Journey Into Satire

Godland #1-5 (Image): I find myself smiling a lot when I read this book. So hokey, but so enjoyable. Some really nice nods to the Fantastic Four and other 1960's Marvel tropes, as well as Kirby's 70's DC work with Mister Miracle and The New Gods. The depth of self-awareness that this book demonstrates makes it thoroughly entertaining. Casey's scripting is so intensely and deliberately representational of the genre that it marches proudly into satire and self-parody.

It reminds me of an interview I saw with the Desperate Housewives creator who said that the show was intended as a comedy because it was so saturated with mocking, self-aware jabs at the soap opera genre, but everyone missed it and took it at face value as an engaging drama. And since we’re talking TV, this series also reminds me of The Simpsons in that it can work in a dual fashion. I think that kids could really get a kick out of the kooky shenanigans going on in this series, lots of action and pseudo-science. That Kirby look that Scioli is channeling would also be seen as totally original and different to young readers. But industry veterans could appreciate the double-entendres and self-referential bits.

It cracks me up how this tongue-in-cheek homage to the Lee-Kirby era, complete with praise from Entertainment Weekly, can include the term "orgasmic" on the first page of issue 4 and take shots at Condy Rice and get away with it! But, I love how fun this is! And what the heck is Discordia doing to poor Neela on that contraption? Totally enjoying the sordid melodrama and Casey's process of introducing a new character every issue, which feels totally organic and not at all like the novelty I thought it would. I nominate Basil Cronus as the villain of the year! Don't miss this series. Grade A.

And I just have to give a shout out to the ad for Dan Brereton's Giantkiller. One of my favorite mini-series of all time, *finally* collected, courtesy of Image.

11.23.05 Reviews

Zatanna #4 (DC): As with most of the Seven Soldiers stories, this seems to lack some focus or a readily apparent throughline that connects the individual mini series with eachother or even with themselves. Morrison is dropping Crisis references, Sheeda references, and many others I'm sure I'm missing. Not particularly accessible and overly obtuse, even for Morrison. But Ryan Sook's art is still a superb sight to see, pushing us up to a Grade B.

Conan #22 (Dark Horse): Very satisfying wrap up to the Tower of the Elephant arc. Kaluta's guest artist offering involving the origin of Yogah of Yag and an alternate history for much of the Conan-verse was a really impressive treat and executed in a lush, loose style. It was totally climactic amid a series of issues that have sometimes slipped into slow plotting and a less than engaging read. Enjoyed Conan being portrayed as a novice here, humble before the otherworldy power of Yogah and asking questions of the master thief. Grade A.

Ex Machina #16 (DC/Wildstorm): A suprising conclusion to the "other" origin of Mayor Mitchell Hundred, his non-superhero background. I think some critics will claim that this is a weak arc and an anti-climactic resolution, but I really enjoyed the change of pace. Seeing the origin of the man, and not The Great Machine, along with him proving he can be a hero even without powers (in the way he handled the biker/sheriff posse) was quite satisfying. Will we see more of his powers leading him astray? Grade A.

Frankenstein #1 (DC): This was really creepy, so much so that I feel weird recommending it. But if for no other reason than it being different and original, I will. It also feels like some of the superstory and Seven Soldiers jibba-jabba is starting to coalesce here and gain some structure. A cautiously optimistic Grade B.


One Of NBM's Finest

Trailers (NBM/ComicsLit): Mark Kneece and Julie Collins-Rousseau offer up a very strong tale in the tradition of Stray Bullets, reminiscent of David Lapham’s work both in terms of writing style and art execution. The dark and sordid affair involves the botched attempted cover up of an accidental murder. There are some painfully funny beats here as nothing seems to go right for protagonist Josh. The real delight is seeing his struggle to transcend his surroundings and do anything resembling an act of responsibility. The scenes with would-be girlfriend Michelle are a real heartfelt treat. I love the way the writing idolizes her as a caring, insightful young woman who is courageous and confident beyond her youth. Grade B+.

Also wanted to give a quick shout out to NBM’s standard tag line which I think is lovely and can be found in the majority of their offerings: Novels in the true sense about exploring our lives, our feelings, our experiences. At times uplifting, at times controversial – always insightful and enriching. Here are the most intelligent comics the world has to offer.


Straczynski's Squadron

Supreme Power #1-18 (Marvel/MAX): In a lot of ways, Supreme Power is the exact opposite of something like Superman/Batman. And I don't mean that in a negative way, it just goes to show that you can have wildly different approaches to storytelling and still present a very entertaining package. At the most basic level, Supreme Power is Marvel and not DC. It focuses on somewhat familiar character archetypes rather than big gun properties which are household names. The storytelling is very decompressed, rather than the in your face brawl of say: Batman, Superman, and Supergirl taking on Darkseid on Apokolips. And of course, the MAX line is definitely for mature readers as opposed to the come-one, come-all approach that Supes/Bats is meant to occupy in the marketplace. Supreme Power is a fantastic read and really deserves the MAX label, not for nudity or language, but for the very adult and complex themes that are presented.

The main characters we've been introduced to are becoming increasingly bogged down in this bureaucratic morass that would likely surround an individual with these types of powers. In their attempts to be good samaritans or to just "help people" their intent becomes convoluted within political posturing and the media's perception. I'm reminded of the saying "Do a great right; one must do a little wrong." While trying to save people's lives, the speedster character discovers that he has broken half a dozen laws. All of this serves to beg the question, if super powered individuals did exist, would they, should they be held to the same criminal and civil liability as anyone else? If they're not, what would this do to the supposed egalitarian fabric of society? All the while, you can really feel something building within Supreme Power.

Each of the characters are slowly being forced out of the conventional roles they've been living in. As something uncomfortable brews, each of them is being pushed a little closer to one another, ultimately we assume, culminating with the formation of a team that stands above or beside normal society. Joe and the aquatic woman have a bond. Mark Milton is totally disenfranchised, a loner. Power Princess is running amok, directionless. The speedster character is about to burst out of his corporate sponsored confines. And Nighthawk has long been living on the fringe of acceptable societal norms. I can't wait until all of these seemingly disparate elements converge.

This series is the most intelligent analysis of the superhero paradigm that I've seen since Watchmen. Yeah, it's that good. Flawless execution of writing, penciling, inking, panel rendering, and a general sense of dramatic plausibility. This book has tremendous attitude and a dark tone, yet is simultaneously thoughtful and insightful with a twinge of hope. Probably my favorite Marvel Comic in the last 10 years. Straczynski's best work to date. Grade A.

Retailers Doin’ It Right – Part 1

Today we shine the spotlight on Lee’s Comics. What Lee brings to the industry is vision. I’ve watched his movements through market shifts for about 12 years now and one thing has remained constant. Lee has an image of what he wants the consumer experience to be like and he executes against that idea to make it a reality for us. His stores simply kick ass. When I walk into a Lee’s Comics location, I calmly muse to myself “Ah, this is how it’s supposed to be.” How could a person not like comics if they were exposed to this place?

The vibe has been cultivated by logical design, freedom of space, and ease of use. It’s warm and intuitive. It looks like an impressive bastion of retail, but is still very welcoming to the untrained eye. Amazing lighting washes over a clean atmosphere and extremely well organized graphic storytelling arena. Great signage denoting new books up front, an expansive array of trades and hardcovers lining the shelves which are broken out by creator or company, and Golden & Silver Age books on the wall. A broad selection in terms of both depth and breadth, evidenced in part by a handsome small press area.

Crafty events attempting to expand the readership. He gets that this is not an option, but a necessity. I see flyers in independent book stores and movie theatre lobbies for signings. And there’s always a sale within a few weeks and a standing discount table with selected items! Thanks for sharing your vision with us, Lee.


[Latin] Deus=God + Ex=From + Machina=Machine

Ex Machina #12-13 (DC/Wildstorm): I'm so happy that this book won an Eisner for Best New Series and Best Writer (for Vaughan) at the recent San Diego Con, hopefully generating more buzz and sales ensuring it will be around for a long time. Vaughan's ear for dialogue, crafting of interesting plots, and unique characterization continue to impress.

Big fan of the Christopher Priest style headers that shift the narrative backward and forward in time. Loving the rhythm and cadence of the speech patterns: "It's not my fault the fucker threw his flare gun into the drink while I was landing his dumbass whirlybird!" I am so on board with every aspect of this book. Brian K. Vaughan's strongest work.

Some may question the plausibility of the Mayor of NYC actually making it past the voir dire phase of jury selection, but suspending that disbelief aside, this is a rockin' book. Top-of-his-game pencils from Tony Harris, beautiful coloring, and warm panel rendering. Also some interesting commentary on the industry embedded here with the comic shop, Clark Kent style reporter, and some of the arcs of the supporting characters going against type.

This book should be selling millions of copies. Yes, I'm talking to you. Buy it in single issues. Buy the trades. Buy it today. Tell your friends to buy it. Give it to your friends and family for Christmas. If you like the writing style of Aaron Sorkin, David Mamet, or Bendis, then this is definitely for you. Grade A+.

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Why Are You Doing This? (Fantagraphics): I was pleasantly surprised to find another offering from this Norwegian powerhouse after thoroughly enjoying his works Tell Me Something and You Can't Get There From Here. The most controversial aspect of this book will probably be that it's his first major work released in the US in full color. Previous offerings have been either pure black and white, or B&W with some sparse magenta or sepia like colors and effects. I was actually worried that the color would detract from the emotive lines and subtle expressions that you're forced to focus on in Jason's work. Thankfully, my worries fled quickly after absorbing this book somewhere around the second page. The color adds a whole other dimension, a vibrant dynamic that lays right on top of the other strong elements.

As usual with Jason's work, there are two primary layers of story at work. Superficially, this is a straightforward and energetic tale about an artist who unknowingly witnesses a murder and then becomes involved in a frame-up for his best friend's murder which is initiated to cover up the first crime.

The subtext really has to do with interpersonal relationships and their motivations. The artist has relationships here with his friend, the woman who takes him in, her daughter, the killer, the police, etc. and they all have their own motivational backing, necessity, dynamic, and outcome. The question Jason ultimately poses with this project is what defines our existence? There is a basic struggle; two competing paradigms. A series of emotional bonds and truly connecting with people on some level vs. traveling through life simply acquiring interesting anecdotal tales to tell. How do you lead your life? Why Are You Doing This? Buy it today. Grade A+.

Thank You, Jessica!

Ever try to explain to someone what a comic book is and what to do with it? Deceptively simple unless you've ever tried to, especially with someone who may have never touched one. During a few of my comic proselytizing missions this has actually come up. Thank goodness for Jessica Abel (whose wonderful book La Perdida you should pick up) who did all the work for us in this handy 2 page visual guide to the medium: http://www.artbomb.net/comics/introgn.jsp

First Impressions...

Firm believer in only getting one chance. Been about a week since I went live, but judging from the email I’ve received, I'm feeling a’ight. Great to hear from some old readers… Joe N. and Jenna, what would I do without you? Why do you guys keep reading this trash? ;-)

I did get a few questions which I thought I’d address. Content, format, frequency, and so forth. The usual suspects as reported by pals who are much more experienced working this venue than yours truly. From a content standpoint, the focus is absolutely comic books. Mostly reviews. But, I’ll be throwing in the occasional non-review missive for general promotion of the industry, as well as the non-comic pop culture items I see fit. Totally on the fly, one of the benefits of having this personal space is that you can do whatever, whenever - though I do want to respect the expectations to some degree. The intent, the focus, is to push quality new material to generate sustainable readership so the industry will survive. Period.

Format wise, a couple things are happening. I would really like to focus on current weekly reviews about a paragraph in length, with the occasional GN or TPB (that’s Graphic Novel or Trade Paper Back, in case you’ve stumbled in here by accident) review that has a more lengthy analysis. However, there are some previously published reviews and articles that I feel are worthy of a wider audience based on the quality of the books, not my writing. So, I’m trying to get caught up on those and concurrently settle into the weekly groove.

As for frequency, I do believe that you have to post with some degree of regularity or it just loses something. So, weekly reviews of new singles. Hopefully a monthly in depth review of a GN or TPB. We’ll get caught up on migrating old reviews. And then sprinkle on the occasional industry article or random nonsense. Cheers.


Enter "The Keep"

The Keep #1 (IDW): I've been waiting for this day for so long! Finally an IDW title that I can get behind. After impressing me with sound production quality alone, finally a writer/artist team who have a vision to share that is more than mere vampires feasting and flashy, non-substantive art clones of Ashley Wood. I wonder if this slight course correction has anything to do with the recent restructuring of the IDW management and editorial staff?

I was immediately taken by the heavily Mignola influenced art style which found an imaginative and soulful balance between black and white with faded blue light sourcing. Really enjoyed the panel rendering and perspective choices. Right from panel four, I was enaged by an ominous telegram and a dense but interesting script. I also liked how the Germans circa WWII were portrayed somewhat objectively and not immediately demonized. Very curious to learn more about the mysterious traveler from Portugal. Equal parts Hellboy, Indiana Jones, and just the right balance of horror. Anxiously awaiting next issue and a track record that drives us higher than Grade B+.

Update: Pondering the greatness of F. Paul Wilson's writing, I did a quick Google search which revealed that he is an award winning author of 36 books and grew up reading EC Comics. The Keep began as a novel, making the New York Times Top 10 List in 1981, enjoyed a lackluster film adaptation courtesy of Michael Mann and Paramount in 1983, and now comes to you as an IDW comic. Learn more about this phenomenal writer: http://www.repairmanjack.com/index2.html

Rant Of The Day

Ok people, listen up. Apostrophes are used to denote contractions or possession, *not* plurality. "Cassy doesn't have any apples" is fine. As is "these are Cassy's apples." But you should never, ever say "Cassy has apple's." So pretty please, with a fucking cherry on top, stop using these wonderful punctuation devices incorrectly.


DCFC Returns!

The latest full length album simply titled Plans from Seattle based Death Cab For Cutie is in stores now. This is one of those albums that Natalie Portman quipped "will change your life." Though their 5th album, it is very much a departure, a dichotomy of style. Laidback and slightly cheery melodies coupled with really dark lyrics like "if the darkness takes you, I hope it takes me too." Imagine a band like Semisonic with their poppy sound, melded with the lyrically driven intensity of lesser known 3EB numbers like "I Want You" and "Darkness." That's Death Cab For Cutie. And it's brilliant.

11.16.05 Reviews

Local #1 (Oni Press): It's taken me a long time to warm up to Brian Wood's writing, but if his latest offerings are any indication of what's to come, consider me a fan. Really enjoyed select issues of the recent Demo series from AiT/Planet Lar such as the beautiful "Mon Dernier Jour Avec Toi" in issue 12. Last week's DMZ #1 also piqued my interest. And Local, with artist Ryan Kelly, is no exception. The premise of using hometowns as a loose backdrop for interesting and literal coming of age tales is really enhanced by Wood's growing ear for realistic dialogue. The real standout for me though is Kelly's art. It strikes me as a cross between Farel Darlymple (Pop Gun War) and Paul Pope (100%, Heavy Liquid, etc.). Exceptional stuff, Grade A.

All Star Superman #1 (DC): Not a big Supes fan, but I'll check out anything from the reunited creative team behind cult fave Flex Mentallo! Yes, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely bring a much needed alien feel to the Last Son of Krypton with creepy supporting characters and odd techno-babble. Dig the origin tale recapped in just 4 panels and a double page splash. And it certainly appears that the plot through-line here will be about Superman dying due to hyper-radiation exposure. Loved the cliffhanger ending. I'm there. Grade B+.

Captain Atom: Armageddon #2 (DC/Wildstorm): Just when I thought only Joe Casey could work magic with these defunct characters, Will Pfeifer comes along and works it. Mr. Majestic, Captain Atom, and the remnants of the Wildcats, whodathunk this would be totally engaging? Nice references to Halo and back to the DCU by both Atom and Majestros. I like Atom's realistic investigation of what is, to him, a parallel universe. Is it me or did nobody notice the death of Spartan/Hadrian/Halo CEO Marlowe last ish? Super strong pencils from Camuncoli. Two minor quibbles, 1) Of course this will tie into the Infinite Crisis multiverse debacle, which could be good or bad association, only time will tell. And 2) Hey Quinn, Sinclair, and Abernathy! Yeah, Editors! Over here! Grifter's real name is Cole Cash guys, not Cash Cole. Issue 1 and both 2 had it wrong, I'm watching you. Grade B.

Fables #43 (DC/Vertigo): Totally into this Arabian Nights arc and here are the top 3 reasons why... 1) Buckingham's line looks a bunch like P. Craig Russel's art from the Ramadan story back in Sandman #50. 2) How intense was that opening conversation between Beauty and Prince Charming? And 3) Yusuf essentially said "let's rumble, motherfuckers!" by releasing the Djinn. Grade A.


Do The Basics Well

Iron Man #1-4 (Marvel): "A super-soldier biological compiler" being sold to militants on the open market. I love Warren Ellis! I love what he's doing with Iron Man; we really never have seen anything like this before with Tony Stark. What a different, original take on a classic character. The intrigue slowly unfolds in a very engaging manner, the characters are really talking to each other while we listen in, instead of talking *at* the audience.

Ellis also uses the Iron Man armor very sparingly, reserving it for appearances that we can truly savor due to their scarcity. When the armor is on screen, it seems so realistic. How would a real man wearing this suit act? How would a real weapons system display interact with the user? Would a real person like Tony be cautious with its usage, the interaction with police, and the heads up call to the Avengers? Wouldn't something as basic as the phone protocol into the Avengers be just that secure and intricate? Yes, I think it would!

Important to note that he's just Iron Man here, not the Invincible Iron Man. You can hurt this guy. And the altercation happens so quickly, life or death in an instant. I literally winced in pain when I saw the damage that had been inflicted to Tony's hand and leg underneath the armor. I'm really eating up the way Ellis is portraying the character as being quite vulnerable and still working out some problems with different iterations of the suit.

Yet again, Ellis applies his classic science fiction sensibility to another high concept. He understands that engaging sci-fi begins not with tech toys or lush CGI, but with an interesting core premise. What if a rich industrialist had an ultra high tech suit of armor? What would he be compelled to do? What would this world feel like?

I’m thoroughly enjoying him fleshing out a believable corner of the Marvel U inhabited by his distinct version of Iron Man. Small things like the explanation of how the repulsor beams work just go to show that the devil is in the details. Adi Granov's art is also "beautifully dirty" for lack of a better term. Blending the smooth, soft lines of John Cassaday with the lived in feel of Christian Gossett's masterpiece The Red Star. The result brilliantly captures the dichotomy of high technology ideas with very base motivations. Excellent panel to panel storytelling.

I'm afraid that with all of the tomfoolery going on in the Marvel U right now, not to mention this title's lackluster publishing schedule, this book will be overlooked as a real hidden gem. Perhaps the most grounded superhero comic around. Grade A-.

Queen & Country Forever!

Queen & Country, Volume 7: Operation Saddlebags (Oni Press): I'm an unabashed Q&C fanatic. This is it folks, this is my favorite series. I own all of the hardcover trades; they sit handsomely on my bookshelf with their crimson spines and golden lettering, the ominous "Report of Proceedings" begging to be read. I have signed and framed original art from Carla Speed McNeil's run on the book. I buy every single issue, every single softcover trade, and then pass those on to others when I ultimately upgrade to the hardcovers. Queen & Country is unquestionably my favorite mainstream comic book title coming out right now. The fact that I can even refer to a black and white book from an independent publisher as "mainstream" is fantastic and would not have been possible a few years ago. I have a lot of respect for what Oni Press has done. And for me, this is their flagship title.

The art always serves the story beautifully. Oni has a knack for pairing the story arcs with each successive artist in the most appropriate way. By no means do I want to undermine the significant contributions that a rotating cast of talented artists have brought to the book, but for me the real hook is Greg Rucka's writing. I'm really not one to make direct comparisons of work, but Rucka readily admits that BBC's The Sandbaggers served as some inspiration for the series. So my advice to you is that if you are a fan of books by John LeCarre, Tom Clancy, the little known works of Trevanian, or BBC's excellent MI-5 series (known as Spooks in the UK), then you risk failing. If you're not reading Q&C, you are failing to discover the most wonderfully taut, intense, developed, and enjoyable espionage work of our time.

Gail Simone provides one of the best introductions I have ever read, where she informs you of what Q&C is not. Let me tell you what it is. It's realistic. I get the impression that people really talk like this in these circles, that these incidents and conversations are really occurring out there somewhere and we're invited in to voyeuristically listen as a fly on the wall. It's unpredictable. Notice how for the last few arcs, the roster in the book housing the character profiles indicates that one or more are deceased. Anything can happen here. It's unapologetic. Every single character, no matter which side of the presented conflict they're on, is absolutely committed to their cause. They believe in it deeply and it drives their actions. It's smart. It doesn't insult your intelligence with expository dialogue or even bother to translate foreign languages for you. Rucka just lays it out there and assumes that the audience is intelligent enough to keep up and that his artistic partners are talented enough at graphic storytelling to depict meaning. Thanks Greg.

Operation Saddlebags chronicles an encounter with Tara's mom, further develops an already well rounded Nick Poole, and introduces the rookie Chris Lankford to the team. The scene with Ed Kittering's motorcycle helmet is heartbreaking, proving that Tara is capable of connecting with people under all her bravado and skill, but not capable of sharing or discussing the experience, even with family. While tailing a mark, we are reminded that real spy work is monotonous. It is often long periods of boredom followed by brief periods of sheer terror. Paul Crocker, Tara's boss, reminds us that real spy work is about using your brain. It's about rolling over information, evaluating it, reassessing it, executing against a plan, evaluating the outcome, reassessing, and executing again ad nauseum. When rookie Chris Lankford makes a mistake, Tara's reaction is a telling moment for her character arc. She knows the options that were available and berates Chris with the choices he failed to see. Tara makes Chris feel small. It's the same way Paul later makes Tara feel small. She didn't see the options, she didn't choose correctly. In my mind all of this serves a point.

And it's a point that this arc really hones in on. Tara is an outsider. Always. She is distant from everything in the world. She is an outsider to her mother's world of raucous behavior. She is an outsider to her friend's lavish, Euro-trash lifestyle. She is an outsider because her intellect and skill intimidates her peers and subordinates. She is an outsider from the world of her political superiors. She is unable to reconcile her life, even naked and alone in the shower, with water washing her body and soul, at the bottom of a bottle of alcohol.

She's an outsider even in her own skin.

Don't miss the beautiful sketches by Mike Norton in the bonus section. If ever I was to cheat, Q&C would receive bonus points and blow out the grading scale, but I'll play fair... Grade A+.

You Have A Blog?

I'll preface this by saying that I'm from Silicon Valley. I've worked at the "Big C" for 9 years, so I know all about the power of the Internet. How it's capable of breaching borders, both geographically and intellectually. Breaking down the walls of isolation and forever changing the communication paradigm. An enabler. Empowerment. Let Freedom Ring and all. Roger that.

I guess until this week it was never personalized for me. Two things happened which really hit home. This double tap shook me and prompted this little experiment. Incident One, we'll call it, was finding an online review of a comic book I'd written - The Mercy Killing - along with inker/artist pal Tim Goodyear. Kevin over at Optical Sloth gave us a favorable review and is generally a swell guy, promoting small press and indy material. The thing is, Kevin is in Chicago. We're in California. I've never met Kevin. We played a quick game of Kevin Bacon to determine how he was able to get his hands on our book, tracing it from various distributors, to local shops, into his hands, and onto the web. Pretty cool. Wouldn't have been possible otherwise.

Incident Two involved a review I did of the Slave Labor Graphics book Street Angel, by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca over at Big Brother Dan's site: www.wackyhijinx.com, the web footprint of the brick-and-mortar Wacky Hijinx Comics in San Jose. I dug this book. I really dug the other work that the duo has done: Afrodisiac. These pieces appeared in Project: Superior and the 2005 SPX Anthology book. Anyway... Jim saw my review, sent me a note to say thank you, and even included a jpg of a commissioned piece he'd done. Again, generally a swell guy. Sense of community. But more importantly, someone is watching.

So yeah, I have a blog. It all clicked. We got the tools. We got the audience. Do we have the talent? Let's find out. Welcome to 13 Minutes! Mostly reviews of the best comics I've found. Occasional articles on the industry. Pop culture tidbits. Rare special events and promotions. Your ambassador to one of only two art forms that originated in America, the comic book (second only to Jazz). Stay tuned, I'm here all night.

Best Bumper Sticker I've Seen All Year...

"Dissent is Patriotic."