) It’s only right that the episode ends exactly the way Jojen Reed foresaw it. It gives additional gravitas to the image of that Weirwood Tree.


Top 10 Brian Wood Books @ Comics Bulletin

I'm pretty happy with the way this piece of writing turned out. I ranked the Top 10 Brian Wood Books for fans and neophytes alike. If his Americana short with Emily Caroll  (unofficial #11!), Mara, New York Four, New York Five, and four different X-Men projects couldn't make the list, the stuff that did must be stellar. What's going to be a TV show? What's "Brian Wood's Watchmen?" What's his "Great American Novel?" What's In? What's Out? Check it out over at Comics Bulletin.

4.30.14 [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.

Hacktivist #4 (Archaia): This is an emotionally satisfying conclusion to one of the surprise hits of 2014. The front of the issue focuses mostly on Ed and Sirine in Tunisia, still reeling from the death of Beya, and having a great discussion about a freedom uprising being so much more than just a complex trust algorithm. Placing Ed “on the streets” is a great way to shake up his worldview and develop an awareness of this fact. Amid drone strikes and Tiananmen Square style showdowns in the street, the two eventually create something of an “open source rebellion” that spreads. To borrow a phrase, the revolution may not be televised, but it will certainly spread virally over the wireless network. Witness the true power of technology as an information accessibility equalizer in the modern age. Nate has a role to play too, understanding from his government handlers the lengths that the CIA is willing to go to in violating personal freedoms all in the name of National Security. Deron Bennett also has some nice moves in the lettering of certain Arabic and Russian bits. With recent developments around the world, glossed over bits like US Aid’s so-called “Cuban Twitter” losing out to air time in favor of pap like Kim and Kanye, Hacktivist is one of the most socially relevant works out there at the moment. I’m sad to see the series go at just four issues, though the way it ended certainly leaves it open for further adventures in the future. I’m also happy to see that Archaia will have a swanky hardcover collection out in July (ideally in time for SDCC), with an introduction by Twitter’s own Jack Dorsey, thus exposing the work to throngs of new fans. I’ll certainly be upgrading to the hardcover for my bookshelves, and encourage the SDCC horde to do the same. Grade A.

Umbral #6 (Image): Rascal, Dalone, and Shayim (my current favorite Umbral character) are still on the run, essentially picking up right where last issue left off, and it all ends rather abruptly. There’s a nice bit of prose in this issue from Antony Johnston about your willingness to do the unexpected under heightened circumstances, and it gets driven home by that first pistol shot from Munty. It’s a thing of beauty, and when I see stuff like this I always think about craft and how the sausage gets made. Was it in Johnston’s script or was it merely the way Chris Mitten chose to interpret it(?), illustrating the shot within a large SFX that just won’t be contained by a traditional panel border, and then having Jordan Boyd punctuate it with that burst of red that stops us in our in tracks. Jordan Boyd is really the unsung color hero with all the coded happenings in Umbral. I also enjoyed the tension between the magic and science paradigms in the give and take between Dalone and Munty, kind of mirroring the racial tension that was previously going on between Munty and Shayim, because it’s stuff like this that fleshes out a world by being organic world-building. It’s not some character expositing a history of racial tension, but occurs naturally through one or more character’s actions. That’s the way to do it. By the end, Rascal echoes that willingness to do the unexpected, the instinct to leap before looking, to think outside the box with bold decisions, and that’s what all good roguish protagonists are made of. It was also a delight to see more of the MagicSpeak SymboLettering™ coming through. Well, the end of the first arc comes to a close (brief pause as the trade comes out next month, and then issue #7 hits in July!) as Rascal and company apparently head out of Strakhelm to deal with the Oculus, and I’m already excited to see more of this new world. Grade A.

Southern Bastards #1 (Image): I honestly chuckled involuntarily at that first image of the dog taking a crap, a real tone-setter for what we might expect from Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. I loved Jason Aaron’s Scalped, and there’s some similarity structurally with that series. Earl Tubb is not unlike Dash Bad Horse, going back to a place he knows too well, and I’m a sucker for these “Returning Home” stories, especially where protagonists are somehow haunted by the past. Aaron is the type of writer whose word choices can make you hear the character’s voice in your head, and Latour helps him compose a story that conveys a real sense of place, a sense of mood. I’ve never been a huge fan of Latour’s art, but it feels like it’s matured and become more sophisticated here. There are a couple instances up front that look a little hurried or simplistic (a truck in the background is little more than a box sitting atop four wheels), but his blocky angular lines remind me of Goran Parlov, with the heightened detail and latent energy waiting to pop off that give a whiff of someone like Rafael Grampa. The newspaper headlines that Aaron scripts to exposit what readers need to know about Earl’s dad as a lawman who was maybe a man of principle, or maybe just an asshole, or maybe just a little of both, are kind of a weak tool. They’re totally overused, and I think Aaron is a great enough writer that he could have worked more of those cues into the diner scene conversation and had it come off more seamless. I might have a couple quibbles with art or script, but overall I think this is the best Jason Aaron joint since Scalped, which is indeed high praise. It’s full of colorful characters, a protagonist that trouble seems to find, all in a place where trouble abounds. Aaron and Latour create a portrait of the complex cacophony of emotions we can feel for a place once called home, even though they might be contradictory at times. Grade A-.

Tales of Honor #2 (Image): I wasn’t familiar with the novels that inspired the Honor Harrington Universe, but have really been enjoying learning about the planetary system, how the military procedural bits work, and all of the intricate backstory involving Honor. I don’t have a whole lot to say. It’s a fun book that has the appropriately glossy sheen of sci-fi spectacle. Grade A-.

Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Two #4 (DC): The guys are ramping up this part of the series for a showdown between the Green Lantern Corps and Superman, with Hal Jordan stuck somewhere in the middle. More important than any of the internal story mechanics is what a project like this represents to DC Comics. Injustice stands completely outside the continuity of the dreck New 52 and the results are highly-charged action with serious consequences. The integrity of the writing jumps up because of that, the excitement inherent in it all jumps us, and it’s just better. At the rate DC has been killing off characters, bringing them back, rebooting franchises, starting and stopping series with relaunched #1 issue desperation, and hacking out dopey crossover events ad nauseum, there’s no reason that the Injustice “formula” couldn’t be applied to the DC Universe as a whole. Some writer comes along and tells a great story where The Joker or Lois Lane or whoever dies? Ok. The next writer can come along and just restart and bring them back to tell their own version. Fuck Continuity. Grade B+.

Star Wars: Rebel Heist #1 (Dark Horse): I probably wanted to like this book more than I did. Matt Kindt is a good writer, but this just lacks any pizzazz beyond the interesting high concept of telling a story from the POV of a rebel recruit teaming up with Han Solo. The everyman description of Han Solo is spot-on, but you can see the Falcon joke coming a mile off, there’s confusion over whether Corellia is a planet or a city, and I don’t think you can get enough audience connection with what will obviously be a throwaway story. It just feels like filler. Marco Castiello’s art is helped along in the aesthetic consistency department with nice color from Gabe Eltaeb, and even lettering from Michael Heisler (the team from the “regular” Brian Wood Star Wars), but the art itself is littered with awkward proportions and weird posturing. Grade B-.

Vertigo Quarterly: CMYK #1 (DC/Vertigo): I think this anthology project actually works best as a showcase for the strong art talent DC has in the stables. The art was fantastic across the board, with standouts from Tony Akins, Ken Garing, Al Davison, Ana Koehler, and of course Fabio Moon. The art, in and of itself, would probably rate a Grade A- collectively. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the writing was totally lackluster. I’m not sure if it was the difficulty in finding an emotional connection in just a few quick pages or what the deal was, but with the exception of Shaun Simon’s killer opener, the pieces were all totally forgettable the second you were done reading them. The writing as a whole was probably somewhere in the Grade C- range, so when you factor in the average and the steep $7.99 price point, this feels like a Grade C+.