8.31.11 Releases: The End of an Era

The book I’m most looking forward to this week is Secret Avengers #16 (Marvel). This title seriously lost its way after the first arc, and the preview images from Warren Ellis and Jamie McKelvie look fantastic. Warren’s someone who I wish would write more comics, but he seems to be slowly departing the field. Jamie, on the other hand, is essentially still on the upswing of his career after a few critically praised books, and I think he deserves to be a superstar, so I’m glad to see these two very different career arcs intersecting on a title I have some marginal interest for.

Undoubtedly though, the books that will get the lion’s share of the press this week will be the bluster and fury (hopefully signifying slightly more than nothing) of Flashpoint #5 (DC) and Justice League #1 (DC), essentially the only two “new” books the publisher will be putting out this week. Supposedly, the Flash’s actions in Flashpoint #5 will set the stage for the DC reboot/relaunch/renumber, and effectively wipe the slate clean for the DC Universe I grew up with. I’m a little sad about that, only because it signifies that I’m getting older and there’s definitely a generational passing of the torch happening here.

I started reading comics (mostly DC) around 1979 or 1980, growing in intensity with every year, so my heyday was very much post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. From 1986 on, the late 80’s and 90’s were basically my formative years in the mainstream part of the industry. One thing nobody is touching on is that from 1986 until 2011, we’ll basically be able to book-end this era of comics with Crisis on Infinite Earths on one side at 1985/86, and Flashpoint/DC Relaunch on the other end, a nice 25 year period with logical demarcation points. It will certainly be referred to as an “age” at one point, won’t it? We’ll be able to mark time before and after this week.

We had the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and the "Bronze Age" seems to have stuck as a term. Most people refer to the age they’re currently in as the Modern Age, but that shifts, just like Modern/Contemporary Art will always cover the last 50 years or so. So what will 1986 to 2011 be called eventually? The Copper Age? Tin? Platinum? Lead? Quick, name some more Metal Men. It’s interesting to me that Dan DilDio is slowly letting slip what a hail Mary pass this is, trying to do anything to get readers to stay since they seem to be leaving. Warren Ellis recently remarked that he thinks it’s actually a good thing that none of the books appeal to him. Why should they? He’s not the target demo anyway, they should be appealing to a younger set, not courting guys in my generation, or in Warren's. Scanning “the new 52,” I see that wisdom applies to me as well. I can only find maybe 6 titles I can see worth trying out for me personally. I’ll buy Batwoman of course. Basically, Cliff Chiang’s art will get me to try Wonder Woman (even though I’ve never purchased a Wonder Woman comic before), and my odd fascination with former WildStorm titles will yield a few purchases. I’d like to see Paul Cornell take a crack at StormWatch, (with Martian Manhunter!), and I’ll certainly check out the Voodoo and Grifter books. But, honestly? I don’t seriously expect those last two to be any good. If I’m still reading 6 issues in, heck even if 6 issues come out within 6 months, I’d be very surprised. Anyway. That all begins this week.

Uncanny X-Force #14 (Marvel) will unintentionally be a key issue for me. With this issue, I’m pretty sure I’ll decide whether or not I keep supporting this title. It’s really gone from one of Marvel’s best to merely mediocre in the space of just 6 months or so. Lastly, I can wholeheartedly recommend the Any Empire HC (Top Shelf) from Nate Powell. I was lucky enough to pick this up at SDCC a few weeks ago and right now it’s a contender for my best of the year list. Check it out! On a personal note, I’ll actually be out of town for the remainder of this week, without web access(!), and won’t have a chance to post reviews until early next week. Perhaps apropos of my waning interest in the mainstream, that’s the first time in nearly 6 years that I’ll be missing a weekly post.


More Info On Helping Dylan Williams & Sparkplug Comic Books

The state of Dylan's health is really starting to freak me out. I can't say I know him extremely well, but we do know each other. It's a long story; I know a guy named Jason from college, who knew a guy named Tim, who I became friends with. Tim is the guy who did the art on my first mini-comic, The Mercy Killing. Tim is very close with Dylan, they started The Bad Apple together in Portland. I'd been reviewing Sparkplug Comics long before I actually met Dylan, so we knew of each other long before we actually met. One day we actually did meet, we kept in touch, he put me on the Sparkplug Comics comp list, and the rest, as they say, is history. We mostly kept in touch by linking to each other's work online and seeing each other at SDCC every year. This post is already starting to sound rambly, but I guess that's ok.

Sean T. Collins, a blogger whose work I enjoy, the man responsible for turning me on to Game of Thrones at HBO, and eventually the novels by George R. R. Martin, recently posted a message over at Robot 6, similar to Rob Clough's earlier post I previously posted about here, with some recommendations on books. That can be found here. The thing about Sean is that he has a way of condensing what I'm feeling into a few articulate phrases. This bit really captured the spirit of what I feel far better than I feel up to expressing at the moment:

"Williams does important work with Sparkplug, putting out work of sparkling intelligence, with visuals that run the risk of not having a built-in audience for them. By publishing what he publishes he seeks to create that audience. That takes guts, putting your money where your mind is like that, and Dylan deserves to be rewarded for it, in sickness or in health. Right now, it’s in sickness, which makes buying his books an even better idea."

The inimitable Floating World Comics in Portland has also organized a Benefit Sale to support Williams and his publishing house. More info can be found here.

Lastly, Rick Bradford and I have also put together our own little brand of support, in the form of a contest over at Poopsheet Foundation. All you have to do is buy some Sparkplug Comic Books online from the publisher, leave a comment about it in the PF forums, and then I'll be selecting a winner to send a free copy of the recent Sparkplug book Gay Genius, Edited by Annie Murphy. I'll send it totally free of charge, a great book at a retail value of $20. It's the absolute least we could do on our shoestring budget at PF.

Best of luck, Dylan. Your friends are all thinking of you and wishing you the best, for who you are as a person, and for the amazing work you've done in this field.


8.24.11 Reviews (Part 2)

Batman Incorporated #8 (DC): Grant Morrison’s vision of “Internet 3.0” fueling this issue reads like a futurist Warren Ellis treatment, and that’s just fine with me. On one hand, it reminds me of those early 90’s experimental “digital” comics, and it certainly owes a debt of influence to more modern films like The Matrix and Inception, but it’s still a grand original take on layers of reality. It allows Bruce and Batman to occupy the same virtual landscape simultaneously, and that’s something he can’t really do in the real world. This issue pushes the envelope of thought, and that’s really what comics are for, aren’t they? You can do things in this medium that you can’t do in real life, or even with a finite movie budget. I enjoyed the “City of Numbers,” presumably 1’s and 0’s, of this virtual world. Here, a polymorphic virus stands-in for asymmetrical terrorism in the real world, and the anti-virus software is an Oracle/Batgirl hybrid on a Tron Cycle. It sounds weird, and it is, but I really loved it for how bold and out on a limb the vision was carried. I usually bitch about Frank Quitely-meets-George Perez artist Chris Burnham not being the regular series artist, but for this issue I don’t mind. On “regular,” more traditional looking issues, that wish still stands, but for this weirdness, the art is just fine. The blocky angular edges are in service to the story, and the overly rendered art is an absolute critical component of the aesthetic. It’s clever to see dismembered viruses degenerate into a spray of 1’s and 0’s, and random objects literally speaking in code. The forthcoming villain is set-up, we get the typical meta-moment as all DC books come to a close this month - bracing for new iterations, Morrison offers a revolution for the term “social networking,” and I can’t help but think that toy versions of the Batman and Oracle/Batgirl figures here would sell really well. Grade A.

Spontaneous #3 (Oni Press): Probably Joe Harris’ greatest strength as a writer from what I’ve seen so far is his willingness to avoid exposition and not insult the intelligence of his audience. It’s up to readers to connect all the dots here, to make the Grumm Industries connection, to look into Melvin’s past and see how it affects the present, and to enjoy the bright new character of Emily Durshmiller in the Whedon-esque mold she was created. Harris also has an ability to lace his scripts with just enough suggestion, such as the line “special fuels and compounds,” to allow the audience to gain a bunch of meaning without having everything spelled out for them. Weldele’s coloring is great, shifting from warm crimsons and Earth tones, to lush greens and blues. Overall, this story seems to be playing like early self-contained X-Files episodes, the good ones that weren’t bogged down by the greater convoluted mythology of the show. Grade A-.


8.24.11 Reviews (Part 1)

Northlanders #43 (DC/Vertigo): In some small way, I can’t help but feeling the emotional intent behind this arc. It isn’t just that it’s the last extended arc of the series, and the sorrow that brings. It’s almost as if Brian Wood is so proud of this final arc because it feels like he’s distilled all of his common themes into one story. We see characters coming of age and contending with their own sense of identity, and see the types of generational rifts that have become hallmarks of his writing. In a roundabout manner, we can even see reflections of New York City. When you see this new wave of Viking immigrants vying to establish dominance and carve up slices of a finite pie in their new world, it’s not unlike the crime that commonly came with new waves of Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants to New York City. Even in the Icelandic Trilogy, there seem to be shades of a distant American story. With the Hauksons and Belgarssons locked in strife, there’s commentary about the nature vs. nurture debate, unflinching emotional brutality, and the only certainty seems to be more turmoil. I’m quite curious to see where else Wood and company take us on this swan song. Azaceta’s art, aided by Dave McCaig’s coloring, is right at home in this stark world. The title page lends an epic feel of man’s struggle against nature, and the palette shifts deftly from icy waters, to crimson rage, to the blue-green shades of night. It really is something to behold. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Force #13 (Marvel): Good lord, this book sucks. I don’t even know where to start; every aspect of it is flawed. It’s inconsistent, jumping from almost ok to absolutely horrible, which I think makes it worse than if it was all just consistently poor at the same level. In an effort to let you experience what it feels like to read this book, I’ll just relay my notes as I took them, totally out of sequence, chopped and clipped, not organized, and not even in complete sentences at times: Age of Apocalypse. Art claustrophobic Michael Bay direction, up too close, quick jump cuts give me a headache, no flow seamlessly scene to scene, just bluster, tries for humor with Gambit “rogue-ish anti-hero banter,” but a little too on the nose, fine balance between natural humor and staged dialogue, sounds trite, Celestial drones, Gambit, Rogue, where did this come from? Did I miss an issue or something, part of a crossover in another book? Hot mess, unstable creative team, meandering inconsequential story, no longer feels like destination book, just another dull mediocre X-franchise being burped out. A lot of words, but still no idea who doing what and why. Bogged down by weight of its own continuity, time travel alt timeline paradox, unless very different very soon not sure if I’ll continue buying this title. Needs an artist! How quickly the mighty fall, first 4 issues some of best comics ever, and within space of a year = crap. Mark Brooks ok, trying to ape better Jerome Opena, but Scot Eaton = boo, coloring goes from full life to full flat. Unmitigated disaster. Feels like a bunch of different fill-in artists, fill-in stories, fill-in coloring all had car accident together. Grade C-.


Help Dylan Williams & Sparkplug Comic Books

I never post this sort of "help" message, but Dylan is an absolute man of honor in the small press field, and quite frankly, the Sparkplug worldview is something the industry could use more of. I don't want to say much more because I haven't been authorized to on his behalf, but more info can be found here and here. Do yourself a favor and grab some Sparkplug Comic Books. I wholeheartedly recommend Flesh & Bone, The Disgusting Room, The Heavy Hand, The Hot Breath of War, Reich, Boung & Gagged, Rambo 3.5, Nurse Nurse, Blammo, et al.


8.24.11 Releases

The premise of being dropped into a virtual world with help from Oracle is interesting, so I’m looking forward to Batman Incorporated #8 (DC) from Grant Morrison, though I do wish Chris Burnham was handling the interior art as well as the cover. Brian Wood continues his drive to final issue #50 as he chronicles The Icelandic Trilogy, with Northlanders #43 (DC/Vertigo) also out this week. I picked up the first issue of the new DHP and can’t say I was all that impressed, (especially for $7.99!), but I noticed that Dark Horse Presents #3 (Dark Horse) is out this week. With Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s impending serial The Massive being included starting in January, I should start paying a little more attention to this book. Just sayin’. I’ll also be picking up Uncanny X-Force #13 (Marvel) to see if Remender can get this book back on track, and Spontaneous #3 (Oni Press), which is an off-beat series I picked up from writer Joe Harris at SDCC this year. Overall, it’s not a bad week for me, lots of diversity to enjoy. What looks good to you?


8.17.11 Review

DMZ #68 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 4 Issues Remaining] There’s a certain finality to the tone of this arc that I enjoy. There’s a confluence of charged language and arresting visual elements that makes this an emotionally satisfying start of a conclusion, suggesting that maybe all the strife was in aid of something, that something valuable will have been learned when it’s all said and done – the faintest glimmer of hope. As the media is quick to jump on tidy labels that explain complex problems in shorthand, Matty seems to be cautiously navigating the greater steps that come next to build the “New” New York. It’s almost as if the city itself is finally taking a long deep breath, in hopes of resuming some form of normalcy. Familiar smells are returning, and while it’s an inescapable truth that everyone has a different interest at play, I think the most important thing is that they have vested interests. Whether it’s the doctor, the thug, or the Wall Street financier, you might not agree with how they want to do it, but everyone is absolutely interested in rebuilding the city that never dies. Riccardo Burchielli’s pencils seem to be evolving still, even as the end of the series draws nearer. I think he’s lost some of the sketchier qualities that early issues displayed. The lines seem to be more confident, as if he’s been honing the look for the past few years, because, well, he has. It’s almost as if contributor Kristian Donaldson is subconsciously influencing his pencils a tad, with the more angular lines and proportions to the figures. That final image of Matty introspectively contemplating the future owes a lot to colorist Jeromy Cox. He fills it with these somber and soulful pastels that make you think of those old Maxfield Parrish paintings. When you really consider that image, you realize that it’s the first time in ages we’ve actually seen the sky and not some night time bombing raid illuminating the Manhattan sky. Grade A.

As always, don’t forget to join us at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Volume 04: Friendly Fire was recently posted, and Volume 05: The Hidden War should be up at the end of this month, followed by a one-of-a-kind interview with colorist extraordinaire Jeromy Cox.

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8.17.11 Releases

It should come as no surprise that the pick of the week is DMZ #68 (DC/Vertigo), which means that there will be just 4 issues of the series remaining! I’m also very curious to check out the 99 Days HC (DC/Vertigo Crime) graphic novel to see what Kristian Donaldson’s artistic chops will bring. Last up is X-Men: Schism #3 (Marvel), which will be the last chance for the series to really dazzle me before I officially drop it. While there’ve been some nice character moments, it’s really lacked the dramatic dissention that the title promised.

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8.10.11 Review

The Red Wing #2 (Image): Some of the early criticisms leveled at Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra’s new project have been answered in this second issue. Namely, who the TAC (Temporal Assault Craft) squadrons are fighting, and perhaps why. Like all of Hickman’s creator owned works, The Red Wing is a visually impressive, highly imaginative, and thought-provoking adventure. It’s easy to see why Marvel scooped Hickman up as one of their “big idea” men. Pitarra’s art seems even stronger than the first issue. While the content is certainly informed by George Lucas and some other assorted pop culture nods, the style itself seems to be equally influenced by artists like Frank Quitely and George Perez, with a lean, hyper-detailed aesthetic I think most people enjoy. The “twist” ending (which I won’t spoil) is perhaps one that you could see coming considering the book’s time travel dependency, but the journey is pretty rousing. The text pages function as sort of expository Hickman hallmarks, but they’re so interesting, you hardly notice. I feel like Jonathan Hickman may be the new Warren Ellis to some degree, because of the way he plays with our perceptions of the world. I like his notion of time as a construct being stacks of concurrent happenings, all while man is basically wired to think of it in more linear terms. Grade A.

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Ultimate Lost Kisses #12 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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DMZ VOLUME 04: FRIENDLY FIRE is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With just 5 issues left before the series wraps, there's no better time than now to jump on board the site dedicated to Brian Wood’s long-running 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 out there like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and many of his series collaborators.

8.10.11 Releases

I only see one definite purchase this week, along with a couple of maybes. I’ll grab Jonathan Hickman’s The Red Wing #2 (Image), which is a fun sci-fi story with time travel and luscious art. I might give Joe Casey’s Vengeance #2 (Marvel) another shot, as well as Fear Itself: Uncanny X-Force #2 (Marvel). Other than those odds and ends, I can heartily recommend Terry Moore’s Echo: Complete Edition (Abstract Studio). What looks good to you?


8.03.11 Review

Scalped #51 (DC/Vertigo): With just 9 issues of the series left, it feels like major change is afoot with Red Crow's actions and Jason Aaron is kicking things into overdrive for the last two arcs. Guera's art is a delight, and I certainly am anxious to see where he lands next once this series has wrapped. Aaron still proves that even 50 issues in, his ear for dialogue is unparalleled. "Son, you draw that gun in this hospital and I will feed it to you, butt first. I shit you not." You can just imagine that gruff sumbitch belting that line out between clinched teeth and probably making the dopey young feeb piss himself in the process. I've been saying for years that I think "something is up" with Shunka, beyond his sexual preference, and this issue might finally start to reveal that sneaking suspicion I've had. I think one of the reasons Scalped is so powerful emotionally is that it pushes and pulls you along this emotional spectrum. You go from hating people, to understanding them, to even liking them a little bit. The most turmoil is created from the most change. For example, Wooster Karnow began life in Scalped as a pompous windbag who lied and cheated and mistreated nearly everyone around him. But in this issue, we see this man try to change his spots, rise to a challenge, and we can almost emphathize with his effort to use honesty and better himself. If even he is capable of change, maybe there's hope for everyone else. Emotional complexity, beautiful art, an engaging story, what more do you want? Scalped remains a high point in Vertigo history. Grade A.


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8.03.11 Releases

I’ll be picking up Scalped #51 (DC/Vertigo) this week, and with the Comic-Con confirmation that the series will end with #60, it feels like the end of an era with so many Vertigo books (DMZ, Northlanders, etc.) that I’m into being closed down within the space of a year. I already picked it up at Comic-Con, but Terry Moore officially offers up a replacement for the superb Echo in the line-up this week, with Rachel Rising #1 (Abstract Studio) also due out. I might flip through the Hero Comics 2011 (IDW) one-shot and see it there’s enough material in there to warrant a purchase and support of the cause. Lastly, I fondled the Petrograd GN (Oni Press) at Comic-Con also, and it looks intriguing, all about the plot to assassinate Rasputin.