5.22.2015

5.27.15 [#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.

There’s a lot of great Creator Owned Comics out this week, but none more special than Pat Aulisio’s indie masterpiece Infinite Bowman (Alternative Comics). Originally published in mini-comics installments by Matt Moses’ Hic & Hoc Publications, the second of which – Bowman 2016 – made my Best of 2012 list, it’s the story of wayward astronaut Dave Bowman (“I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Yes. THAT Dave Bowman!). It’s a psychedelic misadventure that I compared to having sex with Jennifer Lopez and then alternately described as the homoerotic lovechild of Gary Panter, Jack Kirby, and Stanley Kubrick. It’s something else. Aulisio’s claustrophobic scraggly line is really something to behold. The best examples are probably the shots of the bustling city, where he generously fills every nook and cranny of every panel with life and detail, providing depth, texture, and vibrating potential. It’s not mindless mania though, he perfectly controls the reader’s eye in calculated fashion, pushing you in and out, in and out, zooming in for close-ups, and pulling out to widescreen shots, in and out, in and out, in an almost sexualized hypnotic experience. At times, there’s an unabashed pop culture glee to the whole thing too; Bowman almost looks like a guy wearing a Skeletor mask riding an emaciated Garfield. Let me repeat that; it’s a reappropriated and recontextualized Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey, in a Masters of the Universe Skeletor mask, riding Garfield the cat. On top of that, it’s hard not to enjoy the unrestrained enthusiasm for the form that Aulisio seems to be reveling in, with lines like “I am David fucking Bowman.” It’s fun sci-fi adventure with heaps of attitude. Bowman is briefly imprisoned by “dumb bastard” aliens, just so that we can get one immaculate prison break sequence that takes us further down the rabbit hole. It’s some sort of wormhole/teleportation/crude volcanic Boom Tube thing, which culminates with the arrival of what looks like Space God Reality Cops straight outta’ some lost Kirby Kreation. Even when Bowman is getting his ass kicked, he admits in adrenalized self-aware glory that “this is the coolest beat down I have ever seen,” which is exactly what the audience must be thinking with this transformative reading experience. If you don’t seek this out, I don’t think we can be friends anymore, it really is one of my favorite indie comics.

Moving right along, fans of Rick Remender should take note of two big releases this week, Deadly Class #13 (Image) with artist Wes Craig, and Black Science #13 (Image) with artist Matteo Scalera, both fantastic world-building, both honing in on Remender’s go-to theme of choice connecting most of his works, the parent-child dynamic, the former being an 80’s culture clash examining what happens in the absence of strong parental figures and kids seek out an alternative family unit, the latter perfecting the FF concept of dimension-hopping science geniuses desperately trying to repair years of familial damage. I go back and forth considering which of them will be appearing on my Best of 2015 list, so getting them both in the same week might be a fun little test.

I’m also super-excited for They’re Not Like Us #6 (Image) by Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane. This, and books like it (I’m looking at you, We Can Never Go Home) owe a great debt of gratitude to Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s seminal work Demo in terms of it paving the way for an updating of the X-Men paradigm, that’s latent adolescent power manifestation grounded in an indie art style with more contemporary and relatable social issues at its core. I’m continually amazed at the amount of clear and readable detail that Gane is able to squeeze onto the page, and Stephenson has been able to build an engaging cast of characters that already feel like they’re operating with very high stakes we actually care about.

I’ll probably also check out Outcast #9 (Image), mostly for the Paul Azaceta art tutorial happening in every single issue, what a master of mood and staging, Invisible Republic #3 (Image) by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko, which has a level of political depth and complexity you don’t often see in sci-fi, as well as Material #1 (Image) by Ales Kot and Will Tempest. Kot is a writer that interests me, but I’ve never been quite able to warm to the writing I've sampled, he also has a very opinionated Twitter presence I’m fascinated by, but the inclusion of the “Season’s Greetings” cover image from Ferguson has definitely grabbed my attention. It’s an instantly iconic bit of viral media that defines a lot of current social problems surrounding the militarization of police, the surveillance state in a post-9/11 world harshing the security/privacy balance, and obviously a lingering racial divide in this country, certainly the image of the year as far as I’m concerned, so I’ll check it out.

I may also take a voyeuristic peek at Sex #21 (Image) by Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski, a book I still sort of have a, I don’t know, pre-coital relationship with. It’s a fun set-up with cool characters that shoot off from a post-shared superhero universe concept, obviously lots of genre mileage there to play with considering all the archetypes in tow, but it never quite seems to get to where it wants to go. It’s basically been 20 issues of foreplay and I’ve been ready for the narrative act to finally go down since the first 12 issues were put to bed.  If you perceive these pointed puns as painfully penile pap, then now you know how I feel reading this book, either make it stop or just do something already. I’ll also poke my head into (sorry!) Providence #1 (Avatar) by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows. It’ll sound blasphemous, but I’m not a huge Alan Moore fan, and the genre he now likes to work in doesn’t do much for me, but I recognize his import and influence on the creators I do like, so I try to give his work its due and at least expose myself to it (that last pun honestly not intended). 

5.17.2015

5.20.15 [#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.

It’s a great time to be a Warren Ellis fan, as he’s plunged back into comics in a big way recently. We’ve had Supreme: Blue Rose, Blackcross, Injection, and now Trees #9 (Image) to thrill us. Ellis is one of the best practitioners of taking old-school sci-fi (typically starting with a compelling “what if?” premise) and pushing it up against modern social themes. This issue marks the start of the second arc with artist Jason Howard, whose been pushing himself to try on new styles and panel layouts as well. If you’re a fan of rich surprising characters operating in a unique classic sci-fi world-build, check it out.

I’ll also be picking up Mono: Pacific #2 (Titan) by Brian Wood and Sergio Sandoval, the conclusion of a WWII era romp that originally ran as a Madefire digital series in 8-page installments, collected for print by Titan Comics. This week also sees another issue of Charles Soule and Alberto Alburquerque’s sci-fi political mash-up in Letter 44 #16 (Oni Press). I’ll also be checking out Drones #2 (IDW) by Chris Lewis and Bruno Oliveira, which does some interesting things with military fetishization in modern times, Tithe #2 (Image) by Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal, which takes on the corruption of for-profit organized religion, and Winterworld: Frozen Fleet #1 (IDW) by Chuck Dixon and Esteve Polls, continuing this post-apocalyptic throwback in the bleak snow-filled future.

5.15.2015

Starve #1: “Stipple The Sky” [Advance Review]

In some ways, Starve feels like the celebratory culmination of multiple elements in Brian Wood’s career as a comic book writer. Published by Image Comics, in collaboration with artist/co-owner Danijel Zezelj and colorist/co-owner Dave Stewart, the story of celebrity chef Gavin Cruikshank jumping back into the cutthroat competitive cooking game after a long absence, all while mentally preoccupied with personal family demons, is ostensibly unlike any of the previous plot dynamics found in the Brian Wood Library. But that superficial reading would actually belie the thematic truths found in a more thorough examination. Sure, you can casually say Starve is about food. But, it’s not really about the food. (Though I admit I really want to eat at Master Paleo BBQ). Like Roger Ebert used to say of the great movies, “they’re not about what they’re about, they’re about how they’re about what they’re about.” In this world, foodie culture has unraveled into a sort of post-reality show deathmatch bazaar, and maybe Cruikshank’s identity has been frayed right along with it.

The inclusion of foodie culture is something that basically runs back to the very beginning of Wood’s professional oeuvre. As early as his first work, Channel Zero in 1997, eagle-eyed readers will recall young pirate broadcaster Jennifer Havel railing against her near-future totalitarian regime (a thinly-veiled poke at NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s aggressive enforcement and deterrence strategies of the time), but not without craving some NYC dim sum when she was in self-imposed exile. From Olive and Moustafa delivering hummus on the back of their scooters while dodging the Turkish Mafia as early as 2001 in the Couscous Express of The Couriers Universe, to Matty Roth entering the back door of a secluded Chinatown kitchen, in a manner reminiscent of the infamous Scorsese steadicam, to slurp noodles with Wilson in DMZ (2005-2011), the food itself has now been promoted from background player to one of the headliners in Starve.

And that’s not all that’s been re-positioned from context to core. For example, in the environmental action-adventure of The Massive with Garry Brown, Wood stopped in Mogadishu for an issue to touch on sustainability issues with shark fin, all amid the larger glaring sustainability crisis at the global climate change level, and here in Starve we’ll see things like the rarity of near-extinct blue fin tuna also play as prominent plot devices. I mean, pick a topic. Fatherhood. If you remember Wood’s riff on Karen and Hilda in the Northlanders arc The Plague Widow (with artist Leandro Fernandez), you’ll see Wood starting to come to terms with being a father, trying to reconcile optimism for his kids’ future with the environs of an increasingly harsh world. There’s central commentary on that here in Starve as well, with Gavin Cruikshank’s daughter Angie not only growing to occupy a significant role as a female character with increasing depth, but their damaged father-daughter relationship is also one of the primary drivers of the story and his emerging quest to reestablish his own identity.

Hey, pick another topic. Fame. In his recent Moon Knight arc with artist Greg Smallwood (and please vote for him in this year’s Russ Manning - Most Promising Newcomer Award!), the most readily identifiable stand out in this excellent group of stories is Moon Knight #8. In the issue, Wood and Smallwood address our fascination with fame in The Social Media Age and the ubiquitous nature of the iPhone, in a time where fame itself is the “get.” Fame is its own reward. In Starve, we see Cruikshank contending with the vestiges of his fame, where it’s not so much skill, or money, or influence that gets you somewhere, it’s the power that fame itself brings which begins to self-perpetuate and allows him to navigate this strange game. Chef Gavin Cruikshank is known. His rep precedes him, and it becomes a type of cultural currency he’s able to use, to play off the expectations of his competitors, the admiring junior chefs, the media, his family, his fans, and society at large.

Let’s talk about artists. Danijel Zezelj (Rex, Luna Park) has long been an artist I’ve admired for his willingness to slather ink on a page and create the most sumptuous urban wastelands around, while Dave Stewart is perhaps the most lauded colorist in the industry, period, so it’s hard to imagine a more suitable “dream team” for Wood to collaborate with on a project like this. My intention here isn’t to diminish the work of any of his past or future collaborators, from old favorites like Becky Cloonan (Demo, Conan The Barbarian) or Ryan Kelly (Local, Star Wars), to the current crop of talent like Garry Brown (The Massive, Black Road) and Andrea Mutti (Rebels), let’s face it, Wood has a knack for working with some incredibly talented folks, and in most cases accelerating their ascendancy. But, if I was hard pressed to identity the “perfect” aesthetic companion for Wood’s layered stories, I usually settle on two names, John Paul Leon and Danijel Zezelj. JPL has offered some amazing extended cover runs which have added thematic cohesion for things like DMZ and The Massive, while Zezelj has come in for surgical strikes with Wood before, depicting key moments with Captain Callum Israel in The Massive or old-school street artist Decade Later in DMZ, standout issues that capture a conflux of mood, some sort of personal crisis, and a sense of shadowy uncertainty under Zezelj’s magic lines.

It’s no different here in Starve, and I’m happy to see him as the regular artist for the series, another example of Zezelj’s art always seemingly about trying to find the “now” during a period of transition, with characters reconciling their past and present. Gavin’s past is catching up with him, and when characters do this dance, it represents that final leap into maturity or true adulthood, the reconciliation of past decisions and present desires is all about identity. It’s about a character wanting to define themselves based on their current choices. That’s why Zezelj is such a good collaborator for Wood, it’s difficult to ascribe fixed emotion to his art, there’s a sense of flux to his style that mirrors the emotional arcs that Wood is depicting. Someone once said that “your job as a writer isn’t to show that virtue exists in the world, your job as a writer is to show your characters either moving toward it or moving away from it.” I don’t want to belabor this point about identity, because I’ve written literally thousands of words previously on the subject, about identity being the key to understanding Wood’s work (and I have a theory as to why that is, something I’ve never shared publicly), a connective tissue that thematically unites his library, so suffice it to say, it’s ever-present in Starve. Gavin Cruikshank wants to move back toward virtue, making some tough choices in the face of skeptics citing his past actions, but his choices here are usually for the right reasons, and he’s the type of charming rogue protagonist who we want to believe has noble intentions.

Zezelj’s work is very much at home in the city, it doesn’t matter if it’s some sprawling metropolis in Southeast Asia or a shot of the Flatiron entrenched firmly in NYC. He depicts a sort of urban claustrophobia that is at once intimidating, but also bristling with life and opportunity, and the excitement of the unknown lurking around every corner – sort of a quintessential NYC quality. There’s an inky weight to it that hangs heavy in your consciousness, showing characters on a precipice, uncertain of their own outcomes. It’s contemplative art in that sense, full of both hope and trepidation, with stippled skies that reflect the nuance of real life, all the disparate elements of one’s own journey coming together to define a person, those stipple marks slowly congealing to form a clear picture, a dynamic that lacks the certainty of outcome found in most fictional stories in pop culture. It is “real” art according to those terms, never afraid to inhabit gray space in a medium that’s all too often depicted in binary black and white. Dave Stewart’s colors also imbue the events with that sense of density and vibrancy, letting you know that anything can happen, effectively bouncing between muted grays and blue hues that seem to suggest the calm comfort of the familiar, to slightly more saturated pops of yellow and burnt orange that place readers on the teetering edge of a razor, right alongside the characters in the story.

When most audiences encounter the Starve protagonist Gavin Cruikshank for the first time, I think it’ll be easy for them to immediately say “oh, he’s like Gordon Ramsay,” but that’s too easy a reading. Ramsay is perhaps an easy target who’s become a household name in terms of popularity, but Wood himself has said in interviews that Cruikshank is more in the vein of Anthony Bourdain, “in a Transmetropolitan world,” (referring to Warren Ellis’ seminal work featuring gonzo journalist Spider Jerusalem), and that’s an important distinction to make. I’ve read Bourdain’s books and I watch his travel shows, and he’s always struck me as a more world-weary type. He’s a once-arrogant man whose experiences have tempered that personality toward a sort of hard-earned wisdom. I don’t pay enough attention to him to know if Ramsay is still ascendant or if he’s reached a cultural plateau, but Bourdain is past all that. Dude has experienced some shit in his life. He’s at a place that’s more contemplative, he’s a man who still has some incredible skill and insight to offer, but has lived enough to be able to look back on his career and try to reconcile that past and present I mentioned. Bourdain came up as an old-school chef, he went to school, apprenticed under some Old World culinary masters, and worked a line, in a time that just preceded celebrity fame and internet culture and the googah branding of the hand-foraged, locally -sourced, artisanally-curated, organically-grown, gluten-free, non-GMO, farm-to-table, free-range, pop-up hipster foodie paradigm found in re-purposed Brooklyn warehouses and up-sourced LA food trucks. I kid, but there’s a point here. In reality, Bourdain is only 10 years older than Ramsay, but it’s a big enough difference that it places them in different generations in terms of the way they engage with their careers and whatever social media laced fame has come their way. Simply put, both Tony Bourdain and Gavin Cruikshank are old-school chefs being asked to operate in new-school worlds, and there’s great dramatic tension created by the generational conflict. (It might also be fun to remind readers that Bourdain also tried his hand at comics, in 2013’s Get Jiro! with artist Langdon Foss, where future chefs run post-apocalyptic LA like crime bosses, a project in concurrent development that altered plans to release Starve through DC’s Vertigo imprint.)

The world of Starve is a brutal one, literally (keep your eye out for the pig butchering scene), and more figuratively (notice the way it positions the class distinction around something like dog meat), but it also hints at how food is one of the great equalizers, providing opportunities for estranged family members or even total strangers to bond. There’s something primal about breaking bread. Food is the best weapon for peace. One need only share a meal with an actual Italian in Tuscany, or an Indian in Bangalore, or an Aussie in West Ryde, or visit a hole in the wall rural BBQ joint in North Carolina (personal experiences here, you see), or cook a simple breakfast for your daughter (in the case of Cruikshank), to understand that food has always been an easy entry point into culture, and the interpersonal connections that its based on. When you appreciate those experiences first hand, differences fade, similarities begin to emerge, and you develop common ground with people that can start to block preconceived prejudices. Starve is very much about the food when it’s about the food though. There are flat out recipe captions happening in the pages of Starve, amid the oblique references to soju, garlic, and the occasional impromptu Bloody Mary. I think it’s also important to say to that Starve is just fun! It’s not all doom and gloom and parental anguish, there’s energy behind it. There’s passion for food and fervent love of New York City and a palpable sense of thrill. You can easily imagine seeing something like this on future TV, being swept up in a world of high stakes competition taken to its most extreme, a bourgeoisie distraction for the real ills of society. The Romans more concerned with the games in the Coliseum than the Empire crumbling and all. Don’t believe me? Does that sound pedantic? Well, I'm sorry, but 161 million people watched the last Super Bowl, and only 129 million people voted in the last Presidential Election. Those are the real numbers.

One need only look at work like DMZ and The Massive to know that Wood has dealt in things like global economic collapse, global climate change, or military adventurism run amok. And while that tendency toward the post-apocalyptic crashing down is present in Starve for contextual reasons, Wood is smart to ground the story in personal struggle. It’s fabulous world-building. It’s Iron Chef Thunderdome Survivor, the culinary arts hyper-exaggerated to entertainment, to sport, to trial by combat even, but the more scripts you write, the more you truly understand that world-building is not a story. It’s merely context for your characters to inhabit. World-building is just creating a space for the actual story to take place.  

It’s funny to think back to Channel Zero, a book which you could actually criticize for not having much of a plot, there’s not really a story there per se, just a collection of raw and powerful ideas linked together by a cool protagonist and slick analog imagery. But, that was nearly 20 years ago. In the intervening time, Wood’s had the benefit of crafting dozens of series, and working with some terrific editors in his career, I’m talking about people like Will Dennis at Vertigo and Sierra Hahn at Dark Horse, and it’s almost as if you can see that wisdom, all those years of the hard-fought grind coming to bear on a title like Starve. It’s not just Wood’s trademark touches like the identity quest, or love for New York City, or father-daughter dynamics. It’s not just his go-to themes of social prescience, political relevance, or thoughts on global stewardship all converging into one grand tale. There’s the opulence and originality of a really terrific world-build, but also the soul, the heart, the conflict of some really engaging people facing clear challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome. At a time when Wood is cranking out some masterpieces of entertainment that are very much “him,” things like rich and personal historical fiction with Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys in Rebels, or Viking culture at a social crossroads in Black Road, in light of all it offers, Starve might just be the most “Brian Wood” book that the writer has ever crafted.

In the end, there’s a lot to be said for the journey of Gavin Cruikshank. Not only is he trying to overcome obstacles in the short term, like winning the next food challenge he’s presented with (and as someone who’s read ahead a couple issues, I can tell you they get increasingly clever, difficult, and violent), but he’s also trying to win back the affection of his daughter in a way that isn’t driven by his own ego, but by the need to build at least one genuine relationship in his life. There’s also this primal idea of being pulled back into the game (the “one final job” trope), of the prodigal son returned home, having to tap his old network of contacts, to right all he perceives wrong in the world, the final bid to vanquish his old rival Roman Algiers, to reclaim his show from a bitter ex, his money from a greedy network, and his daughter from the passage of time and the damage of distance, and in the process, hopefully telling the cheap vapid industry interlopers and all the bullshit that has invaded his career, to finally fuck off once and for all. (One can easily wonder if there’s any subconscious meta-commentary seeping into the work, Wood considering his own place as an old-school comic book creator in an industry embracing the new-school, where popularity and personal branding can sometimes take priority over the quality of the work itself). But, this is the story of Gavin Cruikshank. Here’s a man who wants to leave the trappings of fame behind, and just enjoy the simple pleasure of grilling a steak to perfection in total anonymity for pure love of the work. Grade A+.

5.08.2015

5.13.15 [#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.

Huge Week. MASSIVE WEEK. Taking the top slot is Rebels #2 (Dark Horse) by Brian Wood, Andrea Mutti, and Jordie Bellaire, with covers by Tula Lotay. Rebels is a very well-balanced piece of historical fiction, occupying an enthralling time period but remembering to ground events often played as larger-than-life in a character-first approach that centers on personal journeys. Mutti is a terrific artist who is able to cram so much detail and authenticity into his work. If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll see him having fun with reproduction Revolutionary War era tri-corner hats, muskets, and Native American gear, just to ensure he has a literal handle on the perfect reference material. Tula Lotay is rising to prominence from her career as Lisa Wood – Thought Bubble Organizer, to working with Warren Ellis on Supreme: Blue Rose and some variant covers for Blackcross, and now regular cover artist on Rebels, where she seems to be channeling her inner Becky Cloonan. It’s easy for me to say that Rebels will be one of the best series of 2015, so jump on board while it’s still early in the run.

If you want to talk debuts, all eyes are on Injection #1 (Image) by Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, and Jordie Bellaire. I honestly don’t know much about the series, even after reading the teaser preview that appeared in last week’s crop of Image Comics, but Ellis is one of those buy-on-sight creators that’s got heaps of credibility in the bank with me, so it’ll be very exciting to see what this former Moon Knight team has up their collective sleeves. There’s also Harrow County #1 (Dark Horse) hitting the shelves this week, from Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. I’ve never been a big horror guy, and when I hear the words “ghost, goblins, and zombies” my eyes start to glaze over because the genre just doesn’t have internal rules it adheres to and it’s very hard to differentiate yourself from the morass of other material in this category. But, the book’s been getting some buzz from people I trust, and I’m in a position where I enjoy sampling as many new first issues as I can, so I’ll give this “Southern Gothic fairy tale” a chance to impress me and explain what the hell all those adjectives mean.

Image Comics has a heap of good stuff out, including perennial favorite Saga #28 (Image) by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples, the daring new RUNLOVEKILL #2 (Image) by Jonathan Tsuei and Eric Canete, Southern Cross #3 (Image) by Becky Cloonan and Andy Belanger, Black Science #14 (Image) by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera, Copperhead #7 (Image) by Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski, C.O.W.L. #10 (Image) by Kyle Higgins, Alec Siegel, and Rod Reis (which I believe is now ending at #11), and East of West #19 (Image). I TOLD YOU IT WAS A BIG WEEK! Of the lot, I’m probably most interested in Black Science (it’s just such an intensely-paced, well-executed bit of sci-fi drama), Copperhead (it’s always an effortless read that world-builds around such distinct and engaging characters), and Southern Cross (a book which I was lukewarm on at first, but its mood has been slowly growing on me).

Let’s see… what did I leave out? There’s Astro City #23 (DC/Vertigo) by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson, which is one of the most reliable books out there in terms of delivering a thought-provoking slow-burn examination of the superhero paradigm. Busiek has been at it for years, and I admire his ability to explore the hidden peripheral stories lurking in the corners of a shared universe concept and reframing them to make them the main attraction, a way of taking the everyman’s story and juxtaposing it with the fantastical. It’s a monthly workshop on how to construct stories through applying your craft and just doing the work. I’ll probably also check out Lady Killer #5 (Dark Horse) by Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones (my enthusiasm has cooled in the last couple issues, but I’ll see it through to the end), as well as Blackcross #3 (Dynamite Entertainment) by Warren Ellis and Colton Worley, a weird conflux of superheroics and the supernatural, all played out in a Twin Peaks style locale.  

5.01.2015

5.06.15 [#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.

There’s really no singles jumping up and shouting at me as deserving of the top slot this week, so let’s get all indie and shit. You’ve gotta’ check out Black River (Fantagraphics) by Josh Simmons, his latest full length graphic novel that seems to be taking his go-to elements of ethereal horror, latent comedy, and a phantasmagoria of the bizarre, and sets them all in post-apocalyptic trappings, a genre that’s one of my all-time favorites. I think most audiences associate him with The Furry Trap, but for me it’s his work on Jessica Farm that sealed the deal. Jessica Farm was one of my Best of 2008 selections and was a “Lynchian take on Alice in Wonderland” set in a Midwestern farmhouse, delightfully balancing the disturbing and the alluring, the reconciliation of which teetered on the edge of your periphery, just beyond the reach of full understanding.

Descender #3 (Image) by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen, and No Mercy #2 (Image) by Alex De Campi and Carla Speed McNeil are also out this week and I like them both for several reasons. Despite liking the genre as a reflection not of our future, but of our present, I fear the comics sci-fi market is in danger of being glutted at the moment, so it takes something special to stand out from the pack. The design work in Descender is first rate, with ink washes that achieve the type of aesthetic quality I’m drawn to. No Mercy takes the type of clean, almost sterile visuals I’m drawn to (Gibbons, Cassaday, McKelvie, et al) and amps them up with rich generational observations in a unique setting. Speaking of McKelvie, he and Kieron Gillen also have The Wicked + The Divine #10 (Image) out this week as well.

I’m a big fan of Star Wars Rebels, so I’ll check out Kanan: The Last Padawan #2 (Marvel), though I admit being totally underwhelmed by the first issue, which seemed to violate the old screenwriting rule of getting into scenes as late as you can and getting out as early as you possibly can. It was a lot of wind-up with very little forward motion, nothing inherently advancing plot or revealing character. I’m curious about Arcadia #1 (Boom! Studios) by Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer, it’s got an interesting post-apocalyptic premise surrounding pandemic, tied to a sort of utopian solution, and the art looks intriguing. I’ll also give We Can Never Go Home Again #2 (Black Mask) by Matthew Rosenberg, Patrick Kindlon, and Josh Hood a flip. The first issue worked well, featuring that old chestnut about kids getting powers and having to navigate their existence without much adult direction, which seems to be a sub-genre experiencing a resurgence at the moment (in the model of, say, Demo, They’re Not Like Us, etc.). 

4.24.2015

4.29.15 [#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 most excited for They’re Not Like Us #5 (Image Comics) this week. I’m really loving the way Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane ground latent adolescent power manifestation in a rich indie style that asks some compelling moral questions along the way. I’m also curious to check out Pisces #1 (Image Comics) by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Johnnie Christmas. While I don’t follow the work of Wiebe very closely, I’m a big fan of Johnnie Christmas’ stylized and emotive art, so I’ll give this “sci-fi psychological body horror” a chance to hook me.

The House of Creator Owned also has The Fuse #12 (Image Comics) by Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood, Bitch Planet #4 (Image Comics) by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro, and Outcast #8 (Image Comics) by Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta. Of the trio, The Fuse is at the top of the list for me. Not only is it an intricate police procedural wrapped in a high-quality sci-fi world-build (that’s three hyphenated words in a row!), but in the wake of the recent frown-inducing Umbral Hiatus Announcement, now’s a great time to be vocally and financially supporting the books you care about from the creators whose voices and styles you feel are important. Now, I don’t mean to go off on a rant here, but this really upset me.

Umbral was a joyous spectacle of lavish art, color, and moody imagination that disrupted established genre conventions, and its greatness was rewarded with lackluster sales.  So I’ll say it again, if there’s a book you like, fill out your Previews Order Form so your sales vote can be tracked where it counts (the retailer is the true customer in the direct market), and then buy it, loan it, gift it, review it, advocate for it at your LCS, tell your friends, blog, tweet, and tumble it so the cool thing you like can continue to exist, and the creators whose work you enjoy can not only make a living doing the thing they enjoy, but can continue to make more new things for you that you’ll probably also enjoy. End Rant. Ahem.

There’s also Jem & The Holograms #2 (IDW) by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell, a book I enjoyed for the sheer modern diversity of characters and thoughtful way it captured the voices and attitudes of a generation younger than mine. I might also check out G.I. Joe #8 (IDW) by Karen Traviss and Steve Kurth, with dope modern art covers by Jeffrey Veregge, a series which has proven itself to be a really strong look at contemporary politics as much as it is about bang-bang spec ops soldiers with cool gear and code-names.

On the collected edition front, I’ll recommend the sweet consensual kink of Sunstone Volume 2 (Image Comics) by Stjepan Sejic and the Headspace TPB (IDW) by a couple of real emerging talents, Ryan K. Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki, all about the frail separation between reality and fantasy.

4.18.2015

4.22.15 [#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.

It seems like it’s either boom or bust for my weekly pull. I think I only ended up buying two books last week, so naturally there’s about a dozen this week that I’m interested in. Drones #1 (IDW) by Chris Lewis and Bruno Oliveira looks interesting, pitting the notion of post-9/11 covert drone warfare up against a terrorism themed hotel on the Las Vegas strip. Whaaa? It’s just crazy enough that it’ll probably be totally great or totally crash and burn. We’ll see!

Image Comics is bringing two of their absolute best this week, with Lazarus #16 (Image) by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, and Manifest Destiny #14 (Image) by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts. If you follow my best of the year lists, both of these were selections last year, so you should definitely check them out. Lazarus brings a dystopian future based on a) organized crime corporations ruling the world, b) severe income inequality fast-forwarded to apocalyptic proportions, and c) rapidly advancing biotechnology creating hardened super-soldier enforcers. Manifest Destiny tickles my fascination with historical speculative fiction in a time period that’s super cool, tracking Lewis & Clark’s fabled expedition into the monster-filled territory of the Louisiana Purchase.

Image Comics also has the non-nuclear family dynamics of assassin kids within an 80’s cultural context in Deadly Class #12 (Image) out from Rick Remender and Wes Craig, the follow up issue to Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko’s very strong politically-charged sci-fi debut with Invisible Republic #2 (Image), and the oh-god-what-will-he-pull-next? fascination of Chip Zdarsky and Kagan McLeod’s Kaptara #1 (Image).

I’m also very excited to check out Mono Vol. 2 #1 (Titan Comics) by Brian Wood and Sergio Sandoval. I believe this is the first of a two-part story about an alt-history WWII mission in the Pacific Theatre, and one of the rare (only?) Brian Wood projects that I didn’t read in its first incarnation since I’m not a huge fan of the existing digital comics experience (seems like there’s still room for some innovation here by newcomers), so I’m glad to see a print version following with Titan’s lush production values. Also? Gorillas!

I’ll probably take a half-hearted flip through Star Wars #4 (Marvel), a book that has become totally yawn-inducing with the out-of-character fan-fic plots and off-model inconsistencies in the art (a host of criticisms I could probably level at all the current Marvel SW books, and I desperately hope the recently announced Lando series by Charles Soule and Alex Maleev will break the trend), as well as The Life After #9 (Oni Press), a book that made a strong start for me, but one that I’ve sort of lost interest in during the last couple of issues. With so many strong books out there, it just happens sometimes.

As for trades, the only thing that jumped out at me to recommend is Winterworld Volume 2: Stranded (IDW) by Chuck Dixon, Tomas Giorello, and Tommy Lee Edwards. Chuck Dixon has taken a pretty bad rap lately for some of his conservative world views, but hey, if you only followed the work of people whose political or religious beliefs you agreed with 100%, you probably wouldn’t be reading very many comics. Dixon is responsible for one of my favorite extended runs on Nightwing years ago, and this series about survival after cataclysmic climate change is an interesting and grounded take on a popular setting.