4.16.14 [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.

Wasteland #53 (Oni Press): With only seven issues remaining, artist Christopher Mitten joins writer Antony Johnston to bring home the series he helped create. Yeah, it’s the beginning of the end, so naturally we catch up with Abi and Michael (with Thomas now in tow) pretty much where we left them, as they venture to A-Ree-Yass-I. Wasteland has always been a book that defies conventional expectations. There’s a pretty fun example of that when the group encounters some Sand-Eaters. For so long, we’ve been conditioned to fear the Sandies. There’s a great moment when Thomas suggests talking to them, and Michael and Abi exchange sideways glances at the mere suggestion of it. Not only do I love deciphering the Sandie-Speak, but this leads to a series of great visual reveals, capped off by the cliffhanger on the last page that suggests the gang may have finally arrived at a destination that houses some answers. Most of the clues for what probably occurred to create The Big Wet have been laced into the story over the years, but I do get the sense that Johnston may be ready to offer a more prescriptive version now that we’re nearing the end. There are clues to this approach in the text as well. One example is that previously in the run, he hasn’t really bothered to “translate” the Sandie-Speak, he’s just let the audience intuit the meaning by sounding out their prolonged vowels and hard consonants in context. In this issue, he (deliberately I’m suggesting) has Michael and Abi try to figure out what they’re saying so that the audience can follow along and pick up the precise meaning. The fact that I can even pick up on nuance like that is a testament to the fact that Wasteland is a carefully crafted book that rewards repeated reading. It’s never been churned out like factory comics at those other companies, with interchangeable artists operating in house styles, or IP catalogue characters that endured whichever writer was at the helm. Creator-Owned Comics are hot right now, but it’s almost as if Wasteland was doing it before this renaissance took off. They were doing it long before it became cool again. I mean, seriously, 60 issues of a quirky creator-owned book from Oni Press? Most Marvel and DC Comics can barely get into the 20’s before they get rebooted and relaunched again with a new creative team. There’s something to be said for this level of passion and dedication. Wasteland is sadly a dying breed of the comic book species. Grade A.

A Voice In The Dark #6 (Image/Top Cow): Larime Taylor continues his series of collegiate psychological intrigue and tracks everyone’s favorite coed serial killer, Zoey, as she stalks her intended prey. The scope of her hunt expands due to a tastefully handled (as tasteful as you can depict something so awful) attempted rape scene that even comes with a Trigger Warning on the title page, a term which seems to have worked its way into the collective lexicon in the last couple of years. There are a lot of things to like about this issue, in addition to Taylor’s realistic depiction of women. #RealWomen is a hashtag that I wish would take off, highlighting instances of comic book characters and art which challenge our preconceived notions of conventional beauty and sexuality, in the spandex clad world of comics dominated by the old superhero genre. This is true especially in light of the incident that recently occurred with Janelle Asselin receiving threats of violence and rape for simply calling out just such an ill-conceived superhero cover for things like sexualizing a teen girl for having tits bigger than her head. This issue flows extremely well, and I think it’s because we stay on Zoey for the entire issue, tracking her movements as she stalks her targets, essentially hiding in plain sight, and attempting to fight her compulsion. As with real serial killers, she’s hooked on the “high” of the kills, even though she may cognitively know it’s wrong and deviates from socially accepted norms, but needs the kills to get bigger-more-better to get the same high. In the real world, this process of intensifying brinksmanship usually happens until you slip up and get caught. As with many real world serial killers, the kills might not be about the violence per se, or the rape (if there’s a sexual component), but simply about power. Zoey is out of control, she’s trying to navigate a chaotic world, and the kills are her own fractured psyche’s way of making order of the chaos, albeit totally inappropriate. My favorite part of the issue was Zoey’s encounter with a mysterious benefactor (at least that’s what we’re sort of lead to believe), but the hockey mask isn’t the only thing that should cause alarm klaxons to be going off in your head with the introduction of this person. Not only does this person have a literal mask, but Zoey’s costume at the party is more of a figurative “mask” that demonstrates our psychological ability to not be ourselves and act differently when we’re in the guise of someone else. We all have masks, the one we wear for the world to see, and then the darker more hidden side. A Voice In The Dark is one of the surprise hits of the year, a truly hidden gem in the marketplace. I highly recommend it, and this could be the best issue of the series to date. Grade A.

X-Men #13 (Marvel): I really loved the opening scene, the way that this mysterious man is able to quickly perform a threat analysis and then use the information to decimate his opponents. It’s a signal that family ties are going to come calling, which will impact Jubilee, Shogo, and the rest of the largely female X-Squad, which was thrown together in an impromptu fashion. Brian Wood has taken some flak over that, basically since the start of the series. “Why isn’t it called X-Women?” Umm, because that's a a stupid name and the name of their affiliation is X-Men? You don’t see people whinging that Black Widow or The Wasp should be called Women Avengers. WomVengers? C’mon. He does attempt to address the concern in an organic way, via Storm’s self-doubt about leadership. She has a great conversation/pep talk with Psylocke about their raison d’etre, indicating that they should have a formal mandate with “team” status, even within the parameters of the universe and the school. Another difficulty, which I really want to lay at the feet of editorial and not Wood, has been the revolving door of artists the series has endured. He’s honestly no Olivier Coipel or David Lopez, but Clay Mann has a style that works with these characters and I was happy to see him on art duty rather than some of the other artists who’ve worked on the book, and at this point, I’d be happy if he remained for the rest of Wood’s run. His style has some nice hard angles with plenty of granular detail. I enjoy the way he draws Jubilee, Rachel, and especially Monet in this issue, who for a moment looked like one of Brian Wood’s creations, Mara Prince. Yet another obstacle (again, I’ll blame Marvel Editorial) has been interruption of some of Wood’s intended story throughlines by company crossover events. It feels now as if the title is getting back on track, sort of resetting Wood’s original ideas while gearing up for another conflict, and in the process addressing things like Jubilee’s vampirism, the true nature of Shogo, and John Sublime’s relationship with Rachel and the rest of the team. I’m curious to see how these things resolve. Grade B+.


Game of Thrones S4E2 "The Lion & The Rose" [Thirteen Things]


1)      Well, for book readers it was pretty clear from the title of the episode that this was going to feature The Purple Wedding. Rightfully so, approximately half of the episode’s run-time is dedicated to building it to a crescendo. Raise your hand if you have a list of the episode titles and are pairing it with your predictions for what happens in each episode. I can’ t be the only one playing this game against myself, seeing if I can sift the seven or eight key moments and reveals into their small screen receptacle. Since it seems I’m also obsessively analyzing each ep for what the opening credits do and don’t include, I coulda’ done without Meereen in this one and would have liked Moat Cailin instead. The Neck, The Riverlands, most TV viewers don’t remember this stuff, and Roose’s map was perhaps shown too quickly, with too tight a shot to provide enough context.

2)      So, that opening scene. People talk shit about Littlefinger being an Agent of Chaos, but I don’t buy it. While Lord Petyr Baelish may be a brilliant catalyst pulling the strings behind the scenes (which book readers know far better than show-only watchers at this point), the destabilization engineered in the shadows by him and people like Lord Varys is all about creating order, their order. Ramsay Snow just might be the real Joker. He’s the true Agent of Chaos, and we sometimes get the sense that he just wants to watch the world burn.

3)      I enjoyed Tyrion doing his best to comfort brooding Jaime, pouring his wine out was a particularly accommodating gesture as Jamie confides in the only person he can really trust. This was also a great run-up to the Jamie and Bronn scene, the new Arya Stark and Syrio Forel. What an unlikely pair these two are, in a show frequently giving us brilliant pairings. The mercenary sellsword Bronn of House “You Wouldn’t Know Him” and Ser Jamie Lannister of Casterly Rock, The Kingslayer, two men from markedly different worlds who happen to be two of the most deadly men in Westeros. Not to mention Ser Loras Tyrell and Ser Jaime trading words, generally considered the two most skilled knights in the world. Great Pairings.

4)      OF COURSE Ramsay gets along great with Locke.

5)      I found myself very fascinated with House Bolton. It’s interesting that aside from the Starks, they’re really the only other family from the North we get to see up close. It’s weird to think about all of the “Bizarro” versions the show puts forth. Last ep, I talked about Olenna and Margaery being a healthy version of Tywin and Cersei (especially given the power held by Olenna Tyrell, and the Gender-Power dynamic that fuels Cersei’s resentment). In this episode, we see a lavish royal wedding and how it differs from the hidden/rushed weddings of Robb and Talisa or Edmure Tully and Walda-Willa-Wyla-Whatsername Frey. We see Roose Bolton with Ramsay Snow, sort of the dark reflection of Ned Stark and Jon Snow, the Northern Lords and their ostensible bastards. Roose Bolton is extremely smart and capable, a man of cold pragmatism whose intense lingering stare can be just downright scary. It makes you think that if Robb Stark was more willing to use Roose Bolton like the deadly scalpel he his, his campaign might’ve gotten a little further. Once again, Game of Thrones is insistent on punishing people who can’t bend their rigid noble principles to get down-and-dirty when survival demands it, and instead rewards those with, let’s call it, extreme moral flexibility. If you view the world as binary black and white, you’re going to have a very difficult time navigating the myriad shades of gray in Westeros.

6)      For some reason, I just loved the delivery of Locke’s line “Who the fuck’s Jon Snow?” It shows quite effectively that the characters are not omniscient. In Locke’s little corner of this vast world, it doesn’t mean anything to him on the surface and there really is no reason he’d know that, despite everything the audience is obviously privy to.

7)      The show continues to bind us in conflicted emotional states. For example, Jaime is a fan-favorite, and we find ourselves rooting for the redemption of a dude who pushed a little kid out a window because he wanted to keep fucking his sister. Theon Greyjoy was an arrogant shit in his own right, betrayed his “brother” Robb Stark, went against everything his “father” Ned Stark ever tried to teach him, fingered his sister, took Winterfell, executed Rodrik Cassel, and burned two innocent kids to a crisp, but now we find ourselves kinda’ feeling sorry for him and his predicament. Theon knows he fucked up and wasted his life, poor guy did everything anyone ever asked of him, was shipped off as a kid, tried to fit in with the Starks, tried to fit in with the Greyjoys, all to no avail, and maybe none of it was really for personal glory, but just because he was a hurt kid who just wanted to fucking belong somewhere.

8)      Tyrion trying to save Shae’s life by absolutely forcing himself to push her away using any insulting means necessary was just gut-wrenching.

9)      There’s an interesting academic paper waiting to be written about how the transition from The Light of the Seven to The Lord of Light tracks against the polytheism of Greek and Roman tradition giving way to the monotheism of Christianity. While we’re at Dragonstone, I always crack up at poor Davos Seaworth, at times he must feel like the only sane dude in the asylum.

10)   Prince Oberyn holding his own against Tywin Lannister AND Cersei Lannister. They’re two of the most ruthless players of the game, and he doesn’t flinch, proving why his badass rep goes far beyond sexual prowess or combat skill.

11)   Well, I’ll say one thing about His Grace, King Joffrey of the Houses Baratheon  and Lannister, First of His Name, King of the Andals and of The First Men, Lord of The Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm – he really HAS united the kingdoms like nobody else could! I mean, by the time his little War of The Five Kings skit is underway, it’s clear that everyone loathes him. Tyrion’s defiance in silently refusing to kneel, repeatedly, is one of the most powerful things the show has ever done. Tyrion defies his king, his father, and his nephew’s ability to humiliate him. There’s also that choice moment when Sansa hands him the cup, she warms a second toward Tyrion because of what they must jointly endure, the enemy of my enemy is my friend (oh, and my husband). Tyrion’s brazen refusal to accept anything Joffrey can dish as an insult shows how you have to give another person permission to embarrass you. Tyrion denies Joff that one thing the little fucker wants the most, submission, respect that’s demanded and not earned.

12)   Cersei and Jaime are the first ones to Joffrey’s side as he lay dying. Parental Instinct.

13)   Olenna Tyrell chatting up Sansa Stark at the wedding reception is an ingenious little scene. Yes, Olenna, who WOULD kill a poor boy at his own damn wedding? (But, who cares about her words, it's all misdirection, it's all slight of hand!) Her foreshadowing does everything short of give a wink and say, just wait and see, child, you may enjoy this day yet. I mean, let’s set aside the obvious fact that Tyrion isn’t stupid enough to make multiple public threats to The King over the years, and then actually act on them, or that he wouldn’t let himself get caught holding the murder “weapon,” and that everything he did was forced on him impromptu under duress by The King. Let’s think instead about who brokered the alliance(s) with the Tyrells? Who would have prearranged getting Sansa out of there via Ser Dontos? All the clues are right there hiding for you in plain sight. I’m thinking a forensics teams would have a field day with the poison cup. The fingerprints alone are astounding. In evidence collection, we call this “chain of custody.” The cup goes from Tyrion to Joffrey to Sansa back to Tyrion back to Joffrey to Margaery to the table setting in front of Olenna and Mace Tyrell back to Tyrion back to Joffrey. Watch the cup, folks.


Game of Thrones S4E1 “Two Swords” [Thirteen Things]


1)      I love the opening credits, generally speaking. Back when I knew next to nothing about GoT, and hadn’t read the books yet, and only decided to check out the first episode on a whim when it premiered because it was “that thing” that Sean T. Collins kept going on and on about, the credits sequence was basically what instantly hooked me, thinking “huh, this is going to be different.” The way it presented the world by being as physically inverse as it is thematically, the projection of the continents on the inside of a globe wrapped around the sun-sphere, the way that the clockwork mechanisms visually propped the cities up, mirroring the political machinations occurring within them. That said, I was a little disappointed not to see Sunspear in Dorne. It was great seeing the Dreadfort, but why show that and Pyke if nothing’s going to happen in those places and we don’t see any of those players in this episode? With the introduction of Oberyn Martell, I thought Sunspear was a lock. I also would’ve liked to see these places when it was appropriate, or look forward to hopefully seeing them in the future: Craster’s Keep, The Fist of The First Men, Shadow Tower, Highgarden, the Stormlands, and Casterly Rock. But, I realize the credits have limited run-time and just can’t cram everything in, as delightful as the prospect might be, though there are some odd inconsistencies with how places are used.

2)      I had to rewind the reforging of Ice in order to ensure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. How great this was played, with “The Rains of Castamere” subtly intertwined with the regular Game of Thrones theme music.

3)      It seems like the consensus is that everyone’s “favorite” scene was at the inn with The Hound and Arya. I can understand that. By the end, Arya makes her kills and it’s a good example of how the show manipulates us and creates a conflicted emotional state. We’re so programmed to respond to righteous vengeance associated with a protagonist, and those moments for the characters we like are so few in GoT, that we’re half rooting for Arya, but the other half is thinking how tragic it is that this little kid is being socialized into becoming a cold-blooded killer. It was tough for me to reconcile that, and that's what the show excels at.

4)      Laura Hudson made a good point in her write-up of the ep at Wired, about how there just isn’t the prototypical good guy/bad guy divide in GoT. It’s been a foundational philosophical tenet of the universe forever. That binary divide is never suggested because real life isn’t that simple. Yeah, the show might ask us to believe in dragons, but it also never asks us to believe that “the good guys” must always prevail. There’s no such thing. The ostensible "protagonist" is as elusive a concept as the fairy tale notion that they must inevitably "win" in order to complete a storyline. So, characters are not shrouded in that “cloak of the protagonist,” as she put it. I thought that phrasing was brilliant. 

5)      My favorite scene was actually seeing Jon Snow appear before the council of Janos Slynt, Alliser Thorne, and Maester Aemon. There’s a significant change in Jon here necessary for the arc of his character. Leadership is sometimes about thinking outside the box, and breaking rules if the rules are stupid and need to be changed. Essentially, he’s like, yeah, I fucked Ygritte, killed Qhorin Halfhand, and we can sit here and debate all of your little rules that I broke, but meanwhile Mance Rayder is on his way with 100,000 wildlings, giants, Thenns, and who knows what else, to attack THIS motherfucking castle. Your Move, Night's Watch. It reminds me of how Stannis Baratheon has a similar thread: Yeah, I got my ass kicked at Blackwater Bay, I’m the rightful heir of Robert – though nobody seems to care, and we can all get sucked into this dumb war, but a REAL leader would protect the realm from the REAL threat. I’m going to act like The King. Fuck It. I’m going to The Wall. Aemon’s line made me laugh out loud too, was not expecting that deadpan delivery of “I grew up in King’s Landing.”

6)      It seems like we come in on the tail end of a conversation between Jon and Sam. He’s obviously learned of Robb’s fate and all that’s changed since he’s been North of The Wall, yet there’s no overt mention of Sam having encountered Bran. I understand the utility in getting in and out of scenes as early and late as possible, but dude, seems like Sam woulda’ been all Chatty Cathy bursting about Bran, though I’m sure it occurred off screen.

7)      Sophie Turner is an incredible actress. Maybe the most underrated on the show, and I love what she’s doing with Sansa. She’s probably where she’d absolutely least like to be, but whether she knows it or not, Sansa is learning to survive – physically, emotionally, and politically. I’m so taken with Sean T. Collins’ thought that when it’s all said and done, one day in the future we might just see Queen Sansa Stark sitting the Iron Throne, and the last surviving characters could partially comprise her Queensguard and Small Council. I don’t know how that squares with the R+L=J Theory, or the whole Three Heads of The Dragon deal, but it’s a great thought nonetheless.

8)      I didn’t mind the actor switch for Daario Naharis. If nothing else, this guy is way better to look at. The old actor sort of captured the over-the-top sexual lothario buffoonery that might be more true to the book, but I couldn’t stand looking at a dude who seemed like he just stepped off a porn set in San Fernando. At least the new actor, purely physically, looks like someone Daenerys could plausibly fall for. He’s a man and not a pretty boy. It just works better for TV. It’s also worth noting that plenty of actor switches have occurred, from The Mountain, to Tommen, to Beric Dondarrion.

9)      As interesting as they try to make it, and as terrific as seeing Master Kraznys get his due was (I mean, I’ve probably re-watched him say “You speak Valyrian?!” and Missandei shoot him THAT LOOK a dozen times now, I have a huge crush on Nathalie Emmanuel, by the way), and as much as I love seeing anything with Jorah Mormont and Barristan Selmy, I’m growing a little weary of Dany’s trudge from city to city. I understand it’s important for the development of her character arc, but the march from Qarth to Astapor to Yunkai to Meereen is becoming just as repetitive and monotonous as it is in the books. It’s why I had to sometimes fight the urge to tune out the stuff happening in Essos when reading. It’s interesting to see how they’re continually dealing with that on the show.

10)   I didn’t mind not seeing Theon/Reek in this episode, because he’s entering a period where he’s less interesting than he was. Theon’s fall is full of so much sadness and regret that it makes for great watching, less so the period he’s about to enter. It does make me wonder how much of the Greyjoy stuff going on back at Pyke at beyond will be eliminated in the show for the sake of clarity and time constraints.

11)   I found myself kinda’ missing Jojen Reed. Weird. Dude is just a phenomenal young actor, with such intense screen presence. But, hey, it’s a large cast obviously and you can’t get to everyone in 50 minutes or whatever. It’s also worth pointing out that there is SO MUCH ground this season has to cover in order to wrap up Book 3 and start to track events in Book 4. By my count, there are like seven MAJOR things this season has to get to, and I’m fairly certain it’ll start next episode (I have it mapped out in my head, what a nerd). At that rate, it’s nearly one MAJOR moment per episode. If they do this right, it’ll make The Red Wedding look tame by comparison.

12)   It was great seeing all of the dissention occurring within House Lannister. I mean, nobody is getting along. Tywin is so disappointed with all of his kids for different reasons. Cersei and Jaime are on the outs. Cersei can’t stand Tyrion. I’m looking forward to a conversation between Tyrion and Jaime.

13)   Olenna Tyrell is just a delight every time she’s on screen. Seeing her relationship with Margaery, the intelligence, and care, and charm of it all, it makes me think that this is an interesting juxtaposition, the Lannisters and the Tyrells. Both powerful, wealthy, well thought of families from the West with tons of influence. I wonder if the Tyrells is what rearing children with love and respect looks like, instead of fear and dominance like the Lannisters. Margaery and Olenna are like the flipped version of what people like Tywin and Cersei COULD have been.


4.09.14 [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 #6 (Image): Chris Dingess has a way with words. Whether it’s Lewis & Clark being just flat out exasperated, repeatedly, about the “absurd” nature of flora infected animals, the way one redacted word changes the nature of a government report to soften the language and whitewash the official record, or the brilliantly short, crisp, and declarative Hemingway style line: “Lewis. Greek Fire. Now.” it’s clear that Dingess loves the language and can make it do what he wants, to great effect. This issue is basically an extended action sequence perfectly rendered by Matthew Roberts, as the Corps of Discovery flees their immediate area, from one calamity to the next – enduring everything from bears to skunks to sinkholes, while suffering heavy casualties. From the organic mind-altering pharmacological qualities of the flora they encounter, to the friendship extant between Lewis & Clark, to the arrival of Sacagawea, it’s also clear that this is one of the best colored comics today at the hands of Owen Gieni. Despite their heavy losses, the Corps trudges forward essentially reliant on their burgeoning American Spirit, a sense of the hopeful amid the horrific. The creative team also indicates that the narrative plan is to move the Corps of Discovery all the way to the Pacific Ocean and traverse back across the Louisiana Purchase for what should be an extended run. I couldn’t be happier about all that story left on the horizon. This is good comics, and if you’re not checking it out, you’re missing one of the best books of the year. Grade A+.

Star Wars #16 (Dark Horse): One of the things I’ve always loved about Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica, or any fully realized sci-fi really, was a sense of dedication to the military/procedural tactical bits. With all the talk of the Z-95 Headhunters (which were durable, if somewhat clunky precursors to the Incom T-65 X-Wings) and shots of the CR-90 Corvettes and A-Wings in the distance, this issue delivers enough of that to satisfy the tech junkies. What I loved most about the way Brian Wood, Stephane Crety, and Gabe Eltaeb constructed this issue was all the foreshadowing that occurs both visually and thematically to ESB and what occurs on Hoth, which is one of my favorite cinematic experiences, like, ever. It all culminates with a last page reveal that is pretty damn familiar and smartly builds a sense of dread in the reader. The issue is really focused on the on-ground realities of the deal the Rebel Alliance struck with Arrochar. Grunts on the front lines have to carry out an arrangement made at a high political level, and that creates some tension that Luke finds himself in the middle of. In the Arrochar Mountain Ranger sequence, there’s a small goof where one of Luke’s speech balloons is attributed to a Ranger, but otherwise this was an extremely solid issue that shows success is about more than equipment and brave pilots, yet without adequate tech being used as a tool, victory can also be hampered. There’s a precarious balance to warfare, and the creative team captures the feeling of the rebels being perpetually on the run against great odds, politically, personally, and militarily. Grade A.

Astro City #11 (DC/Vertigo): This incarnation of Astro City has seen Kurk Busiek and Brent Anderson largely focusing on what would otherwise be bit players and thrusting them into the spotlight. This time out, it’s the Executive Administrative Assistant to the world’s most powerful sorcerer. She’s juggling everything from PR appearances, to research for complex spell-casting, to attempted incursions from other dimensions, in addition to eking out time for her own personal interests. Busiek has a way of taking these everyman POV characters and imbuing them with such rich details and alternate perceptions of grand events, that these peripheral throwaway elements (which is what they would be in any other book by a lesser writer) become the main focus of the story. It’s actually an ingenious method of amping up the world building, in a way that focusing on main players and their grand deeds just doesn’t seem to allow. These are the unsung heroes, the glue that holds everything together behind the scenes. Brent Anderson has been an interesting choice of collaborator for Busiek all of these years they’ve been creating Astro City stories. While Anderson is certainly an accomplished artist who can handle panel to panel storytelling with great clarity, his style isn’t the flashiest or most popular. It reminds me of a great musical score, the kind of thing that is always present in the background, but if it’s doing its job successfully and influencing your mood, you hardly notice it at all, it never steps in front of the writing, allowing you to absorb the events fully. Grade A.

Shutter #1 (Image): I’ve sort of always had a problem with “funny” comics. I guess I like gravitas in my art. Shutter isn’t a “funny” book per se, but it’s certainly very light-hearted. It almost feels like a  light-hearted version of Planetary at times, in the way Kate Kristopher and her ancestors are all about exploring the world’s great unknown. Joe Keatinge does a superb job with some instant characterization by having Kate say “The Moon’s BORing!” the very first time we meet her. Shutter has what can basically be considered an all-star creative team, in the experience of Joe Keatinge, the balance of grounded realism, fantastical flourishes, and rich syrupy ink in the art of Leila Del Duca, lighting and effervescent colors by Owen Gieni, and rock star letterer/writer Ed Brisson (and don’t forget the inimitable Tim Leong on design!). While it seems much too predictable that Kate will be pulled toward her destiny and "the family business” kicking and screaming, and it avoids some of the more interesting world-building bits in favor of a recalcitrant protagonist, I’m curious to see where it will go, and was entertained by the glorious reveal of an alt future NYC infected by the multiverse. In Kate, I think we have at least the potential for a truly modern protagonist with the ability to remember her past, yet transcend it, with plenty of imaginative adventuring in the process. It's not quite there yet, but we'll see. Grade A-.

East of West #11 (Image): East of West is a book that I’ve always been impressed by visually, a book that I enjoy reading because of the imaginative world-building and its awesome origins in a prolonged Civil War met by a mysterious Armistice, which led to the creation of (basically) North, South, Texas, Native American, African American, and Maoist Nations all cobbled together in lieu of the United States. I mean, I love shit like that. But, something about it has always bothered me. I could never quite put my finger on it. Nick Dragotta’s art has a stark beauty to it, it’s sort of clinically precise and clean, just killing it on facial expressions and a sense of “lean-ness” that permeates the page, foregrounds, backgrounds, everything. It was clear that this issue was designed as a breather, or as a jumping on point, as it (somewhat expositionally) recaps the history of the Great Nations, reminds us of the exile of Death because of his child with a Daughter of Mao, his return, the remaining Horsemen racing to the Apocalypse, and the role of The Chosen in occasionally allying with them. We sort of know what’s going on, but sometimes I would wonder why? There are great characters in Xiolian and Archibald and Bel Solomon and Rangers and numbered Princes from The Kingdom and so on and so forth. It’s not often that I feel the need to deliberately look to other reviews to help clarify my own position, but I did that with East of West #11 and found this great review over at Front Towards Gamer. Most of you probably won’t click through to that link, so what I took away from it was twofold. One, great world-building (which East of West surely possesses) without clear character motivations is a huge storytelling problem. That’s what was bugging me about East of West! I loved the world-build. I could piece together what was happening, both chronologically in the macro timeline, and on the micro scale from issue to issue, but I never really understood why it was happening. Why are any of these characters doing what they’re doing? Two, East of West is trying to blend multiple genres together, everything from politics to sci-fi to Western. It does that by alternately focusing on characters like Death, The Horsemen, and some of the Great Nations Leaders. But, when you focus on one, the others suffer, and the whole thing begins to unravel because the book can’t decide from a genre standpoint which it wants to be about in any given issue. In other words, it’s like three workable ideas mashed together making for a sometimes muddled composition. Grade B+.


4.02.14 [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.

Black Science #5 (Image): I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating how color can change everything. You take Matteo Scalera art and put Moreno Dinisio over it (Dead Body Road) and the end result is that it looks like Tradd Moore art, but here (which I prefer stylistically), you take Matteo Scalera art and put Dean White over it and the end result is that it looks like Jerome Opena. Speaking of Opena, if you were a fan of Fear Agent (and you should be) and wanted more rock n’ roll sci-fi, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be reading Black Science. Rick Remender offers very rich sci-fi with clipped alien languages, the feel of truly exotic settings, and a strong central premise about Eververse time-jumping through “The Onion” via The Pillar. When you add in the familial bonds, the “Lies, Lies, Lies” we expose our kids to in this adventurous life – plus the lengths we’re willing to go to in order to protect our children, then it becomes an Indie Fantastic Four x Modernized Lost in Space proposition. With plenty of forced perspective shots and low-slung camera angles, there’s killer energy to Scalera’s action scenes. Remender pens the best issue of the series yet, with high stakes sci-fi that answers some questions by identifying the mysterious "Blue Rider" (my term), and confirms the identity of the saboteur, but leaves us mid-air with a crazy two-page cliffhanger and a macro-narrative that hints at a larger mystery. It’s really heating up, and we’re finally starting to see the big picture of what the series is actually about. Grade A+.

Pretty Deadly #5 (Image): The “previously in” text makes things clear in ways that have occasionally been lacking in the narrative itself. Similarly, on the art front, I’ve had trouble distinguishing characters and parsing the clarity of action sequences at times, but this issues builds to a bluster that’s very satisfying. With a duel in the desert from Kelly Sue DeConnick, and killer art collages from Emma Rios, Ginny “The Reaper” and Sissy “The Ascendant” finally join forces and make their fated journey. There are times when I think DeConnick’s writing leans too far toward poetic license in lieu of narrative clarity, events told in omniscient prophecy speak vs. pointed dialogue that flirts with the show vs. tell rule, all symbolic Butterflies and Bunnies as it were, so it’s definitely fun to read, lovely to look at, but still a touch difficult to parse. That’s the rub, “different” is a double-edged sword, and Pretty Deadly has always displayed this creative predilection. It’s probably 51% brave and 49% foolish to some, but I’ll happily take that gamble. Whereas Black Science executed a relatively simple premise flawlessly this week, Pretty Deadly takes a more complex approach to its plethora of ideas and acquits itself admirably. Aside from the obvious “moments” in an issue full of moments that make great books, I was particularly taken by Mason’s conversation with Sissy about death (the concept, not the entity). It’s always fascinating to see writers infuse work with their personal lives. I remember thinking that Brian Wood writing Northlanders was just a subconscious exercise in him trying to keep his kids safe in a rapidly evolving world, and here I think Kelly Sue DeConnick is a parent crafting an elaborate play in an effort to explain mortality to her own children. There’s so much to like, from colorist Jordie Bellaire literally lighting the fire, to literally showing gallows humor, to action that is literally Death-defying. While those are all literally and figuratively true, it’s a fact that this was a startlingly good denouement to the first volume, one which deserves heaps of praise as one of the best single issues of the year. Grade A+.

The Field #1 (Image): Simon Roy’s slightly hasty lines are alternately anemic and plump, capturing the right manic energy for Ed Brisson’s new creator owned book. Brisson’s dialogue flows so very well, with each successive project he proves that he’s been reading his William Faulkner and killing darlings, his scripts always function effortlessly with so few words, really placing trust in his artistic collaborators and his own ability to capture the right beats in his scripting. The powerful colors from Simon Gough run dark to dangerous, giving the right feel to a story that’s full of blind unpredictability and subtle clues in the text and in the visuals. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what this genre was, beyond the oblique “mystery,” or how ostensibly likable it or any of the protagonists were really going to be, but as something totally unique, for that alone it deserves an issue or two to see how its three threads/groups/settings develop, especially that cleverly inserted flashback, and the hint of a cyclical nature. By the end at the diner scene, it absolutely explodes with raw, brutal, and uncomfortable satirical notes in the tradition of Joe Casey and Steve Parkhouse’s The Milkman Murders, or Ken Kristensen and MK Perker’s Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth. I’m definitely on board to see what can be done with the fusion of all this mystery, horror, and satire at the hands of some very skilled creators. Grade A-.

Starlight #2 (Image): I’m still enjoying Mark Millar’s Starlight because of how it deals with our perceptions of fame, and the grand premise of Buck Rogers coming out of retirement for another campaign to save the cosmos is such a subtly simple and earnest proposition. But, because of that it’s deeply enjoyable, it’s fun, it’s got the purity of spirit of a Saturday morning cartoon from the 1980’s. In an era when many comics are still relatively dark, it’s refreshing to watch this just play out, and enjoy a book for what it is in the most basic terms. Goran Parlov’s art makes the sci-fi sequences feel foreign, yet not so outlandish that it becomes inaccessible. There’s a certain rugged unevenness to Parlov’s lines that captures the strength and the equivocation of Duke McQueen’s predicament, and I enjoyed his new friend who has the makings of a plucky sidekick as Duke gleefully exonerates himself on the way out of town. From John Cassaday to Bill Sienkiewicz, it’s also worth pointing out that the guys deserve major props for their cover artists of choice. Starlight sort of reminds me of something like The Last Starfighter, a piece of pop culture that embraces the camp of its own tropes and just charges confidently forward. Grade A-.

Secret #7 (Image): Jonathan Hickman’s Secret has faltered a bit because of lengthy delays and now an extended narrative thrust spread out over several issues. Yet, there’s still an indirect intrigue to events at the intersection of government, crime, and control, of the aggregation of capital and influence that goes on behind the scenes. Secret may just dance around what it’s truly about, always on the periphery of complete understanding, from “the Steadman problem,” to the nebulous “American side of the equation” vs. “The Russians,” or the ever-present “Kodiak,” without ever really reminding the reader of anything beyond these oblique euphemisms, but it can’t be argued the art is anything short of fantastic. Ryan Bodenheim has always used a clean austerity that’s alternately stoic, intense, or even sexy, but here he seems to add some Gabriel Rodriguez style emotion to everything. Michael Garland’s colors also do the dance in bold fashion, from monochromatic neutrality to pops of iconic red to punch the emotion up. While it might be my fault for not recollecting what any of this has to do with anything else, and quipping that it’ll “read better collected” than in isolated bursts (which really isn’t meant to be a pejorative!), single issues do feel a bit like we’re eavesdropping in on a conversation without much context. Grade A-.


3.26.14 [Weekly Reviews]

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

Hacktivist #3 (Archaia): When I worked at Cisco for 11 years, my CEO John Chambers used to say that the internet is “the great equalizer,” in that access -> information -> communication -> influence -> control, and I’ve always been fascinated by these logic chains. I sometimes use the "Education = Knowledge = Power = Respect" loop when I conduct training classes. Anyway, you can see that first concussive logic chain present in the textual theory of Hacktivist. If you’ve been paying attention to what’s been going on in places like Turkey, then you know that Hacktivist is one of the most relevant books currently available. There’s a bit of role reversal here from writers Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly, because Nate is now stepping up to provide leadership for the company, out of the shadow of Ed, who many saw as the brains of the operation. Meanwhile, with Ed in the field in Tunisia, it puts him in a much more hands-on tactical role instead of the strategic cloud-pushing he was probably used to. There’s some nice dramatic tension created by placing these guys in unfamiliar roles. As much as I loved the Silicon Valley bits in the preceding issue, the action on the streets of Tunisia was phenomenal here as well, as Ed encounters Sirine and Beya. There’s an undercurrent of an idea here I like, that things like transformative companies (be it Apple, Cisco, or YourLife) or the heart of a movement are not really these big nebulous concepts, they’re just comprised of individual people. The tech is still slick as hell, centered on the notion of complex pattern recognition, or a system of offline decentralized networks that tickles our futurist fancy. Marcus To is killing it on art, quickly improving with each successive issue. There’s a dynamic realism to his art, which is grounded enough to be believable, yet kinetic enough to capture the daring raids of what feels like a cinematic thriller. Deron Bennett deserves a special shout for lettering, particularly the way he composes the novel progression from English to Arabic to French in one key conversation, using some fresh linguistic cues. I’ve been championing this series down at the LCS as one of the best books of the year, and encouraging people not to dismiss it as a Hollywood vanity project just because Alyssa Milano’s name is attached. Hacktivist is the real deal. With only one issue left, I’ll be sad to see it end. But, here’s hoping that Archaia will collect it in a swanky hardcover with their lush production values, and it’ll experience multiple lives, first in the book market, and then for the horde at SDCC this year. Grade A.

The Bunker #2 (Oni Press): Joshua Hale Fialkov and Joe Infurnari continue the deepening mystery of The Bunker. The central premise of discovering notes from your future self is such a pure and engaging idea. Do you trust your future self? Do you blindly follow what the notes indicate? What does this say about free will vs. fate? They’re meat-y thematic notions to chew on, and Infurnari’s sketchy raw art matches the high emotion and uncertainty of a story concerned with The Butterfly Effect. From singular events like a bomb in downtown San Francisco, to genetically manipulated foods and mass extinction, the world-build has the characters agonizing over every decision, and creating a taut drama for the audience. Grade A.

The Wake #7 (DC/Vertigo): Sean Murphy delivers an absolute visual feast in this issue, with converted cruise ships and rigged Sanford & Sons zeppelins. While it’s true that most of the issue is dedicated to an action sequence and feels like merely a slice of the larger whole, there’s a fairly important revelation that toward the end that could shake up the internal mythology something fierce. I still maintain that WB will be crazy for not exercising their built-in option on Vertigo properties and milking The Wake; Scott Snyder has delivered a cool world-build surrounding an alt future America, which has the right level of pop for an adaptation to film. Grade A-.

3.26.14 [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.

Umbral #5 (Image): Whoa, last week it was Wasteland and The Fuse, and this week it’s Umbral. Anyway, I’ll try not to bury the lead and say that this is the best issue to date. There are many small moments you could probably call out to justify this, because Umbral has so much going on, the humor around the reappearance of Prince Arthir, the gorgeous way that panels sit on top of full bleed art pages, or the killer world-build from writer Antony Johnston, evidenced in the mutual distrust of the Azqari and the Yuilanguan, that’s Shayim the “sand-swine” vs. Munty the “baby-eater.” There’s Chris Mitten’s slick art flourishes, the guys always seem to be experimenting a bit with new ways to convey information (for example, I was blown away by the spellspeak symbolettering a couple issues back), such as the emotive “spikes” coming out of the heads of some characters, almost a manga affectation, to express surprise or recognition. There’s the colors of Jordan Boyd, which just seem to glow like candlelight at all the right times, to illuminate the pages with a sense of light cascading from one source across the page. It’s really well done. But, all of that said, the piece de resistance that this issue showcases is the aesthetic nostalgia of the alt creation myth that fuels the world of Umbral. It’s almost like it’s the “final” world-building issue and, from a structural standpoint, Johnston had to get it into the initial arc for inclusion in the first trade. Bathed in some desaturated colors, we finally meet Tenebros and Luxan, along with Umbrith, and of course, there must be jealousy, envy, and unnatural manipulation in a story that feels like equal parts Greek Tragedy, Norse Mythology, and Shakespearean Machinations. We see (get ready for it all, topical spoiler alert, I guess?) the rise of the Shadow Creatures, The Shadow War, an early sorcerer named Culin (looking like a Ruin Runner when we first meet him, yeah, about 7 of my readers will get that reference), The Peak sublimated into The Pit, the rise of a hero named Strakan, and the reason magic and religion were finally outlawed, one of the most intriguing premises of Umbral for me back when I heard Johnston speak of “the new book” in interviews long before it debuted. Aside from the creative pedigree of Johnston and Mitten, that was the line that got me, magic happenings in a world that had outlawed magic and religion. There was something deliciously G.R.R. Martin about that, the return of a thing long thought relegated to history that signaled paradigm shift. We’re just five issues in, and already the creative team has shown a fantastic willingness to offer something so rich and realized. Individual comics are sometimes treated as throwaway items by even the people who create them, but Johnston, Mitten, Boyd, and Mauer treat them as lost artifacts of some depth, as a tactile objet d’art which can be pored over, line, verse, and panel, inviting the audience to linger for the enveloping experience. Grade A+.

Deadly Class #3 (Image): This was a really strong issue that momentarily moves away from the high concept of the book in favor of some great characterization from Rick Remender. Marcus and his new pal are off on their first task and as they run this gauntlet, it becomes apparent that it’s really just Marcus looking to belong somewhere, looking for a place he fits, which he’s never really had before, and literally trying to find a cool person to hang with. There’s a lot of emotional honesty created in this issue, not so much that it makes the kids seem too precocious, as is often the case in pop culture, but just like smart kids talking honestly. The interpersonal dynamics have these two guys truly seeing other’s motivations, what they have to offer each other, and what the school could offer them, a budding friendship or an interesting partnership at the least. This is all contrasted with Marcus’ need to overanalyze his actions obsessively. I maybe have a quibble or two with things like the dropped gun discharging accidentally, but the quick bout of process stuff makes up for that. Wes Craig is basically one of the best artists out there right now, and I don’t even know where this guy came from! Did I miss him? Was he working on something else prior to this, or is Deadly Class his big coming out party? With Lee Loughridge’s colors over him, it’s all about stylish layouts and askew inset panels, and these small scale silhouettes, they’re pulling all kinds of vintage Frank Miller moves, and there’s even some Caniff and Gould callbacks in the corners of the smiles. There’s an understanding of the history of the craft present in Craig’s art, yet it hums with enough energy to run with all of his modern contemporaries that are currently killing it at Image Comics. Grade A.

Sex #12 (Image): Well, if you ever wanted to see Joe Casey writing Batman back when he was toiling away on work-for-hire projects at Marvel and DC, then here he is subverting nearly everything about that standard fare, totally turning it inside out and upside down. He takes the common genre tropes of superhero, sidekick, and femme fatale, and puts them in some interesting predicaments, essentially just to see what will happen. He’s confessed in the backmatter that it’s a grand experiment, that he’s more concerned with seeing what happens post-event, the “event” here being superhero origin followed by superhero-fights-villain. Most stories end there, Casey picks things up years after that, in the same way that Robert Kirkman postulated all those years ago, “what happens after the zombie movie is over?” As we see from Joe Casey and artist Piotr Kowalski, both Simon (as the Bruce Wayne CEO stand-in) and Annabelle (as the Catwoman femme fatale analogue) are typically inundated with mundane business problems instead of any superheroics, Keenan (the sidekick, the characters who usually flit in and out of the role) is the only one really interested in the life any more, for all the good it does him. In this world, we see sexuality instead of the typical vigilantism as the prime psychological driver for the majority of the characters. It’s fairly brilliant, pervasive, yet still subtle somehow, and you’re got to marvel at Casey’s willingness to stick to the pattern despite the slow burn it creates narratively. Kowalski’s flat glossy finish is interesting, because it sort of belies the complex topsy-turvy universe that Saturn City has become in the wake of its post-trope heyday. Sex may ultimately be a flawed experiment in terms of the typical narrative engagement that most readers anticipate, but it’s deeply engaging thematically. It’s something that Casey always does in his projects, deliberately tinkering with something specific, and it gets more interesting the more time that goes on and you can start to see these thematic patterns emerging. Grade A-.

Real Heroes #1 (Image): Real Heroes isn’t really the type of book I’d normally investigate, but a man is sent a PDF so a man reads the PDF. Bryan Hitch attempts the full monty here, writing, art, and all, and that’s cool, follow your heart, if you’re primarily known as an artist and you want to try your hand at writing, then have at it, I say. Go. Do that thing. Be that thing. It’s just, I don’t know, there was this book called The Authority. You may have heard of it? So, you take a little bit of your deep familiarity with that (which is already sort of a send-up of a thing or two) and then you use that to send up clueless celeb culture, which sort of makes for a thing already sending up a thing, now sending up another thing, and then you try to wring some high concept tongue-in-cheek premise out of that, and the indictment goes too far to be believable and just strains plausibility. It feels like Hitch bounced these ideas off of his buddy Mark Millar a time or two, so it’s derivative and a tortured belabored premise, and a bunch of other mean words, that you can just see coming 10 miles out, then you sort of watch it play out rather unimaginatively, as it careens off the shock porn intro of 9/11, bonks into Nightwing’s costume, pinballs through all the stock swipe-y superhero archetypes at Marvel and DC, and jabs at their Hollywoodization, and by the time you meet a guy named Chris Reynolds, you realize they could have also called him Ryan Evans and gotten the same flat joke, and then the book is over and you wonder what to do with the PDF since if people really wanted to read Mark Millar, they’d just read Mark Millar, so why would you need Mark Millar Lite? The art is perfectly serviceable if you wanted something better than the generic DC house style in a way that latter period 90’s WildStorm comics were, yet it never hits the majesty of someone like Brent Anderson, or the pristine clarity of someone like John Cassaday, just kind of going through the motions as middling art for a middling premise, never really rising above the spandex muddy inks and two-dimensional superhero trappings that spawned it. Umm. Your mileage may vary? Grade C+.


The Massive #21 @ Comics Bulletin

 I reviewed this week's The Massive #21 over at Comics Bulletin.