9.27.06 Reviews

Action Comics #842 & 843 (DC): Action Comics #842 was not released this week. Now, this is a fun time. The faux newspaper covers from Dave Gibbons have a 1980's nostalgic vibe to them that is completely endearing (and did everyone catch the "Abraham Simpson of Springfield" reference buried on one of he covers? Ha!). Pete Woods' art is fun and action oriented and he makes the pages simply pop with his use of different and imaginative panel layouts. Busiek and Nicieza's idea of an interplanetary auctioneer coming to Earth is so creative and they get miles of story out of it. Throw away lines like the "rare Kryptonians" or mentions of Nightwing speaking Tamaranian take on such deeper meaning when you realize how logically they are embedded in continuity. It's a fun, eclectic assortment of heroes that are on a non-stop wild adventure. And it feels quite dense, packed with comic adventure goodness. This is anti-decompressed storytelling at it's finest. This is what 52 should have been. This is what The Brave & The Bold was all about. This is the best parts of Morrison's JLA high concepts merged with the manic fun of Giffen's JLA. It's just killer fun while making the point that heroes can be heroes without superpowers, simply by using their brains to outwit villains. It truly lives up to its name. This is Action Comics. Guess I'll have to go track down #841 and see how this thing started... Grade A.

Sock Monkey: The Inches Incident #1 (Dark Horse): In this mini-series we meet up again with Drinky Crow and Uncle Gabby on a seafaring adventure. They appear to be on the run as they discuss such compelling issues and the hearing ability of sand dollars in a completely hilarious "it's a show about nothing!" sort of Seinfeld-ian manner. Tony Millionaire's work can easily be dismissed as funny/weird cartoon nonsense, but it's always worth looking a little closer to pick up comments about life, loyalty, and friendship, or the downright creative fun of lines such as "I'm Oyster Joe, the greatest whalesman in the Cape Ann fleet... and I'll be hanged from the highest yardarm before I let a haunted toy monkey sail away in my best egg skillet!" Grade A-.

Justice League of America #2 (DC): It's still a lot of fun to see the deliberations of Diana, Clark, and Bruce while voting. However, I'm getting confused on sequencing. Dinah, Hal, and Roy are... in the League? Do they know it yet? But they're on a mission? Maybe the voting scenes are flashbacks? Meltzer attempts to balance pesonality inspired dialogue creating nice little character moments with good old fashioned advancing the plot. The switches to and fro are awkward at times, but overall they get the job done. There's a few lines in here about Booster Gold, giving his suit to someone, as a way of honoring... Ted? Assumably Ted Kord, aka: Blue Beetle. How would giving Booster's suit to someone honor Ted? Writers and Editors, are we getting confused by heroes real names again? It was a bit of a head-scratcher, as was what's going on with the villians... so it's a team of baddies sucking up powers via Parasite to put into Red Tornado-bots. No, that was a question. Is that what it is? I'm not sure. Ed Benes' art seems to be improving, there are fewer static cheesecake poses and more panels with nice details that flow together and improve his panel to panel storytelling ability. Grade B-.

Snakewoman #3 (Virgin Comics): This issue relies *so* much on exposition to get its points across. Really, the only thing keeping me remotely interested is Gaydos' art. I find myself sort of zoning out on the word balloons and just letting my eye wander around the page to take in the simultaneously dark and sinister, yet lush and vibrant pencils and panel rendering. While there are snippets of dialogue that are intriguing, like the whole "love-sex-jealousy-violence-remorse-love" infinite loop, most of the stortelling is so expository is just becomes obtuse. I was starting to enjoy the Colonial era flashbacks, but then they became so abstract that they turned into random non-sequiturs. This book was preaching about "reaction without introspection" to survive. Well, my knee-jerk reaction at a gut-check level to this book is that it's going nowhere. Check, please. Grade B-.

Jack of Fables #3 (DC/Vertigo): Willingham has obviously created a fully realized world here and is starting to flesh it out via the prison break plot. The art is pleasing enough, in a soft sort of technically-competent-without-being-terribly-engaging-Vertigo-house-style way. However, I feel like I have no "in" here. There's no character to identify with, empathize or sympathize with. And without that, it's difficult to care about what happens next. Sometimes the dialogue sounds pretty in a flowery, rhythmic sense, but doesn't seem to hold much meaning. Example: "Never you mind, you cottingley dykes. Jack's a saviour, he is. Liberated our people from the evil Boggart Nastyfingers." Sounds clever. Sounds whimsical. But, I really have no idea what that means. The extended gag with the tortoise and the hare also falls completely flat. It's supposed to elicit a "Haha!" as in "Haha! Ohmygosh! You mean the tortoise has been 'racing' this whole time unbeknownst to the reader!?" But instead, it elicits a blank stare as in "Oh, I see. It was the tortoise and the hare. That's right. The tortoise is slow." Check, please. Grade C+.

Batman #657 (DC): I suppose it's fun to see Damian challenge all the conventions of the little world Batman has created for himself, being irreverant with Tim, breaking the case housing Jason Todd's costume, etc., but the events don't really ring true. Bats is letting the kid in too easily. Talia could be mind controlling him, using him as a spy, etc. The list is endless and serves to highlight several instances of mis-characterization. That gets coupled with odd art choices, strange camera angles, and weird shading from what can only be described as "multiple light sources." Overall, it's tons better than the last two issues. Morrison is actually telling more of a story now, not overtly soliloquizing his commentary on the industry. Stronger, but not strong enough for me to continue. Check, please. Grade C.

Eternals #4 (Marvel): The art feels rushed in spots, some panels containing single figures that are lacking in detail or backgrounds of any kind. There is still a likable or mildly interesting quality to some of these characters, such as the creepy omniscience of Sprite. But the story is so bland! Sprite's expository narration of the entire issue only adds a feeling of ennui. It feels so random, as if anything could happen next and I wouldn't know if it was important, should be happening, or held any consequence. I feel that Eternals lacks a story "throughline" that focuses the story on a linear path and also provides the audience with a reference point to latch onto and feel engaged by. In other words, what is this story actually about? Until I know that, it feels like random scenes that aren't strung together by a cohesive idea. I used to love Neil Gaiman's writing, but it's like he's swiping 15 year old ideas from himself here. So, Sprite inspired Barrie to create Peter Pan? So, we have a comic character being woven into the fringes of established literary canon? From Gaiman? Gee, what a surprise. He's done it a million times in Sandman with Will Shakespeare, Marco Polo, Ramadan, etc., etc., etc. It plays completely unoriginal and uninspired. And here, in a cosmic superhero book, it's also misplaced. We're 4 issues into this 6 issue series and I still feel like *something* is being set up to actually happen. And I still don't know what it is because of the lack of throughline, but can't help the sinking feeling that it will be rousingly anti-climactic. Grade C-.

52: Week Twenty One (DC): Infinity, Inc. Hrmm, guess we should have seen that one coming. Wha? No back-up feature? That was like the best part of this mess. The way she was carrying on about being the new speedster, it was a very telegraphed move that Eliza was going to be toast by the end. There's one funny line here, "By Darkseid's testi..." Other than that, it was cute for a millisecond to see Zachary Zatara and Little Barda with this false start of a Teen Titans team, but I still can't escape the feeling that it's just the creation of more unwieldy plot threads, when the whole point is to clarify a missing year of continuity. That feeling isn't helped by all of the rough jump cuts and missing story threads from previous issues that are mysterious no-shows. Starfire? Montoya? Black Adam? Where arrreee youuu? Case in point, Red Tornado was already teased a couple of issues back and never followed up on. Now, here he is again. Grade D+.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Pride of Baghdad (DC/Vertigo): In almost all of the online reviews I've perused, the comics community seems to be cautiously optimistic that Vaughan can pull this off. How can he write an original graphic novel without using his usual tricks? What will he do without the ability to use kitschy pop culture references? Oh no! He won't be able to use his trademark cliffhanger endings that he does in his serialized stories! How can he possibly survive without his Mamet-derived, Bendis-inspired, Sorkin-like, staccato dialogue? They're animals, not people! Argh! I'm here to tell everyone that they can relax. Brian K. Vaughan really does pull this off, gracefully and succinctly. And you know what? All of his trademarks are right there if you look close enough. Pop culture references? Maybe there aren't lines from movies or references to pop culture icons that jump out at us in the usual familiar way, but it's The War(s) in Iraq... isn't that the biggest pop culture reference one could muster in today's world? Cliffhanger endings? They're right there at the 22 page mark. If you count from the first page all the way through the book in 22 page increments, you'll see nice one page shots where instead of sending us the "continued next issue" message, they serve as nice little pause-inducing story beats. A chance for us to catch our breath and continue on with the journey of the Pride in this war torn paradise. And the dialogue, even though emanating from animals, is Vaughan's typically fluid style that boasts strong interpersonal dynamics via fully realized and distinct personalities. In fact, the animal's speech patterns feel so realistic that we tend to forget these are zoo animals and start believing they are representative of human voices in all their variegation. We see base motivations (notice how the monkeys help Ali only because it serves their selfish cause), double crosses, differing opinions, Mother/Daughter disputes over childcare, jealous squabbles, cynical elders, affection, loyalty, and a great comment on the futility of war from the POV of a... turtle. A regretful, sorrowful turtle, who ended up being my favorite character. Niko Henrichon's art is a perfect match for this tale. At first, it's very pleasing to the eye, aided by the warm colors, and sort of lulls you into this world with it's intricate and realistic detail. Then suddenly, it becomes exaggerated to great dynamic effect and blows your hair back in a very visceral way (that poor giraffe!). And make no mistake, this ain't The Lion King. There's no "happily ever after." Though I'd heard this was based on true events, I had no idea how it would end. That was unexpected and really had the power to evoke emotion. Grade A.


9.20.06 Reviews

Civil War #4 (Marvel): McNiven's art was worth the wait (except for that hideous last page), so everyone who cried about the delay should shush. When it's collected, they won't remember the lateness, but are the same folks who would then cry about the fill-in art. So there. An exceptionally taut action sequence highlighting the dissention between Cap and Tony, with a conversation that's like glass in my ears. It's so troubling, which is a credit to Millar's script effectively portraying two men from completely different worlds. Similar reaction to Daredevil (even though I *know* it's Iron Fist under there and not Matt) hitting Spider-Man. Daredevil and Spidey have been friends for so long, it's troubling to see even their alter-ego-images clash. Fun to see Hercules save the day with his noble loyalty to Cap, and him not being portrayed as the oafish drunkard typically played for laughs. When the chips are down and you find yourself in a street fight, would you rather have a brawler in your corner, or a brain? Falcon takes on a much needed leadership position in the absence of Cap and brilliantly directs Cable and Cloak in the field to teleport them the hell out of there. A brutal attack on Goliath leads several heroes (on both sides) to question the side they're on. A dramatic change of heart from Invisible Woman, as Sue creates a force bubble protecting the escape of the Secret Avengers. Her switch culminates with a gut-wrenching letter to Reed. Tony keeping a strand of Thor's hair to clone is creepy and a little reminiscent of Batman keeping "take-down" files on the JLA'ers. At the end of the day, it is still *just* a superhero comic, but superhero comics that attempt to discuss challenging social issues and still maintain this level of action and entertainment are rarely this good. I've seen a lot of backlash to this issue indicating that some of their actions don't ring true vis-a-vis established characterization, but having grown up a DC kid and not being fully steeped in years of Marvel continuity, I don't mind. Taken at face value, I think it's a rollicking good time. Grade A-.

Nextwave: Agents of HATE #8 (Marvel): Tabby can't spell her own name...? BWAHAHAHAHA! Priceless. Was Dirk Anger attempting suicide or was that just good ol' fashioned autoerotic asphyxiation...? BWAHAHAHAHA! Priceless. That's Elsa's origin...? BWAHAHAHAHA! Priceless. Grade B+.

X-Factor #11 (Marvel): This will probably sound remarkably similar to last issue's review. Inconsistent art at best, arguably crappy rendering in spots. Renato Arlem's pencils *could* grow on me, if they last longer than say... three issues. Looks like he used Jennifer Connelly as photo-reference for Monet(?). Roy Allen Martinez's pencils? Please... no more... no... more. Brilliant writing from Peter David, with an interesting denoument to the Guido cliffhanger from last issue. All in all, an uneven visual representation of some great characters and crafty dialogue. Grade B.

Astonishing X-Men #17 (Marvel): Ok, little help here. I feel like I missed an issue. Kitty and Pieter have a child? That's what was in the box? Was this a hallucination? Mind control? Reality? He's a robot? Was that a factual statement or meant metaphorically? Was that Scott? With a gun? Really? The Hellfire Club seems kinda' weaker than past incarnations, no? YeahbuWhat?! indeed. I like that Kitty is being treated as the principal character here. I like the cast, the villains, and there's no denying the beautiful pencils of Cassaday, I just feel like all those parts aren't playing very well together. This issue feels very awkward. Here's to hoping it will read better collected... Grade B.

Union Jack #1 (Marvel): While I understand it's a link to past incarnations, I'm a bit tired of seeing vampires, zombies, etc. everywhere. The blatant intro of a splash-page with UJ crashing through a window feels a little forced. How could the blokes in the chopper hear UJ speaking to them with the noise of a... you know, *chopper* drowning him out? The characters introduced have some nice potential, fight through some very stock archetypes, and juuust manage to become a little interesting. With all of those gripes out of the way, I did enjoy the grim nature of the slim pickings in the superhero scene in the UK. Mike Perkins' art is very pleasing to the eye and I think he has a particular talent for detailed backgrounds that lend depth to the scenes, which is a skill a lot of artists sort of ignore and gloss over today. Chris Gage's script has potential as well, and starts to border on some interesting social issues, like class distinction, and the overwhelming task of counter-terrorism as a constant game of playing catch up, predicting next moves with precious few resources. Also enjoyed Gages's text recap, which housed where it is, avoided bogging down the story, and helped those of us that didn't catch Union Jack's recent exploits in the Captain America arc. Grade B.

Dwight T. Albatross's The Goon Noir #1 (Dark Horse): This started exceptionally strong with a brilliantly sarcastic intro that's delivered completely deadpan. From there we jump to a beautifully penciled story from Mike Ploog with masterful dialogue from Patton Oswalt that really captures the "ear" of The Goon, in fact it's almost funnier than Eric Powell himself. Past that, the stories look nice enough, but start to read a little flat without the usual "snarkiness" these characters are capable of. Strong enough for me to pick up the next two issues, but undeniably uneven as most anthology style books are. Grade B-.

Checkmate #6 (DC): Still pretty strong in terms of intelligent and nuanced writing, but struck me as quite expository. Was that the influence of Defillippis and Weir? Not sure. But stuff like "Point is, The Wall's got somethin' on each of us, and she knows when to dangle it to get us jumpin'. Just remindin' everyone of why we're doing this" sort of screams just remindin' the reader of what's going on here. Also feels a little overly reliant on a random assortment of clowns making up this impromptu incarnation of Waller's Suicide Squad. I was really on board with Bronze Tiger, the UN deliberations, Sasha and Michael, and then... something happened. At the end of the day, I want to read Checkmate for some secret agent meta goodness, not the bloody Mirror-Master and his ilk. Wouldn't Rick Flag be a little less... ripped in the musculatory department after spending four years in a Quraci prison? And isn't Khandaq spelled like that (<-) and not "Kahndaq?" Grade B-.

The Looking Glass Wars: Hatter M #3 (Image/Desperado): Feels a bit difficult to enjoy when the last issue was, what? Six months ago? I like the way a familiar tale is being twisted and infused with dark cynicism and brutality, it's really fascinating to see these characters in this light, and I'm sure it will read better collected. I'm just wondering if I should reward the silliness of six month delays in between issues by buying it some day? I mean, really, it's only a four issue mini-series, if you can't put *that* out on time... Grade C+.

52: Week Twenty (DC): Probably the coolest cover yet in the 52 run; it enticingly displays the eclectic cast of Animan Man, Adam Strange, and Starfire. Past that, this issue is full of fish gods, interstellar carrion, Animal Man jumping around like Nightcrawler (those look like BAMF!s, not shooting fireballs or whatever the hell they were supposed to be), and some powerful eye balls. No real idea what the point of all that is. I thought the whole intent of 52 was to explain the new status quo in the DCU. Instead, it feels like we're creating more divergent plot threads to resolve. Curious to see Big Barda in the next issue and the backup stories continue to be decent. I'm quickly becoming accustomed to the fact that this title is going to run in the C-range until it concludes. Grade C-.


9.13.06 Reviews

Phonogram #2 (Image): I feel as if I could gush unendingly in my adoration for this title. But let's take our musical cue, risk running an analogy into the ground, and go "unplugged" style, stripping the review down to its minimalistic essentials. Authentic. That's the word that continually comes to mind when I ponder Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's modern masterpiece. Behold the cross-hatching technique of those buildings in the rain on page 3. Can you feel the shiver in your bones as you stand there illuminated by the streetlight? Behold the nostalgic, regretful rumination of "It's like seeing a girlfriend you used to go out with, grown up. Except instead of the dirty creature you did unspeakable things with, she's the trophy wife of a used car salesman. But through the snips and saline bags, you can still see a little of the girl staring back." Those words are lived in, man. They're real. Only real vision and experiences breeds shit like that. And of course, an issue of Phonogram isn't complete without an analysis of music's permeation into the Zeitgeist. My favorite approach to this collective consciousness commentary surrounds Kohl's respect for Kid-With-Knife's role in the grand scheme of things: "He does grinding hips with girls in clubs and I do intricate vivisection rituals on pop songs to better understand their totemic powers." If I was using numbers, I could turn the 1-to-10 dial up to 11, Spinal Tap style. What a shame the grading scale I'm using doesn't go higher than Grade A+.

The Escapists #3 (Dark Horse): Brian K. Vaughan is a great writer and any one of his titles could be cited as a brilliant example of engaging, well paced, high drama. The Escapists could very well be his most intriguing work yet. It's all of those things, *plus* a heaping dose of industry insider commentary. We see well played comments on critical feedback, media coverage, Diamond orders, and are treated to some delicious 4th wall breaking moments in the tradition of Ferris Bueller. From a panel to panel storytelling standpoint, Vaughan knows exactly how to hit a story "beat," as evidenced by that silent panel on page 9. Really, amateur writers should study that page and that panel to understand what a story beat is and how you can use the duality of the comic medium (look Ma, words *and* pictures! together!) to convey emotion. As if that wasn't enough, he goes on to depict a brilliant sequence as the creators are inking their pages, that combines "story-within-a-story," the 4th wall conceit, and allows us to hear the creators voices through their creations, as they're being created. It's just brilliant and innovative and strikingly original. Case remains my favorite character, she is simultaneously visually cute and has a cute personality to boot. Look at the way she invokes Spiegelman's Maus to support her statement, but innocently doesn't know that it won the Pulitzer Prize, since she was only "like two years old when it came out." Grade A+.

DMZ #11 (DC/Vertigo): A very savory flashback issue that is emotionally powerful, captures a different softer side of supporting character Zee, and rewards readers by providing details that preceded the first issue. The insightful narration from Zee sets up the current world of the Free States of America and Manhattan Island as the DMZ, along with suggested psychological motivation for why some stayed behind. Riccardo Burchielli seems to be the perfect guy to illustrate this series, but Kristian Donaldson's bold, thick, angular style also seems quite at ease amid the fraying city and crumbling social order, serving as precursor and seamless transition for the war torn cityscape and bleak surroundings that Burchielli so perfectly captures. Grade A+.

Wasteland #3 (Oni Press): As the post-apocalyptic tale slowly unfolds, we're treated to the introduction of yet another band of humans traversing the barren landscape. And what a treat it is, on all levels. Artistically, Mitten's pencils are evolving into a more refined style with some very interesting camera angles and perspective shots. From the wispy column of smoke to their one-page introduction, the caravan is bold and impressive visually. From the mystery of what's truly going on in Newbegin, to the troubling familiarity of "Michael The Lost" and Sultan Ameer, to what's the caravan really carrying, I'm totally hooked. News of Carla Speed McNeil pencilling issue 7 (and assumably other one-shots) is just icing on the cake. My, won't a page of Wasteland original art look handsome next to her framed Queen & Country pages up on my wall! Grade A.

Ex Machina #23 (DC/Wildstorm): Another great plot-thickening issue, Tony Harris' art never looked better. But the piece-de-resistance is the two-page, highly unexpected Morrison-esque cryptic conversation with a dog that looks like it came straight out of Animal Man, The Invisibles, or Doom Patrol. No explanation. Loved it! Todd Wylie calling the Mayor with a hot lead only to have his call interrupted sure feels like a bad omen to me. If I was a bettin' man, I'd say he's meat! Grade A.

Casanova #4 (Image): In typical Casanova fasion, I remain conflicted. There are some nice remixes of pop culture hoo-ha in here, and clever nods to the industry like "how brave, how bold," along with a Last Gasp reference. But then there is the grand feeling of unfocused exposition. Sometimes it's brilliant, like the concept of Sabine Seychelle being a grown up (and twisted) Johnny Quest, where brilliance has led to apathy, apathy transformed into decadence, and decadence became evil. Really, that's just plain brilliant. But sometimes, it's downright self-indulgent and self-congratulatory, like 5 whole pages of notes from Fraction commenting about his thought process and how cool the art of collaborator Gabriel Ba is. Do I actually like this title, or do I just put up with it because the format is a steal for only $1.99? The jury is still deliberating. Grade B.

Agents of Atlas #2 (Marvel): On one hand, I like the way Parker continues to weave this into continuity with references to The Eternals and Wakandan history. On the other hand, it seemed to lose the fun energy, exuberant vitality, and action-oriented vigor that the first issue had. Feels like we're in a holding pattern of "all middle" (to borrow a phrase from the guys over at Comix Experience) until the next issue or trade collection chugs forward. Grade B-.

52: Week Nineteen (DC): A few things jump out at me here as worthy of note. Fun to see Kory wearing the top of Animal Man's suit. At first I thought they hooked up(!) but then quickly remembered her costume was shredded in the Lobo encounter. Cool he offered it to her and just wore his leather jacket (all off panel). With a New Gods reference, the relevant question doesn't seem to be *where* Starfire, Animal Man, and Adam Strange are, but *when* they are? Everyone seems to think Supernova is Mon-El (Superman). Interesting to be thrown off and have Cassie think it's Kon-El (Superboy), which is given some additional credence in the coming issue spot since Supernova appears to be looking at Jason Todd's shrine in the Batcave. The "new" Booster seems to be going to the DC One Million era(?) with an unexpected and underhanded Skeets intervention. Lobo's extended scene still feels misplaced and becomes a pejorative influence. I apologize to the audience that isn't reading this title or isn't up on DCU continuity. There's just no way to explain what's going on in this title in a tidy little sentence or two sound byte (especially since I myself don't even really know what's going on!). Still feels like a grand mess, but there are hints here that it may all connect at the end and make some sort of sense. Beautiful Animal Man origin story with Brian Bolland art. Grade C+.

Civil War Files (Marvel): As troubling as most "files" editions usually are. Written by committee, they're mildly interesting and passionately inconsequential (or "passionately ambivalent!" as my comedic guru Stephen Colbert would say). All in all, it bears little bearing on Civil War and is a mere smoke-and-mirrors act that overwhelms with a disgusting degree of detail and useless factoids. While some entries almost hit the mark (Cable w/ references to Tabitha in Nextwave, Falcon, and a tongue-in-cheek Hercules come to mind), most fall flat and are impossible to endure. Tony (and by extension his "side" in the conflict) is *still* not portrayed as a sympathetic character, but a cold (check out his inhuman reaction to the Human Torch being hospitalized), manipulative (enticing Peter with a "toy" and then tracking him without his consent), waffler (admitting he was against the revealing of indentities when he wrote The Avengers charter). So far, the most compelling argument for pro-Registration I've heard was not in a comic, but directly from Joe Quesada at the San Diego Comic-Con. Essentially, he said that if there were "guys with M-16's standing in the doorway right now in black fatigues, faces covered, weren't affiliated with the goverment, and told you they were there to protect you, oh and by the way, they're teenagers... wouldn't *you* want to know who the hell they were and ensure they'd received proper training from the Federal Government?). Sadly, this argument, a clear and concise, very sane, logical, and understandably convincing course of thought has been desperately missing from any of the related books. And for the 97th time... is it SuperHUMAN Registration Act or SuperHERO Registration Act? I'm tired of seeing it both ways (multiple times in this single book!). Get it straight or come out and say they're synonymous. A very attractive McNiven cover bumps us up to a Grade D.


9.13.06 Comics

It was one of those weeks; a crazy cadre, a calamitous cacophony, a cornucopia of comic books came out that I was interested in. Here's a quick report on all of the wonderful finds. Reviews will follow as soon as I get some reading done!

Pride of Baghdad (DC/Vertigo): Topping the list is this much anticipated original graphic novel from Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon.

52: Week Nineteen (DC): The spectacle continues. Like a much maligned DC car crash, I have to look!

Civil War Files (Marvel): Ordinarily I would have passed on this, I must be jonesin' for Civil War #4!

The Escapists #3 (Dark Horse): Will it be a contender for mini-series of the year here at 13 Minutes? Tune in to find out!

Phonogram #2 (Image): This one is going to slip to the bottom of my "to read" pile. I hope I'll be saving the best for last!

Casanova #4 (Image): Will Matt Fraction & Gabriel Ba finally win me over with their $1.99 uber-homage? For $1.99, does it matter? Is this ground breaking format going to change the industry?

Agents of Atlas #2 (Marvel): This book was not released this week, I missed it last week. No, I really *missed* it! There's gun-toting gorillas with hard liquor on the cover!

Wasteland #3 (Oni Press): Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten have the next Oni Press breakout hit on their hands. This will be down there with Phonogram, waiting to be savored!

DMZ #11 (DC/Vertigo): How could this book possibly get any better? Oh, they brought in Brian Wood's collaborator from IDW's Supermarket Kristian Donaldson to pencil an issue... that's how!

Ex Machina #23 (DC/Wildstorm): Might as well move this title to Yellowstone National Park, because like "Old Faithful," it's realiably solid entertainment!

Jonah Hex: Face Full of Violence (DC): Anxiously awaiting this trade that collects the first six issues of everyone's favorite disfigured gunman!

Abandon the Old in Tokyo (Drawn & Quarterly): Finally, the follow up book collecting Yoshihiro Tatsumi's work! Some of the most attractively packaged, reasonably priced, and important work that D&Q has published!

Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East (First Second): I'll buy anything from Joann Sfar. Period!

American Born Chinese (First Second): First Second had multiple offerings this week that tempted me, but anything endorsed by Derek Kirk Kim will cause an immediate purchase!

Runaways: Volumes 1, 2, 3 (Marvel): I like the digest size as a format. I love Brian K. Vaughan's writing. I picked up a few stray issues that I enjoyed. Lots of critical buzz. Guest appearances by Cloak & Dagger. Joss Whedon coming on to write soon. Yep, I'm there!


Finding The Lost Girls

The Lost Girls (Top Shelf): There's an endless list of possible ways to attack Lost Girls when attempting a review, but I'm going to try to distill that down to just the strongest ideas that jumped out at me. Initially, I was questioning why master scribe Alan Moore would have chosen pre-War Austria as a setting, but that was cleared up soon enough. The hotel becomes a literal oasis of pleasure and quickly reminds us that the best art is often inspired by a backdrop of turmoil and strife.

Most people probably will become hung up on the fact that Moore is juxtaposing supposedly innocent young female literary heroines with outright pornography. I chose to look beyond it and focus on what he would do structurally with the character archetypes. And I like what he did. We still see Wendy (from Peter Pan), Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz), and Alice (of Alice in Wonderland) go through journeys, but their travels through Neverland, The Land of Oz, and Wonderland respectively become allegorical for their journeys of sexual awakening. They all play out in different ways based on their personalities, and with various results.

Dorothy, for example, is a catalyst. In the telling of her story, she has power harnessed in her sexuality which perhaps causes, or at least enhances, the tornado. Her journey down the yellow-brick road with the familiar Scarecrow, Lion, and Tin-Man is basically a series of sexual encounters with men who boast similar shortcomings in their personalities. The key here is that Dorothy has the power within her. She wields it and isn't afraid to experiment in an inquisitive way, cataloguing life experiences for the sheer joie-de-vive of it.

Conversely, Wendy has to be "sparked" to become inspired to discover her sexuality and the visit from Peter draws her out. There's a certain amount of shame and embarassment she has to overcome. This awakens her curiosity, her joy, dismisses her shy demeanor and allows her to take fanciful "flight" as familiar characters like Captain Hook are incorporated in a sexualized way.

Alice is perhaps the most complex of the three, in the way that her particular fantasy is caused and manifests itself. We learn in Moore's version that Alice was victimized at a young age, and it's this experience which causes her to descend deeper down the "rabbit hole" into a world of drug abuse and sexual objectification. Her experiences blur the line between fantasy and reality and become an elaborate blend of the two. She creates an entire fictional world for herself to explain her experiences, behavior, and lasting reactions to it all.

The next area of meta-commentary that Moore dissects for us is the obvious claim that this is "just" pornography and could perhaps be classified as "bad" or "wrong" in that it depicts these particular young female leads in sexualized situations and is devoid of artistic merit. He offers a defense to this pretty standard Right Wing assault and makes an interesting point that it's all fiction, thus inherently harmless. If we simply talk about our fantasies or depict them in fictionalized accounts, then no harm can come of them. They are the classic "victimless" crime, assuming you accept that they're criminal in the first place. And he makes a convincing argument that they're not. He takes the pornography to an extreme, deliberately I believe, just to prove his point. The more explicit things become, he's essentially looking at his potential audience and saying "Are you getting upset by this? Is any of this uncomfortable? You shouldn't be upset. And it shouldn't be uncomfortable. It's just fiction folks, relax." He slyly insinuates that "Perhaps the most uncomfortable thing is that you've fantasized about some of these exact things and if they make you uncomfortable, you should confront yourself, not me, the poor author."

One of the most interesting characters is hotel owner Monsieur Rougeur, who is arguably the most passionate character highlighted, in that he's created this oasis of pleasure, complete with inspiring little "White Bibles" that house a collection of erotic fiction to inspire his guests to frolic openly with eachother and the staff. He himself becomes an author (one of Moore's most frequently used storytelling tropes, the story-within-a-story construct, the most famous of which being his use of the Pirate story in Watchmen, and the device is used in a couple of different ways here) and reminds us that the storyteller himself is perhaps the most erotic of all characters, in his ability to use ideas and words to stimulate.

By the end of their character arcs, Wendy, Dorothy, and Alice, through telling their stories of sexual awakening, have confronted the truth inherent to themselves and completed their paths of maturity. By confronting, discussing, and ultimately accepting their fantasies, they've all "found" the little Lost Girls they once were and have ushered themselves into womanhood. At the end, Moore leaves us with an insightful sound byte as War is upon the hotel guests, that you can "destroy beautiful and imaginative things, but not beauty and imagination."

Artistically, Melinda Gebbie just cannot receive enough praise for this work. On the very surface, she pefectly captures the feeling of the era. But your eye is quickly drawn deeper, to analyze every panel border, every panel shape, every panel transition, every color choice, and every shadow. Each of these devices seeks to tell another story, comment as a sarcastic or knowing aside to the audience on the "main" story being delivered, and even serve as further, more accurate explanation for what you're ostensibly being presented.

I hesitate to grant the "+" grade because there are a few spots where I feel that Moore didn't give the audience much credit. I actually felt that my intelligence was insulted on a few occasions, and too much information was provided. Where I had already inferred meaning or made a subtle connection to an established literary work, Moore would come right out and make the connection for me. The most obvious example of this are the full page illustrations. For example, Dorothy and the Lion. We've already been provided a plethora of psychological analogy and narrative to understand that the farm hand is representative of the Lion, yet Moore comes along and smacks us on the head with a full page pin-up of Dorothy and the Lion to make 100% sure we haven't missed anything. Though this happens repeatedly, it's a minor gripe, and there's no denying the inherent beauty of the pages in and of themselves. Grade A.


9.06.06 Reviews

Local #6 (Oni Press): Megan returns in a creepy issue focusing on incompatible roommates in Brooklyn. I loved this issue. It boasted a striking portrayal of psychological insight into both lead characters. Yes, we are shocked and appalled by the obsessive-compulsive behavior of Gloria. All the more disturbing and ironic that she works in a health care environment. To people unfamiliar with those afflicted with OCD, this is a decent primer to that foreign world of behavior. But, the real brilliance of this issue deals with Megan's reaction. We become just as shocked and appalled by her reaction to Gloria and failure to address it in a constructive way. She dismissively withdraws from it, but perhaps finally learns something about herself in the process, and vows to change her own attitude and behavior. I can't wait to see further development of her character arc and have to believe that it's a treat we'll get to see in future issues of Local. Brian Wood's dialogue diplays an authenticity that rolls right off the tongue and isn't forced or staged in any way. It sounds completely real, not like dialogue from a book in the slightest way. Ryan Kelly's art is breathtaking in its ability to convey emotion and tone, it's a rich blend reminiscent of Paul Pope, Farel Dalrymple, and it's own sort of inky magic. Highly recommended. Grade A+.

The Lone Ranger #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): Sergio Cariello's gritty, angular art style is a perfect choice for this genre. I thought I'd heard that Cassaday was doing layouts in addition to the covers. Quick aside, hey Sergio! Man, I don't know how to spell your name correctly and I apologize. On the cover, Cariello has one "r" and on the credits inside it has two. In any case, whether it's Cassaday or Carriello himself doing the page layout, they have a great wide open cinematic feel to them that plays just right. The rendering of the flashback sequences with their grainy, hazy effects feels just like a 1950's TV serial. In general, Brett Matthews' writing really captures the sound and feel of the 1800's. Although, the analogy of the shade tree and killing a man played well in sentiment, it really leaves you scratching your head and doesn't make sense if you stop and think about it. I don't want to spoil the last page, but what a grand and unexpected way to close this origin issue! My only slight criticism is that this read *extremely* quickly. I actually had to go back and count, there *is* 22 full pages here, but my goodness it felt like 10. Makes me think this could have been done alternatively as a nice 25-cent promo issue in order for this upstart publisher to hook some new readers. Grade A-.

52: Week Eighteen (DC): I thought that Cain & Abel's pad, The House of Mystery, was in Vertigo continuity(?). Seems that the last time I saw it getting significant play was in Sandman(?). The art is really tough to digest, with weird camera placement, odd perspectives, and wonky lines, but is helped considerably by The Question being the peacemaker in Khandaq, some fun lesbian scenes with a promiscuous (and clinically depressed) Renee Montoya, a weird twist for Ralph Dibny (starring The Shadowpact!), and a decent Vic Sage origin in the back-up feature. Still can't stand the Booster Gold bits. The multiple plot threads are still quite disparate, yet somehow managed to flow a tad bit better than usual. Grade C-.

Snakewoman #2 (Virgin Comics): I'm still interested enough to pick up another issue, but this didn't have the "pop" that the first had. It felt kinda' flat with no real hook for the package other than Gaydos' art. It's a fairly straightfoward story about opposing factions assumably carrying on their conflict throughout the ages via reincarnation/reanimation. Oh, and Mahesh Kamath? Mackenzie Cadenhead? Yeah, Editors! Over here! "Datings sights" is not the same thing as "dating sites," chill with the reliance on spell-checker. I'm also tired of all the interviews, text pieces, and Con coverage in the back. Don't assume I'm *that* interested in your story, creators, or company until you've actually had the chance to tell an interesting story first. It's like watching DVD commentary about a movie I've never seen. Show me the quality of your storytelling via the art, not analyzation of the art, establish a track record first, it's just out of sequence. Grade B-.

Mystery in Space #1 (DC): Having been a long-time Jim Starlin fan (Dreadstar, anyone?), I was really looking forward to this, but alas, I thought it left a little something to be desired. There are plenty of colorful alien characters (talking dogs *always* work!) and imaginative Starlin-esque sets that become characters in themselves, such as his re-use of his former creation Hardcore Station. Shane Davis' art is pleasant enough and struck me as an interesting blend of Starlin's own soft lines and the edgy feel of say, Olivier Coipel. And the book does feel dense, even for the $3.99 price tag, there's a lot here. However, that dense feeling is primarily composed of page after page of exposition without much plot development of great interest. It's really a big rehash of decades of DC's Captain Comet continuity. There are a lot of good "parts" here, but the "whole" feels somewhat lacking and unfocused. The idea of introducing a back-up story is one that I will always applaud, regardless of title or publisher. It's a lot of fun to see these attempts to return to a long-gone era of comics with multiple stories per issue. But, here we get The Weird. Judging from what's shown here, I'm finding it hard to believe that this is a serviceable character that will generate interest. There are some attempts at self-awareness, like him commenting on his grating voice or observations about metahuman team-ups being repetitive miscommunication-conflict-communication cliches, but they just sit there and aren't engaging in the slightest. Visually, I think the character of Captain Comet is striking as rendered by Davis, Banning, and Cox... and I do have a certain level of respect for Jim Starlin, but the next issue is really going to have to be tricked out to keep me buying this title. Grade B-.

Rant Of The Day

It really burns me. Comic shops not having books that are released that week. On the very day they come out. This can happen a variety of ways, let's discuss. Now, I've shopped all over the San Francisco Bay Area and am also getting my Southern California legs, so I won't name names here, but it probably won't be difficult to discern who this distasteful discourse is directed at.

So, *some* stores I've shopped at even open an hour early on Wednesdays. If regular store hours are say 11-5, they open at 10 on Wednesdays, some even staying open a bit later until 7 or so. This is a wonderful commitment to the customer and I applaud the stores that do it. And I reward retailers like this by spending my money there. Early birds can stop in and get their fix, while others can roll in after work if they're working a straight 9-5 type job. And the key here is, those stores actually have all of the books that came out that week! They are unpacked, up on the shelves, and organized! Ready to conduct business! What a novel concept!

Conversely, other stores I've shopped at on the other end of the continuum of Retailer Readiness are far from ready. They don't open early. They open at their regular hours of 11, and when I get there at 12 or so, guess what? They're still unpacking boxes! They're still trying to alphabetize and line the shelves while customers are in the store, standing around waiting impatiently, asking questions, and trying to make purchases! And usually, there is one guy working the shop during this melee. Invariably, as I'm waiting for a book I want to be unpacked, the register jock is off trying to check someone out. And when I'm finally ready to check out, the guy is off looking for some crusty old back issue of ROM: Space Knight because some random bloke walked in and asked. This is not good. Be ready for business! If you're open, then be open! And this is not a one-off occurrence, it's habitual. Every. Single. Week.

Some retailers will rhetort, well why don't you arrive later? First off, I shouldn't have to. Second, I've tried that. Sometimes I wait until later in the day, say 3 or 4, giving them ample time to get ready for business. And, guess what? Some of the books I want are already gone! Due to odd ordering practices, I'm left in the lurch. I mean, really, if I can't find a copy of a standard DC or Marvel book by 3pm which came out *that* very day, that's just poor. So that gives me this narrow window of like 1230ish to like 2ish where I'm trying to perform some byzantine calculation in my head computing the likelihood of the books actually being out and ready vs. the likelihood that I've waited too long and some schlub has just swiped the last copy of whatever title I want. Poor, poor, poor.

Another thing that happens is sometimes UPS (or whatever shipping company is utilized) will not deliver a complete order. If I have to hear "we only got a partial shipment" one more time, I think my head will explode. So there I am, looking at a partially full rack, wondering if I should still spend $ with this retailer and reward this supply chain catastrophe, or take my chances elsewhere. When I am standing there with money in my hand ready to spend, it is a bittersweet failure and sad industry commentary that I'm not able to actually make an F'ing purchase. Regardless of the option I ultimately choose (leaving empty-handed, trying elsewhere, or returning at an elusive time, ie: "check back later" syndrome), it is inconvenient to the consumer.

And any first year marketing student will tell you that inconvenience = decreased sales. I'm a firm believer in voting with my wallet, so I take these things quite seriously. I try to reward retailers that are doing things "correctly" (admittedly in my subjective opinion) with cold hard cash. Out looking for some trades to give away as gifts? I think long and hard about where to drop that money. Today, I was *intending* on picking up Agents of Atlas #2 (Marvel), Detective Comics #823 (DC), and the first part of a 3-issue Jonah Jex (DC) arc, since it featured an origin story pencilled by Jordi Bernet. Sadly, at 12:10pm, for whatever reason (it's really not my problem to figure out why), my retailer did not have these books. Needless to say, when I get around to actually buying them, it won't be from that shop.

With that frustration vented and behind us, reviews of what I was actually able to find will be up soon.


100*One Hundred*100

Well, here it is. I'm closing in on my first calendar year and have hit that magic base-10 milestone of the 100th post at 13 Minutes! It's been quite a hectic year. For the most part, I've managed to hit all of my original goals when I started the site. I've kept up with the weekly posts, never missing a single one. Of course, there were a few occasions where I only had time to simply *list* (not actually read) the books I acquired with some casual observations, but those were few and far between. At least one post went up every single week, and I'm proud of that regularity, and typically it was two or three. On top of that, I also kept up the promise of the recurring Graphic Novel Of The Month review, in fact some of the more recent monthly posts included multiple offerings, because there were simply so many (too many!) fine titles to choose from. Additionally, we had San Diego Comic Con International coverage, Eisner Awards coverage, and a lot of other miscellaneous ramblings. I managed to sneak in the Top 10 lists for the year (something I plan on doing again at the end of this calendar year), and was pleasantly surprised by the number of creators who stopped by and all of the various places on the web that linked to 13 Minutes (or ran 13 Minutes reviews). The only significant thing I'd really like to add in the coming year will be commentary from some guest contributors. In fact, I have a few contest ideas in mind to search for new talent to contribute to the 13 Minutes reviews. More to come on that!

One more thing I'd like to do is create a 13 Minutes ComicCast (ie: Podcast). I've talked to a few people in the industry who've tried this and have been listening religiously to Fanboy Radio and Augie De Blieck's Pipeline Podcast to get a feel for what I like and don't like, and mainly what my key market differentiator would be. I've been researching recording software, RSS feed file hosting, as well as the latest and greatest in mic capability (thanks to my pal Lawrence Ingraham, whose tech skills dwarf my own, thanks Law!). Looking to get that started during the calendar year.

As if that weren't enough on getting the comic book review message into the world, I also accepted a Freelance Writer position at the East County Californian (California's Oldest Weekly Newspaper! That's San Diego's East County, for those of you keeping score at home...) where I write a weekly column titled Sequential Essentials. Keeping up with the hustle and flow of a frenzied weekly paper and being somewhat accountable to an Editor (I'll resist the temptation of my inner Spider Jerusalem and not refer to her as my "pig-fucking Editor") was interesting. But, at the end of the day the ECC crew has been most hospitable and let me do just about anything I wanted. It's a paying gig and getting the "word" out to the un(comic)educated masses has been rewarding.

Still scratching that incessant itch to write, I've been slowly making progress on some scripts. I was quite active cranking them out and passing them onto up and coming friends of friends on the fringe of the industry in the 2000-2003 era and then hit a bit of a lull. Thankfully, I've been jumping back in. I recently completed a script titled Generosity, USA which is a biographical tale about my Grandfather's exploits in the Army Air Corps during World War II. I'm also putting together some ideas for a second arc of The Adventures of Galaxy Dog (first 11 issues in the can, thank you very much!). My most recent writing project is actually an 8-issue Batman mini-series. There's no way in hell I think I'm ready to write a big property and DC flat out doesn't accept unsolicited submissions, so I started doing this self-imposed writing "assignment" mostly for the practice. I had an idea pop into my head that no Batman scribe has ever attempted and felt like fleshing it out. Before long I was doing tons of research online, had the first 3 issues plotted and decided to just finish it out. It's not fully scripted yet, but suddenly I was writing a one page proposal and seeking out DC Editors. I'm just about to pitch the one page proposal, fingers crossed!

In the middle of all that, work (my "real job") has been ridiculously intense, full of tight deadlines, a budget crisis, laying off a few people, unexpected emergency incidents popping up (bomb threat in Houston, anyone?) and the return of business travel for yours truly.

So, that's lucky #100. Thanks for reading!


Creators, Thanks For Stopping By!

It sure seems like things have been heating up around here lately with the professional talent that's snuck in the door! Some were rootin' tootin' up-and-comers like Oakland, California's Grant Lee, who is self-publishing his book online. He's the Writer/Artist of Li Jun: Martial Arts Epic, a fun manga infused adventure series that Grant's been plugging away at: http://www.angiecha.com/lijun/lijun.html One of these days, I'll convince Grant to start penciling one of my scripts and you'll see us with a table at the next Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco.

Some were making their Image Comics debut, like Artist Jamie McKelvie, with his book Phonogram, that literally blends the power of music right into the hands of the characters. It's one of the most original and promising surprises to debut in quite some time!

And some were industry vets like Kabuki Writer/Artist David Mack, who was graciously turned on to 13 Minutes by David Thornton over at http://www.davidmackguide.com/, which chronicles the exploits of the entire Kabuki run and all of the many goings on in the David Mack world.

All in all, I think it's a real positive comment on both the diversity in the industry right now, as well as the feeling of solidarity. At the best of times, it seems like we're all in this together, making it an industry capable of more breadth with a wider sphere of influence. Additionally, I think we're highlighting the "viral" nature of the medium. It's one of the comic book's best inherent qualities. It likes to grow, and spread, and silently infect all aspects of culture, reaching a new audience and fueling inspiration, the creative fuel for new creators.

Thanks Everyone!

Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month

Once again, it was impossible to decide between two works that were so strong and struck such deep chords with me, so I'm offering up a duo for Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month. These works are completely different in style, tone, and creative teams, and serve as shining examples of the diversity possible in the medium today.

The Left Bank Gang (Fantagraphics): Yet another work by Norwegian upstart Jason. Yet another one of Jason's works in full color. And yet another work that proves his work deserving of wider exposure and a wider following. The premise alone should be enough to interest you. Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and James Joyce are all hanging out in 1920's Paris one day... and they decide to rob a bank. What follows is a brilliant character study into the minds, motivations, and capabilities of these four artisans, who all happen to be comic book writers and artists in the melee of Jason's fictitious anthropomorphic Parisian heist. His ostensibly fun and cartoony style hides psychological complexity and a range of emotion so fierce that it surprises you. The storytelling is layered in such a way that we're presented with a Pulp Fiction-Memento-Crash-type set of intertwined stories that take on deeper meaning every time another layer is peeled, revealed, and absorbed by the reader. Artistically, Jason is becoming even more of a powerhouse; his pencil work is slowly taking on a more detailed, intricate, and refined quality. I've talked to people who seem somehow intimidated by the "European" look and feel of Jason's books and are reluctant to give them a spin. That's just bullshit. This is many things and would appeal to anyone who is a fan of the trials and tribulations of people in the comic book industry, writers or artists (in any industry), fans of the authors portrayed, fans of heist movies, adventure books, animal books, or even love stories. In short, if you're human you should be reading Jason's work. It evokes a wide range of emotional beats inherent to the human spirit and common to all. Grade A+.

The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill & Wang): It's difficult for me to "review" this book in that it depicts a graphic retelling of the findings of the 9/11 Commission; it depicts real events. In his introduction, Commission Chair Thomas H. Kein essentially says that 9/11 was one of the most tragic and important days in American History. The Commission sought a way to make it easily accessible to all, a forum that was easily digestible, and that would seek to "energize and engage" citizens of the country to push for the much needed reform and change that may prevent such future horrors. The fact that they turned to the comic book medium is a true testament to the power of the industry. The book chronicles the years leading up to the event, a play by play of significant events that day, and progress (or lack thereof) made toward the reforms and recommendations that the Commission offered, complete with a scorecard full of C's, D's, and F's that grades the US Government's bureaucratic crawl toward change. Artistically, they chose solid veterans to render the panel to panel depiction of events. Writer Sid Jacobson was Editor-in-Chief at Harvey Comics and held the position of Executive Editor at Marvel. He created Richie Rich, *that's* how long he's been in the industry. Ernie Colon is no stranger to the drawing board, having worked at every major company and been the creative force behind Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Blackhawk, and The Flash at DC during the 1960's Silver Age revival. Perhaps it's best summed up by Stan Lee: "Never before have I seen a non-fiction book as beautifully and compellingly written and illustrated as The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. I cannot recommend it too highly. It will surely set the standard for all future works of contemporary history, graphic or otherwise, and should be required reading in every home, school, and library." I'm pondering ways to get this book into the hands of every single person that I know. Grade A+

Get Pantsed!

Randy Lander is one of the founding fathers of the comics blogosphere. He's been at CBR, Psycomic (where I first started reading him), Newsarama, and most recently, The Fourth Rail (along with Don MacPherson). Be sure to check out his new digs over at Comic Pants: www.comicpants.com where he's teamed up with former Ain't It Cool News'ers and some fellow Austin-ites. Randy has been doing the online review gig longer than most and was one of the people who inspired me to start 13 Minutes. It's a slick new site (anything that has Queen & Country panels in the title/logo bar gets my vote!) that has a plethora of timely reviews, a great "Wednesday Number Ones" section, and a soon-to-be Podcast. And yes, I just adore the comic artist rendered bio photos of the staff. That's a "Walking Dead" version of Randy up there!