1.28.09 Reviews

Echo #9 (Abstract Studio): Echo is simply one of the best books out there at the moment. It flies quietly under the radar, amid the flashy, vapid spectacle of Final Dark Infinite Secret Crisis Invasion Reign. Terry Moore is methodically churning out issue after issue with clear storytelling, realistic dialogue, an intriguing premise, and exacting pencils. Aspiring creators, whether they’re writers, artists, inkers, or letterers, could easily attend this monthly tutorial and learn much of what the medium demands in order to be successful. Though the opening scene is clearly telegraphed, the demonic dream sequence plays nicely off of themes found in the narrative – yearning for freedom, with a touch of the parable about flying too high and getting burned. Even amid mindless banter and subtle flirtation, Moore finds a very natural ear for his dialogue that’s really unlike any other creator. Lines like “Another mouth to feed” provide perfect and quick characterization in the simplest, most effective, and effortlessly elegant manner possible. There’s really no action in this issue; it is, in fact, mostly talking heads. It’s clearly “all middle” within this story arc, yet through sheer diligence of craft we’re compelled to care about these people and pay attention to every single line of dialogue and flick of the pencil on the page. I suppose I could understand if this story wasn’t appealing to every type of fan out there, but there’s no arguing its perfect execution. Grade A.

X-Force #11 (Marvel): I didn’t really care for the artist on the previous (issues 7-10) arc; Mike Choi was it? Yeah, I skipped those issues, but was pleasantly surprised to read that (original series artist) Clayton Crain was listed on art chores for forthcoming arcs. I assume the re-introduction of him in this issue signifies a rotating art team on the book(?) This one-shot interlude is a nice segue back into his art, which I really enjoyed. This incarnation of X-Force was surprisingly entertaining, and I’d like to continue on with it. I always felt that Crain’s dark and murky style (though overly CG-ish in spots) suited this title tonally. The flashback sequences here, courtesy of Alina Urusov, about Eli Bard are well done. The style employed reminds me of early issues of NYX art, or that of the Luna Brothers. It’s soft and washed out, but retains a nice level of detail. Kyle and Yost need a touch of help with their common vocabulary mistake; remember that “insure” (to secure indemnity to in case of loss or damage) and “ensure” (to make sure or certain) aren’t interchangeable. Not to micro-manage the dialogue, but the line “now be off with you” could have been smoothed over with “now be off” or “off with you” or even “off with you, child” for a little flourish, but as is (really, say it out loud – “now be off with you”) is a little clunky. I also detect a bit of inter-title inconsistency; is Selene really an “External,” or maybe an Eternal, like Apocalypse? Anyway, Eli Bard’s origin and his cliffhanger offer is a nice way to tie together the recent Hellfire re-emergence in Uncanny X-Men, Caliban’s recent death, and link to The Purifiers in the first arc. Overall, this is a filler issue, but it’s good set-up filler nonetheless. Grade B.


1.21.09 Reviews

Astonishing X-Men #28 (Marvel): Warren Ellis and Simone Bianchi’s run of this book is better than Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s. Heh. No, not really. This run really remains a mixed bag. On paper, it should work. There’s a good creative team, an interesting cast, fun locales, and strong concepts, but the whole package doesn’t live up to the promise of the individual parts that have been assembled. The whole is not, in fact, greater than the sum of its parts. We’re four issues in now and all that’s really happened is the X-Men have encountered a dead body, found a Ghost Box, and travelled to a hidden part of China. Sure, there are some interesting bits sprinkled about, like the Chaparanga Beach spaceship graveyard, but sometimes it feels like an exercise in style over substance. After you’ve taken note of the exotic bits, there just isn’t much there there. Out of necessity, the dialogue is a little expository to catch us up on the byzantine plot about two factions of… pseudo-mutants I guess, the triploids with their artificial genetic structure, and the alternate reality mutants with the X-gene on the 13th chromosome. Umm, ok. Bianchi’s art tends to be confusing in the big action scenes; try deciphering what’s going on with Beast and the big green construct thing (oh wait, that’s a chameleonic mutant?), followed by a very confusing two page spread. In quieter times, Bianchi’s art can be downright awe-inspiring. The shot of Storm with her (assumably Wakandan) dagger is just beautiful. His layouts can be inventive, but aren’t terribly sensible. There’s one page where Cyclops’ head is isolated in an inset circular panel, but he’s talking to Beast, but his body extends to the right beyond the border of the panel, but his arm hangs down inside another panel with Emma and Storm, but they’re in an altogether different location. It’s just sort of loopy and doesn't follow any sort of internal logic or guidelines, for no particular reason. About halfway through the book, I started noticing there were an awful lot of overt Forge references; I wondered if this was going to be foreshadowing his involvement in this arc or future ones. Then, lo and behold, his name is uttered by three dying mutants, in quite a telegraphed bit of scripting. I think the last couple pages could have been edited together better. On the penultimate page, it would have been nice to flash a couple panels of all three sets (not just the Storm locale) to tie the last page reveal together tighter. The book is still interesting and I’ll ride out this story, but for some reason I seem to keep focusing on the aspects that don’t quite work. At this rate, I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’d buy another arc with this creative team. Grade B.

The Comics Journal #294 (Fantagraphics): I was going to wait and just start picking up TCJ regularly with the next issue, but I couldn’t resist this December edition featuring a lengthy interview with Norwegian creator Jason.


1.14.09 Reviews

Wasteland #23 (Oni Press): Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten deliver another beautiful issue that hums with the perfect blend of violence, mystery, and the sociology of The Big Wet universe. This issue continues further examination of the Dog Tribes, with arranged marriages, duplicitous dealings, and more satisfying plot threads than you can shake a Ruin Runner’s walking stick at. There is a brief exchange of dialogue between Abi and Michael that, for me, captures in one little snapshot the swagger and attitude of Wasteland. Abi blurts out “But we can’t just leave him here! He risked his life for us!” Michael’s only response is a neutral “So?” We’re reminded that this is a bleak, unapologetic reality, with no constants, other than the creative team’s consistent delivery of quality. Another scene gives us a simple and prosaic set of wedding vows. “This is Banner, son of the Stone Claws, of good breeding and healthy stock. He will hunt for you, and protect you, and sire your pups. He will love you under the moon.” In this harsh setting, maybe that’s really all you need; life, your very existence, is distilled down into those basic necessities and reassurance of them constitutes a bond. Moving on, Michael offers what is surely a red herring explanation of his supposed former visit to A-Ree-Yass-I. The misleading nature of this untrustworthy narrator only underscores the strength of the mystery, in that truly so few know so very little about the fabled land. Coupled with Mitten’s crystal clear and rousing action sequences, and the detail he pours into things like the garb of the Dog Tribe members, this is a strong package. I was also pleased to read recently that issue #25 will be a double-length, full color, anniversary issue, with painted art by Chris. What a wonderful way to celebrate! Congratulations, guys! I’ll certainly be buying a few copies of that to pass out to friends and family. The quarter century mark is an achievement for any small press title, but it comes as no surprise really for anyone familiar with the strength and character of this particular book. If poor comics are a dreadful poison, then Wasteland is the antidote. Grade A.

I also picked up;

Guardians of the Galaxy: Legacy (Marvel): This is the Volume 1 HC from Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, and Paul Pelletier. Been a fan of the DnA writing duo since way back, since they were doing the "Legion of the Damned" storyline for DC (which *still* hasn't been collected!). It's nice to see them driving such attention for the overlooked stable of Marvel Cosmic Characters.


Amazing Spider-Man #583 Rant

I don’t know how it was at your LCS today, but how annoying was it to see the throngs of nutballs coming in to pick up the Obama Variant Cover Amazing Spider-Man #583? These are people who have never been in a comic shop before and will never step foot in one again. True, I’m generalizing, but that’s what rants do. By my rough calculations, there was at least four times the number of people who are normally in the store at that time of day. I looked carefully and none of them picked up anything beside the much ballyhooed Amazing Spidey, so let’s just head that argument off at the pass – that at least it gets them in the store to buy other things. Umm, no.

I witnessed a fascinating debacle with a woman who must have been in her 80’s that’d shuffled in looking for the book. She wandered in, looking even more out of place than many of the suits with their greedy eyes and eBay on the brain, more stupefied than the obnoxious teenagers wandering around looking lost and timid, like they’d stepped into some porn shop for the first time, and she approached a store employee. The employee explained that the books were behind the counter and not on the shelves with the “regular” books. That word jabbed at my senses, the “regular” books, because this one was, of course, somehow special. The old woman seemed perplexed by this and annoyed in that special way that only the elderly can exude. She finally got to the counter after waiting in line, was annoyed that the limit was two, and then became very agitated when her total was over $30. “But, I thought they were $3 each,” she pleaded. “I don’t understand why I have to pay more.” Nor do I understand, I agreed silently. The clerk then tried to give her some dismissive answer, as the six other people in line jonesing for their precious “collector’s item” continue to grow impatient. She then questions why she had to pay .50 cents extra for bags and boards. She stated firmly, “I don’t want to pay .50 cents for that junk!” Good for you, Granny! Fold those suckers up and put ‘em in your back pocket! I smiled to myself, morbidly enjoying the whole fucking debacle. Please, just walk out and don’t pay for them, I began mumbling to myself. But alas, she paid her $30, sans bags and boards, and disappeared.

While this is going on, some other douchebag walks in and just starts yelling “hey man, you got those Obama comics?!” The clerk says back, “yes, we do.” The douche stammers around confused for a moment, looking around wild-eyed like he’s just come down from the speedball he had for breakfast and has to get the next fix in before his skin starts crawling. “Well, where would I find them?” he asks. “We’re hiding them,” the clerk says with a sickly, wry grin. Everyone in line laughs. My heart sinks. Inside, I die a little bit. You’re hiding them? What do you hide? What does one hide from the world? That which is coveted. What do you covet? Something you desire wrongfully. Really, that’s the definition of the word. Fucking hell, this scene is killing me, I thought. I hate this. This is a disgusting showing. I’m ashamed.

I hate comics right now.

It bugs me that the whole flustered, spastic, dithered affair is a story on CBR, as if that somehow legitimizes it as newsworthy. “There hasn’t been any excitement like this in comics since they killed Superman in 1992," stated WonderWorld co-owner Dennis Barger. Doesn’t that just say it all? That’s not supposed to be a positive thing there, Dennis, it’s not supposed to be remembered fondly. That was supposed to be a part of our darkest hour. This is a comic that should sell for $3, but was going for something like $14.95 with reports that other shops in town were charging as much as $50 and $60, and up to $200 online. Why? Nobody seemed that interested in the Savage Dragon comic featuring Obama, or even the IDW specials that came out a while back. Is it because it’s Spider-Man? Has the Marvel marketing juggernaut played the media to their satisfaction? Is it because Barack has publicly stated that he likes Spider-Man? Let’s face it, this is a comic that will never be rare because millions of copies will be sold, a second print is already coming out next week. While it may pull in these bizarre, frakked up speculator prices during this week’s news cycle, largely because of a blinded populace being misled by their uneducated perceptions and media hype, let me assure you that all the copies you ever wanted will be available in a dollar bin near you a year from now (right along side that issue of Superman) and nobody will care, much less remember or understand the justification for the frenzy they were in. This is an example of one of the many things wrong with the industry and the public at large’s perception about the medium, the incessant locked horns of commerce vs. art.

I will now go and read the issue of Wasteland I picked up today in an effort to cleanse my soul.


Horizon Report

Doug Wolk recently published a "horizon report" over at the Savage Critic(s) of projects looming and scheduled to come out in 2009. There are quite a few interesting ones listed that I might pick up as I learn more information or get a chance to fondle them, but here's what I'm definitely picking up without needing to know anything more than the creators listed or title...

Greg Sadowski/Jonathan Lethem: Supermen! (Fantagraphics)
Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely: All Star Superman Vol. 2 (DC)
Yoshihiro Tatsumi: A Drifting Life (Drawn & Quarterly)
Tony Millionaire: Billy Hazelnuts & the Crazy Bird (Fantagraphics)
Alan Moore/Kevin O'Neill: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century 1910 (Top Shelf)
Jason: Low Moon (Fantagraphics)
Abouet/Oubrerie: Aya Vol. 3: The Secrets Come Out (D&Q)
Warren Ellis/John Cassaday: Planetary Vol. 4 (WildStorm/DC)
Matt Kindt: Super Spy: The Lost Dossiers (Top Shelf)
Paul Pope: Battling Boy (:01)
Paul Pope: Total THB (:01)
Farel Dalrymple: The Wrenchies (:01)


13 Minutes @ COMIXUP

Be sure to check out the round up of "reviews, previews, news, features, and commentary from the web's best comics sites and blogs" over at COMIXUP. Thanks again to Jon Haehnle (Webmaster at Midtown Comics and Producer/Designer for PopCultureShock.com) for continuing this project in its new incarnation (formerly Comic Rankings).


1.07.09 Reviews

Punisher #1 (Marvel): When I bought my Mercedes, I had a key choice to make. Like other German automakers, each class of Mercedes-Benz has a top of the line AMG model. The BMW 3-Series has the race-prepped M3, Audi’s standard A4 has the sought after S4 variant, and the C-Class Mercedes has the more aggressive AMG edition. The difference is a 1/3 increase in the price, from about $30,000 to $40,000. That extra $10,000 gets you the premium leather interior, the carbon fiber bird’s eye maple charcoal trim, the 7-speed transmission, the bigger AMG wheels, the AMG exhaust system, the different air intake, all the spoilers and ground effects kit, and the higher output version of the V6 engine, just to name a few key features. It’s all tricked out. This issue of the Punisher is the AMG version of the comic. If I have to pay 1/3 more ($3.99 vs. $2.99), this is what every $3.99 comic should look like. For that extra buck, we get a proven creative team in Rick Remender and Jerome Opena, homages to some classic covers, a standard length story, a one-page welcome letter and statement of intent from the writer, a few pages of history on the character, a list of essential reading material, and even a six page Agents of Atlas preview. It’s all tricked out. It was very interesting to see Opena change up his artistic style in such a beautiful way. Gone are his slender, sleek, crisp lines that became a hallmark of Fear Agent. Here we see a dark, sketchy style that’s inked and colored heavier and looser courtesy of Dan Brown. I tend to prefer the former style, but the latter admittedly suits my idea of what a Punisher comic ought to look like. It’s already growing on me. Remender brings his strong internal monologue style of narration that also made Fear Agent such a treat. Opena delivers his inventive and crystal clear action sequences. With the stated purity of a premise like “he’s like Batman, but he kills” and “he does what the capes won’t,” this could be a hit waiting to happen. Grade A.

No Hero #3 (Avatar Press): “La Chambre Des Cauchemars” could have easily missed and been seen as a mere two-page artistic filler extravaganza, but with Juan Jose Ryp’s artistic confectionary blend of Frank Quitely and Geoff Darrow, it turns into something really special and not simply a manic look at a superhero drug trip. Ellis’ sarcastic lines like “…and I don’t think it’s a new fucking superpower” and typical sci-fi assault on the senses with casual inventions like the “disgel” dissolving gel (a sort of superhero napalm) finally have this title rolling. It’s been a bit of a slow burn style build-up, but we now seem poised for a worldwide showdown with the Front Line coming home in siege mentality. Also of note in this issue is the solicitation for Alan Moore’s Light of Thy Countenance, adapted by Wasteland writer Antony Johnston – really looking forward to that! Grade A.

War of Kings Saga (Marvel): It was free, so naturally the grade is going to be artificially inflated a bit, but even so, this was decent. Lots of Frazer Irving art and a pretty coherent summary of most of the Marvel Cosmic Adventure canon in the last couple years. Everything from The early Kree involvement with the Inhumans, to Quicksilver and Crystal, to the Illuminati, to Summers brother Vulcan, the Starjammers, the Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, the Hulk’s banishment, the Skrull Invasion, the Nova Corps, and the new Guardians of the Galaxy. For the last few days, the War of Kings banner adorning some Marvel books has turned my stomach, but I have to admit I got a little excited after reading this and the chronology list actually made me want to check out the hardcovers of Nova: Volume 1, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 1, and Uncanny X-Men: The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire. Did I just fall for this marketing tool? Eek! Grade A.

Invincible Iron Man #9 (Marvel): From the opening page, you can certainly see Warren Ellis’ influence on current scribe Matt Fraction. It’s full of that brand of coherent and plausible sci-fi techno-babble, and those wonderfully BIG ideas that push both your brain and the medium. The only small quibble that I had a hard time accepting was that Tony would attempt this mental suicide and not have a brilliant plan to only wipe out selected parts of his brain - some sort of partitioned area, to continue his hard drive analogy. That aside, I appreciate Fraction’s depiction of former SHIELD #2 Maria Hill, we get more of her character being developed along with some really fun action sequences with her. The title is full of succinct lines like “Pep, we got blown up by Stane and then monsters from outer space made every piece of our technology fail in the middle of an interstellar invasion. And then Norman Osborn saved the world while I clearly did not. It’s grim.” Fraction has a knack for making sense out of a pretty chaotic Marvel U landscape, while continuing the asymmetrical chess game between Stark and Osborn, and even making some relevant 9/11 parallels about intelligence gathering and Republican Administration blunders. Perhaps Fraction is putting his stamp on what early 21st century comics will be known for. Grade A-.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season 8 #21 (Dark Horse): Again, I picked this up for a coworker so it doesn’t really matter that much to me, but I didn’t get this at all. It kinda’ faltered right from jump with a creepy cover and tired premise about a Harmony one-shot that is supposed to be attempting some sort of wry commentary on fame, reality TV, and celebutards, but it’s really just piss poor execution. You’d think that Jane Espenson, who was a Buffy TV show writer, went on to write some for the brilliant new Battlestar Galactica, and is now attached to Joss Whedon’s new project Dollhouse, could, oh I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for… write? Hard to fathom that she’s the one who came up with flat lines like “Taste of A. Dick” and “fingering the zeitgeist,” which really try too hard for their own good. The narrative seems to switch protagonists mid-stream for some reason to a chic with a tattoo (though I’d largely glazed over, so maybe I missed some explanation), the colors look much too vibrant, and the panel to panel transitions are miserable, failing to convey any discernible sort of emotion or action. Still not getting why people like this sort of craptastic output. Maybe it’s just these one-shots that suck and I missed the title’s peak? Grade D.


1.02.09 Reviews

Scalped #24 (DC/Vertigo): Although it would be accurate to say that Scalped is the best Vertigo series currently being published, that would certainly give it short shrift. So, let's just say it's one of the best books being published. Period. Like previous issues that focused on Dino Poor Bear, this issue shines the spotlight on another b-player, Red Crow's right hand man Shunka, and gives him a chance to shine. Here he proves that he's not just hired muscle, but a thoughtful man who knows how to motivate his boss and the psychological hot buttons to push, speaking truth to power in order to have Red Crow stand up to the Hmongs. I'm reminded of the line "let justice be done, though the heavens fall." The goal of Red Crow's vision suggests that the end automatically justifies any means necessary to achieve it. It's a noble, distorted twist on his own (Native) American Dream "To carve a better place in this world for my people. To leave this rez better off than I found it." Grade A.


Graphic Novel Of The Month

The Hot Breath of War (Sparkplug): Trevor Alixopulos’ collection of six short stories is uneven like many anthology style collections, whether they include multiple contributors or works of just a single creator. The Hot Breath of War is also plagued by a couple of obvious typos that jut out and break what would otherwise be an enjoyable experience. It still sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but some of the shorts do resonate stronger than others. The couple of pieces I liked, well, I actually loved. My favorite story, “And His Breath is Hot,” centers on a war refugee returning home and his encounter with a young girl off to bury her deceased mother. This short is a jumble of beautiful contradictions. We’re unsure if the protagonist won his war, and judging by his reaction, he seems to question just what “winning” such a conflict means exactly. The girl he encounters is at a precarious age which causes her to defy any sort of pre-conceived notion about her role or relationship with the soldier. “No. I am too young, or too old to be anything to you,” she says. She’s too old to be a daughter that he would tenderly care for, and too young to be a lover that he would take. “A Journey in Time” is also quite interesting. The panel layouts are soft and unique, and the expressive figures within them make the book worth checking out for these 15 pages alone. This short revolves around swirling urban identities that overlap with poetic lines like “I walk the same streets here, waiting for them to weave into my memory.” This book is a departure from Alixopulos’ earlier work Mine Tonight, which was a superb crime caper and offered a more cohesive narrative. The Hot Breath of War plays looser; it is ethereal and haunting. Like the best images and lines, parts of it linger with you long after you’re done reading. As with all anthologies or collections of shorter works, each piece isn't always successful, but this was an interesting experiment that pays off with bits like the stinging observation about modern US desert campaigns, and connects strongly about half the time. Like so many Sparkplug creators, Trevor Alixopulos is one to watch, and I’ve committed to picking up any of his future works. Grade A-.