My 13 Favorite Things of 2008

Wasteland (Oni Press): Like Herman Melville’s Ishmael, Antony Johnston so generously gives us an omniscient narrator’s look into the motivations, secret dealings, desires, and hopes of the people involved in a grand adventure. As the mystery of The Big Wet unfolds, it’s as if he’s recounting a classic tale fraught with the type of cautionary wisdom and observation about society that causes us to introspect and consider our own existence that much more carefully. Wasteland is a bundle of complex themes, a slowly unraveling enigma that when fully digested becomes epic in proportion and gravitas. His artistic collaborator Christopher Mitten stops at nothing to depict this fully realized universe and its many inhabitants, he’ll crumple his own paper to give it the feel of ancient parchment, pass the baton to other artists for brief interludes when appropriate, master emotive lines and clean panel transitions, and capture in glorious black and white what lesser artists would struggle to do even when aided by full color.

Scalped (DC/Vertigo): Jason Aaron & R.M. Guera’s seedy crime series belongs on HBO. It deserves that widespread an audience. It’s could easily compete with the likes of Deadwood, The Sopranos, or Six Feet Under as a story that transcends its basic genre trappings, while commenting on an overlooked corner of American culture, to illustrate universal experiences inherent to man’s fleeting existence. Aided by a stable of talented cover artists (issue #3 and #19 remain favorites), Guera’s dark and broken style is perfectly matched for the task at hand. Aaron is emerging as one of the best writers of his generation, producing a full range of crisp characters that fully embody their Cormac McCarthy inspired world, capable of beautiful, haunting, and lyrical prose. In a world where No Country for Old Men can achieve Oscar status, Scalped is so obviously deserving of an Eisner. Jason Aaron consistently delivered some of the most quotable lines and memorable moments of the year, lingering on the mental palate long after the books are nestled back onto the bookshelf for safekeeping.

Local Hardcover (Oni Press): It’s a given at this point to describe what a wonderful series Local is; it is a series of artistic high points punctuated by even higher moments that have become personal favorites. Issue #3 and issue #11 remain two of my favorite single issue of all time. Moreover, it was a treat to see Oni Press really get behind Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly’s work with the product treatment the series so richly deserves. This edition, complete with color covers and all of the satisfying back matter, was well executed in every aspect. Simply put, the Local HC is a fantastic package for a fantastic book. It became one of my go-to books used to initiate non-comic-reading friends and coworkers into the scene, giving many of them the joyful and memorable experience of being their first indie comics crush.

Heavy Liquid Hardcover (DC/Vertigo): Paul Pope is not terribly prolific, yet he remains an all time favorite creator. He’s one artist of whose work I can say that I’m an absolute completist. We find ourselves in a time that feels like the quiet before the storm; it’d be easy to get lulled into thinking that Pope is more concerned with high fashion and his burgeoning DKNY clothing line than comics. But… DC/Vertigo’s publishing of this Blade Runner infused, noir sci-fi blender, their announcement of the 100% Hardcover, and assumably an eventual Batman: Year 100 Hardcover offers much hope. That coupled with the impending Battling Boy from First Second and a THB collected edition from AdHouse Books hopefully signals a commitment to renewed energy and focus around his work, which is by all means that of an industry icon and instantly classic.

Pete Wisdom (to Spitfire): “…and don’t call me sir, it’s weirdly horny.” This line of dialogue from Captain Britain & MI-13 embodied such a sheer understanding and unique sense of character. Rarely do writers capture the perfect voice of a creation, this line drips with that level of comprehension. Contextually, it’s a shame that the title isn’t really living up to its full potential, as hinted at in the lamented precursor that was the Wisdom mini-series from Marvel’s MAX line. I know lines have truly settled into my gray matter when I use them in ordinary day-to-day speech, and I’ve pulled out this little gem on a couple occasions, much to the surprise of innocent bystanders.

The Blogosphere! It just seemed… bloggier than usual. It was more opinionated than traditional media, as it should be, and I loved that. Whether it was the “50 Things I Love About Comics” lists making the rounds, a whole panel at the con devoted to blogging, columns from Laura Hudson, Valerie D’Orazio, Tim Callahan, CBR, or the Savage Critics, an examination of Barack Obama’s biracial roots over at The 4th Letter, creators stopping by to say thanks for my reviews, or even pushing back on some of them, rapping with Ryan Claytor, Matt from Paradox Comics, Tom from .newseedcomics, or Jog and Dick Hyacinth railing against the tendency to praise mediocre work, I truly enjoyed being a part of it. It was lines like (I’m paraphrasing here…) “you can’t say anything smart about middle of the road work, it lacks the energy of the trashier stuff and the ambition of the more sophisticated stuff” that made all the difference. Most online debate typically degenerates into a right/wrong contest, partially due to our society’s fetishized view of technology and binary, mutually exclusive positions in debate. I believe it’s also partially because our society values lawyers, corporate doublespeak, and politicians – professions that teach you how to win arguments, but not solve problems. But comic blogging had an energy, a sense of purpose to it this year, that strayed from that downward spiral, and articulately defended variegated positions. I recall lines like “you’re entitled to your opinion, but not your own set of facts.” It was Johanna Draper Carlson succinctly defending her critiques, telling Scott Kurtz “blogging is not my craft, any more than using Photoshop is yours, a blog is just a tool, I’m a critic and proud of it.” Someone said something to the effect of “I want to read good comics. I want to be an advocate for them and nothing else. I want comics that aspire to something grand, especially in an environment where anti-intellectualism is normative.” Yeah, more of that please. That’s the type of blogginess that I fell in love with this year.

Fraction & Wood’s Ascendancy: As for Brian Wood, there are precious few creators who I can truthfully say that I enjoy all of their work. It doesn’t really matter if it’s his early Channel Zero work, the overlooked Supermarket from IDW, the flagship Vertigo book DMZ, the genre-defying Local, or Northlanders (issue #5 remains one of the best single issues of the year for my money), Brian Wood is the voice of a generation. He is the guy I can point to and say, yes, his work is representative of my feelings, my generation, our aspirations, our bouts of disillusionment, seek his work out to gain an understanding of us, our fears, our hopes, our intelligence. He’s the guy. Regarding Matt Fraction, he rose from humble beginnings at the underground movement that was Savant Magazine, to sleeper hits like Five Fists of Science (his own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), to critical darling Casanova, to reviving a beloved version of Iron Fist, to being a true mover and shaker in the Marvel Universe and helming the humongous properties that are the Uncanny X-Men and Invincible Iron Man. Fraction’s ascendancy into the zeitgeist is something to see. Not only is his career arc impressive and fascinating to watch, but let me remind you this is the best that either of those Marvel books have been in years. There’s a clarity of purpose there. The books are finally good; let’s not overlook that little fact.

Bottomless Belly Button (Fantagraphics): Dash Shaw ostensibly provides a simple examination of a failed marriage and its impact on the surrounding family. Look closer and you’ll see him illuminating the wonder found in the collection of really less than wonderful individual moments. This is grand commentary on what it means to be human, an imperfect cog in a dysfunctional, yet somehow still surviving, whole – and the beauty inherent to that design. In early November, I said “Bottomless Belly Button is ambitious in its sheer scope, and I predict it will be on many Top 10 lists. Yes, I think it will be remembered as one of the best books of the year.” One need only peruse Amazon, New York Magazine, Publisher’s Weekly, or the Washington Post for a few of the many sources verifying this prediction.

Queen & Country Definitive Editions (Oni Press): Queen & Country is like that one sexpot girlfriend you had, that one ex that you can’t ever get out of your mind. The one you still secretly think about and wonder how things would have turned out if you’d stayed with her. It’s one of my favorite books of all time, one that the superfluous, tepid espionage imitations will never touch, so it’s nice to finally have it in a complete, compact, err… definitive edition. I sometimes sit and ponder nostalgically what could have been, what would have been, if Rucka had continued his tale, and I, my delightfully memorable fling with it.

Jonathan Hickman: Admittedly, I’ve given Hickman a lot of shit about never meeting a typo he didn’t like and playing drunken roulette with his release dates, but there’s no denying his inventiveness and originality. If you need proof, hell, just look at the high concept for Pax Romana (in the near future, the Catholic Church develops a time machine and sends a papal military force back in time to shape history!). No, Jonathan Hickman didn’t make perfect comics this year, but more importantly, he made interesting ones. I always wanted to see what he was up to, even if I didn’t always warm to the series, or found a bundle of technical glitches. Thanks to Image Comics for ushering him unabashedly into the collective conscience as one of the paradigm-shifting new voices in the medium. It reminds me of the first time I picked up an issue of Kabuki from David Mack and thought to myself, this is like no comic I’ve seen, watch this guy, this creator will be important, his time will come, he will be recognized someday as an innovator.

Echo (Abstract Studio): It’s hard to believe that Terry Moore could top the buzz around his seminal Stangers in Paradise, but he’s done it for me with Echo. It reverberates in a way that is very controlled and unfettered by superfluous distractions. It’s as if Moore sat back and decided to do just three or four things exceptionally well; he’s not trying to please everyone and do hundreds of things half-assed and mediocre, he’s doing just a wise handful exceptionally well. He’s modernized the 1960’s atomic paranoia that fueled the Marvel heyday, has fresh new characters, which speak and act like real people, and he’s an expert storyteller whose panel and page transitions are seamless. It makes for one of the most engaging reads out there; he makes what is surely a tremendous amount of work look so easy and effortless.

Omega: The Unknown (Marvel): Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple’s reimaging of a 1970’s cult classic turned out to be one of the most thoughtful deconstructions of the collapsing superhero paradigm since Warren Ellis’s Black Summer, B. Clay Moore’s Battle Hymn, the early arcs of Supreme Power in the MAX line, and yes, even Watchmen.

Skyscrapers of the Midwest (AdHouse Books): Of Joshua Cotter’s inaugural work, I wrote “a personalized tale of life in the American Heartland, which is an insightful look into the bleak trappings of a once fabled existence.” SotM is full of thematic rigor around a piece of Western civilization that is in collapse, evidenced by the real life failure of Detroit automakers, a culture where everyone somehow mistakenly assumed they were entitled to own a home, where a retarded Illinois Governor with Bizarro Jetson’s snap-on hair thinks he’s got the juice of Michael Corleone and can sell a vacant Senate seat, where a Wal-Mart employee can be trampled to death ‘cuz a frickin’ VCR is on sale, and as I wrote back in June “the lifestyle and culture of the Red States is waning during a time where in the real world, the US President has the highest disapproval rating in history, and charismatic Illinois Senator Barack Obama appears to be the presumptive Democratic Nominee, destined to take the Oval Office.” This book could easily serve future historians as primer for what happened to the United States in the earliest part of the century.


All Star Superman (DC): The conclusion to this Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely book was pretty satisfying and though-provoking. It’s nice to see a creative team truly grasp what a character means, and then explore that. I called issue #10 the “most intelligent Superman comic of all time,” and as someone not terribly fond of the character, I firmly believe that this is the best Superman series ever. It took a conversation with Geoff Johns for me to be able to finally articulate this, but the most compelling bit of Superman, in my opinion, is that Kal-El really is the Last Son of Krypton – there’s gravitas behind that idea. What does it mean when he dies? When Superman dies, so dies the House of El. So dies an entire race of beings. What will his enduring legacy be? This book seeks to address that quandary in a multi-faceted way.

Jessica Farm (Fantagraphics): Josh Simmons’ project could easily be dismissed as an ambitious marketing gimmick (96 pages every 8 years for 50 years!), but those detractors surely haven’t absorbed the work. It’s almost as if David Lynch were to create a comic; there’s something there that hints at disturbing just on the edge of your periphery, just out of reach of full understanding. Jessica Farm was full of sex, mystery, subversion, and ethereal wonder; I want to see more immediately. It’s surreal and oddly problematic existentially to think that I myself may not even live to see the book's conclusion. I’ll be 84 in 50 years, so I could or could not still be kicking around on whatever the future version of the interwebs is. Damn this mortal coil!

Rafael Grampa: Like Paul Pope, Ryan Kelly, and Nathan Fox before him, Grampa’s visceral and dirty artistic quality is incomprehensibly what makes it shine so beautifully. After the collaboration with Becky Cloonan, Vasilis Lolos, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon in 5, then the manic grindhouse-flic-on-paper that was Mesmo Delivery, he’s essentially become a buy on sight creator, just for experiencing the sheer joy of his artistic ability.

Sparkplug Comic Books: In the spirit of full disclosure, this may be a bit biased since I know some of the lads at Sparkplug, but fuck, this publisher is on a roll with consistently solid projects. I’m talking about Jason Shiga’s Bookhunter (nominated for an Eisner), Reich by Elijah Brubaker, Reporter by Dylan Williams, Dash Shaw’s Goddess Head, Trevor Alixopulos’ Mine Tonight… Sparkplug continues to deliver a powerful stable of creators that might not otherwise see airtime. Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less was recently picked up by Vertigo, as was announced at SPX. This is truly a publisher to watch.

REX (Optimum Wound): Danijel Zezelj’s work from this boutique publisher boasts an aesthetic that melds West Coast attitude with the slow decay of an East Coast urban jungle, and a man who seeks to be king in his quest for redemption. When you take this imagery in, it’s hard not to hear the old Bush lyrics from the song Everything Zen as front man Gavin Rossdale confers with you, “should I fly to Los Angeles, find my asshole brother, Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow, we’re so bored, you’re to blame, raindogs howl for the century, as you search for your demi-god.” Then that stringy, aching guitar riff comes crashing down on your senses and… I don’t know where I was going with this. Anyway, Zezelj’s bleak images are able to so completely capture a sense of feeling and place. This was an overlooked gem.

Fishtown (IDW): While it does indeed seem a ridiculous cardinal sin to include a lone work that I have not in fact read, this book has gotten unanimous positive buzz from all of the online sources that I respect and value. I regret not being able to purchase it before the clock ran out on 2008 and suspect that it could have potentially been a contender. Let’s just say that it’s toward the top of my list of books to buy and was one of the only unsettling elements to this list that gnawed at my brain, making it feel personally incomplete, or at least not fully considered.


My 13 Favorite Things of 2008

Early next week I’ll be posting my “best of” list for 2008. This year’s wrap up has changed significantly. In previous years, I created “top 10” lists for the best (and sometimes, the worst) ongoing series, mini-series, and graphic novels of the year. Honestly, a couple things have always bothered me about that approach.

One, I usually just don’t like that many books; it was getting increasingly difficult to fill the categories and I found myself scrambling to find respectable choices to reward that I wasn’t always 100% passionate about – and I’m really not that interested in recognizing mediocrity just for the sake of making a list look superficially complete.

Two, I can’t read everything, so how can I possibly determine what the “best” is? Even if I do read everything, my arcane criteria would surely be unique from anyone else’s. Sure, a lot of this is inherent to the review and critique business, but hey… I thought going with “favorite” would rightly imply total personal subjectivity, not the pseudo-objectivity that terms like “best” or “top” do.

In addition to refining and condensing the list down to the items I truly loved, it also allowed me more flexibility to include anything I wanted on the list. Thus, the items you’ll see might be favorite ongoing series, mini-series, TPBs, OGNs, publishers, creators, moments, or even singular lines of dialogue. They can really be anything. They’re in no particular order. I also included five runners-up, simply because that felt about right.

See you soon!


12.24.08 Reviews

The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #2 (Dark Horse): The introduction of a pair of strange new antagonists makes this feel a bit Lynchian, like some of the oddball characters that used to inhabit Twin Peaks. I'll probably catch hell for this, but I'm not as enamored with UA as many people seem to be. I think it's good, but not great. I think its at its best when the actions it depicts are juxtaposed against familiar archetypes and locales. Notice the subtlety of positioning some of this issue's actions amid slices of Americana, like the typical diner scene or something as banal as apple pie or Girl Scout cookies. There's the comedic horror of anthropomorphic versions of Jules Winfield and Vincent Vega ("our man in The City!") extracting the line "W-we use canned apples..." Notice the way Kraken enters and exits the police office, surely a riff on the typical Batman entrance and egress from Commissioner Gordon's. There are just enough nuggets of originality here, like the familial breakdown, the dark side of something like the Teen Titans, and introduction of Mr. Perseus to keep my curiosity piqued. Grade B+.

I also picked up;

The Hot Breath of War (Sparkplug): Being the long-awaited follow up to Trevor Alixopulos' wonderful little crime book Mine Tonight.

Avengers: Volume 1 HC: Avengers Assemble (Marvel): Not released this week of course, but I got this for 30% off at a sale. This is the superb Kurt Busiek and George Perez run in a beautiful oversized hardcover, collecting (I believe) the first 12 issues. If not for this book and the accompanying Avengers Forever, I probably would've never developed an appreciation for this seminal Marvel team.

The Boys: Volume 1: The Name of the Game (Dynamite Entertainment): Again, not a current release, but for 30% off, I'll check it out. Not a huge fan of the creative team, but with some mixed buzz on the interwebs and a discount price, hopefully this will make an entertaining holiday read.

X-Men & Spider-Man #1-2 (Marvel): Picked this up based on a recommendation from a friend; looks like an interesting, time spanning, four issue look at the relationship between Peter and the X-Gang, written by Christos Gage (who doesn't really disappoint, regardless of property) and artist Mario Alberti, who passed the casual flip test with flying colors.


The Great Statistical Purchasing Analysis of 2008!

Some of you may remember that at the end of last year, I vowed to track and analyze my purchasing and collecting habits for an entire calendar year. At long last, here are the results of that project. You may ask how I can analyze the stats when the year is still running; I’ve simply projected what I’ll be picking up this week and next and incorporated those items into the beautiful disaster that is the spreadsheet I created. I’ll be starting with a summary and then drilling deeper for those of you who might actually care about the minutiae of the more detailed breakdown. Of course, everything has been rounded to the nearest dollar in most cases...


Total Single Issues Purchased: 259
Total Spend Single Issues: $777
Average Single Issues Purchased Per Week: 4.98
Average Spend Single Issues Per Week: $14.94


Total TPB/GN Purchased: 55
Total Spend TPB/GN: $1,200
Average TPB/GN Purchased Per Week: 1.06
Average Spend TPB/GN Per Week: $23.08


Keep: Something I intend to keep in the format it was originally purchased in.
Upgrade: Something I’ll upgrade to a better format, it’s then divided into the “Keep” (new format) and “Giving” (old format) categories, a temporary category.
Giving: Something I didn’t like enough to keep, but is okay to give away to friends, family, or coworkers.
Selling: I don’t sell single issues (Silver Age excluded) since they’re not worth anything, but TPBs/GNs are sold to my LCS for cash or credit.
Trashing: Something that was so dreadful I couldn’t in good conscience even give it away; it finds a home in the recycle bin.


Keep: 13% or 33 issues
Upgrade: 7% or 18 issues
Giving: 68% or 176 issues
Selling: 0% or 0 issues
Trashing: 12% or 32 issues


Keep: 25% or 14 items
Upgrade: 0% or 0 items
Giving: 24% or 13 items
Selling: 51% or 28 items
Trashing: 0% or 0 items


* I’m giving away quite a few comics, particularly single issues, which comprise a huge quantity and dollar amount. I think this is evidence that I’m a fairly adventurous consumer and try a lot, but wow, I need to drive that number down. Looking at the numbers, if I had given away only the things I’d upgraded to a better format, it would have been just 46 issues given away for free, and not 176.

* I’m giving away more than half, nearer to 2/3 actually, of the single issues I buy, which is either foolishly generous or generously foolish. The numbers did trend down later in the year when gas prices went up and I really tried to be selective and cull my pull list; I expect it to continue to trend down over 2009 due to the economic crunch.

* Speaking purely from a project management standpoint, “Upgrade” was a stupid category to track because it’s transitory and temporary and really holds limited value, other than to comment on how many books I was buying more than once for the same content. I could have basically put single issues in the “Keep” (rather than “Upgrade”) category and then put the replacement into the “Keep” category, while the upgraded single issues eventually moved into the “Giving” category.

* The “Trashing” category is certainly amusing, but I should really just try to avoid it altogether. It basically comes down to the fact that there are some things I just want to read to be familiar with the content (like say, an issue of Nightwing for guilty pleasure and a childhood fondness for the character), but I know deep down that there’s no way in hell I’m going to keep the book long term just by looking at it, so why buy it in the first place?

* Overall, I only keep about 20% of what I buy, which isn’t very good odds. Essentially, there’s only a 1 in 5 chance that something will make the grade and stay in my collection long term.

* I sell about 50% of the TPBs and GNs I buy, give away about 25%, and keep roughly 25% long term.



55%: Marvel
39%: Misc. (Abstract Studio, Oni Press, Avatar Press)
6%: Image


56%: DC
44%: Misc. (Dynamite Entertainment, Archaia Studios Press, Image)


28%: DC
23%: Marvel
13%: Dark Horse
13%: Image
9%: Misc. (Virgin, Markosia, Dynamite, IDW, Top Cow)
5%: Oni Press
5%: Avatar Press
3%: Sparkplug
1%: Archaia Studios Press




22%: DC
22%: Marvel
13%: Image
6%: Radical
6%: Archaia Studios Press
6%: Boom!
6%: Avatar Press
6%: Dynamite Entertainment
6%: Dark Horse
6%: Misc.



36%: DC
36%: Misc. (Dark Horse, Image, Marvel, Avatar Press)
29%: Oni Press




38%: Fantagraphics
31%: Image
15%: Misc.
15%: Top Shelf


50%: Misc. (Optimum Wound, Archaia Studios Press, NBM, Marvel)
18%: Dark Horse
14%: DC
11%: Fantagraphics
7%: AdHouse Books




* I try a ton of stuff, there’s good diversity with the breadth of publishers represented. I keep a relatively small percentage of items, and there’s no easily identifiable trend available from this data. It must be according to some combination of my weird byzantine criteria and dwindling storage space.

* What I keep tends to be from DC (largely its imprints though, very little from the main DCU) and second tier publishers like Oni Press, Avatar Press, Archaia Studios Press, and Dark Horse. This makes sense on both fronts. I basically grew up a DC kid and on the independent side tend to follow and handful of creators pretty loyally.

* The stinkers that I trashed were pretty evenly representative, Marvel and DC tied for first, with a wide range of others comprising the cock-ups that made their way to the recycle bin.

* I did learn some things about my buying habits that enabled me to save some money and be an even more selective buyer. You can extrapolate which companies have a statistical probability to produce products that I’m likely to keep or upgrade…

* …of course that’s based on wildly unstable criteria, such as the creators or characters involved and I didn’t track to that level of detail. Though I thought about taking it that one step further, you could track additionally by artist, writer, or even genre.

* In closing, let me just stress that this was a ton of work – something that I will not be repeating in 2009, save for tracking my total quantity of purchases and corresponding dollar amounts (basically just the SUMMARY SINGLE ISSUES and SUMMARY TPB/GN categories above) so that I can compare year over year changes. You have to be very disciplined about including every single purchase made, placing it in the correct category, then reviewing periodically when the categories change. You also have to be willing to build an insane Excel spreadsheet to track all of this, and track it for an entire year… just to get one single post!


12.17.08 Reviews

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse: Down the Pub (IDW): “He once gave Nefertiti the clap” is all you really need to know about this Ben Templesmith send-up which is an odd mélange of de rigeur zombie fun, Hellblazer style occult paranormal activity, and the humor of something like Warren Ellis’ Nextwave. This one shot is largely a reprinting of earlier stories from various miscellaneous appearances, but does include a nice introduction that serves as summary for the series to date. Fans will note that this is actually #13 in the larger series, coming right after the Calamari Rising mini-series, which was functionally #9-12. I’d be remiss in not mentioning the other Wormwood one shot, Segue to Destruction, which was a brilliant and hilarious story, my favorite of the series thus far, and also happens to feature a creator cameo, more on that in just a sec… Grade A.

Ex Machina #40 (DC/Wildstorm): I had decided to forego single issues of this title and put it on wait-for-trade status as it nears its conclusion around issue 50, but the premise was just too good to pass up. In the tradition of Stan and Jack, Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, or even Joe Casey and Ashley Wood’s Automatic Kafka, I’m an absolute sucker for creators placing themselves into a story and delightfully breaking the fourth wall. This was a great ride, full of self-referential industry tidbits and the post 9/11 sociopolitical commentary that the title is known for. The two page Garth Ennis and Jim Lee sequence was a tad confusing, not sure if that means they’re the creative team that Mayor Hundred actually chose, or if it was just a little treat for fans. Vaughan has said in numerous interviews that the title will end in some sort of shocking/surprise/tragic manner and I’ve been thinking about what that could be. With the introduction of a comic creative team hired to chronicle Mayor Hundred’s administration, I’m wondering if the series will end with BKV and Tony Harris (within the comic itself) sitting down to pencil the first issue of Ex Machina (chronicling the career of a deceased Mayor Hundred) and essentially close the loop on itself. Grade A.

Tiny Titans #11 (DC): I don’t normally buy this title, but picked it up for a coworker whose son loves it. It’s got an old school anthology feel, delivering multiple short stories with a brisk pace. It dawned on me that what makes this title work is that it doesn’t rely on the fact that the characters are child superheroes. The fact that they’re heroes is inconsequential. Instead it relies on the school setting and a loose group of friends, moving with the affable mechanics and innocent youthful pitfalls that are more reminiscent of Peanuts than anything DC related. Though the shorts lack any semblance of a cohesive story throughline, I’m not sure that matters or is even the point. At $2.50, there’s a lot of bang for the buck here, complete with a couple of games/puzzles in the back and some nice house ads for other Johnny DC titles. Grade A-.

Uncanny X-Men #505 (Marvel): Terry Dodson’s art seems to be settling down a bit, losing much of the overt cheesecake factor; the shots of Emma, Scott, and Ororo are particularly good. To some extent, it feels like things are moving too slowly, with the reintroduction of familiar plot threads like San Francisco as a home for wayward mutants and Piotr’s past haunting him. It also seems redundant that we have Armor (from Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men run) and Pixie (courtesy of Fraction in this title) both functioning as young Kitty Pryde style POV characters for the audience. But, toward the end the title starts to hum again. At first, it seems off that Scott would house X-23 with the girls when she’s supposed to be part of the secret X-Force strike team, but it’s a good set-up for Emma becoming suspicious of “that little band of theirs.” I don’t know who Madison Jeffries is and the scripted lettering for his caption boxes is hard to read. But, Emma and Ororo’s conversation does help explain Emma’s involvement in Dark Reign. Fraction is still juggling a bit much here, but thankfully not many balls are being dropped. Grade B.

X-Men: Kingbreaker #1 (Marvel): Christopher Yost is a bit of a rising star among the many X-scribes; I enjoyed his early issues of the recent X-Force series and Dustin Weaver’s pencils certainly passed the casual flip test with their compact detail reminiscent of a Jim Starlin/Jim Lee blend. The whole affair smacks a bit of George Lucas, with the deposed “good guys” forming Lilandra’s version of the Rebel Alliance, evil usurper Emperor Vulcan seeking to expand the Shi’ar Empire, dry Galactic Council deliberations a ringer for those on Coruscant, down to parallels like hiding in space debris ala everyone’s favorite Mandalorian Bounty Hunter. The heavy dose of The Force aside, Yost is going for a big sweeping, Claremont style space opera, it’s got my second favorite X-Man in Havok, impressive shots from Weaver like the spread of the Starjammers captured ship, and a nice tease on the last page. Man, I’m a sucker for this despite its glaring flaws. Call it a guilty pleasure with a Grade B.

Invincible Iron Man #8 (Marvel): While Larroca’s shot of the HAMMER dry dock is quite impressive, I think it’s time to officially retire the collective compulsion for creators to develop new acronyms for organizations. SHIELD is a classic, Whedon did a nice counterpoint with SWORD, and now we have HAMMER. What’s next? DAGGER? ARMOR? CHAINMAIL? HELMET? GAUNTLET? PISTOL? BATTLE AXE? SHOULDER PAD? I know this isn’t really Fraction’s doing or anything to do with this title, but it’s getting tiresome. Let’s not run a cool idea into the ground, people. This issue is a mix of interesting ideas with some inconsistency. We get a nice opening sequence that offers an interesting look into Maria Hill’s head, but Larroca’s photo-referencing seems to be on overdrive. Sometimes Tony looks ok, then he looks like a weird porno version of Burt Reynolds. I’ve gotten used to Maria Hill looking like Jessica Alba, but then from some angles she looks like a tub of chubby weirdness. Pepper seemed to be really against the Stark tech in previous issues, but now (even when it’s been compromised no less) she’s totally into the upgrades(?). Wha…? Having the Superhero (Superhuman? There’s still inconsistency on this title to title…) Registration Act DB inside Tony’s head has potential though. Because it’s Fraction, I’ll give it another couple issues to straighten out. Grade B.

John Constantine: Hellblazer #250 (DC/Vertigo): (Insert requisite congrats for the first Vertigo title to reach landmark issue #250 here). The title definitely offers an impressive array of creators, but the results are pretty mixed. Dave Gibbons and Sean Phillips’ opener probably works the best. Phillips is well suited to tell this type of noir caper with a supernatural spin. He brings the dark and moody pencils from his run on Wildcats with Joe Casey and Sleeper with Ed Brubaker, which lend gravitas to the tale of recovering an artifact. This one gets a straightforward Grade A. Jamie Delano and David Lloyd’s story revolves around a game of Texas Hold ‘Em with a few flashes of dialogue brilliance and an infusion of Christmas spirit, but ultimately goes on too long and goes nowhere. The garish colors look a bit Crayola-ish; this one is a harmless Grade C. Brian Azzarello and Rafael Grampa’s short is probably the one I was looking forward to most, due to my lingering high from Grampa’s confectionary treat Mesmo Delivery. The visuals are indeed sweet (particularly his fascination with big ol’ demon types), proving that he can illustrate just about anything, from comic, to wry witty limerick, or even the phone book, and I’d be in line to check it out. This story clocks in with a fun Grade B. Peter Milligan and Eddie Campbell’s contribution highlights an interesting ploy with a death curse, but the colors seem a little too bright and cheery and not in keeping with the tone of the story, a quick Grade B. China Mieville and Giuseppe Camuncoli offer up a soapboxed industrial accident, complete with suffering children, with stiff art, jagged lines, and an overall inconsequential feel, netting a Grade C. As a side note, the cover is pretty attractive, but I have no idea what it means or how it’s supposed to relate to any of the interior stories being told. Averaged out on a four-point scale, the grade tally puts us at a GPA of 2.8, or an overall lackluster Grade C+.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #20 (Dark Horse): Another pick up for my coworker... I consider myself somewhat Buffy literate, having dedicated years of past Tuesday nights with my pal Sean to pizza and all things Joss Whedon. But, I’m not very sold on this title. We’ve got Jeph Loeb on scripting, George Jeanty on interior art (but, not really), and a bunch of other people on the “animation” sequence. It opens with a series of rough jump cuts that segues into an extended dream sequence. The humor lacks the rhythm that actual Whedon dialogue usually possesses. The change in art styles is jarring, too cartoony, and the whole thing just really plays like a jumbled mess. The story is not terribly engaging and ultimately goes nowhere, jibba-jabbering on about Morgala or some nonsense. Sure, I haven’t read the rest of the series, but I should be able to glean some sense of the plot, were there one present. BTW, I think it’s time to officially retire the hybrid term “ginormous.” Judging from this issue, I simply cannot understand the rabid fans of this title, its award nominations, or placement on any “best of” type lists. A big shrug of the shoulders and an underwhelming Grade C-.

I also picked up;

The Lone Ranger: Volume 2 Hardcover (Dynamite Entertainment): This volume collects the “Lines Not Crossed” and “Downbeat” arcs, including the Paul Pope interlude story!

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse: Calamari Rising #3 & 4 (IDW): Wormwood was the belle of the ball from the IDW Parking Lot Sale and a title I’ll regularly follow now. I’ve been tracking down the entire run to complete my collection.


12.10.08 Reviews

Echo #8 (Abstract Studio): Echo just keeps getting better and better. Terry Moore opens this issue with a rainy, brutal, and hectic shootout that plays realistically fast and frantic. The action is crystal clear as it jumps through panels full of thrilling perspective choices; it’s sheer sequential delight. There are a couple of important reveals to the larger narrative here, from Julie’s exhaustive discovery of a new (offensive) power, to the mysterious drifter also possessing droplets of the suit from Crater Lake. Along the way, we get neat little tidbits that effectively show through nuance in the dialogue (rather than through labored exposition) details like the heat the suits are capable of generating by fusing the desert sand into glass, and the inevitable bond forming between Julie and Dillon. With repeated references to Hiroshima, Oppenheimer, and the Manhattan Project throughout the series, Moore seems to channel his inner Dr. Ian Malcolm and pose the statement about “scientists being so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they never stopped to wonder if they should.” Grade A+.

Phonogram: The Singles Club #1 (Image): Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie continue their thematic discourse about music as magic, this time using a fourth wall breaking character whose phonomancer specialty seems to be dance rather than Britpop. McKelvie’s line work is in full color this time out, like his recent solo project Suburban Glamour – and it looks fantastic. I liked the examination of Penny B’s personality here, particularly the line between fearless and selfish. This series already feels like it is perhaps not as essential as the prior since every issue functions as a stand alone single devoid of the gravitas being part of the whole offers, but there’s no denying the value and weight of the single issue from a sheer content standpoint. We get a main story, two backup “B sides,” thick music references, and plenty of rich back matter. In a week where every book I bought was $3.50, making what should have been a $9 week closer to a $12 week, this is worth pointing out. Not only is Phonogram dripping with unique creative voice, but I don’t feel cheated by the price. As Gillon himself points out, “All anyone else would have stuck there is a house ad, so if it taints your pleasure, you’re not losing anything by closing the book after you look at the sequential prettiness.” Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #16 (Dynamite Entertainment): This was another solid issue that focused on two running themes. The first is that even the villains have a story to tell and an arc to their characters. They have a human side and are living, thinking people, not just mindless foils to the protagonists. The second theme we discover in a confessional full of flashbacks is that even a villain’s mind can get the better of him, as he fears his victims may be avenged by the angel of The Lone Ranger, and he becomes confronted with a denoument that may make him believe. The only downside to this issue (and many, candidly) is that it reads waaay too fast as a single installment and is ultimately more effective in collected form, again bringing up the question – where are those damn hardcovers? Grade A-.


IDW Parking Lot Sale

I'm not a huge fan of IDW's line of books, but I decided to check out their deep discount sale on brand new overstocked inventory at their local headquarters here in San Diego. Glad I did, as there were tons of deals; essentially, regardless of cover prices single issues were $1 and any sort of TPB or OGN was $5. Here's a quick rundown of what I picked up...

D'Airain Adventure #2: For a buck, I'll pick up just about anything with Ashley Wood art.

Dooomed Presents: Ashley Wood: See above.

Gene Simmons' Zipper #1, 4, 5, 6: I confess that Gene Simmon's Dominatrix is a book I also picked up previously for a buck and it became a guilty pleasure, so I decided to check this out. The premise was fairly solid and the writing has its moments, too bad the art isn't a bit stronger.

Tank Girl #1, 2, 4: Some Ashley Wood, some Rufus Dayglo, shouldn't really go wrong for just a buck.

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse: Segue To Destruction: A one shot done by Ben Templesmith; again, Templesmith is sorta' like Ashley Wood to me, I'll generally pick up anything for a buck, with the exception of 30 Days of Night, that title is pretty played out. There was a ton of these different mini-series at the sale, but the one I wanted (Bloodsucker Tales, written by Matt Fraction) was not.

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse: Calamari Rising #1, 2: See above.

Wormwood: Gentleman Corpse #3, 4, 5, 6, 7: See above.

The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance: Volume 1 HC (Signed & Numbered): I was peripherally aware of Jon Sable and Grimjack back in the day, when I was reading Dreadstar and Nexus, but never really checked them out. No better time than $5 for a $50 hardcover!

The Complete Jon Sable, Freelance: Volume 2 HC: See above.

The Legend of Grimjack: Volume 1 HC (Signed & Numbered): See above.

Journey: The Adventures of Wolverine MacAlistaire: Big weird looking book from William Messner-Loebs that I'd never heard of.

Mars: Looks like fun from Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel.

Clive Barker's The Thief of Always: Not a huge fan of Clive Barker, but this looked interesting.

Smoke: Read great things about this book by Alex de Campi and Igor Kordey.

Chicanos: Volume 1: Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Risso, worth it for the Risso art alone.

Chicanos: Volume 2: See above.

IDW's Tales of Terror: Volume 1 HC: Looks interesting enough, from a line similar to the Dark Horse Book of _____.

Total suggested retail price: $375 plus tax.

My price at the sale: $67, no tax.



Form & Function With Ryan Claytor (Part 2)

Welcome back to the second part of the dialogue with Ryan Claytor of Elephant Eater Comics. Ryan is both a scholar and a gentleman, producing the best autobiographical comics around, be sure to check them out!

Justin: Regarding under-promotion, I love the fact that you brought up marketing. I was initially going to cite that as a weakness of the medium, but didn't feel it was fair since it doesn't have to do with content. In any case, I totally agree with your characterization. In my experience, once people are actually exposed to the medium they really enjoy it and become hooked. The key is thoughtful and targeted exposure beyond the men-in-tights mentality of the big two. I am cautiously optimistic about a mass shift in public perception. You're talking about changing a culture though, and that's a notoriously slow process. As I've studied organizational dynamics and corporate cultures, you can actually reduce this to a formula: Information + Behavior/Action = Cultural Shift. I think we're starting to see more of the information (exposure) being put out there and the audience is altering its behavior and generally starting to embrace this "new" media, though I think it will take another decade or so to get full paradigm shift.

On the topic of story beats and possible over-usage, have you encountered the Latin phrase "ars est celare artem" in your studies? "The art is to hide the art;" I think this sums up what you're saying nicely. If the audience becomes overtly aware of technique, then you've effectively broken the fourth wall, and not in a good way.

As for visual depth, I see no disagreement there at all. There are plenty of examples of artists who've effectively used overlap, perspective, and foreground and background differentiation to achieve a sense of depth. I think what I was really struggling with was the texture, that (in theory) you could run your hand across the Jackson Pollock and it would feel like tiny rocks on a sandy beach. You can't necessarily do that with reproduced comic art. I think your position is a good counterpoint though. If I'm saying that comics can't do texture in the way I've described oil paintings, you're essentially saying that sequential oil paintings should be considered comics then. Is that a fair statement? Glass half full vs. half empty? If so, I think that's a wonderful spin and very inclusive. See, you're the Barack Obama of the medium!

Ryan: Ha-ha! If that's the case, I've got a helluva job in front of me. Which, now that I think about it, we probably do, in the case of that cultural shift we're talking about. I completely agree with you that the shift will be slow to come, much like the changes Barack will be making (PLEASE be patient America!). I wrote about the importance of this change in public perception in my thesis. Aside from the new marketing strategies we've brought up, I think it's important for comics proponents to educate ourselves in a variety of genres within the medium to be able to tailor-make suggestions to a comics newcomer, and influence change on a more grassroots level as well.

In an effort to wrap up a couple of these thoughts, I was NOT aware of the phrase "ars est celare artem," but you can be sure I'll be using that in the future. And, yes, I am saying that sequential oil paintings should be considered comics. Almost every definition of comics talks about images in sequence, this is to say nothing about the types of images used.

Justin: Moving on to more limitations, I may be taking this too far, so correct me. But, what I'm struggling with is the emotion of the medium vs. the physicality of it. What I mean is that while you can physically touch a comic, you can't feel rain drops against your face, the touch of a lover, or the pain of getting punched in the face. Artists hope that with their skillful depictions and careful word choices they can convey the emotion of it all, but the reader can't actually participate in the depicted action. Is this just a basic conceit of any artistic medium though and not a fair criticism?

Ryan: Believe it or not, I have experienced these types of sensory indulgences in artistic productions before. Maybe you have too, as I'm thinking of an attraction at Sea World in San Diego. I'm referring to a pappy children's film they tout as "4-D." Basically what it amounts to is when the character on the screen splashes, some little hoses from the seat in front of you spray a bit of water, or when a gust of wind blows across the actors on the screen, a secondary tube poofs a gust of air in your general direction. However, referring back to my new favorite phrase, "ars est celare artem," I wouldn't say this hid the art or made me feel a part of the experience. In fact, it felt more gimmicky than anything else. But aside from the rare, Sea World San Diego 4-D experience, I'd wager to say that the physical limitations you mentioned are not unique to comics, and therefore wouldn't do us much good to go into it all too much, since we wouldn't be differentiating comics from any other medium. I suppose if you were interested in hooking up a sort of clown-prop where a page opened and water would squirt at you, you could conceivably engineer that, but I'm afraid it would just hearken back to those dreadful days of comics in the early 90's when be-jeweled gimmickry and foil covers were all the rage. We don't need to do that again. (Enough with the variant covers already, *a-hem* Marvel *a-hem*. Excuse me. Phew!)

Justin: Another dynamic I'm fascinated by is interaction with the audience. I don't think this is a limitation per se, but certainly a strong dependency. Was it Will Eisner who said that the most important action is what happens in between the panels? In other words, artists are reliant on what the reader infers because comics are very interactive. If panel one has a bloke throwing a ball at another bloke, and then panel two shows the second bloke wincing in pain, our reader can infer that the ball struck him, though the action was never expressly shown. Do you consider this a handicap or an opportunity?

Ryan: I'm going to channel my inner-Barack and go with a diplomatic answer for this one. I'll say it's both. On one hand, in comics the "closure" between the panels necessarily eliminates action. (McCloud refers to closure as the "phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole.") If action wasn't eliminated, we would be looking through a very long and tedious comic book. So, yes, there are limitations to closure, but in keeping with our glass-half-full mantra, we can also use this to our benefit. Just for example's sake, I watched a bit of Rush Hour 2 last week while at the gym, and there was a fantastic example of how closure can be used for comedic benefit. The scene, which would work equally well in comics, went something like this: Chris Tucker in China, talking with a street vendor selling live chickens. I'm going to paraphrase this inaccurately, but the dialogue went something like this:

Chris Tucker: How do I get to the bank?

Vendor: (Speaks in Mandarin perhaps. Regardless, she holds up a live chicken offering it for sale, making it obvious that neither party understands the other.)

Chris Tucker: No, I don't want your chicken. How do I get to a bank. A BANK!??!

Vendor: (Joyfully readies her chopping block to prepare Tucker's chicken)

Chris Tucker: No no no no. Do NOT kill the chicken.

Vendor: (Still on the same line of action)

Chris Tucker: Lady, put that cleaver down. Put it DOWN!

This continues without resolve until the camera cuts to Chris Tucker walking down the road carrying a cage with a live chicken inside. That's closure. We weren't shown the full resolution between Chris Tucker and the vendor, but we can infer what happened. The bonus payoff is the punch line that is created by the closure. If we watched Chris Tucker finally accept the vendor's sale, explain that he will take the chicken alive rather than dead, pay her for it, and then walk off, the punch line would be nonexistent.

So to sum things up, I think it can be both a challenge and an opportunity.

Justin: Along those lines, some writers and artists rely heavily on an audience's familiarity with other works to achieve their artistic messaging. I'm talking beyond homage here, and I think this may be unique to comics. I mean, I can spot a Jon Favreau steadicam shot in Swingers that is a blatant homage to a scene in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, but I don't have to actually watch Goodfellas to "get" Swingers. I don't have to watch Ridley Scott's Blade Runner to "get" the noir/sci-fi blend that much of Paul Pope's work is informed by, it's not limiting.

Yet, if you look at a book like Warren Ellis and John Cassaday's Planetary, you have to be pretty familiar with pulps like Tarzan and Doc Savage, all the way up through Lee & Kirby's Fantastic Four, and the first wave of Vertigo properties to really understand the meta-textual commentary in that work. Perhaps the best example of this is Watchmen; I read a great analysis of this recently that brought up the term "kenosis" to denote a relinquishing of the form. The author stated that Watchmen is a revisionary work because it sends a "wave of disruption" back through time that devalues the superhero paradigm. That said, you don't hand someone a copy of Watchmen to read if they've never read a superhero comic or aren't familiar with the genre. If they haven't met those prerequisites, then an artist would risk failing to deliver an inherent theme, which is a severe limitation potentially. Am I reaching here, or do you cotton this notion of dependence on an audience's consumption of previous works being a liability?

Ryan: I think you have a good observation, that comics is a medium which relies (perhaps more so than most) on intertextual references. Oddly enough, that holds true for comics in both mainstream and independent genres. You mentioned Watchmen and Planetary for examples of just a couple books with meta-textual allusions which were published by one of the big two. However, even in underground or indy comics, there is a lot of reference to other texts, and they refer to works in both camps of comics (mainstream and independent). Just look at Project Superior from AdHouse Books for a great indy sampling of superhero referenced stories, or any autobiographical comic that harkens back to a childhood growing up on a steady diet of capes and tights.

So, while I agree that comics do have a fair bit of intertextuality, I think that the most accessible works do not depend on a reader's knowledge of an entire medium's history in order to understand the story at hand. I'm going to disagree with you a bit on your Watchmen stance. True, Alan Moore created a very layered and multivalent look at superheroes which is enhanced by an understanding of superhero history. However, I've handed that book to non-comic-reading friends who were able to appreciate it with only a superficial background of comics history.

I think our discussion of comics referencing other comics also borders on a discussion of continuity, in which a particular comic book series references itself, almost like a soap opera. Take Spider-Man for example; in order to understand the current storyline and relationships, it's better to have familiarity of character origins and past drama that has unfolded. In that case, I think continuity can be daunting, and as you suggest, a liability. If there are 500 prior issues to read before one can enjoy the current narrative, in my opinion that's a lot to ask of a new reader.

Justin: I like that term, “intertextuality,” to capture a connectedness of what might otherwise be a diaspora of thought or works. As with other aspects of the medium we’ve identified, I think we’re in agreement that it can be both a liability and a potential enhancement. In my mind, the medium’s best writers, artists, or projects have the ability to do both – position themselves as accessible works for non-comic readers, yet also appeal to a comic-reading audience capable of detecting the additional references.

Ryan: I think you hit the nail on the head, the best works can speak to both the seasoned readers and the comics noobs in the audience. Gosh darn it, we're such fence-sitters. Our conclusions never seem to pick a side. Ha-ha!

Justin: Ryan, this was tons of fun and I feel like I learned some things that will hone my eye and make me a better critic, so thank you!

Ryan: Indeed, this was a great time. We'll have to do this again in the future.

12.04.08 Reviews

Haunted Tank #1 (DC/Vertigo): I saw preview images for Haunted Tank at Comic-Con this year and had no intention of picking it up. I really have only a passive interest in the premise thanks to Dr. Thirteen: Architecture & Mortality. However, it passed the casual flip test at the LCS largely based on the strength of the art alone. Seeing Jeb Stuart atop a modern day M1 Abrams tank looked like great fun. In fact, the art was so strong that the register jock-ette mistakenly tried to convince me that the cover was done by Frank Quitely. Though there are certainly some similarities between him and (actual) cover (and interior) artist Henry Flint, I assured her it was most decidedly not Mr. Quitely. This interaction though is a testament to the strength of the latest wave of Vertigo artists. Simply look at titles like DMZ, Scalped, Northlanders, or House of Mystery and it’s a pretty impressive stable of line work. Moving along… I thought Haunted Tank had some strengths and also a couple of problematic glitches. Frank Marraffino’s script offers some quirky fun, whether it’s the accuracy of the “sabot round” or Jeb Stuart making the interesting differentiation between being a “Virginian” rather than a “Confederate” or the “War of Northern Aggression” vs. “The Civil War.” His ear for Southern dialogue also rings pretty true. Marraffino’s writing does seem to be infected by cinema-on-the-brain though, with glaring lines stolen from The Hunt for Red October, Ghostbusters, Aliens, and Star Wars: A New Hope. Though the premise of Jeb Stuart assisting his (Black) descendants is full of promise, I’m not exactly sure why the tank crewman would just happen to have a Confederate flag on board, other than to advance the plot in a kitschy way. Flint’s pencils are truly great, with clean and crystal clear action during a hectic fire fight between the Abrams and a group of Iraqi (Soviet T-72?) tanks. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that Haunted Tank offers sharper and subtler commentary on some aspects of modern warfare that books like Army @ Love and even Kyle Baker’s Special Forces miss, though that’s more overtly what they’re supposed to be about. With a tease for covers by Kubert, Pope, Shane Davis, and Kaluta, I’ll probably be checking this mini-series out. Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Wasteland: Volume 3: Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos (Oni Press): First, thanks again to Antony, Chris, and the Oni gang for including a 13 Minutes pull quote on the back cover of this collected edition. Second, man I just love how this volume opens with the issue that’s almost entirely in Sand-Eater speak. I think this is bold proof of the unconventional tactics this creative team offers month after month, which is anathema to the dreck titles out there. Seriously, Wasteland is everything most titles are not. It’s black and white, a sustained long form epic, a stable creative team, it comes out regularly. There’s truly nothing like it. In being the very thing all comics ought to aspire to be, it becomes a rare specimen in its success.

Astonishing X-Men: Volume 2 Hardcover (Marvel): Being the long awaited conclusion of the Joss Whedon and John Cassaday run. Pretty much the only X-Men comics I need. Poor Kitty!


Graphic Novel(s) Of The Month

As 2008 winds down, I thought I’d sneak in a bonus book here as an early Christmas present…

Heavy Liquid Hardcover (DC/Vertigo): I was watching Blade Runner on TV the other day and what struck me immediately was how its futuristic noir tone and aesthetic seemed to inform much of Paul Pope’s work. Heavy Liquid, like Blade Runner, allows us to peek voyeuristically into a cluttered future, where the extreme convergence of technology, culture, and media produces a sort of… “secular urbanization,” if I had to coin a term. As a quick aside, I was also shocked to recall that Blade Runner uses the term “skin jobs” to refer to Replicants, in exactly the same pejorative way that the Colonials refer to the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica. There’s also the Asian influence, the same dirty and used feeling, and the adverts on screens infecting the minds of the populace that Whedon’s Firefly and Serenity put to such good use. The cityscape looks eerily similar to Pope’s work, down to the letters on the police vehicles. Whether it’s the future of Pope’s world, or the Ridley Scott helmed future as seen through the eyes of 1982, the characters struggle to find some humanity in all of that; they struggle to find personal connections. In Paul Pope’s typical style, this is a heavy blend of some basic noir tropes and a healthy dose of the type of sci-fi that Pope imagines his future worlds to contain. From that futuristic mix, we can draw out some questions about what that society of the future says about our current culture that spawned it. We can see capitalism on the decline, to the point that money is essentially meaningless. You can’t really buy anything of intrinsic value, so efforts are made to gain new experiences through the unknown substance that is Heavy Liquid. Another nice throughline for discussion in this work is the notion of “art for art’s sake,” that society can be urged to create something meaningful, or at least lasting, in an environment where everything else has been commoditized and is utterly disposable. Throw in Pope’s thick and inky lines, his lithe and kinetic figures, and you have another instant classic in a well deserved dressing. Let’s hope the rest of the Paul Pope library gets the same treatment. Matt Fraction has a cool little personalized essay here about how Paul Pope is basically an art hero, definitely worth checking out: http://www.mattfraction.com/archives/002805.php Grade A.

Alan’s War (First Second): Emmanuel Guibert chronicles G.I. Alan Cope before, during, and after WWII. Down to even the title of the book, this is spot on. It’s not about the war itself per se, but one man’s experiences during it. For me, it really culminated with his disillusionment with American culture: “I didn’t like America anymore. Sure, I liked the country, the landscape, the people – but I no longer liked the mentality. Even though there’s a lot that’s good about the American mentality; it somehow doesn’t plumb the depths of existence. And that’s why, in some ways, America is not doing well. Most Americans live on the surface of existence; I wanted to know its depths. I don’t know if that means anything to you, but it’s what I sincerely believed.” Along the way, we hear stories of friendships with false starts, rekindled connections, chance encounters, and brushes with famous writers, generals, and musicians that truly made the world feel like a small place during such a tumultuous period. Cope’s experiences, and Guibert’s portrayal of them, showcase an honest path of self-discovery; Cope brought to his existence the mindset of approaching life with a sense of adventure, whether it was during the war, life after in California, or his ultimate decision to return to Europe. If you’re open to these experiences and relationships, it can help you discover the beauty and truth all around. It’s rare that I become so engrossed with a book that I stop taking notes for the review and just get absorbed by the tale, lost in the story; I’d reached the end before I found this was happening. It was very refreshing. Grade A.