12.31.14 [#PicksOfTheWeek]

#PicksOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your choice 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.

Well, between it being the 5th week in one of the rare 5-week shipping months (notoriously sparse for offerings), the final day of the calendar year, and the day before a holiday on top of that, it’s a very light week, but I still have two very good recommendations for you! First up is Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s East of West #16, the post-apocalyptic sci-fi series featuring an alt-history Civil War era confrontation that leads to a very compelling future timeline.

There’s also The Massive Volume 4: Sahara, the penultimate volume of the Dark Horse series, collecting issues 19-24 (including a confrontation with one of the series antagonists, Arkady), which also comes on the heels of final issue #30 last week. There’s just one collected edition remaining, and as usual, Volume 4 includes those gloriously inky John Paul Leon covers, with Brian Wood, Garry Brown, Danijel Zezelj, and Jordie Bellaire on interiors. 


The Massive - Top 10 Covers @ Comics Bulletin

The Massive #30 arrives in stores this week from Dark Horse Comics, marking the conclusion of the critically-acclaimed series by Brian Wood, Garry Brown, and Jordie Bellaire. To help celebrate the finale, I figured out the Top 10 Covers over at Comics Bulletin. Spoiler Alert: 8 of the 10 are by John Paul Leon. 


Brian Wood @ Yesteryear Comics [Signing]

I’m very happy to announce that my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics has their next in-store signing scheduled for this Saturday, December 27th, 2014. This signing will feature Brooklyn based writer and multiple Eisner Award nominee Brian Wood (Channel Zero, DMZ, The Massive, Rebels, X-Men, Conan The Barbarian).

He’ll be in the store from 1pm to 3pm. Brian’s got a plethora of great books to choose from, so come on out and get your runs of Moon Knight, Star Wars, or Northlanders signed! I also have to recommend DMZ Book Three (Deluxe Edition Hardcover), which was recently released and features interviews and bonus content edited by yours truly.

I’ll be working this event, so if you’re in San Diego, please stop by to say hi, support the creators you love, and support my friend Michael, owner of Yesteryear Comics. Additionally, I'll be acting as a CGC Witness and verifying signatures for those of you interested in submitting books for professional grading. For more information, check out Facebook.com/YesteryearComics.


12.24.14 [#PicksOfTheWeek]

#PicksOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your choice 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.

I’m not really supposed to do full-blown reviews in this column, which is more of a self-imposed rule than any sort of official mandate, but part of the joy of being able to post these columns at Comics Bulletin with a publisher like Jason Sacks is that you have the freedom to indulge and do whatever makes your heart go pitter-patter. That said, here’s my “not-review” of this week’s star, the series finale in The Massive #30, a book which I was privileged enough to read an advance copy of prior to #29 even coming out.

As Brian Wood promised, it’s all about the end, and this issue is essentially an epilogue to the mass exodus event featured in the last issue. We’ve seen the departure of Mary’s “people,” whether she was one being, or one of many, or simply a corporeal manifestation of an idea, be it Atlanteans, Mother Earth, or an Elemental Goddess type of figure (although Wood has said “no” to mythological Gaia specifically when pressed on Twitter), or proto-humans, or other pre-human (by which I mean non-human) stewards of the planet. “The Slabs” depart as part of Earth’s exponential hard reboot, forming a mass exodus mystery steeped in wide-eyed sci-fi, concluding the final Norse Mythology-entitled arc, “Ragnarok,” which is a clue itself.

It’s done in such a way that leads readers to a precipice and then asks that they draw their own conclusions. Brian has never been the type of writer to prescriptively exposit what it all means, he’s not that self-analytical, and he’s not a writer who favors overly-constructed storytelling, but follows his gut and asks that you follow along, respecting your ability to apply subscriptive meaning to what you’re seeing. The Massive has been about the journey in many respects, about seeing life from a different perspective, about demonstrating issue after issue the futility of war and territorial power and amassing wealth, and how petty and short-sided those things are compared to infinitely more pressing global concerns, especially when something catastrophic comes along to forcefully reframe it all.

There’s an important change in protagonist voice in this finale, a hand-off from one generation to the next (and the implied stewardship of “New Earth” – my term), as the POV shifts to little Yeva, which is an optimistic move for a writer who can tend toward dystopian crumble. From a narrative standpoint, the script touches on Mary’s many eyebrow-raising characteristics, seen as early as an improbably deep and prolonged dive into icy waters to successfully save Ryan (this was the first red flag for me indicating that she was more than she let on way back in issue #5), long before riding Megalodons off the California Coast and the weird EMP telekinetic ability that tipped off Mag.

It touches on a man like Mag Nagendra, his rejection of an old mercenary life steeped in violence and moral flexibility, and his newfound near-religious faith in an entity like Mary. He’s a man who served as a witness, and it’s tempting to imagine “The Gospel According to Mag,” his testament to the rise and fall of the new and the old. I don’t want to get all religious here, but it’s impossible to ignore the recombinant biblical intonations of Mary as a healer, as a martyr who will sacrifice herself for our sins, there’s immaculate little Yeva – half god-like and half mortal (and her mom’s name is obviously Mary after all), there’s The Massive (the actual ship) functioning as an ark, there’s John Paul Leon’s cover homage to Michelangelo’s “Pieta” on issue #26, there’s overtly calling out the Hebrew name of Callum Israel (something I commented on in my little piece of the backmatter in issue #5), and I’ll reach and suggest you can even view Callum like the carpenter Joseph, swept up in larger events – not even really the protagonist of his own ostensible story, concerned with building something, a legacy, for his time on Earth, for his organization, and now for his daughter. The end of The Massive is also concerned with the building of an alt creation myth in the midst of those coded images and terms, words like “exodus,” a term I’ve deliberately used here more than once.

The Massive ends as the best series do, leaving you with the desire to go back and reread the run to find the clues and see how it all fits together. The series ends as a dire warning, a cautionary tale, but also finds an optimistic tone. There’s still hope. Yeva inherits a New Earth from Mary and Cal and the sometimes fleeting, but mostly aspirational efforts of the Ninth Wave Marine Conservationist Direct Action Force. It’s worth noting how The Massive sits interestingly in the Brian Wood library. In many ways, it functions as a thematic counterpoint to something like Northlanders. If Northlanders was a subconscious effort for Wood to come to terms with being a father, an authorial attempt to try and reconcile the sometimes helpless sense of parenthood, of failing to shield your children from all of the awful shit that goes on in the world, a relatively bleak view when taken as a whole, then The Massive ends with a more hopeful note for our kids’ future. It’s the idea that there’s still time left to turn it all around. That it’s worth the effort. It’s not too late. It’s time to make the world a better place; if not for us, for our children.


Hey, there are other comics coming out this week! Image Comics has Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Dean White’s awesome Black Science #11 (imagine a rejected FF pitch that was too intense for the suits at Marvel), as well as Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis’ C.O.W.L. #7 (unionized superheroes in 1960’s Chicago, think Michael Mann’s Crime Story meets Astro City). I’m also curious about They’re Not Like Us #1, by Eric Stephenson, Simon Gane, and Jordie Bellaire. The grounded low-fi X-Men premise and teaser art look good, though I’ll admit being a little skeptical after the publishing schedule for Stephenson’s last project, Nowhere Men, totally derailed after much initial fanfare.

Oni Press has my two favorite titles from their line out this week, with Wasteland #59 by Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten (only one issue left of this series!), which is full of flashbacks depicting the run-up to “The Big Wet” and what created the post-apocalyptic world 100 years in the future, as well as Letter 44 #13 by Charles Soule and Alberto Alburquerque, which is often described as equal parts The West Wing and Independence Day, but I find it the most compelling because of the thinly veiled Obama and W analogues.

On the TPB front, I’m curious about Sunstone Vol. 1, a collection of much-buzzed about web-comics featuring an erotic romantic comedy set in the world of fetishism, seemingly grounding the BDSM subculture in an accessible and relatable way, all by creator Stjepan Sejic. There’s also the terrific Transformers vs. G.I. Joe Vol. 1 out from IDW Publishing, collecting the first arc by John Barber and Tom Scioli. If you’re a fan of either franchise, the 1980’s era in general, or Scioli’s work specifically, then this nostalgic indie comix invasion of Hasbro toy properties is required reading. 


DMZ Book Three [Reminder]

Here’s your reminder that DMZ Book Three (Deluxe Edition Hardcover) is out this Wednesday, December 17th. You should buy it. This volume houses 392 pages (issues 29 to 44), features an original cover by Brian Wood, an introduction by Morgan Spurlock, introduces key figure Parco Delgado, and is only $29.99. It’s in an oversized hardcover with 32 pages of definitive bonus content hand-curated by me, including an extended conversation between me and Brian Wood, interviews with artists Riccardo Burchielli and Kristian Donaldson, with 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. In development at SyFy for a TV adaptation, DMZ ran for 72 issues from 2005 to 2011, centering 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. 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.”

The Great Statistical Purchasing Analysis of 2014!

Welcome to the 7th consecutive year that I’ve tracked my comic book purchasing stats and provided some commentary about the data. I still enjoy analyzing the information because I’m fascinated by patterns and playing with statistics, but as usual I’ll be issuing some qualifiers that explain what’s skewing the metrics. The most basic thing to remember is that this is a purchasing analysis, meaning that it represents only my out of pocket expenses, not the total quantity of what I consumed, so it does not take into account comp copies (which I will also provide some data on). With that said, it’s on to the show. First up, here’s the TOTAL QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased:

2008: 259
2009: 197
2010: 169
2011: 125
2012: 143
2013: 285
2014: 323

This is the third year in a row that saw an increase in singles purchased after several years of declining numbers. This is the most SINGLE ISSUES I’ve ever purchased since I started tracking the data, with an uptick of 13% year over year. I basically quit buying Marvel and DC Comics a couple years ago, but those were replaced by a healthy crop of creator-owned material. There’s also a financial causality which explains this phenomenon, namely a huge discount from my LCS sponsor, which I’ll get into below. For now, here’s the TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on SINGLE ISSUES:

2008: $777
2009: $697
2010: $616
2011: $458
2012: $455
2013: $383
2014: $378

Although the total volume of floppies continues to rise, the TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT was actually down slightly by a little over 1%. I’m buying more than I ever have, yet spending roughly a third of what I should be based on average cover price. This wildly disproportionate decrease in dollars spent vis-à-vis total single issues purchased is attributable to a full calendar year receiving a very deep discount from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. On those review books, I was spending way less than cover price, which allowed me to reallocate the savings to additional material. An interesting aside here is to work out what the average price per floppy was under this paradigm. On average, I only spent $1.17 per single issue. Moving on, since comics are periodicals and the weekly sales pattern is endemic to the business model, I like to look at my purchasing habits on a weekly basis as a meaningful metric. Here is the AVERAGE QUANTITY of SINGLE ISSUES purchased per week:

2008: 4.98
2009: 3.79
2010: 3.25
2011: 2.40
2012: 2.75
2013: 5.48
2014: 6.21

I bought about 6 total SINGLE ISSUES per week in 2014, with a 13% increase year to year. We can also take a look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week on SINGLE ISSUES:

2008: $14.94
2009: $13.40
2010: $11.85
2011: $8.81
2012: $8.75
2013: $7.37
2014: $7.27

In 2008, I’d spend approximately $15 per week on SINGLE ISSUES, and by 2014 I’m spending around $7 on average, which is a drop of 51% over the full term. Moving on to the GRAPHIC NOVELS AND/OR TRADE PAPERBACKS AND/OR COLLECTED EDITIONS AND/OR WHATEVER YOU WANT TO CALL THEM BUT YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I MEAN category, I tracked all of the metrics in the same manner. Here is the TOTAL QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased:

2008: 55
2009: 26
2010: 18
2011: 12
2012: 07
2013: 03
2014: 03

I know this looks dismal, but the thing is I didn’t really need to buy any. Keep in mind that these metrics are for books purchased, not consumed. You’ll definitely get tired of hearing me make that distinction. This doesn’t represent what I actually read, only what I paid for. Through comp copies and Amazon credit, I read tons of TPBs and OGNs, but never tracked them in this category because there was no out of pocket expense. I only bought these three anomalies because I had pull quotes on them and wasn’t able to get copies otherwise. I obsessively try to own all of my pull quote books because I still get a kick out of seeing my name in lights. Let’s look at TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN:

2008: $1,200
2009: $521
2010: $413
2011: $103
2012: $78
2013: $38
2014: $40

This number continues to nearly flatline. It cost me $40 to satisfy my ego and hunt down those three books that I had pull quotes on. Let that be a lesson to you, kids. $40 is the price of fame in the glamorous world of comic book reviewing. The only notable metric here is the huge decline of 97% over the full term from 2008 to 20014. Let’s now look at a weekly breakdown, starting off with the AVERAGE QUANTITY of TRADES/OGN purchased on a weekly basis:

2008: 1.06
2009: .50
2010: .35
2011: .23
2012: .13
2013: .06
2014: .06

While I was neatly buying 1 full OGN/TPB on average when this all began, now that the number has slipped so low in subsequent years, it’s basically become a meaningless metric at a weekly interval. In terms of AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT on TRADES/OGN per week, the numbers shake out like this:

2008: $23.08
2009: $10.02
2010: $7.94
2011: $1.98
2012: $1.50
2013: $0.73
2014: $0.77

At this point, basically a meaningless metric as well since the total volume of TPB/OGN purchased is trending toward zero. Lastly, and mostly for kicks, we can look at combined units for both floppies and collected editions, that’s all “things” qualifying as comics. Here’s the overall TOTAL UNITS PURCHASED:

2008: 314
2009: 223
2010: 187
2011: 137
2012: 150
2013: 288
2014: 326

That’s an increase of 13% from 2013 to 2014. The consistent trend to note here is still that the total volume is up, while total dollars spent continues to go down as seen in this next category. In terms of TOTAL DOLLARS SPENT on TOTAL UNITS, it looks like this:

2008: $1,977
2009: $1,218
2010: $1,029
2011: $561
2012: $533
2013: $421
2014: $418

This is a 79% drop over the full term from 2008 to 2014. I went from spending nearly $2,000 on comics 6 years ago, to just over $400 this year (though I was actually consuming more than ever!). Add it all up and *cringe* it looks like I spent about $6,157 on comics in the last 7 years. To run things out, here’s the AVERAGE TOTAL UNITS purchased per week:

2008: 6.04
2009: 4.29
2010: 3.60
2011: 2.63
2012: 2.88
2013: 5.54
2014: 6.27

This means that I went from purchasing 6 total “things” that could be classified as comics per week (whether singles or trades) in 2008, down to a low of about 2 and a half in 2011, and now back up to about 6 and a quarter in 2014. Lastly, we can also look at AVERAGE DOLLARS SPENT per week as applied to TOTAL UNITS:

2008: $38.02
2009: $23.42
2010: $19.79
2011: $10.79
2012: $10.25
2013: $8.10
2014: $8.04

This is a pretty tangible real-world metric that seems to ring true based on my perception of what I actually do in the LCS on a weekly basis. It means that in 2008, I was basically dropping $40 per week, and now I’m only dropping less than $10 per week on average.


That’s traditionally been the end of my purchasing analysis for the year. These numbers don’t factor in comps. Thirteen Minutes has flourished in the last few years and the number of comp copies I receive has increased dramatically. Now, I feel a little guilty about no longer having the time to review every single book I receive, as was once my promise, but they’re sitting here nonetheless and got tracked. It’s getting to the point where I’m almost more interested in this section of the analysis because the numbers are just staggering, totally eclipsing what I spend. The quantity of what I actually read skyrocketed, and the associated dollar amounts if I had to pay full retail are insane. While it’s still outside the scope of a “purchasing analysis” since there’s no out of pocket expense, it speaks volumes about was actually consumed, and makes me feel like a pretty lucky guy to have access to a bunch of free material (It’s how reviewers get “paid” after all!).

2013: 220
2014: 935 

2013: $809
2014: $3,779

2013: 84
2014: 170

2013: $1,262
2014: $3,606

2013: 304
2014: 1,105
This number was up 263%!

2013: $2,071
2014: $7,385
This number was up 257%!


12.17.14 [#PicksOfTheWeek]

#PicksOfTheWeek is brought to you with generous support from my retail sponsor Yesteryear Comics. Make Yesteryear Comics your choice 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.

This series was on my Best of 2014 list, so I’m excited to see where Brian Wood, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire take Moon Knight #10. There’s also Multiversity: Thunderworld #1 spinning out of the latest DC event debacle. As great as Pax Americana was, this is the one I’m really looking forward to, because it’s a property I enjoyed as a kid, here under the wild-eyed direction of The Drunk Scotsman and frequent collaborator Cameron Stewart.  The only other Marvel or DC book I’m interested in is Vertigo’s The Kitchen #2, Ollie Masters’ and Ming Doyle’s new series featuring mob wives in 1970’s Hell’s Kitchen, with covers by the inimitable Becky Cloonan. 

Image Comics has a powerful trio of books for me this week, including the speculative historical fiction of Manifest Destiny #12, another of my Best of 2014 selections. They’re also providing us with Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein’s new mysterious sci-fi book Drifter #2, and the instantly hot The Wicked + The Divine #6 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, a post-pop, quasi-religious treatment of the fickle nature of fame, also a book which was on many (not mine) Best of 2014 lists.

I haven’t been very impressed with the various new iterations of this anthology series since The Massive shorts first appeared in it, but I will be checking out Dark Horse Presents 2014 #5. This installment features a new story from Ed Brisson’s (originally self-published) great crime series Murder Book, this time with art by Declan Shalvey. It also contains an interesting take on the Norse Mythology pantheon at the hands of Joe Casey and Jim Rugg, which is certainty an atypical creative team worthy of attention.

Oni Press has The Bunker #8 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari, a series which is really starting to heat up, with elements of an impending alt future apocalypse, time travel, and sci-fi mystery. It’s very much a genre blender, unlike anything else on the market, yet it does share some tantalizing notes with Naoki Urasawa’s 20th Century Boys. Oni is also offering Stumptown Volume 3 #4 from Greg Rucka and Justin Greenwood, which has been a very satisfying slow burn this time around.

In terms of collected editions, I’ll recommend Winterworld Volume 1: La Nina, collecting the first arc of Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice’s continuation of the 80’s property initially helmed by Dixon and the late Jorge Zaffino. Some people hate the superficial elevator pitch soundbytes of “it’s x meets y!” but I find them to be useful review shorthand (and an even better sales tool down at the LCS), so consider this Mad Max meets Whiteout.

I also have to mention DMZ Book Three (Deluxe Edition Hardcover), the latest oversized installment of the DC/Vertigo series by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli. In development at SyFy for a TV adaptation, DMZ chronicles would-be journalist Matthew Roth stuck in war torn New York City during the Second American Civil War. Full Disclosure: I edited and hand-curated about 40 pages of bonus content, including never before seen concept art and my interviews with Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and Kristian Donaldson, so you should pick it up! It’s the third of five total volumes, and it contains 392 pages (issues 29-44), an introduction by Morgan Spurlock, and introduces Parco Delgado, a key figure which alters the course of the entire series.


My Thirteen Favorite Comics of 2014

The Massive (Dark Horse) by Brian Wood, Garry Brown, and Jordie Bellaire: This year witnessed the planned conclusion of Brian Wood’s socially aware post-DC Comics odyssey, a title marking the start of a distinct third phase of his career. With Garry Brown’s rugged but emotive aesthetic, they merged the post-apocalyptic, high adventure, and ultimately sci-fi genres into one catastrophic exodus event. The Massive was never a book relying on high noon heroism in the third act, instead provoking challenging questions around global stewardship, a personal sense of purpose, and, by the end, a New Earth alt creation mythology. Despite some tragic notes during the denouement, it left readers with one hopeful message about our existential dilemma: It’s time to make the world a better place; if not for us, for our children.

Manifest Destiny (Image) by Chris Dingess, Matthew Roberts, and Owen Gieni: Manifest Destiny is an absolute visual feast, an example of the craft on the page mirroring the wonderment of the fabled expedition the series is purportedly about. The slick high concept hook blends speculative historical fiction and inventive monster mayhem. As it turns out, ol’ Tom Jefferson’s off-book special ops mission for Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark was to investigate supernatural forces inhabiting the territory of the Louisiana Purchase (the real reason POTUS got such a deal on all that land from the French!) as The Corps of Discovery faces both internal and external threats while charting a waterway to the Pacific Ocean.

Lazarus (Image) by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark, and Owen Freeman: In a year that Image Comics was responsible for shepherding tons of great material into thankful consumer hands, Lazarus was hands-down the best that the creator owned haven had to offer. With the dystopian world controlled by a handful of wealthy families functioning as consolidated Organized Crime Corporations, Lazarus is remarkable for something called “selective amplification of the observed present.” The series takes our collective social paranoia surrounding rapidly advancing biotechnology, an utterly dysfunctional political system, and severely disproportionate resource allocation in this country, and then pointedly extrapolates it all out to a terrifying set of conclusions.

Black Science (Image) by Rick Remender, Matteo Scalera, and Dean White: Full of unadulterated sci-fi and familial bonds, Black Science plays like a rejected FF pitch too intense for the suits at Marvel. Reading through the writer’s oeuvre of Fear Agent, Low, and Deadly Class, you’ll find a guilt stricken father attempting to repair family damage at any cost, a mother’s intense love framed in sci-fi survivalism, and kids navigating the absence of healthy parental figures. There’s a sense of consequence to Black Science, and when you discover the connective tissue in Remender’s body of work examining the parent-child dynamic from various angles, it adds tremendous heart to the pulse-pounding adventure. Forget DC event miasma, if you want a real look at time being a non-linear stack of flat circles and the true dangers of multiversal theory, then Black Science awaits you.

Moon Knight (Marvel) by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Brian Wood, Greg Smallwood, and Jordie Bellaire:  It’s rare that a book with two creative teams makes the list, but whether it was Ellis and Shalvey’s urban psychonaut “reactivating the IP for Marvel,” or Wood and Smallwood continuing the structural approach, moody deconstructive aesthetic, and script tone while focusing on “The Ghost Protector of NYC” (my terms) as a grounded manifestation of the city’s back alleys, it was grand. Moon Knight is proof that great talent can still make great off-beat cape comics. Here’s to hoping that Moon Knight #8 gets an Eisner Award nod in the Best Single Issue category, recognizing Wood and Smallwood’s treatment of the ubiquitous iPhone in the Social Media Age, and how the digital narrative shapes the personas and perceptions of pop culture figures.

Transformers vs. G.I. Joe (IDW) by John Barber and Tom Scioli: It might best be described as an indie comix invasion of our nostalgic Gen X childhood, one which alternates effortlessly between campy self-aware send-up, faithful adaptation of beloved properties rendered in complete unironic earnest, and adventuresome 3.75-inch action figure playsets come to life under Scioli’s detail-obsessed lines. This triple threat outsider attack on a licensed property occurs all while subtly subverting tropes, whether it’s Scarlett functioning no-questions-asked as team leader, a preemptive G.I. Joe invasion of Cybertron that flips the typical script, or maniacal Megatron wearing a necklace with Bumblebee’s severed head like he’s half anachronistic 80’s gangsta rapper and half cybernetic Colonel Kurtz strayed too far up the river.

A Voice In The Dark (Image/Top Cow) by Larime Taylor: Featuring serial killers and college radio, it plays like Dexter meets Pump Up The Volume, so if you’re not listening to “Everybody Knows” by Concrete Blonde, you’re doing it wrong. Taylor nails the criminal profiling elements, showcasing the kick that soldiers who do multiple tours describe. When you risk your life every second, any state which is less than that becomes meaningless, and you start to crave it. It’s the only high that makes sense. This is the compulsion. We sympathetically root for Zoey to succeed with her killer skills, yet she’s clearly aware her actions are wrong. She doesn’t disassociate, and we should not be rooting for that. With this clever protagonist paradox, Taylor creates a great modern anti-hero. A Voice In The Dark plays with taboos, from consensual bondage kink, to juxtaposing violence and sexuality, to the depiction of female leads in fiction, to heteronormative stereotypes about beauty, to just what the hell might be going on in the minds of our disaffected Gen Y Millennials. It’s an incredibly smart examination of a dark part of American Culture.

Umbral (Image) by Antony Johnston, Chris Mitten, and Jordan Boyd: It’s tempting to give Johnston & Mitten’s Wasteland a deserving nod (ending soon at #60, but don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened!), but somehow Umbral snuck up on me. I don’t even really like this genre, but it’s hard not to be wooed by Johnston’s exhaustive world-building paying homage to his influences, and Mitten producing those flowing wisps of Rascal’s hair, with the 100mph visual flicker of, like, 2D Ralph Bakshi. Umbral disrupts genre conventions around female leads, dares to outlaw magic (in a fantasy book!), and totally upends the belief paradigm. In Wasteland, the accepted belief system is largely based on misinformation, but in Umbral the rejected myths turn out to be quite real. Umbral also doesn’t forget to be playful, with charming sing-song-y lines like “a wizard of yore, and an Azqari whore” now stuck on repeat in my brain.

Detective Comics #35-#36 (DC Comics) by Benjamin Percy, John Paul Leon, and Dave Stewart: [Christopher Walken Voice] “I’ll be DAMNED if I’m gonna let some… mainstream New 52… BOOK on this list… but… this BOOK. THIS book was great.” I showed up for the rare treat of inky John Paul Leon interior art, but ended up admiring the writing just as much. For me, Benjamin Percy came out of nowhere and composed a story steeped in post-9/11 paranoia, ethnocentrism run amok, topical threads around epidemiology and frantic media spin, and relevancy in the wake of several incidents highlighting the frailty of airline infrastructure, all while telling a modern noir Batman tale with an investigative slant that truly lived up to the “Detective” name. Ultimately, it was a lesson in proof by counterexample, by NOT hiring the typical creative team, and NOT producing the typical cape comic, it transcends the genre. Yeah, it’s still possible.

Club Queen Rat King (Ray Ray Books) by Emma Louthan: Hailing from Cody Pickrodt’s small press publishing endeavor, Club Queen Rat King positions the titular queen and king as social oddities coveted in a bizarre nightclub. The surreal setting forces us to acquiesce to the strange conglomeration of social mores around sexuality, fetishization, and exclusivity being a key to ego, while questioning our existence in a culture that perpetuates it all. Louthan’s diminutive figure scale is composed of fine-lined characters dancing around the page like complex underground sketches ensconced in rich blues and burnt mustards on porous paper. It is all things. It is weird, and different, and poignant. It is revolting, and irresistible, and important.

Andre The Giant: Life & Legend (First Second) by Box Brown: In a passion project dripping with detail and insight, it’s the story of an outcast who found a place he belonged, but then grew disenchanted with who he became. With Brown’s stoic and assured lines, he shows the side of Andre Roussimoff that had difficulty separating the public persona from his true sense of self. This is accomplished partially by filling the work with research that connected the relevant dots, including the sociological dynamic around something called “kayfabe” (the art of the audience believing the staged wrestling spectacle is real), mirroring Roussimoff’s own inability to adequately reconcile his public and private personas.

The Amateurs (Fantagraphics) by Conor Stechshulte: The Amateurs walks the uncomfortable edge between horror and humor, like an ink-stained parable about having lost our way in modern times. It follows two amnesiac butchers bloodily fumbling through life in a fog of the forgotten, documenting the collapse of society at the intersection of diminishing returns that is effort vs. results. The Amateurs relies on memory being messy and unreliable, which reveals the dichotomy between the nostalgia of how we think things used to be, and the reality of how things actually are without all of the whitewashed revisionism.

The Motherless Oven (Self Made Hero) by Rob Davis: The Motherless Oven is an exemplary work that showcases the vitality of modern indie comics in today’s creative landscape. Davis’ dark shadows and lean figures inhabit a wonderfully inverse world, a place where up is down, black is white, old is new, and the kids are the ones making their own parents. Scarper Lee’s backwards journey toward his inevitable “deathday” plays like a broken future odyssey, a weird devolving bildungsroman full of memorable moments, intriguing characters, and these wonderfully memetic mantras that you can build an elaborate and engaging world upon. All The Gods Are Analog. Who The Hell Is Vera Pike?


SO. MANY. GOOD. COMICS. Every year I qualify these lists with how hard the selection process was. I keep a running list, and there’s typically 20-something titles jockeying for position during the year. This year also merged mini-comics/small press with mainstream into a single list, making things even more difficult, yet I felt it was important to better reflect not only my own reading habits, but the way the creative line is ever-blurring between indie and mainstream. Every year I feel guilty for not being able to work more onto the list, so here are some honorable mentions, books that came closest to making an appearance as official selections.

Through The Woods (Margaret K. McElderry Books) by Emily Carroll: Through The Woods is a book whose main focus was death, but was unexpectedly life affirming. Carroll’s confident visuals are lovingly saturated in ink, best demonstrated by my favorite pieces “Our Neighbors” and “In Conclusion.” They’re really about the certainty of death coming, and in order to avoid the inescapable (like contending with the predatory wolf in one story), you have to get lucky over and over and over again, but the wolf only has to get lucky once.

Lucky (Kus! Komiks) by Oskars Pavlovskis:  This stalwart Latvian publisher always surprises and delights with their bursts of A4-size minis, and Pavlovskis delivers a story that succeeds largely because of its willingness to pervert the notion of the free market economy. With bulbous near-grotesque lines that reverberate on the page like some sort of Eastern European R. Crumb in all its downtrodden glory, Lucky efficiently chronicles the rise and fall of a scam artist who manufactures both supply and demand on a small scale.

Tooth & Claw (Image) by Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey (a fantasy hybrid in the vein of Game of Thrones x Kamandi) and the Sci-Fi Western that was Coppherhead (Image), by Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski, both had very strong debuts that immediately grabbed my attention and rocked the tropes associated with each of the genres. With a few more issues under their belt, they could make a good run at the list next year, a sentiment that also applies to the next book.

Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain’s Punks (Image) was a very fun debut that absolutely defied conventional expectations, a true piece of contemporary art relying heavily on the recontextualization of found objects and imagery. With wry social observations and a quirky stop-motion analog collage motif, it didn’t just zig when others zagged, it rejected the entire binary premise suggesting that’s all you’re allowed to do in comics.

As for some brief analytics, 5 of the 13 entries were published by Image Comics, comprising 38% of the list. It surprises me a bit, in that I thought Image would actually occupy a couple more slots (I’d have guessed half), but it also means there’s nice diversity for the remainder. No other publisher got more than 1 entry, with a total of 8 additional publishers represented on the list, including just one entry apiece for Marvel and DC Comics, each with 8% of the total.

4 of the 13 entries (Lazarus, Umbral, Manifest Destiny, and The Massive) were returning titles from last year, which means 30% of the list was repeat offenders. One metric which I think is terrific is that 10 of the 13 entries, or 77%, are Creator Owned Comics. The 3 that weren’t (Brian Wood on Moon Knight, Tom Scioli on Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, and John Paul Leon on that run of ‘Tec) were creators I’m fiercely loyal to and will follow anywhere. 


12.10.14 [#PicksOfTheWeek]

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Copperhead #4 by Jay Faeber and Scott Godlewski takes the lead this week, amid a fantastic group of offerings from Image Comics. It’s almost literally a Sci-Fi Western, with Clara Bronson (a most deliberate name choice I’m guessing) acting as the new Sheriff in town, in a mining colony full of outlaws, multi-racial issues, and a sense of the wily frontier being alive and well.

It seems like this series hasn’t shown up for a while, so I’m happy to see East of West: The World, a one-short sourcebook of sorts, packed full of timelines, encyclopedia entries, and additional character information and plot elements enhancing the regular series. I’m a sucker for this type of companion piece that is pure world-building.

Image Comics also has Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood’s The Fuse #8, the police procedural in space that I always sell at the LCS as “CSI: Galactica,” as well as Supreme: Blue Rose #5, one of Warren Ellis’ latest takes on psychological sci-fi, teaming with rising star Tula Lotay (nee: Lisa Wood, Director of Thought Bubble UK). If you’re after yet another take on sci-fi, this time featuring a women exploitation riff, there’s the debut of the much-anticipated Bitch Planet #1 from Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro.

I’m really excited for Punks #3 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Kody Chamberlain, a true piece of contemporary art that relies heavily on the recontextualization of found objects and imagery. There’s also modern favorites like Sex Criminals #9 (Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s irreverent instant success), as well as “The Jasons,” Aaron and Latour, with Southern Bastards #6, a series which took a very unexpected turn at the conclusion of the first arc, and like Scalped before it, carves out another misunderstood slice of the American Tapestry for deeper examination.

I’ve been underwhelmed by new titles from the Vertigo imprint lately, so it’s a good thing they have Astro City #18 by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson to anchor any interest at all in their offerings. Over at IDW, there’s the continuation of Chuck Dixon and Butch Guice’s post-apocalyptic series with Winterworld #5, and the drop-dead gorgeous reimaging of a classic by Eric Shanower and Gabriel Rodriguez in Little Nemo: Return To Slumberland #3.