9.24.08 Reviews

Wasteland #20 (Oni Press): With an assist from artist Chuck BB, the regular creative team provides some alternate takes on Marcus’ founding of Newbegin. As is usual, more clues are dropped along the way. From the rudimentary “cave art” that accompanies these altering accounts, it sure looks like “The Big Wet” was some form of cataclysmic environmental disaster, as opposed to some of the more typical scenarios we’ve been teased with, like nuclear winter, bio-plague, etc. The different perspectives on Marcus, which range from the plausible and more conventional, to distortion through children’s style of narration and exaggeration, to even the perspective of the Sunner population, all share some characteristics. What we first glean from this is that all of the characters in Wasteland are pretty rounded. They all possess positive and negative attributes, some damning and some redeeming qualities. This proves that Wasteland is as complex and intricate as real life. The other common theme is that Marcus is indeed the founder of one of the only known cities post apocalypse, and for that reason has roots as a hero, despite some of his more puzzling and reprehensible actions that we’ve seen. Wasteland is the most enjoyable puzzle out there. Rather than reliance on endless twists and convolution (Lost!) or a more elliptical style (Grant Morrison!), Johnston and Mitten offer a mostly linear, intellectual style that rewards readers in a fair and fun way, even when they’re left wanting to know more. Grade A.

Echo #6 (Abstract Studio): You almost don’t notice it, but the first four pages of this issue are totally devoid of dialogue. I think that’s really a testament to Terry Moore’s craftsmanship on display here. He also captures the sparse desolation of the desert quite well. His lettering is phenomenal! Notice the quiet scenes in the diner or the sounds of a growling dog. In every single scene, Moore is able to portray the exact mood that the setting and emotional arc of the story calls for. Young aspiring artists should be studying this to learn the dynamics of visual storytelling. He’s also probably the best observer of human nature around. Check out the heated discussion between the characters. The line “don’t put words into my mouth” is a very telling moment. Moore is able to express what happens to people under stress or trauma, under heated conditions, we can be illogical and irrational and have no idea what we just said. Echo is a fun story (the end scene!), but it’s more important as a commentary on the way people really talk and act and the ability to showcase that illuminates truths about ourselves, like all great works of art. Grade A.

Northlanders #10 (DC/Vertigo): Guest artist Dean Ormston brings a nice level of detail (sort of looked like Paul Grist in spots) to the second part of this little interlude arc. Brian Wood focuses largely on the danger of blind faith in divine right and explains the cultural adoption of one Northlander. It’s done quite well, but I do wonder what bearing this has on the larger work. I’m anxious to see where we go next. Grade B.

X-Force #7 (Marvel): So, here’s an unfiltered look at what my notes look like from reading this book; I’ll transcribe them much as they appear in my notebook… Umm… what? Mike Choi art? Not abundantly clear what happens in the Japan sequence. Not clear what happens with Hepzibah. Art is stiff and flat. Clayton Crain much (<- underlined twice) better. Are we really expected to believe that Angel owns Edvard Munch’s The Scream painting? Locations of entire series well documented, one in the National Gallery. Who is gold chic? Oh, it’s Elixir. “Rahney” spelled wrong. Spelled correctly two panels later, Rahne. Scott’s optic blast… ZARK? Trying to address emotional fallout from last ish, but sloppy unmitigated disaster. Anyway, I literally could not get through this book without being pushed out. I would read a panel, stop, sigh, look around, read it again, sigh, make a snarky note, read the next panel, stop, sigh, look around, read it again, make a note, read a panel, stop, sigh… The greatness that was X-Force in the preceding six issues, is… poof! Gone. Just like that. That’s how quickly and easily it can happen when the formula of a creative team is tampered with. I mean, the timing and pace of ellipses aren’t even handled correctly. There’s a conversation with Agent Young (who?) where two adjoining word balloons contain this text: Balloon 1: "This office deals with unsolved cases. You’ve never had one." Balloon 2: "Until now… The Purifier Massacre." That should read: Balloon 1: "This office deals with unsolved cases. You’ve never had one…" Balloon 2: "Until now. The Purifier Massacre." It’s a subtle distinction, but sorry, that’s how people talk and provides the most dramatic effect. The last page is supposed to be a shocker, but it just read like kinda’ silly retread. How would Scott know what that person stole anyway? Is he an omniscient third person narrator now? So yeah… I think sloppy unmitigated disaster sums it up pretty well. Dear X-Force, you have one more issue to get back on track, or I’m done. Grade D.

I also picked up;

Black Summer TPB (Avatar Press): It’s great to have this bloody political mess collecting issues 0-7 of the mini-series. Hopefully the hardcover treatment will have some additional extras to warrant the upped price.


To Live & Die In... Comics

I found this interesting survey from Tom Spurgeon at the Comics Reporter; I’ll be answering all of the questions instead of one from each group as the instructions indicated...


1. What is your favorite stand-alone publication of the last five years?

I’m not sure what the intent of “stand-alone” is, but I’ll take a shot. Poor Sailor by Sammy Harkham. If a collected mini-series counts, then I’d probably say Dr. Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality.

2. What is your favorite ongoing serial comic that's published an installment in the last three months?

Scalped by Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera

3. What is your favorite webcomic?

Not a big webcomic guy. I’m so drawn to the tangible nature of printed books.

4. What is your favorite ongoing newspaper strip?

I always liked Fox Trot. It’s good natured, but still manages to be pretty witty and observant about the relationships between kids and adults.

5. What is your favorite comics web site that is not a link or commentary blog?

If that counts as “commentary,” then BrianWood.com

Comic Shops

6. What's the best experience you've ever had in a comics shop?

Hanging out in a shop so much as a kid that the owner offered me a job; it became my first “real job” with regular pay and perks and everything! Lots of fun, this was in the mid-80’s.

7. What's the worst experience you've ever had in a comics shop?

When I moved to San Diego three years ago, I made it a point to visit every LCS in the county, having been spoiled by the wonderful retailers in the San Francisco Bay Area. I went to one, who shall remain nameless, in a very... let’s say “trendy” part of town. If I name the neighborhood, it would certainly out the identity of the shop. The place was dirty and cramped and faded and smelly, fitting most every negative stereotype the industry has to offer. The moment I walked in, I knew I’d never return. Mostly Marvel and DC on the shelves, no discernible order. I just stood there doing a wide scan of the place. Without any sort of introductory preamble or even mere acknowledgment of my presence, the emo boy from behind the counter shouted in my direction “What do you like better, Marvel or DC?!” Not feeling like playing this little game and wanting to reject the premise of the entire discussion, I calmly replied “Uh, I really prefer something like Oni Press” (which was just the first independent publisher that popped into my brain). To which he scoffed and replied “Psh, snob!” In disbelief, I squinted and raised my voice “Excuse me?!” Emo sees that I’m clearly agitated and attempts to change the subject. “Are you reading 52? I love 52! What about 52? Isn’t 52 great?” he vomits out. “Yeah, I read all of 52. It’s shit,” I say as I turn and walk out.

8. List the names of the comics shops that have been your shop in your lifetime of buying comics.

Lino’s Comics
Spacecat Comics
Lee’s Comics
Wacky Hijinx

9. If a comic shop has opened within 50 miles in the last two years, what exactly makes you think it will or won't survive until a fifth anniversary?

Nothing new has opened to my knowledge, but in general I’d say the formula for success is strong customer service, sales and cross-promotion, depth and breadth of selection, a welcoming environment to every demographic, and location, location, location.

10. What is something you've done in a comics shop you're sorry happened?

It’s mostly selling comics when I needed the money; transactions that I regret and books I wish I still owned. Whether it was the pristine copy of Uncanny X-Men #168 (the one with the tattered Kitty Pryde on the cover), Strange Tales #120 (first team up w/ Iceman and Human Torch), my run of high grade Kirby Mister Miracle, Green Lantern #1 (yes, the one from 1963), or the Limited Edition Leather Hardcover of Sandman: Season of Mists (my favorite arc of the series, signed with a sketch by Neil Gaiman no less), the common thread is that I wish I’d kept them. The financial gains at the time now seem insignificant in hindsight, but I read and enjoyed them all.


11. Who is the Greatest Living Cartoonist?

Paul Pope

12. Name the female cartoonist highest up in your personal pantheon.

Jessica Abel

13. Name the cartoonist with a non-white South American or African heritage highest up in your personal pantheon.

This is an awkwardly worded question. If I understand correctly, Rafael Grampa.

14. Who is the world's most under-appreciated cartoonist?

Two answers… One, Nathan Fox. He’s going to be a superstar. He’s the next Ryan Kelly or Farel Dalrymple, or Paul Pope or something. He’s fantastic. Two, Cliff Chiang. I know he’s already broken into the industry, but I don’t see why he doesn’t work more. His style is so refined and beautiful. He should be on many, many books. I would buy anything he drew.

15. Name a cartoonist you know is great but whose work you find hard to enjoy.

Eddie Campbell


16. What was the first comic that you remember buying after the last time you stopped buying comics?

Sandman #17

17. What comic do you plan to revisit one day?

I’d like to one day purchase all of the EC Archives and really absorb them.

18. Name a comic that was even better when you tracked it down than you remember it being the first time.

Kirby’s Mister Miracle

19. What is the worst comic in your collection that you keep for reasons other than its quality?

It’s not a bad comic at all, but I keep it purely for reasons other than its inherent artistic quality. I have a copy of Uncanny X-Men #121 that’s been CGC’d at 9.8. It’s the first full appearance of Alpha Flight. It’s worth a bajillion dollars and that’s basically why I’ve kept it. It’s also the last vestigial remain of my Silver Age collection. Among many other things, I had a CGC’d run of Uncanny X-Men from #94 (the first appearance of the new team, which basically changed the entire course of Western Civilization) all the way to #266 (first appearance of Gambit). So, this issue is just a leftover piece of nostalgia from the collecting days. It's a fun issue and has Snowbird on the cover (who I dig), but it's also my own personal reminder that comics really aren't worth anything other than the joy you get from reading them.

20. One word only: what is your primary non-comic association with comics?

I have no idea what this question is asking.


21. What one site not your own or a friend's does CR not in your opinion cover near enough?

Another strangely worded question, but I don’t really read CR so I can’t say.

22. Name a comics figure this site has never interviewed you'd like to see interviewed.


23. Name a comics figure this site has interviewed you'd like to see interviewed again.

Umm, more Paul Pope can never hurt.

24. Name an under or unreported news story from your perspective.

Why are the comic shops in San Diego so lackluster?

25. Name a resource this site could house that would be valuable to you.

See #21 & 22

Bonus Section: Not Comics

1. What is your favorite sandwich?

The “Knuckle Sandwich” from Erik’s DeliCafe in San Jose… it has salami, sprouts, cream cheese, and red onion slices, all on marbled rye. It’s inventive and freakin’ delicious; it also helps that there's no mystery involved, you can recreate it at home in exacting detail.

2. Name three US vice-presidents in the order that they occur to you.

Al Gore, “Tricky” Dick Cheney, and George H.W. Bush, who now seems not so bad in comparison; he also wrote a great memoir.

3. Name a movie that shouldn't have been remade and a movie that should be.

Shouldn't: The Getaway, that new one was horrible.
Should: I’d love to see a remake of William Friedkin’s To Live & Die in LA, keep the odd techno-80’s Wang Chung soundtrack, and you could even have William Petersen reprise his role, but change up everything else.

4. Otto Graham, Joe Montana or Tom Brady?

Is that a football question? Ick.

5. If you could have any middle name in the world not "Bronislaw," what would it be?


Watch Out For...

Phonogram: The Singles Club by Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie.


9.17.08 Reviews

Local HC (Oni Press): As I handed over the single issues of this series to a coworker (my standard practice when upgrading to a better format), I remember saying something to the effect of “this is one of my favorite recent series, from one of my favorite writers, from a hot artist, and in every issue there’s at least one scene, or one line of dialogue, or one moment that totally blows me away,” much like that “ex you can’t get out of your head” that Brian Wood describes in one of the essays. Sure, Local is about Megan, and the sweeping arc of her life. It’s about all of the various “Locals” that get showcased in each issue, and how the cities themselves become crucial characters and story elements. Most importantly thought, local is about us. Wood and Kelly have given us, in Megan, a character that we can view the world through and identify with. We are all Megan. At times, all of us have struggled with identity, family, connecting to a new environment, have used others, and have been used on our journey to adulthood. In the ways that Scorsese used to describe film, and Wood himself has posed questions here (what does your Local say about you?), this work challenges us to ask questions of ourselves, and better define us. Like any truly great work of art, we learn about ourselves when juxtaposed against another strong set of ideas. I can say that Local is my favorite Brian Wood series, or my favorite mini-series, or one of the best books from Oni Press, but all of those qualifiers sound too limiting for a work that truly needs to get out there and breathe. I can develop sound byte style tag phrases that I envision being used as alliterative pull quotes, such as “an ingenious slice of pop fiction perfection,” yet that still doesn’t capture what I want to say. Local is one of my favorite books, ever. Period. There, I said it. Grade A+.

All Star Superman #12 (DC): Morrison and Quitely’s swan song on the title hones in tightly on one of the only truly interesting things I've ever personally found about Superman – the fact that this really is The Last Son of Krypton. There are no more Kryptonians. He can’t produce offspring. When Superman perishes, not only does the line of the House of El die out, but so perishes the people of an entire planet. Aside from some interesting theories on the soul, the ability to master and guide soul as pure energy with the power of the star Rao, harnessing the “solar radio-consciousness” in a death dream, that inborn fatalism is the core idea here. What is the significance of the cultural, artistic, and technological loss that poses to the universe when Superman is gone? How does Kal-El deal with this? What is Superman’s legacy? Perhaps Superman’s demise will be sooner, we hope later, but here Morrison suggests the former. Yes, he can inspire a future organization like the Legion, the JLA will no doubt remember him, his reflection will always help define Batman, the Kryptonian tale of Flamebird and Nightwing will live on, in part, with Dick Grayson, but the most important aspect of his lasting presence on Earth is the ability to inspire hope. For that he is truly the Man of Tomorrow; he can challenge man to be his best, to survive without Superman. He has given humanity hope for the future, a true testament to his ideal, an aspiration for all men to be supermen, capable of the ingenuity that drives our race forward. What Morrison suggests is that his most compelling “power” is not the heat vision or the ability to leap tall buildings, it’s this idea. The idea that Superman never dies if we accept that challenge of bettering ourselves. Grade A+.

Scalped #21 (DC/Vertigo): Mr. Brass and Chief Red Crow trade Indian and Hmong insults in one of the most intense scenes ever captured on paper. This arc is already really living up to its name “The Gravel in Your Guts,” asking the engaging basic question “What are you made of?” It’s evident in the crime boss face off, the task that Red Crow is asked of, and Dino’s quest for somewhere to just… belong. DC/Vertigo gives us an amazing page long look into “19 Things That Fueled Scalped,” getting behind Jason Aaron and this title in a big, big way. Bravo on that; that’s just a really stand up thing to do. It was fun to see Springsteen, Cormac McCarthy, State of Grace, Johnny Cash, and Weird Western Tales, but even better to know that the DC powers-that-be are making a real effort to showcase one of their best books and most capable new writers in a generation full of breakout talent. If you’re not buying Scalped, you don’t like great comics. Reconcile. Grade A.

Greatest Hits #1 (DC/Vertigo): For some reason, I entered not wanting to like this book by David Tischman and Glenn Fabry (interior art too!). With a casual superficial glance, it felt, I don’t know, a little too kitschy? Too smart by half (as the Brits would say), with its overt Beatles references and dodgy brand of humor. For what purpose, I asked myself? But then, I really started grooving on it. What if Tischman, frequent collaborator of Chaykin, wasn’t stopping at the Beatles references, and was pushing a step further into industry commentary territory? What if he was commenting on another sort of “British Invasion?” When I began to re-read it in that context, it suddenly came alive. The descriptions used to introduce us to the characters seemed to fit. The Crusader is the stable one who captured our hearts and minds. Neil Gaiman. There’s the Vizier, the one obsessed with magic and the occult. Alan Moore. There’s the Solicitor, the one full of techno-craziness. Grant Morrison perhaps? There’s the one who jumps around, buzzes in your ear, the “new” kid dropping ideas. Warren Ellis as the Zipper? In addition to these character-to-creator correlations, there are some other interesting nods to comic culture and beyond. The Crusader himself is the product of a failed British super soldier experiment, (oddly coincidental that this week’s episode of Fringe was about the same thing, is this stuff in the zeitgeist or what?). I enjoyed Ethel as the talent handler, giving us a little insider tour through what packaging a project in Hollywood looks like these days. There’s the interesting formation of the original team and histo-documentary style. A subdued sexuality permeates the text; it also feels like a band, where one of the original members leaves right before they really hit it big (think of No Doubt, Maroon 5, etc.). I could be reading into this too much, but nevertheless, I’ll be reading. Grade B+.

Captain Britain & MI-13 #5 (Marvel): What I like about Paul Cornell’s take on these characters and this little corner of the Marvel U that he’s carved out for himself is that it fits the Roger Ebert rule – just substitute “comics” for “movie,” when you hear “a great movie is not about what it’s about, it’s about how it’s about what it’s about.” Now, if you told me that I’d be reading about a bunch of leftover British heroes and it was all about the supernatural and fighting evil and magical realms and that it spun out of the Skrull Invasion, I wouldn’t be that interested. But… when it’s suddenly handled like this, and told not from a plot-driven perspective, but from a very character driven place, it’s suddenly quite intriguing. In so little time, I find myself caring a great deal about these characters. I was already wondering how they’d handle the umm… tension between Blade the Vampire Hunter and the vampire-turned-hero Spitfire. We get to see a caring side of the Black Knight. We get to see real people navigating all of the paramilitary intelligence agency procedural bits of MI-13. We see all of the recruitment issues around Faiza joining up, the vetting process, the impact to her family, etc. We see Pete Wisdom literally creating an agency from the ether, out of sheer will, because of who he is. This is just smartly written. I can’t stress enough how it’s like the opposite of something event driven like Secret Invasion. It’s not about the plot or the event, it’s about the people, and that’s really made me care. Grade B+.

Uncanny X-Men #502 (Marvel): Note to Cyclops: I guess the new information classification and security protocol at Greymalkin Industries to protect the confidentiality of sensitive files is working wonderfully, because when you print your roster page in dark blue ink on black paper, it’s basically illegible. I’ve been a fan of the book, but there’s just no other way to say it – this issue felt a little off. The top row of names on the roster page is in all CAPS, while the bottom row isn't - why? Maserati is spelled like that (<-), not like this: Masarati, as it's spelled twice in the book. If you're going to bother to pick a song with an overt car reference, shouldn't it be the same kind of car as you're showing(?), which is a 60's Mustang. During the raid, Scott says "Peter and Emma guard the..." Only problem being, there is nobody named Peter on the strike force! What the hell? The quips during the fight scene seem a bit too jovial considering the gravitas of the overall book. If this is a last ditch effort to save homo superior with new tactics as the species is fading out, would you really be making jokes? Land’s art also feels too light and confectionary somehow; it’s out of place with the tone of the book. Maybe it needs to be inked darker, or include more night scenes or something. That tonal dissonance aside, there are still some redeeming qualities in the script that make this worth checking out. One, Scott is resorting to torture, with a scene that serves as an analog for the infamous water-boarding technique popularized at Gitmo. If the government says you possess information about a threat, then you do, and your rights fly out the window, governmental conduct accountable to no one. And this is such a departure from the days of Xavier’s Dream that I wish more people were talking about it. Two, Pixie is the new Kitty Pryde. We’ve been given a new young character to see the world through as she’s indoctrinated from her old life into the X-Men. Grade B.

I also did not pick up;

Echo #6 (Abstract Studio): I want to buy this book. Really, I do. There it is on Diamond’s New Releases List for the week. So, why didn’t three whole shops in the San Diego area get this book? At least one of them didn’t get it perhaps due to the title being “Terry Moore’s Echo,” located in the “T’s” and not the “E’s” as the owner assumed. The other two, psh, who knows? They wouldn’t know an independent comic if it slapped them on the ass and called them Susan. Is this further proof of the ironic lackluster LCS experience, in San Diego of all places, or just some sort of distribution error?


I'm So Excited To Buy This Book!


Coming Soon - Danijel Zezelj's King of Nekropolis

I received a Press Release from Optimum Wound Comics Publisher Jason Thibault this weekend, announcing the impending arrival of another Danijel Zezelj book, their second published "book." Based on the teaser art, my love of his work, and the professionalism Optimum Wound brought to their previous Zezelj book, REX, this should be great! Details below and on their web-site...

Vancouver, BC September 15, 2008 – Optimum Wound Comics announces today the launch of King of Nekropolis, a new online comic and forthcoming graphic novel. King was written and illustrated by acclaimed comics creator Danijel Zezelj (Stray Dogs, Loveless, DMZ & Hellblazer). King has previously only seen print in Italy, published by Hazard Edizioni in late 2007.

Our 2nd book, Danijel Zezelj's King of Nekropolis is finally rolling out. Release date is November 26th in finer comic book shops, indie book stores, online vendors, Heavy Ink and our very own (forthcoming) online store. This one is 96 pages, black and white and will carry a price tag of $11.95. In the meantime we've launched King of Nekropolis as a webcomic. It'll update on Monday, Wednesday and Fridays each week for the next 8 months.

Jason Thibault, Publisher and Co-Owner of Optimum Wound comments: “We are more than excited to be releasing more work by Danijel. It’s been a dream come true working with one of the finest storytellers in the comics medium. Most of the North American comic book audience has only seen Danijel’s work through his commercial work for DC/Vertigo and Marvel. We’re hoping to change that by exposing new readers to his more personal works from his rather extensive back catalog.”

A brief synopsis of King: Ras Casal is a private detective, haunted by demons and old memories, addicted to drugs and on the verge of complete madness. Casal is hired by Professor Noah to find an old colleague, Theobald Hall, a brilliant computer scientist who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The hunt to find Theobald begins as does a long and terrible descent into personal hells for Ras. His journey into the heart of Nekropolis becomes his last chance at redemption.

The book can now be pre-ordered from local comic stores. It's in September (this month's) Previews on page 309; order code SEP08 4223.

Danijel Zezelj is a graphic artist and illustrator, author of more than twenty graphic novels. His comics and illustrations have appeared in magazines and anthologies in Croatia, Slovenia, England, Switzerland, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, South Africa and the USA. Danijel’s work has been published by DC Comics/Vertigo, Image, Marvel Comics, The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s Magazine, San Francisco Guardian & Washington Chronicle.

Optimum Wound Comics is a boutique publisher operating out of Vancouver, Canada, specializing in dark crime and horror graphic novels and online comics. Founded in 2005 by three Canadians, Optimum Wound started as an online comics channel branching out into publishing in 2008. Optimum Wound differentiates itself publishing primarily black and white genre work from around the world.


9.10.08 Reviews

Pax Romana #3 (Image): Lateness, and a couple typos aside (“becuase” and an extra “of” in one spot), I think there will be a point in the future where I look back on Jonathan Hickman’s body of work and decide that this issue is where I was finally “sold” on him as a creator. The Nightly News was groundbreaking in its design and artistic approach, but I felt that the story and scripting was difficult to engage with. I enjoy Transhuman, but it’s a little one-note with VH1 Behind the Music meeting big bio-business – with monkeys. Red Mass for Mars has unfortunately only managed one issue, so it’s a little soon to tell there. With Pax Romana, I think we finally have an equally impressive pairing of visuals and thought provoking story. It’s not easy to grasp per se, but it carefully rewards studious readers with a great blend of religion, history, military, sci-fi time travel, and compelling “what if” scenarios about calculated manipulation of thousands of years in the time stream. There’s a plethora of quotables to be found, from the concise declaration of intentions: “Prevent man’s ability to punish others simply because they might be believers, heretics, heathens, or even pagans. We deny no man his faith,” to the cold hard reality of: “We are being conditioned,” to a revelation on hypocrisy: “Religion hides behind a veil of righteousness. It attacks legitimate questions by simply calling them immoral.” As the papal paramilitary team attempts to engineer mass accelerated societal progression with a cycle of fascist revolution, communist industrial stabilization, and finally democratic consolidation with fluid social classes, we’re reminded that even a mission with the best laid plans is still subject to the unpredictable element of human emotion and shifting loyalties. This is stellar work, Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #13 (Dynamite Entertainment): There are a couple of awkward lines here (“not what he told me he did”), but this issue focuses largely on character development occurring while good deeds are done. Our protagonist grows a little more into his newfound mantle of Lone Ranger, his partnership with Tonto is advanced, and we learn more about Tonto’s general relationship with the (white man’s) world. I deeply appreciate the way that Matthews and Cariello don’t insult our intelligence; the audience is invited in to parse what’s not spoken. Through effective story beats, complex facial expressions, and the intelligent juxtaposition of panels, a dynamic is created where we can infer meaning, rather than being told what’s happening on the page and in the minds of the characters. With superficially simple and sparse prose, much like Hemmingway, we find an intensity in the words that matches the literal fire our characters are enveloped by. This isn’t just a retelling of a beloved pulp hero’s adventures, but a brilliant new way of framing and interpreting his character’s meaning. Grade A.

Ex Machina #38 (DC/Wildstorm): Despite three readings, I’m still not entirely clear what exactly happens during the “coffee” sequence at the press conference. I know that Mitchell is hit with hot coffee, but how that happens remains a mystery. There’s a girl holding a cup of coffee, then it appears that she’s holding a puff of whipped cream, while it’s not clear whether the motion of her hand is coming or going, or what the soon-to-be Deputy Mayor is doing. And why does the cop suddenly appear? Why wouldn’t he charge the lady with assault rather than, or in addition to, trying to serve a warrant on Hundred? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter I suppose, but I just found these bits terribly distracting and annoying. Otherwise, the flashback to The Great Machine’s coming out party were fun to see, there are plenty of corollary jabs at the current administration, Spitzer, Giuliani, and even the current presidential candidates. The prelude-to-sex scene between Amy and Agent Cheyenne was played well, and Ex Machina continues to be a great drama that’s half superhero, half political intrigue. Although, it does read much better collected than in these floppy snippets. Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Omega: The Unknown (Marvel): This hardcover collection of Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s reimaging of Steve Gerber’s 1970’s cult classic is intricate and layered. Highly recommended, and don’t be surprised if it returns as a Graphic Novel Of The Month, fair warning!


9.04.08 Reviews

Invincible Iron Man #5 (Marvel): Matt Fraction does his best Warren Ellis impersonation here, with bleeding-edge tech, zero-point quasi-realistic pseudo-science, and it hums right along. Rather than just laying flat on the page as some of Ellis’ occasional misses do (Anna Mercury, anyone?), it sings along emanating organically from the story beats. Fraction is careful to nail the positioning of a futurist, being off-grid in an energy independent way that acknowledges a grounded-in-reality post-9/11 world. Notice how equal play is given to the crisis management decisions and twice a month evac drills, as is given to the standard fight scene. Larroca’s pencils seem to be settling in, only troubled by a rare and overt photo-reference. I swear I saw George Lucas attending one of the tours of the Stark facilities. And is Maria Hill really supposed to look like Jessica Alba? The cliffhanger ending isn’t really believable, but it’s otherwise a decent fight scene and redeemed largely by lines like “Think big, you know? Pandemics. Wave of the future.” Grade A-.

The End League #4 (Dark Horse): Call me a cynical idealist, or maybe a pessimistic optimist. In comics, as in life, I generally hope for the best, but expect the worst. Unfortunately, my expectations seem to be met with great regularity. With that said, welcome to The End League. Conceptually, I like the idea of a post-modern look at a “league” of heroes who are as fallible and flawed as the average human. Conceptually, I like the idea of being able to play around with the stock character archetypes of Superman, or Wonder Woman, or Captain America, or whoever. Creatively speaking, I truly enjoy scribe Rick Remender’s Fear Agent, also from Dark Horse. Where The End League falls apart is largely in execution, specifically in the dialogue, plotting, and art. From the very first few pages, we get not just exposition, but weighty exposition. Divinity soars through the air proclaiming (to no one!) “Brian’s final words have left a great sadness in my heart… I must hold Mjolnir. Earth will be liberated.” Well… thanks for telling me how you feel, what you’re going to do, and why. Wow. Just… wow. This is awful. It really feels like rookie dialogue writing; perhaps since it’s been months since the title last came out, every character has to re-explain who they are and what they’re doing in order to bring a frustrated audience up to speed(?) We’ve now taken four long issues to introduce these obvious character analogues, only to do nothing with them. Yep, there’s the Cap character. There’s the Superman character. Now what? I remember a lawyer I used to work with saying “never use the words ‘heinous, nefarious,’ or ‘egregious’ in a court room; nobody ever uses those words in the real world, and even if folks understand them, they intimidate people.” I think the same could be said for comic book writing. Really, nobody ever uses those words in real life, so they push you right out and bring a stilted fake feel to your character parlance. Exhibit A: “The scheming vermin is moving toward a nefarious goal!” Really? Say that out loud to yourself. That’s how you want your character to talk? Other examples of ineffective dialogue choices include things like “By the golden wreath of Phoebe… Nargri’ri’s arrival… executioner of the Titans… free the Celestial Inferno!” What. The. Fuck. “Fightin’ peanut heads.” What. The. Fuck. Mixing your pantheon to include Zeus (Greek/Roman) and Thor (Norse). Whaaaaa? On the art side of the house… at best, at best Mat Broome’s art is inconsistent. It ranges from looking detailed and polished in spots to being very awkward and stiff with odd poses that don’t really make any sense. Why is Divinity touching her lips? What’s her hand doing? Did she fall? Is she laying on the ground? Why is the camera right behind her ass? Art shouldn’t confuse the reader. The double page splash harkens back to a 90’s Image house style, devoid of any background work. Eric Canete finishes up the latter half of the book. I actually liked his first page, but then the stark contrast just really wore me down. It’s bad in an opposite sort of way. It’s sketchy, rather than Broome’s clean lines. There’s no detail. It’s too stylized and cartoony to fit the gravitas this book is purporting to achieve, you really feel his animation background coming to light with the facial expressions. And it too is hampered by weird, creepy dialogue. There’s a disturbing scene about screwing a spineless possessed chic… because a man has… “needs.” Ick. I just couldn’t get through a page without stopping to shake my head and wince, jotting some bit of confusion or mockery down in my notes. There are so many distracting things happening on all fronts that it’s actually quite difficult to read, I felt like a WWII bomber flying through enemy flak trying to stay on target, but ultimately having to ditch in a field somewhere over occupied France. Yet, this issue does make me breathe a sigh of relief that I’m actually quite thankful for. For months I’ve been wanting to make a final decision about this title, but didn’t have enough data to do so. When will it come out again? Do I keep it? Is it good? At last, I have my answer. Grade D.


...And Now, Something Totally Different

This is my favorite piece by one of my favorite contemporary artists, Ed Ruscha. It's called "Nothing Landscape;" you can check it out at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles if you so desire. Enjoy...


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Mesmo Delivery (AdHouse Books): As one of the creators showcased in the Eisner Award winning 5 along with Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Becky Cloonan, and Vasilis Lolos, Rafael Grampa has now burst onto the scene as part of the unofficial “Brazilian Invasion.” For me, a comparison to Paul Pope is inevitable, with the thick and inky lines which conspire to fill a dirty and inhabited world. Maybe it’s all the work both creators have done for Diesel clothiers, but their aesthetic leans hard on what feels real, how clothes hang from a person, and facial expressions that perfectly capture a complex emotion, moment in time, or meaning fueled story beat. What starts as a straight low level crime story around the MacGuffin of a mysterious shipment, builds to hint at a much larger story and world that many future tales, and let’s hope future books, could be told from. I really enjoyed the first-person perspective of the boss that organizes the delivery. This character, who we never actually get a full visual on, actually calls to mind images of Lawrence Tierney’s character Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs or Peter Falk’s character Max in Favreau’s film Made. That’s really a testament to the power of Grampa’s pencils and homage to genre fiction that he’s capable of infusing his work with. The crimson palette gives a dangerous, yet understated swagger to all of the characters, most evident in the knife wielding companion to the driver. We’re simply waiting for this odd character to leap forth in a frenetic fury of violence, his actions telegraphed from quirky dialogue and fun character building – and Grampa doesn’t disappoint. The quick advertisement interludes help achieve a gritty and dusty reality that could use Bruce Springsteen’s 1982 album Nebraska (one song told from the POV of a serial killer on the run, ala Terrence Malick’s Badlands… Terrence Malick? The Thin Red Line? Anyone? Bueller... Bueller...) as its bleak soundtrack. It would be easy to dismiss the off-putting grindhouse cinema style of violence as just sensationalism (albeit well done), but you can’t overlook the ethereal and fantastical that’s bound so seamlessly to the work. There’s the interesting imagery of raven colored crows that bookend the piece, and the grinning devil waiting patiently as he wrings his hands in anticipation below the surface of this plane of existence. These elements suggest a deeper level of meaning is at play and forces the audience to consider the abstract nature inherent in such an overt and intense display of the visceral testament to the madness of men. Perhaps the best compliment to pay is that I now want more of Rafael Grampa and I don’t care what the content is. Whether it’s something wholly original or specifically this world fleshed out with another adventure, he’s now a buy on sight creator. Grade A.