6.25.14 [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.

Deadly Class #6 (Image): Man, I think this might be my favorite book this week. Deadly Class started a little slow for me, but it’s built toward a very rewarding crescendo that’s equal parts intense violence and dramatic gravitas. The issue deals with the fallout from Marcus’ drug trip and the spot he’s gotten himself into, namely right between Chico and Maria. There’s a horrific confrontation sequence, with violence dipped in red thanks to Lee Loughridge. The “class” is basically ripping itself apart, and the emotionally charged, racially tinged word choices from Rick Remender are so raw, so uncomfortable, and just so good. Wes Craig might just be my new favorite artist, with interesting camera angles (the high overhead shots really do it for me) and crisp figure work that stays so sharply on model. It’d be easy to get lost in the satisfying action and violence, but those things are empty gestures without some emotional core to hold onto. We get that emotion in the final sequences of the issue, the narrative centering on five characters with a solemn bit of introspection that weaves in what I assume are autobiographical elements from the writer. This was a fantastic conclusion to the first arc, some real artistry on display, and I’m highly recommending it. Grade A+.

Dream Thief: Escape #1 (Dark Horse): Jai Nitz pulls us in with witty and effortless banter around 80’s popcorn movies and Spanish language banter, stuff that eases us right back into the world of Dream Thief as if no time has elapsed between the first mini-series and this follow-up. Truthfully, there’s a certain outlandishness to the premise of Dream Thief, the spiritual vigilante, and I was always afraid that it would decent into Jim Carrey’s The Mask territory and push me right out. Thankfully, that’s not the case. Nitz writes with a seriousness, with an authenticity, it’s there in the research and the detail about the locales and the crimes and the lavish sets, an effort that pays off to really sell the book and make the outlandish bits feel grounded in reality. He also puts a lot of heart into the book, with simple moves like returning a coin collection to its rightful inheritor. I enjoy how there’s several layers of story, the ostensible vigilante killing from the spirit inhabiting the protagonist, callbacks to the first series that still need to be resolved, and then new information about the mask’s origin and his father’s true nature. Greg Smallwood was recently announced as the artist on Brian Wood’s Moon Knight run, and I couldn’t be happier about that. He’s got one of the most distinct aesthetics on the stands at the moment, with full inky figures that inhabit gorgeous page layouts. Grade A.

Trees #2 (Image): This seems a lot meatier and less light-hearted than a lot of recent Warren Ellis scripts, and the work is much stronger for it. I enjoyed the investigative slant to the arctic poppies bits (and that whole set, that whole cast, by extension), but it’s important to note that’s just one of several continuing vignettes the series is offering. Taken holistically, all of the sequences are essentially representative of the effects the trees are having on global life, impacting social and political structures as much as they’re altering weather patterns and flora and fauna. Trees still sits in the classic sci-fi camp, kicking things off with an intriguing “what if?” premise, but there’s a greater focus on the impact that has on the lives of people. It’s rich and satisfying, and when paired with Jason Howard’s deliberately altered style, it’s fighting its way up to contend for a slot as one of the best books of the year. Howard’s style has a looser, more unkempt quality here, with slashing lines and jagged edges that lend the right sense of unpredictability to this weird new world. Grade A.

The Fuse #5 (Image): Well, Ralph went and got himself captured in the cables! This opening sequence is really fun, paving the way for the types of chances grizzled ol’ Klem is willing to take for her new partner, showing off a full page shot of the makeshift shanty town slums the cablers created for themselves, and even answering one of the little questions the series has offered, that "FGU" is basically The Fuse equivalent of "OG." Like a lot of writer Antony Johnston’s creator-owned work (Wasteland, Umbral), it’s clear that he’s in it for long-form storytelling, with self-referential bits that loop back around to the first couple of issues, as the pieces of the investigation continue to materialize and come together. He’s also careful to organically include social commentary, like the way people live up on Level 50. Imagine full-blown houses on a space station! The 1% indeed. As great as the writing is, a lot of the razzle dazzle in this issue comes from artist Justin Greenwood. Specifically, he’s killing it on panel layouts. Now, some of this might be scripted, but he really nails the static emulation of video feed in the Boo confessional. It sort of scrolls right off of a full bleed page. I also really enjoyed Klem’s memories flooding back to her when she’s holding a bottle of pills. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all experienced, something more easily done in film with voice over sound clips, but takes a special talent to pull off on a comic page. Grade A.

Sex #14 (Image): I’ve had sort of a cautious love-like relationship with Sex since it began. I’ve lauded Joe Casey’s willingness to experiment with craft and genre, substituting repressed sexuality for hidden superhero identities in a sort of post-shared-superhero universe world. Piotr Kowalski’s art has grown in assuredness as well, the colors have morphed from an almost monochromatic neon pallet to something more intricate. But. The thing that bothers me is something Casey essentially admits in the backmatter, that he might not necessarily have a master plan in mind, that his grand experiment is just seeing where the characters take him and wondering aloud if the payoff will ever be worth it. Sigh. I applaud the seat-of-the-pants experimentation, but if it’s at the expense of a narrative plan, you’ve got about a 50/50 shot at sticking the landing. In the mean time, this was one of the strongest issues to date! Dolph and Cha-Cha steal the show, manipulating Junior in such a devastating way. It’s a sequence guest-illustrated by Chris Peterson that’s smartly wedged into their grand gestures in the pits of a club. Junior does pull a bit of a Season 4 Tyrion, if you’ll pardon the expression, but overall it’s another solid issue that showcases Saturn City as a living breathing entity full of many moving parts and players. Grade A-.


The Massive #24 @ Comics Bulletin [Advance Review]

I wrote a little blurb about The Massive #24, the finale of this startling arc, due out this week, over at Comics Bulletin.


6.18.14 [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 Wicked + The Divine #1 (Image): I was a fan of Phonogram back in the day, so I was happy to see more creator-owned work from Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie. Gillen still has enough of an outsider’s voice to bring to the comic book industry to keep things interesting, while McKelvie has that slick sheen to his art that I love in artists like John Cassaday or Cliff Chiang, something I blame on a childhood partially spent on  Len Wein & Dave Gibbons’ Green Lantern comics. In some ways, this is what you might expect from the creative duo, pop music ephemera laced into something that could have served as a text in an old cultural anthropology course in had in college called “Magic, Science, and Religion.” On the other hand, the blend of resurging deities, genres, and general attitude will keep you guessing, and I love the refreshing feeling of just not knowing where a new series will go next, because it refuses to get caught up in formulaic cliché. My LCS didn’t get half of their books this week (sorry, Sex Criminals, no review for you!), and the half I did see had some strong contenders (like below), but I doubt many outlets will NOT be considering this the #BookOfTheWeek It’s about as handsome a debut as you’re likely to find, with plenty of narrative potential left to chew on. Grade A.
Winterworld #1 (IDW): Winterworld is a reintroduction of a decades old property created by writer Chuck Dixon and the late Argentine artist Jorge Zaffino. The interesting thing about this modern debut of Winterworld with artist Butch Guice is that it basically picks up right where the original series left off, yet still manages to feel quite contemporary. I suppose that’s a testament to how forward-thinking Dixon and Zaffino’s original creation was. While Dixon readily admits we’re not meant to know what exactly caused this post-apocalyptic story (it could be everything from Nuclear Armageddon given its 1980’s pedigree, to a more modern interpretation like Global Climate Change), it’s not common that you saw this type of climate change play out in that era of post-apocalyptic stories. It's been rendered unintentionally timeless, something that happens when you allow audience interpretation and favor subscriptive vs. prescriptive writing. We essentially follow Scully and his young companion Wynn on their trek across the ice to find food, shelter, and basic survival. Dixon is sure to drop in little world-building nods to their location, like the Panama Canal in this issue, that really amp up the amount of change present in their reality, and suck readers like me right in, people who are predisposed to gravitate toward tales centering on when the world just flat out breaks. Guice is a perfect addition to the series, with a style that takes all the harsh environmental qualities of someone like Steve Lieber, but inhabits them with softer lines for the figures, in order to really draw out the emotion. Grade A.


6.11.14 [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.

Manifest Destiny #7 (Image): I’m going to call this the #BookOfTheWeek, because it continues to fire on all cylinders. The art is ridiculously good, due in no small part to the colors of Owen Gieni, looking period appropriate, but operating with modern flair. The Corps of Discovery attempts to put the startling events of La Charrette behind them and pushes further West. It’s a new crew with a new mission which encounters new discoveries, like some gigantic ladybugs! It’s a simple thing exaggerated, but takes on weird campy horror notes that feel just right in a historical speculative fiction book. The storytelling possibilities are basically limitless, and with my love of history and a sharp visual aesthetic with bold colors, this book is totally in my wheelhouse. I also wholeheartedly recommend that variant cover by Marc Silvestri and Todd McFarlane, something I never thought I'd be saying. Grade A+.

Wasteland #55 (Oni Press): I was really impressed by that opening shot because of the glorious detail Chris Mitten is able to put into the cityscape. Mitten’s flashbacks are full of syrupy ink, which seems to fit the heavy somber tone of the looming apocalypse. Antony Johnston includes something new for Wasteland, newsfeed, which fast forwards us through the discovery of Adam in Antarctic ice, weaves in religion via the similarities to biblical Nephilim, and centers the entire issue (series?) on the implications of man messing with genetic engineering, and by extension a man vs. nature motif that's lingered over The Big Wet since day one. We track the recruitment of a scientist into Project Adam, examining a perfect-condition, high-brain activity human, as global eco-collapse is impending. At this point, I guess I’ll just say that this is not really where I expected the series to go in the final arc, and that’s fantastic! The ability to surprise a grizzled old reader like me is terrific, and the series has never been more engaging. Keep in mind I say that as someone who has been highly engaged by the series since issue #1. This book has been going immediately to the top of the read pile since the final arc began. Grade A.

Star Wars #18 (Dark Horse): I’ve really been enjoying the way Brian Wood plays up the tension between Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. It’s something we really only glimpsed traces of in ESB, which he’s able to play into with this story set just before that movie occurred. This arc resolves the “Leia’s Wedding” storyline on Arrochar with a dramatic reveal of the Ion Cannon project. It kind of makes you want a spin-off series about The Adventures of Mon Mothma, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. I don’t think any of the art teams have come close to matching Carlos D’Anda line for line, but the colors of Gabe Eltaeb do their best to ensure a consistent aesthetic as some of these other artists have rotated in and out. Two issues left, and I'm dying to see how this final run will leave things. Grade A.

Tales of Honor #3 (Image): Not a lot to say about Tales of Honor other than the fact that I’ve really been enjoying learning about this new universe. It postulates that man took to the stars for colonization in 2130 with the largest diaspora in the history of mankind. The end result is interstellar politics between galaxy-states and armed conflict in the tradition of Star Wars, The Red Star, etc. The Honorverse is a very rich and detailed place. For just $2.99, the book feels dense, and I mean that in the best way possible. There’s plenty to absorb, you have to linger on pages to take in all of the information about the different worlds and military bits, but it never feels like a chore, only like you’re truly getting your money’s worth. It’s about reader discovery and the slick sheen of Sang-Il Jeong’s art only enriches the experience. Grade A.

Starlight #4 (Image): Starlight is a fun series, basically Buck Rogers coming out of retirement, with lots of moving parts. There are interesting (untrustworthy) sidekicks, new great female characters introduced, and one daring prison break. It’s a fast-paced, light-hearted adventure book that occasionally pushes out moments of gravitas which make up for the sometimes too-pleased-with-itself meta moments in the writing from Mark Millar. That aside, you should really come for the Goran Parlov art. He’s a strong artist and his work has never looked better, especially in color. Grade A-.

Wildfire #1 (Image): I tried Wildfire because writer Matt Hawkins has banked some credibility with me considering his books Think Tank and the aforementioned adaptation of Tales of Honor. It was great fun to see the dire nature of LA in flames during the cold open, and the core debate about genetically modified foods is worthwhile, but the dialogue feels pretty heavy with staged moments and characters info-dumping on the audience. There’s a lot of facts to get across on each side of the pro/con debate, but it sometimes doesn’t feel like it’s occurring in an organic way. That inconsistency is apparent in the art too, with some great moments (that opening spread almost had a whiff of Clayton Crain to it), but then several instances of awkward poses and weird proportions that made figures feel off-model. Grade B.


DMZ Book Two [Reminder]

Hey, here’s your reminder that DMZ BOOK TWO (Deluxe Edition Hardcover) is in stores this Wednesday, June 11th. You should buy it. This volume collects issues 13 through 28, houses 416 pages, features an original cover designed by Brian Wood, an introduction by Cory Doctorow, and is only $29.99. It’s also in a swanky oversized hardcover, and you get about 40 pages of definitive bonus content hand-curated by me, including an extended conversation between me and Brian Wood, an interview with artist Nathan Fox, and tons of concept art, cover designs, and character sketches.

There will be 5 hardcovers total, with an additional book planned for release every 6 months or so. DMZ ran for an impressive 72 issues from 2005 to 2011 and centered on would-be journalist Matthew Roth and his tumultuous time in war torn New York City, under siege during the Second American Civil War. For existing fans, this is the definitive format you’ll want to own the series in. We’re throwing everything we have at it. For curious fans, this is the perfect time to jump in and own the ultimate edition, with the benefit of critical analysis and “director’s commentary.”


6.04.14 [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.

Moon Knight #4 (Marvel): With aerosolized brain spores being used to ingest dreams(!), Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey create a sort of Sandman-esque take on the dream state by fusing a lot of psychedelic science into the fiction. Shalvey’s matter-of-fact minimalism reminds me of Carla Speed McNeil here, especially in the figure work, surrounded by trip hop colors from Jordie Bellaire. I really enjoyed the way Moon Knight’s costume transmogrifies into the familiar when he descends into the dream state, insinuating that maybe that’s the real world, and everything we’ve been seeing prior is the Matrix-like illusion. It’s never said outright, but the subtle implication is all kinds of fun. I guess it’s also worth noting that Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood were finally announced as the “Season Two” team taking over with issue 7, and I couldn’t be happier about that. While Wood is no Ellis (who is?), he’s the perfect writer to address a character in full-blown identity crisis grounded in New York City, and Smallwood’s innovative art on Dream Thief has the perfect amount of bold experimental glee. Grade A+.

The Woods #2 (Boom! Studios): There’s a big exposition dump up front as the faculty “resets” their status for the reader, and Maria comes off a little too self-assured and poised for the average high-school student, but otherwise I really enjoyed the follow-up to the strong debut from James Tynion IV and Michael Dialynas. Tynion is careful to infuse the work with the uncertainty of his beloved horror genre, and overall I just really appreciate where this book sits in terms of early 21st century genre fiction. Remember how so many TV shows began with plane crashes in the wake of 9/11? I’m talking about Lost and Fringe and Flash Forward, as if that was the most horrific thing we could imagine. In the pop culture collective consciousness of a post-9/11 world, we have a conspiratorial need for fiction (and even reality sometimes, take a look at the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the way that people just crave a “story” or a conspiracy, they just refuse to believe that a) things break, b) the ocean is vast, c) we may never know) that fits some type of preconceived tidy narrative. I think The Woods sits nicely in this storytelling milieu. Grade A.

The Wake #9 (DC/Vertigo): I’m starting to think this could have probably been done in just 8 issues and has perhaps lingered on a little long, but I’m still enjoying it. Snyder has always written with a certain cinematic flair, and Sean Murphy’s imaginative visuals are basically the type of wild-eyed expansive art that makes you want to read comics in the first place. Grade A.