SubCulture: The TPB @ Poopsheet Foundation
Check out my latest review over at Poopsheet Foundation.
A Voice In The Dark, Black Science, The Bunker, Copperhead, COWL, Deadly Class, East of West, The Fuse, Lazarus, Letter 44, The Life After, Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland, Low, Manifest Destiny, The Massive, Moon Knight, Saga, Sex, Sex Criminals, Sheltered, Southern Bastards, Stumptown, Supreme: Blue Rose, Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth, Transformers vs. G.I. Joe, Trees, Umbral, Wasteland, The Wicked + The Divine, Winterworld
Northlanders #30 (DC/Vertigo): As far as creative teams go, Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli, along with (unsung heroes) Dave McCaig on coloring and Travis Lanham on lettering, are an impressive total package. It feels like the first issue of one of the longer arcs, so it’s all about establishing the world and putting the plot in motion, which means I don’t feel like I have a whole lot to say just yet. It’s like reading the first chapter in a book and then trying to tell someone how great the book is. What I can tell you so far is that I’m engrossed by the themes Wood is introducing. There’s a lot of tension from the march of progress, science, technology, and new religion seeking to disrupt the old societal ways. In the middle of this conflict, Wood introduces Erik and Ingrid as two outcast lovers on the run, sort of the Bonnie & Clyde of the Viking Age, drenching the entire affair in the smart crisp dialogue we’ve come to expect from one of the best writers of our time. With each arc designed as more of a standalone mini, now’s just as good a time to hop onto the series as any if you’re still standing on the sidelines waiting to get into the game. Grade A.
As far as books I’ll definitely be buying go this week, there’s a tight little trifecta starring Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4 (DC) courtesy of Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart, Northlanders #30 (DC/Vertigo) from Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli which kicks off a new arc, and Uncanny X-Men #526 (Marvel) for my monthly Mutant Matt Fraction fix.
San Diego Comic Con 2010. Overall, I spent around $300, including a meal. That’s slightly more than I spent last year, but is severely down from the 2007 time frame, which I guess was the peak of my purchasing habits and general interest. My thoughts haven’t entirely coalesced around this year, except to keep returning to that word – disillusioned. This is going to sound like a blasphemous fart in church, but there are days when I wonder if I really like comics anymore. Maybe it’s just the Con scene getting me down, but as a whole, as a majority, purely statistically, there’s evidence to suggest I don’t, or that it’s at least on the decline. What is clear is that I like a small handful of creators very much. I’m very loyal to these folks and will follow them just about anywhere. Even to Con. The rest is just context. And it is needless and disposable. I don’t like the crowds. I don’t like the inevitable intersection of art and commerce. I don’t like all the retards running around for their hyped up Con exclusives. I thought the Warner Brothers canvas bags were so dumb, so non-functional. I don’t dig the marketing hype, which was so frenzied it seems like everybody announced whatever they had to announce two days before Con, so when Con came, everybody was scurrying about looking for something they didn’t know about. I’m tired of hearing people complain about Hollywood invading Con. I’m tired of people saying they’re tired of Con, which is what I’m doing now. Is this self-loathing? Should I write a navel-gazing mini about it? I’m tired of wading through the sea of poor quality. For every Nathan Fox, there are literally hundreds of people who are not nearly as good, and who never will be, because they’re not willing to put in the work to get better. I’m tired of looking at their stuff. It’s clogging up my Con. It’s clogging up my art. It’s clogging up my life. After just two days, I’m worn out. I must sound depressed. I’m not. I love comics. But, I want to read comics for the sheer love of it, nothing more. For sheer love of the game, love of the craft, none of the other stuff I just mentioned. It is 80% pointless non-related chaos, followed by 20% that feels just right. I like seeing my friends and extending my personal and professional network. I like connecting. I like finding that one gem amid the detritus. I like the few surprises I got, like the Nathan Fox book, like the warm welcome from Dylan Williams at Sparkplug, bumping into Rich Johnston, buying Sweets #1, not from an LCS, not from Image Comics, but directly from creator Kody Chamberlain, getting Dodgem Logic when my LCS doesn’t carry it. But the scale seems so tipped in favor of what annoys me vs. what delights me.
It’s a game of diminishing returns. More effort, less results. The effort exhausting, the minority results somehow still managing to keep me hopeful and interested – until they don’t. Perhaps this is the typical life cycle of a fan, ebbing and flowing, but never managing to cease completely? Does every fan need an occasional respite from their passion? Am I just reeling from sensory overload, will this feeling pass? I’ve never been the type of person who was given to extremes. I’m not naïve. I’m unable to muster the type of hopeful optimism that would suggest we’re due for some Renaissance in comics. It doesn’t feel like the beginning. I’m also not a bleak pessimist who will cry that I’m done with comics. It certainly doesn’t feel like the end just yet. My stoic pragmatic heart probably lies somewhere in between. When I’m away from the buzz of the crowd and can create a quiet place to listen to the faint whisper of my own intuition, maybe I’ll look back some day and think this was merely the beginning of the end.
CBGB #1 (Boom!): I'm guessing this is sort of a one-shot, but I'd be happy to read more. It's got the feel of a music drenched Kieron Gillen project, and indeed he writes the lead story with gusto. It's called "A NYC Punk Carol" (though I think when "acronymized" it should read "An NYC Punk Carol") and begins with the irony of young bands attempting to worry about their place in music history and tracing their lineage, rather than simply making music and letting the critics fret over that analysis. With Marc Ellerby's gorgeous skinny lines and punk aesthetic, it quickly moves into a Dickensian history of punk; the Ghosts of Punk Past offer different viewpoints that capture the fact vs. perception vs. myth of punk's evolution around New York's infamous venue. I loved the line about quintessential punk being the depiction of "doomed youth as the blank slate to scrawl the future on" with CBGB as the (arguable) "70's punk ground zero." The back up story "The Helsinki Syndrome" isn't quite as strong, but looks great courtesy of Rob G's more plump inky lines and Sam Humphries nails the notion of sometimes the most influential acts coming from unassuming origins. Grade A.
The comic on most people’s minds this week is probably Scott Pilgrim: Volume 06: Finest Hour (Oni Press), but it’s something I could never really get into. I read the first two or three volumes that were comp’d to me from Oni Press, but it just didn’t click. Is it because I’m a Gen X’er and not Gen Y’er? I don’t know, but I will admit that the HUMONGOUS advertisement banner I saw slapped across the Hilton Bayfront as I attended a recent Padres game, next to the San Diego Convention Center, is pretty cool. For me this week, the treat is probably DV8: Gods & Monsters #4 (DC/Wildstorm), which is turning out to be Brian Wood’s little manifesto on the inherent danger and flawed paradigm of superpowered beings existing in reality, but here specifically juxtaposed against primitive civilizations, which adds a crystalline clarity of thought to his exploratory logic. In the “pigs are still flying” department, which began last week with the release of the Absolute Planetary HC: Book 02, we have Jonathan Hickman’s Red Mass for Mars #4 (Image), the four issue mini-series that is apparently finally wrapping nearly two years later (last seen in October of 2008). I’ve decided to give all of the new core Avengers books a three issue trial run, so progress is being made with Avengers #3 (Marvel) and New Avengers #2 (Marvel) hitting the shelves the same week. It’s clear to me that Secret Avengers is least likely to succeed, with regular Avengers surely being the purdiest thanks to Romita Jr., but New Avengers seemingly the best all around, standing the best shot at surviving the process. It’s goofy to me that they can’t get the third issue out, but there’s always time to do a second printing alternate cover for SHIELD #2 (Marvel). The Rasl Pocket Edition: Volume 01 (Cartoon Books) could be interesting, as could the Evanovich (who?) book Troublemaker HC: Book 01 (Dark Horse), which piques my interest because of the Joelle Jones art.
Echo #23 (Abstract Studio): The crème de la crème this week is Terry Moore’s brilliant pairing of compelling characters with an emotional core and Silver Age atomic paranoia, all penciled and rendered devastatingly pitch perfect. I’ll bust his chops a little and proclaim that I found an extremely rare typo, “rendevous” instead of “rendezvous,” (and it's still nearly impossible to find any current cover image - even on his own site!), but that’ll hardly stop this book from testing out the upper limits of the 13 Minutes grading scale. Dillon’s phone conversation catches us up, but it’s a seamless and natural bit of dialogue that never once feels expository. As a writer/artist double threat, Moore’s artistry is unparalleled. The emotional content of the facial expressions provide heart, while the fine detail in the surroundings appeal to the mind. It’s the complete package. It’s all coming to a head, physical changes abounding, Ivy looking younger, Julie looking taller, Vijay realizing he just got threatened in a literally heart pounding sequence, as they begin to figure out more properties of the alloy. Echo has it all, sexual tension between Julie and Ivy, humor, action, intensity, drama, sci-fi, all not-so-subtle reminders that whatever you’re reading probably isn’t as good as this book. Seriously. This is the book that should be garnering Eisner nominations, this is the book that should be getting optioned by Hollywood, this is the book that should be considered “hot” by whatever inane standards Wizard Magazine employs, this is the book that should be selling out at Barnes & Noble, this is the book that more web-sites should be reviewing and evangelizing, this is the book you should be buying at San Diego Comic Con next week. Terry Moore is always there, right on that corner booth, and he’s always got the trades. I believe the first 4 trades are out for this series, all reasonably priced, and I’m sure Terry will do you up a little sketch when you buy them. So, go buy them. Seriously. Do it. Grade A+.
In the “yes children, sometimes pigs really do fly and hell actually does freeze over” category, it’s the Absolute Planetary HC: Book 02 (DC/Wildstorm). It’s $75 and I won’t bat an eye, finally putting to bed one of the best modern series ever created in the definitive format. DC keeps the roll going, offering Daytripper #8 (DC/Vertigo), probably a contender for one of “My 13 Favorite Things of 2010” series, along with DMZ #55 (DC/Vertigo). Brian Wood enters a 5-issue arc of single issue stories. These little forays are always interesting and I think the Wilson story is in this arc somewhere, looking forward to that examination of one of the more enigmatic figures in the DMZ. Matt Fraction and Sal Larroca keep after it with Invincible Iron Man #28 (Marvel). Toward the indie side of the equation, we have The Killer: Modus Vivendi #4 (Archaia) and Terry Moore’s Echo #23 (Abstract Studio), which he’s recently indicated will wrap up sometime in early/mid 2011.
Demo Volume 2 #6 (DC/Vertigo): The couple in this issue are like the analogous magnets that Brian Wood compares them to, attracting and repelling each other incessantly, their fates forever intertwined. They’re physically dependent on the enjoyable dysfunction, finding joy despite the pain. It’s amazing how much Becky Cloonan’s artistic skills have grown from the first volume of Demo until now. In particular, her emotive facial expressions and general posing of the characters relays volumes of information. It takes a brave writer to trust the artist to inform so much of the narrative visually. Conversely, it takes a very talented artist to be able to respond so well. It’s all proof that this pairing is one of the great modern creative collaborations. I like the way that Wood inverts the notion of “superpowers” in this series. For the most part, they’re never a boon, always a bane, always more of a curse than a blessing. Here, they create a life and death autonomic co-dependency, displaying love and hate as mirror images of each other, such similar emotions connected by the same intense passion. What, am I the only one who’s ever playfully told a woman that I hated her right before I slept with her? Oh, did I say that out loud? Err... I was thinking about how this book is an interesting culmination of earlier Brian Wood works. Demo Volume 1 toyed more directly with the notion of “powers,” that was the throughline that connected all of the stories loosely. It was Wood’s entry into the “teens with powers” sub-genre, probably still percolating from some of his early Marvel mutant work. With Local, he focused more on a bildungsroman coming-of-age, discovery of humanity and self approach, where the heart of the character came first and drove the story. When you combine the two projects, it’s almost as if the sum of the equation is Demo Volume 2. I really loved the end text pieces, particularly Wood’s “medium first” approach to comics stemming from his fine arts background. It’s interesting to see his general philosophy and ethic as a creator possessing no allegiance to character, company, creator, or property. It’s about the inherent right of the creator and using the medium to its full potential. Ultimately, this issue is about the most critical observation of the human experience. It’s impossible for anyone to exist as an island and be happy, despite the challenges, risks, and maintenance that all relationships possess, we require them to survive. Perhaps it’s fitting that this book shipped on July 4th week. It’s like a fireworks show itself, which was enjoyable for the duration, but ends with a big crescendo that’s by far the best of the series. Grade A+.
Wasteland #29 (Oni Press): Wow. I didn’t see this coming. When Antony Johnston recently announced that there would be “big changes” in The Big Wet, he didn’t just mean that the web-site would be under reconstruction. To some extent, the contents of this issue feel irrelevant to me right now, because this has become an emotionally charged changing of the creative guard issue. Yeah… regular series artist Christopher Mitten is leaving the book. It seems that personal and professional challenges created the perfect storm and after much soul searching, the duo will thankfully part as friends. Chris provided layouts for this issue (and will for a handful to come), with new series artist Remington Veteto in the unenviable position of finishing with penciling and inking, attempting to carry on the tradition of craftsmanship established by Mitten’s tenure on the book.
Moments after the world famous San Diego Comic-Con wraps, most people probably find themselves completely worn out, in a state of post-con funk. Attendees who’ve been walking miles for days on end just want to find the nearest eatery and decompress with a cold drink. Creators and retailers probably hope for some solitary time away from the crowd and forced interactions with the public. As a reviewer, I often find myself trying to collect my thoughts, under an oppressive deluge of new books to read and review, and wanting to promptly follow up on the networking I’ve just engaged in, but mentally and physically drained for the most part. Yeah, most people would be exhausted and want to take a short respite from comic books. Most people would be wiped out and simply wish to return home to familiar surroundings.
There are only three titles this week that I’m 100% positive I’ll be buying. Wasteland #29 (Oni Press) returns after what feels like a very long hiatus, but I never stop getting excited for a new issue from Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten. As friend-colleague-creator Ryan Claytor recently pointed out to me, I seem to have a thing for dystopian epics. Demo Volume 2 #6 (DC/Vertigo) marks the last issue of this volume from Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan, and I’m expecting big things if the prior final issue of Demo is anything to judge by. Not only was it my favorite issue of the first volume, but remains one of my favorite single issues of any series, ever. Scalped #39 (DC/Vertigo) is going to be a beautiful disaster considering where we last left things, particularly between Dash and Carol.
Northlanders #29 (DC/Vertigo): It’s quickly becoming obvious that the one-shot issues of Northlanders are their own brand of “event” comic. We had issue #17 with Vasilis Lolos, which was probably one of the best single issues of any comic last year, and now another stunning dazzler with Fiona Staples. On the very first page, when I saw that word “tiller” it made me appreciate the research that Brian Wood puts into his creations. Ordinary writers just don’t use such specific words. Visually, I keep finding that Dave McCaig’s coloring is such an integral component of these books. He’s really up there with Dave Stewart in terms of talent. He helps Fiona Staples create a dark and grainy environment, sinewy even, full of harsh conditions. You can really feel the icy cold wet in your bones, and the salty sea water clinging to your skin. And that shot of the Icelandic volcano is dramatic, insane, otherworldly, and utterly breathtaking. Staples becomes another in a long line of phenomenal artists that Brian Wood collaborates with. I used to comment that Brian Wood was a “lucky” guy to get to work with such an incredible roster of sequential artists, but luck really has nothing to do with it. He’s getting what he deserves as one of the best writers working in the medium today. The story is focused on Dag, one man fighting for survival on the Sea Road. His crew are literally fair weather fans of their Captain, acquiescing when times are good, rebelling and extorting when they’re not. I’m sure Wood probably wrote this book months ago, but for some reason I kept thinking of the fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico and the retarded calamity that is the BP oil spill, and a dying way of life. Wood’s writing always has a way of mirroring the themes we encounter every day. Instead of sticking to that dying way, Dag is enamored of the idea of “The West” and the possibility of a New World, and the freedom it offered inhabitants of the Old World. Ultimately, Dag meets a miserable end, but it’s hard not to think that he met his goal in being free and probably died happy, with a sense of humor. This is a random story, but it reminded me of an article I read, probably 20 years ago, about a Roman coin that was found in the San Joaquin Valley farmland of California. Scientists couldn’t explain how it got there, the layers of soil it was embedded in did not support the theory that it had been casually dropped in a relatively recent time period. Was it possible that a Roman galley could have been lost, thrown so far off course in an epic storm, that it not only made it to the New World, but to the West Coast, and then the crew survived long enough to trek 100 miles inland? It seems unbelievable, but this brand of historical fiction is fascinating to me, truth being stranger than fiction in the hands of a writer like Brian Wood is endlessly entertaining. Grade A.