10.29.08 Reviews

Wasteland #21 (Oni Press): I knew I was going to like this issue from the moment I laid eyes on it. Ben Templesmith draws us in with a creepy glimpse into the culture of The Big Wet universe, showcasing a member of the dog tribe front and center. Turn the page and artist Christopher Mitten blows our minds yet again. Look very closely at the texture of the paper he’s penciled on. There are shadows and crinkles there, almost as if he’s crinkled the paper(?) to obtain that worn affect, evidence of a creative team who will stop at nothing to capture the look and feel of the epic they’ve so thoughtfully constructed. Writer Antony Johnston builds layer upon layer to the story with territorial tribalism, altered speech patterns for the dog tribe as they hide something, what looks to be a sand-eater(?), and reminding us how capable Michael and Abi are in a scuffle, all while ratcheting up the mystery and intrigue. Thanks again to Antony, Chris, and the Oni Press crew for including the 13 Minutes pull quote on the front cover; I’m proud and honored to do my part in evangelizing such a wonderful book. Wasteland pulls the audience in effortlessly, slowly and deliberately doling out pieces of a puzzle, the final picture one that we so desperately want to see and understand in its entirety. I’m hooked for life. Grade A.

Northlanders #11 (DC/Vertigo): It’s very exciting to see occasional collaborator Ryan Kelly (Local, The New York Four) jump on to an arc of Brian Wood’s new Vertigo series. I’ll caveat my minor criticisms by saying that I’m a big fan of both, but I did feel that the book faltered a bit this issue. At the start of this series, Wood made a conscious choice to use modern parlance for his historical look at strife in the British Isles. I was perfectly fine with that choice, largely because anything that can make a book more accessible to more people is always welcome, and I feared that using a more dated dialogue style might play like weird homage to Conan. However, I think you have to be careful to maintain the right balance of plausibility to this conceit in order to avoid things that just sound anachronistic. Lines and word choices like “at the college” or “perp” or “hey sweetie” go a little too far in my opinion and lose believability. And if you’re going to bother updating language, blood “spatter” and not “splatter” would be the correct term to use. All those nitpicks aside, this was a fascinating genre blender that mixed Rob Roy or William Wallace (though I know those are Scottish and not Irish) with CSI. We get modern investigative techniques while chasing a serial terrorist, complete with footfall patterns and wound analysis. The part I liked the most about this is that it’s a lesson in perspective. For example, from the POV of the British, the Boston Tea Party was not a heroic revolutionary act, but an act of insurgency from a local terrorist cell. Ryan Kelly’s art is a treat to see in color – Brigid’s eyes look particularly fantastic – but it does change the dynamic. At times, I felt the color unfortunately muted the clarity and emotion of Kelly’s black and white lines. Grade B.

No Hero #2 (Avatar Press): No Hero remains a mixed bag for me and I’m still not sold on my need to continue picking the title up. On the negative side, there are tons of odd or incorrect punctuation and language choices. There are “ands” instead of “ors” sprinkled about, question marks lurking where none are needed, and “especial” is just not a commonly used word. It was all very distracting and tended to push me out of the story, I found myself analyzing for typos rather than absorbing the story. The Garden of Eden/Apple references are painfully overt and you just really shouldn’t leave a couple of metallic chairs in a non-padded room when you’re expecting strong mental and physical reactions to a highly experimental drug treatment. On the up side, Juan Jose Ryp’s art is visually stunning in spots, the leer jet, Mandy’s green hair and facial expressions, and the depiction of the failed project in Guyana. Ostensibly, I’m having a hard time differentiating between this and Ellis’ other recent Avatar Press work, Black Summer. Though I know this is more from the perspective of the person charged with managing the team of super powered beings, rather than from the POV of the rogue agents themselves, it still seems as if the authorial voice is thematically commenting on some of the same things. Grade B.


10.22.08 Reviews

Scalped #22 (DC/Vertigo): Welcome back to the best Vertigo book being published. That’s not just blind hyperbole; Jason Aaron and R.M. Guera prove it in so many ways this issue. It hums along with grounded prose like “I’m gonna’ fuck you ‘til you scream” and the emotional toll dripping from a reflective Red Crow: “I’m the keeper of her soul” trying to avoid “another ghost to haunt my nights.” In modern comics, we rarely get a story inhabited by characters who are so fleshed out and fully realized. At times, it may be the expansion of the Scalped “universe” with more attention on guys like Dino Poor Bear, who we pin our hopes on in the desperate belief that he won’t go down the same brutal path of the elder generation. Other times, it’s the loyal dignity of Shunka speaking truth to power as a Mafioso-style Consigliere or Caporegime type advisor in Red Crow’s “crime family.” It’s a treat – nay, a pleasure – to read. A dirty, sexy, sad, complex, important pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless. There are interesting story developments like the reaction to the tipoff about a UC FBI operative, but it’s still set amidst a binding cycle of violence that continues through subsequent generations. It wears down the quality of a people’s existence as hope slowly slips away. The poetic lilt of the last four pages resonate with regret and realism; these pages are some of the best writing I’ve seen. Grade A+.

Echo #7 (Abstract Studio): If you want to attend a relatively inexpensive writing workshop, just start reading this book. Witness the brilliant panel to panel transitions, sound effects that reverberate with effectiveness and glee, and the introduction of an old mysterious drifter. Ivy’s conversation with Rick is a well played look into the dogged thoroughness of a Federal Investigator. What I appreciate the most about Terry Moore’s scripting ability is the way he’s able to portray characters who actually act like reasonable people responding to the most unreasonable of circumstances. That coupled with the charm and innocent sexuality of lines like “You’re making me vibrate!” make this one of the most enjoyable reads out there. Grade A.

Aetheric Mechanics (Avatar Press): Even for $6.99, Warren Ellis and Gianluca Pagliarani offer a dense and thought-provoking package that’s well worth the price of admission. Ever notice how all Avatar Press books have that same smell when you crack them open? But, I digress… Pagliarani’s pencils looks great in black and white; there’s a nice balance between an impressive level of detail and attention to backgrounds and a softer edge to the character’s facial features. It strikes me as an odd mélange of Geoff Darrow (detail), Carlos Pacheco (figure work), and Carla Speed McNeil (emotive expressions). That should give you some idea about how beautiful these images are when unfettered by excessive inking and coloring. On the scripting end, Ellis delivers some Ministry of Space style designs, almost as if this world was a historical precursor that vaguely foreshadows his other. It’s interesting that some of Ellis’ shorter works like this are actually becoming more effective than the longer multi-issue pieces. This title moves with a smart, brisk pace and presents a sharper, self-contained clarity of thought – compared to something like Anna Mercury, which for me lacks crispness and clunks along unevenly from a storytelling standpoint. The dialogue isn’t expository, well, actually it is… what I mean to say is that it doesn’t feel like it is. It’s so well hidden in the verbose nature of the characters that we don’t mind it so much as it informs our understanding of this world. Ellis provides deliberate homage by writing this alternate reality version of Holmes and Watson; we have Raker as Holmes, Watcham as Watson, with the elusive Crowne functioning in the Moriarty foil role. The writing itself is sound, touching on notes of re-assimilation into society after war, with Watcham’s flashbacks and marvel at change. The Miss Meyer reveal sequence bristles with good investigative reality. Killers and arsonists often return to the scene of the crime to relive the twisted emotional high of their accomplishments, to the point that modern crime scene investigators often surreptitiously photograph the gathered crowds in hopes of identifying the perpetrator. The high concept of postulating that the aether is actually a tangible field of particles that can be manipulated to control the matter/energy dynamic is great. Placing Crowne in a role where he is functionally a “time cop” responsible for terminating anomalous timelines is grand. Though the ultimate denoument is not all that satisfying and needs a tidier conclusion, feeling like an unresolved tease for forthcoming issues, Ellis’ willingness to hang the conclusion on man’s existential dilemma is pretty bold. What we see is that ego will usually trump logic, and when confronted with his own mortality, man will fight to survive, even when he simply shouldn’t exist, or even doesn’t from someone else’s perspective, which is a compelling conceit. Grade A.

I also picked up;

Heavy Liquid HC (DC/Vertigo): Hurray! I’m deeply encouraged that this will signal DC’s commitment to a full Paul Pope HC library in the years to come.


Random Rhetorical Questions

I was casually perusing my collection this weekend and happened along a few different books, which prompted these random rhetorical questions inside my mind;

1) Will we ever see another issue of Desolation Jones? Warren Ellis and Danijel Zezelj completed 8 issues, the last of which was issue 2 of a 6 issue arc. It’s been years since that last issue, yet both creators have put out other work in the time since.

2) Will we ever see another issue of Fell? Warren Ellis and Ben Templesmith’s book was coming out fairly regularly, along with Fraction’s Casanova, proving that Image’s $1.99 “slimline” format was grand. Issues 1-8 are collected, issue 9 was the last out (with the cover for #10 advertised inside), then it just... stopped.

3) Why is it taking so long for Marvel to publish the second hardcover collection of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men? It seems like the holiday season would be the perfect time to release the last of this team’s run, collecting issues 13-24 and the Giant Size Special.

4) I wonder if I should try to collect 100 straight issues of Uncanny X-Men? I’ve been buying Fraction’s run and this idea is something I’ve always wanted to do; collect 100 straight issues of the current series. I’ve owned 100-200 (actually extended it to 94-266), and my friend Michael owns 200-300, but those were collections we retroactively put together, not runs we collected as they came out.

5) Why is it that the Kick-Ass movie is already shooting, but the mini series hasn’t even wrapped yet? That seems silly to me.

6) Will Jonathan Hickman ever put out an entire series on time? Right now, I have 3 mini-series sitting in my stacks all stalled out – Pax Romana, Transhuman, and Red Mass for Mars. Wouldn’t it be better to release 3 or 4 mini-series (on time) back to back and have output for an entire 12 month (annual) cycle rather than put out 3 or 4 simultaneously, have material for 3 or 4 months and then have 3 or 4 months of nothing but dead air? Better to do one thing at a time, well, than a whole bunch at the same time, but half assed.

7) How bad did the LOEG: Black Dossier “Absolute” Edition suck? The book itself is largely an exercise in architecture over substance, the salt in the wound is that this edition had no extra material whatsoever, no scripts, and was totally unlike the first two. I’m so glad I didn’t buy it.

8) When does Kabuki: The Alchemy HC come out? I’m very excited to purchase this 7th volume of David Mack’s masterpiece to add to my collection!

9) Is the acquisition of Archaia Studios Press (ASP) going to affect their publishing of The Killer? 8 of the 10 issues are out; I just want the last of the issues and ultimate hardcover collection before this publishing effort degenerates into an elusive fizzle out.

10) What’s up with Dynamite Entertainment’s advertisements? They’ve teased the second Lone Ranger Hardcover (collecting issues 7-11) and the first Deluxe Edition collecting issues 1-11 for months now. Not only have they not come out, but I don’t even have a release date to go by.

11) Did you know that I’ve officially put Ex Machina on Wait For Trade (WFT) status? I’ve got issue 38 sitting there, long gaps in between issues, and realized that they’ve actually only got about 12 issues of the series left. Vaughan and Harris have said in more than one interview that the series will run until about issue 50 with a surprising ending that’s planned. Doesn’t really make sense for me buy single issues, then trades, then Deluxe Editions. The first Deluxe Edition is out, collecting issues 1-12; I’m just going to buy those (assumably) 4 Deluxe Editions. I’m assuming the last one will collect the couple special issues they’ve done and that DC/Wildstorm will surely see this project through to the end since it’s Brian K. Vaughan.

12) I’m just not a fan of Greg Pak’s writing. Err, that’s not really a question...

13) Did you know that I’d pay $100 to have Automatic Kafka collected? Too bad it’ll never happen.

14) Did you know that I’d pay $100 to have Flex Mentallo coll– err, how about published in an Absolute Edition?! Even though it’s the All Star Superman creative team of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, it’ll never happen.

15) I’m assuming Geoff Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy is done? Sure would like a collected edition of this.

16) Wouldn’t it be cool if Brian Wood’s DMZ got the same treatment as Ex Machina with Deluxe Editions?

17) Will you listen to these three words? Scalped. Absolute Edition.

18) Will Oni Press print a HC collection of Wasteland someday? Like Local.

19) Is DC going to publish a HC collection of Batman: Year 100? They’ve advertised the Heavy Liquid HC (which is due out this week, though the house ad initially said September), I believe I even saw an add for 100% on Amazon.com, so shouldn’t they do a slick oversized HC of the book that won the Eisner Award and complete their Paul Pope library?

20) What happened to Arthur Dela Cruz? Kissing Chaos? Oni Press? Remember?


Pulp Hope DKNY Images


10.15.08 Reviews

Uncanny X-Men #503 (Marvel): There are many interesting elements at play in this incarnation of the core X-Men book. Fraction presents a generational gap of understanding that’s worth noting. From Scott’s perspective, he might think that Xavier’s Dream is now dead; the last remaining mutants struggling for survival, homo superior’s peaceful co-existence with homo sapiens a relic of the past. But, Dani Moonstar sitting openly in a San Francisco bar along with her fellow mutants makes her think that they’ve finally arrived and their struggle has paid off. Sam “Cannonball” Guthrie has lost the innocent idealism of his youth; he no longer cares about changing the world and now solemnly confesses “I just don’t want anyone else to die.” We’re being given a thoughtful, more introspective melodrama that harkens back to the Claremont era – more on that later. What New York was to the Marvel Universe in the 60’s through the 90’s, San Francisco is now becoming for the X-Men of the 21st Century. Fraction is able to juggle a huge cast here, with heroes hanging out in a large city, casually bumping into each other, but it all happens in a way that feels organic. Those caption boxes with the character intros range from fun and succinct, “Flight. Money.” to worn out and grating with “Teleporter. Somewhat unique appearance and smell.” I wonder if all that has just been build up for the reveal of “Pixie. X-Man.” There’s been a lot of speculation on the interwebs about the identity of the Red Queen, is it Jean Grey? Firestar? Can Emma be trusted? How does her S&M streak play into all this? What’s up with Chimera? The introduction of Madelyne Pryor wasn’t expected, could ultimately prove to be groan-inducing, but for now is another nod to the Claremont era that could help sustain the focus of this title. Land’s photo-reffing tendencies still can distract, is Emma a mix of Jenny McCarthy and Pam Anderson? Does Storm look suspiciously like Halle Berry on the cover of Esquire Magazine this month? Why does Scott have ugly long hair? Is that a mix of Tom Cruise and Ashton Kutcher? But, those foibles are largely overshadowed by the determination of Pixie, the paternalistic concern of Beast, and the honesty in Nightcrawler’s voice, “Nein. But we still try, ja.” As Pixie proves she may be ready to join X-Force(!) and Empath self-destructs from the emotional fallout of M-Day, this run of Uncanny is not without its faults, but this creative team has given us the most readable and coherent core X-title in years. Grade A.

Astonishing X-Men #27 (Marvel): There are a couple of pages here in which Simone Bianchi’s panel layouts are really confusing and counterintuitive, but overall his pencils lend an exotic European feel that calls to mind the aesthetic of Ladronn or other contributors from the Humanoids line. There are some really shining moments artistically, such as the close-up of Agent Brand. This panel would otherwise be a throw-away panel, but Bianchi (along with inker and colorist) really make it shine. Beast’s erudite dialogue is a bit difficult to parse in spots, sounding more like Yoda than Hank McCoy: “Had not our victim gotten sloppy…” Another example of a minor writing mis-step is the entire exchange with Scott dropping an “F bomb” to Agent Brand. When he initially said it, sure, it’s kind of funny because it is largely out of character. But, to include Beast’s reaction, then Wolverine’s reaction, and then go on to explain it away plays much too self-aware. It’s like telling a joke and then immediately explaining why it’s so funny, the process of which basically negates all the funny. Otherwise, Ellis’ script mostly delivers with Ghost Boxes and his usual bleeding edge sci-fi exploration that touches on the roots of much of the atomic paranoia that fueled the zeitgeist of the 1960’s Marvel stable. Grade B+.

Captain Britain & MI-13 #6 (Marvel): Hrmm. The promise of this title seems to be slowly slipping away. It’s a far cry from the manic irreverence that was the Pete Wisdom mini-series from the MAX line. Last issue left off with an enticing cliffhanger about Blade suddenly staking Spitfire, that plot thread is shuffled to the side for the first half of this issue and then when finally explained, just seems a little… goofy and incoherent. The Captain Midlands plot takes center stage, and I really have no clue about that. It’s all over the place and I’m not sure what’s happening or why I’m supposed to care. Something about Plotka: Lord of Wishes…? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz… Pete has one good line in the entire book, which causes Captain Midlands to acknowledge him as real, but otherwise this is really mediocre. Instead of teasing the return of Captain Britain’s lost love Meggan, this book should strive to be more like Nextwave; that’s the potential that’s being squandered here. Grade C.

I also picked up;

Scalped: Volume 3: Dead Mothers (DC/Vertigo)

Comic Foundry: Fall 2008 (Comic Foundry, LLC)


Why is All the Cool Stuff in New York? (Part 2)

Why is All the Cool Stuff in New York?


27 Issues, 9 Years

Planetary is a book that I've loved since its inception, due to it's gorgeous art and genre fiction meta-examination, but it has certainly been plagued by an undeniably bizarre lateness. My friend Michael and I often joke about how long it's been, but I never realized just how long until I did some checking. I suppose there are indeed some obvious self-referential jokes to be had about "Archaeologists of the Impossible," as the first issue suggests, but I'll resist...

Wikipedia offers the following information: "Planetary was previewed in the September 1998 issues of Gen13 (#33) and C-23 (#6), and issue #1 was cover dated April 1999. It was originally intended to be a 24 issue bi-monthly series. However, due to illness of Mr. Ellis and other commitments by Mr. Cassaday, the series was put on hiatus between 2001 and 2003; it has since restarted and will conclude with issue #27. Mr. Ellis confirmed, on his "Bad Signal" mailing list, that Mr. Cassaday would finish the final issue in early 2008. As of late September of 2008, Mr. Ellis stated that the issue was about halfway finished."

Well, glad to hear we're being consistent and it's now late again. And what illness or other commitments? Both Ellis and Cassaday have had numerous projects since the "between 2001 and 2003" time frame that didn't seem to be hampered by these factors. Assuming it actually does get completed some time in 2008, that would mean a total of 27 issues of regular series output in more than 9 years(!). You realize that's an average of 3 issues per year, or one issue every 4 months, right? Doesn't this break some kind of bizarro record? Not to mention the fact that right now I have sitting on my shelf the Absolute Edition: Volume 1, which collects the first 12 issues. I then have a regular sized hardcover of Volume 3, which collects issues 13-18. I purchased issues 19-26, but in a well intentioned (however, foolish in hindsight) fashion, I gave those issues to a friend in the Bay Area around the post-2003 restart mentioned above, falsely assuming that "the surge" in publishing would finally wrap things up. So, now I'm stuck wondering if I should track down those 19-26 back issues (for fear that's the last we'll ever see of the content) or wait it out. I have to wait for #27. I then have to wait for the softcover and hardcover (which I'd surely pick up at this point) to get published, hoping that one day I would then actually get a Volume 2 of the Absolute Edition to round out my completist ways(?). How fucking long is that little grail quest gonna' take?



10.08.08 Reviews

The Lone Ranger #14 (Dynamite Entertainment): Brett Matthews and Sergio Cariello, with a delicious as usual cover assist from John Cassaday, give us a murder mystery set against the Old West. Our titular hero and Tonto feel just like modern day cops at a crime scene; it's got that grisly, mysterious perpetrator feel that's a perfect blend of two different styles of genre fiction. The murder also hits close to home for The Lone Ranger, as it involves a child left without parents. One or two cheesy quips aside (I know they're designed as homage, but... ick!), this arc is scripted well and is shaping up to be something a little different than what we're accustomed to. Cariello's pencils boast a more restrained and refined line, as if there's been an increased conscious effort on detail. Noticeable are finer lines in the folds of the clothing and amid the shadows on the faces. The Lone Ranger is really proof that there's something to be said for a strong and linear approach to storytelling, it can be impactful with a relative simplicity and clarity of the ideas presented, all amid a time of convoluted "summer" spectacles that now seem to last all year, if not in perpetuity. Grade B+.

Invincible Iron Man #6 (Marvel): The art deco inspired variant cover, with its washed out crimson hue, is very attractive! It's nice to see Tony as tactician, with lines like “a high-pitched whine hiding on the edge of hearing.” Oh Matt Fraction, you clever devil you! It’s really the little things, isn't it? In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have just said "a high-pitched whine," and that would have sufficed for description. But Fraction gives us the extra little flourish; lines like this make you stop and think for a second to notice their beautiful style of prose. Larroca's pencils still bear some residual photoref (I swear Maria Hill is Jessica Alba, with those pouty lips, smoldering bedroom eyes, and near flawless skin...), but overall his art is settling down. It's largely clean and clear without that distracting energy it can sometimes possess. The EMP has sort of become a go-to deus ex machina in a lot of recent pop culture offerings, but oh well, we still get a good old fashioned fist fight too. Ezekiel does sorta' have a point, Tony sells the weapons, then forbids their use (to some), and hunts them down hypocritically: “I don’t bill the people I kill, Tony.” It's still not the new SHIELD Helicarrier that Tony bragged about, which we saw in Mighty Avengers' first arc, (I like this one better, the new one was ugly anway), but I'm just sayin'... continuity's continuity. I like the somber and illuminating end to this first arc. It will be interesting to see how Fraction handles the next arc featuring Spidey with the post-Civil War tension. Grade B+.

I also picked up;

Queen & Country: Definitive Edition: Volume 3 (Oni Press): Being the third in a series of four, collecting the last two “regular series” arcs titled Operation Saddlebags (which is one of the best voyeuristic views into Tara’s mental descent... also note that it is "Saddlebags" with an "s" as found in previous collections, there is a small typo in the TOC that lists it as "Saddlebag," sans "s") and Operation Red Panda, along with the Q&C Script Book. The fourth collection will assumably collect all of the (3) Queen & Country: Declassified mini-series.

Another Open Letter to My LCS (And Probably Some of Yours Too)

First, when I come in at 1:00 or 1:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, I expect everything to already be up on the shelves. Period. I’m sick of watching you do your retarded sea donkey dance, still unpacking half of the boxes, packaging material strewn about blocking the aisles, simultaneously trying to answer people’s questions, work the register, and answer the phone – all alone – while a handful of people stand around in bewildered frustration wondering if you will ever produce the books they came to buy. It really shouldn’t be this hard for you to take my money.

Second, I expect you to carry mainstream titles. Period. I shouldn’t have to ask. I’m sick of hearing your excuses. Is it really always someone else’s fault if it happens week after week after endless, painful week? Is it always the fault of the publisher, distributor, or shipping company? Really? Every. Single. Time? You really have no culpability in this process? It’s not, say, that you just didn’t order it, because you’re so blindly unorganized? This is what I think about when I watch you fumble through your diamond print outs, only to ultimately cede “yes, it came out… but we (inexplicably) didn’t get it…” Get your shit together already.

Lastly, I think it’s great that you do in-store signings with creators. Really, I do. But you might want to… oh, I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here… you might want to stock some of the books that the creator has actually worked on in anticipation of the event. Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of blokes standing around uncomfortably going “uh… hey man, how’s it going?” Or did you really want me to leave your store, go down the street to the competition, buy a book the poor guy has worked on, then come back to get it signed and have a little chat? That business model is retardulous; how embarrassing for you.

But Justin, you will surely ask, why do you continue to frequent this establishment? A valid query, but as I’ve explained before, this "Grade B-" of a shop is essentially the lesser of many evils in my metro. There are a handful of shops to be found, yes, but every single one is a very rough Grade C, D, or F. And yes, I've tried constructive feedback, but it goes nowhere. I'm reduced to this acerbic monologue as my only catharsis. Oh, how I long for the bastions of retail excellence found in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lee’s Comics, Hijinx Comics, Comic Relief, The Isotope Lounge, Comix Experience… I miss you!


Conversations With Kat

Welcome to a new recurring feature called “Conversations With Kat.” My coworker Kathlene has been reading comics for about a year now. In our casual conversations, I’ve been impressed with the unique perspective she brings to the medium, largely due to having a more formal art background. I thought it would be interesting to capture these conversations when we find a book that speaks to both of us. Local, with its hardcover collection released very recently from Oni Press, is a great example to start with. Enjoy!

JG: Kathlene, what are your overall impressions of Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s Local? Where does it rank against other books you’ve read?

KG: Would I be overstating if I said I loved it? I have all 12 of the single issues and each one was such a unique experience. Whether Brian Wood's writing or Ryan Kelly's art, I just couldn't wait to get to the next one. The writing is excellent; I think everyone can see themselves in Megan and her experiences. I personally identified with her character and by the final issue I wanted to know how she had figured it all out – don't we all want someone to tell us what the great mystery of getting through life is? And Ryan Kelly – that’s just some genius art. My favorite covers are #8 (Food As Substitute) and #10 (Bar Crawl). Kelly has a sketchy style that is very appealing to me. He captured Megan's moods and demeanor so well – you really feel what she’s going through. Local is by far one of the best books I’ve read, up there with Brian K. Vaughan’s The Escapists and everything I’ve read by Paul Pope.

JG: It’s not overstating, I love it too! It’s interesting that you mention “everyone can seem themselves in Megan.” In one of my reviews, I wrote something similar and essentially stated that “we are all Megan” at some point in our lives. You think she’s a sympathetic character then? Some fans hated her and even called her a bitch.

KG: I’d read that too and was surprised – I absolutely find her to be a sympathetic character. I wouldn't say she’s a bitch. She certainly didn't always make the right choices and sometimes did some less than honorable things… but seriously, who hasn't? That’s part of what I found so appealing, putting myself in her shoes and going yeah, I remember what that felt like.

JG: I never fully comprehended the bitch label either. Taking a step back, I think Brian Wood is one of the greatest writers of our generation and he understands that some of the greatest character arcs incorporate a moment of satori. For me, that was issue #6 (Megan and Gloria, Apartment 5A), which I think really captures the essence of the entire series. Megan’s actions swell up to this moment of crisis and sudden enlightenment where she recognizes a pattern in herself and wants to change. Sure, some of her actions are uncomfortable and downright ugly, but her quest to be different and grow is a noble one. To me, bitches are bitches if their actions are intentionally manipulative and malicious – and I don’t think that describes her accurately. You mentioned Ryan Kelly’s art; be more specific about the appeal. What do you look for from an artist?

KG: Kelly reminds me a bit of Paul Pope – a sketchy style and an incredible talent for capturing mood and place. As I mentioned, Bar Crawl was one of my favorite covers – I can just feel the charcoal pencil in Kelly's hand (my favorite medium to work in). It was a lot darker than the others – both in style and composition. The figure on the front is shrouded in shadow so you can't really make out his face (Megan's brother). You can pretty much tell that this isn't going to be a happy, go-lucky story. What do I look for in an artist? I guess I tend to be drawn more toward a realistic style than something overly cartoony. I love to see the artist's hand in their work, to feel their process. I remember reading in one of Kelly's essays that he had used all sorts of different things to get the look he was after, I think he even said he used a stick at one point. I love that notion of just being so wrapped up in your work that you throw everything into it – all of your heart, your spontaneity – you just end up with brilliance. Do you think that the original premise for Local, it being a story more about place than a particular character, really matters? For me, it got to be very inconsequential. I appreciated the hard work that went into researching specific cities and depicting them in such detail, but I never felt that Megan had a home, so she wasn't vested in any of those places. I didn't feel like they had shaped her character in a significant way. What's your take?

JG: Let me first just say that I agree with you on Ryan Kelly. I’ve always maintained that he was this brilliant mix of Paul Pope and an artist named Farel Dalrymple, who did a couple books I like quite a bit – Pop Gun War and Omega: The Unknown. To answer your question, I think it depends largely on what the authorial intent was. When Local began, I get the impression that the creative team may have originally intended for the cities to play more prominently, and Megan would actually be subtly in the background casually linking them together. Somewhere along the way, that may have shifted and those roles got reversed; Local became very much about Megan and the cities became contextual. I feel like that happened organically, the character started to beg for attention and “write herself” as the idiom goes. I think another important factor worth noting about the cities, which also seemed to happen organically, was that they became a mode of interaction between the creators and their audience. Local has one of the coolest letters pages in existence, with the short essays, musical inspiration, and pictures that readers would send in about their own “Locals” from all over the world. What did you make of that? The concept of Megan having a “home” is interesting. By the end she’s starting to settle emotionally, but my question is do you think home really exists, or what’s the definition of home to you? For me, I think home is more an emotional mental space based in nostalgia than an actual physical place capable of drawing out that emotion by your mere presence there.

KG: I really enjoyed reading other people's descriptions of their home towns. It made me think about my own and how I feel about it (Lemon Grove, CA). Local inspired the creation of a community, the collaboration between Wood and Kelly, the audience participation, the soundtrack(s) so to speak. I think everyone essentially has two homes: where you grew up and where you are now. A phrase that came to mind for me in reading #3 (Theories and Defenses) was that you can never go home – the home of your childhood doesn't exist anywhere but in your memory. That scene in Bridget's room, her youth frozen in time, where she’s trying to persuade Frank to get back together again, is a good example – you can't recapture the past. In revisiting some of the many places of my youth, I can definitely tell you which were homes to me and which weren't. My definition of home is a positive one, where you feel comfortable, loved, where your best memories come from. I think we spend a lot of our adult lives trying to recreate home or provide a sense of it for our families. Now that I’m bringing up Theories and Defenses, admittedly one of your favorites, tell me what you found so appealing. To me, this issue could have spun off a whole new storyline and been a series on its own since it was so far removed from any substantial interaction with Megan. The dialogue between Frank and the reporter intrigued me – the notion that you owe something to your hometown or that all you are comes from one place. How do you think your environment influences you?

JG: Theories and Defenses is definitely my favorite issue, but #11 (The Younger Generation) is a close second. Even though it doesn’t really focus on Megan at all, it hit me hard. First, it has a lived-in quality that really showcases the level of detail Brian Wood can put into a script. Though it’s obviously a fictitious band, it feels very realistic to me. It’s like I’ve heard their music. It’s like I’ve actually seen the VH1 Behind The Music special. There’s an air of authenticity to what’s laid bare on the page. I love the way that each of the band members deals with the psychological fallout of the break up differently. Frank wants to take a break, accountable to nobody but himself. Bridget wants to recapture the feeling of a time and place, but the tighter she tries to grip it, the quicker it runs through her fingers. The drummer, in it for a quick buck, comes off more manipulative and directionless. The bass player quietly goes back to playing small clubs for sheer love of the craft. The mere name, “Theories and Defenses” sounds incredibly cool to me! Second, when Frank is on the phone with the reporter, there’s a lot of subtext in that conversation. I feel like that’s actually Brian Wood talking to the audience. The message is that Frank is only accountable to himself. His only obligation is to create, to make music, or comics, or whatever – to keep putting it out there. It’s the idea that you should never create based on what you think the audience expects or wants, because the expected will never be innovative. If the work is genuine and part of an organic evolution, regardless of whether it deviates from a previous sound or style, then the audience will respond to your vision. If they like it, that’s great. If not, it shouldn’t change your need for self expression or the manner in which you choose to do it. I felt like this was Brian Wood’s “Creator Bill of Rights,” for lack of a better descriptor, and he was boldly proclaiming it, albeit through the cipher of Frank. The extent to which environmental influences play touches on the nature vs. nurture debate. Are you the person you are because of your DNA or because of your Local? I think it’s both. I think everyone has certain inborn qualities that are genetic, that form the basis of who you are. Your initial environment then plays a large role in shaping your personality, your temperament, the lense through which you view the world. Psychologists say that your basic personality traits are hardwired into your brain by age 13 or 14. But then you actually start living your life; you begin to accumulate experiences that shape what’s already been established. It’s very easy for me to look back and see how the places I’ve lived, or even visited with any regularity, have made me into the person I am, whether it’s San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Boston, North Carolina… all the way back to the place I was born in Northern California. If you convert this to a numerical formula, it’d be like the DNA comprises 50% of you, that initial setting and upbringing make another 30%, and the remaining 20% is slowly modified from your various travels, constantly evolving as you place yourself in new cities or jobs or circles of friends. The process becomes slower and more subtle over time because each new influence represents a smaller portion of the whole. I’m digressing here… In addition to art, music is a huge part of your life (you’ve even done a guest DJ gig on a local radio station!), so what did you think of Theories and Defenses, and to a larger extent, the inclusion of so much music in the Local essays?

KG: I think there’s significant tangible energy in Theories and Defenses that make it one of the strongest individual stories in the series. Wood captures each of the band members' personalities in those brief glimpses of their lives – you get a sense of how they interacted with each other and maybe even why they broke up. Frank has a definite need to move on and tell his own story, burned out and wanting to get back to the real reason why he became a musician; Bridget is lost without the group and has nowhere else to go (Frank alludes to "another man" in Bridget's life – is that the cause of the band's split?); Kevin is trying to hold on to the fame and fortune, still clinging to some elusive notion that he’s somebody important; and Ross, who’s probably the only one that will make it through the break up okay. It's obvious that his passion is music – the venue doesn't matter, the size of the audience doesn't matter, if no one recognizes him he’d probably consider that for the better. Kelly did a masterful job in bringing these characters to life; you feel Bridget's vulnerability, the determined look on Ross' face as he marches past the crowd on the sidewalk, or the portrayal of the grizzled drummer who looks like he just woke up from a weekend binge. I think Wood could turn this segment into an international Local – how the band started, who their musical influences were, how touring Europe affected them and what they were listening to on the road. It just seems like too much good material to pass up (Brian, I hope you’re reading this!). I don't think you can get through life without a soundtrack – at least that's how I get through it. Music is a refuge, it captures your mood, it identifies you in time and place. It’s the same way that a particular smell can spark a memory. Good or bad, music can immediately transport you back in time or free you from the cares of the day. I think the musical references help define Megan on her journey – it takes us wherever she is and defines her frame of mind. Being the music fan that I am, I want to go back to each issue and find those songs and add some of my own. Then I could go back and re-read each issue with the soundtrack in my head. It’s like a huge collective playlist – you listen to Megan's, which is being channeled by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, then add your own, and then even hear some contributions from others. Again, I think it created a sense of community, that we are all collaborators in some small fashion in this story.

JG: I love that idea of an interactive virtual community between creators and their audience; that seems like a good note to end on. That said, I’d now encourage everyone to become a part of that collaborative community by running out to pick up the new Local HC. It’s easily one of my favorite books, and in these tough economic times, it’s a steal for an oversized hardcover containing 384 pages, including all of the essays and color covers, for only $29.99. We’ll see you next time!

Kathlene Gusel earned a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Art History & Criticism from the University of California San Diego (UCSD) and has been on the staff of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) for 11 years. When she isn't managing a network crisis, she’s chasing around her two young children and trying to catch up on a good read.


10.01.08 Reviews

No Hero #1 (Avatar Press): If you were to mix the induction elements of Millar’s Wanted and a more street level version of Ellis’ latest work from Avatar, Black Summer, you’d end up with something like No Hero. Instead of the political coup that Black Summer offered, No Hero relies on vigilantism and “true” justice’s ability to restore social order. I like the aspect of pondering whether someone’s motivation for change determines whether or not they can be considered heroic, but I’m not yet feeling enough differentiation between this book and Black Summer. To be more succinct, I think this book is good – just not fresh. Juan Jose Ryp’s art is as great as ever though, a fun blend of Frank Quitely and Geoff Darrow, helping the title clock in with a… Grade B.

Red Mass for Mars #2 (Image): I still don’t really know what the title of this book is, sometimes it’s A Red Mass for Mars, sometimes the “A” is omitted… In any case, I don’t really remember what’s going on in this series, perhaps due to the modus operandi of long delays between issues of any Jonathan Hickman project. Many of the individual scenes are quite interesting, but they all play as a conglomeration of different stories and disparate elements, and I remain unclear how (or is it if?) they will coalesce or connect. This is a bad position to put your readers in when your book is 50% completed. I know that there seems to be multiple Earths, I think it’s set after a series of cataclysmic events, there is an invading force, a gathering of powers, and something about a boy named Mars who is (assumably) the God of War. That is to say, I get the broad brushstrokes, but am completely lost on the details. I have no idea who’s who, what their motivations are, how one scene has any bearing on another, and what the commentary on war is driving for. There’s a brief bout of Warren Ellis inspired pseudo-science about a “black hole bomb” as a hail mary effort to thwart the invaders that was fun… umm, other than that all I can say is that Ryan Bodenheim’s art is thick, luscious, and beautiful; Marty Shelley’s color assists also really deserve a mention for their washed out, yet somehow still vivid feel. Despite as many misses or near hits as actual hits, I still believe that Jonathan Hickman is one of the most important new voices in the last five years and worth checking out. Grade B-.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

Omega: The Unknown (Marvel): One of the first things I noticed about this incarnation of Omega: The Unknown, by Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple, is the multi-layered approach to the narrative(s). This dynamic occurs in a straightforward fashion and then almost at a subliminal level of comprehension to the reader, based on assumed familiarity with the medium or embedded authorial commentary. The best example occurs early, page three to be exact, which shows an extended chase/fight sequence with some robots. There’s a line of dialogue that reads: “These forms are so dreadfully familiar.” This phrase says everything. Ostensibly, this line is used to describe exactly what’s happening on the page from the perspective of the narrator we actually see. This is simply Omega commenting that he’s tired of dealing with these robots. When you read deeper and ponder the subtext, you begin to feel as if the narration isn’t coming from the person you see and that the source could potentially be the young protagonist of the book, Alex. You can certainly argue that this is Alex thinking about how he’s weary of dreaming about all of this, having the disturbance apparent on a subconscious level. Yet a third explanation is that Jonathan Lethem is speaking directly to the reader and winking at us, saying “yep, it’s another superhero fight scene, we’ve seen this a million times before, haven’t we?” Taken individually, any one of these layers is interesting, but when they converge simultaneously the work is at its most brilliant and complex.

That’s the most prevalent theme to me that seeps through the work; the other bits I enjoyed are disparate elements. I like the fact that this creative team mirrors Gerber’s original run, both ten issues, with some panels and sequences being direct translations. There are many character portrayals which can be read as jabs at the “Distinguished Competition,” as they would have said in industry parlance during the time period the original debuted. Omega really feels like a true alien outsider, and for that is not unlike a more grounded version of Superman. The reveal of the formation of the Omega “Corps” is very similar to the Green Lantern Corps’ origin, both interstellar police forces created and organized to address a robotic menace. And finally, The Mink looks like what would happen if you took the chummy do-gooder Adam West Batman and just let him turn evil enough to become the pock mark on society, Mr. Kansur (phonetically “cancer”), that he’s been dying to be all along. There’s the astounding imagery of the head/hands statue, lurking ominously in the background like something out of The Prisoner, subtly changing, revealing moments that redefine all that’s come before. In a few corners of the blogosphere, it has even been suggested that the work is, in part, an attempt at graphic depiction of the feel of Asperger’s Syndrome (on the autism spectrum) and a child navigating an existence fueled by that affliction. Lethem includes the delicious social commentary with the robotic homogenization found in the fast food corporation, all the while giving us the inherent clash of individuality and conformity. There’s the lone editorial mistake on the book flap, the artist’s name spelled incorrectly as “Dalyrmple,” which I feel is a piece of unintentional meta-commentary in itself. Editors are not paying enough attention to him; Farel Dalrymple is not getting his due. I’ve always maintained that he’s from the school of Paul Pope, Ryan Kelly, or Nathan Fox – those gritty, visceral, lived-in pencils that avoid the refined perfection of a more confectionary artist like say, John Cassaday. Dalrymple’s style suits this story of mental illness and crumbling pop fiction archetypes very well. He should be working more, enough for editors to get his damn name correct. He’s ready for prime time, not relegated to an under-read, quirky corner of a shared universe – no matter how great it is, I truly don’t intend that to sound like a pejorative statement, only that I want more people to be exposed to his great work.

Toward the end of this project, it’s difficult not to notice the industry commentary embedded just below the surface of the narrative. Take a look at the three Omegas we are most familiar with, in their variegated states of inhabiting the role. Their fate is a very telling indictment of the industry they reside in and its own fate as a superhero factory. The old guy is portrayed largely as a bum until we finally find out he is the previous Omega. His life has essentially peaked and is on a decline after so much repetition. The arc of his character that we can infer is sort of analogous to this tired industry, which tries the same things over and over in hopes of the condition improving. The current Omega is never really given a name, he’s essentially anonymous and faceless, without a distinct identity of his own. He is unknown as the title suggests; he is simply (an) Omega, with nothing left to fight at the end. The industry comparison is that you can’t distinguish most superheroes from each other; all of them are derivative of the same one or two archetypes. There’s nothing left to say or do that’s original, they’ve become very vanilla and homogenized. Attempts are made to position the kid, Alex, as the future, the next big thing, the next Omega. But, he rejects the role. He will not be the next Omega. In industry terms, he’s not going to be the next big thing. You can read this as this work itself not being the next big thing that will shift the paradigm of storytelling. But, I read it as kids not being interested in comics, they can’t be the next big thing which saves the medium. So, the path we’re lead down is that if your audience isn’t changing and adapting, the output in the model has to. And that basically brings us to the point we’re at. At the end of the book, as in comic life, we see a failing genre playing to a captive audience, a largely closed system of dispassionate activity. Superficially the end appears peaceful, but in reality it’s actually depressing. It’s up to the creators to carve out thoughtful reimaging of work that, through commentary, transcends what’s ostensibly on the page in order to avoid that bout of insular ambivalence, all for a dwindling group of the last few remaining fans.

Lethem’s new take on Omega: The Unknown portrays whoever embodies Omega as an outsider, both in terms of characterization and as a new work; it’s as much an outsider as was the majority of Gerber’s original work (I mean really, who would have thought Howard the Duck could have been so engaging, pointed, and fun?). Lethem stated in a Comic Foundry interview that this is the only comic he wants to do. He’s not interested in “breaking in” to a new career direction from his prose novel work. This is a property he liked growing up and has now said what he wanted to say, which serves as a tribute to two iconoclast creators that stand in stark contrast to the Marvel style of their respective days. Grade A.