5.31.07 Reviews

Silent War #5 (Marvel): My favorite part of this issue is how The Inhumans are able to hand the Mighty Avengers their own asses on a silver platter. Tony's newly formed Avengers squad comes prepared for a good old fashioned street brawl, but find they've been out-manuevered by some of the most tactically cunning and brilliant minds (not) on the planet. It's a great lesson that would make Sun Tzu proud of their ability to know their opponent, feign attacks, and play the proverbial chess pieces 5 moves ahead. Couple that with Frazer Irving's inventive, creepy, moody art, and you have one of the best books Marvel is publishing at the moment. It truly lives up to its name, we see a war being waged that's hidden from the spotlight and could have significant repercussions. Grade A.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #2 (Dark Horse): This really feels like an old-school Hellboy story in the way it relies heavily on loose references to myth and legend. That's also aided by tons of connection to earlier stories and characters from the Hellboy mythos. It does read quite like a middle chapter and doesn't offer a complete thread here, but we've come to expect that with the current method of reading better in trade format. For me, the BPRD "spin-off" book has surpassed Hellboy for sheer enjoyment, but I still like checking back in on the big guy as we get closer to his ultimate fate. Grade A-.

Shaolin Cowboy #7 (Burlyman Entertainment): If you want some semblance of a linear plotline to follow and clearly defined thematic arcs, you'd best take your ball and go home. If, however, you want some manic craziness depicted with skillful glee, this is where you need to be. Darrow has taken some adventurous quest elements in this issue and paired them with some bizarrely entertaining (not quite "haha" funny) dialogue. I can say that I don't fully "get" Shaolin Cowboy and what it's laced with in terms of hidden layers of meaning, but what keeps me returning for more is that it's completely original and unique. And at this point in my comic book reading career, where I feel I *have* seen it all, twice even - that's something surprisingly rare and appreciated. There is absolutely nothing like this on the stands. Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Fun Home (Mariner Books): Really looking forward to this Alison Bechdel graphic memoir chronicling her relationship with her late father and struggles with sexuality that made Time Magazine's #1 Book of the Year!

Fear Agent: Volume 2 (Dark Horse): Anxious to read Rick Remender's space adventure in one sitting and hope it holds up in collected form better than the sporadic single issues seemed to play in this second story arc.


5.23.07 Reviews

Wisdom #6 (Marvel/MAX): I love how the entertaining "Previously in Wisdom" sections are always a little different and become more pointed than the last as this crazy sitch wears on. Pete brings up a succinct point from the HG Wells novel that "We are the Martians.. they came to do to us what we did to the world." I enjoyed Maureen playing the self-conscious feisty heroine, but if her son will grow to be such a threat to Martians in every parallel dimension, I never understood why they don't just just kill her/him to prevent it? Paul Cornell is channeling his best Warren Ellis here with lines like "We've got an army made up of faeries and Beatles, and we're fighting HG Wells' Martians and bloody Jack the Rippers." Manuel Garcia's fluid lines capture the mayhem well, much better than original artist Trevor Hairsine, as evidence by the scenes where the faeries come to a surprise rescue instead of bringing war upon our heroes. It all feels like an Ellis plot, with bouts of Grant Morrison dialogue. I was so impressed by a gutwrenching act of unexpected love to ease Maureen Raven's passing, kudos to the creators for not pulling any punches, Garcia's art, sans dialogue nails the emotional gravitas in those 4 panels, as Pete does what's best for the greater good. The stage is set here for future stories as Maureen's son rises to prominence in the Marvel U. And as usual, Pete Wisdom just can't catch a break. He's the perfect downtrodden hero. Grade A.

Criminal #6 (Marvel/Icon): I keep trying to analyze why I'm not warming to this title or as impressed by it as everyone else seems to be. At first I thought it was because I've studied crime at the university level, the personalities, the crime scene pictures, and the reality of those situations and people is that they're just never the noble, stand-up guys, the likeable rogues, that pop culture makes them out to be with glamorized fiction goggles on. But, I don't think it's exactly that. Criminal is undoubtedly noir, and I think, for me, the intensity of that noir feel is a little too in-your-face. It's full of the tough, cynical characters in bleak settings from the film noir that inspired this work and is frequently discussed in the bonus sections and letter columns. I like my fiction a little more subtle and less defined, in the gray area between positive and negative attributes. I guess I like my fiction to present more of a moral dilemma, instead of being permeated to the point of saturation by a feeling of disillusionment, pessimism, and despair so embedded in the narrative. "This was a hard place, a cold place." If you like that tone, turned up to an 11, then this is excellent work, but not so much for me personally. It's too overt; it plays a bit redudnant to Phillips' adequately dark images. Yes, we have night sequences, the heavy rain, the greyhound buses, the neighborhood bar, the rough language, the sudden action, the man with a past, the down-on-her-luck prostitute, the strained familial relationships, and Brubaker pulls out all the tools in the toolbox, but I've seen it before. Maybe not in comics (not this well anyway), maybe not this polished or thought out, but it's really not *that* original. For me, it's all too ominous and terribly overwrought. So... the first ever, split grade at 13 Minutes. I think this is Grade A work in itself, I don't mean to discredit Brubaker's scripting ability and Phillips' commitment and delivery of solid visual storytelling, but my personal interest puts this only at a solid (some will say "mere") Grade B.

Snakewoman #0 (Virgin Comics): At a mere (there's that word again!) 99-cents, Wells & Gaydos offer up some history of the mythic backdrop this ongoing series uses. This was a smart release, this information is nice, but would have bogged down the main title, and is well-timed with the first trade and spin-off books due out soon. An even more effective release tactic would have been to make this the Virgin Comics' Free Comic Book Day offering instead of the unfocused crud they did put out. For that, we'll downgrade slightly to a Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Fell: Limited Edition Hardcover (Image): An awesome collection of the first 8 issues of the Warren Ellis & Ben Templesmith masterpiece. The book (along with Casanova, also released today) that proved the $1.99 format a true and instant success. This team absolutely nails story structure here, with perfect done-in-one stories, which coalesce to tell an overarching tale full of intrigue, gritty realism, with excellent pacing and engaging dialogue. Highly recommended, Grade A+.

The Homeless Channel (AiT/PlanetLar): Writer/Artist Matt Silady offers up an interesting high concept here, with art reminiscent of Jeremy Haun.


13 Minutes Loves Dr. Thirteen!

It seems our prayers have been answered and DC Comics has wisely opted to publish a trade collecting the recent Dr. Thirteen mini-series independent of The Spectre mini-series that ran with it in Tales of the Unexpected. I stumbled upon this while perusing the August solicitations. Rejoice!

DR. THIRTEEN: ARCHITECTURE & MORTALITY TP Written by Brian Azzarello, Art and cover by Cliff Chiang, Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang join forces to tell the adventures of Dr. Terrence Thirteen, a parapsychologist who disproves reports of supernatural activity. In this story collected from TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED #1-8, Dr. Thirteen rounds up a group of the world's magical beings to prevent strange forces from tearing asunder the very fabric of the past, present, and future! Advance-solicited; on sale September 19, 144 pgs, FC, $14.99, US.


Free Comic Book Day - 2007 (Cont'd)

And finally... here are the last few Free Comics that I was able to find this year;

Comics 101: How-To & History Lessons From The Pros! (TwoMorrows Publishing): This is the ultimate Comic Book Industry primer. Brilliant lessons in page layout and penciling (what the Wizard Free Comic Book this year aspires to be), a brilliant art critique section, realistic advice for aspiring writers, and a fairly succinct history of the medium up until the Modern Age that hits all of the major highlights. In short, you could hand this book to someone who knew nothing about comics, or was an aspiring creator, and it would be an effective crash course in getting them up to speed immediately. Grade A+.

Whiteout #1 (Oni Press): There's not much more to say about Greg Rucka's first foray into the comic book realm than it really holds up over time. Years later, it's very strong work that's strikingly original, a unique setting, an offbeat protagonist, and very effective storytelling due in part to collaborator Steve Lieber (who I wish was working more). About the only negative thing I can say about it is that I personally wish Lily Sharpe (I think that's the name of the other female secret agenty type on the ice beside US Marshal Carrie Stetko) had actually turned out to be Tara Chase from Queen & Country. It would have just been a cool way to tie the Oni "Rucka-verse" together. This is a wonderful Free Comic, complete with an interesting retrospective on Oni/advertisement for some of the other books in the Oni Press stable. Grade A.

Last Blood #1 (Blatant Comics): The best way I can sum up this title is that it feels like The Walking Dead meets 30 Days of Night, with gray tone art by Arthur (Kissing Chaos) De LaCruz. This was surprisingly enjoyable, with a unique take on the de rigeur zombie/vampire mythos. The take here is that zombies are actually vampires suffering from severe bloodlust, who haven't fed, and are degenerating to the point of mental breakdown. Grade A-.

Unseen Peanuts (Fantagraphics): This is a wonderful collection of the so called "Lost" Peanuts strips, many of which would have never seen print if not for Fantagraphics commendable multi-year project to publish the definitive, and comprehensive, Peanuts library. What I enjoyed most here wasn't the charming early or "off" work of Schulz, but the fascinating commentary on each strip by Kim Thompson as to the speculation on why they never saw print, the evolution of Schulz's style, and some of the embedded social commentary of the time. A fine book itself, it's also a wonderful gateway to the continuing Fantagraphics' Peanuts library. Grade A-.

Comics Festival! (Legion of Evil Press): Produced in conjunction with the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, this is a shotgun blast of different Canadian creators including personal faves Darwyn Cooke, Eric Kim, Chip Zdarsky, Cameron Stewart, and Steve Rolston. There isn't necessarily one strong standout here, but the sheer volume of pieces, organic diversity, and creator bios make it a nice alternative contribution to FCBD. Grade B+.

Family Guy/Hack Slash Flip Book (Devil's Due Publishing): This may have been the surprise of this bunch. Having never watched an episode of Family Guy before, I didn't exactly have a frame of reference, but it was easy to figure out who was who, and I laughed out loud a couple of times. Really enjoyed the dad's narration and deadpan delivery. Hack/Slash learned about proper character introduction and offered up an amusing origin story, with effective art. Grade B+.

Wahoo Morris (Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics): Very clean pencils and an engaging story about fellow band-mates and their circle of friends that's one part Strangers In Paradise and one part Stylish Vittles. Would have preferred to see the "uncut" original version of this first issue to properly gauge my interest, but pretty strong nonetheless. Grade B.

Nexus (Rude Dude Productions): I'll admit that I liked Nexus a bit back in the day. As a loyal follower of Jim Starlin's Dreadstar, I crossed over during a team up between him, Grimjack, and Nexus - I believe that was during the First Comics run. This collection of highlights feels a bit random, with no particular order, in an effort to pick up a 10-year old storyline. If you're one of those die hard fans of the original, I'm sure this will generate some interest. I, however, am not one of those fans. Grade C.

Digital Webbing Jam 2007 (Digital Webbing): Even for free, this smattering of E-Man, Bloodrayne, Fist of Justice, and Zombie Highway is pretty poor. The Bloodrayne crew really needs to study the Comics 101: How-To book to learn about framing and cropping panels, and remember to properly introduce their characters if you want anyone to care about them. E-Man is just a tired, tired property that the creators keep trying to milk unsuccessfully, Fist of Justice is wholly unoriginal and uninteresting, Zombie Highway showed some promise on the artistic/inking front, but by then I was too tired to read through it. There was also some short piece about Abe Lincoln's head or something, but it all just made my own head hurt. Not a good showing overall. Grade D.


5.16.07 Reviews

Wasteland #9 (Oni Press): For me, this was like watching a stovetop full of bubbling pots and being unable to mitigate the impending disasters... they're going to spill over and that well-orchestrated chaos is all pretty damn entertaining. In one pot, I see an analysis of the captor/prisoner paradigm and why it will be doomed to ultimate failure, this one is a good social anthropology experiment to witness. In another pot, I enjoy Michael navigating through the hidden underground resistance of Newbegin, moving between Artisian and slave, in and out of different areas of the city. The act of not telling us overtly about Michael's origin, but rather showing us his capabilities through his actions is a very smart choice - Antony Johnston is revealing his cunning as a writer. There is the feigned execution of Golden Voice, a nice bait-and-switch, which only promises further drama. There's fascinating rumors about Michael thanks to the Sultan, and a brilliant cliffhanger as The Founder's forces break into the home of Abi & Michael's temporary benefactor. There's the branding sequence that smacks uncomfortably of a WWII concentration camp scene. And Christopher Mitten depicts it all with the seamless balance of an ethereal dreamlike quality and a gritty realism you can feel in your gut. "Can all this really be happening to these beloved characters," I plead with myself? "Damn it, it really is happening," I mutter back in entertaining agony! Like a symphony conductor, all the threads are handled masterfully to make sweet comic book music. Wasteland engulfs you with mystery and intrigue as it builds layer upon layer of beautiful suspense, both visually and thematically. It's been a treat to witness the birth of such a unique vision and see the epic unfolding. This is unequivocally excellent comic book craftsmanship. Grade A+.

Special thanks again to Antony Johnston, Christopher Mitten, and the crew at Oni Press for including a review excerpt from 13 Minutes on the back cover of this issue! Thanks for the support and keep up the amazing work!

Local #9 (Oni Press): Megan quickly exits Chicago and goes back to Norman, Oklahoma. We know this from effective establishing shots and transitions, sans dialogue, courtesy of the Pitch Perfect Pencils (Aka: "P-Cubed," *patent pending) of Ryan Kelly. I've said it before and I'll say it again because I think it exemplifies the kind of compliment I want to pay, but Kelly's pencils are a dead bang blender of Paul Pope and Farel Dalrymple. On the writing front, I love how Brian Wood pulls off a little magic act and simultaneously expands the Local "universe" with different towns and settings, but also narrows the focus to one recurring character. Megan's Mom providing her no real boundaries is, I believe, now challenging her to find her true self amid all that ostensible freedom, the quest in itself becomes her own little personal prison. Grade A.

BPRD: Garden of Souls #3 (Dark Horse): I love the attitude of "I guess I didn't make myself clear. I'm a United States Federal Agent." I loved the creepy reveal of the little girl making pictures on the ground, with cats running around in the background. I love that I saw Guy Davis' art incorporate some Paul Grist feel to it (check the panels where Abe is ambushed). I love how his panels are expansive and breathe with plenty of room to flourish on the page (check out the sequence with Abe wandering through the mansion). I love that we're one step closer to discovering the meaning of Abe's past and whose souls are inhabiting this garden. I love Liz's muted reaction to the discovery of Captain Daimio's past. This much love guarantees you a Grade A.

Ex Machina #28 (DC/Wildstorm): What struck me this issue was the cinematic feel to the endeavor, assumably due to the collaboration between Vaughan's script and Harris' penciled interpretation. Look at the cinematic transition between the line "Our people have learned to take care of eachother, it's a new New York" and the jump cut to a driver flipping a pedestrian off. Feel the blue night air of the "go-fast" boat scene, that just feels very Michael Mann-ish to me. Vaughan continues his realistic flow with the dialogue and plays up some nice character moments. And, I'm sorry but that dude from the alternate reality is just really fucking creepy! And so is the alternate reality! Reagan's son is President!? Sheesh! The end cliffhanger was pretty well telegraphed, but I sincerely appreciated the attention to detail from Harris' pencils. He drew us a perfect Sig-Sauer (looks to be a 9mm model P228), complete with de-cocking lever. Yeah, Ex Machina is chugging right along, and it's really good. Yet I'm conflicted. I'm not getting the high from it I used to. I don't find myself really needing the instant fix. There's no real buzz around the title anymore and I think I could get by on purchasing trades only at this point. But not buying single issues is a pretty good way to ensure a beloved series stops and sorta' breaks one of my self-imposed rules about buying habits. What to do, what to do... what say you? Grade A-.

The Mighty Avengers #3 (Marvel): Yeah, Cho's art takes some lashes for the obvious cheesecake factor, but it's really nice in terms of facial expressions and panel transitions too, so let's cut the guy some slack and balance the feedback, shall we? I enjoyed the whispered and desperate attempts by Ms. Marvel to maintain some modicum of field leadership as the team tries to deal with a T2 T1000 inspired liquid metal Ultron. Bendis captures a nice balance of character moments and action, which typifies what a "good" Avengers book should be. This issue actually reminded me of the Busiek/Perez run, but with more general cool factor. The attack on the Helicarrier was scary and we see the team avoid a cataclysmic 9/11-esque incident. The SHIELD Agents trying to find the ranking officer on deck was priceless, and Black Widow, being both an effective strategic thinker and tactical fighter, earns her "Level 10 Shield Agent" status in about two panels. OH SHIT, what a cliffhanger! Grade B+.

Justice League of America #9 (DC): The cover coloring looks a little washed out. What does "gonna' go all Westworld on us" mean? Did someone just refer to the "middle crisis" in a ugly, pedestrian example of self-referential continuity events? All that aside, enjoyed the Gorilla City/Vixen moments, they just play... cool. Benes' art ranges from fun and clean to hurried with cheesy awkward angles (check out the panel with "Big Chin Roy," his huge chin protruding all blocky, while the panel manages to be totally flat at the same time, and we get to look up his nostrils, WTF?). Power Girl doesn't have nipples apparently, because we'd be seeing them if she did wear something that skimpy or shaped that way given the overall shape of her breasts (nipples aren't located on the bottom corner of the breast guys, they're most generally toward the center of the mass of flesh...). Basic female anatomy will just plague some artists forever I guess. All in all, it's a treat to see all these characters, 3 teams worth no less, neat villains, interesting settings, etc. I applaud Meltzer swinging for the fences (really, shouldn't a JLA book always do this?), but hope it doesn't derail and he can keep it all on track. Hey, Brad! Jokes about the TV show Mama's Family? Definitely off track. Well done exchanges between Hawkgirl, Roy, and Power Girl? Back on track. Mister Terrific with a twinge of panic? "Call Bruce. Have him get in there." On track. It's getting better. It's probably going to take until issue 12 at this rate, but I think this title can be dialed in to achieve more. For now, Grade B.

Checkmate #14 (DC): This doesn't even come close to picking up on the cliffhanger from last issue. I'm not sure what happened to get us to this point in the story. I guess I was supposed to read The Outsiders to find out(?) But I didn't, so would a little recap blurb kill you? The art ranges from near-competent to an unfinished look, like someone spilled some watercolors on it, lacks definition or full rendering, and there are some really wonky lines and poses like Nightwing throwing his batar-wing-ding-thing in mid-air, not to mention his grotesque 5 o'clock shadow (how he could ever nail Babs, Starfire, or Huntress with that scruff going on is beyond me). Some of the banter from the infil team was a little painful, but I did like the banter between Fire and Tommy Jaeger, is this the result of two writers? Grade B-.

X-Factor #19 (Marvel): The X-Factor crew reaches a critical turning point for me... I decided to forego upgrading to the third hardcover collection today. The series is just not quite good enough to justify the investment, not consistently anyway, there are moments of sheer brilliance where it rises above the bar, but then moments when it dips way below, largely because of the revolving door policy with artists. I'll buy the single issues only. I'm really tired of mediocre art pulling down otherwise strong writing (hello, Checkmate! yes, I'm still talking about you). Peter David's script gives an interesting "survival instinct" motif that runs parallel with the story and touches upon what people do to survive, what you do for yourself, what you do for the greater good, and how sometimes those are in sync, and sometimes they're at odds. The art jumps around in quality, panels with Rictor and Siryn generally seem ok, as if the artist has the look down... but then we get wild inconsistency with Rahne, Jaime, and Monet with some bad, blocky angular, disproportioned... just crap. Grade B-.

I also picked up;

The Plain Janes (DC/Minx): Really curious to see how DC's new line aimed at girls will play out. They've tapped up-and-coming novelist Jeanne Castellucci here, and I'll pretty much pick up anything with Jim Rugg's name on it due to my instant love for Afrodisiac.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 (Archaia Studios Press): Somehow I missed early issues of this book, it seemed to be one of ASP's early hits, so I'm totally excited to check out this very attractive little hardover.


Free Comic Book Day - 2007 (Cont'd)

I managed to find more of the FCBD books and thought I'd share some quick thoughts. Yes, I ended up *paying* for them (three for a dollar, which isn't too bad), which is excruciatingly ridiculous considering they all say "free" on them, but here you go...

Justice League of America #0 (DC): As with the Legion book, kudos to DC for changing up their offering this year, and this was a logical one to include. "First" issue of an ongoing title, currently not too deep in the run so people can snap up back issues, and features all the big gun properties. Some of the continuity jumps and time flexing to and fro might be confusing to a new reader, but otherwise a pretty solid choice for a free reprint. Grade B+.

Amelia Rules! (Renaissance Press): Jimmy Gownley shows off some beautiful line work, a great ear for dialogue, and this held my interest quite well. The full page defintion of "hangin' out" had some definite panache that endeared me to the title. This is entertaining for adults, and also has some nice little teachable moments embedded throughout for the kids. Nice blurb for the upcoming issue dealing with war. Apathy Kat felt a little too cartoony for me, but it was nice to get the full length double feature. Might have to pick me up one of those "Meel-yuh" hardcovers. Grade B+.

X-Men: Life Lessons (Marvel & Starbright): John Paul Leon & Joe Casey... that makes sense. As I started reading this, I was thinking, wow this is actually written pretty well... these thick inky lines, this art is actually good. Decent enough issue for a good cause, solid kid message (although I thought you can't access the Danger Room without supervision from a seasoned instructor/X-Man for this very reason?) starring faux X-Man Terry Raymond. Grade B.

Owly (Top Shelf): The expressive imagery and symbols are the reasons to check out Owly. I was wondering if Andy Runton's work would hold up in the larger-than-digest normal size, and there are some panels that come out a little rough. The pen and ink style linework of Korgi seems interesting. Grade B.

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk (Marvel): Pretty strong, fun Iron Man story (though I don't know if the difference between "Zenalde" and "Zinalda" works when spoken, it's still "ZIN-Awl-Duh" either way, right?) which should appeal to kids, a fun characterization of Pepper. The Hulk story is a little more simplistic, but also entertaining enough for kids, I suppose. The Franklin Richards story is just like all the other ones are to me - boring and not funny - but overall a good offering with three properties which can function fine as segway drugs. Grade B.

Virgin Comics Special (Virgin): Too much text! Devi and Ramayan 3392 AD suffer from this, but attempt to make up for it with some nice art. I like The Sadhu, but like all of this, it's largely random reprints taken out of context. Moscow sorta' looks like Saint Peters Square in Rome, but otherwise Walk-In showed some promise. Nice ads for the trades and an uneasy feeling as I see Virgin already diversifying with spin off titles; I fear it's too soon to dilute this mildly interesting line. Even the stronger titles like Snake Woman and The Sadhu haven't sustained my interest. If Zeb Wells and Michael Gaydos could only do it for five issues or so on the main book, Ron Marz sure ain't gonna' with a spin-off title. Grade B.

Gumby (Wildcard Ink): A couple typos here and there, and the pulpy paper reminded me of that cheap grade school stuff with the chunks of bark in it. Otherwise, a nice group of indy creators doing a good book for kids with a decent adventure in a museum that weaves together some well known works of art. Grade B-.

Love & Capes (Maerkle Press): Your basic riff on the Holy Trinity of Supes/Bats/WW, complete with a "League" in a satellite. Some of the panel/dialogue sequences also seemed out of whack, as if word balloons were attributed to the wrong speaker. Some minor little character moments (I liked the Sister in the bookstore) are ok, but it pretty much never rises above the level of "harmlessly pleasant," and doesn't ever reach amusing or stand out in any way. Grade B-.

Wizard: How to Draw (Wizard Entertainment): This is a decent enough compilation, highlighting some of the better "How To" series that Wizard has run over the years, but I'm wondering why Wizard wanted to participate in FCBD at all(?) And once they decided to, this seems an odd choice (attempting to inspire would-be artists, I guess?), wouldn't it make more sense to run samples of a few articles so that the 9 people left in the world *not* buying Wizard might seek it out? Grade C+.

Sonic The Hedgehog (Archie Comics): Is this still a viable property to be playing with? It's not engaging or entertaining for grown ups, and do kids even know who Sonic is anymore? My cousin had a Sega in like, I don't know, 1990 or something? Kids today play more current games and certainly aren't reading comics, much less comics about near-20 year old gaming console characters. Nice coloring, cool page layouts, fast pace, and a decent enough package, I just gotta' question the property. Grade C.

Buzzboy & Roboy Red: The Buzz & The 'Bot (Sky-Dog Press): This is all flurry, manic hustle and bustle, but I couldn't seem to get a foothold anywhere to engage, and ultimately just found myself scanning the pics and words. It felt claustrophobic and crowded in all the panels. Dizzying bits aside, a mildy cool John Gallagher tribute to his mom encouraging his creativity with comic reading habits as a kid was about the only thing I could bear to actually sit through. Grade C.

Who Wants to Be a Superhero? (Dark Horse): I never watched the show, but the reality TV connection already has you in the hole with a kinda' tawdry and dirty feeling. The skimpy page count, Will Conrad art ruined by too dark inking, and forced generic origin story pretty much killed this. And let's not forget nail-in-the-coffin Nurse Sarah! (ugh, groan). Doesn't her very look and presence sorta' fulfill every negative mysogynistic objectifying unrealistic Penthouse forumy male adolescent power fantasy stereotype the medium has? Very not good. Grade D.


5.09.07 Reviews - Part 2

DMZ #19 (DC/Vertigo): Wood & Burchielli continue their intriguing story about a shooting incident in the DMZ. This time they throw in the perspective of the ranking officer on scene, in what looks to be a legitimate alternate take on the event, or is he just believing his own lie? I love following Matt along as he tries to find the truth. It's a good lesson in what happens when you ask 4 different people what happened during a certain event and get 4 similar, but differing takes on it. As an added bonus, the guest artists are on fire here... Nathan Fox continues his brushed looking, inky lines reminiscent of Paul Pope, and Viktor Kalvachev brings on the detailed realism of Travis Charest with the symbolic stylization of say, Becky Cloonan (on Wood's own Demo series). Grade A.

The Killer #4 (Archaia Studios Press): Jacamon & Matz continue to impress with their story of a professional hitman questioning his place in life, flashes of regret now seeping into his periphery. I know this will sound blasphemous, but it's really intended as a compliment... the refined art reminded me of Herge in spots, The Killer looking like a grown up Tintin(!) Every panel is just filled with so much life, check out the way the bar scene seems to bustle with activity, or the way the soft aqua-blue lighting of the sex scene pops with a clean, ethereal energy. This is one of the smartest and most beautifully rendered books currently on the stands! Not to be missed; can't wait for the hardcover collection. Grade A.

Note: Special thanks to the crew at Archaia Studios Press for including a lone review on the back cover of issue 4 right here from 13 Minutes! Thanks guys, I appreciate the support! Keep up the amazing work! There are also review excerpts from 13 Minutes and others on the ASP site: http://www.aspcomics.com/killer_preview.html

Stormwatch: PHD #7 (DC/Wildstorm): This is going to be the most backhanded compliment I give all week... I really shouldn't like this series, but I totally do. The characters are just okay, kind of tired leftovers from the Wildstorm Universe. The art ranges from just okay, with some occasionally disproportioned anatomy, to quite good and is actually improving all the time. But Gage and Mahnke manage to squeeze some life out of it all with some very creative energy and the application of disciplined comic book craft. The plot flows with a likable ease; it's extremely readable and never stops being engaging or intriguing. Gage's ear for naturalistic dialogue never fails and here he hits on some notes about the burdens of leadership quite well. I'm reminded of Roger Ebert quote "a good movie is not about what it's about, it's about how it's about what it's about." In other words, you can have the most boring setting or tired group of people around, but if the craft you apply to them is sufficiently inventive or polished, you get entertaning results. Like a stodgy curmudgeon, I keep looking for reasons not to like this book, but thankfully can never find any. Grade B+.

Battle Pope #14 (Image): I've been an extremely casual fan of Battle Pope, picking up stray issues in dollar bins and recently began buying the series regularly with #12. So, I guess it's my fault for not knowing that this issue was the last issue, last reprint of the original self-published Funk-O-Tron run anyway, and it now goes on hiatus. Damn, just when I was beginning to get into it. That said, it does end pretty abruptly, and instead of being sort of randomly funny, there's an effort to unexpectedly end the plot with a marriage between Mary & God, which just falls kind of flat. Tony Moore's pencils are still magnificent and Val Staples coloring is extremely vibrant, but the story's over. Kirkman mentions a new mini-series... in 2008. Ok, maybe I'll remember to check that out. Grade B-.


5.09.07 Reviews - Part 1

Tales of the Unexpected #8 (DC): Ok gang, you know the drill. I'm basically ignoring The Spectre lead story here because it's unfocused drivel with no clear objectives. When it's not prevaricating about Crispus Allen and what he's supposed to be doing and how we're supposed to react to it, or failing to string together little murderous vignettes with no common throughline other than the obvious presence of The Spectre, it relies on mis-used lines like "dying in an orgy of his own blood" to try and capture some pseudo-shocking, retro-horror feel from DC's 1970's stable, which doesn't actually make much sense when you think about it. Eric Battle's art ain't too bad though, and saves us from a Grade F. There are little flashes of artistic brilliance scattered about, like his JH Williams-inspired panel borders on a couple pages. Hey, David Lapham! As a person who speaks Spanish pretty well, I have no idea what a "bendeho" is, did you mean "pendejo?" If you're going to bother including a language besides English, and a choice swear word no less, you might want to... I don't know, get it right. I really hope they don't try to launch another Spectre series based on this crap. And that about sums up The Spectre, along with a Grade D. Annnnnd at the far opposite end of the spectrum, we have Dr. 13! All it takes is for me to see the blush of Traci's cute cheeks on the very first page and I smile contentedly to myself. I love this story and everything about it, the double entendres, the laugh out loud lines, and the precious biting, self-referential commentary on it's own DC Universe. Amid all the grand spectacle of multiverses, jacked around with continuity, and planned events, we are reminded that, yes, some of the best stories may not necessarily be "in continuity" or part of a cohesive planned universe from one week to the next, but that doesn't make them any less special. And the point that I think Dr. 13 is trying to make is that characters have the ability to outlive and endure whatever weirdness their creators make them go through, even if we don't agree with the direction. And that fact gives us hope. The character's unwritten tales are the only truly organic "fewcha." Even if they are vampires... or cavemen... or umm, "really dead pirates..." or "girls that can give you diseases." Haha! Someone needs to do an annotated, panel by panel analysis of this undervalued, underappreciated, and largely unnoticed work! This needs to be top-of-mind in the comic book community and permeate the collective zeitgeist. This is an important work, damn it! And don't forget DC, I want this collected separately from that smelly pile of steamy dog shit you're calling a "lead" story. I would love to believe that the ad for the next adventure, "The Quest For Fear," is real and not the tongue-in-cheek, well-placed-before-the-ad-page fake out it is, but as we see, every story must come to a bitter and unexpected e-- If there was a higher grade that could capture the sheer brilliance of this project, I'd give it, because this is well beyond Grade A+.

Note: The image you see is not the cover of TotU #8, nor is it from any interior panel of the series. It's actually a pic of Traci 13 (aka: Girl 13) from an old Superman comic, only thing I could quickly find of her... I just couldn't bring myself to put up a cover displaying The Spectre when I loathe it so much and love her and the Dr. 13 story with equally passionate, but opposing, force. Hrmm, Traci 13...? 13 Minutes...? There's got to be a good joke in here somewhere...

The Immortal Iron Fist #5 (Marvel): The placement and timing of "Brooklyn headbutt" sort of captures the charm of this series for me. 98% of the time it's deadly serious and I really dig that tone, but Brubaker and Fraction are also not afraid of a little tongue-in-cheek humor to ground it to its origins. Aja's art is just fucking amazing, check out the detail in the iron work on the bridge, his graceful lines and kinetic energy in every panel. I feel like I can almost see the characters moving their way through the story. He also tosses out some little cookies like "NYC Eisner" on the manhole cover. We get some good information here on why Orson Randall disappeared, the centuries old Iron Fist legacy, and now see Orson sort of oddly passing the torch to Danny, as he has great responsibility suddenly thrust upon him unexpectedly and an expectation that he'll survive the coming days. Nice Luke Cage and (new) Heroes for Hire cameo. The ending page, and the series itself, is becoming a good writing lesson in "put your characters where they'd least like to be" in order to squeeze maximum drama out of them. Grade A.

New Avengers #30 (Marvel): This issue is very well rounded and basically what I personally want from an Avengers comic. It's got consistent, detailed, and impressive Leinil Yu art, loads of humor, spot on characterization, some long due information about Clint/Hawkeye and Maya/Ronin, fun action sequences, and some explanations that go a long way toward "making up" for the bizarre intentions and lack of thought out arguments or plausible discussions in Civil War. Tony actually has a very eloquent plea to the renegade Avengers here that is an honest, interesting, quiet little moment which plays antithetical to much of how we've seen him portrayed as a manipulator in Mighty Avengers and Civil War. And just when you start to accept Tony's side of the argument, Luke has an equally logical stance about a possible conspiracy in the Marvel U involving SHIELD, Hydra, Fury, and the Civil War. Even goofball Peter Parker jumps in and articulates a well reasoned "sanity check" on everyone about how bad guys never *think* they're the bad guys. This was just the most logical and articulate I've seen any of the Civil War issues being presented. Odd that it happens long after the war is over and doesn't say much for the main Civil War series, but as an Avengers book dealing with the fallout, kudos to Bendis for giving us something that's beyond being just competent or fun, it reaches a level of poignancy that's been lacking for some time. Grade A.

Phonogram #6 (Image): The bold experiment that was Phonogram finally comes to a close with a quiet showdown between Kohl and Brittania. One of the points I took away from this final issue was that events or people living on in nostalgia makes them precious, while actually revisiting that time and attempting to enjoy or relive the experience again leads to utter disappointment and cheapens its meaning. What makes those moments great is that they're inherently memories, gone and in the past, imbued with the focus of time's march forward to help clarify meaning and blur the rough edges. And for me, it's a great point, but it took an obtusely long time to make. As usual, the behind-the-scenes essays on the fear around the homophobia-inducing cover, assorted peeks into the creative process, interesting points about Oasis (my personal Britpop favorite, and all us Americans were really ever exposed to with any regularity), and fated crossing of paths between individuals meant to connect is all more interesting and engaging than the subject matter, or actual comic, itself. The creators clearly have a passion for their material, and it's downright infectious, a great idea, plenty of inspiration and originality, but the execution just leaves me with a lackluster feeling. I don't know what else to say. As someone who's also seen their name in print for the first time, self-published, created something that was put out into the world, and endured that odd mix of elation, pride, and fear, I deeply appreciate their efforts and so completely wanted to like this more than I really did. But, I did like it enough to at least check out the first ish of the next series. These guys are creators to keep an eye on. Cheers. Grade B.

Countdown #51 (DC): At least, I think that's the issue number of this book. Is that the gimmick? Next issue will be #50, then 49, 48, etc? And we'll "countdown" weekly to... something? Ok, first off... it's $2.99. I know that's "regular" comic book price and all, but for a weekly book, this is a pretty significant investment being asked of me, $155.48 by my calculations. I'll buy a couple hardcover collections of something instead. I know the difference between this price tag and the $2.50 price of 52 is negligible (an annual savings of only $25.48), but I still liked the good faith effort to make a gesture to lower the price to help incentivize a weekly purchase. "So Begins The End!" the cover announces. End of what? I need more of a plot description than "it will change the DCU forever! (ahem, again)" to interest me. Darkseid says it will be the end of "existence." Umm, what? Why? Didn't we already do that two or three times with the last few DC event series? I'm so tired of these mindless, empty events that are more devoid of meaning and lasting significance with each successive occurrence. I'm a fairly voracious reader of DC books, but I don't know who Duela is. If I don't know, how is anyone new gonna' know? Tracy Angel, Heat Wave, Jason Todd, Trickster? *These* are the characters who we'll be focusing on? No, thanks. Kind of misleading that all of the DCU big guns are on the cover, but none appear inside. Monitors with guns? Nope. Duela saying she's from a "neighboring Earth?" Nope, a little too much forced self-awareness of the multiverse for my taste. Countdown? Count me officially out of this series. The only positive comment I have is that Jesus Saiz's art is simple and pleasant, much better than anything I saw in 52. Hope he sticks around for a few issues to add some class and consistency on the artistic front. Too bad I won't be around to see it. Grade D+.

Retailer Appreciation Day (Only The Opposite...)

Let's call May 9th Retailer Appreciation Day. Okay, maybe in the Bizarro Universe. I don't know what it is, but I'm having a hell of a time with my local retailers lately. During today's weekly visit, I had a conversation that went a little something like this;

Me: "Hey, did Iron Fist come out today?"

I'm met with an immediately rude retort from Register Jock: "Did you see it on the shelf?"

Now if you're going to be a prick, I'm just going to be a prick right back and we're gonna' have a go: "No. That's why I'm asking."

Register Jock: "Well, if you don't see it, then we didn't get it."

Yes, your circuitous logic astounds me. So you're basically telling me that if I don't see it, then it's not there. Brilliant. I can see clearly that you didn't get it dickface, because it's not on the shelf, which prompted my question, I think we've already established that you didn't get it. You having it and it being released that day are two vastly different things.

My frustration grows: "Yeah, I wasn't asking if you got it, I was asking if it came out."

Register Jock: "I guess not, 'cuz we don't have it," he quips, thinking he's closed the issue. He thinks that because they don't have it, that naturally must mean it didn't come out. This is a logic fallacy, a mistaken correlation. It's called Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc in Latin. It Happened After, Therefore Because Of.

Me: "It was on Diamond's Shipping List," I say slowly, over-enunciating every word. Check-fucking-mate, I'm musing to myself.

Register Jock now begins flipping through his printout with very deliberate and exaggerated motions, clearly annoyed that I'm expressing interest in actually buying a book from his fine establishment: "Yeah, it's on the list... but, we didn't get it."

"Yes." I say it coldly, monotone, with no expression or emotion, confirming the statement made by Master Of The Obvious.

Now we're just staring at eachother and I realize there are people within earshot, so I let three beats go by in my head for dramatic flair, thinking now is where you should be saying you'll get more in later or next week or offer to order me one or some type of fucking explanation. You still have a chance to course correct and save this little retail debacle. But, alas... silence.

Me: "I guess I'll go buy it at XxXxx Comics." (name X'd out here to protect the innocent, but it's their competition down the street)

Good God, I just want some Danny Rand! Is that too much to ask? The same shop ordered Okko: Cycle of Water #3 today, but didn't order #2 when it came out a few weeks ago, yet I did buy #1 from them. DOUBLE YOU TEE EFF, MATE?

"Eternity In An Hour"

I recently re-purchased The Spectre #13 (DC) by J.M. DeMatteis and San Jose Local-Boy-Done-Good, Ryan Sook as a gift for a close friend. Man, I'd forgotten how good this issue is! Ryan is a friend of a friend, so I know him loosely and have followed his career with great interest. I picked up all of The Spectre issues when they came out, including this one, but it's always stuck in my memory. Even reading it again 5 years later (Ryan's web-site lists it as a 2002 issue), it's exceptionally strong.

DeMatteis lays down an intricate, complex, time-spanning, romantic and moving love story here. There are so many layers of meaning to sift through, but the notes that hit me strongly this time around involved sacrifice and putting someone else's needs above your own. The concept of experiencing "Eternity in an Hour," an entire lifetime in one, single hour is really powerful. I like the idea of feeling a sense of completion from a person, even if only in their presence for relatively brief bouts of time, or "fugitive lifetimes," as the writer dubs them. As usual, Ryan's pencils totally deliver. He uses some inventive panels, with striking imagery that compliment the free floating prose perfectly. This was truly a unique experience and an innovative issue that pushed the bounds of the medium. It was a joy to take in all over again as I shared it with someone and will get to see their first-time reaction.

It's one of my favorite single issues of all time. Grade A+.


Free Comic Book Day - 2007

I have to admit that I was a little soured on this year's experience, due in large part to the strange practices of my local retailers. I went to what's generally considered the two best stores in the area and I still managed to only get 11 of 43, or 25% of the titles published for this event. The first retailer seemed to order about half of the titles from a quick glance at the table and spinner-racks. But... here's the kicker. You could only take 4 books. That's 4 books. They were actually policing you upon exit. 4 of the 43 free books. That's less than 10%. On Free Comic Book Day. Where all of the titles are intended to be... free. We were limited to just 4. Did I mention you could only take 4? Umm, what? This. Does. Not. Make. Sense.

Hello, the whole point of the damn day is to expose as many people as you can to as many titles as you can in the desperate hope that something will spark their interest and that will subsequently be converted into sustainable readership and a supplemental influx of revenue. For an existing fan like me, I'm already spending money. I might see something else I like and spend even more money, provided I get a no-risk peek at it. For a new fan, I'm not spending money. But I might see something I like and start spending money, again, provided I get a no-risk peak at the materials that exist. Either scenario supports the intent of the day. Give me all of the free books, you know, for *free,* in order to maximize the odds of success on either scenario. This is not that difficult to figure out people. Lesson Learned: Limiting the Free Comics on Free Comic Book Day is completely stupid (assuming you actually want your business to succeed). Fuck, so annoyed with that.

The second retailer we went to did the exact opposite. Huzzah! There was no limit to the number of books you could take! But... come to find out, they didn't order everything. Only the mainstreamy sorta' stuff. So I was basically limited to Spider-Man and the Legion book. No Black Diamond Detective Agency from First Second Publishing, nothing from Drawn & Quarterly, Fantagraphics, or Oni Press. Nothing from Top Shelf or Virgin or any of the other independent publishers. The Astounding Wolf-Man from Image Comics was basically as "alternative" as this retailer was going to get. Sigh. Lesson Learned: Diversity is the key to success, remember depth and breadth. After all that, we just didn't have it in us to go traipsing around to other shops to try and complete our collection of free books. It's been a little goal of mine every FCBD, to get every single title that comes out. This was the first year, since the event began six years ago, that I didn't do it. All due to being worn down and frustrated by unexpected retailer practices. That just bummed me out.

In the past, I could go to one shop and get everything (hello San Francisco Bay Area Comic Book Retailers, I love you! I miss you!). The only reason to go to a second shop was if they'd run out of a title due to overwhelming throngs of people coming in (which I so don't mind in the grand scheme of things) or to check out a sale. And before you even ask, no, neither of the two retailers I went to this year had any type of sales or special events going on. Hello, another missed opportunity. Though I did get to meet Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall from IDW, but all he did was give me a free Transformers comic, nothing special or extra, same book every other retailer had. Lesson Learned: Free Comics get people into your store. It's up to you as a retailer to get them to spend money. Having a sale or signing or event or something, anything, in conjunction with the event is an easy, easy, easy way to incentivize the process of converting interest to sales. But, I digress...

Overall (from the titles I was able to see anyway!), I liked the increasing diversity of the offerings. There are more publishers than ever jumping in and experimenting with a diversity of titles, reprint material, new material, first debut material, all ages titles, and format.

The Astounding Wolf-Man #1 (Image): I'm a fairly passive Robert Kirkman fan, but this was great. Image played this one right, getting AWM a lot of advanced press coverage. It seemed everyone knew that "Kirkman has a new book out!" and "the first issue is being released on FCBD!" Nice spin on how to leverage the event. And the content does deliver. While there are times that I felt it borrowed from other works (Wayne Manor, Wolvie's healing factor, 1970's Marvel Monster Mahyem, etc.), it was an awesomely fun read, had some really truthful character moments, beautiful Scott McDaniel-ish art, and is taking its time to set up the world, but doesn't sacrifice entertainment for decompression. It also felt really substantial and seemed to be the physically heaviest in my hand, like I was definitely getting my "money's worth." Will definitely be picking up the first couple of issues to see where it goes. So, Image... Kirkman... mission accomplished! Grade A+.

Choose Your Weapon Sampler (TokyoPop): TokyoPop nails this every year and this is no exception. They put together a digest sized trade that would normally retail for $7.99 and offer a nice variety of excerpts from 5 books, yes, for free! They even spell it all out for you, describing shojo and shonen manga and what you're supposed to do next. This is an extremely well thought out package, welcoming to "civilians," and even if all of the stories don't click with you, it's still fun to see the diversity of the line. Other publishers could really learn a thing or two about FCBD by studying the repeatedly strong TokyoPop offerings. It's just smart, smart, smart. Grade A+.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency: The Train Was Bang On Time (First Second): Now this is what I crave from Free Comic Book Day. Nobody has more consistently attractive book designs than First Second Publishing. I love the digest size, the page layouts, the retro design elements, and hell, I probably would have even paid a buck or two for this. It's that nice. Looking at the content, they've got Eddie Campbell here doing a retro Railroad/Old West story that's lush and beautifully rendered artistically and sufficiently intriguing on the scripting end. It clearly leads to a larger work and First Second nails the marketing opportunity with an amazing two page spread of other works complete with prices, mini-reviews, and cover shots. This is how it's done, folks. Grade A+.

The Lone Ranger #0 (Dynamite Entertainment): Captures the tone and spirit of the series, as well as the hard relationship that LR had with his father and his burgeoning relationship with Tonto. Appreciated that it was a done-in-one story, with nothing further required to enjoy it, but left the option to pick up the main series. Well placed advertisement for the upcoming collected edition, and a good smattering of ads for other Dynamite titles. Only two things really hamper this otherwise solid effort from a perfect grade. One, I don't know if this story will be collected in the upcoming hardcover, so it (not for the right reason) became one of the few (only 3 as it turned out) FCBD books I'll be keeping as a one-off. Two, the Battlestar Galactica flip-book portion was total crap, with muddled art that completely does not match the series (looking like something from a bad rendition of The Darkness or Witchblade), with an Asian looking Bill Adama and everyone wearing the same type of glasses. Grade A.

Little Archie #1 (Archie Comics): I've never, ever been a fan of Archie Comics, nor do I really understand the innocent appeal. But, I have to say this book was really well done. It provides a nice intro to all of the main characters, feels appropriately dense, like a "real" comic book, and is just a fun little story. I particularly liked the effort of the double page spread detailing where Camp Riverdale is in relation to Camp Piney Acres and all of the group's little stops along the way. Grade A.

Bongo Comics Free-For-All 2007 (Bongo Comics): Strong offering with a nice blast of different material. In some spots, it works a little too hard for flat humor, but in other spots it downright nails the humor of the show (The Simpsons in particular) with some great one-liners from Chief Wiggum, Ralph, and the proprietor of the Android's Dungeon. Laughed out loud at the ad for a candy bar named Zapp Brannigan's "Captain's Log." Grade A.

The Umbrella Academy (Dark Horse): This offering had a lot going for it. A nice, moody James Jean cover. Gabriel Ba on art (whose pencils look wonderful in color, by the way). And a main story that is an odd blend of BPRD and, I don't know, The Perhapanauts or something. While it looks great and Gerard Way's writing is sorta' clever enough to get from point A to point B, I don't know that another eclectic cast of retro-feeling do-gooders is original enough for me to come back for more. Pantheon City had some nice Geoff Darrow style art, but I wasn't engaged by the writing. ZeroKiller similary had a few nice detailed panels that brought Travis Charest to mind, but the generic post-apocalyptic video game script feel (which seemed to use a little too much influence from Gotham City circa Dark Knight Returns for my taste) didn't help it connect. As a potential new reader, I was also kinda' left in the lurch, not knowing if these were truly one-shot stories, or I could expect to find ongoing series at my retailer in the future. Grade A-.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse (Gemstone): I confess I didn't read *all* of the strips here because there were just so many and Mickey strips have never really entertained me thoroughly or sustained my interest for more than a page or two. But, for Mickey fans, there's plenty here, the book feels nice and dense, and I really did like a couple of the classy touches that the publisher provided. One, the dedication to Floyd Gottfredson was very touching... and two, the blurb on the back cover about FCBD and the whole point of what it's supposed to do for the medium was very cool. Grade B+.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2007 (Marvel): Nice to see Marvel line up the resources... a Spidey comic the weekend the movie opens (which sucks royally by the way, seriously, no focus whatsoever, too many villians, too many chics - hello Gwen Stacy, too much retconning with Uncle Ben's killer - hello Sandman surprise, too much singing and dancing - kept waiting for the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" to come on when Peter was nancing his way down the street, avoids the Grade F and lands a Grade D- for the Bruce Campbell scene alone), and then tap Dan Slott and Phil Jimenez (probably one of the best artists "working" on FCBD) to do a new story. Jimenez's art delivers, but some parts of the script I just don't get. Spider-Man quit after Civil War was over? When did that happen? Why? New York is free of crime as a result? Umm, what? Really? So who are all the other heroes fighting in their books?! Overdrive? Really? That's the villain you want to roll with? Ooookay. But why would Spidey throw a Spider-tracer on the cop car and not Overdrive's car itself? Just doesn't make any sense. Are we supposed to believe Jackpot is Mary Jane from her "Tiger" comment? As a casual reader (at best) of Spider-Man, I'm totally confused. With the exception of the last page (with Iron Man encased in webbing), when did Joe Quesada's art get so... "unfinished" looking? Grade B.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #1 (DC): On one hand, it was nice to see DC *finally* use a new kid friendly title for FCBD, not the same tired offerings they've had in the past. On the other hand, this felt really light in terms of content and length, and wasn't so much a story per se, as it was a fairly obvious and overt introduction to some of the main characters. Grade B-.

Transformers Movie Prequel #1 (IDW): The thing that IDW did right here was put out a teaser two months in advance of the movie. From a marketing and organizational werewithal perspective, that was cool to see. Too bad the content couldn't keep up with the solid intent. All I took from this was something about the "AllSpark," some confusion over why some panels were in black & white and some were in full color, and questioning who the hell was who, since all of the robots look alike, with no distinct features, just a sea of joints and lights and panels and parts hammering on eachother. Nice tie-in ads and an editorial note, but otherwise not great. Grade C.

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Agents of Atlas: Premiere Edition Hardcover (Marvel): It's just hard not to like this book. Jeff Parker and Leonard Kirk dig up some ancient character archetypes from decades past and infuse them with a hip, modern sensibility that is unmistakably successful. What I like most about this book is that they're also completely transparent with their process in this deluxe, special edition. They literally show you the first appearance stories and the untapped potential that was in these characters. They flat out tell you the archetypes: "The Robot. The Goddess. The Space-Man, The Secret Agent, etc." They include behind-the-scenes materials on how the project came to fruition with editorial guidance, they explain the naming convention, they just lay it all out there for you. And what's there is a globe-trotting tale that pays respect to the past, but transcends to become a modern deconstruction of the generic "team up" book, and also manages to flesh out new characters like personal favorite Derek Khanata. Respectful to the past, poised for the future, entertaining, and beautiful to behold? 13 Minutes says... Grade A+.


5.02.07 Reviews

Scalped #5 (DC/Vertigo): We get some nicely timed back story about our Native American FBI Agent who fled home, grew up, and ultimately returned to complete his journey. This is a brutally honest look at human intentions and unapologetic character motivations. Top that off with some splendid prose like, "today we send a voice for a people in despair," and you have the best new Vertigo series in a long time. Powerful words with iconic, haunting imagery get you a Grade A+.

Astonishing X-Men #21 (Marvel): It's nice to get an old fashioned space faring romp, in the tradition of the Claremont/Byrne era, and then infuse it with a great, modern, fresh, hip, team dynamic. Scott and Emma's conversation about their relationship, while dogfighting in an alien craft no less, is pure Whedon banter. I was particularly taken with his take on the culture of the Breakworld. Compassion is a sin. There's no word for "hospital." And Peter and Kitty's mysterious benefactor is a true individual with unique motivators, a thoughtful, balanced, well fleshed out character, not some mindless automaton or cookie-cutter "bad guy." It's the little things like that which make all the difference. Throw in some lush Cassaday art (I mean really, have you ever seen a hotter more seductive Kitty Pryde than that close up panel on her eyes? Oh. My. God.) and you have a Grade A+.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #1 (Dark Horse): Yet another awesome start to an arc that continues the primary Hellboy mythos. We get some old school Hellboy treats here, like Ilsa Haupstein, and references to Vladimir Giurescu, his castle, Trevor Bruttenholm, etc. There are quiet little moments that hit all the right fanboy buttons (like an old soldier giving HB his 1941 Army issue .45cal handgun) and the big horror/adventure spectacle scenes we've come to love. Duncan Fregredo's art is right at home, capturing the moodiness of Guy Davis, but a kinetic energy and refinement that's reminiscent of say, P. Craig Russell. Grade A+.

Checkmate #13 (DC): The opening shot of the Ops Room confirms once and for all that Checkmate is indeed the Queen & Country of the DCU; it's right out of Rucka's own Oni Press spy thriller. And that's cool, but it just makes me miss Queen & Country and want to loathe Checkmate a little bit just out of illogical spite. Hey, Amanda Waller! So check it out girl, the whole point of using code names over the radio is to hide someone's identity. So referring to Metamorpho as "Maltese" in one panel, only to identify him as "Metamorpho" in the next panel sort of renders the code name moot. Tsk-Tsk. Was a nice moment to see Grace and Thunder fend off Checkmate and put up a good fight, evidenced by Jessica uttering "Fire just went out." And of course, I like the confirmation in the last panel that Nightwing is still a bad-ass and my favorite character in the mainstream DCU. Or Earth 17... or something. Ha. (Sorry, a little jab at 52!). Grade B+.

52: Week Fifty-Two (DC): Finally, it's over. We have Rip Hunter in full exposition mode for 20+ pages, monologuing his way through a rushed explanation of the incomprehensibility of the previous 51 weeks. I guess Blue Beetle is back and uh... not dead, but younger... and not the new Jaime Blue Beetle... or something. I don't really get how Booster Gold and Supernova "saved the multiverse" with a "time bomb," (heh, get it? "time" bomb?) but umm, yeah... they're like heroes and stuff... or something. Theoretical Quantum Physics tells us that the idea of alternate realities stems from the concept that with matter and energy, an infinite number of possibilities emanate from any single moment in time, existing simultaneously on different frequencies in space/time. Thus, the idea of a multiverse is fairly well predicated upon the infinite number of possibilities, yes, the infinity part is implicit in the very definition. That said, the idea of there being a finite 52 universes is conveniently arbitrary, random, and impossible as current science understands and explains the theoretical phenomenon. So uhh, that big scientific incompatibility aside, I guess it was pretty fun to see that Earth 50 is the Wildstorm Universe, and Earth 22 is the Kingdom Come Universe, and that Earth 4 is the Charlton Universe... or something. But ya' know, it pretty much contradicts everything the human race understands about space/time. On the one hand, I can see where the DC Powers-That-Be felt this was a logical platform to tell diverse stories from moving forward. I can buy that. But, it is impossible to reconcile that with the past 60 years of muddled, contradictory, incongruous, pre, post, and rebooted, retconned Infinite Multiple Identity Crisis continuity. So it may work looking forward, but it hurts looking back. The broad brushstrokes here lead us to believe that all is resolved, but many fine lines are left dangling, case in point: what happened to Starfire and Animal Man? Is she still laying on the ground outside his house? Will that get resolved? Does it matter? I dunno. Lastly, hey Dan DiDio! Dude, so you're the Executive Editor of DC Comics, right? Too bad that someone with Editor in their title doesn't know how to use insure/ensure properly. Insure means "to secure indemnity to in case of loss or damage." You know, you insure your house or your car in case Starfire comes crashing down on it. Ensure means "to make sure or certain." You know, like it would have been nice if you proofread your note to the DC Nation to ensure it was grammatically correct and error free. Grade D+.

I also picked up;

The Clarence Principle (Slave Labor Graphics): Never heard of these creators before, but this was an attractively packaged book with a unique looking art style, and SLG usually delivers some fairly strong, offbeat stories.

The Professor's Daughter (First Second): This would have passed the "casual flip test" anyway, but all I had to see was Joann Sfar's name listed as writer and I was sold. If he's listed as writer, artist, or writer/artist, that's an automatic purchase now.

In Dublin City (BRENB/Dublin Comics): I'm actually not sure if that's the publisher or this is basically a self-published effort, but the unique setting and odd artistic blend of a Robert Crumb/Peter Bagge sort of rough autobiographical style and an Eddie Campbell, highly detailed, fully rendered style made me snap it up.

The Walking Dead: Book Two Hardcover (Image): Been reading this title exclusively in the hardcover collections of 12 issues, so looking forward to a major leap forward in this "realistic" zombie survival story.