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7.28.10 Reviews

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.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #4 (DC): No disrespect to Georges Jeanty, but when you’re expecting Cameron Stewart (because that’s what every solicit and advertisement said up until yesterday’s Diamond Shipping List!), it’s kind of a let down. On the one hand, Jeanty brings a finer line which captures the grit of the Old West reasonably well, and I enjoyed the bat belt as bandolier across his chest, but some other poor traits seeped in. The crimson sky at the beginning was an over-the-top choice (probably more the colorist’s fault), and sometimes the action sequences are very difficult to parse. Travis Lanham made me notice the lettering, the voice over text was really rich and intricate. There are some individual bits of Grant Morrison’s script that are fun, the flash of batarangs in between panels, the construction of Wayne Manor, Doctor Thomas Wayne and Judge Solomon Wayne from accepted canon, bounty hunters, spirits, and immortals (oh my!). “Mosewer Sauvage” and “Bonsoir, Mr. Hex. Cut yourself shaving?” are winning lines for these two characters. But there are almost too many Easter Eggs, so that all you’re doing is playing “spot the drop” and instead of it reading like a cohesive story thread, it comes off very choppy and rough, with some Easter Eggs so convenient that they shatter your disbelief, such as the pearls appearing from out of nowhere. We’re four issues in now and overall the whole thing still feels like build up for something (I’m learning) that isn’t ever going to come, not in this mini-series anyway. Morrison let slip in both his Spotlight Panel and the Batman Panel at SDCC that many more mini-series and special one-shots are going to be strung together to actually return Batman/Bruce Wayne to the modern day DCU. It should be no surprise that DC will drag this process out as long as commercially viable. It’s probably a smart business decision, but as a consumer it’s more than a little grating. At the end of the day, all I really care about is who is going to do what, and why, in the Bat Family? For example, once Bruce returns, will he actually be Batman? I’d prefer that they pull a “Steve Rogers” on him and put him in more of a Nick Fury role. This would allow Dick to continue on as Batman and not be shuffled off to reassume the Nightwing mantle or some dreaded new role. What happens with Tim/Red Robin, Damian/Robin, etc.? If Dan DiDio tries to kill Dick Grayson again, well, then I quit. Grade B.

Uncanny X-Men #526 (Marvel): Everything about this issue feels just a little off. Whilce Portacio is up on art duty and his anemic sketchy lines start as almost passable, but then quickly degenerate. Between Rogue’s ample side boob and Tony Stark appearing like a free-moustache-ride-granting Burt Reynolds from a bad 1970’s porno, you start to think he’s really not that great of an artist. Once I saw Hope react WITH A SMILE when she said “my parents died,” I realized Portacio had absolutely no mastery of emotion in his lines. On top of it all, Hope in particular appears completely flat and lifeless, devoid of any sense of humanity beyond her two dimensional ink on paper rendering. There are a couple of redeeming qualities in the script, Scott really trying to connect with Hope, Hope not hesitating in the slightest to jump in and save newcomer Laurie, but then Fraction goes and cripples his own effort. Cypher comes off sounding like a cold clinical imitation of Brent Spiner’s Data, he actually drops a Lady Gaga reference (which will become painfully dated in about, oh, 5 minutes), and the brief scene Kitty gets is all too little, too late for me. The notion of the team monitoring “The Five Lights” of possible mutant manifestations is a cool enough story idea, but it’s really hampered by the art. Portacio’s got not quite seamless storytelling chops. For the flagship X-book, Fraction seems to be endlessly saddled with second tier artists, who do more distracting than enabling. In order for this book to succeed as the powerhouse destination book it ought to be, Marvel really needs to drop in an all star artist, or at the very least commit to a quality second tier man for the duration. I’m thinking of someone like Yanick Paquette, who turned in a great performance back in issue #512. Marvel ups the price here to $3.99 and justifies it by including a back-up story by Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel entitled “Rebuilding.” The story itself is solid, about Magneto’s interest in Wiccan and Speed from the Young Avengers, presented ostensibly as his grandchildren. However, I’m suspicious of the business machinations behind the scenes. I find it odd that “the story continues” in a book that came out last week (isn’t this what editors are for?), and I’m wondering how long it’ll be before the back-up feature gets dropped, we return to standard page count, and the price remains $3.99 without anyone noticing. This is one of those issues that despite fondness for the characters makes me go “ugh, why am I buying this again?” Grade B-.

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Coming This Week: "I Promise Never To Make Art Again"

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.

There are also a few noteworthy things that I likely won’t be buying since I’m feeling a heavy dose of lingering con malaise, trying to really hone the purchasing practices to what I deeply like. Fear Agent #28 (Dark Horse) marks the beginning of the last story arc and is something I might check out, in trade, for a discount. Ahem. Secret Avengers #3 (Marvel) is also out this week, and I’m sorry, but I’m not going to make it through my three issue trial run. None of these books (Avengers, Secret Avengers, New Avengers) are really strong enough for me to continue to support. Hotwire: Deep Cut #1 (Radical) is an interesting follow-up series written and illustrated by Steve Pugh, from a Warren Ellis concept. This is something that isn’t crucial to buy, but will certainly go on the dollar bin list. Lastly, Supergod #1: Convention Edition (Avatar) is also out this week. Yeah, let’s definitely publish a reprint of #1 called “Convention Edition” a week AFTER the con, instead of finishing the damn mini-series, which is late.

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San Diego Comic Con 2010: Once More Unto The Breach, Dear Friends

The San Diego Comic Con is like that ex-girlfriend who will always occupy a special place in your heart, but that you simply grew apart from. Before I explain my personal disheartening further, let me give you a fairly straightforward laundry list of my experiences this year. I always enjoy reading these personal recaps, and I hope you do too.

  • I met up early with Ryan Claytor from Elephant Eater Comics, who was located in a terrific location right on the corner of the Small Press Pavilion at a busy intersection across from Oni Press. Ryan was the first to receive one of the super limited edition hand silkscreened 13 Minutes t-shirts I had printed up! I took an early trot through the main exhibit hall and got the lay of the land, which hadn’t changed much aside from the slight relocation of Artists Alley.

  • My first stop was the Strangeco booth, and I was able to pick up an extremely limited edition “Mr. Spray” vinyl figure designed by Shepard Fairey. Shepard is currently exhibiting at the Museum of Contemporary Art where I work, along with several other prominent street artists.

  • As I walked through the exhibit hall early, I luckily stumbled upon a booth handing out free t-shirts to about 50 people, and was able to get a cool “Blue Sun” t-shirt from Joss Whedon’s Firefly/Serenity Universe.

  • After that jaunt, I wound up back in the Small Press Pavilion and suddenly saw Rich Johnston from Bleeding Cool going up and down the aisles interviewing small press creators, which I thought was really cool. I decided to introduce myself to Rich, told him how much I liked the site, and handed him a 13 Minutes business card. He was super gracious, appreciative of the feedback, and struck me as a surprisingly humble guy, which sort of defied the preconceived notion I had of him judging solely by the snark on his site.

  • One of the creators I wanted to establish a relationship with was Kody Chamberlain, who recently put out a book called Sweets, published by Image Comics. I found him early, bought the first issue from him, and also continued my (long) streak of handing out 13 Minutes business cards. He seemed excited by the prospect of an additional review, and also struck me as really down to Earth. I can’t wait to finally read that book after holding off buying it the previous Wednesday.

  • My next stop was Sparkplug Comic Books, in an effort to find my old friend Tim Goodyear, who was the artist of my first mini-comic, The Mercy Killing. Tim wasn’t in yet, but I ended up having a long chat with Sparkplug Publisher Dylan Williams, who I’d had some sporadic online correspondence with. Dylan was genuinely thankful for the reviews I’ve done of Sparkplug’s output here at 13 Minutes, and also over at Poopsheet Foundation. Dylan was kind enough to comp me a handful of review copies for some new books from Elijah Brubaker, Chris Cilla, and David King. They all look terrific and I’ll tell you right now, Sparkplug is really turning into my favorite indie publisher, reliably pumping out one interesting project after another. One thing led to another, and I also gave Dylan a couple of copies of my mini comics The Mercy Killing and Blood Orange after he inquired about them. I left Dylan a business card and continued my day.

  • Next door to Sparkplug was Tom Neely from I Will Destroy You, whose book The Blot is one of my all time favorite works. Every year I purchase all of Neely’s new stuff and Poopsheet Foundation readers will recognize his name from one of my “Top 10 Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2009.” I purchased a couple of books and when Tom realized who I was, he was kind enough to comp me on a couple of titles as well. I really appreciated that and he too received, you guessed it, a 13 Minutes business card.

  • I ended up back in the Small Press Pavilion and found a great looking book called The Wandering Shaolin Monk, which is a handsome hardcover and a Xeric Grant recipient. I bought the book, which came with a free t-shirt and a homemade cookie! You’d be crazy if you think these creators didn’t also get a 13 Minutes business card.

  • I ran into Stan Yan, who did a book called The Wang: Erection Year, which I reviewed mostly favorably at Poopsheet Foundation. I bought Stan’s new books, called SubCulture (one of which I already read and loved!) and he gave me a couple of free books as well. Did Stan get a business card, you ask? Yes, of course he did.

  • I picked up another book in the Small Press Pavilion at this point called The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies, which was pitched as an indie riff on League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but starring 80’s TV show girls. Honestly the pitch didn’t do much for me, but damn the art looked nice and the covers were amazing. Yes, dear friends, the roll of self-promoting 13 Minutes business cards… Did. Not. End. Here.

  • I hooked up with my friend Jason from the San Francisco Bay Area and we attended a CBLDF Spotlight Panel on Paul Pope. Pope is one of my favorite creators, certainly my favorite writer/artists double threat, and it was great to see him ink a page live, which I think he said was the cover to a Hamlet adaptation, since it featured the infamous skull of Yorick. This was also a nice chance to get off my feet and eat my lunch as I watched Pope ink. It was a pretty technical session, all about specific brushes and pencils, brush techniques, types of ink, hand motions, and different line weights, but really was amazing to see how effortlessly he creates. I know Pope takes plenty of high paying freelance jobs in fashion, graphic design, and many other industries, but hey, this here’s a comic site, and I’d sure like to see Battling Boy and the Total THB Collected Edition, which were both announced oh, I don’t know, three years ago when I bought a piece of original art from him in 2007. Seriously, what’s the hold up?

  • Jason and I continued our team up and I went with him to the Radical Comics booth, so he could pick up The Last Days of American Crime from Rick Remender. I like that book, probably the only book from Radical that I buy, but dude, their booth was kind of a joke. Heavy media spin, buxom blonde booth babes handing out recyclable junk, and nothing new to note. Jason and I split up at this point since he was on a mission to find some exclusive toys, so I handed him a 13 Minutes t-shirt and we went our separate ways.

  • I retreated from the media saturated end of the exhibit hall to the Small Press area once again, and scoped out about 30 people in line at the Oni Press booth picking up their Scott Pilgrim: Volume 06 (with free wristband!) and found myself back at Sparkplug, this time with buddy Tim Goodyear. We got caught up on personal news and he comp’d me a bunch of ‘zines he’s been working on, in which he illustrates his movie reviews. I haven’t read them yet, but they sure looked entertaining.

  • My friend Mike, who was only attending Friday, wanted to get (another) commissioned piece from Matt Kindt, so I met with Kindt at the Top Shelf booth and got him started on this project. The end result was a beautiful watercolor of some favorite X-Men and this has become an annual tradition for Mike, to get a Kindt original. Pretty cool.

  • I was in the area at this point, so I did a deep dive on Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, Drawn & Quarterly, Oni Press, and Heavy Metal. After scoping it all out, nothing really caught my attention very strongly, but the large 50% off signs at Heavy Metal drew me in. I was handed a free copy of the latest issue, which, surprise, surprise, had a cover drawn by Nathan Fox, who is becoming one of my favorite artists. I swear, this guy is going to be a rock star. This guy is going to be the next Paul Pope. I’ve been saying it for a couple of years now. Check out Dark Reign: Zodiac with Joe Casey at Marvel. Check out the fill in issues he’s done with Brian Wood for DMZ (another one of those coming, btw, starring Wilson!). Anyway, apparently he did this huge HC OGN for Heavy Metal, with writer MF Wilson and colorist Jeremy Cox called Fluorescent Black. It looks amazing. I couldn’t fight my way through the crowd and was running late to meet up with Jason again, so I decided to skip it and cross my fingers they wouldn’t sell out.

  • I met up with Jason and we attended a panel starring James Sturm, moderated by Tom Spurgeon. Some official walked in and presented Sturm with an Inkpot Award, which was cool to see live. I’m not a huge Sturm fan (though I do love his Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules project), but this retrospective survey of his career was really interesting. He was a great speaker and dropped a couple memorable quotes, like “make media, don’t just consume it” and warned about “being a slave to your own vanity” when he swore off the internet for a few weeks.

  • I decided to do a thorough tour of Artists Alley, and honestly this was a really underwhelming process. It seemed like a wide canyon, with overpriced superhero nonsense, ala Whilce Portacio on one end, and decrepit stick figure entry level mini-comics and buttons or whatever on the other end. One of the very few bright spots was a little corner occupied by Zander Cannon and Ryan Kelly. I got a good deal on two of Ryan’s creator owned projects, All The Fun and Funrama.

  • The day was just about over, so I headed back to meet up with Ryan Claytor at Elephant Eater in the Small Press Pavilion. I hadn’t paid much attention to Oni Press honestly, since I knew that Antony Johnston, Matthew Southworth, and Brian Wood weren’t going to be there, and it was looking like all Scott Pilgrim, all the time, a long line of people still, who were buying two and three copies of this book apiece. However, I casually looked across the aisle and there’s Christopher Mitten, the (former) artist of Wasteland. I walked up and we chatted for a few minutes. Chris thanked me again for all of my reviews of that book and I learned some of the plans for the remainder of the book (which I won’t spoil! but it’s really fucking cool!), along with some new work he’s doing at both Oni and IDW. I ended up giving Chris a 13 Minutes shirt as well. And thus concludes day one!


  • My friend Mike and I got in early, so while we waited for the exhibit hall to open, we purchased our tickets for next year and I also seeded with freebie table with some business cards.

  • When I got home Thursday night and unpacked, I learned that the Nathan Fox book at Heavy metal was limited to 500 copies(!) and started panicking that I wouldn’t be able to get a copy. So, first stop Friday morning was the Heavy Metal booth. I’d seen Nathan Fox in Artists Alley, so I figured I could buy the book, then run over and have him sign it up. We chatted briefly, and as he did a quick sketch, he suggested I come see him at the Heavy Metal booth for the official signing between 1pm and 4pm to get some additional swag.

  • On our way back from Artists Alley, Mike and I got sucked into the DC Booth somehow, I swear it’s like a vortex you can’t escape with lines swirling around the entire area, and found ourselves in line to get free books. The line was fairly sluggish, but we ended up with some decent freebies, number ones of The Flash, some Justice League thing, the new Green Arrow (which I will enjoy detesting), iZombie, DV8, Action Comics, American Vampire, Sparta, etc.

  • We ended up in the Silver Age area, which used to be a prime hang out for us, but didn’t stay long. We were able to see the last remnants of the Mile High Collection that’s being cut loose, all CGC’d out, and Mike picked up a few stray issues of Bronze Age Iron Fist that he was missing.

  • We hit Top Shelf to pick up the Matt Kindt piece, and I also purchased Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic #1-3, which I have yet to see at any LCS. I paid a little over cover price, but they looked quite interesting, with plenty of bonus inserts.

  • We wound up at Last Gasp, and I was able to pick up Dodgem Logic #4, which is, I believe, the newest issue, so I’ll be all up to speed.

  • Mike and I hooked up with my friend Jason and our big panel of the day was the Grant Morrison shindig, moderated by Senior Story Editor Ian Sattler. Morrison is always entertaining, that Scottish brogue and general worldview endlessly charming to me. It was interesting to hear about Grant’s affinity for the DCU, his outlook on America and Superman from his outsider perspective, his thoughts on violence after his WWII veteran father raised him as a pacifist, and his general approach to writing Batman. Grant let slip that he was on food stamps for 9 years before breaking in, which lines up with quite a few theories I’ve been hearing about that suggest all “great creators” in many divergent mediums toil away in obscurity for approximately 10 years before breaking in. If you subscribe to that hypothesis, then I should be writing for Entertainment Weekly by about 2015. Anyway, I love that Flex Mentallo came up more than once. He and Ian seemed to insinuate there could be news in our future about a (finally!) collected edition. I actually own two sets of the single issues, but he said that a collected edition would surely have the already penciled Frank Quitely cover, along with some bonus scenes he had to cut out of the serialized version. For me, this is Grant’s magnum opus, and I’d love a swanky HC, even an Absolute Edition.

  • We dropped by the CBLDF booth, where I always buy something to support the cause, but there was really nothing that looked interesting or that I hadn’t already read. When all else fails, I will buy a t-shirt in lieu of a book, but the one I wanted, with all of the Free Speech text, was sold out on my size. So, for the first time in years I did not make a contribution to the CBLDF, for shame!

  • I checked in with Ryan Claytor at Elephant Eater, and Ryan was cool enough to give me one of his new t-shirts. They’re really sweet!

  • Mike and I decided to see if we could get any free goodies at the Marvel booth, kind of like how we scored at the DC booth. What a disappointment this was. The Marvel booth had a palpable media slant to it, with video games, err... something, statues in cases like priceless Etruscan artifacts, and a big ass set piece that I guess was a throne room from the Thor movie. It took up about half the square footage. It was gaudy and awful. Oh, and guess what? Not a comic could be found in the Marvel Comics booth. Lame.

  • After a leisurely lunch on the back mezzanine overlooking the bay, we attended a panel on the 24 Hour Comics Day Challenge, which Ryan was also appearing on. I had some issues with the moderation of the panel, which I’ll be a gentleman about and won’t get into, but the good news is that there were some good tips for both retailers and creators, along with a free anthology of some of the 24 Hour Comics made during one of the events.

  • We decided to go through the entire exhibit hall from beginning to end, one final time, and I got caught up in some of the toy booths. I’ve been casually buying the DC Universe Infinite Heroes 3.75 inch figures whenever I can get a deal. I’ve never paid full retail and have managed to get most of them, but am missing a few. I ended up finding one or two singles I didn’t have on a sale table, and then scored three of the three-packs, two for $10 each and one for $5(!) These things are usually pushing $20 each in typical retail outlets, so I picked those up, getting one with Animal Man, and one with Harbinger. I’ve never been a toy collector, but these are just too cool, also – my kids really like them!

  • Along the way, I ended up with free copies of the latest issues of Wizard Magazine, Toyfare Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and the TV Guide: Comic Con Edition which all seemed to get shoved in my hand and make it into my backpack without me remembering exactly how.

  • I talked to Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, who were next to the Jill Thompson and Cliff Chiang booth and checked something for Ryan Claytor. In short, they are definitely NOT selling any original art pages from Daytripper, because it is just too personal a work for the brothers from Brazil.

  • I finally made it back over to the Heavy Metal booth during the right window and really scored. I got sketches, signatures, and personalized stuff from Nathan Fox (artist), MF Wilson (writer), and Jeremy Cox (colorist), along with a beautiful print of a page from the book. This was well worth the three attempts it took me to get the whole swag package and will probably go down as my favorite buy of the con this year.

  • And that was pretty much that. Mike and I rendezvoused with Ryan and Jason and our foursome decided to grab dinner before attending the Eisner Awards. We bet on the tourists all going toward the Gaslamp and decided to go the other way to avoid them all. Our gambit worked. We walked right into Joe’s Crab Shack, about one block behind the Convention Center, around 7:05pm right after the exhibit hall closed, and waited all of 5 minutes for a table. We ate some awesome food, shared beers and laughs, and replenished our energy for the three hour Eisner marathon.


  • We actually left Joe’s Crab Shack right at 8:30pm when the Eisner Awards were supposed to start, took a nice quick stroll to the Indigo Ballroom at the Hilton Bayfront (the one with the huge Scott Pilgrim banner) and walked right in. As we sat, they were just getting started. We didn’t miss a thing. So, the Eisners. In short, I’m losing faith in this process and don’t seem to identify (or agree) with the majority of the selections. They're losing credibility with me. There’s always this running debate I have with myself between who I *think* will win and who I *want* to win. I can accurately predict who will win with about 90% precision, but it rarely lines up with my personal preferences. The larger issue is that I’m picking from a list I don’t agree with in the first place, which I don’t feel represents the best that comics has to offer in any given year. My nominees would look entirely different. In any case, here are a few random observations, some about the actual winners (or losers) and some more about the proceedings, which were kicked off by the cast of the Scott Pilgrim movie.

  • My favorite quote was “an undereducated waffle iron assembler from Missouri.” It’s totally out of context, but trust me, it wouldn’t help if I cited it properly. This guy had me stifling laughter so hard that I began tearing up. It was ridiculous, because he really wasn’t trying to be funny.

  • The big news was that Will Eisner’s seminal graphic novel A Contract With God is going to be a movie!

  • Thomas Jane is a jackass. Really, this guy was an embarrassment. He came off like a total tool, an outsider who didn’t know anything about comics, attempted to be funny and wasn’t, butchered names, was a distraction, and his antics served only to de-legitimize the dignity of the entire affair. It was awful. I was ashamed to be in the same room as this douchebag.

  • I don’t like the notion of a rotating emcee or host or whatever. It’s very inconsistent. If it wasn’t Thomas Jane up there mucking it up, it was incoherent Chris Claremont, who was either dyslexic, drunk, or just plain illiterate. He couldn’t pronounce his own name correctly. If you’re going to have presenters, you might want to, I don’t know, I’m just spit-balling here, but you might want to make sure they can read? See if they speak English (hello, Milo Manara)? Ascertain ahead of time if they’re comfortable in front of 500 people? Provide them a script ahead of time? Coach them on particularly difficult Japanese names? I vote for a presenting duo of Chip Kidd and Paul Levitz. Chip was actually funny on the fly, deadpanning some lines without dragging jokes out, getting his point across without being disrespectful. And Paul Levitz just strikes me as a classy cat. He is knowledgeable and articulate, providing the right level of intellect and gravitas to what is hyped as the “Academy Awards of Comics.” So yeah, we’re a big boy medium now, right? Let’s class it up a little. No more Stormtroopers at the Eisners. No more drunk Frank Miller. No more Thomas Jane. No more Chris Claremont. When it all goes on the web for you to see, really pay attention to Chip Kidd and Paul Levitz. They have my vote. Also, three hours is just too long. The last hour is painful. Maybe tighten that up. Maybe start earlier. Or maybe leave it the same. Maybe I slit your throat and play around in your blood a little.

  • As for the awards, there were a couple I found sensible. Since James Jean was not nominated in the Best Cover Artist category, it allowed the very deserving John Cassaday and JH Williams III to be nominated, and JH Williams III ended up taking it. I have no problem with that. Though I will say that John Cassaday does have a larger body of cover work to his name. Jim also ended up winning for Best Penciller/Inker, which is great, because that Detective Comics run with Batwoman was fucking great, but this double win does expose a weakness in the voting process. Once the committee down-selects the finalists, the body of professionals does a blind vote to determine the winner in each category. Since they have no holistic view of the entire process, they’re unable to spread the love in a more equitable and strategic fashion. For example, in this specific scenario, if you know JH Williams III is going to win for Best Penciller/Inker, why not allow John Cassaday to take the Best Cover Artist category? The problem is that the voters have no holistic view of the entire field and simply vote in isolated categories. This is a flaw to me.

  • A couple of years ago, they changed the rules to allow online venues to compete in the Best Comics Related Periodical/Journalism category. This is great – and really interesting. This year, four of the five nominees are exclusively web-based, with The Comics Reporter taking the win. Print seems to be dead, as far as comics criticism and journalism goes anyway.

  • I cannot believe that Mauro Cascioli was nominated in the Best Painter/Multimedia Artist category for Justice League: Cry for Justice. This book was universally derided and generally considered one of the worst books of the year. The writing was indecipherable tragedy porn, and the art was equally awful. Cascioli couldn’t find a consistent light source or a tit smaller than a D-cup if his life depended on it, and even though this was a seven issue mini-series, he couldn’t even be bothered to do the damn interior art in the last two issues!

  • Someone, somewhere, sure had a boner for Absolute Justice. It beat Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? in the Best Publication Design category, which is a joke, and then took a second award for the Best Graphic Album – Reprint category, beating out Eddie Campbell, Jeff Lemire, and John Porcellino. What?! Long live superhero comics, I guess.

  • Something about the Best Writer category disturbs me. I don’t read any of those writers regularly and I don’t buy any of those books regularly, though I have sampled them sufficiently courtesy of quarter bins. It seems like it’s not about “best,” but most popular or recognizable. Everyone’s heard of Geoff Johns and Ed Brubaker, so it’s no surprise one of them (Brubaker) won, but do these people seriously think these are the best writers working in comics today? That’s sad. And James Robinson for Justice League: Cry for Justice? Are you fucking kidding? I think we’ve covered this haven’t we? Universally panned. A parody of itself. Dozens of bloggers openly mocking this. The worst book of the year.

  • It was really refreshing to see Terry Moore’s Echo nominated in the Best Writer/Artist Category, but he lost to David Mazzucchelli and Asterios Polyp (of course). Asterios is a great book, but again, to me this exposes a procedural weakness. If a panel of judges could openly discuss a holistic set of awards and knew that Asterios would be taking home two other Eisners, they could spread the love and give a nod here to Terry Moore and let him take this category, but instead, he gets shunted and Asterios Polyp ends up sweeping three Eisners.

  • It’s about time that people start taking notice of Joe Sacco’s work; I was pleased to see a win for him in the Best Writer/Artist – Nonfiction category for Footnotes in Gaza. Sacco’s got an amazing body of work.

  • Back in the “another travesty that proves superheroes trump indie books,” we have Captain America #601 beating Ganges #3 by Kevin Huizenga in the Best Single Issue category. Lame.

  • Overall, the big winners were Asterios Polyp, with three total Eisner wins, Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s A Drifting Life with two well deserved wins, and Scott Pilgrim (surprisingly) only taking one. The big loser of the night seemed to be Robert Crumb and The Illustrated Book of Genesis, which was shut out in the three categories it was nominated. Again, this seems kind of strange and I’ll keep harping on process. Not only is it a slap in the face to not get Crumb a win, but it’s further evidence that the love can’t be spread around due to a systemic flaw. If the judges had foreknowledge that Asterios Polyp would win in two other categories, they could grant a single win for Crumb in say, Best Graphic Album – New. But since they’re voting blind and independent, there are these odd double and triple dips, which seem excessive, while other deserving work gets repeatedly shut out. It creates a needless imbalance.

  • The end trifecta of Best New Series, Best Limited Series, and Best Continuing Series saw wins for Chew, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Walking Dead respectively. Those books are all… ok. They’re not bad, but I don’t think they’re particularly great either. Chew is original, but one-note, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has great Skottie Young art, but let’s call it what it is – an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz after all, and The Walking Dead is a zombie book that’s been going a really long time. I enjoy it when I get the trades at a discount, probably the best book in a genre that is tired and played out, for whatever that’s worth. But none of this stuff has any pizzazz! It’s bland! Where’s the innovation!? Even looking around at the other nominees, nothing lights me up. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Awful art! Another adaptation! Blackest Night? Really? Geoff Johns and the endless Green Lantern crossover? It certainly sells a lot. Does that mean it deserves an Eisner? Why don’t we just have a Most Popular or Best Selling/Best Revenue Generation category? Fables? Yeah, I do like when literary canon gets blended with fiction. I liked it the first time, when it was called Sandman. I liked it the second time, when it was called League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. You see what I’m saying? I’m not particularly excited about comics, judging solely from the Eisners.

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.


7.21.10 Reviews

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.

DV8: Gods & Monsters #4 (DC/Wildstorm): This issue focuses on Threshold as the programmed masochistic killer turned God. My favorite bits of these issues are still the interviews with Gem aboard the Carrier; there are subtle differences between what we see, what she remembers, and how her captors perceive those events. As Threshold decends into a fear/respect paradigm with his newfound militaristic warrior class tribe, Brian Wood hones in on the opposing ideas of programming and free will, destiny and personal choice, nurture and nature. It's a deep examination of the subcultures that literally form around powered beings and suggests that sometimes definitions are not inherent, but reliant on context for meaning. Rebekah Issacs continues a refreshing penciling approach that appears light with movement, but heavy on emotional content. Grade A.

Avengers #3 (Marvel): Bendis and Romita begin with an odd framing sequence and continue to pile on additional villians, mindless action, and questionable pseudo-science, even for a Marvel comic. It seems an endless band of villains appear in every issue, this time Apocalypse and his Four Horsemen, but while it looks pretty and aims high, I'm starting to feel as if the reach is exceeding the grasp and things will quickly become unwieldy. I liked Spidey's quip "should have gone with Cage," but other than that nothing memorable is sticking with me. Romita is usually pretty flawless provided you like his style, but here there's a panel which absolutely cannot exist, with Tony's arm and leg appearing completely backwards as he falls. I suppose this is the kind of book I want to be more into than I am. I wish it was great. I wish it gave me a sustainable foothold on the Avengers cast, but sadly it's feeling a bit disposable. When I ask myself if I'd want this collected sitting some day on my shelf, the answer is no. The next question then becomes, well why am I buying it then? Grade B.

The New Avengers #2 (Marvel): I know I just said recently that I was going to give all of the new Avengers titles a three issue trial run, but after coming away from Comic Con a bit disillusioned (more on that later...) I don't know if I can make it. There's nothing "wrong" with this issue per se, provided you want straight superhero comics that are fairly competent and serviceable. My, what a ringing endorsement. Immonen's action is fine. The issue (and title by extension) seems to be pretty heavily reliant on a lighter tone, with humor and zany team dynamics blending with witty dialogue. The Doctor Strange, Eye of Agawhatsit, Brother Voodoo, Damon Hellstrom mystical mumbo jumbo is of zero interest to me. If the humor is your thing, sure, you'll probably like this. I'm just not sure it's my thing, and I'm finding I no longer have an affinity for many of these characters, barring the involvement of a creator I'm really loyal to. Grade B.


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Coming This Week: "Faster, Cheaper, Better. Pick Any Two"

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.

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7.14.10 Reviews

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+.

Invincible Iron Man #28 (Marvel): As Maria Hill attempts to coordinate a cohesive Iron Man/Avengers/S.H.I.E.L.D. response with misdirected emotional baggage, Matt Fraction’s writing takes an almost “Greg Ruckian” turn. He’s getting deeper into the technical jargon, with ops centers, capekiller armor, and Secret Service style code names in the field like “Martini.” Bambi Arbogast continues to delight as Tony stumbles into a PR disaster and gets upstaged hard. Larroca’s art continues to phase out the overt and distracting photo-referencing, but the remnant photorealistic qualities do a nice job of mirroring the real world. True, the idea of the paradigm shifting repulsor tech is little different than Joe Casey already did in Wildcats Version 2.0 and 3.0 years prior with the Spartan CEO and the HALO Corporation endless life batteries, but Marvel Comics haven’t sounded this intelligent or relevant in quite some time. The writing bristles with smart and inventive ideas like the “underground economy” and swaggers around like a hip sociopolitical drama merely masquerading as a superhero book. I’m starting to understand how Fraction has created such a sustainable model here, it’s by positioning the book as a heady drama first, with superhero action only a secondary mandate. This is mainstream Marvel at its finest. Grade A.

The Killer: Modus Vivendi #4 (Archaia): It takes a skillful hand to rev up the antics of a simple hitman on the power scale and make us believe that he could affect global geopolitics, but Luc Jacamon and Matz are doing it. This issue seems to achieve a better balance of Venezuelan and Cuban history lessons rife with a complicit CIA, and actual plot advancement for the characters. There’s a lot happening, the subtle distinctions that occur in conversation between Mariano’s idealism and The Killer’s realist worldview, a complex web of motivations, with new players and old players seemingly operating at a more sophisticated level than previously thought. The penciling and coloring mix for an effervescent style that makes explicit sex and violence go down with ease, like “two fingers and a rock” of aged Scotch. Grade A.

Daytripper #8 (DC/Vertigo): This issue of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s ethereal life-affirming opus is a little different than all previous issues to date. Mysteriously absent is the title and credit page which identifies the age that this potential story thread takes place, though we later learn it’s Bras at age 47. Bras, born in a blackout, is also largely absent from this story. It’s a different approach the creators use, which effectively establishes a familial pattern for him to be absent from, highlighting the vacuum that his absence creates. At times, I think Daytripper brushes dangerously close to being so sweet and endearing that it’s saccharine, with over-the-top lines about the couple being “mirrors of happiness” as just one example. If the writing flirts with negative excess, the art responds positively so. The coloring is always amazing, but this time out I noticed the small details in the penciling. The rumpled look of a piece of clothing or a stray pillow, an open cereal box on the counter, or the open collar of Ana’s shirt, they all possess a lived-in look that makes the tale of possible realities and infinite alternate timelines that much more believable. Grade A-.

DMZ #55 (DC/Vertigo): The care and attention that Brian Wood infects his scripts with is evident down to single, small word choices. Notice how the line reads “God bless ‘a’ United States of America,” not “the” United States of America. It’s a subtle distinction. It’s a desire, not a reality. Andrea Mutti helps Wood craft a tale about what appears to be a contract operative, some sort of non-official cover agent engineering desired outcomes in the DMZ. It’s an interesting issue because more than usual, it’s not so much about what’s happening to the characters on the page as it is the message its sending to the audience. Collectively, we’ve lost our identity as a nation, it’s simply become a land of self-entitlement uber alles. The most chilling realization isn’t shown in the comic, it’s the message to readers that this is what could happen if we don’t change our ways. Mutti handles the gray/red flashbacks very well, with a grit and shadow that is yet another good artistic match for depicting this war torn cityscape. This new breed of war strips away identity and meaning, Civil War, by definition, is a matter of fighting ourselves. The loss of identity is unstoppable, war is dehumanizing, and Wood is depicting one of the greatest cases against it in the 21st Century. As Denzel noted in Crimson Tide, in the modern world, “the true enemy is war itself.” Grade A-.

I also picked up;

Absolute Planetary HC: Book 02 (DC/Wildstorm): I flipped through this sucker leisurely while my daughter watched Toy Story 2 last night on DVR and I just kept smiling, shaking my head, and muttering “God, this is so fucking good. Mumble mumble. Nobody will ever top this. Mumble mumble. Why can’t more books be this special? Mumble mumble. Look at Warren Ellis go here. Mumble mumble. Look at the way John Cassaday did that.” Eventually my daughter asked in her 3 year old brogue, “Daddy, what you said?” I didn’t tell her this, but I’ll tell you. Planetary is probably my favorite comic. Maybe ever. Honestly. The perfect collaboration now collected in the most beautiful format. It’s everything comics should be. It respectfully mines the past while embracing a limitless future. It is a pivotal and transcendent work. Certainly the best work that Ellis or Cassaday have ever produced. I’ll paraphrase a part of Alan Moore’s introduction and say that at once, it is concerned with all that comics were and all that they could be. It pulls at your heart, it stretches your mind. It's impossibly beautiful. It's mirror images through time. It's about the past and the future, regret and hope, decayed desire and daring to dream. I love it. I could give it an A+, but this book renders my grading scale meaningless. It is light years ahead of other works that have deservedly achieved the A+ grade. It’s the 15 on the scale of 1-10. If you haven’t read Planetary and somehow you’re reading this blog, if somehow you like comics as a medium, do yourself a favor and buy Planetary. The singles are getting difficult to find, the Absolute Editions are $75, but the softcover and hardcover trades are easy to locate, are a good value, and there’s only 4 of them. You owe it to yourself as a fan to have this one under your belt.

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Coming This Week: "The Western Summit Is Called The Masai Ngaje Ngai, The House Of God"

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.

Ordinarily, I’d also be buying the new Matt Kindt project, Revolver HC (DC/Vertigo). However, I’m going to take the gamble that Kindt will be at the Top Shelf booth at SDCC next week (as he usually is) and that everyone will be mature and understanding enough to let him sell copies of this book, even though it’s published by DC and not Top Shelf. I’d rather get it from him personally, hand the creator the money, and probably get a nifty sketch along with it, than blindly hand my money to Sea Donkey. Also of interest is the Uncanny X-Men: Heroic Age #1 (Marvel), simply because it’s Fraction writing, with Whilce Portacio, Jamie McKelvie, and Steven Sanders penciling three different stories. I’m very interested in the latter two of those three. Similarly, X-Force: Sex & Violence #1 (Marvel) could be a guilty pleasure, focusing on Domino and written by the surprisingly great duo of Craig Kyle and Chris Yost, certainly two of the unsung X-writers currently at it. Lastly, Sweets #1 (Image) piqued my curiosity, with a newcomer on writing/art, but a beautiful cover and contents concerning a New Orleans murder mystery.

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7.08.10 Reviews (Part 2)

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+.

Scarlet #1 (Marvel/Icon): Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev get together for a creator owned journey that probably defies most expectations. For Bendis, this is a return to his roots, which were always more interesting than his work-for-hire projects. Fans of early Jinx and Goldfish tales, even Alias, will be right at home here. While it would be easy to get lovingly distracted by the hard breaking of the 4th wall, Bendis essentially asks you to consider “What if a female Punisher directly recruited you into a larger movement?” We see the protagonist slip further down the rabbit hole, quickly indoctrinated into the visceral reality of her own moral code and vigilantism. What separates her from most people is that instead of merely considering what makes something broken, she takes action to correct it, at least the correct action in her mind. Maleev captures the gritty emotion, using a muted color palette except for the scarlet hair of the main character. Compared to earlier Maleev work, it feels more experimental, more poured over, more thoughtful, more… David Mack-ish, for lack of a better term. It all allows him to portray a dystopian place where the “world is broken.” I wondered right off if this narrator who we rely on so much is actually trustworthy? Will she pull a Keyser Soze and trick us all because we’re accustomed to truthful guides? In any case, she works with a despicable honest charm, brought to life the best by the “first” sequence in the book. You’ll know it when you see it. As with a lot of Bendis books, there are typos galore. “Lets” instead of “let’s,” missing commas, missing periods, extra spaces between words, and the dreaded then/than confusion. Overall though, this is an interesting experiment and I’ll be continuing on. You should be reading this instead of Kick-Ass. Grade A.

Scalped #39 (DC/Vertigo): The intricate cluttered detail of R.M. Guera’s title page didn’t appear as bleak as usual, and I think that was attributable to (new?) colorist Giulia Brusco. There’s a lot to like here, Shunka always steals the scene for me, and the inclusion of the wise and direct Granny Poor Bear is always a treat. Everyone edges closer to their breaking point here, Carol’s pregnancy is one more torment on an already tormented mind, and Dash’s paranoid ramblings are even closer to fracturing his personality. As usual, the larger comment about life on the reservation is about the repetition of dangerous patterns and cycles and how inescapable and ingrained those are to this society. I said a long time ago that if any “hero” were to ever emerge from this book, it would be the one person who could figure out how to break that cycle of crime, violence, poverty, drub abuse, and self-loathing. Who would have ever though it might be Carol? Grade A.

Batman & Robin #13 (DC): If we can’t have Frank Quitely on this book, can we at least have Frazer Irving? There’s a Gothic edge to his art that tonally supports the history of Gotham and lineage of the Wayne Family. His Joker is full of the eerie playful glee that Romero brought to the character, and the wide eyed maniacal grin of Ledger. This Joker is disturbing because the garish white make-up pops against the stark contrast of his all black clothes from the Oberon Sexton guise. I don’t have a ton to say about this issue, other than I really enjoyed it, and every single one of the character pairings is filled with taut tension. Dick’s relationship with the Joker, Dick’s relationship to Bruce and his right to fill the role, the conversations between Dick and Commissioner Gordon “Sir,” Dick’s relationship to the Gotham City PD vis-à-vis Bruce’s, Damian and the Joker, etc. It’s smart, fun, all of the disparate Morrisonian pieces begin to coalesce, and we’re treated to a great unexpected cliffhanger. This is nearly everything I want from a book called “Batman & Robin.” Grade A.

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7.08.10 Reviews (Part 1)

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.

I’m proud of the fact that I was an early adopter of Wasteland, picking up the very first issue from Antony and Chris at SDCC a few years ago, sticking with the entire run, blogging about it, evangelizing it to my friends and readers, seeing it hit that beautiful landmark full color 25th issue, witnessing the Apocalyptic Edition HC, and supporting the endeavor with purchases of every single issue and the eventual trades. I’m sad to see Chris go, moved by Antony’s “no bullshit” genuine words at the end which respectfully explain what’s happening to all of us Wastelanders out there, but hopeful for newcomer Remington Veteto. Judging by his contributions in this issue, he is indeed a find, and I already like his style. If you put a gun to my head and I was absolutely forced to come up with even the slightest criticism of Chris, it would be that in some very early issues, some of the characters looked similar and could be difficult to tell apart. Veteto’s figures are pretty distinct, due in large part to a more variable line weight, and he seems to have an intuitive feel for these characters and this imaginative place. He seems able to capture Mitten’s rustic aesthetic, couple it with a more plump style of figure work that reminds me of Carlos Pacheco, and then top it off with an inkier core that actually calls to mind Paul Pope. I’d guess we’ll be in good hands and will trust the eye for talent of both Antony and EIC James Lucas Jones.

Wasteland is the type of book that has a unique, fresh, clear creative vision. It’s the type of book the industry needs more of. No more superheroes. No more vampires. No more convoluted continuity laden events. No more post-modern revisionist pap recycling the same old properties. More Wasteland, please. It’s not just some disposable piece of pop fiction. Oh, it can entertain like those might, but also comes with heaping doses of writing excellence, visual artistry, and a long tradition of social relevance. At a time when the United States is faced with the largest environmental disaster in history, look at the ironic parity of this cautionary tale at play in this book, touching on man’s relationship with the inhabitability of the planet. If you like your art to echo life, and vice versa, it doesn’t get much better.

I've always believed that change can ultimately be healthy. It’s how we learn and grow. Amazing things can happen when you’re standing on the precipice. Times of change can also be precarious and unpredictable. During times of change, it’s too easy to back away from a challenge due to fear of the unknown. For some, it’s a convenient excuse to walk away. It’s times like this when advocates and allies, dare I say friends, need to rally support. I, for one, want to see Wasteland run its natural course and fulfill the vision of the creators and its true potential in the marketplace. So, here it is: The 13 Minutes Money Back Guarantee™. Buy this issue of Wasteland, and if for some odd reason you don’t like anything about it, email me and I will either buy it from you or replace it with another issue of Wasteland of my choosing, your choice on which route to go.

Good luck, Chris. Welcome aboard, Remington. Forge ahead, Antony. I’ll ride with you to whatever end. Grade A+.

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Ryan Claytor Hits The Road

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.

Most people aren’t Ryan Claytor.

Mere days after tabling for nearly a week at SDCC and interacting with thousands of soon-to-be fans on the con circuit, Ryan will be bravely embarking on his most ambitious in scope in-store signing tour to date. The Elephant Eater Comics Summer 2010 In-Store Signing Tour will see him trekking to a staggering 25 North American destinations, including 15 of our United States, 5 Canadian Provinces, and even 1 gourmet cupcake store!

I first met Ryan over three years ago at an in-store signing appearance and found him to be personable, articulate, and passionate about comics. He’s a consummate professional, whose pitch quickly compelled me to dive into his work. He’s not one of those amateur mini-comics creators just running off black and white copies at Kinko’s for their friends (not that there’s anything wrong with that); he’s the real deal. He’s the creator of the And Then One Day series of autobiographical comics, knowledgeable in design and print, and has the academic pedigree to support his more analytical work like Concatenations, his Masters Thesis in Autobiography in Comics.

Ryan posts regularly at his site, my favorite being his Small Press Professionalism series and the symbiotic web of relationships that can exist between creator, printer, distributor, retailer, promotion, convention, and critic. In addition to that entrepreneurial gusto, Ryan also teaches comic art courses at both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan (Flint). In that role, he’s been responsible for mentoring a crop of up-and-coming artists, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing. Ryan is part of a select cadre of industry individuals who have pretty high credibility with me. In short, when he speaks, I listen.

In 1884, Henry James wrote an essay about art and critical feedback. In one of my favorite passages, he says: “Art lives upon discussion, upon experiment, upon curiosity, upon variety of attempt, upon the exchange of views and the comparison of standpoints… discussion, suggestion, formulation, these things are fertilizing when they are frank and sincere.”

If you find yourself in one of Ryan’s tour cities, you’d be hard pressed to find a more enjoyable experience than chatting him up in just such a discussion, and then sitting down with one of his books. Not only do they entertain, but they offer up an analysis of the medium on par with veteran industry thinkers like Scott McCloud. As an advocate for the medium, I could tell you that by attending a Ryan Claytor function, you’ll be helping preserve an American art form, but really? You’ll primarily have a lot of fun.

Ditkomania #76 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Coming This Week: "They Thought The World Was Flat Once Too"

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.

In the maybe column, we have Batman & Robin #13 (DC). I’ve felt like I was over this book for a few issues now, but Grant Morrison will be delivering the long promised Frazer Irving arc next, so perhaps this’ll make the cut and be my swan song for the title. Batman Odyssey #1 (DC) certainly looks like it has some promising potential, with the great Neal Adams on both writing and art. Scarlet #1 (Marvel/Icon) also has a pretty good shot at making it home, reuniting Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev on a creator owned title that has some surface similarities to my favorite Bendis book, Alias.

Of note this week are a couple of interesting X-Men books. First up is X-Men #1 (Marvel), which marks the “first new X-Men #1” (which I guess is “!” to some people) since Jim Lee’s ballyhooed restart in the early 90’s. There’s a small part of me that wants to see how Paco Medina will handle the art, but I’m 99% certain I’ll be skipping this because if there’s one thing the world does not need more of in pop culture, it’s bloody frickin’ vampires, with further dilution of the X-Men line as a nice side benefit. X-Women #1 (Marvel) is aptly titled and I’m sure I’ll flip through it to look at the pretty pictures from Milo Manara (oh, and written by Chris Claremont) but I don’t really need to buy T&A shots of Rogue and Psylocke frolicking in a waterfall with thongs and shimmering wet hair, sticking their asses out at me in a playfully inviting way that… wait, maybe I do… nah, just kidding. It’s really just the Penthouse Comix version of all those swimsuit issue comics that were so popular back in the 90’s. I’m pleased to see the Absolute Planetary HC Book 01 (DC/Wildstorm) receiving a new printing because even though I already own it, it means that Book 02, which will complete the series once and for all, can’t be far behind. This really is the best format for what would certainly be a contender for the best comic in the last 10 years. Lastly, I see Casanova #1 (Marvel/Icon) by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba, and Fabio Moon is getting a new life after its Image Comics $1.99 “slimline” format, this time in full color. It’s probably the best thing that Fraction has written in his professional career, even eclipsing his very impressive run on Invincible Iron Man, just for the sheer audacity and bold creative spirit at play. It’s essentially Fraction saying “fuck it, I’m never going to be asked to write comics again anyway, so I’ll just go for broke here and create the comic I want, that I’d want to read,” cramming it so full of personal desire and manic kitschy references, lending it the unbridled freedom to achieve a purity of purpose rarely seen in more mainstreamy comic book periodicals. I own the hardcovers, but if you missed it the first time around, here’s your chance to correct that oversight. I hope the scintillating “backmatter” remains intact, because that was a big draw for me, with tons of personal insight poured onto the page.

Power Out @ Poopsheet Foundation

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9-11 #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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6.30.10 Reviews

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.

Invincible Iron Man Annual #1 (Marvel): Hey, Carmine Di Giandomenico is a find! I really liked his jaggedy lines, which looked like a blend of Scott Kolins (some Avengers stuff with Joe Casey) and Mario Alberti (who recently did that underrated Spider-Man/X-Men book with Christos Gage). Filming the life of The Mandarin is the framing device for this annual, and it worked really well. The Mandarin basically attempts to construct his own Keyser Soze style myth as he Forrest Gumps his way through some significant historical events. He proves to be a master manipulator, an egocentric megalomaniac, that writes his own story to suit his needs, regardless of fact or contradiction. He will alter, embellish, and flat out lie to fabricate the vision he desires. He creates a personal pedigree for himself, with different lineage, experience, and academic background. Taken on its own, that wouldn’t be too terribly interesting, but Fraction relays the tale in dual running narratives, the reality of The Mandarin set side by side with the desired fictional story, and the juxtaposition of the two threads really achieves a high level of entertainment. If Bryan Singer’s The Usual Suspects taught us anything, it’s that untrustworthy narrators are very clever and very compelling. This book reminded me a bit of Valerie D’Orazio’s Punisher MAX: Butterfly one-shot in that it barely features the titular character, and it’s so good that we don’t even care. When Tony Stark is finally introduced, it only serves as a reminder that The Mandarin is a classic villain because he really is the anti-Tony in almost every aspect of his being. Matt Fraction achieves a nice balance as a writer, because he can bring the sheer fun and imagination that The Mandarin’s “Green Lantern Rings” possess, but also pepper the dialogue with $10 words that challenge readers. I know what Mondrian paintings are, so I caught that reference, but admittedly I had to look up “apotheosis” and “hagiographic.” It’s not often a writer will fly a vocab word past me that I’m unfamiliar with. That’s cool. At the end of it all, despite attempts to use the power of film to “kill the myth of The Mandarin,” we get a heartbreaking end, unfortunately proving that the “truth’s just the story that gets told loudest and last.” I’m not very steeped in classic Marvel continuity or Mandarin lore, but Fraction has probably created a chilling and definitive portrait of the master manipulator. Grade A.

Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #2 (Avatar Press): The simple line “We fly to change the future” has a sense of vision behind it that is instantly intriguing. Everything I doubted in the first issue seems better here. In Charlie Gravel, we have a likable POV character. He’s the proud policeman, differentiating himself from the Bow Street Runners, and capable of delivering “…a pretty piece of talk.” Polly is a nice addition to the cast, and we get more of the Captain’s journal entries, which are quickly becoming my favorite part of the book. Warren Ellis also packs this issue with fun talk and fun ideas, there’s the verbal banter about everything from the killing of chickens to the German lineage of the British Royal Family, and the Moon-Men of 1623. Raulo Caceres and the inks/colors of the book come off as very dark at times, but hey, I guess it is supposed to be Victorian England in the dead of night. I was glad to see that the ultimate motive becomes crystal clear and the narrative device all hinges on the ideological battle between open source power and control of a finite resource. Not only is the analogy to fossil fuel reliant energy an extremely timely topic out here in the real world, but there seems to be a parity of thought occurring in the zeitgeist when you look at the work Ellis’ disciple Matt Fraction is turning in over on Invincible Iron Man, with Tony Stark and his newly created Stark Resilient essentially fighting the same war of free open source energy to revolutionize the world. It’s like Captain Swing is fighting for the same future that Tony Stark wants to usher in. Grade A.

Secret Avengers #2 (Marvel): If you want to see a good crisp recap, check out this one. It’s probably one of the best I’ve seen in recent memory. It seems like an odd little thing to point out, but that should show you how perfect it really was. Anyway. This issue sure made me miss thought balloons. Go back and read that scene with Sharon Carter and notice how ludicrous it is once you realize she’s sitting in the floating HQ just talking out loud to herself for a few pages. My copy of this book seemed to have a printing error, where a few pages had a weird white strip down the first quarter of the page, with no inks or anything. Why did Moon Knight call Steve “Commander?” Does he have some title I’m not aware of? Has he officially been appointed the Commander of SHIELD? Is SHIELD even back? Pushing past those minor gripes, Ed Brubaker delivers a fast-paced adventure set largely on Mars. There’s a good dynamic with the team happening and it’s just… fun. If these are the types of big ol’ stories that Brubaker wants to tell, there really is unlimited potential here. Nothing grabs me as utterly amazing, and it probably won’t win any awards, but this is just competent and fun superhero comics. Mike Deodato seems to be finding his groove as well, with art that doesn’t appear to be as dimly lit as the first issue. This is the kind of book I’d probably hand to a younger reader to get them into comics. It’s perfectly accessible, without a lot of baggage that you have to necessarily be familiar with to understand, with fun stories and neat-o art. Grade B+.

Astonishing X-Men #34 (Marvel): At this point, I have only a faint recollection of the plot since a 6 month delay between issues has essentially sucked all of the dramatic thrust out of this arc. It still begs for comparison with the initial run too. Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s run instantly became an “it” book because of the reputation of the creators and the quality of their output on the title. It was basically an organic “event” book without being branded as one with a bunch of marketing hype. Here, despite an “A” list writer and a “B” list artist (sorry, but it’s true, while Phil Jimenez is a good solid artist, his name alone won’t sell books in the way that John Cassaday, Frank Quitely, or JH Williams III will, just to name a few examples), the end result is that Warren Ellis’ entire tenure on the title has come across as very non-essential reading. There's just nothing special about it, and you'd assume a Warren Ellis helmed X-Book would be pretty damn special. The time lag also renders some things very incongruous. For example, over in Uncanny X-Men, Beast has already quit the team, yet here we see a rift with Scott barely in its initial stages. I think originally, the Astonishing “line” was designed in the vein of the Ultimate line in that it had the flexibility to be independent of shared continuity, but that just isn’t the case anymore. Plotlines with Agent Brand, Colossus, and the Storm/Black Panther relationship have clearly been integrated, so I don’t buy the independent reasoning. Looking past all of that and trying to take in this issue in a vacuum, the results are still varied. For the most part, Jimenez’s art is really strong. In my totally unscientific estimation, he just creates a nice mold for the way an X-Men book “should” look to me. His lines are clean, bold, and emotive, really everything I’d want for my Children of The Atom. On the scripting end, we get 8 pages of Scott and Beast bitching at each other, then the rest is largely an expositional fight with Sauron. At times, the dialogue is a little too winky-winky self-aware, things like the “Dr. Crazy-Pants” speech tend to push me out as too overtly post-modern. There are some things I like about the tone. When Beast says “It impresses no one and disturbs your older friends,” that made me smile. It was in character, it rang true, and it was a good point. Unfortunately, most of the other lines are difficult to swallow, all deep with the density of Beast’s philosophizing about Scott’s personality. Some of the lines are very clunky, such as “And this ‘I’m the big dog who wants to know your name and then kill you twice’ crap?” I mean, huh? Who talks like that? Say that out loud and see if it sounds at all how anyone ever speaks. I thought the underlying ideas about weaponizing scientific research were worthy of examination, but when in the heat of battle you get a line like “Wait, so there’s a transformational trigger in its structure?”, it comes off not like the awe inspiring Ellis creations we yearn for, but just like comic book characters engaging in unnaturally inserted sci-fi exposition. Grade B-.

I also picked up;

Batwoman: Elegy: Deluxe Edition HC (DC): Yeah, I own the single issues, but this premium package DOES NOT contain the sub-par back up feature, and is the entire run of the Greg Rucka and JH Williams III issues in a slightly oversized format, along with some bonus material. It’s probably one of the best mainstream books to see the light of day in the last 5 years, so it belongs in a swanky format standing proud on my shelf.