7.27.11 Reviews

Uncanny X-Force #12 (Marvel): Inconsistency will also ultimately kill the cat. On the art side of the equation, Mark Brooks is trying his damndest to blend the styles of Jerome Opena and Jim Lee, almost keeping up in the process. It’s always a crap shoot which artist you’re going to get on this title, and it’s a shame. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who they stick on the book, because it just keeps me yearning for Jerome Opena, and anyone else is just a bitter reminder that he should be there when he’s not. As for scripting, Remender seems to be slipping into cyclical peaks and valleys as well. The first half of this book really isn’t written that well. It’s basically an extended conversation between the Logan of “our” world and the Age of Apocalypse Jean Grey. Not only is it a sleepy read, but some of the transitions from panel to panel don’t flow very well. It’s like one character says something, and the other character’s response seems to be pointed toward an entirely different question or statement, like lines were suddenly chopped out. There’s a very thin thread about saving Warren with an Eternal Life Seed, blah blah Apocalypse, I think they mentioned Mr. Sinister too, and maybe Gateway jumping them back home, but then a Samurai Sentinel attacks and I don’t understand why if the Sentinels know the mutant resistance is holed up in Atlantis why they don’t just attack with everything they’ve got? By the end, Remender seems to get his groove back, tossing in lines like “Happy hunting, Lepew. Don’t botch it.” That’s the type of humor amid the action we’ve come to demand. As usual, Deadpool (with one of the most salient observations, surprisingly) and Fantomex (still after Psylocke as the cover reveals) seem to steal the show with every scene they're respectively in. There’s a huge exposition dump at the end, yet some interesting alternate timeline fun with M.O.D.O.K., The Black Legion, and Kirika, as Logan’s alternate future daughter. Honestly, if Rick Remender could sustain the magic he found in the first arc of the book (or even the second half of this issue) and Jerome Opena was on every issue, this thing would be getting A’s and A+’s every time out. As is, a pretty low Grade B.

X-Men: Schism #2 (Marvel): The best thing I can say about this issue of Schism is that Frank Cho’s art is really clean and classy. He seems to have lost some of the more cheesecakey qualities I typically associate with his style and laid on a slight tweak to the aesthetic that called to mind John Cassaday or Howard Chaykin in some isolated spots. And “Slim” is actually slim, pretty neat. I guess I appreciated the new Hellfire Club trying to purge their ranks of mutants and the Kitty & Rogue vs. Manmeat Almond Joy (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad), but that’s about it. The biggest problem I have with the script, which is very surprising to me considering how much I love most of Jason Aaron’s work, is that I don’t feel it’s striking the right tone. It’s too funny! There’s all these in-jokes about bands and t-shirts and coffee mugs and snot, like sight gags and stuff, and it just doesn’t have the gravitas this is supposed to have. Isn’t this supposed to be some big Earth-shattering rift between Logan and Scott that shapes the future of the X-Men for years to come? It was solicited as redefining the future status quo of the franchise. I realize it’s all probably hyperbolic marketing hype, but taken at face value, I want that story. It should be making me wince, not laugh. We’re 40% through this series already and I’m not seeing anything at all suggesting this big “schism” that will shake the foundations of the team irreparably. I’m not feeling it; I’ll give it one more issue to self-correct, and then I’m out. Another pretty low Grade B.

Secret Avengers #15 (Marvel): One of the worst guys to be in comics is the guy who has to come in and crank out a couple of filler issues prior to a big name talent taking over a run of a book. Nick Spencer sacrifices himself for that cause and commits a form of verbal seppuku here with something that is talky, preachy, and terribly overwrought with melodrama. I guess it’s supposed to function as some sort of meta-commentary with Black Widow (speaking on behalf of the corporate machine) defending the publishing strategy of repeatedly killing off characters, only to eventually revive them, vis-à-vis a group of tabloid reporters (who apparently represent, well, you and I, as the reading audience). Widow’s contention is that Marvel is just giving us what we want as readers, that somehow we need those types of stories to give us hope. They keep selling, after all, with the correlation between cheap deaths and readership spikes speaking for itself. The tabloid folks counter by saying that those types of pseudo-deaths are an affront to real people and only cheapen the existence of the living. Widow retorts by saying how hard it must be (aww, tear!) to endure the physical pain and uncertainty of death, only to be brought back, while the rest of the world has moved on. The tabloiders say yeah, but they’re still alive. When real people die, they stay dead. To me, Black Widow ultimately loses the argument, so the entire issue is a gigantic waste of time. Your mileage may vary. I could probably end the review right there, but a few more random notes… on the plus side, I did like the clever recap/credit page that’s a faux tabloid web-site screen cap. On the down side, the art is pretty wonky at times, with weird camera angles and panel shapes, along with a handgun that repeatedly flips back and forth between the left and right hand, even though Widow is clearly right handed judging from the way she grips the weapon initially. I’m ready for Warren Ellis, because this was awful to the point of being nearly insulting. Grade C-.

It’s probably not coincidence that I bought 3 Marvel books this week and I paid $12 plus tax. I walked out of the LCS thinking “hrmm, they must have all been $3.99.” That sucks. It seems like a subjective threshold, but $12 plus tax for 3 books seems outrageous to me. Remember the days when you could buy pretty much any 3 comics and you’d be under $10? That seems so much more reasonable and appropriate. I know, I know, bitch, bitch, bitch…


Small Press Round-Up (Part 2)

Rachel Rising #1 (Abstract Studio): Not sure why this pic says #3 on the cover, since that’s the cover I have on my #1, maybe a Comic-Con exclusive or something? In any case, Terry Moore really caught my attention by having Fabio Moon do the back cover, yet I was worried that this might be another zombie cash-in. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Moore uses a familiar template by opening the issue with a quote, and then we see an (undead?) woman rise from a river bed and wander the woods silently for a few pages. I wonder who’s watching her. Like Echo before it, Rachel Rising seems to avoid all semblance of exposition as Rachel is (assumably) in some form of limbo, and must now investigate her own murder, information relayed courtesy of some well played flashbacks. Rachel Rising is a basic mystery story, with strong supernatural elements laced throughout. The character of Ray is a particularly memorable second stringer. As usual, Moore’s panel to panel storytelling is really unparalleled. Here, we see him using more ink, more night shots, and a generally darker atmospheric. Despite the whole undead rising bit, I felt a little like there wasn’t much of a “hook” for the first issue. I certainly trust Moore and will check the series out, but I wonder how someone coming in cold might react to this initial installment. I’m starting to feel like Terry Moore has become the indie comics equivalent of Joss Whedon, delivering strong women who are forced to navigate unfamiliar worlds, while entertaining every demographic in the process. Grade A.

The Sorry Entertainer (Things In Panels): The Bristol-based duo of Simon Moreton and Nick Soucek join the newsprint revivalist movement, and I’ll say that I was immediately sold when I read that the contributors included Noah Van Sciver and Lauren Barnett. They are two of my favorite mini-comics creators working in the industry today. Noah’s done-in-one crime story is an effective storytelling tutorial about concise functionality. Paddy Lynch’s piece was full of inky emotion, Thom Ferrier examines our knee-jerk inclination to document everything we see in the New Media Era, and we get a big full page of Rock N’ Roll ‘Restling from David Ziggy Greene. It’s a thing of rare beauty, full of influences from people like Sammy Harkham, Brandon Graham, and Paul Pope. Chris Fairless dazzles with ink washes, and Sam Spina playfully addresses audience expectations, while Richard Worth and Jordan Cullver display a beautiful turn of the century aesthetic, which is a tad hard to read due to the scale. There’s actually a lot more, but those are my favorites. Simply put, this is the way to do an anthology. It doesn’t matter that there really isn’t a unifying theme, and it doesn’t matter that some of the creators are more popular or bigger names than some of the others. They key is that you find really good pieces, you put them in a unique format, and suddenly you’ve accomplished that rare feat, an anthology with few, if any, weak links. I hope we can look forward to future installments of this venture. Grade A.

Spontaneous #1 (Oni Press): This is a relatively new book from Joe Harris and Brett Weldele, which I’m enjoying. I think the first thing I noticed was how Weldele’s pencils have evolved over the last 10 years or so. They appear to have a less sketchy quality, with a more consistent and stylized appearance, now on par with someone like Ben Templesmith, or even Mike Huddleston. Harris clearly is capable of producing clever turns of phrase. “We are, almost by definition, fireproof” is one of those ominous lines that sets the right tone early on. From the concept of spontaneous combustion, to CCTV troubles, it all rings with an air of authenticity. For me, this book started at first to feel like what would happen if you took a single issue from Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan’s early Demo work and extended it into a whole series. It’s sort of an “X-Men done today,” but in the indie world approach. By the end though, it changes course again and gets a heaping dose of the Chloe Sullivan character from Smallville thrown in for good measure. As it becomes a more straightforward investigative affair, I realized that Emily Durshmiller is surely one of the greatest new characters I’ve seen in a long time. I’m curious to see where the larger pattern of unexplained deaths goes, and while it’s a pretty slow moving set up, once rolling I think I’ll really enjoy this book. Grade A-.

Spontaneous #2 (Oni Press): Harris increases the complexity of the scripting at the right time, moving more players onto the board, including a fun cop/daughter combo. The commonality of these seemingly unrelated cases now seems to be Grumm Industries, and nothing sets a work of fiction into contemporary times like a nefarious corporation! The acronym for Spontaneous Human Combustion, SHC, is thrown around, but I’m not sure it’s ever overtly defined within the walls of the book. That’s either a slight mis-step, or just a nice way not to insult the reader’s intelligence, I’m not sure which. I enjoyed the self-aware bits like the infusion of Star Trek’s Prime Directive of non-interference, so it appears I’m definitely in for the remainder of this series. Grade A.

The Adventures of Major Maddox: The Milk Run (Self-Published): Jason Chalker and Brian Baker give us a retro Fear Agent style of story that mines 50’s era sci-fi in the tradition of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Initially, I thought the characterization was way too over the top, but then it becomes clear that the creative team is swinging for a self-satire of the genre in a manner reminiscent of what TV’s Archer on FX does to the spy genre. Archer is one of my favorite shows. Major Maddox isn’t quite as funny, but there’s an earnest attempt to replicate that brand of humor. Each individual panel of art is beautiful, with a nice widescreen format that sells the expansive genre, but occasionally the panel layouts can be a little jerky. Fun overall. Grade B+.

Small Press Round-Up (Part 1)

In an effort to catch up from Comic-Con, I thought I’d group a few short reviews together and just start blasting them out. I think I’ve got enough material for two or three of these posts, so stay tuned.

The Homeland Directive (Top Shelf): Robert Venditti and Mike Huddleston deliver a strong package that intensifies the privacy vs. security debate in a post-9/11 world. The only real downsides to this project are that it reads very much like a movie pitch and in spots the dialogue feels overly staged and stilted. Huddleston’s artistic choices are particularly interesting. There’s an unkempt quality to the art that matches tonally very well what is transpiring. For example, when we’re introduced to the redheaded female assistant, her hair color is not quite contained within the lines of her figure. It’s like when a child colors outside the lines, and the effect is great. It isn’t quite contained, and that underscores the notion that factions of the government are equally a mess, operating outside their supposed charters. The narrative revolves around a manufactured epidemiological threat, in which currency is infected with a bacterial agent. Our CDC protagonist must find her way through a government conspiracy with the aid of agents from the FBI, Secret Service, and Bureau of Consumer Affairs (BOCA), an underutilized agency which is used to great affect in this taut thriller that hums with a sense of urgency. There’s convincing protocol around the manhunt and even some subtle nods, like Secretary Keene, which I assume is an Orwellian callout to Senator Keene of The Keene Act in Watchmen. With bold art and biting social commentary, The Homeland Directive is certainly one of my contenders for best of the year. Grade A.

And Then One Day #9 (Elephant Eater): Despite reviewing single pages online, this is the very first time I’m reading the print version in one sitting. Immediately, I understand that I very much still prefer the tangible object; I just don’t see myself as a digital comics guy. I like the feel, the smell, the contours of the paper. I need to feel the sensation that something is a literal objet d’art vs. something pixelized on a computer screen. It’s obvious that the artist’s hand is more present in a print copy, and that’s a necessary part of the experience for my particular taste. New to this is the intro page, and I’d forgotten how much I like Ryan’s intro pages. I enjoy the whimsical breakage of the fourth wall, it’s like talking to Ryan directly. Beyond me forgetting small flourishes like the awesome homage to different drawing styles like Crumb, the biggest noticeable difference was that it just reads more cohesively. The line of thought around the discussion is much more linear and direct without big time gaps between pages. I can see the point more clearly about the presentation of autobiography being skewed by whatever approach the artist chooses to take. Nothing is truly objective, you’re only getting the illusion of objectivity on a sliding scale. I still enjoy the bit about critical POV not being objective either, and the encouragement to critics to offer their critiques in the form of a comic! So, that’s my secret project idea, to write a review and then have Ryan illustrate the review. On page 14, there’s still an incorrect (for the US) British spelling of the word “arguement” with that extra “e,” where “argument” should stand. I also noticed that the book is funny! There are quite a few instances of humor when you add them all up. Once this three part saga is collected, it makes me wonder… what’s next for Ryan Claytor? Grade A.

The Escapologist (Self-Published): Simon Moreton has really been improving his craft lately, and The Escapologist is no exception. The style is full of his usual intricate fine line, with generous backgrounds and crosshatching technique on display. Where he really pours it on is the confidence with which he tells the story. There are several pages without any sort of dialogue, all capturing the disconnect between body and soul. It seems he’s fascinated by our ability to consciously experience the world around us with these different parts of our being. There’s even some suggestion that reality is merely an illusion, being a man-made construct. It’s a terribly quick read, but extremely thought-provoking, and I quite liked it. Grade A.

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1969 #2 (Top Shelf & Knockabout Comics): Man, the title just keeps getting longer and longer. I can’t say that my reaction to this book was very positive. I have no recollection of the events that took place in the first issue, which came out in, oh let’s see… May of 2009! I think $10 feels quite steep for this package. I still enjoy Orlando, and the art is great, and there was a very overt Rolling Stones reference, and something about contemporary artist Robert Irwin. But uhh, wading through this endless litany of literary references and ancient pop culture Easter Eggs is such a tiring chore. I feel like Moore is sacrificing story for flamboyant displays of his voracious reading habits. It’s just not fun. I have no idea what the objective of the characters is. Something about Haddo? And black magic? In London? I guess? There’s also lots of gratuitous tits and foreskin. To use the idiomatic parlance of the creative team, this book is “too smart by half.” Grade B-.


7.27.11 Releases

It looks like a pretty decent week of Marvel Comics. I picked up the couple stray issues of this title I was missing at Comic-Con, so I’m all set for Warren Ellis to come on board with #16. That should be a fun infusion of good writing into this title which has had it’s highs and lows. Yes, it’s Secret Avengers #15 (Marvel). I’m also looking forward to Uncanny X-Force #12 (Marvel), which seems to be one of the more consistent titles coming out at the moment. I wasn’t “wowed” by the first issue, but with Frank Cho next up on art, I can guarantee that X-Men: Schism #2 (Marvel) will at least be pretty to look at, hopefully Jason Aaron will hit the gas on the script now that the basics have been set up. I picked these next two up at Comic-Con, but you should also be aware of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969 #2 (Top Shelf) and Spontaneous #2 (Oni Press).


San Diego Comic-Con 2011: The Year Comic-Con Finally Gave Up The Ghost


Comic-Con started early Wednesday morning when I met Ryan Claytor, of Elephant Eater Comics fame, for breakfast at The Waterfront. As we sipped several rounds of cranberry and pineapple juice mocktails, I passed along some of the better mini-comics I’ve encountered so far this year and he gave me a hot-off-the-press copy of And Then One Day #9. I’m excited to read this for the first time on paper and in one sitting. Later in the day, I met up with a friend from the SF Bay Area and it was, perhaps, an early omen that I’d be enjoying time with food, drinks, and friends more than I would the actual Comic-Con. For lunch, we ended up at a hot new Mexican eatery (thanks to Food Network) called Lucha Libre. Great food. After hitting up the LCS circuit to grab the latest DMZ issue, I headed home as everyone else dove into Preview Night.

On Thursday, my first stop was Terry Moore and the Abstract Studio booth. The new Echo Hardcover is gorgeous; it’s an ultra limited San Diego Comic-Con Edition collecting the entire series of 30 issues in one shot. I chatted with Terry briefly and picked up the first issue of his new series Rachel Rising before moving on. From there, we migrated toward the Top Shelf booth, where I picked up Any Empire from Nate Powell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: 1969, and a free copy of Infinite Kung-Fu #7. We made our way to Artist Alley where I talked with Nathan Fox about his upcoming interview at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. On the way back, we wound through Avatar, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Image, and Archaia, where I picked up about 6 random issues of Mouse Guard for free. Over at Oni Press, I picked up the first two issues of Spontaneous from writer Joe Harris and let him know I’d be posting some reviews of the issues. We polished off the Small Press Pavilion, and then covered the Silver Age area where my boy Mike finally completed his 70’s Iron Fist run. I chatted with some retailer friends from the Bay Area, Terry and Phil, who used to own Heroes Comics. I played soccer with these guys back in the early 90’s and it’s a main staple of Comic-Con for me to do the annual check-in with them. I made a few key stops, but Thursday was a bit anti-climactic. We actually left prior to the Exhibit Hall closing and made our way to Filippi’s, where we demolished a large pizza and a pitcher of beer.

On Friday, I was with a different crew of people and we began scouring the discount trades. We saw plenty of good deals, up to 60% off of cover price on trades in some areas, yet I didn’t buy a single one. It was either stuff I owned or had read, and I couldn’t find any of the items I was really looking for anywhere. Similarly, we scoured many of the $1 and $2 comic bins, but at the end of the day, I only spent $10 on discount singles, picking up some stray Cliff Chiang stuff, and one issue of Secret Avengers I need as I catch up on the series in anticipation of Warren Ellis’ run. We decided to do a really thorough pass through the Small Press Pavilion and found some gems. I picked up The Adventures of 19XX from Paul Roman Martinez, which I later discovered was actually nominated for an Eisner Award in the Most Promising Newcomer category. He didn’t win, but it’s a fun retro deco series, and I think he had one of the best deals going at the convention. There were different packages at different price points, with various combinations of the two books, t-shirts, bookmarks, posters, and misc. items. We stopped and saw Rick Geary and I picked up a really cool HMS Titanic one-sheet that you cut out and fold up into a paper model of the ship sinking. I’ll put that to good use at work, the “subtlety” of the symbolism will not be lost on anyone. The last thing I picked up was a fun looking sci-fi adventure series called Major Maddox from Jason Chalker. It looks like what would happen if Fear Agent had actually come out in the 1950’s. That was it for the books I picked up.


With only two days available to me this year, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time in panels. Luckily, none of the panels seemed that interesting to me, so I basically tagged along when one or more members of the group expressed interest in attending something. On Thursday, we caught the tail end of a Flashpoint panel. It was interesting to me (and this will be a recurring theme) that when I hear creators on books like this talk at panels, the stories actually do seem interesting. I’m not sure if I’m succumbing to the marketing spiel or if something is lost in translation from concept to production, but when I actually go and read this stuff, it turns out to be awful. We arrived early at that panel only so we could catch the next one in the room, a spotlight on Grant Morrison. The Scotsman is endlessly entertaining. Between his accent, euphemisms, and general outlook at what the purpose of comics as modern mythology is, I’m always entertained by Morrison in person. Yet when I read his comics, so few of them seem to really connect with me. It’s become clear to me that I like the man and his worldview far more than I like his scripting.

On Friday, we wanted to avoid the initial rush into the Exhibit Hall, so we opted to wait in line for an early panel. It was The Black Panel, which turned into a tribute to Dwayne McDuffie. I can’t say I’m extremely familiar with Dwayne’s work. I did read Damage Control back in the day, and I remember picking up the first wave of Milestone titles, but I don’t think I read any of his material as a mature adult with any degree of criticality. Despite some horrible technical issues and a really hot mess of organization, it was a nice tribute to the man, with some genuine and heartfelt emotion coming through. Later in the day, it was Grant Morrison and JMS, along with the Superman line editor Matt Idelson and a few other writers, like, ugh, Scott Lobdell, and some other bloke. I was tempted to get in line and ask why the hell Brian Wood isn’t writing Supergirl, but I doubt they would have given me a $100 Wayne Casino black poker chip for that zinger. As with my previous DC experiences, the panelists all sounded surprisingly interesting, I laughed at Grant Morrison, and was generally entertained, but I know I will probably not pick any of these books up expect for, maybe, Grant Morrison’s first issue of Action Comics, just to see. My last panel of Comic-Con was a CBLDF number, where they discussed the recent cases they’re supporting, and even mentioned Tom Neely getting stopped at the border when issues of Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions and Ryan Standfest’s Black Eye were seized. The panel was not well attended and I remarked to my friend Jason that it seems like the most important panels are always the ones least attended. From there, we headed to Joe’s Crab Shack for our pre-Eisner Award tradition. I’m reluctant to speak about this “secret” further, but oh well, I’m sure the crowds will eventually ruin it like they’ve ruined everything else. Cry! As 129,900 people seem to head to the front of the San Diego Convention Center into the Gaslamp, about 100 always head to the back of the Convention Center to Joe’s. We’ve never waited more than 10 minutes for a table, and it’s a short walk to the Hilton Bayfront for the Eisners. Crab legs and Arnold Palmers. Yum.


Oh, excuse me. The AMD 23rd Annual Will Eisner Comics Industry Awards. Corporate sponsorship and all. Because Advanced Micro Devices, as a semiconductor manufacturer specializing in microprocessors, has SO much to do with comics. As usual, I just see the flaws inherent in the Eisner Awards. The process is not comprehensive, it allows too much overlap, and it’s completely subject to the whim, individual tastes, and/or agendas of the voting body assembled. It rewards familiarity and not quality. The only good news was that the ceremony basically ended on time, but most of the intended comedy fell flat, while a few examples of genuine emotion still managed to find their way through. As presented, I feel like I don’t really have many horses in the race and am largely indifferent to what goes on. As far as I can tell, there are about 34 categories. Of that number, I agree with about 4 (12%) of the selections, don’t care about 21 (62%) of them, and vehemently disagree with about 9 (26%) of the choices. That’s as presented though. For just about any category, I’d change the presentation and can think of about half a dozen other books/creators that I’d like to see nominated instead. In most categories I’m forced to choose from a group of books, none of which I think deserve to be there in the first place.

A few random items of notes I’ll just run down. I would have gone for Afrodisiac instead of I Thought You Would Be Funnier in the Best Humor Publication category. I think it’s cool that there are so many online outlets in the Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism category. I’m so glad that 20th Century Boys won the Best US Edition of International Material category. I think it is absolutely ridiculous that Rodolphe Topffer hasn’t already been inducted into the Hall of Fame, ridiculous that he didn’t make it in this year, and ridiculous that his name was spelled incorrectly in the printed materials. No disrespect to Harvey Pekar or Marv Wolfman and the other inductees, but c’mon. Topffer only basically invented the modern form as we know it way back in 1842. Good God, it should basically be called the “Rodolphe Topffer Hall of Fame.” If you honestly think that Ian Boothby, Joe Hill, John Layman, Jim McCann, or Nick Spencer are the Best Writer(s) working in comics today, then you don’t read many comics. Similarly, if you think that American Vampire, iZombie, Marineman, Morning Glories, or Superboy represent the Best New Series in the medium right now, then you and I have WAY different taste in books. I was very disappointed to see Darwyn Cooke win instead of Terry Moore in the Best Writer/Artist category. Probably the only 100% “correct” decision of the night for me was Daytripper winning the Best Limited Series or Story Arc category. Any time that Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba take the stage, I remember why I like comics in the first place. More like that, please. Best Continuing Series was probably the most ridiculous category aside from the Topffer debacle. I would have been happy with Echo, 20th Century Boys, or Scalped winning in this category. Really, truly, all three are deserving of the award in my opinion. Instead, we got the one-note Chew for the win. Wednesday Comics won the Best Graphic Album-Reprint category, so kudos to Mark Chiarello for that. Can we bring back SOLO now? And that was the Eisner Awards. As we walked back to the parking garage we were in at midnight, we saw people lined up for a panel the next morning. Literally chics in their PJs asleep on the sidewalk. Sorry, but short of having sex with Daenerys Targaryen or Entertainment Weekly offering me a job, there is absolutely nothing I’m interested in enough at Comic-Con to wait in line 8 hours overnight for. Nothing. Yeah. That’s a pretty nice segue…


San Diego Comic-Con now reminds me of one of those factory farmed, genetically engineered chickens, who is so bloated with artificial growth hormones that he can no longer support the girth of his own weight, and squats uncomfortably on his broken legs, wallowing in a soup of mud, fecal matter, and his own filthy foodborne illnesses. You can quote me on that. Good God, where to start?

So, at one point I actually sat down and tallied up all of the programming I could find in the programming guide. As best as I can tell by my fast, loose, and admittedly subjective sorting ability, there was something like 166 total events listed. Of that number, 101 were in no way related to comic books, and 65 were directly related to comics. That’s 61% in favor of non-comics related programming vs. just 39% being related to comics. At an event called the San Diego Comic-Con International. It’s an undeniable fact that it’s become predominantly about TV, film, video games, or peripheral “arts” like fantasy illustration or vinyl figures vs. traditional comics. No doubt those things can be fun to look at, but I, like so many who must sound like old fogies (at 37!), can’t help but question whether or not those belong at something like Comic-Con. It almost begs the question as to whether or not the event should even be called Comic-Con anymore. Why isn’t it the San Diego Pop Culture Con International, a name which surely encompasses a larger umbrella of mediums, inclusive of comics? I realize that the very name “Comic-Con” is an institutional piece of branding that probably shouldn’t be mucked with, but it sure is misleading. I mean, even the dopey emcees at the Eisner Awards were cracking the age-old joke that you couldn’t find any comics at Comic-Con, just overweight Wonder Women.

Not only can I hyperbolically not find any comics, I can find very few creators I like. Just off the top of my head, I can actually rattle off more people who DIDN’T attend this year. No Brian Wood. No Kody Chamberlain. No Antony Johnston. No Chris Mitten. No Tom Neely. No Dylan Williams, in fact no Sparkplug Comic Books booth at all. No panels I’m really interested in. So, my choices are to attend 5 repetitive panels with Dan DilDio blathering on about 52 new books I won’t be buying, or spend 5 hours in line to see the Game of Thrones cast (which I absolutely will not do as much as I love the show). It’s become a disproportionate experience, where the things I like are being pushed out by the things I don’t. Even if I felt like braving the insanity that is the infamous Hall H or the equally dreaded Ballroom 20 for something like the Game of Thrones panel, it’s gotten to the point where if you want to attend a panel that begins at, say, 11 and runs until 12, you have to attend the panel that precedes it, from 10-11, just to ensure you have a seat. Of course, you need to line up for that panel you’re not interested in at least one hour in advance, which means you’re there at 9. So, now you’re spending 3 hours, from 9 until 12, just to get a single hour’s worth of content out of it, and trust me, that method will only, at best, ensure a marginal chance of getting in or getting a decent seat. The effort required increases exponentially, while the reward it yields dwindles. This is no longer a Game of Thrones, but a Game of Diminishing Returns.

These lines are only exasperated by the retarded staff who works the events. As best as I could tell, there is the proprietary Convention Center security staff, supplemented by a contract agency’s security staff, and on top of that there seemed to be a third group, some sort of facilities management agency helping out. I’ve been a manager in the corporate security industry for about 16 years now, and I’m not impressed by the $4 per hour staff that looks like they couldn’t muster enough brain cells to pass a high school equivalency exam. Security is a joke at this place. It’s a sieve, you can penetrate their defenses unpredictably in multiple spots. It’s clear that they have no minimum standard for employment, no training, have not received any type of in-briefing or walk through, do not adhere to any set of post orders, and basically perpetuate every negative stereotype you can think of that's made the term "security guard" a pejorative. They can’t communicate, there’s an unclear chain of command, and the shit they’re spouting about sitting vs. standing being a “fire hazard” is absolute bullshit. They are marble-mouthed mumblers who possess no customer service skills whatsoever. And these cats are passively attempting to manage 100,000 fucktards who don’t appear to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, much less form a sensible line, or get the fuck out of the center aisle while they snap pictures of Voltron and the Camel Toe Variant Emma Frost. One of my typical exchanges with one of the security staff goes something like this;

ME: Hey man, how do we get to the line for blah?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: Is this the line for blah?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: Do you know where the line for blah is?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: What is this line for?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: What are you doing here?
FUDDLEBUTT: Uhh, watching the line?
ME: What line?
FUDDLEBUTT: This line.
ME: This line?
ME: Which is for what?
FUDDLEBUTT: I don’t know.
ME: Sigh

It really does go like that. I swear I’m not making it up. We encounter that level of intelligence for two days straight. In some instances the staff will completely contradict each other. There are people in the same uniform, with the same title, clearly with the same caveman intellect, giving out the exact opposite information. Person A says you have to enter at Hall 2, but Person B directs you back to Hall 1 so you’re just going around in circles trying to figure out how to get to where you want to go. There’s just too many people, it’s absolute chaos and gridlock. I’m fucking annoyed at how illogical it all is. And if one more motherfucker in sweaty costume bumps or jostles me, there’s going to be a hate crime. Toward the end of it all, I’m not longer weaving in and out of traffic, I just walk in a straight line, hunker down my shoulder, and start ramming whoever the fuck might be in the path I’m clearing. I’m losing my mind. I don’t want to overhear one more inane comment.

Don’t even get me started on tickets for 2012. Last year was the first year that tickets for the next year’s show sold out a year prior. In 2010, tickets for 2011 sold out on the last day of the convention. So, this year, it seemed like they were prepared for the same thing to happen again. In anticipation of a sellout, they moved 2012 ticket sales to an off-site location, just down the street at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Tickets were on sale between 8am and 11am. We arrived about 7:50am and were initially met by nice signage and a steady flow of people that wriggled its way through the Hyatt back behind the marina area. Let me explicitly state that we were informed by the signage, by the staff, and by the people in line that this was the line for 2012 ticket sales. At no point did we cross other lines. At no point did we change lines. At no point did we lose sight of what line we were in. We followed the line all the way outside of the Hyatt, back to the marina, and all the way through a parking garage, and then back to the Convention Center. Things seemed to be going well, until the line turned the corner in front of the Convention Center and then abruptly dissipated into three other lines, which seemed to be for volunteers, entrance into something at Hall H, and the general entrance line for the Exhibit Hall. We asked multiple staffers where the 2012 ticket line had gone and the responses were either “oh, I don’t know,” or “oh, that’s over at the Hyatt.” Yeah, we explained that we’d started at the Hyatt and ended up over here shit out of luck with a disappearing line. We asked to see a supervisor or manager and 3 idiots stood around pretending to check their phones, pull out pieces of paper to stare at them blankly, asking over and over “what are you trying to get to?” Fucking exasperating. I actually told someone to their face “you’re a fucking idiot,” then turned and marched away. The time was now a little after 9am, so we’d basically wasted over an hour in line for absolutely nothing.

We gave up and decided to go all the way back to the Hyatt to see what happened. Of course, before we even get to the lobby of the Hyatt, there is a nice woman who is calmly and definitively telling everyone that 2012 is sold out for the day and that we can return tomorrow morning at 8am to try again. It’s probably not coincidence that the only useful or precise information we got was from a Hyatt employee, not someone affiliated with security at the Convention Center. One of my party double checks with the woman face to face. Yup. We were in the right line. The theory is that maybe once they sold out, it never got communicated to the people who were that far back in the line, and the line just evaporated. So anway. Yup. Sold out. Yup. Come back tomorrow at 8am. 8am to 11am, same as today. Tickets go on sale again right at 8am. Got it. 8am. At this point, I’m so pissed off that I told my friends, this is the last year I’m going to Comic-Con. This is stupid. I don’t want to do it anymore. It’s totally broken. I wanted a way out anyway, and this is probably the excuse I needed to push me over the edge. I’m actually a little relieved that I won’t need to be bothered with all this again. It was a telling moment.

So… we do our thing and come back Friday morning right at 8am. The very first official we encounter says “oh, we sold out 20 minutes ago.” 20 minutes ago? 20 minutes ago was 7:40am. How can you sell out of something by 7:40am that we were explicitly told wasn’t supposed to go on sale until 8am? “I guess they started early,” he says. “I guess I hate you,” I say to myself. “I suggest you come back tomorrow at 5am.” Are you fucking kidding? 5am? That’s fucking insane. In that moment, Comic-Con officially died for me. The image of the bloated diseased chicken who can no longer properly function pops back into my head. I’d basically already made up my mind the previous day that I was done with Comic-Con. Once I’d cooled off and slept on it, I decided that if I could get tickets the following day I might buy just a single day to stay connected to the whole clusterfuck out of some misguided sense of obligation. But, I thought, if I can’t get tickets, then that’s that. I’m not going to sweat it. I won’t miss it. It was probably meant to be then. At this point, you just basically have to know someone to get in, and I can probably work that angle more reliably than this ugly mess. The scales finally tipped in the risk-reward proposition that was Comic-Con. The scales finally tipped in the interest-disgust proposition that was Comic-Con. The scales finally tipped in the me thinking I’m the right demographic vs. the wrong demographic for Comic-Con. I honestly just don’t care that much anymore. I’ll still buy comics of course. I’ll still support the creators I love. Forever. But this Comic-Con thing is a brand of organized religion that I feel too frustrated by, too intellectually stunted by, to continue.

I’ll let Jim Morrison & The Doors sing this one out…

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

Of our elaborate plans, the end

Of everything that stands, the end

No safety or surprise, the end

I'll never look into your eyes...again

Can you picture what will be

So limitless and free

Desperately in need...of some...stranger's hand

In a...desperate land

Lost in a Roman...wilderness of pain

And all the children are insane

All the children are insane

Waiting for the summer rain, yeah

There's danger on the edge of town

Ride the King's highway, baby

Weird scenes inside the gold mine

Ride the highway west, baby

Ride the snake, ride the snake

To the lake, the ancient lake, baby

The snake is long, seven miles

Ride the snake...he's old, and his skin is cold

The west is the best

The west is the best

Get here, and we'll do the rest

The blue bus is callin' us

The blue bus is callin' us

Driver, where you takin' us

The killer awoke before dawn, he put his boots on

He took a face from the ancient gallery

And he walked on down the hall

He went into the room where his sister lived, and...then he

Paid a visit to his brother, and then he

He walked on down the hall, and

And he came to a door...and he looked inside

Father, yes son, I want to kill you

Mother...I want to...fuck you

C'mon baby, take a chance with us

C'mon baby, take a chance with us

C'mon baby, take a chance with us

And meet me at the back of the blue bus

Doin' a blue rock

On a blue bus

Doin' a blue rock

C'mon, yeah

Kill, kill, kill, kill, kill, kill

This is the end

Beautiful friend

This is the end

My only friend, the end

It hurts to set you free

But you'll never follow me

The end of laughter and soft lies

The end of nights we tried to die

This is the end

7.20.11 Reviews

DMZ #67 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 5 Issues Remaining] Three days out of pocket for Comic-Con, and I’m already starting to fall behind, so this’ll be short. There was one very subtle move in this script that summed up what the entire series means in my opinion. On page 4, there’s an establishing caption box that originally read “The DMZ,” but it’s struck through and on top of it we see the word “Manhattan.” Like so much that’s happened in the series thematically about endurance, there is no more DMZ. There is only New York City. Brian Wood reminded me recently that Blackwater rebranded itself under the name Xe, so naturally he has their DMZ stand-in Trustwell rebrand itself as XET. It’s also great to see Matty and Zee reunite as Matty’s relationship with the city settles down. I like how Matty still looks a little disoriented, with bloodshot eyes, like a man who’s just emerged from an active war zone, a place where his survival was always in doubt. As always, don’t forget to join us at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Grade A.


Once More Unto The Breach...

San Diego Comic Con 2011 officially begins tomorrow morning at 8am for me and won’t let up until Saturday morning at the very earliest. So, expect some comlag around these parts until early next week when I hope to have my official 2011 report posted. In the interim, I’ve blasted out a handful of mini-comics reviews over at Poopsheet Foundation, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy DMZ #67 tomorrow. As dreary as they’ve become, here are the last few years’ worth of 13 Minutes San Diego Comic-Con Reports;

2010; 2009; 2008; 2007; 2006

Not to get too far ahead of myself and become pre-disposed not to enjoy this year’s festivities too much, but there’s a noticeable shift in tone about halfway through. It’s mostly because of stuff like this, and excerpts from The Savage Critics which I so identify with, like this;

“The other day, I was talking at the shop with Brian about how typical or atypical a comic book reader I am, and I was of the position that I’m pretty atypical — I have a strong bond for the characters but don’t care so much for what’s going on with them these days, and I don’t spend a lot of money on them. But Brian insisted I am in fact a pretty typical reader for the industry these days — a guy who’s almost entirely lapsed as a mainstream comic reader but someone who still pays attention to what’s going on and is either looking for a new way back in to the industry, or a final way out.”

See you in a few days...

This Looks Fun

Honestly, you had me at "Rafael Grampa." Throw in a Brian Wood story, and I'm all in. More information here and here.

Three #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Parasitic Twin #2 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Live/Work #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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7.20.11 Releases

Trying to find new comics the week of Comic-Con is kind of like trying to find comics at Comic-Con itself. There's a lot of other noise, but you really have to look carefully to find anything good. Without a doubt, the pick of the week is DMZ #67 (DC/Vertigo). It’s officially the beginning of the end, as the very last arc begins. “The Five Nations of New York” is billed as a 5 part story, which curiously takes us to issue 71. Yet, there’s supposed to be 72 issues, so I wonder if that means there’s some big special blowout issue for the last one? Anyway, the only other thing even marginally interesting to me is Marksman #1 (Image Comics). Image can’t seem to decide what the title of this 6 issue mini is, frequently listing it as “Marksmen,” but the book itself has “Marksman” on it, so let’s go with that. The solicit blurb sounds like a mish-mash of plot outlines cribbed from at least 3 other post-apocalyptic properties (some of Antony Johnston’s Wasteland, some of Denzel’s Book of Eli, hell, even some of Brian Wood’s DMZ…), and I don’t know, a protagonist named “Drake McCoy” just reeks of a fictional desperate grab at “hip,” BUT it’s 32 pages for the teaser rate of just $1, so I might actually give it a go.

Buster Monster & The Roughage of July @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Rashy Rabbit #7: Droppin' Anchor @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Blood Magic @ Poopsheet Foundation

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7.13.11 Reviews (Part 2)

The Red Wing #1 (Image): Jonathan Hickman delves back into the world of his creator owned work at Image Comics, and I really do like the results. This time out, he’s aided by Nick Pitarra, who brings a style somewhere in between Frank Quitely and Nate Simpson. The narrative style, and even some of the visuals, are an exciting mélange of pop culture ephemera, whose influences range from Star Wars to Firefly/Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Shockrockets, and Hickman’s own library in later creator owned works like Red Mass for Mars. There are small drops marking these points like “a mite jumpy” (which is pure Malcolm Reynolds) or “spinning up” a type of drive on an engine (which is reminiscent of the FTL drive on BSG). In addition to the fun, Hickman is sure-footed enough to seed the story with big ideas as well. We see that any scientific discovery (here it’s time travel) is ultimately used as a weapon rather than for purely altruistic purposes. Hickman’s high concept attempts to dismiss the problems typically associated with it. Meaning, he suggests that if time is not linear, then you can’t have paradoxes. However, if time isn’t linear, then why travel through time hoping to change a future/past outcome as the protagonists do? That in itself seems paradoxical. Anyway, I like the idea of a generational time war and how it colors our perception of the world. There is a fair amount of exposition concerning best friends and temporal beacons, which are surely telegraphing future events. But The Red Wing succeeds with bold design, strong inking and coloring, and some really pristine paper. I used to give Hickman a lot of shit for the plethora of typos found in his earlier work, but they are thankfully absent here. Lines like “This is how we lost the 21st Century” reveal one of Hickman’s greatest strengths as a writer. All of his independent projects have a dire tone to them. You feel as if you’ve unearthed some lost text that is the most important story ever, that it’s the most important thing you could possibly be reading, some secret history that’s been uncovered and will hold the key to humanity. It was there in The Nightly News or Transhuman, and more pronounded in things like Pax Romana, Red Mass for Mars, and now The Red Wing. I’m definitely on board for this. It's going to be a hit. Grade A.

Terry Moore’s How to Draw Women #1 (Abstract Studio): Moore says right up front that this isn’t a “How To” book per se, but more of a look into his mindset. That’s great. I doubt I’d be buying it if it was just another cold anatomy lesson, but since he dives into his approach as an artist in an extended essay that accompanies the process art, it’s endlessly fascinating. He covers basic figure work, expressions, how the body moves, how clothes hang, the differences between a man and a woman’s body structure, superhero breasts vs. more realistic ones, and all manner of loose categorization for his creations. He spends a lot of time discussing how positioning and art itself can carry so much information visually, which is key in a visual medium that doesn’t necessarily have to rely solely on the textual information bridge. It’s a handy reference guide. I feel like I’m picking up things to watch out for and critique as a critic, so I can only imagine an artist would pick up some handy mental tools as well. The only bad part of this is that it’s $4.99. If he found a way to deliver the same product in the $3-$4 range, I’d probably rate it higher than Grade A.


7.13.11 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #42 (DC/Vertigo): The Icelandic Trilogy kicks off the last 9 issues of the series, with Paul Azaceta on art duty. While I was paying attention to the new/different artist this issue, I noticed that the letters and colors have been a nice unifying constant through the arcs. Azaceta’s art itself carries a more representational quality to it, with thicker ink lines. I like that visually because tonally it tends to provide added weight to the story, which anchors it and feels appropriate since it is the last arc and all. “Settlement 871,” like so many of the stories in Northlanders, sees the protagonists seeking to reconcile their place in life. It’s a tale of interesting people in hard times, and I wonder if there’s some subconscious commentary sneaking in about making a place for yourself in today’s modern world of difficult times. Analogy is prescriptive, but allegory is subscriptive, and Brian Wood has become a king of allegory during his Vertigo tenure. I believe that allegorical writing is enduring. Story-wise, we see a small family settling a new frontier. It moves from difficult to gut-wrenching, and has absolutely unflinching use of language and emotion. Dave McCaig’s colors deserve another quick shout for that single panel of RED color with the KRAK sound effect. Ugh. Amid all the sorrow, who else but Brian Wood could make us believe that violence might be a caring act? Identity, emotional depth, clan warfare, visceral art, and a stunning cliffhanger. It’s like someone took the best parts of Northlanders and distilled them down into a potent stein full of high alcohol content ale for the last big hurrah. Grade A.

X-Men: Schism #1 (Marvel): Jason Aaron and Carlos Pacheco bring us what is supposedly the next big X-event, which will apparently shape the direction of the franchise for years to come. Ok. There’s some good and some bad to it, but overall, I gotta’ say up front that I’m a little disappointed. Carlos Pacheco is typically a really good artist, but here his work looks a little flat and two dimensional in spots. The coloring doesn’t help either. On most pages, it looks really washed out. I think it’s an attempt to lend a somber tone or something(?), like in the flashback, but it really makes the entire effort look weak. And the whole thing is $4.99. Ugh. I enjoy watching the jocular tension between Scott and Logan slowly slip into something of more dangerous proportions. I still like Utopia as a sovereign nation (like Israel), with the X-Men as a militaristic unit (like the IDF or the Mossad), and Aaron even takes the analogy a step further by introducing what is surely meant to be Iran’s Ahmadinejad. In the same way that ol’ “Ahmmy” runs around saying the Holocaust never happened for the Jewish people, Marvel Ahmadenijad is speaking out and denying that Sentinels were ever created to exterminate mutants. I just like the boldness of this. First, Jason Aaron takes on Alan Moore, now he takes on Iran’s repressive dictator. You go, boy! Along the way, he slips in some references to cheating politicians with dying wives, and even some Johnny Cash nods. Some kid (Kade Kilgore) who I know nothing about starts monologuing his way through things, and some dopey other kid (who I also know nothing about) named Quentin Quire does some stuff too. For a story that is supposed to carry so much weight and magnitude, it seems like there should have been someone of consequence in these roles, not the d-listers we actually got. On the plus side, you can see Wolverine’s wheels turning about the path he’s on, and the second ish with Frank Cho art looks great. I would have liked him on the entire run rather than this “one issue, one artist” deal for the 5-issue run, but oh well, I’ll probably give this one more issue to wow me. Grade B.

The Single Girls @ Poopsheet Foundation

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Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 26 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: This panel wraps up the email exchange thread between Ryan and Dr. Polkinhorn. It’s interesting to note that Polkinhorn’s conclusion isn’t very tidy or definitive, and I actually like it more because of that fact. There don’t seem to be any empirical characteristics that make something significant autobiographically. It generally supports the theory that autobiography exists on the old continuum of truth and fiction that Ryan has been contending with for the latter part of the ATOD series. So much of it, inherently, comes down to the human level, to the intent and influence of the creator behind the story being consumed. At their creative discretion, they can choose what information to share, and how specifically to convey it. There are literally hundreds of factors involved in how it’s presented and what will resonate with a reader to consider it truthful, fictional, or significant, as Polkinhorn concludes.

Panel 2: One thing Ryan has always been good at is silent beat panels. This is a good example of that, letting Ryan, and us by extension, absorb what has just been read. In Ryan’s wide open eyes, you can almost sense him mentally working through what I just described above. He’s considering Polkinhorn’s words and seeing how that settles into his noggin.

Panel 3: I like this panel for a couple reasons. One, it’s at that infamous smaller figure scale that I’ve really been enjoying in this issue. It’s also a side profile shot, which Ryan typically doesn’t do a whole lot of. He usually tries to vary it and show ¾ turn shots instead. I like this simply because of its scarcity in his repertoire. This panel also has that (my words again, not his) diamond pattern background up top. It’s probably been the single most contentious element for me in this issue, yet I really like it in this specific panel. It almost feels like it’s dissolving along the lower edge, and receding toward the top. That sense makes it feel, to me, like it represents some mental thought process transpiring as Ryan continues to assess what he’s just read. It then evaporates out to…

Panel 4: This is a smart looking, wide open, half page panel that invites us in to examine the ambiguity of the conclusion that we’ve been discussing. Visually, it’s another great shot, texture, depth, etc., all the hallmarks we’ve come to expect in this issue. Yet, the thing I like about it is that tonally it’s contemplative. It allows us to walk away from the book still attempting to sort out what we think of our own lives. What is fiction? What is truth? How do we present ourselves? Not necessarily in the pages and panels of comics, but how do we present ourselves to the world? These are age old existential questions that are common to human existence. Ryan is tapping into something really primal here. Who are we? If you look at the work of more “classic” creators like Crumb, Seth, Jessica Abel, or even more contemporaries like Noah Van Sciver, Julia Gfrorer, or Lauren Barnett, it’s really the very definition of what (good) autobiographical comics are all about.

Well, this is the last story page of And Then One Day #9, and thus concludes our little experiment. I hope you enjoyed what is (if I do say so myself) a pretty unique way to review a comic, from a very unique creator. I’m honestly very excited to read the print version of the book. Holding a tangible product in my hands and consuming it in one sitting, as opposed to over an extended period of months, will be one of those variable factors I mentioned that skews the way a work of art is interpreted. It will be an entirely new experience in terms of pace, medium, and understanding. I’ll read it faster, on paper vs. on screen, and likely come away from it with a different impression. I’ll be sure to share it with you when I do. In the interim, do yourself a favor and stop by the Elephant Eater Comics booth (on a slick corner right across from Oni Press) if you’re attending the San Diego Comic-Con International next week. You can chat with Ryan yourself, pick up one of the limited print run copies of the issue, and if you’re there long enough, you’ll probably see me poking around too!



Kristian Donaldson is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Please join us at the DMZ tribute site for our first guest interview, with recurring DMZ artist Kristian Donaldson. In addition to contributing to the site with an interview, Kristian was generous enough to provide us with this piece of original art as an amazing tribute to Brian Wood’s contemporary DC/Vertigo classic.

DMZ chronicles journalist Matthew Roth, stuck in an active war zone in a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War. LIVE FROM THE DMZ takes a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the series, volume by volume, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we count down to final issue #72 this December. There’s no other site like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of the creative team.

7.13.11 Releases

Northlanders #42 (DC/Vertigo) takes the top spot this week for what I’m looking forward to. It’s the beginning of the end, as Brian Wood and Paul Azaceta begin the first part of The Icelandic Trilogy, which will put the book to bed at Vertigo. It sounds big and bold, so I can’t wait to see what the creative team has in store. Coming in at a close second is Red Wing #1 (Image) by Jonathan Hickman. I much prefer Hickman’s high concept indie projects (The Nightly News, Pax Romana, etc.) to his work-for-hire superhero stuff, so I’m excited to see somewhat of a return to form. Hickman’s work isn’t always without flaw, but I am always very interested to read his take on his creations. Try as I might to shake the event stank off, I’m a sucker for the sum of something like X-Men: Schism #1 (Marvel) when you examine the parts. I have a childhood affinity for the characters, and when you throw in Jason Aaron writing, along with artists like Carlos Pacheco and (soon) Adam Kubert, Alan Davis, and even Frank Cho, it’s probably something I’ll be picking up at least the first issue of. That’s probably it for definite purchases, but there were also some noteworthy items this week, such as American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #2 (DC/Vertigo). I’m still tired of vampires, but you can’t get much better than Sean Murphy’s art. 100 Penny Press offers up Wormwood: Gentlemen Corpse #1 (100 Penny Press), which I already own in hardcover. But, if for some reason you’re not aware of it, please pick this up! It’s only a buck, and it’s one of the funniest books around. Terry Moore’s How to Draw Women #1 (Abstract Studio) makes a surprise debut. This is his quarterly “how to” book, or is it just a bunch of pretty pin-ups? I’m curious to find out. Lastly, I’m still feeling a glut of noir-y crime books out there in the wake of, say, 100 Bullets, and it'll be hard for anyone to top Kody Chamberlain on Sweets in my mind, but Loose Ends #1 (12 Gauge Comics) looks interesting. It’s got Jason Latour and Rico Renzi, and is billed as a “southern crime romance.” I don’t remember the last time I listed so many books in one of these posts. If I were to buy even half of what’s listed here, it would be a huge week for me.


The H-Core Bestiary @ Poopsheet Foundation

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7.06.11 Reviews

Vengeance #1 (Marvel): Let me just say up front that I love how Joe Casey is continually able to carve out space for himself for these fringe explorations of a shared universe. He did it years ago with criminally underappreciated works like Automatic Kafka and (to a lesser extent) The Intimates, and more recently pulled it off in the Dark Reign: Zodiac series with Nathan Fox. That said, it's a treat to see him swing for the fences again in the Marvel U, this time with Nick Dragotta on art duty. Casey has to put up a few signposts in order to carve that space for himself here. He shows a WWII-era scene with Hitler and the Red Skull to tie it to Sif and Fear Itself, and even a small panel recycled from Fear Itself #1 starring Steve Rogers. Once that's out of the way, it's hallmark Casey, with the text message blurbs revealing his fascination with new media, and plenty of meta-commentary. It certainly feels contemporary with the former, but not so subtle with the latter. At times, the commentary is quite over the top, basically Casey talking directly to the reader about his own body of work. Lines like "It's getting tougher to do this gig in secret... so much for glamorizing the subversive" are really more about mirroring his own experiences than being about the characters he's tinkering with. Similarly, staging part of the action in the Pretty Woman hotel (that's the Regent Beverly Wilshire, for those of you not in Southern California) is basically Casey saying "hey, look, I live in LA raking in that Ben 10 money!" It's still fun though, and I appreciate how Casey doesn't provide any exposition. We have no idea what Ultimate Nullifier is doing in the opening club scene, we don't have any clue who's on the team, and names are slowly doled out organically... Miss America, Ms X., Sugar Kane, Nighthawk, etc. I don't know who many of these people are, but I'm certainly intrigued enough to give it another issue or two. A couple minor points of confusion: One, I thought this was kinda' solicited as a young group of villains(?) or something? But, umm, it looks like they're more wannabe heroes here(?). I guess I'm struggling with the intent of the book, but hey, let's give it time to develop. Two, I really don't understand why Magneto showed up, other than to give us one major character we know (other than Nighthawk, I guess?). Why does he care about young mutants hooking up in a threesome? Especially when it's in the privacy of their own hotel suite? How prudish of Erik. Grade A-.

Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force #1 (Marvel): I couldn't resist this spin-off series featuring the gang from the best X-Men book currently being published. Rob Williams does his best Rick Remender impersonation and Simone Bianchi is, well, Simone Bianchi. It's pretty art, very stylized, but sometimes doesn't make a whole heck of a lot of sense. It's interesting that sometimes Deadpool dead-panning is more psychotic and intimidating than when he's actively mugging for the camera and trying to sound deranged. Williams really comes close to pulling off a seamless depiction of these characters, but does stray a little out of bounds. Commentary about selling action figures and the "declining ethics of the modern supehero" are too overt and basically violate the tell vs. show rule. As with typical crossover excess, it's fairly obvious that this book isn't necessary. What's the point? X-Force is tracking The Purifiers as they've done in a couple incarnations of the book. Ok. Well, let's throw in people being afraid and loosely, tangentially, BARELY tie it into Fear Itself and create yet another mini that could have been addressed in the main book. Standard money grub. Meanwhile, Bianchi's layouts and panel choices aren't as incomprehensible as I've seen before. They're mostly ok, though a couple oddities exist and it sure seemed like that kid tied up looked like Havok early on, then, well, he didn't. If you can get past that it's another fairly straighforward X-Force mission. Unfortunately, the stakes don't feel very personalized or terribly high. They're basically trying to save a nobody mutant kid we've never heard of before. If the world is ending anyway, who cares about saving one mutant nobody knows? It's not consequential in the slightest and drains the dramatic tension right out of the room. Last time the Purifiers had a kid tied up, it was Rahne Sinclair, so we all gave a shit, but I digress. All in all, it's illogical needless confection, yet, it still manages to go down pretty sweetly if you don't think too hard. I also chuckled my way through the new Punisher #1 preview, because it's obvious someone was using Morgan Freeman for photo reference, circa Se7en with Brad Pitt. Grade B+.


Grinding It Out

And Then One Day #9: Page 25 (Elephant Eater): Panel 1: I’m really enjoying Ryan’s willingness to shift the POV around to Dr. Polkinhorn for what feels like an extended period. It also nicely mirrors what we’ve already seen, which was Ryan’s POV as he crafted an email and how he came at it. That’s now juxtaposed with Polkinhorn doing the same thing. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like the way the two men come at this task is the opposite of what you’d expect. Ryan is still in student mode, coming at this task as an autobiographer reaching for an expanded knowledge of his academic understanding. On the other hand, Polkinhorn is the professor, capable of slinging all kinds of academic knowledge, but instead is coming at this from a far more personal standpoint by discussing the intimacy of his own dream. The text here is sly. I feel like Polkinhorn is bordering on adding a third point on Ryan’s continuum of truth and fiction, and that is “dream being” or “dream truth” for lack of better terminology. Dreams aren’t fiction because they’re not intentionally fabricated, yet they’re also not purely truth because of how easily they can be distorted from reality. They’re a weird mix of both. Subconscious and involuntary speculation based in part on an individual’s experiences and psychological make-up. Man, I never thought I’d be digressing into dream interpretation. Anyway, lastly I’ll say that I like the small figure scale Ryan works with in this panel because it makes me feel like there is a much larger world of meaning occurring, that we are but small travelers in the cosmos struggling to find a slice of that meaning.

Panel 2: Polkinhorn further taps into the primal nature of the dream world. He’s touching on an idea that the duo discussed much earlier in this issue, which is that a narrator, knowingly or not, influences “truth” or otherwise factual events by the manner in which they tell the information. It’s subject to their vocabulary, their interpretation, their memory, their perception, their mode of telling (written, spoken, pictures, etc.) and the general style in which they convey the information. In other words, when someone tells you what happened, they’re not really telling you what happened. They’re telling you their perception of what happened. Visually, for some reason my eye is drawn to the right side of the panel, to the shading behind Polkinhorn’s monitor. Maybe it’s just that it’s darker, or more dense, but it feels like the panel is weighted in that direction and my eye keeps wanting to go right, rather than linger in the middle, to the left, or on the words above. That’s just a stray observation.

Panel 3: I like the idea of “the art requiring a form,” but I’m not sure why. I’ve sat here turning it over in my brain, but I’m struggling to come up with anything meaningful beyond it being neat that ideas are just ideas until they have a “container” or a medium to express them in. It’s all about that expression of an idea that we were discussing above; that it (in this case, Polkinhorn's dream) will always be subject to interpretation and conveyance. For example, I can imagine a beautiful sunset. But no matter if I write a song about it, scribble a facsimile hastily on paper, or compose a grand oil painting depicting it, it will always be an approximation of what I originally imagined in my mind's eye. This is random, but computers (and a screen shot specifically) are a tricky thing to capture on paper. If you do them by hand, as Ryan does, the edges look a little too soft and bulbous. The boxes aren’t as crisp, the lettering imperfect. Yet, if you simply drop in a PhotoShopped image or rely too heavily on picture reference, then it looks too stiff and fake. It’s a no-win proposition either way.

Panel 4: For all my complaining above, this is a really good shot of the computer screen and tail end of Polkinhorn’s sentence. I like the way that the transition from Polkinhorn almost mentally narrating the ideas as he types, to them appearing on the screen is totally seamless. We could have easily been reading the whole time, or Polkinhorn could have been mentally dictating. It’s such a smooth transition that we’re not overtly aware of which mode we’re in until I just called it out for you. And that’s that… one more story page to go!

7.06.11 Releases

Vengeance #1 (Marvel) sees Joe Casey’s return to the Marvel U in order to examine some young villains in a six issue mini-series. I’m hoping this will be in the same vein as his irreverent work with Nathan Fox on the Dark Reign: Zodiac series that made my best of the year list a while back. That’s honestly about it on the floppy front. As for collected editions, I can always get behind Northlanders Volume 5: Metal (DC/Vertigo) written by Brian Wood, with art contributions by DMZ collaborator Riccardo Burchielli, along with Fiona Staples and Becky Cloonan.


20th Century Boys: 15

This is another “jump” issue, where new information is introduced, and the narrative is dramatically pushed forward. Brother Luciano, a Vatican priest, is moved onto the board to discover a Book of Prophecy planted to look like an ancient tome, which opens up another thread. Meanwhile, Kanna, Otcho, and Yoshitsune get together as people claim to have seen Friend on the streets of Tokyo. Sometimes it hits me; this astounding realization of what an achievement this book is for a mangaka. It’s a 24 volume story, at 200+ pages each. Name another creator who could produce a 4,800 page epic that’s so riveting. We keep hearing the scary prediction that “History Ends in 2015” while Detective Chono has some Italian guy in custody that keeps saying “Il Papa verra assassinato in Giappone.” You don’t have to be a master linguist to figure out what that means. Father Nitani and Kanna are still trying to protect the Pope with the assistance of the local Thai and Chinese Mafia crew. We learn Father Nitani’s history with the current Pope, and it’s such a wonderful tool Urasawa uses, where every character introduced eventually gets a cool back story that links them to current events and characters we’re already familiar with. Tension continues to mount with the Pope’s visit to Shinjuku, the involvement of #13, and the misdirection that the Pope addressing the Friend body at the Expo creates. With Chono helping Kanna, Otcho, and Yoshitsune infiltrate the proceedings dressed as cops, it’s full of excitement. Otcho screaming for Chono to shoot 13 before the Pope is assassinated literally gave me chills. Ultimately, we see that 13 is just a patsy as Friend is resurrected to save the Pope, another example of Hero Complex. Far, far away, we see that the Frogdoom Empire of Evil is spreading the virus on foot, and Kanna’s mom is The Holy Mother because she’s spreading the vaccine. This volume is certainly one of the more exciting ones, and if all the world-extending that Urasawa is doing wasn’t enough, he really teases us cruelly with a preview of volume 16, which isn’t out in the US for a couple of month. While I’m happy to have caught up to the current publication schedule with my reading, it was perhaps the absolute worst moment to do it. Volume 16 contains Kenji (thought dead!) solemnly riding a motorcycle with a guitar strapped to his back. ARGH! I can’t stand it!