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Coming This Week: "Third Prize Is You're Fired"

This week I’m most looking forward to Northlanders #29 (DC/Vertigo) from Brian Wood and Fiona Staples, which is a one-shot before the Metal arc begins. Northlanders’ one-shots seem to always be something special. Metal looks like it’ll be quite interesting too, sort of a genre blender, like only Wood can do. I guess I’ll also be picking up Secret Avengers #2 (Marvel); it seems like three issues should be a good number to judge a new series by. I think Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 (Marvel) will be entertaining; it sounds like Matt Fraction doing a Keyser Soze inspired rendition of The Mandarin. The House of Ideas also has something called Astonishing X-Men #34 (Marvel) coming this week. Oh… is this still being published? I think I remember a book from Warren Ellis and Phil Jimenez that last shipped 6(!) months ago bearing that title. Speaking of lateness, coming in just 3 months late is Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #2 (Avatar Press) from Warren Ellis and Raulo Caceres. I really do enjoy Warren Ellis’ writing, but one certainly begins to see a pattern forming with all of these quickly started and then abruptly delayed projects. On the collected edition front, I might just pick up Batwoman: Elegy Deluxe Edition HC (DC) from Greg Rucka and JH Williams III. If it’s not marred by any non-Williams issues or that detestable back-up feature, this is just special enough to warrant a swanky hardcover on my shelf, and I can pass those single issues on to someone deserving.

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6.23.10 Reviews

Joe The Barbarian #6 (DC/Vertigo): The intricate precision of Sean Murphy’s art is still very impressive. Not only is he able to add so much life to the talking heads scenes and the rousing kinetic action sequences, but the Easter egg hunts are always fun as well. In this issue, I was able to spot Mr. Freeze, Lobo, Green Arrow, Catwoman, Batman, He-Man, The Shadow, Snake Eyes, Riker, Worf, Troi, Wonder Woman, Transformers, Robin, John Constantine, and the DeLorean from Back to the Future! I really like the mythology that Grant Morrison is able to create. It has the entry point wonderment of something like Narnia, coupled with the broken mindscape of (obscure alert) the Tarsem film The Cell (and for anyone interested, despite starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn, this is really a good movie). There’s gravitas to be found, but also a certain air of whimsy to the dialogue with lines like “Majesty, I’m a plain man… What your Celestial Highness calls scripture, I call the ravings of a toilet dwarf with mold fever.” Joe suddenly seems very determined (almost to the point of being out of character) to rally the troops and save Playtown, which runs contrary to Queen Bree’s philosophy of patience being the ultimate weapon. I like the balance between literal interpretations (“Hearth Castle”) and the mirrored corollaries to the real world from characters who see Joe as their belief system. This reflective property of the two worlds being shown is probably captured by the greatest one line quote in the entire saga: “My ordinary world is your mythology.” Grade A.

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #3 (Archaia): Luc Jacamon and Matz deliver a stunningly beautiful issue, particularly in the early shots of the aquamarine Cuban shore and the crimson skyline at dusk. It’s also a treat to see several close-up shots adding a lot of punch for emphasis on certain lines of dialogue. From a plot perspective, they take a hard detour and depart from the core story in order to deliver some heavy political observations. We really don’t get much plot advancement until the very end, but rather a history lesson about atrocities in Rwanda, Darfur, Turkey, Angola, and various South American affairs. We learn about the motivations behind Cuba’s portrayal in the media, the manipulation of history by the victors as arbiters of popular perception, and generally that things are never what they seem to be as judged by the surface propaganda, rigged votes, and puppet leaders installed contrary to democratic elections. It’s interesting on its own, but doesn’t really add much context to the story other than showing that the protagonist doesn’t wish to be manipulated by the US or the CIA. It’s certainly the long-way around the mountain so to speak, taking about 75% of the issue to do what could be accomplished in just a page or two. I enjoyed the conversations with Velasquez the most, highlighting two very intelligent, very dangerous and competent men from different sides of the aisle, yet bearing striking similarities. This enjoyment extends to The Killer’s government handler and the temptation she represents. This is a very divergent issue, but The Killer remains one of the best hidden gems available today. Grade A.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (DC): If you look closely at this cover, you can definitely see some very Kirby-esque marauders at the bottom of the page. They’re screaming out at you, threatening to burst free from the confines of the panel and that’s a pretty good indicator of the Silver Age glee that’s inspiring many of these adventures. Yanick Paquette’s pencils aren’t as great as say, his inspired turn on Uncanny X-Men #512, but they are good. His use of shadow, heavy blacks, and negative space lend a menacing Mignola feel, and that’s coupled with a more superhero influenced line that’s got the grace of someone like Jim Lee. Grant Morrison’s Blackbeard is visually a treat with the guns strapped to his chest, but does do a fair bit of monologuing. For the most part, this is just G’Mo having fun with the time jumping adventure, and it’s an interesting commentary about a shared universe. He’s managed to find a way to circuitously return to the Silver Age goofiness of a multiverse with no real rules for the outlandish stories he wants to tell. This is despite all modern attempts to streamline so many divergent timelines and realities and worlds. It’s really proof that continuity will evolve organically when it wants to, despite the writer’s hand or any editorial mandate. As for the story itself, the Jack Valor connection to the Black Pirate is telegraphed hard, but I really appreciated the conscious effort to make Bruce’s detective skills shine (in every issue), regardless of the temporal setting. There are also respectful nods to established Bat lore with the mention of things like Judge Solomon Wayne, and who doesn’t want a run-in with Jonah Hex?! The individual episodes here are still interesting and fun, though I still feel a lack of cohesion inter-episode for the larger story being told. The rough jump cut to the Justice Leaguers, away from the Superman, Green Lantern, Booster Gold, and Rip Hunter group, also felt oddly placed. Grade B+.

Avengers #2 (Marvel): I think that Bendis is really asking you to shuck off your suspension of disbelief and just have fun on this big adventure. If you do enter it with that mindset, you’ll be fine. You have to ignore the frenetic pace that moves so fast you don’t have time to pause and absorb the event, you don’t have time to consider what it all means and if it makes any sense. You have to ignore the plausibility of Marvel Boy whipping up a time machine in just two pages. You have to ignore the confusing placement of the speech balloons, attributable to no one. You have to ignore Maria Hill annoyingly calling the new Captain America “Bucky Cap.” You have to ignore the little glitches like Tony referring to the new Stark Resilient as the dated Stark Industries. You have to ignore the repetition of bad guys popping up at the end of each issue, first Kang, then a pissed off Wonder Man, and now Apocalypse. If you can do all that, you’ll be able to enjoy Romita’s blocky, angular, and iconic art. You’ll get to see a very cool “wall of futures” with some familiar and some not so familiar possible timelines. You’ll get to go on an adventure that seems to seek to emulate the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run, and be entertained by a rollicking adventure. The Oral History of the Avengers has some weird tics that make the spacing look off and the voices seem off as well, at times too self-aware for its own good, but mildly interesting as always. Grade B+.

I also picked up;

Black Blizzard (Drawn & Quarterly): This came out, what, three months ago? Sea Donkey finally got this Yoshihiro Tatsumi classic in, reprinted for the first time in English. A considerable chunk of A Drifting Life was spent describing this work as a turning point for the creator, nay – the burgeoning industry, so I’m looking forward to taking it in for the first time.

Zinc Comics Presents #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Coming This Week: "Your Name Is You're Wanting"

It seems like a light week; is this the sign of the pre-con hold back strategy from all of the publishers waiting to debut their “big” projects at SDCC? At the Distinguished Competition, I see Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (DC) calling to me, with Joe The Barbarian #6 (DC/Vertigo) also pleading for a purchase, both Grant Morrison joints. I own a couple sets of Flex Mentallo and my precious All-Star Superman Hardcovers (when is that Absolute Edition coming out?), but past that I don’t consider myself a huge G’Mo fan, yet here he is with DC’s only buys for me for the week. I didn’t buy Batman #700, so there’s even less likelihood I’ll pick up Superman #700 (DC), but it’s fun to mark the milestone. I’m still waiting for the day that Detective Comics hits #1,000 – now that’ll be something special, with 134 more issues to go, that’s just over 11 years at a regular monthly rate! Meanwhile, the House of Ideas delivers Avengers #2 (Marvel) from Bendis and Romita Jr. I’m still not 100% sold on the scripting, but it sure is purdy. On the indy front, The Killer: Modus Vivendi #3 (Archaia) rounds out the week’s financial pull. What looks good to you? Who’s buying what? Any titles you’d like to see me reviewing that I’m not?

Bookworm @ Poopsheet Foundation

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6.16.10 Reviews (Part 2)

DMZ #54 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli deliver the end of the four part M.I.A. arc and it’s really an unexpected twist that resets the DMZ world in an even more complicated way. I really enjoyed the palpable disillusionment some of the characters are feeling, probably best evidenced by Soames’ defeated line “you get a dream in your head and then you do a bunch of stupid shit to get there.” Matthew Roth still seems to be lost and adrift without an identifiable sense of self to hold on to. The centerpiece is the conversation between father and son, which is surprisingly honest as Matty seeks some sort of absolution of guilt regarding the execution of his “sloppy order” before he can mentally move on. As he skeptically enters his new role, which I won’t spoil, he finds a way to hold himself accountable, re-establish cover and credibility in the DMZ, and somehow answer to the conflicted interests of his new masters. This issue was dense but thoroughly engaging and it reminded me of the way President Obama used to speak during the debates back when he was still running for office. Sometimes there aren’t trite and crisp sound-byte style answers, complex problems may require complex responses and discussions, not simple taglines that can be quoted on the front page of the newspaper. As Wood shows, there’s no clear sense of black and white consequence when complex politics and managed perceptions are involved, and every player with a stake in the big game has an angle to play. I sometimes wonder how much of this story comes about organically and how much is a conscious exercise from Wood. Particularly in this arc, it almost feels as if Wood is testing himself, adhering to the writer’s adage of putting your characters where they’d least like to be for the most storytelling tension, and deliberately backing Matty so far into a corner in order to see if he can possibly get him out of it. Whether it’s a natural gift or a deliberate structure being imposed, the results are impressive and this is the type of text that should be required reading in the more progressive poli-sci college classrooms across the nation. Grade A.

The Lone Ranger #22 (Dynamite Entertainment): It’s a tough decision, but I still think I’m going to tradewait this series after the conclusion of this arc. The shipping schedule seems wildly unpredictable and as good as it is, the content does go down much smoother when collected. I also tend to doubt the veracity of the claim that the Definitive Edition Volume 1 is “in stores now.” I’ve not seen it yet, it was severely delayed from the original solicit (more than a year), I’m not sure if the publisher is to blame or Sea Donkey’s ordering practices, if I’ll be able to find it at SDCC, etc. Frustrating. In any case, there’s a terrific Ozymandias reference in here, particularly when you realize it’s taken from the villain’s POV. There’s so much to be enjoyed in the quiet moments in this issue, from the knowing glance between the titular hero and Tonto regarding the existence of family, to the tension created by Linda going for the gun, Sheriff Loring playing the Commissioner Gordon role, Dan and the hornets, or the taught lines of the outside investigator. These intertwined plotlines all rush forward toward what is guaranteed to be a promising crescendo from writer Brett Matthews. With John Cassaday’s slick covers and the impressive line work of Sergio Cariello, this title remains a winner, still the best reimaging of an old property in quite some time. Cariello provides gritty lines for gritty deeds, Matthews offers sparse language for spare times, and the marriage of the two is a near perfect creative collaboration, equaling more than the sum of its parts. Grade A.

New Avengers #1 (Marvel): Of the three core re-emergent Avengers titles (Avengers, Secret Avengers, New Avengers), this one is probably the best. It manages to achieve the right balance of so many elements. It’s not really explored in the script, but having Warbird and Luke Cage on a team, players who were very much on opposing sides of the Civil War, is a nice touch that should embed a check and balance system into the team, and I wonder if Bendis will reveal that’s what Steve Rogers was intending. There are a couple of pet peevey glitches I’ll get out of the way. I’m not sure who one of the members of the new team is. Is that Songbird? One of the Young Avengers? I thought that I read Luke was going to sneak one of the Thunderbolts onto the team(?). I assumed it would be Daken posing as Wolverine, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I think the woman looks like that one chic from Young Avengers, but wouldn’t Songbird make more sense to satisfy the T’bolts “requirement?” Anyway, typically in a gathering the team issue, the players are noticeably called out, and that didn’t really happen consistently here. My next grudge is that I’m pretty sure Clint Barton decided to assume the Hawkeye mantle once again and forego his Ronin persona. Yet, if you look in the backgrounds of the panels, you can alternately see both Ronin and Hawkeye appearing. It’s almost as if there was a breakdown between writer and artist and Stuart Immonen was told “just draw a bunch of Avengers types in the background.” Not to mention the fact that Hawkeye is clearly on the regular Avengers roster, and now he appears in New Avengers as well. Wolverine does joke about being in the X-Men and appearing on two Avengers teams (as if he’s the only one) and Clint is mysteriously silent during this exchange. It just doesn’t feel tidy. And speaking of tidy, I know it’s a losing battle, but I guess you have to ignore continuity in the larger Marvel U completely since Wolverine is actually on X-Force and in some alternate reality timeline at the moment dealing with the Nimrod assault and trying to protect Hope. Anyway… I also caught a typo, “…invasion into our word,” when I’m pretty sure the character was supposed to say “world.” In all, it’s a fun reconciliation with Luke Cage, who was probably the most outspoken of the liberal Avengers on the run, and I like how it was clearly and non-chalantly explained that there would simply be two legit teams running, Luke’s based in Avengers Mansion, and the Cap/Tony/Thor team based in Avengers Tower. Not only did it add tension, but I thought it was a nice touch to give Victoria Hand a second chance and place her in the “Valerie Cooper” role as government liaison. It helps position Steve Rogers in the Nick Fury role, while leaving Bucky Cap in the Captain America role, which is what I personally would like to see endure. The back-up feature is a little too tongue-in-cheek for me, with some characters sounding out of character, but is still an interesting experiment that seems influenced by Jonathan Hickman. Immonen’s art is amazing and it feels like exactly the right vibe for an Avengers title. Romita Jr. on regular Avengers is breathtaking, but almost a little too sterile and clean. While the look of Secret Avengers is a little too dark and muddy in its effort to tonally sync up. That places Stuart Immonen’s contribution right in the sweet spot for this sunnier, but not without gravitas, new beginning that is the Heroic Age. Again, I’ve enjoyed the revamped Avengers line for the most part, but the eclectic nature of this cast and right aesthetic feel make New Avengers my early favorite of the lot. Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Billy Hazelnuts & The Crazy Bird (Fantagraphics): Your new Tony Millionaire HC!

The Alien Artzine #14 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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6.16.10 Reviews (Part 1)

DV8: Gods & Monsters #3 (DC/Wildstorm): I should probably be taking a couple more hours to collect my thoughts before posting this review, but I couldn’t contain my excitement over what I just witnessed. Starting with Rebekah Isaacs’ contribution, I love the way the diversity of the settings she depicts are perfectly capable of keeping pace with an aggressive writer. She has quickly become a favorite with just a couple of issues of this title, capable of delivering bold graceful lines like long-time Brian Wood collaborator Becky Cloonan, or lines as intricate as someone like Frank Quitely (look at The Carrier!). The vibrant colors of Carrie Strachan are part of the equation here as well, but the real hook for me is the writing. Wood sort of lulls us in with Powerhaus in a secluded hut adorned by scantily clad women, inhaling some substance. Of course, he also continues the engaging interrogation/debrief sequence with Gem, which is a smart exchange devoid of any overt exposition. And, he also proves that he’s still capable of turning a clever phrase which grabs you by the brain and demands attention, throwaway gems like “And let me tell you something, Ms. poly-cotton tech-wick track jacket, Ms. iPod, Ms. lab-vat-rat genactive future girl…” But the real meat on the bone is the basic examination of what it means to have powers. How that would affect a wide range of human psyches, and what the perceptions from those people and the rest of the world would be. He’s proving that, in actuality, “superpowers” would be far more problematic than superheroic, and that the perception of the masses would be that the figures were, well… “gods and monsters.” It’s this deconstruction, this examination of functionality and feasibility that everyone should be noticing. While it’s filled with smart observations, like magic, science, and religion lying on a continuum of understood technology, and while one could argue this is merely an extension of his fascination with the concept of character identity, the main focus is this tinkering with the genre, and it’s understated and surprising. To the casual observer, DV8 is masquerading as some passive reinterpretation of a 1990’s Image Comics property, a disposable adventure about some team mysteriously marooned on some planet, but to those of us in-the-know and wary of such dismissive parsing of our generation's rock star writer, it’s this very in-your-face post-modern superhero analysis. It calls to mind works like B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun’s Battle Hymn and Warren Ellis’ recent No Hero. Who would have ever thought that such a strong indy creator, the same guy who delivered Channel Zero, Supermarket, Demo, and Local… the same Vertigo powerhouse responsible for DMZ and Northlanders, would also quietly bring us this examination of heroes after the figurative (and literal) fall, an analysis of the flawed paradigm that superheroes seem destined to occupy. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, this is Brian Wood’s Watchmen. Grade A+.

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Graphic Novel Of The Month

Neil Young’s Greendale (DC/Vertigo): I’ve never heard the eponymous Neil Young concept album Greendale, but there’s no doubt this reinterpretation was a special project that strayed from a more traditional graphic novel’s inspiration or source material. It’s evident in the extra effort of the family tree provided, down to the obvious political and environmental concerns prevalent in the work. Writer Joshua Dysart’s voice can certainly be felt throughout the work with politically charged ideas like the Iraq War not being about terrorism, not even about the mythic WMDs that Dubya promised, but in a larger context it’s actually the thinly veiled “first resource war of the 21st Century.” For me, the book possesses a great sense of world building; I really enjoyed the inclusion of the family tree and kept referring back to it, fascinated by the repercussions of a woman named Ciela marrying two brothers and their various offspring forming two distinct branches of the family from that point forward. It’s about her quest to create a “flashpoint” by mixing her bloodline of… elementals is the best word I suppose, with the offspring of Mahalia, a scary old woman who is probably a low level witch that’s the last of her line. The book has two very minor technical flaws that I noticed. One is in the afterword, which mentions Greendale being a “Southern California town,” when all other references are accurate as describing it as a “Northern California town,” quite obvious from the geographic references to the redwoods and sequoias. The second issue is that if you know Northern California, you know there aren’t really any major airports north of Sacramento, so air travelers overhead would be cruising high at altitude and couldn’t see Sun’s anti-war sign, but I guess some small liberties were taken. I consider myself a liberal, but I was worried this book’s very overt treehugging hippie leanings would be a little too much for me to handle, and that was thankfully not the case. It’s not hippie de rigueur, but a legitimate examination of what could “activate the activists” as one character describes the dynamic. It also helps that the book is infused with the subtle sense of mystery and horror that the original Vertigo line was really built on, even including a nod to the 1922 T.S. Eliot poem, later alluded to in 1934 by novelist Evelyn Waugh, and last seen in these parts in DC house ads for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s the line “I will show you fear in a handful of dust.” Vertigo has always played with religion as a recurring motif and I was especially drawn to how it’s handled so subtly here. It’s not quite outright allusion, but more of a sly insinuation that Sun’s preternatural abilities portray her as a Christ figure, particularly in her ability to herd animals – sheep, of course. All told, the Green women keep disappearing, and it’s not by accident. They seem to be some form of elementals trying to establish peaceful coexistence with nature to achieve “…a sleep clean of heavy dreams” and avoid a charming personification of death. Dysart’s script also proves that he’s not all about cold research and social commentary, but can actually deliver a sweet line when necessary. “You made me feel important” is the type of line that belies “the quest of every young woman’s life to exist in a complex web of nurturing relationships,” a line I stole from The Wonder of Girls by Michael Gurian, a parenting book that is part neurochemistry, part psychology, that helps define female brain development and their subsequent needs. Visually, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein provide a stunning, quietly confident look for the graphic novel. Chiang’s phenomenal look is typically crisp and vibrant (Doctor 13), but that same palette here seems to be washed through muted earth tones, emphasizing the environmental connection to characters with names like Sky, Luna, Sun, Sea, and Stone. For my money, Chiang is capable of penciling some of the best looking characters in comics, especially his beautiful women, and I’m still waiting for the day he locks up on an ongoing series I can really get behind. His talent is deserving of status as more of a (comics) household name. While Greendale’s story themes and meaning are clear, the actual plot remains slightly obtuse. While that might push some readers away, it’s done after a tradition of Vertigo works that don’t assault you with exposition, but allow you to infer your own set of conclusions based on what’s presented. Both in Greendale and out here in the real world, that’s the point. It's the vacuum of mental agility in getting people, particularly the younger generation, to think beyond what they’re blindly consuming and beyond what the talking heads on TV are telling them, because “good government demands the intelligent interest of every citizen.” Grade A-.

Coming This Week: "So Give It Up And Don't Pretend"

Sometimes I feel like if it wasn’t for Brian Wood, I wouldn’t be reading comics at all. This week we get DMZ #54 (DC/Vertigo) and DV8: Gods & Monsters #3 (DC/Wildstorm), and that’s the mark of a pretty good week in comics right there. If I’m definitely buying those, then I’m pretty sure that I’ll also be picking up Lone Ranger #22 (Dynamite Entertainment), though I’ve decided to start trade-waiting this title once this arc wraps. The shipping schedule is just so sporadic and it reads better collected anyway. Billy Hazelnuts & The Crazy Bird (Fantagraphics) is also out, and that’s pretty exciting. The original Billy Hazelnuts is my favorite Tony Millionaire project so it’ll be fun to see if he can maintain the high, less fun to wonder if Sea Donkey is actually going to have it.

In the “maybe” column, we have New Avengers #1 (Marvel) from Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. I’m sorta’ in the middle on Bendis, not a rabid fan and not a hater, but Stuart Immonen is a large draw for me, so this could end up rounding out my trilogy of Avengers ongoing titles, with Avengers and Secret Avengers. I tried the first issue and was really underwhelmed, but DC Universe Legacies #2 (DC) promises an ever rotating creative team, so we’ll see how that holds up during the casual flip test at the LCS. It’s funny to me that DC is putting out a reprint of Detective Comics #854 (DC) at their special $1 price. It’s a fine issue and all, but with the trade out and back issues easy to find, I gotta’ wonder what’s the point? Unless I missed a big announcement at DC, it’s not as if they’re once-maybe-never mind-off again-on again-off again plans for any sort of title featuring this character ever materialized. On the original graphic novel front, Artichoke Tales (Fantagraphics) from Megan Kelso could be worth a look.

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6.09.10 Reviews

Daytripper #7 (DC/Vertigo): I’ve devoured just about everything that Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon have done over the years, from De: Tales: Stories From Urban Brazil, to Casanova and The Umbrella Academy, to smaller projects like Sugarshock, and I’m inclined to agree with the Paul Pope pull quote adorning the cover of this issue – that this is “their best looking work to date.” It may not have the raw energy of something like Casanova, but it’s certainly more refined, and some of the credit definitely goes to colorist Dave Stewart. He makes ordinary things you might not typically notice simply hum with life, from innocuous clouds around the plane to Bras’ gentle eyes when he gets wispy about times past. When you think about what Leandro Fernandez did over on Northlanders recently, it feels like this sort of South American (mostly Brazilian) Renaissance of Sequential Art. In addition to the reflective introspection we’ve grown accustomed to from this title, the creators also explore the notion of separating the creator from the work in the mind of the audience. It was a fascinating bit of commentary, using Bras’ rising star as a novelist as a cipher. It was a treat to see the “origin story” of the friendship between Bras and Jorge, and while the title continued to examine the repercussions of both paths taken and not taken in life, the art is so good that it almost kept distracting me from the story. It’s easy to get lost in the depictions these artists are capable of. Their women are gorgeous yet realistic, the men are strong yet vulnerable, and the places are used yet beautiful. Did you ever hear that dream interpretation explanation that says you are represented by all characters in your dreams? That the people who appear are not the people you think they are, merely slivered aspects of self divulging inner drives while you slumber? That popped into my head while reading this issue, and I began to notice that to some extent all of the characters found in this series can be read as various personifications of the multi-faceted personality of Bras. There are components of him that are the pragmatic wife, the larger than life father, the recklessly bold best friend, the comical boss, or the nice stranger, all reflections of the central figure. Despite those digressions of thought, the main premise seems to still be seizing moments in life, not assuming “we got all the time in the world,” and the realization that comes with age that there are so many opportunities presented in life, hopefully the scale tips in the direction of those explored, and not those squandered. The grand plan with the title still remains a little mysterious, but the individual moments are precious. And that’s kinda’ the point. As if the contents of the issue weren’t strong enough, the marketing folks at DC really offered a complete package here that suits me well. We also get an ad for Stuck Rubber Baby, a preview of Revolver by Matt Kindt (which looks amazing, from the CNN-style newsfeed cleverly housing page numbers at the bottom, to the story blend of Brian Wood’s last issue of Demo, Christopher Nolan’s Memento, Jumper, Lost’s “sideways timeline,” and Kindt’s rough espionage feel from Super Spy), ads for my favorite Vertigo books Scalped and Northlanders, and an editorial piece from Joshua Dysart, the writer of Neil Young’s Greendale. In short, this little floppy pamphlet is really a good snapshot of everything I’m interested in. Grade A+.

Echo #22 (Abstract Studio): The opening sequence is a good reminder of Terry Moore’s skill as a visual storyteller. Sans dialogue, we instantly get a real sense of the quiet contemplation occurring. I say this as a long-time fan of Moore’s artistic ability, but man, it’s like his pencils have gotten dramatically better here all of a sudden. What happened?! They’ve always been good, but here they seem to really come alive in the Ivy and Julie sequence with a much higher level of detail, more ink, and a really compact sense of energy. Rather than lone figures in clean panels, there are multiple figures, lush backgrounds, and tons of action taking place within a single panel’s border. I really enjoyed the way that Ivy and Julie began bickering, it’s that same sort of realistic faux-argument that people who are crushin’ on each other tend to get caught up in. It’s the energy between them that, for the moment, has no place else to go, so it manifests like a small feud. The Hong sequence is creepy and intense. I remember Moore saying in a panel at the San Diego Con that he has a definite end in mind for Echo and that it would run probably around 30 issues or so. I’ll be sad to see it go, but I hope it ends up in a deluxe omnibus type of format. I’ve been saying all along that it’s one of the best series around, full of charm, style, originality, craft, and entertainment, but it’s also simply just one of my favorites for reasons I can’t even explain objectively. Grade A+.

Invincible Iron Man #27 (Marvel): Salvador Larroca seems to have Lost (heh) most of the overt photo-referencing tics, save for the very in your face use of Sawyer as the model for Tony Stark. Pepper’s lines feel slightly whiny and out of character, and that comes amid lots of talky bits about getting Stark Resilient off the ground. Yet even though there’s tons of talky, Fraction’s ear for crisp smart dialogue is ever present. “I’m going to power the world with cheap, wireless, infinitely replenishable energy without dependence on fossil fuels” is the sort of thing you wish President Obama would say, the same type of bold bravery that calls to mind JFK’s promise to put a man on the moon. You also have to really appreciate a character like Bambi Arbogast, who is a fun little firecracker of a woman who can hold her own with Tony and Pepper. The Rhodey sequence feels like heavy handed foreshadowing, making him come off like Nameless Crewman #4, the hapless guy who beams down with Kirk and Spock, not even realizing he’s about to meet his maker. Nitpicks aside, still probably the best title Marvel is delivering, and show me another mainstream title that’s gone 27 issues from inception, all on time mind you, with the same creative team. Grade A-.

Johan Hex #1: Special Edition (DC/Vertigo): My knee jerk reaction was “way to go, DC!” This seems like a really smart move to offer a free reprint of the first issue, dressed with reference to the impending film, and shovel it out to drum up interest in the movie and comic series. Sea Donkey had these (albeit in an Image Comics book dump) sitting proudly at the register and most people were snatching them up. It’s a good enough intro to the series with that Frank Quitely cover, though the interior depiction of Hex does reek obviously of Clint Eastwood, and that opening salvo of pages is direct homage to some of the Mexican Standoffs found in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Westerns. The more I thought about it though, the less sense this seemed to make. It’s unclear to me how this is best suited as a marketing device, is it courting moviegoers, comic readers, both, or none? Let’s discuss by starting with comic book readers. Assumably the LCS crowd already knows that a property named Jonah Hex exists and have already made their decision as to whether or not they’ll be seeking out the movie or reading the comic book. The free comic probably isn’t going to sway them to see the movie, and/or seek out the series if they haven’t done so already. So, giving comic book readers a free copy isn’t likely to turn people on to the movie or the book, so this is a wash. You’re just giving away loss leaders with no return on investment. The readership doesn’t grow. Let’s now look at the flip side and discuss non-comic readers. Let’s assume that this book is targeted at the mythic movie crowd who is going to see the movie and then rush right out to their LCS to get more Jonah Hex in their life. This is a no risk taste of the series, but if they’re not in an LCS to begin with, how would they even know it existed? What if they take the freebie and don’t purchase anything else? In order for this model to work, several steps have to be undertaken, and any process engineer will tell you that with each step in a process there is a percentage of dropout that occurs along the way. As a non-comic reader, I would have to a) have awareness of the movie, b) decide to see the movie, c) like the movie enough to take action, d) somehow learn that it’s based on a comic, e) decide to seek out said comics, f) have access to an LCS, g) seek out the LCS, h) assume the LCS has this for free, i) try this issue for free, j) like it enough to want to purchase more, k) assume the LCS is savvy enough to carry more, l) and then hopefully purchase a TPB. It seems to me that a very small percentage of consumers will successfully navigate that process from start to finish. If you follow Toyota’s Kaizen philosophy of step reduction and efficiency, you know that most processes that are successful involve the least number of steps as possible in order to avoid human error and the dreaded dropout rate. If anything, you could just arrange to pass these out with paid movie admission and cut half of the steps right out of the process. So then, we have not converted comic readers to movie or comic sales, and we have arguably converted a very small percentage of non-comic moviegoers to comic sales. Is there another option? I was wondering if placing these freebies in a distribution channel outside of the DM would do anything. Let’s say some retail outlet like Barnes & Noble (just for the sake of argument) carried these. They’d largely be targeted at a “lay” audience unaware of the property, one that might not be aware there was a movie named Jonah Hex due out, and one that probably wouldn’t be aware there was a comic book that it was based on. By giving them the freebie, you’ve increased brand awareness on both fronts. If they like the book, they may seek out the movie. If they like the book, they may opt to purchase a TPB from this distribution channel. Heck, they might do both. It seems to me that this yields the highest potential for not only revenue generation, but also conversion into comic readership, simply because of the numbers involved. The freebie would be exposed to exponentially more consumers by not relying on the DM, and therein lies the rub I suppose. This model would completely cut the DM out of the process, which is a huge hot button issue right now, yet from a business perspective seems to contain the highest potential for actual dollar intake at the box office and the bookstore register. So, I don’t know. Is this a well-timed, but ill-conceived strategy? It would be great to hear from someone at DC marketing that cooked up this project and better understand the reasoning. In any case, it was a good free comic. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Men #525 (Marvel): I’m pretty sure I caught a couple of typos, “envelopes” when “envelops” was intended, and a missing “a” in the sentence “…because you want to have nice parade,” which is rare for a Marvel book, but that’s really neither here nor there. It’s funny to me that I buy this regularly, but I have missed tons in this crossover simply because I don’t purchase any of the other books involved in the crossover. Even though Uncanny X-Men is supposedly the “main” X-book, it only gives me 3 out of 13 of the core story issues, and 3 of 21 if you include the extended titles. That’s pretty shoddy. I was glad to see Terry Dodson here, and not Greg Land, who provides fun renditions of the Fantastic Four and The Avengers. There still isn’t tons of detail in the line work, the figures are a little “blobby” and the backgrounds are extremely basic, but it does the job. I wouldn’t say that the scenes flow smoothly, they’re very jumpy cuts that feel episodic, but that probably has more to do with the demands of the script than Dodson’s art. If you overlook some of those technical issues and the inherent time travel paradox (if mutants have been eradicated in this future alternate timeline, then why would it be necessary for Bastion to come back and attack?), there are plenty of fun moments. Rogue gets a sweet scene, it’s not often you get to see Namor in distress, the eyes may give clues as to Hope’s lineage, and great lines from Cable and Scott in crisis mode. “We don’t come out until the future is razed and the past is saved,” along with “This is all hands on deck. The ship’s going down.” I guess my main criticism with this issue (and the title as a whole) is apparent in the scene that’s a big nod to the classic Days of Future Past storyline. It’s that the visuals are often rendered so passively ambivalent (not total crap, not great, just sorta’ there) that they don’t match the gravitas Fraction’s scripts usually shoot for. Grade B+.

S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (Marvel): Dustin Weaver delivers some big gorgeous shots of The Immortal City, but the Nathaniel Richards and Howard Stark scenes are a bit hard to parse. They’re upside down and sideways, with cramped triangular panels, and the only thing I was able to decipher from that two page spread was uhh… “they fight.” For the most part this is still visually a treat (check the Swiss Guard “shock troops”) and it comes with Jonathan Hickman’s trademark page o’ chat transcript, but while the individual scenes are intriguing, I have no sense of what the larger story is or what the motivations are of the Council, DaVinci, Night Machine, the agents, or Leonid. It’s frustrating to be so visually engaged, but not be able to get as strong a foothold on the plot. Grade B+.

Meta 4 #1 (Image): Ted McKeever’s 5 issue mini-series seems to revolve around an amnesiac astronaut, a dude named Bosco, and a woman named Gasolina dressed up as Santa Claus. The tone feels like Kent Williams’ graphic novel The Fountain (based on Darren Aaronofsky’s script, becoming a film after the GN) married with portions of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. It starts off being concerned with perceptions of reality shaping our existence, but also moves into the territory of dimensional discovery and a sort of sci-fi infused sense of self-discovery. There are some fun interactive symbols that allow the audience to supply their own dialogue and meaning. While parts of this are interesting, it’s a bit too experimental and non-linear, to the point of being obtuse and inaccessible, for me. Is he on the moon, a beach, the boardwalk, or a Nevada test site? Will we ever know? Does it even matter? Call me cranky, but I grew weary trying to decipher. Grade B.

I also picked up;

Neil Young’s Greendale (DC/Vertigo): I’ve never listened to this infamous album, but you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more intriguing creative team, with Joshua Dysart, Cliff Chiang, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein delivering a beautiful package that is a reinterpretation of the concept album, rock opera, movie, and art book. I can’t wait to dive in.

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Coming This Week: "Don't Try To Understand Me, Just Simply Do The Things I Say"

If last week was a bit of a drought, this week could be a flood in terms of things I’m interested in and could be potentially purchasing. Let’s start with the things I’ll definitely be picking up. Daytripper #7 (DC/Vertigo) is out, and the series has been a treat on so many levels. It’s an ethereal story about life, terrific pencils, stunning inks, and the ability to create discussion amongst friends about the structure. On the superhero end of the spectrum, it’s doesn’t get much better than Invincible Iron Man #27 (Marvel) by Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca. S.H.I.E.L.D. #2 (Marvel) is also (over) due this week; it’s taken some flack online, but I really enjoyed how different it is, putting a historical context around the Marvel Universe. The off again, on again, mostly off again relationship with Uncanny X-Men #525 (Marvel) will continue this week. Last of the sure bets is Terry Moore’s Echo #22 (Abstract Studio), a finer independent (essentially self-published) title probably doesn’t exist; it’s a book that has proven it can play all sides of the ball, from sheer entertainment to dogged craftsmanship, it’s really a sight to see.

I might consider Batman #700 (DC) just to behold the spectacle of the milestone. The solicit kinda’ cracks me up though; touted as an “all star line up,” it lists Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert, and Frank Quitely. Sure, I’d consider three of those names “all stars,” which one doesn’t belong? The Avengers onslaught continues with Avengers Academy #1 (Marvel) out this week from Christos Gage and Mike McKone. This is probably the title of the bunch I’m least likely to end up supporting, but I’ll give it it’s due flip through at the LCS. It looks an awful lot like the Kabuki: Reflections books, but David Mack’s new Dream Logic #1 (Marvel/Icon) promises original story and art along with all of the behind the scenes technique content. I’m not sure if it’ll warrant the $5.99 price tag, even for 48 pages, but I’m sure it’ll look great. I’m not a huge Ted McKeever fan, but the cover alone to Meta 4 #1 (Image) looks extremely intriguing, sort of a Stanley Kubrick meets sequential art type of vibe. I believe Daredevil #507 (Marvel) is the last issue of this arc co-written by Antony Johnston. I honestly can’t say that it’s blown me away, but it’s solid storytelling and I’m curious to see how it all pans out for Matt Murdock. Also of note this week is the last issue of the little psychedelic Brendan McCarthy project, with Spider-Man: Fever #3 (Marvel).

On the graphic novel front, Neil Young’s Greendale (DC/Vertigo) looks very promising, merging the talents of Joshua Dysart, Cliff Chiang, and Dave Stewart. I don’t know anything about it in terms of premise or background, but honestly you had me at “Cliff Chiang.” I really like Ashley Wood’s art, but his art books feel very repetitive, often recontextualizing the same images in slightly different packaging, sometimes with writer T.P. Louise (who bores me to tears) so who knows what the contents of Ashley Wood F.I. #1 (IDW) will be. Lastly, I was surprised to see Nothing Better: Volume 2: Into the Wild (Dementian Comics) from Tyler Page. I remember really liking the first issue of this book, and then it seemed to disappear. Not sure if the singles stopped and it moved to a trade only model, but I must have missed the first volume. In any case, a quirky fun series with very attractive art.

6.03.10 Reviews

Demo #5 (DC/Vertigo): I can't say that I had time to fully absorb this issue, though I did read it over the course of three sporadic bursts. Becky Cloonan's art looks better than ever, with a level of intricate detail I don't think we've seen from her before. What I recall the most about Brian Wood's script is that it seemed to subtly buck most time-travel trends in pop fiction and the inherent paradoxes contained within. I'm looking forward to a time when I can really dive into this, not distracted by work and personal happenings. I couldn't resist posting something. I suspect this could actualy go higher once I wrap my brain around it, but for now let's call it... Grade A.

I also picked up;

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #2 (Archaia): Man, I haven't had a chance to read this yet. As usual, it looks fantastic and there really isn't anything like it on the stands. I haven't missed a weekly post in nearly five years now. This is probably the closest I've ever come to blowing it off completely. Hopefully this will suffice until your regularly scheduled programming resumes.

Tales Designed to Thrizzle #6 (Fantagraphics): I've always heard great things about this Michael Kupperman book, but I admit I've never picked up an issue before. Since Sea Donkey owed me some money, I decided it was time to correct that. I'm really looking forward to experiencing it.

Moving Pictures (Top Shelf): Kathryn and Stuart Immonen's OGN about Nazi art heists intermingled with quirky romance isn't illustrated as... "Nextwave-y" as I was hoping for, but I really couldn't resist the premise, the clever title, and the beautiful cover.

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Coming This Week: Have You Come Here To Play Jesus To The Lepers In Your Head?

It looks like a really quiet week for me. The only “for sure” purchases I’ll be making are Demo #5 (DC/Vertigo) and The Killer: Modus Vivendi #2 (Archaia). Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan offer an intriguing time-travel premise for Demo, but man, I can’t believe the series is almost over! I guess it’s better to do what my grandma always suggested: don’t overstay your welcome, “leave them wanting more.” The Killer is simply one of the best comics to see print in the US in the last 5 years or so; it’s been great to revisit this complex character. My “maybe” list starts with Avengers Prime #1 (Marvel). On principle, I’m kinda’ disgusted with how Marvel continues to flood the market with Avengers properties, with Avengers Spotlight #1 (Marvel) also hitting this week, in the third week in a row to see a plethora of “new” Avengers titles. I’m sure the marketing muscle has been justified from a dollars and cents perspective with the impending movie(s), and they’ll capitalize greatly with all of the “hot” creators involved, but in terms of sheer quality and audience attention fatigue, I’m not sure it will make dollars and… sense, so to speak. However, the presence of Alan Davis is certainly going to be worth a look, if not an outright purchase. On the graphic novel front, I’ll see if Moving Pictures (Top Shelf) passes the casual flip test. It’s by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen and (paging Matt C. from Paradox Comics!) plays around with a real world idea I was reading about and discussing as a story premise a year or two ago, the Nazis pillaging the great art collections of Europe during WWII. Lastly, it’s absolutely horrible, but if you want to see one of the (probably *the*) worst mainstream superhero stories that exists in recent memory, it will cost you only $24.99 for the Justice League: Cry for Justice HC (DC). As the phrase was coined on the interwebs in its aftermath, this is "superhero tragedy porn" (that's all randomly violent money shots with no story context whatsoever) at it’s finest. It’s such a devastating train wreck that how can you not crank your neck and stare in awe as you pass by?

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