9.29.10 Review

The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror #16 (Bongo): Editor Bill Morrison makes a wise choice to lead with the strongest piece by Evan Dorkin. By combining near perfect art homage with precise word choices (like Mr. Burns use of the term “puckish”), he’s able to evoke the voice of every character in the mind of the audience. Professor Fink, Bart, Flanders, Ralph, Nelson, and all the rest hum with the familiar brand of humor. The humor works here because Dorkin pairs logic with the ludicrous, as evidenced by the line “Pfft! Why not make them use the buddy system? That way everyone dies with a friend.” This main set piece has plenty of time to develop, taking playful swipes at Family Guy, Glenn Beck, Twitter, FEMA, and a wide range of targets along the way. It gets laugh out loud funny by the end, near the Android’s Dungeon, which is littered with humor rooted in comics, from Darkseid to Brainiac 5, from Scott Free and Mjolnir references, to Comic Book Guy owning a CGC’d lock of Stan Lee’s toupee! Dorkin shows off his sci-fi muscles as well, making a well timed reference to the fabled lost city of Agartha, which I last saw referenced in Warren Ellis’ No Hero at Avatar Press. What I really enjoy about the annual Treehouse of Horror issue is that it’s the one time where no punches are pulled and anything goes, even the in-story deaths of the beloved characters. This effort was pitch perfect and an easy Grade A+. Kelley Jones turns in an interesting piece that’s inspired by classic horror, with a darkness to the art that’s juxtaposed nicely against the occasionally hilarious line like Homer saying “Ugh, too hoppy!” as he mistakes formaldehyde for a German beer. This quick piece rates a Grade B. The trading card insert is an ambitious idea. However, it requires a lot of effort on the production side and unfortunately it yields little comedic result. It’s basically the only “miss” in the book, earning a flat Grade C. I really enjoyed the art of Peter Kuper’s contribution, which possesses a looser art style and captures the raw energy of the early Tracy Ullman appearances. The bad news? It’s not that funny. The Usher bit really doesn’t go anywhere. Grade B. The book ends with a Tom Peyer story that has a similar dynamic. The art is accomplished, with a painted quality to it that evokes the early EC comics motif, but the novelty of the Motorhead appearance just isn’t as funny as it needs to be. This one comes in as high as it does primarily on the strength of the art alone, with a Grade B. Overall, the book is slightly on the pricey side with a $4.99 price tag, but comes close to being worth it. It’s still something I look forward to every year, and this time out the pieces average out to about a Grade B+.

Stitching Together @ Poopsheet Foundation

“Despite growing up in the right time frame, I was never a huge Muppets fan (though I do enjoy a good Statler and Waldorf riff - the two old guys in the balcony), but this book really compels you to find interest in the unique story and legacy of Henson.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Phuni Comix #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“This is basically a rhetorical question, but what’s the deal with mini-comics creators not crediting their own work? It’s hip to spread virally, but you know what’s not hip? Poor marketing.”

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In case you missed it;


If you’ll indulge me while I restate the obvious, it seems fairly well established that identity is the unifying theme of Brian Wood’s entire body of work. I’m a visual learner, so I thought it would be fun to try and put this into an outline format, list all of the secondary traits we’ve been able to identify, and then try to see how (or if) the evolution of the periods I’ve created line up.

1) IDENTITY = Primary Unifying Theme (Required Element)

2) SECONDARY CHARACTERISTICS = Supporting Themes or Traits (Optional Elements)
  • THE ARTISTS! I’m a writer so I naturally gravitated toward writing about the writing, but I don’t want to give the artists short shrift in an intensely visual medium. One of the most obvious characteristics that I’ve barely touched on has been Brian Wood’s consistent collaboration with a roster of amazing artists. This isn’t a story theme obviously, but it’s an intrinsic part of the holistic Brian Wood experience. For the most part, these artists are up-and-coming talents, dealing with creating an identity even for themselves, a professional one. With relatively rare exceptions like Croatian phenom Danijel Zezelj or the occasional pin-up from a veteran like Dave Gibbons, who have both been working successfully for some time, Brian Wood’s artistic collaborators are not extremely well known or considered “hot”’ by whatever inane standard Wizard Magazine would judge by. Let me just list off a few to demonstrate: Becky Cloonan, Nathan Fox, Riccardo Burchielli, Ryan Kelly, Vasilis Lolos, Brett Weldele, Davide Gianfelice, Kristian Donaldson, Steve Rolston, and Rebekah Isaacs. Many of these artists have become recurring collaborators as well; people like Ryan Kelly and Becky Cloonan have collaborated on multiple projects over the years, positioning their artistic quality as yet another recurring trait amid the body of Brian Wood’s work.

  • WELL WRITTEN WOMEN. I hesitate to use the standard verbiage “strong female lead,” which is deceptively limiting to what’s actually occurring. Simply put, not all of the females are classically “strong,” and not all of them are necessarily the leads in the stories they reside in, but they are all written extremely well regardless of their adjectives. It’s also important to note that this isn’t a mutually exclusive category. All of his characters are well written, but not all of his characters are women. As one counterpoint, Matthew Roth is written incredibly persuasively, running the gamut from pathos to logos, if you want to invoke classic Greek communication modes. My point here is that whether it’s Jennifer Havel, Special, Pella Suzuki, Megan McKeenan, Riley Wilder, or Gem Antonelli, what you can be assured of is that when a woman does appear as a character in a Brian Wood joint, she will be extremely well written and avoid many of the clichés associated with “gender as identity” as seen in typical and more mainstream comic book fare.

  • NEW YORK CITY. It’s not coincidence that New York pops up in multiple Brian Wood books. When it does, there is at a minimum a feeling of insider knowledge of the city, and at the most intense, a palpable love for New York. Brian Wood isn’t just infatuated with it in a wide-eyed childlike sense, but proud of its citizens, culture, cuisine, resiliency, and the identity of a shining beacon that it represents to the rest of the world. In so many ways, New York is The United States. For many immigrants, New York was The American Dream. He’s proud to be a New Yorker. When you peel away the human character arcs and the contemporary political discourse, DMZ is a big love letter to the city, which rises to prominence as the book’s principal character. THE NEW YORK FOUR couldn’t make it any more obvious: “New York City. It awes me into silence sometimes.”

  • BILDUNGSROMAN. It might initially sound like a difficult reach, but if you liked Craig Thompson’s BLANKETS or that brand of coming-of-age story, then don’t let the jump from the quotidian indie autobio scene to the more mainstream trappings of an indie insider scare you, because you’d like quite a few Brian Wood books as well. I’d say that SUPERMARKET, LOCAL, and THE NEW YORK FOUR are probably the strongest, most palatable examples of this dynamic for potential newcomers to this writer, but there are certainly elements of youth culture maturation in all of his work. DMZ has it in Matthew Roth’s story, various arcs of NORTHLANDERS possess it, it’s all over both volumes of DEMO, and even something masquerading as a superhero book, DV8: GODS & MONSTERS, has traces of it.

  • GENRE SUBVERSION. It began almost immediately in his career; there is always the sense that Brian Wood will flex any given narrative to tell the moral and thematic story that he wants to tell, regardless of whatever characters or setting he happens to be working with. Give him Marvel’s Mutants and he will create a rich subtext of generational tension and youth identity in GENERATION X. Give him the bold hook of a US Civil War, and he’ll show you a boy grow into a man within the DMZ. Give him free reign to highlight the vibe in different cities, and he’ll show you a girl grow toward womanhood in LOCAL. Give him swords and Vikings, the mother daughter duo of Hilda and Karin, and he’ll give you the emotional depth of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in NORTHLANDERS. Give him washed up gen-actives from an expiring imprint, and he’ll give you an identity laden deconstruction of the superhero genre in DV8. His work transcends its most obvious origins and sublimates the most commonly used tropes to become something entirely different and defy predictable audience expectations.

  • MARCH OF PROGRESS. I was originally going to title this secondary trait “generational conflict,” because I think the meaning is a little more intuitive, but I also think it’s too limiting. The broad sweep of The March of Progress can create all types of cultural conflict and social tension, the generational variety being just one example. Brian Wood has alternately used “the old” vs. “the new” sequential progression as a loose mechanism to create tension between technologies, religions, generations, families, societies, and all manner of paradigm clashes that impact the lives of his protagonists directly. Due to the flexibility of its cast and structure, NORTHLANDERS is probably the best example of condensing many of these conflicts into just one book. There is frequently discussion of “the old ways” (in some cases that exact phrasing) clashing with whatever the influx of current social trends is.

This probably isn’t an exact match up, but I thought I’d take a stab at it. Looking back at the periods, it seems that THE EARLY YEARS utilize the identity theme more subtly and then marks these initial works primarily with strong high concept hooks (CHANNEL ZERO) and genre subversion (DEMO: VOLUME ONE), while laying the talent of an up-and-coming artist on top of it.

In THE MODERN PERIOD, we witness an increased reliance on that thematic thread of identity as a primary through line, there is still occasional reliance on the strong hook (DMZ) and genre subversion (NORTHLANDERS), and the plentiful supply of young fresh artistic talent remains. Wood then heaps on the secondary traits of the bildungsroman (LOCAL, NEW YORK FOUR, SUPERMARKET), the passion for New York City, the strong presence of well-written women, and clashing values vis-à-vis The March of Progress with an intensity not seen before. He also shifts to a very character focused model, favoring that narrative tool in the toolbox more than just the “shock and awe” of the plot-driven strong hook.

Closing things out (for now) with THE POST-MODERN PERIOD, we see Brian Wood using the primary theme of identity, and continuing to choose from his ala carte menu of reliable and multi-faceted secondary tools. He then takes this heady blend of professional hallmarks and begins to explore an elite pantheon inhabited by revered writers like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis. In short, we see an active deconstruction of the superhero paradigm, with some embedded meta-commentary on the industry’s most prolific genre.

I’ll see you in two days for the conclusion of THE BRIAN WOOD PROJECT.


Candy or Medicine: Volume Ten @ Poopsheet Foundation

"Volume Ten boasts an all-winner line-up, and it’s only $1."

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

Coming This Week: "This Is The End, Beautiful Friend"

I must be feeling a little cynical this week, because I don’t think I’m actually going to buy anything. I can’t remember the last time that happened. I’ve come close a few weeks recently, buying only one or two books, but there hasn’t been a complete shut out in quite some time. Surveying the offerings, I was met by a nauseating feeling, like being lost in a thick fog of toxicity. Over at DC, your choices range from a Wetworks book (groan), to reprints of old material, to the very lackluster Detective Comics and First Wave books. IDW is hot with licensed properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers, which I’ll be skipping because, well, I’m not 10 years old. Image has some Witchblade stuff and more of their Pilot Season dreck, which has been pretty consistently panned. At Marvel it’s the same influx of Avengers relaunch pap and some tired X-Men vs. Vampires attempted cash-in. Further down on the listings, Avatar Press continues their endless variant covers, with special editions of things like Crossed, Captain Swing, and Supergod. These are all fine books, but I’d rather have the next issue of the series, most of which are late, than yet another variant cover. Dark Horse’s Bettie Page merchandise takes up about 3/4th of the listings. The only real bright spot that I can recommend is the DE: TALES Hardcover (Dark Horse). I already own the softcover of this book, so if you missed it the first time around, this is Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon’s out of print collection of short “Stories from Urban Brazil.” Fans of the recently wrapped Daytripper should especially take note, since this is sort of an indie precursor to that type of reflective and beautifully rendered story. More info here from Dark Horse, and my quick review back in 2006 here. Enjoy!



In case you missed it;


THE EARLY YEARS lasted six years, possessed nine works, and ended with DEMO: VOLUME ONE. In the last post, I’ve just stated that THE MODERN PERIOD also lasted six years, also contained nine works, and was concluded by DEMO: VOLUME TWO. If you subscribe to this theory based on the evidence I’ve presented, then one could speculate that Brian Wood is due to now run a third period, which will end when he completes something akin to DEMO: VOLUME THREE, which will be the ninth project in the period, some time around the year 2016. From there, it’s likely that he would be evolving toward a fourth period of creative output. I realize that sounds wildly specific, but I think it’s pretty fun to make bold predictions based solely on pattern recognition. In fact, in a Robot 6 interview over at CBR in early September, Wood commented: “I mentioned DMZ in its final year. I also concluded DEMO recently, and I finished writing DV8 many months back. A lot of stuff ending and requiring a bunch of new stuff to replace it. A new “era” in my career, really….” I’m prepared to lean forward based on the divergent tone of this one most recent work, and say that after this logical demarcation point, we’re actually entering that new era. It’s called “THE POST-MODERN PERIOD,” the first foray of which is…

DV8: GODS & MONSTERS (2010, DC/WildStorm): DV8: GODS & MONSTERS is unlike any previous Brian Wood book. While it does share a couple of similarities, it also does something that he never really attempted before. Let’s first knock the similarities out of the way quickly. Most importantly, it does share the unifying theme of identity. While it’s not necessarily focused on the identity of a single POV character, all of the assembled team members struggle with defining their identity very directly. They are aware of their previous incarnations as superheroes, and seek to move past them. By juxtaposing their powers with a primitive society, Wood is able to tease out the questions they ask themselves: What are we? Are we forces for good? Are we fueled by the id and simple hedonism? Are we in control of our own destiny, or are we being manipulated by a greater force? Are we Gods? Are we monsters? The book boasts a slew of well written female characters which are alternately examined, particularly Gem Antonelli, who we see being interrogated/debriefed aboard The Carrier, her flashbacks informing the narrative structure of the story. We learn that as “Copycat,” Gem possesses four distinct personalities, some of which she’s not very fond of. There’s Soldier, Nihilist, Spy, and “Little Gemma.” We really aren't certain which of these personas we're seeing and these various facets and her murky sense of self typify the identity struggle that the entire team is contending with. She says honestly and directly of the superhero-come-God-fueled war on the planet: “I lost any sense of who Gem Antonelli was supposed to be.”

The identity crisis is so intense that it transcends the characters and begins to attack the genre. Wood is slowly and steadily suggesting that the basic notion of a super-powered being is intrinsically a flawed paradigm. For the most part, their “post-human” powers are their undoing and only further expose their very human flaws and weaknesses. Though it’s in an inverse capacity, we see that their human personalities, egos, and insecurities are actually more powerful than their overt and traditionally “positive” powers. If humans can succumb to their base motivations and fallible psyches, and if they actually possessed powers, then the world would be a very dangerous place indeed. The entire concept is not only problematic, but quite an implausible premise. That self-aware recognition of the flawed construct suggests a post-modern slant. In a single issue review I made the bold statement “this is Brian Wood’s Watchmen.” Though it’s the hyperbolic, begging-for-pull-quote-status, brand of line that critics relish the opportunity to craft… I absolutely stand by it. Aside from the name “Bad Floppies” in CHANNEL ZERO, I can really only think of one prior example of Wood extending beyond his identity focus and attempting some industry meta-commentary. In issue three of LOCAL, Wood highlights a fictitious band called Theories & Defenses. While one of the band members is conducting a phone interview with a reporter, there’s a long string of dialogue about creator obligation to fans. I found this sequence to be extremely powerful and instantly considered that it was a thinly disguised cipher for Brian Wood to discuss his rights as a creator. This type of industry commentary isn’t revisited with such intellectual vigor until DV8. This secondary trait differentiates this particular work, and by extension, quite possibly the entire emerging period.

Brian Wood isn’t the first to deconstruct the superhero paradigm of course, but he adds his name to an impressive list of creators who have done so formally. When I rattle off some favorites, I think of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ requisite WATCHMEN, Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s cult favorite FLEX MENTALLO, Joe Casey and Ashley Wood’s underrated AUTOMATIC KAFKA, B. Clay Moore and Jeremy Haun’s hardly noticed BATTLE HYMN, J. Michael Straczynski and Gary Frank’s reimaged SUPREME POWER, and more recent examples like Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp’s tour de force work at Avatar Press, like BLACK SUMMER and NO HERO. While DV8’s basic premise and subtitle do support the original theory of identity being a constant element of authorial voice threading through Brian Wood’s work, we also see this new trait formally emerge as a characteristic. It’s emblematic of the flawed superhero paradigm and subsequent commentary on the topic, its very presence subverting the genre to his will. Superheroes, Vikings, a Young Adult line, urban crime, or any other genre, are merely a sandbox; he’ll play the game he wants within it.

It makes me desperately curious to see what’s next from Brian Wood. In an August interview with Atomic Comics, Wood mentioned that there could likely be a fall announcement (possibly some time around the impending New York Comic Con, October 8-10) about a new ongoing series which would be ramping up as DMZ begins winding down. [Note: This projection was initially suggested prior to the recent DC restructuring, which may impact the announcement timeline.] I feel fairly confident that new works might continue to utilize the identity theme as the backbone for storytelling, but it will be very telling to see if any more of this post-modern commentary seeps into the work and helps to flesh out this emerging era, or whether new secondary traits might solidify that help to define the next arcs in his career. For now, this concludes this portion of our program. Stick with us for just two more posts, one quick set of observations, and then our rousing conclusion about Brian Wood’s legacy in the history of comics and his larger social message as an indie creative voice.



In case you missed it;


THE TOURIST (2006, Image Comics): Superficially, THE TOURIST is masquerading as a Greg Rucka style action/thriller/drama, full of Special Forces soldiers and contraband smuggling operations, but main character Moss endures the same type of identity choices we’ve come to expect from Brian Wood. THE TOURIST involves Moss attempting to reconcile multiple identities, essentially choosing between material monetary gain and true happiness. He balances various aspects of self, including his Special Forces past, drug smuggler temptation, faux identity as an American tourist backpacking through Europe, and eventual love interest for a woman named Julie that he meets in town.

Moss, like Cedric in FIGHT FOR TOMORROW, is an enigmatic loner character with dark secrets, but the largest struggle is the quest to define their identities. THE TOURIST is a particularly clever ruse of a title for this book, because not only is Moss an ostensible tourist in this Scottish village, but to some degree he’s a tourist in his own life. In order to finally “go home” psychologically, Moss needs to pick from his available personas and select what actually matters to him, which comments on his values, which informs his true identity.

I’ll say in a moment of ill-mannered blasphemy that THE TOURIST is probably my least favorite Brian Wood work, but it’s still an interesting diversion because it introduces another way for Wood to examine the idea of identity and begs the question if you can consciously create a new identity or if the traits are inborn. It touches on the nature vs. nurture debate, asking if we’re truly products of our surroundings or of our breeding. Perhaps with enough conscious effort we can cease being tourists in our own lives, discover, and consciously inhabit our true identities.

SUPERMARKET (2006, IDW Publishing): I really like SUPERMARKET. I remember buying the single issues and then upgrading to the trade, turning at least three other people onto it when it was coming out. Kristian Donaldson’s art has a cinematic quality to it that reminded me of the manic film RUN LOLA RUN! While Wood does lace the story with many fun ideas that are great to chew on, things like futuristic paranoia, commentary about youth culture, rampant consumerism, Japanese car culture, organized crime, and the sheer frenetic pace of the story, there’s no denying that the star of the show is the witty and entertaining Pella Suzuki.

She’s half Japanese and half Swedish, and as it turns out, rightful inheritor to the criminal empires of the local Yakuza and Swedish Porno Mobs. All she has to do is choose. She’s caught between the two, and her choice is symbolic of her overall search for identity. Which inherent qualities does she shun, which does she embrace, her navigation of this character minefield is the defiance of expectation and formulation of her own values and relationships, independent of those utilized by her parents a generation prior. So, here we are again. We see a primary theme of identity, followed by a set of secondary characteristic about an extremely well written female lead, and a sense of generational succession taking place, adding dramatic tension in the process.

Having read so many books back to back and having them fresh in my gray matter, I was struck by how similar the broad brushstrokes of SUPERMARKET and THE NEW YORK FOUR are. They both revolve around the identity of a young woman, they’re both sheltered young people who are suddenly thrust into Life In The City, their parents have kept from both of them a sort of “secret history” that has defined their upbringing, a boy emerges who seems to offer help, setbacks ensue, and they ultimately find their place in the world.

NORTHLANDERS (2007, DC/Vertigo): Advocates of the comic book medium always tell civilians “don’t confuse medium with genre.” Comic books have so much more to offer than their perceived limitation to the superhero game. For NORTHLANDERS, I usually modify that so say “don’t confuse genre with setting.” NORTHLANDERS is not just about Vikings, though it happens to be set in various time periods within the Viking Age. The settings are only backdrops that allow Wood to explore the same generational conflicts and ideological culture clashes that he’s always done. If someone dismisses NORTHLANDERS with a casual glance as some sort of “Conan knock-off,” they’re just not paying attention and probably haven’t actually read the book. Wood has used a pull quote from me that summarizes this idea, “NORTHLANDERS is poised to redefine the genre.” In an act of sublimating the identity of the very genre, he’s changing the rules of the game here from the inside, demonstrating how a good writer can operate within any genre and tell the types of stories they want to tell. The window dressing isn’t the point of the story, only a visually striking platform to launch from. If you confuse the genre with the medium, and then still think that the medium is the message, you’re going to get thrown way off and sucked down that silly “Conan knock-off” line of thought. Remember what we learned in CHANNEL ZERO… the medium is not the message, nor is the medium the same as the genre, nor is the genre mirroring the setting necessarily. So, take your Vikings and your Conan criticisms and reconsider. This isn’t about Sword & Sorcery style Fantasy with a capital “F.” This is about people’s identity and broad paradigm shift as the world radically changes around them.

NORTHLANDERS is reasonably successful from what I can tell, simply by using a lay observation with no comparative statistics. It’s survived that precarious window for Vertigo books of about issue 12 to 16, where an alarming number of critically praised series have seemed to fail. While solid books like YOUNG LIARS, MADAME XANADU, AIR, THE UNWRITTEN, and THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER have faltered, NORTHLANDERS seems to have broken through and proved in trade sales that it has a life beyond single issues. Perhaps people are catching on to the fact that this is not a simplistic piece of genre fiction. It’s not about cashing in on the CG rendered “guys with swords running at each other” slew of movies that Hollywood seemed to systemically belch out in the wake of Peter Jackson’s LORD OF THE RINGS imprint. It is a more complex, thoughtful, and intricate work.

I’ll fall on the sword here and admit that I didn’t “get it” until issue five. It was then that first arc protagonist Sven spoke to me, because it wasn’t just a mindless action book, he was struggling with his identity. His rightful inheritance, his love life, his religion, his different values, his generational rift, his place in the world he saw stretched out before him. Once I realized it was a theme I recognized, it gave me a foothold to enjoy the book. I knew how this worked. I knew I could trust Brian Wood. That’s not to say it never surprises me. The arcs jump around wildly in time, place, cast, length, and (brilliantly for late adopters) even cover design. Yet there is always that constant thread of identity acting as an anchor.

It doesn’t matter if it’s Sven, or The Shield Maidens, or two warriors who we’ve never met before facing off in “The Viking Art of Single Combat,” the theme always circles back to a search, a longing even, a universal human desire to define oneself, for a discernible identity, a sense of personal stability at a time in which people questioned their existential purpose in the world. These characters desperately need a strong sense of personal identity when all they’re being given from the external world is a sense that times are changing and the adaptability of the human spirit can only get you so far with “some fucker slipping his hunting knife in under the shields and unzipping your thigh.”

THE NEW YORK FOUR (2008, DC/MINX): THE NEW YORK FOUR was part of DC’s failed Young Adult (YA) line MINX. I read most of the first wave of MINX books and can safely say that NY4 was one of the best, if not the best. The main character, Riley Wilder, is basically a prototypical Wood creation for my stated purposes here. Her identity quest comes in the form of moving from a sheltered Brooklyn Brownstone into the city to attend college at NYU. There’s dramatic tension with her parents that touches strongly on one of Wood’s secondary story traits, generational conflict, as she tries to forge her own identity. She’s developing her own set of values, trying to escape from her parents’ and sister’s shadow, and is confronted by influences from her archetypal friends (wild attention-seeking Merissa, studious quiet Lona, and hippie skater Ren). She needs to find her own voice and in a critical scene, she fights with her parents to stick up for herself and defend her own individuality.

Reading the book a second time, it was crystal clear that NY4 is like an intensely distilled blend of Brian Wood’s primary theme and a couple of his more popular secondary traits. Perhaps the intensity came from Wood knowing his audience would be a YA demographic so the characteristics shouldn’t play subtle, but be a bit more in-your-face to ensure maximum understanding and retention. There is a well-written strong female front and center, surrounded by an eclectic cast of females. There is the inclusion of a palpable love for New York City. It’s there in the text; notice the quick tutorial on how to pronounce Houston Street (“House-tin” as opposed to “Houston,” Texas). And it’s right frickin’ there on the very trade dress of the back cover, as Riley confesses: “New York City. It awes me into silence sometimes.” These secondary traits, along with the primary identity quest Riley is on, play like a prime piece of ideological Brian Wood real estate.

As I understand it, a follow up to NY4 was planned prior to the MINX line being aborted, which may now be coming out as a mini-series or OGN from the Vertigo imprint. At the time of this writing, Wood recently made a few subtle updates to brianwood.com, which suggest the follow up will be entitled THE NEW YORK FIVE. With Wood leaving the end of the first volume fairly open-ended, it will be interesting to see if a future story about Riley sustains these themes.

DEMO: VOLUME TWO (2010, DC/Vertigo): If the original DEMO series began as the subversion of a popular genre/property, then here Brian Wood seems to subvert his own subversion. The characters and the happenings of DEMO: VOLUME TWO are less like modernized indie versions of UNCANNY X-MEN, and a little more ethereal, a little creepier, and a little more influenced by the classic horror genre. Most of the “powers” that have manifested (and notice we come into this series en media res, we don’t see any of these powers actually manifest initially as we did in DEMO: VOLUME ONE, we see them having already happened, the characters already contending with them in their daily life) are actually a curse that needs to be navigated.

All of the characters portrayed in DEMO: VOLUME TWO are found seeking a way to reconcile their strange abilities with their identity and assimilate the powers into their daily lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if the power itself is dream clairvoyance like we see in the first issue, an almost endearing clinical psychosis like Marlo has in issue three, or something more disturbing like cannibalism; the characters are struggling deeply with who they are, and how they fit into a world that their very essence makes it hard to navigate and find a sense of belonging.

Wood doesn’t offer much in the way of exposition, trusting long-time collaborator Becky Cloonan immensely, but readers can still detect an energy that’s prime Brian Wood. Over the course of just six issues, we see a couple of well written females, troubled relationships and realistic social tension, but first and foremost every main character is questioning and seeking to define the composition of their personal identity.


Walking Man Comics Presents Special #70 @ Poopsheet Foundation

“…this issue certainly has a crude charm to it and I probably won’t forget the idea of building a story around stamped images.”

Check out my latest full review over at Poopsheet Foundation.

9.22.10 Reviews

Thor #615 (Marvel): Honestly, I’ve never really cared much about Thor. The only time I can remember warming to the character was during the Kurt Busiek and George Perez run of Avengers. “Ultron… we would have words with thee” was a pretty chilling line that I remember years later, so there’s something to be said for that. I used to say that I didn’t care much about Iron Man either, but Matt Fraction sure made me change my stance, so I figured why not give this a try? I had some store credit piling up at Sea Donkey’s, it was a slow week, and Fraction’s first issue, so what the hell? The result? I can’t say that I’ll be buying the title, but I liked a couple small things about it. Having no idea what’s come before, I was able to glean that uhh, Loki is dead, Odin is in limbo, Asgard’s jacked up, and Thor has been reborn. Ferry’s art is competent, but not really to my liking. He uses some fantasy inspired expanses (aka: “widescreen” shots) that initially look impressive, but then you begin to notice the skimpy backgrounds, lack of detail, and washed out coloring from Hollingsworth. I enjoyed Thor's mixed emotions about Loki's passing, but I really have no interest in the Nine Norse Worlds warring, the plight of the Ice Elves, Volstagg, Heimdall, Green Arrow, err… Fandral, Galadreal, Lord Elrond, Legolas, Aragorn, the internal mythology and characters just go on and on here… I thought Sif was cute, and wondered about Don Blake playing Dr. Stein to Thor’s Ronnie/Firestorm. My favorite part was the self-effacing humor of lines like “your science is stupid” as Dr. Eric Solvang explained the “quantum metaverse,” but when your favorite (only) thing you like is a throwaway scene with a throwaway character that’s basically just fancy throwaway exposition… Grade B-.

Uncanny X-Men #528 (Marvel): No idea what’s going on in that cover shot. Initially, I thought Whilce Portacio’s pencils were a little better than his last outing, clean, clear, with no overt gaffes, but then I got to the section where Emma looks like a ‘roided out bodybuilder and her tits could serve as buoyant floatation devices for travelers on a downed aircraft in the San Francisco Bay. The mechanics of the scene outside the church are also a little headscratchy; the guy shoots in the air? Or is that supposed to be recoil? Wha...? It’s just not that clear. And what’s with the amoeba shaped panels? That was a deliberate artistic choice to convey… what, exactly? On the scripting side, why send Bobby all the way down to LA on a business trip to rep the X-Men and speak with a professional PR firm if he’s such a poor communicator? It’s funny I guess, but it makes absolutely no sense. Not interested in the Namor parts. I have absolutely no idea who the people at the SFMOMA set are, and calling out artists breaks the fourth wall hard and annoyingly. It’s the same old story; there are far too many unwieldy plot threads to effectively manage here. If you dedicate any time to advancing one in particular, then the others suffer and are forgotten. If you try to advance them all simultaneously (as Fraction does), then things move at a glacial pace, feeling like a bunch of disparate ideas strung together with rough jump cuts. The only thing I kinda’ still give a crap about is Kitty, so there’s a small glimmer of hope that her condition might be explained/resolved. Other than that, the preview for the Chaos War looked more intriguing than any of this mutant malaise. Grade C.



In case you missed it;


If DEMO: VOLUME ONE capped THE EARLY YEARS of Brian Wood’s comic book career, then I suppose I’ll call this next era “THE MODERN PERIOD.” Wood churns out multiple series during this time frame with a gleeful sense of productivity, pitching and launching new series as he seems to be stretching his own artistic muscles and experimenting with different genres. It’s interesting to note that THE EARLY YEARS ran from 1997 to 2003, a total of six years, and included nine works. THE MODERN PERIOD as I’m about to define it, runs from 2004 to 2010, also six years long, and oddly enough, also contains nine works. THE MODERN PERIOD, as you’ll see, is marked by character focused dramas and coming-of-age style bildungsroman stories. Perhaps this is a newfound emotional maturity that’s been aided by natural maturation and the additional life experiences of the writer at this point. Regardless of causality, it’s a clear distinction for this period of work.

THE COURIERS 02: DIRTBIKE MANIFESTO (2004, AiT/Planet Lar): DIRTBIKE MANIFESTO opens with a forced perspective shot that physically pulls you into Midtown Manhattan and Brian Wood’s New York City. In many ways, this edition of THE COURIERS is a transitional work that begins to place the theme of identity front and center, while shifting the other typical Brian Wood storytelling characteristics into their secondary roles.

Identity does play largely into DIRTBIKE MANIFESTO, but it does so in a more abstract sense. The theme isn’t centered on one character’s quest per se, but on the entire subculture that these types of street soldiers occupy in the larger saga. In this near future, the identity dilemma is that this world can actually exist, that these 22 year old messenger mercenaries and their youth culture have assumed a more violent reality. Their identity as mercenaries defines their code of ethics to some degree, as they pledge revenge for a fallen comrade. It’s important to note that this culture exists in complete disenfranchisement; it’s the functional establishment of an independent subculture of non-traditional organized crime. Not only does Brian Wood examine their identity as a slice of their generation, but he also subverts many elements.

It’s fun to see how the very idea of “hip” is subverted; Moustafa wears t-shirts with Menudo and The Dixie Chicks emblazoned on them, and drinks something that looks like Schlitz beer. If you asked a kid on the street today if any of those things were cool, they’d probably laugh at you, but these future characters are able to internalize a contemporary art process by re-appropriating found common objects, and subvert even the subtle decorative elements around them. As fashionistas will tell you, once you have mastered the rules of style, then you can selectively break them, and that creates your own personal sense of style. Simply put, Brian Wood’s characters have style.

Moustafa and Special’s quest promptly takes them upstate (though it’s still New York) and their presence functions as a lightning rod for social tension. The residents of Hicksville couldn’t wear their identity any more prominently than their town’s name suggests, and it’s not hard to see them as precursors to the Militia Movement that spawned the Free States of America (FSA) in DMZ. With their big trucks and “Osama Bin Laden: Wanted Dead” stickers adorning them, the rednecks refer to Moustafa as “swarthy city folk.” Their perception of him is that of a terrorist, though they seem to do just as much terrorizing and extortion. I couldn’t help but think of The Ground Zero Cultural Center/Pastor Terry Jones quandary here; classic “we-them” paranoia in full force, one group’s conservative civil liberties attempting to tromp all over another group’s emerging civil liberties, all in a misguided attempt to… protect civil liberties.

The book quickly transitions from a male centered story to a female focused tale. Special is the one with all of the weapons knowledge and skill, as demonstrated by the cut away rifle diagram and bullet cam, courtesy of artist Rob G. She is the more able of the duo. She is the worldly one. She takes center stage as an action star, supplanting the traditionally male dominated role. Special is the one in control at the motel confrontation and never cedes the power to Moustafa again.

With heaping doses of the subversive, cultural clashes center stage, and a strongly written female rising to prominence, THE COURIERS: DIRTBIKE MANIFESTO is ultimately Brian Wood playfully examining the identity of America’s evolving cultural and generational composition, and the resulting tension it creates.

THE COURIERS 03: THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY FUNWRECKER (2005, AiT/Planet Lar): THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY FUNWRECKER completes the transition begun by DIRTBIKE MANIFESTO, away from the focus on high concept subversive hooks and makes the character first approach the primary concern. In this tale, Brian Wood hits rewind and addresses the origins of Moustafa and Special as our beloved mercenary courier duo. For our purposes here, “origin” is just another word for “identity.” By showing us how they met and how they rose to power, the origin story functions as a series of historical events that tracks their identity quest and ultimately informs their present identity.

Before I dive in, I’ll say that Johnny Funwrecker is an endlessly entertaining character. He’s like a demented, more comical version of something that would come later, like a protoplasmic version of Wilson in DMZ. It’s lines like “I give you lots of money and yummy food, you guard and shoot for me?” that really sing, with their broken English and no nonsense pragmatism. The Fox 5 news chopper buzzing the New York skyline also feels like some odd corollary to the oppressive vibe we experience in DMZ. It all plays like a precursor to the political clashes and formation of fiefdoms that DMZ exploits more thoroughly. Reading this a careful second time, I appreciated the way that Brian Wood doesn’t insult his audience. The law enforcement and New York acronyms like “OCD” and “LES” aren’t defined for us; they must simply be parsed in context. Wood’s secret identity as a closet foodie and his affection for the diverse cuisine of NYC is still in effect as well. At times, Special seems to be most concerned with the best babaganoush in town or the precise locations of the best street vendors, not the bullets whizzing by her head.

We learn that Moustafa began life as a grungy weed hustler and Special was a young adrenaline junkie bodyguard/driver who didn’t lose her cool when the shit hit. The subversion still comes in the small details, with Moustafa’s D.A.R.E. shirt, or his Mudhoney poster, or Special’s Travis Bickle shirt, but it really hits its stride with how Special is managed as a character. Even though she “scored through the roof” on culturally biased tests, her ultimate role as a leader rejects traditional gender identity. She’s concerned with the advancement of women in traditional organized crime and turns the typical ascension process on its head. Special is quite a strong female, and it’s worth pointing out that she’s not just some femme fatale window dressing love interest, but her very presence sublimates the archetypal male dominated crime stories we’ve been conditioned to. She is the protagonist. She is considered the more “senior” of the partners. She trains Moustafa and indoctrinates him into the Courier Clans. She’s in control. She’s the one who knows hand to hand fighting tactics. She’s the weapons expert. She knows the city. This is a carefully constructed character that reverses gender roles and continues the tradition of subverting common tropes in Wood’s body of work. Her character becomes more important than the plot or the hook, the character-driven vs. plot-driven paradigm has shifted fully.

We’ll see generational tension continue to grow as an undercurrent in Brian Wood’s output, but there’s a fantastic early example found in this volume of THE COURIERS. It occurs when Moustafa and Special visit his home and encounter Moustafa’s mom. The entire interaction occurs in just a single page and it’s one of the most concise and effective displays in the entire scope of Brian Wood’s work. His mom quickly dismisses Special in a biting ethnocentric display. It drives the generational tension and a cultural rift that fuels a large portion of the narrative and Moustafa’s entire character arc.

THE BALLAD OF JOHNNY FUNWRECKER is ostensibly about the demise of the prior generation’s crime boss, as he’s supplanted by a younger, more subversive, female protagonist. At its heart, it’s the story of how this pair of unlikely partners rose to prominence and the events and life choices that forged their identities.

And at long last, Wood solves perhaps the greatest mystery in THE COURIERS; we finally learn how Special got her facial scar.

LOCAL (2005, Oni Press): LOCAL takes a few twists, unexpected turns, and enjoyable digressions along the way, but at the end of the day, this is absolutely Megan McKeenan’s story about personal identity. She travels, she gets in over her head, she makes mistakes, she engages in a wide spectrum of social relationships – from healthy to downright dangerous, she learns, she grows, and by the time we return to her years later in issue 12, she finally has a sense of who she is as a person. Megan has learned to love herself and to be thankful for all of the different decisions along the way that formed her identity.

LOCAL seemed to start with the DEMO formula, with a series of loosely affiliated one-shots that would explore people and their different locales instead of people and their powers, but began to take on a life of its own. Megan began to recur, and then she took center stage, her own strong female personality imposing its will on the author. I remember arguing in single issue reviews that Megan was following the old writing adage of “characters writing themselves” and was pushing back on Wood, defending her rights as a sovereign creation. She wasn’t content to exist in a book that was also meant to be about other characters and their cities. She wanted the story to be about her, because she needed her fictional self to be further defined. She wanted her identity revealed. Megan’s dynamic is an amazing testament to the power of story and the power of creation. This interactive existential play rivals the type of myth manipulation, literary infusion, and fourth wall flirtation that Neil Gaiman became so well known for in SANDMAN.

The most obvious secondary characteristic is that it also features a well written female lead, but identity is the belle of the ball. It’s pure Brian Wood in that when you strip away the eye-catching window dressing of the hook and abandon the fun digression (like my favorite issue featuring the band Theories & Defenses), identity is easily seen as the strongest theme. There’s even one entire issue dedicated to Nanci Bai attempting to co-opt Megan’s identity from the souvenirs of her life, and the philosophical implications of that.

At the highest level of interpretation, LOCAL is about the way that every choice in life, every decision diamond on a flowchart, every divergent Robert Frost path less travelled or road not taken, leads you to the moment you’re at now. The only way to derive value from existence is to be fully present in each of those moments, and acknowledge that the journey is what defines you. The destination spots are merely brief pauses in which to take stock of the impact of the journey on our identities.

DMZ (2005, DC/Vertigo): As it nears its final year of publication, DMZ should go down as one of the best examples of early 21st century fiction, period. When you survey the creative landscape, it’s interesting to note that precious few comics have openly addressed residing in a post-9/11 world with any real sense of gravitas. Yeah, sorry, Spider-Man and Doctor Doom weeping at the WTC site doesn’t count. The other that sticks in my mind the strongest is Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ EX MACHINA, which closed the very first issue with a shocking hook about a superhero preventing just one of the World Trade Center towers from falling. As good as EX MACHINA is (a blend of Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant THE WEST WING and an Alan Moore style deconstruction of the superhero paradigm), it is still very much rooted in fantasy. It’s got superheroic trappings running all over it and resides in an alternate reality where only one of the WTC towers fell, which immediately pushes itself out of our reality. DMZ fully acknowledges the events of 9/11 and then ventures forward into a not-too-distant future where the US overextends itself abroad, social unrest peaks, and a loose conglomeration of (mostly) “Red States” (for want of an easy identifier) attempts to secede from the Union as The Free States of America (FSA) and a Civil War ensues.

While it is perhaps the ultimate in Brian Wood high concepts for my money, he makes a smart choice to root the story in a character first approach. Functionally, this is very pragmatic since it provides the audience a relatable POV character, in an otherwise un-relatable setting, but it also allows Wood to once again adopt identity as a central theme. The story is ostensibly about The Civil War, but it is primarily the story of Matthew Roth, who is literally dropped into the DMZ of Manhattan, which separates the FSA territory from the remnants of the USA. Over the course of several years, Matty grows from being a green wannabe journalist into being a main player in the DMZ. It is the story of Matty’s quest to define himself, what he stands for as a man, and what his values are, all heightened by attempting to survive in a place where conflicting and shifting values are the norm. It should be no surprise by now that the notion of identity is a central philosophical tenet in DMZ.

In terms of secondary traits shared by other Brian Wood works, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is New York City. If you stretch the definition a bit, DMZ’s most important character is the city itself. I’ll forego a painful Batman/Gotham City analogy and simply say that DMZ is like Brian Wood’s big long love letter to the city. The city that is resilient. The city that will never die. The city who’s citizens’ spirits are indestructible. The city that will survive even when a war is being waged on its front doorstep. The city that will live on when forces threaten to destroy its rich culture and very way of life. You could probably take this a step further and say that not only does DMZ feature the theme of identity, not only does it exhibit the secondary trait of including New York, but there’s a third layer that blends the two; embedded commentary at play about Brian Wood’s own thoughts and identity as a New Yorker.

Note: Since we’re at the approximate half way point, I wanted to take a moment and remind everyone that THE BRIAN WOOD PROJECT is a 9 part series. We’ve just completed part 5, and part 6 will be posted on Friday 9/24. I’m posting on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, from Monday 9/13 until Friday 10/1. See you in two days…



With news today coming from DC Entertainment that the Wildstorm imprint will be no more around December of this year, I thought I’d just quickly rattle off some of my favorite Wildstorm titles. I was never much into the main Wildstorm “Universe” titles (if such a clear separation exists), and the multiple restarts and stillborn re-launches of the line were growing comical, but there’s no denying that Jim Lee’s little boutique publishing imprint put some critically praised and lasting works of art into the industry. My initial knee jerk reaction was “oh no, DV8?!” But that book should be wrapped up in the next couple of issues, well before the impending December drop dead date. Yet, it still makes me sad that the ability of Brian Wood to return to this property as a “series of mini-series” ala Dark Horse’s “Hellboy Model” is now all the more convoluted. DC is indicating that some of the characters might be incorporated and pop up in the main DCU, but I’m not really holding my breath on that. I don’t think you need Majestic if you have Superman, and I haven’t seen many of the Milestone characters enduring more than a gimmick issue or two. A couple of these are probably technicalities in that they were sub-imprints, pre or post DC buy out, creator owned vs. Wildstorm “Universe” properties, etc., but hey, I’m doing this on the fly. Ranked sorta’ in order of personal favorite…

PLANETARY by Warren Ellis & John Cassaday

DV8: GODS & MONSTERS by Brian Wood & Rebekah Isaacs

AUTOMATIC KAFKA by Joe Casey & Ashley Wood

DESOLATION JONES by Warren Ellis, JH Williams III, and Danijel Zezelj

EX MACHINA by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris

WILDCATS: VERSION 2.0 & VERSION 3.0 by Joe Casey, Sean Phillips, and Dustin Nguyen

ARROWSMITH by Kurt Busiek & Carlos Pacheco

Poopsheet Foundation: “Eat. Sleep. Breathe. Mini-Comics.”

The new Poopsheet Foundation is live!

Rick Bradford has been burning the midnight oil as the updated site has been transitioned from a development environment into production. Rick has put in countless hours retooling the site in order to modernize the look, feel, and functionality so that Poopsheet Foundation can sustain its vision of being the central meeting place for mini-comics and small press folks to gather, network, promote, discuss, and submit their work for review. As the Senior Reviewer, I’ve got an ever-expanding archive of 108 (at the time of this post) mini-comic and small press reviews available at Poopsheet Foundation. The most recently added at the new site include;

PHANTOM GIRL by Clark Dissmeyer
DIRTY BOYD by Meeah d/z
MECHA #1 by Brian John Mitchell & Johnny Hoang
SUPERTALK #2 by Various
SUPERTALK #1 by Various
DEPARTMENT OF ART by Dunja Jankovic
YASHA LIZARD: VOLUME TWO by Kristina Stipetic
KARMIC BOOK by Carrie Taylor

Please be sure to check out the new Poopsheet Foundation!

Coming This Week: "I Don't Know What The World May Need, But I'm Sure As Hell It Starts With Me"

Were I to complain, I guess I could say that the release dates seem to vary and there’s really no telling if Sea Donkey will get Wasteland: Apocalyptic Edition: Volume Two (Oni Press) in this week. Amazon lists October 12 as an availability date, the Oni Press web-site lists September 29, while Diamond is indicating it’ll ship this week on September 22. In any case, it’s a real treat to see Oni Press get behind these great series with the oversized hardcover treatment. They did it with Brian Wood’s Local and the first volume of this book was a total surprise. I have fond memories of picking up my signed copy at last year’s San Diego Con directly from Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten. I’m happy to see the follow up come out quite promptly. This edition includes issues 14 to 25, the “Walking the Dust” prose stories from Ankya Ofsteen, new art pieces, and a color cover gallery from Ben Templesmith. Issue 25, in particular, was really a landmark achievement from Mitten, with some breathtaking colors. It’s a little bittersweet considering it was one of Mitten’s last great hurrahs on the title before exiting stage left. Johnston recently let slip that he’s got an end point plotted out around issue 60, so we should still be in for a few years of this genre shattering work, despite some artist rotation. That’s my long preamble to say that Wasteland is highly recommended and you should check it out. Buy the singles, buy the trades, buy the Apocalyptic Editions. Pick a format and dive in. It’s a thin week for me, with the only other title I’m marginally interested in being Uncanny X-Men #528 (Marvel). It really is a polar opposite experience from what I get out of Invincible Iron Man. Both written by Matt Fraction, both high profile Marvel U properties, but one is consistently written well, one is not, one has a stable art team which I enjoy, one does not, one focuses on a single character and a cohesive plot line, one offers all kinds of characters and a maze of unwieldy and rarely resolved plot lines. With the $3.99 price tag on top of it, Uncanny X-Men is continually losing me and is the number one contender for being dropped at the moment.




CHANNEL ZERO: JENNIE ONE (2003, AiT/Planet Lar): JENNIE ONE is a prequel to what we’ve already witnessed in the first volume of CHANNEL ZERO. It’s important to point out that when this book opens, although we recognize Jennie 2.5 as our protagonist, at this point in time she’s still simply Jennifer Havel. As Wood will do in latter volumes of THE COURIERS, he likes to tinker with a chopped up and out of sequence chronology; it’s done so here to rewind the narrative and show the origin story of a young art student who would become a revolutionary. Though Wood’s candid political reactions remain the primary conceptual underpinnings of the CHANNEL ZERO universe, we can see other familiar themes and characteristics at play.

The first volume of CHANNEL ZERO was full of speculation surrounding mayoral politics in New York too, but it’s important to differentiate the works in terms of the real world timeline they inhabit. CHANNEL ZERO was pre-9/11 and while it derided Rudy Giuliani’s right wing conservatism vis-à-vis “The Clean Act,” the conjecture it depicted was still open to some interpretation. JENNIE ONE, on the other hand, is marked by a post-9/11 presence and realigns the thrust of the ideological conflict to firmly critique George W. Bush’s anti-terrorism measures, with things like The Patriot Act, which seek to suppress civil liberties, ironically all in the name of protecting civil liberties. Simply suspecting someone of being in a terrorist cell gives the government license to do anything they want when the sentiment is backed by mass hysteria and not the law. Any sort of anti-government “chatter” can now be targeted, even if it is in the form of the provocative art that Jennifer engages in. Through no fault of her own, she’s been labeled subversive, and moves from being a promising art student to being perceived as a budding enemy of the state because the external standards of decency have changed.

As Brian Wood is showing us Jennie 2.5’s origin story as Jennifer Havel, it’s critical to our line of thought to explain that in this context a character’s “origin” is synonymous with their “identity.” It’s the changing political landscape and all that occurs in this world that informs and redefines Jennifer’s identity. As she says, “it changed the city, it changed the country,” and “it changed the world,” but most importantly it changed her. This brand of ultra-conservatism alienates casual dissenters and moderates, Jennifer and her otherwise ambivalent art crowd are forced into a more radicalized state of being, characterized as engaging in “dissident behavior,” which grows into full blown political activism. Jennifer the art student becomes Jennie 2.5, the pirate “info-terrorist” and “media slut.” The story quickly becomes one of discovering identity, the inherent human desire for personal expression, and finding a place in society, even if that place is counter to the majority opinion or governing parties. Jennifer’s old identity is stripped away, so she must now build her identity anew and find a relevant space for Jennie 2.5 to exist in.

While Wood obviously hones the microscope tightly around his female protagonist, it’s not hard for the audience to zoom back out to the larger political arena and assess some of the commentary. This yields a result which is still very much focused on identity, though not of Jennie 2.5, but of our country. Both in JENNIE ONE and out here in the real post-9/11 world, we find the United States at a precarious and turbulent time in history in the years just following 9/11. The very identity of the country is in flux with civil liberties being curtailed to some degree, perhaps most intensely typified in the wake of the Bush Doctrine, both domestically and abroad. With the mere insinuation of dissent or “we-know-it-when-we-see-it” radicalism, you can find government agents swooping down to protect civil liberties, not yours of course, everyone else’s. As tolerance fades and dissent moves slightly away from being patriotic and more toward being perceived as politically subversive, these extreme externalities often create the very thing they fear. If you suppress rights because you fear any whiff of extremism, that climate actually creates greater extremism guided simply by principle. If you’re threatening to take something away and make it illegal, then suddenly people feel like acting it out, whatever it is, just to prove a point. I’m the same way. If you tell me there is a new policy at work, then the first thing I want to do, on principle alone, is to question its merit and efficacy. I want to exercise my right to contradict the policy and find a loophole around it. Whereas if you never threatened my right to engage in that behavior, if you don’t push me to extremism, then I probably would’ve never challenged the ruling or wanted to carry out the action in question in the first place.

JENNIE ONE is also noteworthy because it marks the first full length work in collaboration with the inimitable Becky Cloonan. Judging by the introduction, it appears they were forged in fire together as “art terrorists.” Here she attempts to ape Wood’s own style from the first volume of CHANNEL ZERO to some degree, but I detect some shots that feel influenced by Paul Pope’s brushed ink style. With the clarity of hindsight, it’s also easy to think that some of the shots of Jennifer’s apartment have a line weight in the background details that is reminiscent of Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, who Cloonan would later go on to win an Eisner Award with for the anthology 5. As it stands, Cloonan becomes a strong presence in the stable of artists who help define Wood’s own identity as a creator. The duo goes on to produce multiple projects together, helping solidify the inclusion of talented artists as another secondary characteristic in Wood’s body of work.

In the end, JENNIE ONE proves to be a cautionary tale with a robust sense of political discourse that perhaps eclipses the identity thread at times, yet it’s still very present in the formation of Jennie 2.5 (nee Jennifer Havel) and her burgeoning sense of self. It’s about art as a form of communication and expressing dissent as a timeless act that is essential to a purportedly free society. It continues the tradition of strong artistic collaborators and uses New York City as a familiar and beloved backdrop, with casual references to “The Mott Street Riots,” The Bowery, The GWB, and a “Queens bound J-train.” It highlights the social tensions of a new generation birthed on September 11, 2001 – it too a date which will live in infamy. It employs a well written female character who comes of age while fleshing out her own identity by defining her role in society right before our eyes. JENNIE ONE certainly has a more immediate sense of danger being on the doorstep than I felt from the original volume of CHANNEL ZERO. Aside from supporting the identity thread, the most powerful take away for me from JENNIE ONE is that Wood opens the story with the plain text “New York City. Now.” It’s a solemn reminder that this dystopian state can exist at any time if we’re not careful.

POUNDED (2003, Oni Press): On the surface, POUNDED looks like a stereotypical Oni Press book. It’s a little offbeat, with a punk rock influence laid slickly on top of what would otherwise be a straightforward slice-of-life story. Enter Brian Wood with additional layers of meaning and an off type narrative structure.

Heavy Parker thinks he’s on top of the punk scene, operating under the illusion of control, advocating hard music, DIY ‘zine production, sex with whomever he wants, and generally flaunting it in the face of the stagnated middle and upper class sets. But, we learn quickly that Heavy’s persona is all a front; his identity is a façade. In reality, he’s not very talented; he’s actually a spoiled rich kid with a dope apartment, all signs of the very trappings that he seems to be railing against. With his self-loathing buried deep, his sexual conquests seeking to add value to his fake life, the notion of character identity is front and center.

POUNDED involves a basic life choice that grows to be a pivotal identity dilemma for the protagonist. Heavy is presented with a series of events that redefine his social composition and fragile faux identity. When Heavy’s girlfriend Missy shows up after her brief exile at college, she’s now the one who appears to be largely in control, having fleshed out a true punk identity for herself. To some extent, Heavy’s identity quest becomes one of role reversal with Missy. Heavy becomes the one pushed out of the social scene, Missy rises to dominance, and it subverts their positions as characters, along with their traditional gender roles. This process makes Missy a really strong and well-written female. She almost steals the show with how well written she is. Through Heavy’s fall from his self-aggrandized heights, his quest to redefine his identity would seem to offer some measure of redemptive transformation, but Wood avoids the obvious. He subverts this predictable trope in romance books, and has his protagonist not learn much of anything.

In the end, we can see that Wood does indeed use the primary theme of identity, along with a couple of secondary writing traits. Though we see the story set in Vancouver (because artist Steve Rolston wanted to draw his hometown), this could easily have taken place in New York where the punk scene really flourished. So, identity is still the headlining band, with genre subversion and well written females being the opening acts. On top of it, it’s almost as if POUNDED was an effort to exorcise these youthful punk traits from the creator and the project had acted as a cathartic cipher for his own creative identity to evolve. In a 2005 chat with Brian Cronin at CBR, Wood commented that he had no real desire to revisit POUNDED and had moved on: “My old stuff was all ‘zine-style punk rock stuff, almost exclusively... but now I have a lot of different methods in my toolbox.”

FIGHT FOR TOMORROW (2003, DC/Vertigo): FIGHT FOR TOMORROW’s lead character, Cedric, says that growing up in the fight camps under the brutal supervision of his captors “taught me how to be a man” and “taught me how to fight.” Yet he hates them for making him who he is as a person; he hates them for imposing that identity upon him without his consent. And so, FIGHT FOR TOMORROW is immediately the story of Cedric attempting some redemption for his actions, and of trying to find his lost love Christy. In a larger context it becomes his quest to define himself, to take on an identity through choice, not by default due to his oppressive surroundings.

One secondary story trait involves the fairly strong presence of New York; there are mentions of The Bowery section of the city, a lot of influence of the local Triads, and it almost seems to be some twisted cousin to the environment that Wilson inhabits in DMZ. There’s a bit of generational tension with “Little Brother” hanging out with the wrong crowd, and Cedric tries to prevent him from assuming an identity that mirrors Cedric’s own. The underground fight rings are a subversive sub-culture themselves, and it’s also interesting to me that sometimes collaborator Nathan Fox did the cover to issue four.

In FIGHT FOR TOMORROW, identity is a commodity and was literally for sale in order to survive. Cedric sells his life story rights to escape the fight camps, seeking to replace it with something more meaningful. Part of Cedric’s identity seems to be missing without Christy, and when he finally finds her, he must learn to let go of his past persona in order to be someone new, letting her go in the process. Cedric must fight this system of oppression so that he can create a healthy new identity and a bright new future. He must FIGHT FOR TOMORROW.

VAMPIRELLA/WITCHBLADE #1: BROOKLYN BOUNCE (2003, Harris Comics): I admit that I didn’t buy this when it came out in 2003 and wasn’t even aware of its existence until I consulted a Brian Wood bibliography in preparation for this project. I’ll also admit that I expected it to be absolutely awful based solely on the reputation of the characters involved. It was surprisingly ok-ish, and it was curious to see how Wood would handle the project, since he so rarely takes on company owned characters, let alone ones with such a cheesy reputation. Purely visually, Steve Pugh’s pencils improved in the three years or so between this and his GENERATION X work. And hey, the copy I was lucky enough to find in a $1 bin (shout out to Jamie at SoCal Comics) had a swanky Mark Texeira cover.

On the narrative side, if you squint really hard you can start to make casual connections between this and the rest of Brian Wood’s body of work. The book does star two relatively well written female characters. And umm, it is called “Brooklyn Bounce,” so it’s about New York to some degree. Wood laces the dialogue with some NYC references to commuting across the bridge to Bay Ridge, for example. The link to our primary theme of identity is not extremely overt, but I think you can make the case for a light connection. This is a fairly standard team-up book, in that the headlining characters meet and initially mistake each other for the enemy, fight briefly as is the tradition, and then join forces to take on the true foe. The book is told from the POV of Sara Pezzini, aka: Witchblade, and to some degree she questions her role and who she wants to be in this adventure. Is teaming up with Vampirella the right thing to do? Does her alliance with Vampirella generally support “the good guys” or “the bad guys?” She openly wonders whether or not she should arrest Vampirella in her police officer persona, or let her go as she does, because knowing there is someone else out there like her makes her feel less alone in her Witchblade guise.

So, we arguably have a thin use of the primary identity theme, and then paper thin use of the two secondary traits of New York and well written females. I don’t personally think it’s that big of a deal if the VAMPIRELLA/WITCHBLADE: BROOKLYN BOUNCE one-shot doesn’t fit the typical Brian Wood schema strongly since it’s so divergent from the typical body of work. If something like DMZ or LOCAL dropped out of alignment, then that would be a strong counterexample. If this is a deal-breaker for you that this one little anomaly tends to stray a bit, that’s just something you’ll have to reconcile on your own. Let’s move on, shall we?

DEMO: VOLUME ONE (2003, AiT/Planet Lar & DC/Vertigo): I think the basic pitch for the original DEMO series was essentially residual energy from Wood’s brief stint at Marvel Comics writing GENERATION X. If you look closely, it’s basically him wanting to tell more realistic and reimaged X-Men stories, without the X-Men, without any superheroic trappings, and without actually uttering the word “mutant.”

DEMO: VOLUME ONE is a garage band mix-tape of isolated stories about teens manifesting weird powers and abilities, then having to contend with whatever emotional or physical fallout ensues. They’re self-contained and none have any bearing on the next, other than the common unifying theme of the identity crisis surrounding the characters portrayed. Physical manifestation of these latent adolescent abilities really acted as a tangible representation of the social anxiety and awkward malleable sense of identity that every teen experiences to some degree.

Wood is aided by recurring collaborator Becky Cloonan, her own malleable art identity at play; always in black and white, but every issue exhibits such a diverse range of experimental artistry. It’s easy to get lost in the intense stories and track Cloonan’s tonally shifting art style, so that you almost miss Wood’s deliberate subversion of the genre. He is modernizing and sublimating a humongous property, the UNCANNY X-MEN(!), one that’s been widely accepted in the mainstream world, and he’s successfully upending it right there in broad daylight in a way that nobody previous had attempted for the 40 years since its inception. I’m resisting rambling on more about DEMO: VOLUME ONE because its virtues have been extolled and its sense of experimentation and revitalization of the genre have been generally praised around the interwebs for years now. It is certainly one of the crisp highlights in a terrific career.

In some ways, this was a quiet coup d’état; in others, it was a bold proclamation to the world – a writer named Brian Wood had arrived.



In case you missed it;


I’m going to call this first period from 1997 to 2003 “THE EARLY YEARS.” All of these books are marked by a couple of defining characteristics in addition to the identity quest. For the most part, they are youthful and quite exuberant high concept hooks with a lot of subversive elements. Perhaps this marks Wood’s own age and experience as a writer at the time. There was definitely a sense of flagrant irreverence to this early period. I don’t intend it to sound pejorative. It’s that these early books operate with a certain swagger most intensely found in this initial six year period, qualities which then become more neutral and subtle in later works.

Though Wood had achieved critical success essentially from day one, I think it’s generally accepted that DEMO: VOLUME ONE really put him (and Becky Cloonan) “on the map” in the public’s mind. It was then that he garnered one of the first Eisner Award Nominations and honestly the first time I ever saw an LCS get crazy and hype DEMO in a book dump at the register (that was Dan Shahin at Hijinx Comics, by the way). 2003 was a peak productive time for Brian Wood, which included his design work for Warren Ellis’ GLOBAL FREQUENCY, but the culmination of this breaking-in period and era of name establishment clearly seems to be DEMO: VOLUME ONE, marking the end of THE EARLY YEARS. Moving forward, he began to shift slightly away from reliance on high concept hooks and include more character first human drama, so it’s a natural place to full-stop THE EARLY YEARS as an era of creativity.

CHANNEL ZERO (1997, Image Comics & AiT/Planet Lar): Man, it had been over a decade since I’d read CHANNEL ZERO! Brian Wood’s first work in comics is dripping with that swagger and youthful bravado I mentioned. It bristles with an “excited unpredictability,” to steal a line from the book itself. Steven Grant suggested in his introduction that it was an avant-garde piece and that the rest of the industry would be struggling to play catch up. It was a prescient statement that withstands the scrutiny of more than a decade passed. It’s remarkable how well it holds up, how a forward-thinking book from the late 90’s can remain timeless and so relevant in today’s world. The near-dystopian world it presents almost has the same English flair to it that earlier works like V FOR VENDETTA and WATCHMEN had as responses to the political climate across the pond at the time, courtesy of Margaret Thatcher and some radical right policies. CHANNEL ZERO is very overt in its political discourse, frequently commenting on “The Mayor” and “Rudy” (Giuliani) as it charges ahead with subversive paranoia and its daring vision. The setting is a future New York, where an Ultra Right Wing alliance has pushed “The Clean Act” through Congress, which functionally ends Freedom of Speech and sees the rise of content controlled media, with no separation of Church & State. Jennie 2.5 and her pirate TV blurbs are labeled “info-terrorism.” Imagine a future so Orwellian in nature that something like self-published ‘zine production is illegal. The clever paradox is that CHANNEL ZERO, the book itself, could not exist in the fictional world of CHANNEL ZERO.

The strongest thematic element is that sense of the subversive. Wood laces his work with a type of underground street level subliminal messaging that runs rampant for the duration of the book. On nearly every page, one finds messages like “the media is poison” scrawled around the backgrounds. It immediately called to mind the street artist character Decade Later that we see in select issues of DMZ. The iconic imagery and general aesthetic in CHANNEL ZERO play like a brilliant blend of Brian Wood’s own graphic design background and sensibility, coupled with the vibe of contemporary artists like Shepard Fairey, Jenny Holzer, or particularly the infamous Banksy.

The identity thread is subdued compared to latter Brian Wood books, favoring focus on the politicized message of the danger of apathy, yet it is still present. Jennie questions her own motives and, in turn, her identity. She considers whether or not her intentions of un-brainwashing society are completely noble, or if she’s simply fueled by her own ego, fame, and ratings. I particularly liked the interview with “Bad Floppies” (a great meta-commentary name) toward the end of the book, in which we see Jennie struggling with her fame to some degree, almost like an advanced callout to the band interview in issue three of LOCAL. Included is an isolated chapter of the book that spotlights a “cleaner” roaming the city, why the person took on this particular occupation, and what it means in terms of their identity. From a more macro perspective, I’d argue that the entire book questions the identity of the United States and the inherent danger of becoming a crusading theocracy, which puts this brand of identity quest into a position of primary focus.

With a solid foothold on the identity theme, amid a backdrop of subversive ideology, there were quite a few other odd enjoyable bits that I noticed about CHANNEL ZERO this time around. It’s a bit anomalous in that Brian Wood writes and illustrates the project. At times, some of the acute similarities with the entire body of work gave me a sense of déjà vu. For example, Jennie talks about initially wanting to be a freelance journalist, and it’s impossible not to view her as some odd precursor, a piece of recombinant fiction, that is part Matthew Roth and part Zee from DMZ. As we’ll come to expect from Wood’s output, New York City plays a large part, and there is frequently talk of still loving the city, its food and its culture, in spite of what the greater United States has become in this future. I completely forgot that we see street contacts Moustafa and Special in this book, who are the main characters of later work in THE COURIERS. There’s even a guy named Heavy, hailing from Vancouver, who bears a resemblance to the main character in POUNDED, Heavy Parker, which takes place in… you guessed it, Vancouver. It’s like you can actually see Wood’s brain percolating these other story concepts along strange little detours in the “Woodverse.”

There isn’t genre subversion in the same manner we see it in later works. It’s bolder. It’s practically full-fledged medium subversion. The medium is not the message. It’s merely a content delivery mechanism, and Wood has something to say. He seems to be co-opting comics as a platform, in order to rail against any corporate or government controlled media sources, Right Wing Holy Wars, and using his own brand of angry “subvertisement” as a positive force for change in the world.

As will recur in the Brian Wood library, there is a humongous sense of generational tension at play in CHANNEL ZERO. Wood even tries to invent his own generation called “Generation Tech,” a moniker for the youth culture with a technology fetish, kids who are socially conditioned to “trust their techno-lust.” Having survived the dot com bubble and burst in the epicenter of Silicon Valley while working for the largest networking company on the planet for over 10 years, hey, I chuckled pretty heartily at how savvy this late 90’s view of the tech future was. It’s very… “Warren Ellis-y,” for lack of a more sophisticated descriptor. Jennie 2.5 wishes to “inspire the next generation of revolutionaries,” and in the end decides to leave her legacy, her own identity, in the hands of the next generation. She seems to resume her pre-revolutionary identity of Jennifer Havel, and says simply that she’ll miss the dim sum; a line which rings truthful with Wood’s appreciation of all things culinary in New York.

Though there’s almost a manic shotgun blast of ideas and varying degrees of prioritization that hit you with rapid succession in CHANNEL ZERO, it is the prototypical creative mold for all that would come. We see a strong hook, identity as a theme, intense subversive elements, New York as a backdrop, well written females, and generational tension that doesn’t let up for a second.

GENERATION X #63-75 (2000, Marvel Comics): I remember buying the first few issues of GENERATION X because I thought Chris Bachalo’s art was interesting. I’d long given up the series by the time Wood was invited to co-write with Warren Ellis and eventually closed it out due to editorial mandate. It’s fascinating to look back at now. Even then, the book was purported to be a response to the “cynicism and complexity of its namesake demographic.” It’s almost as if fate drew Brian Wood to this property, knowing that his natural prowess as a writer was to utilize identity and generational rift as storytelling tools. Though this run is marred by some stereotypical looking “90’s Image house style” art (even from Steve Pugh), the shards of a Brian Wood creative aesthetic can still be discovered underneath the layers of sub-par pencils and really awful coloring (dig the shots of Sean “Banshee” Cassidy in a purple skin tight sweater with piss yellow pants).

The first Brian Wood trait you notice in this work is a generational conflict and it comes in the form of a character named Warden Coffin of The House of Correction. His very existence is an adversarial establishmentarian; a dogmatic persona who aggressively attacks the Gen X squad to “educate them properly” since “America is afraid of its children.” At one point, Coffin states that his supposed crimes against humanity are dependent on a generational point of view.

It’s interesting to tease out which bits of the plot are Warren Ellis influences and which bits of the dialogue are indications of Brian Wood’s involvement. There are plenty of futurist and tech-centric “Ellis-isms;” we see trademark internet banter, hacking attempts, and devices like the modified Enfield Enforcer (it’s a gun). However, Wood’s presence is felt even this early in the relatively well written banter between females like Emma Frost, Paige Guthrie, and Monet St. Croix.

In a larger narrative sense, these arcs have the GENERATION X’ers asking themselves “who are we?” and “what do we represent?” Their search is one of identity, in which they capitulate that they don’t want to be X-Men, don’t want to be on X-Force (which was once hip), and so their plan at this particular point in the Marvel U is to simply help disenfranchised kids their own age. They’re not even interested in the standard mutant paradigm of surviving “in a world that hates and fears us” as previous generations of X-Men have always adhered to. In fact, they openly mock that line, so they too are having their genre subverted courtesy of Brian Wood. There are crucial scenes that continue to ratchet up the generational tension as the team defends their generation’s right to like whatever music, video games, or internet haunts they want. They continually push back on society’s youth paranoia in the wake of Columbine. Jubilee defiantly tells Sean Cassidy simply “you’re wrong” about various social issues. Jono “Chamber” Starsmore accuses Cassidy of “old thinking” and “old attitudes.”

In the final appraisal, despite some honestly awful artwork (the nice Art Adams covers notwithstanding), and even with an early company owned property, Wood has proven that his voice is recognizable and distinct, that he can write strong females, subvert genres, highlight generational conflict, and send his characters off on an identity quest.

COUSCOUS EXPRESS (2001, AiT/Planet Lar): COUSCOUS EXPRESS is firmly entrenched in THE COURIERS universe, but shifts focus slightly to a well-written female named Olive Yassin. She’s Moustafa’s girlfriend; though we already met him in CHANNEL ZERO, he doesn’t get fully fleshed out until the subsequent three volumes of THE COURIERS. Olive’s presence in Brian Wood’s New York is like a window to the culture, infused with young kids hooked on food and scooters, who don’t seem to be phased by crime. Olive knows fully what Moustafa does for a living and accepts him lovingly and completely.

Olive’s parents own an award-winning restaurant and are being extorted by the Turkish Mafia. While Moustafa initially intervenes to protect his girlfriend and her family, it’s Olive and Moustafa’s female partner Special who really become the stars of the show. In the rousing conclusion, it’s Olive who confronts her family’s tormentor and Special who delivers the kill shot. The girls run this town. Brian Wood also continues his dalliance with New York City, placing Olive’s birth in Queens, having her grow up in Long Island City with Moustafa, and frequently mentioning local geographic detail like Mott Street in the heart of Little Italy.

Despite the wealth of secondary writing traits that Wood weaves together in this heartening tale of hummus, Olive’s identity and the arc of her character comprise the core theme. Olive seems to be consciously fighting the FOB immigrant stereotype of being a “pathetic submissive mannered housewife.” She’s an outcast for not holding up this stereotypical path and the derision creates much of the generational tension that fuels her personality. While outsiders see her as “the poor immigrant girl” helping out in her parent’s restaurant, she’s caught between that and her parents’ generation seeing her as lazy, spoiled, and selfish, which is something even her close friends acknowledge. Her outlook is that of a child and the events of COUSCOUS EXPRESS force her to grow up a little, so that we witness her identity mature and change, her petulant sense of entitlement softening. From the great acts that Special and Moustafa are willing to carry out and endure to protect what they consider their extended family, Olive learns to appreciate her actual blood relatives. She learns that her background is not something to be ashamed of, but something that she can value as a part of her identity.

Wood uses a type of MacGuffin here that he’ll repeat in future adventures, in that it’s a cultural “artifact” to some degree that propels the plot forward. The tension exerted by the Turks is over stolen recipes(!); in this world, the insular community and cultural integrity of the generation’s identity must be preserved at all costs.

THE COURIERS (2003, AiT/Planet Lar): THE COURIERS runs the subversive gamut hard, but the notion of identity can still be detected. Those two characteristics are joined by a strong affinity for New York City and an exceptionally well written female in the mercenary courier named Special.

Brian Wood sends an early message that he’s not playing around. Within the first couple of pages we see Special and her partner Moustafa execute a Russian mobster in the middle of the street in broad daylight with a very cinematic flair, thanks to artist Rob G. In this intense blend of fast crime, hard environment, and rich food, her prowess as a crime figure is immediately noticeable as she subverts the traditionally male dominated role. Special is the leader. She decides which jobs to take. She’s the one who can crack the modified ASL. She issues stern directives to Moustafa. She is absolutely the “alpha dog” in the pack. Not only does Wood subvert the gender roles we’d typically see in a story like this, but he even subverts the crime elements a step further. Special isn’t interested in the standard female crime role, and at times she doesn’t even seem to be that interested in the crime itself, the profit, or any notoriety (like the offer of a Maxim Magazine spread), but is more concerned with her next meal of congee and steamed taro buns.

As will become almost de rigueur for Brian Wood, New York City plays a large role in the story. It’s interesting to note that two of the only double page spreads in the book are a large wide shot of the city, and then an impressive spread of Chinese food. Wood is letting us know that in his universe, the city and its cuisine are of utmost importance to the culture. We see a litany of New York landmarks too, from JFK Airport, to Gramercy Park, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

In terms of the primary theme, since this is an early work, Wood hasn’t quite yet transitioned to a protagonist focused identity quest, but the identity of the world is still a primary concern. As the first in what would become a trilogy of THE COURIERS adventures, there’s significant time spent fleshing out the identity of this world and the culture of the generation inhabiting it. The youth culture of this new generation has abandoned the social mores of the prior generation and freely accepts criminal enterprise as a viable way of life, while blending in their fascination with food, tech, and pop culture. It’s a robust mélange that delivers throwaway lines about “Turkish Mafia Scooter Enthusiasts” and references to everything from Star Wars (“I have a bad feeling about this”) to LOTR (“Mr. Underhill”), to a moto that is dressed with the same stickers as Kaneda’s ride in AKIRA. In this reality, a typical job for the couriers is literally riding shotgun and “escorting a limo through the Friday night riots.” And of course, of equal concern is when the next order of couscous will be delivered to Hot Sauce(!). Wood and Rob G have fun littering their scenes with Easter eggs as this universe is established. Wood collaborator Becky Cloonan makes a cameo, as do James Sime (proprietor of Isotope Comics in San Francisco) and AiT/Planet Lar Publisher Larry Young, with Isotope t-shirts amok in many of the crowd shots. We see Jennie 2.5 from the CHANNEL ZERO books make a nice cameo, and it’s clear that women do indeed run this town. Special runs the clans, Jennie 2.5 disrupts the media, and even the MacGuffin that this story revolves around is a young woman.

It would be relatively easy to get lost in the widescreen action sequences, in the conflicts with an ex-Red Army General and the local Triads, but preservation of the identity of Special and Moustafa’s culture is the core principle. Moustafa has a rousing speech where he prompts their crew to defend their neighborhood from outsiders. Ultimately, it’s interesting to note that this criminal conflict is not over drugs or money or slain colleagues, but over another cultural artifact. In this fragile future, the preservation of a society’s cultural identity trumps all.