The New 52: The Numbers, The Verdict, The Women

Now that the initial wave of the DC reboot has come and gone, let’s take a look at how this publishing debacle breaks down for this particular consumer. I’m curious to see what kind of objective and subjective metrics we can pull out based on the known data. If you count Justice League #1, The New 52 shipped over 5 weeks, with a total of 1, 13, 13, 12, and 13 books available for purchase each respective week. Here’s the raw weekly breakdown of the books I happened to purchase based on my byzantine interests:

Week 1
No Titles
Total: 0
Purchased/Available: 0%

Week 2
Batgirl #1
Justice League International #1
Stormwatch #1
Total: 3
Purchased/Available: 23%

Week 3
Batwoman #1
Demon Knights #1
Grifter #1
Legion Lost #1
Total: 4
Purchased/Available: 31%

Week 4
Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Nightwing #1
Red Hood & The Outlaws #1
Wonder Woman #1
Total: 4
Purchased/Available: 33%

Week 5
Justice League Dark #1
Voodoo #1
Total: 2
Purchased/Available: 15%

Overall Titles
Total Purchased: 13
Purchased/Available: 25%

As it turns out in this objective portion of the summary, I bought exactly one quarter of the total new books published, which is more than I thought I would. I think that one fourth (arguably) makes a pretty decent random sample size to judge what might be going on in the whole. Now, let’s take a look at things a little more subjectively. I’ll now rank those books in order of perceived quality, with their associated letter grades granted during my initial review.

Batwoman #1 (A)
Wonder Woman #1 (B+)
Demon Knights #1 (B+)
Justice League Dark #1 (B)
Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (B)
Justice League International #1 (B)
Batgirl #1 (B)
Stormwatch #1 (B)
Legion Lost #1 (B-)
Nightwing #1 (C+)
Grifter #1 (C)
Voodoo #1 (C)
Red Hood & The Outlaws #1 (C)

Numerically, if you look at the grades on the whole, the average score is a 2.8, which equates to a Grade C+ average. This means that if you want the short explanation without reading any further, DC’s entire New 52 initiative can be summed up for me as a Grade C+. It’s passing, with promise in a couple instances, but not something you’d be really proud of if your kid brought it home from school. If you’re willing to look at a longer explanation, we can drill down the metrics and look at the statistical mode, to find that the most recurring grade sans +/- is a Grade B.

In terms of scoring, even a Grade B is fairly middling for me these days. If something scores a flat “B” long enough without rising up, or at least demonstrating the potential for more, I’m likely to drop it. After several years of tracking my purchasing habits statistically, I’ve tried to consciously be more discerning with my dollars. I still want to think of myself as an adventurous consumer, but the truth is that when experimentation is done, I’ll only financially support single issue titles that are hitting in the Grade A range the majority of the time. That said, the bulk of these titles were, for me, very mediocre. That lackluster middle ground was comprised of 8 of 13 titles, or 62%. Only 1 single book of the 13 sampled actually scored in the Grade A range, just 7%. 4 of the 13, or 31%, were actually sub-par at Grade C. It’s interesting to note that by the time Week 5 came around, I was already muttering to myself “Bah, I’m not going to like any of these books anyway!” so my willingness to take a chance on an unknown quantity was already diminished based on what I’d experienced the first 4 weeks. For me, this “personal success rate” is pretty dismal. The bottom line is that the vast majority of the books I sampled displayed some basic competency (JLI, LSH being good examples), in that the stories weren’t offensive and made basic sense (has this really become the new bare minimum!?), but just weren’t good enough to warrant further interest on my part.

Marketing is another aspect, and from that point I think this “first round” was fairly successful. I have no metrics, but everyone seemed to be talking and discussing (even if negatively) the New 52. It dominated the news cycle on the interwebs, so I think the promotional push succeeded, in and out of comics to some degree. I mean, when I have civilian coworkers coming up to me and saying “hey, you’re the resident ‘comic book expert,’ did you hear DC is doing blahblahblah?” then I think something is working. The way I see it, marketing can get you an initial sales spike in the short term, but inherent quality is the only thing that will generate sustainable sales for the long term. I think it’s great that many of the more prominent LCS voices in the industry are reporting initial spikes to their revenue, and I can certainly attest to the fact that my LCS was REALLY BUSY on Wednesdays during the debut. But again, I think it might be premature to really qualify that as a success.

To my lay sensibilities, sales spikes don’t do much for profitability long term; a sustainable revenue stream is what tends to have lasting impact, particularly when the basic commodity is a serialized periodical. So, I’m curious… of all the people who bought the new books, who will still be buying these titles 6 or 12 months from now? That would indeed be a longer term success. Many of these books suffered a backlash for various reasons. We heard a lot about 2nd and 3rd printings of Justice League #1, but nobody talked about the massive quantities of OMAC or Captain Atom that just didn’t sell. Where is the metric on how many people boycott Red Hood & The Outlaws because of The Starfire Problem? I’d be surprised to look, say, 18 months from now, and find every book actually on issue 18 as one would anticipate them to be. Which will be shipping late? Which will be cancelled? What percentage of consumers who bought Savage Hawkman #1 will be trudging down to the LCS and still buying Savage Hawkman #18, assuming it makes it that far? I guess all I’m really saying is that to truly judge this bold gamble a success, we need to revisit it in a year, and then at various future milestones, in order to ultimately pass judgment.

For now, I can only attempt to project the sustainability of one single reader, by taking a look at the books I’m likely to purchase a second issue of, or beyond. Batwoman #2? Definitely. I’m invested in this title for the long haul, provided JH Williams III is on the book. This is really about creator loyalty vs. anything having to do with the character or the larger initiative. And, I gotta’ tell you that I think this example transcends the New 52. I’ve never felt like this was a part of the push technically. The book was done ages ago, there’s nothing “reboot” about it, it’s merely the continuation of a story already in progress, and I feel like it exists in a bit of a silo independent from the rest of the DCU. Wonder Woman #2? Yeah. I could see myself even going to issue 3 or 4 of this book, giving it a chance breathe and take shape. Demon Knights #2? Even though it got the same letter grade as Wonder Woman, I can not really see a second issue, unless something really grabs me in the casual flip test. I know myself, and I know how quickly I tire of this period, this parlance, this aesthetic, and these characters. It’s just me, not a reflection on the quality of the book per se, just my personal tastes. Everything else I sampled is just SO BORING and my only real reaction is lethargic ambivalence. There’s a chance I could pick up another issue of Justice League Dark, or even Stormwatch, to see if they hit that subversive streak I wanted. Honestly, I could revisit the train wreck that is Red Hood & The Outlaws just to openly mock it. Everything else? Not bloody likely. So, let’s say that I’m “Highly Likely” to pick up 2 of 13 second issues, or just 15%. I am “Moderately Likely” to pick up another 2 of 13 second issues, or another 15%. And finally, I am “Not Likely” to pick up 9 of 13 second issues, or 70%. Keep in mind this is based on just the 13 books I sampled, if I ran those same stats out of the total 52 available, then the outlook would be even more bleak (2 out of 52 is a meager 4%).

Sad to say, there’s no surprise here really. I basically knew this going into it. I expected to like Batwoman because I liked it the first time. I expected to be interested enough to give Wonder Woman a shot because of Cliff Chiang, and his previous collaboration with Brian Azzarello. I expected NOT to like the rest, but was hoping for some hidden gems that might surprise me and hook me. The New 52 failed in that regard. Who the hell wants an OMAC book if you can’t even nail Batgirl or wow me with the subversive potential of Stormwatch? I think it goes back to something Warren Ellis said, that at 37, I’m probably not the core demographic for this mess anyway, and I suppose that’s ok. I’d be interested to see the results of a focus group with high school students (or younger) to see what they make of all this. But, it’s not like I’d be willing to show them Red Hood & The Outlaws anyway, so it seems like a weird catch-22, where the company acknowledges it needs new readers, but then does quite a bit to push those potential consumers away. I mean, don’t even get me started on continuity. In this first slew of books, there are just numerous contradictions that don’t add up. The basic rule seems to be that there is no rule. Every writer just does whatever they want, some stuff is in, some stuff is out, there’s no guideline for what is and isn’t or when it is or isn’t and where it is or isn’t. Is is as is does, I guess. As Bill Clinton said, “well, now, that all depends on what your definition of the word is is.”

One of my other observations is that looking back I can tell I was being generous with my grading because I really wanted to like the books. Really, I did. I was cynical going into it, but cynical and excited at the same time. It was fun checking out the new books, even if most of them flailed aimlessly, and then failed to hook me. I could have given Red Hood & The Outlaws a Grade D and nobody would have quibbled. At the time, I just thought it was Comically Awful, not misogynistic and just wrong as, say, Laura Hudson did, who just crushes the definitive analysis. I know now, after re-reading them in context with the other titles, that Stormwatch and even Batgirl could have been downgraded to Grade B-. For the most part the other grades still feel about right to me.

Lastly, in light of all the negative attention DC has received for their portrayal of women, I do think it’s interesting to note that my top two picks, Batwoman and Wonder Woman, star strong female leads, and have an eclectic blend of female supporting characters. Most of the time in life, you end up getting more credit than you deserve for the things you do well, and more criticism than you deserve for the things that go south, so I think DC does deserve some sliver of credit for getting these two largely right. In the middle of the much deserved outcry over gender politics and the male projected fantasy versions of Skinny Amanda Waller, Horny Fanfic Catwoman, Slutty Amnesiac Starfire, and Alien Stripper Voodoo… that’s something.


9.28.11 Reviews (Part 2)

Justice League Dark #1 (DC): Peter Milligan. Mikel Janin. You can do a lot worse than a cover by Ryan Sook! I like the way the book opens, full of swagger and attitude, and a lush dark palette that sets the tone immediately. It degenerates from there; the water-colored washes of Madame Xanadu, Shade, Enchantress, Zatanna, Deadman, and Constantine (am I missing anyone?) kind of give way to stiff poses and awkward visuals. The art actually reminds me of the dynamic in Stormwatch; it seems apparent that some sort of widescreen high gloss finish is the intended commodity, but it never quite settles into one discernible style that services the story, jumping all over the place. The Zatanna and Constantine bits are nice, but everything in between feels a little rushed and unsettled, as if nobody could figure out the tone we were trying to strike during the convergence of magic and superheroes. It seems that Chaos is ensuing, so I probably wasn’t the only one who missed Dr. Fate. It was nice to see Zatanna get one over on Batman. Superman and Wonder Woman discussing the “reek of skinned babies and sliced eyeballs” is a little jarring, but does reveal their susceptibility to magic. This isn’t really a Justice League team of course, just a nice branding trick, but I think there’s heaps of potential here, and you can see the seed being planted necessitating a team-up of this type of “hero” to take on an even greater foe than any could individually manage. If the art would settle a bit more, this probably could have gotten the “+” but as is my last of the New 52 sampler platter clocks in with a strong Grade B.

Voodoo #1 (DC): Ron Marz. Sami Basri. Voodoo is a stripper. There are aliens on Earth. The former comprises 92% of the story, while the latter makes up the balance. Marz writes like Scott Lobdell having a good day, with tired hoary stereotypes and in your face obvious exposition, but nothing quite as bad as hyper-sexualized Starfire. Basri wants to be Phil Noto, and it might actually work if he wasn’t forced to draw soft core porn. There might be the kernel of an interesting story in here about aliens on Earth involving our half-alien (Daemonite? How long until this crosses over with Grifter?) protagonist, but it’s buried in boobs. This probably deserves a minus, but contextually I can’t possibly score it lower than Red Hood & The Outlaws, so it’s a very weak Grade C.

9.28.11 Reviews (Part 1)

Secret Avengers #17 (Marvel): It’s pretty hard to go wrong with a Warren Ellis joint covered by John Cassaday, though I think Kev Walker’s art does attempt to derail the proceedings at various times. There’s the stiff and chiseled Steve Rogers, the blocky faux-Mignola War Machine, and I just generally want a more sleek and elegant aesthetic paired with my Warren Ellis scripts. There doesn’t appear to be much sense of kineticism to the action scenes, so I felt the talking head bits were more successful this time out. Walker manages a cute Sharon Carter that almost looks like John Romita Jr., so I know there’s some potential there. The rotating artists(?) bit can be troublesome because it often disappoints as often as it delights, but I’m still fairly in love with the done-in-one concept here. It’s basically Global Frequency in the Marvel U. This issue involves a small powerhouse espionage strike team venturing into an area of the world nobody wants to touch, in order to address high-tech abduction cleansing. There’s a nice ref to MI:13 too! I enjoyed the frustration of “Can we please get our act together!” It didn’t make much sense that Steve tells the team not to fire on the craft, and then they proceed to… really fire on the craft. Ellis makes up for gaffes like this with jargon like “combat separation event.” He has this ability to string words together in new, but intuitive, ways that add so much thrill to everything. I love that. It’s nothing we really haven’t seen before with the Star Trek: TNG saucer section separating from the warp nacelle section, or hell, even the old Apollo missions, but it’s still rousing. I’d have liked to see more of that sequence, but in a done-in-one there’s just no time for it. Ellis is operating in these clipped shorthand scenes to move things along. There are a few minor technical glitches to be found, but this is still better than most. I always very much look forward to reading this despite it not being perfect. Grade B+.

Wasteland #31 (Oni Press): Let’s see, the last issue was in February, so I admit I wasn’t really looking forward to remembering where we’d left off, but thankfully the recap page is there and did a nice job jogging my memory. Before I dive in, I should also note that writer Antony Johnston recently posted on his site that we’ll now be returning to something of a regular schedule, with issue 32 essentially shipping next month, and then 2012 seeing some return to regularity. Remington Veteto is flying solo this issue, with Chris Mitten no longer providing layouts (at least not credited), and I can’t help but feeling that the backgrounds are just a little too sparse. One of the best (and there are many!) qualities about Chris’ art for the series was that it had an immersive quality to it, with plenty of detail. Veteto doesn’t offer quite as much, with many panels just blank white and devoid of ornamentation, and some with very minimal offerings. For example, in one panel, a set of stairs is simply a set of stairs. We get no additional texture to indicate sand or dirt or the general sense of the environment. I’ll continue to bitch and say that I also find some of Veteto’s facial characteristics to be overly rendered and “busy” with cross-hatching and shadows and stray lines, so that the visages look a bit distorted. Art quibbles aside, Johnston is still able to deliver a compelling script that held my attention wide-eyed as I raced through the issue, savoring every bit. We get great conversations between Golden Voice and Skot, Jakob and Skot, and a personal freedom vs. security discussion than makes an interesting corollary to much of the political discussion occupying our post-9/11 reality. I’ll be anxious to return to the Abi and Michael story thread next arc, but in the mean time we get quite a shocker for an ending. I won’t spoil it, but I do think Johnston has left himself a big plausible “out” if he ever wanted to reverse this action. All in all, a rousing return to The Big Wet, with sometimes stiff and minimal art that doesn’t quite sell the issue as strongly as it could have. Grade B+.

Rachel Rising #2 (Abstract Studio): Terry Moore’s art chops are as good as ever, but I have to admit something felt a little off about this book. I appreciate the fact that Moore isn’t succumbing to exposition to fill us in on what’s happening, but it’s almost like we need a little in order to establish the tone and direction of the book. It’s all quite mysterious, but the audience is unsure to what degree the supernatural elements are imposed. On top of that, we’re introduced to “Aunt Johnny,” an eclectic character that stretches the suspension of disbelief a little too far for me. Aunt Johnny, a coroner or medical examiner – or some type of profession clearly rooted in science, is somehow willing to blindly accept that he/she is seeing the, what? Ghost? Spirit? Dream? of his/her deceased niece and doesn’t for a second question it. Not until he/she sees the shallow empty grave out in the woods does he/she become freaked out and accept it as something paranormal. I guess I just didn’t follow that logic and it pushed me out a bit, which is shocking coming from a writer I continually laud for being realistic. I kind of feel like the title needs to establish some clear direction or ground rules pretty fast, some parameters for plausibility, or I could potentially feel my attention slipping away. Grade B.

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9.28.11 Releases

It’s looking like another pret-ty darn good week of comics for me. Without a doubt, the pick of the week goes to Craig Thompson’s highly anticipated new project, yes, it’s the Habibi GN (Pantheon). I got my hands on it a couple days ago. I’m only about half way through it, but I can already tell you it is amazing and will be on my best of the year list. It’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever seen. Period. Out of the New 52 offerings this week, there’s precious little of interest to me. I’ll give the requisite flip to things like All Star Western #1 (DC), Fury of Firestorm #1 (DC), Justice League Dark #1 (DC), Savage Hawkman #1 (DC), Superman #1 (DC), and Voodoo #1 (DC), but honestly only Justice League Dark (premise) and Voodoo (weird WildStorm loyalty) have even a remote chance of making it home. If George Perez were really doing all the art for Superman, I’d probably buy it based on art alone. Heck, I'm a Perez Teen Titans fan from way back! But, it's some weird split where one person is doing layouts and one is doing finishes or something. Marvel is offering up just one book I’m into. Thanks to Warren Ellis, I’ll be picking up Secret Avengers #17 (Marvel). Terry Moore somehow seems to be flying under the radar again; nobody is talking about this book, but I’ll be checking out Rachel Rising #2 (Abstract Studio). Lastly, in the “Pigs Really Do Fly!” Department (I kid because I love!), it’s the long-awaited Wasteland #31 (Oni Press).


9.21.11 Reviews (Regular Edition)

DMZ #69 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 3 Issues Remaining] It really gets you to see the reverent memorial for Wilson happening in Chinatown. It got Matty even worse to realize that Wilson considered him a true friend, despite the ways that they used each other to further their own personal agendas. After years of destroying Manhattan, I enjoyed the cautious optimism of the Jamal sequence, as he tries to rebuild “Parktown,” nee: Central Park. It’ll be interesting to see what the other Five Nations of New York end up including. Seeing Soames as an insane casualty of war is heart-wrenching. At first I thought maybe it was ok because despite his crumbled psyche, he achieved his goal of saving Central Park. Or did he? The more I thought on it, the more I thought, nah, he actually didn’t. That’s a shame. Wood leaves us with a gripping informational cliffhanger and I can’t wait to see what happens next. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to “review” this book since a) not a whole lot really happens this issue, b) the series ending is bittersweet so I’m savoring every last drop of it, and c) I have so much invested in the series that I’ve probably lost some objectivity. But, so be it. That’s the way favorites always are, aren’t they? Grade A.

As always, don’t forget to join us at LIVE FROM THE DMZ. The Jeromy Cox interview was recently posted, and Volume 05: The Hidden War should be up some time this month.

Northlanders #44 (DC/Vertigo): Brian Wood and Paul Azaceta wrap up the first part of the 9-issue Icelandic Trilogy with “Part 3: Slavery 886,” which continues to pit the Belgarssons against the Haukssons. This story centers on Ulf and Una and settles into a generational crime riff that, for some reason, keeps reminding me of Gangs of New York. It does a good job capturing clashing cultures amid a burgeoning new environment. It’s easy to see parallels between the Norway to Iceland immigration and the Western Europe to America (New York really) immigration, with the added melting pot effect of Una as the Irish wife. It’s a New World with hard opportunities. One of the greatest things about Brian Wood’s writing is that the emotion and the themes he plays with tend to be apropos regardless of time, place, or setting. Grade A.

The Red Wing #3 (Image): This issue definitely struggled with “all middle” syndrome, coming across not as strong as the first two issues. I was having a hard time remembering who was who and why they were doing whatever they were doing. Nick Pitarra’s Quitely-esque fine lines suddenly felt devoid of detail, rushed as if he was trying to hit the deadline, skimping on figure work and backgrounds, and overall the action was a little difficult to follow in spots. Not sure if Jonathan Hickman’s script or the art is to blame, but I’m still not clear on what happened to the ship (or why really) on that last page. The typical time travel paradox stuff seems problematic, but hopefully it will read better once collected. Grade B.

The Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #17 (Bongo): This will sound blasphemous, but despite some very talented contributors, this felt like a miss. First of all, there are only 3 pieces in the book. In an anthology style annual with a $4.99 price tag, so I just need more than that. It usually is more than that. Zander Cannon and Gene Ha’s piece looks amazing. It’s visually stunning, but the premise just plods along laboriously and never really gets that funny. It comes close with the standard “mmm… beer!” line from Homer, and Mr. Burns’ “photo-daguerreotype” quip, but that’s really it. Not only does it fail to land the laughs, but it takes up nearly half the book, so the total effect is pretty damaging to the comedic potency of the overall package. Jane Wiedlin relies heavily on well-tread Star Wars humor that never quite connects. There’s a decent Homer/Jabba visual, and some background sight gags, but by the end it seems to have lost its way and moved on to Ray Liota fried brains. It feels tired and like a decade too late. The best piece is the last one by Jim Woodring, which mines an EC riff that is self-aware and self-referential, building in clever “7734 upside down” jokes, along with several jabs at WonderCon, The Inhumans, Steve Ditko, and comics collecting in general, complete with a trip to the infamous Android’s Dungeon. But, that’s it! Then it’s over. One strong piece and two fairly lackluster feels like a Grade B-.

Spontaneous #4 (Oni Press): I’m quickly not liking this title as much as I initially did. The premise of Joe Harris and Brett Weldele’s mini-series went from being something unique to what feels like a recycled episode of The X-Files. It was all over the place. I don’t get the Oldsmobile as security vehicle. The “witch’s tit” conversation is so contrived and has a distinct whiff of Tarantino to it, feeling like Mr. White and Mr. Orange in the “let’s get a taco” scene. The Prometheus Speech is staged, and the characters just seem to be talking at each other in order to give the audience information. It doesn’t feel organic at all. Weldele’s backgrounds are minimal. There’s a typo: “What’s this all this about, deputy?” Lorne going from security guard to cop doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; someone at that age typically goes the other way, from cop to security guard. And Emily, which was the saving grace for me in previous issues, went from quirky and spunky, ala Chloe Sullivan, to just annoyingly over-the-top. It’s kind of sad to realize I might not buy the 5th issue of a 5 issue mini-series. Grade B-.

Game of Thrones #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): My chief complaint with this adaptation is the art. It simply lacks the emotional gravitas required. Instead of dark low fantasy, it looks more like what you’d see on a Saturday Morning Cartoon in the 1980’s. The thing to understand about the world that George R. R. Martin created is that Westeros and the land across the Narrow Sea are dangerous places, with serious people, doing dire things. That tone cannot be successfully conveyed when everyone looks like they just stepped out of Thundarr The Barbarian or Jemm & The Holograms. The emotional depth doesn’t come across when the art is so (and I hate to use this term) “cartoony.” Patterson’s art just looks too fun, when the right aesthetic to strike would be more akin to the Alex Ross cover art. Now, aesthetics aside, the adaptation itself is ok. Right from the first page when someone says “ in your cups,” it shows that there’s effort being made to capture the distinct parlance of Martin’s books. I watched the HBO series when it premiered, hyped it to my friends, and just got done with the 3rd (of 5 published, of 7 planned) book, so all I could do was spot differences. It seemed to me they dwelled too much on the prologue beyond The Wall. The Others looks too ethereal compared to how I imagined them and how they appeared in the show, but I suppose that interpretation is the prerogative of the writer. It was so decompressed though, that at this rate it would take decades to catch up to where the books are at. The Stark boys all apear to have reddish hair, like their Tully lineage I guess. The figures are very generic. It was hard to tell the differences between, say, Jon Snow, Will, and even Theon Greyjoy (spotted him only because of his bow). Catelyn seems way younger. The Godswood was ugly, too exaggerated. Instead of Viserys coming across as an insecure whelp, he just seemed comically cruel, overwrought and melodramatic. There’s TONS of omniscient narration, which really goes against the spirit of the POV chapter methodology in the original material, but sheesh, how else are you supposed to adapt a 1,000 page book? It seems like a no-win proposition. There was one small tiny thing I thought the adaptation did well, maybe even better than the original or the HBO adaptation, and that was how they introduced the Stark words “Winter is Coming.” They make a good distinction between the noble self-describing words of all the other houses and the resigned sense of inborn fatalism of House Stark. “Winter is Coming” is such a bleakly different “motto” than the other houses of The Seven Kingdoms, and as much as I’d heard them said, and read the words myself, I don’t think I ever really “got” that distinction so crisply before. So, there’s that. Artistically though, everything just appears too clean, not dirty enough, not the right tone. Overall, this feels like a somewhat competent adaptation severely hampered by mis-matched sub-par art. It seems like what it probably is – a quick cash-in on a successful property, rather than a faithful and diligent adaptation by people who revere the original material. Grade C+.

I also picked up;

The New York Five TPB (DC/Vertigo)

New Teen Titans: Games HC (DC)

9.21.11 Reviews (New Coke Edition)

Wonder Woman #1 (DC): Aside from Batwoman (which I don’t really count on a technicality), Wonder Woman is probably the best of the New 52 I’ve sampled so far. It sort of stays true to the essence of the character, while succeeding in being a fresh take on the character simultaneously. I expected this to be one of the few books I actually could be interested in since they showed skill at reinventing a tired property before (Dr. Thirteen), and Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang didn’t really disappoint. They deliver a sort of mythological horror/crime thriller which seems just different enough to hook some people. Chiang’s usually drop-dead gorgeous pencils feel a bit looser and not as tight here, but for the most part this is a good lesson in how to create a swift plot that forces seemingly disparate elements to converge in a way that holds the audience’s interest without resorting to blind exposition. Still not blown away by any means, but very well done. Grade B+.

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (DC): Paul Levitz and Francis Portela absolutely deliver the better of the two Legion books that have debuted. Legion Lost felt a bit like amateur hour, and this is basically it’s more successful and better looking older sibling. The first page is total en media res, as we literally are dropped right into 31st Century action. The characters are clearly introduced, and it seems like the type of thing a basic Legion fan would want. It’s got a very paramilitary vibe which I enjoy, and Portela’s art is a great blend of like Frank Quitely, George Perez, and Nick Pitarra for about 70% of the book. At some point, around the time “Glorith” comes on page, it goes all sloppy and rushed, but hopefully he can work the bugs out of the monthly deadline. Someone references the “Flashpoint Effect,” which is an eye-roller, but it’s interesting to note this prohibits time travel so they can’t seek out Superman for help. However, if time travel is impossible, why did the Legionnaires in Legion Lost get lost in time? Continuity be damned, I guess. What is it with DC books this week? Dream Girl also points her ass at the audience. Again, the plot feels fairly generic, but as your basic intro issue, it seems to work. Grade B.

Nightwing #1 (DC): Kyle Higgins. Eddy Barrows. I’m unfamiliar with the work of both of these creators, and the results of their team-up are competent, if a little boring. For a second, I felt like we were off to a good start. It was nice to see Marv Wolfman and George Perez get a “created by” nod, and for a page or two, I was enjoying the Dick Grayson voice over. But. It quickly became apparent that the voice over narration was going to run the ENTIRE issue, which is a lazy writer’s tool as far as I’m concerned. It’s all telling and no showing. And what the “telling” tells us is that his parents were circus performers gunned down by the mob, Dick was Robin, then he filled in as Batman, and he likes redheads, so what’s new? Well, he lets two cops get killed so he can change outfits, and the whole book he tells us how “flawless” his skills are, only then to get his ass handed to him by a guy with… wait for it… some knives. As a jumping on point for a newbie, I guess it’s serviceable, but for me it has absolutely nothing to offer except rehashed regurgitation of the character. The best thing I can say about this book is that it was uhh… better than Grifter last week(?). Disappointing treatment of my favorite character as a kid. Nothing fresh, nothing new, no reason to return. Grade C+.

Red Hood & The Outlaws #1 (DC): Scott Lobdell. Kenneth Rocafort. Starfire. Red Hood/Jason Todd. Arsenal/Red Arrow/Speedy/Roy Harper/Checkmate Agent/What’s His Name Now? Hey, Image Comics called from the 1990’s! They want their art back! Ba-dump-bump! It’s true though; it’s so incredibly busy, with big pouches and big guns and cross-hatching and boobs and asses and stuff. I think I saw Deathblow with SEAL Team Six in one panel, amid all the stereotypical Generic Middle Eastern Terrorists. I can’t really tell you about the plot, because there doesn’t appear to be one. Something about Jason breaking Roy out of prison? And Starfire helps? And also? SHE IS SEXY. That appears to be a major plot point from what I can gather. Don’t get me started on continuity. Roy and Jason make jokes about Dick Grayson being an ex-boyfriend of Starfire’s, yet she has no recollection of anyone from the Teen Titans. Umm, ok. Oh, also? SHE IS PROMISCUOUS AND LIKES TO FUCK. At times, there is some effort and intent behind Rocafort’s panel designs, I actually liked the bamboo panels when they’re on the island, they set the mood, but most of the time the layouts are just wacky and skewed for no apparent reason. I remember some awkward 38 joke about Starfire. It seems like they’re trying to portray Red Hood as like the insane assassin, the Deadpool of the DCU, but it fell fairly flat. Starfire’s hair is also apparently on fire, as long as her body, and sort of prehensile, like she can control where it goes or something? Her boobs are bigger than her head. Miraculously I was kind of enjoying this as a train wreck, up until Starfire just stuck her ass out at the audience for no reason. Really, this is like one of those Image Comics Swimsuit Specials they used to do back in the day. Jason gets to the Himalayas in 12 hours… how exactly? There’s some other generic plot involving (new character?) Essence, The Untitled, and the “All Caste.” Really, this sounds like a rejected piece of fanfic intended for Alyssa Milano on Charmed. It’s almost so bad it’s good, like that Justice League: Cry for Justice mini-series a while back. I could grow to love to hate it. This is total garbage, but I can’t honestly say I’m not thinking about buying more just to admire the scope of the unmitigated disaster. Grade C.


9.21.11 Releases

Remember all the many weeks I’ve griped about there not being anything coming out? It’s a much different story this week; it seems like everything I’m into is coming out. Going down Diamond’s Shipping List, Cheval Noir opens with BPRD: Hell on Earth – Russia #1 (Dark Horse). I’ve not paid much attention to BPRD in the last couple of years, but back when I was buying both titles regularly, I always preferred this to Hellboy, and that cover sure is eye-catching. I’ve also been marshalling my interest for DHP with Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s The Massive due in January, so I’ll give Dark Horse Presents #4 (Dark Horse) the requisite flip test, but I suspect I’ll wait until a less hectic month to start buying it.

DC’s got my two Brian Wood regulars, with DMZ #69 (DC/Vertigo) marking just 3 issues left of the series, and Northlanders #44 (DC/Vertigo) marking just 6 issues left of that series! Of the infamous New 52, Wonder Woman #1 (DC) is the only book I can say will be a sure buy, thanks to Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang. On the maybe side, I see Legion of Super Heroes #1 (DC) because I generally like the property, Red Hood and the Outlaws #1 (DC) because it’s such an awfully odd mix of characters it might just work – and I like Rocafort’s art, and Nightwing #1 (DC) because Dick Grayson remains my favorite childhood character of the now lamented DCU. On the “big book” front, we have the collected edition of The New York Five (DC) from Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly, along with the long-awaited New Teen Titans: Games HC (DC). As a Wolfman & Perez fan from back in the day, this could be really cool.

At the second tier publisher level, I can’t say that I’ll buy it for sure, but I think it’s interesting that IDW has Star Trek #1 (IDW) as a new ongoing series that will bridge the gap between the awesome new Star Trek movie and the sequel due out in 2012. I’m excited to get the next installment of Jonathan Hickman’s latest indie project, with The Red Wing #3 (Image). It’s not October yet, but this is always a fun treat, it’s the Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror #17 (Bongo). I’m interested enough to continue this series, with Spontaneous #4 (Oni Press) also due out, though it’s now listed as 4 of 5, which is news to me. I thought it was an ongoing. I’m probably most excited about Game of Thrones #1 (Dynamite Entertainment), and it’ll be interesting to see how this is adapted vis-à-vis the HBO series, and the novels, now that I’m just wrapping up the third book A Storm of Swords.

Marvel really doesn’t have anything listed I’ll be buying for sure, but I’ll give Vengeance #3 (Marvel) and Avengers: Children’s Crusade #7 (Marvel) a casual flip. Joe Casey’s Vengeance really failed to hook me strong on the first issue, but it’s still worth a look. Children’s Crusade is surprisingly the best of the Avengers books currently coming out, but it’s a limited series, comes out quarterly or something, and is sure to contend with Warren Ellis’ Secret Avengers at this point, but once collected the 9 issue extravaganza is going to be a powerful package of entertainment.


9.14.11 Reviews (Part 2)

Scalped #52 (DC/Vertigo): It certainly feels like Jason Aaron is putting things in motion that will dramatically shut the book down in just 8 issues. I always like seeing glimpses of Dash’s “origin” story as a kid. It’s clear that sometimes Dash might not do the smartest thing, but the beauty of it is that he does what any one of us would probably do in similar circumstances. Scenes like the council meeting with Red Crow keep us on the edge of our seat because he’s so unpredictable, it makes Scalped such a taut crime thriller. Many plotlines begin to crash into each other here, you’ve got the mystery of Red Crow’s end game, Shunka’s second secret being finally revealed, Dash knowing for sure who killed his mom, Dash’s dad’s realization that his son is an FBI Agent, Nitz kicking off what amounts to a back-up plan purely out of exhausted desperation, all while Sheriff Karnow is a living example of what the series is all about. He asks the most basic question about man’s nature. Can he change? Can a man break the cycle of the life that is laid out before him? It’s an exquisite piece of storytelling, the power of which transcends the medium. I’d easily put Scalped up against movies, TV shows, novels, and other comics as one of the most intense and enlightening pieces of pop culture in recent memory. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Force #15 (Marvel): Whew! I was so relieved to see Jerome Opena’s name on the cover. His art is just gorgeous, with large expanses that feel epic in scope. It’s visually stunning, with tight pencils, crisp inks, lush coloring, and it all builds to make this feel like a story that really matters, amid many X-Men stories that honestly don’t. Warren is dominated by Archangel as the “architect of our true future,” he and his cohorts using a life seed to grow a world of their own design. Betsy gets a good quick fight scene, and there’s an extended sequence where Fantomex, Deadpool, and Deathlok take on all of the Horsemen and actually do pretty well. In fact, they kill Death and capture Famine. The banter with this trio and Deathlok is absolutely hilarious. It’s just funny: “The rhythm really is gonna’ get you.” It’s disturbing: “I’m willing to bet he’s a pret-ty fair torturer.” It’s sarcastic, self-aware, and post-modernist: “Too bad. Would have been a real sweet moment between us.” Not only is the action absolutely brutal, but the way Opena stages things, it’s like you can actually hear movement on the page. When they go over that cliff, I heard sound effects in my head, that’s how convincing the pencils are. It’s fun action, strong characterization, and a plot that matters. It’s all you really want from an X-Men book. I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate – when paired, Remender and Opena make the best X-book currently available, let’s hope that Opena stays present more often than not. This is pretty damn close to getting the “+” also(!), but let’s call it a strong Grade A.

I also picked up;

Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story (Image Comics): Kody Chamberlain’s crime opus is finally collected and can easily hold it’s own against books like Criminal, 100 Bullets, and other more famous offerings. It goes to show that popularity doesn’t have anything necessarily to do with inherent entertainment or artistic value. If it did, more people would be buzzing about this. Certainly the critics are hip to what Kody is cookin’ but it’d be nice if the general masses were too. Special thanks to Kody for including a couple of pull quotes from me on the TPB, and a shout out to my pals from across the pond at Paradox Comics, who also landed one. It’s cool to be standing side by side with such swell guys on such a bad-ass book. The only two words I have left for Kody Chamberlain and his comics are… what’s next?


9.14.11 Reviews (Part 1)

Batwoman #1 (DC): It’s too bad that DC can’t take much credit for this upping the success rate of the New 52, since it was never really a part of the new line. I mean, they could have published this months ago! The good news is that it was worth the wait. If you discount the technicality of its inclusion, this is easily the best book of the New 52. By far. JH Williams III and W. Haden Blackman (no Amy Reeder Hadley?) deliver a story that is nearly perfect in execution on all fronts. I have a couple minor quibbles with how the Spanish language is used (“mi hijo” should become the standard contraction “mijo” and no native speaker would ever say “mi dios,” instead they’d utter “dios mio”), and there’s a humongous two-page exposition dump when Colonel Kane finally arrives on scene, but other than that things are pretty tight. Jim’s formal experimentation on the page is absolutely a thing of beauty. The page layouts are miraculous with intent, not simply style over function, aided a ton by the one-two punch of Dave Stewart’s colors and Todd Klein’s letters. The team puts so many things into motion here, from plotlines to characters – both personal and professional, and it’s all effortlessly paced. We have an investigation into some kids being abducted by an otherworldly menace, the DEO (hot off of JH Williams and D. Curtis Johnson’s old Chase series, including Chase herself and Director Bones!!!) investigating Batwoman simultaneously, references to those Chase stories and the first run of Batwoman, Detective Sawyer, Renee Montoya, Bette Kane (no longer Flamebird), and on and on. Perhaps a little odd that Bette references being with the Teen Titans and fighting Deathstroke if continuity has been wiped clean, but oh well. It’s like JH is two completely different artists in one, pulling off superhero sequences and civilian sequences with completely different aesthetic temperaments. This book is a masterful example of corralling so many disparate parts into a cohesive whole. There’s the intricate plot, multiple players, beautiful pencils, and heaps of style on top of it all. Throw in a last page cameo from Batman (maybe offering to formally franchise Batman Inc. again?) and this is an easy Grade A.

Demon Knights #1 (DC): Paul Cornell. Diogenes Neves. I picked this up mostly based on the strength of the art during the Casual Flip Test (CFT) at the Local Comics Shop (LCS), and to a lesser extent some early buzz on the interwebs. Past that, I didn’t know much going into this except that Paul Cornell let me down a little on Stormwatch. Thankfully, Diogenes Neves seems to have broken free from the generic house style at DC, and done something that’s got his own unique flair to it, with small bits of Adam Hughes, Jim Lee, John Byrne, and even some deliberate Jack Kirby affectation. I think it’s certainly the best looking of the New 52 I’ve sampled so far. I don’t know exactly where the story is going yet, but there’s plenty to chew on with the time jumping exploits of Madame Xanadu, Jason Blood/Etrigan, Merlin, Vandal Savage, and the dubious gender identity of Sir Ystin, aka: Shining Knight Sir Justin. Cornell mentioning Game of Thrones as comparison makes me really nervous, because them's mighty big shoes to fill. But, the pace is brisk, I like the banter between Xan and Blood, and there’s probably enough of a hooky off-beat cliffhanger thing happening here to make me come back for an issue or two. I sound like a broken record, “I’m still not blown away,” but this was a nice surprise. Grade B+.

Legion Lost #1 (DC): Fabian Nicieza. Pete Woods. I was a huge fan of the original Legion Lost story, which spun out of the Legion of the Damned crossover back in the late 90’s. It’s my favorite Legion story by far, so I thought I’d just jump in and give this a try based on that nostalgia alone. Woods is an ok artist, but it makes me miss Olivier Coipel from the original stuff I referenced above. I think Woods inking his own work helps tremendously, as does Brad Anderson’s coloring. I’d probably prefer to see Ultra Boy in here as the brash one, rather than Timber Wolf, but as long as it’s got Dawnstar and Wildfire, I’m pretty much in. We also get Chameleon Girl, Tellus (new character?), Tyroc (new character?), and Gates. There’s a lot of mumbo jumbo about time bubbles, the “flashpoint breakwall,” searching for Alastor’s Wake, and blah-bitty-blah, but for the most part his is a high-spirited adventure that just feels more fun than most of the New 52 I’ve sampled. I’m not seeing much that makes this intrinsically a Legion story vs. another generic team though, nor am I really blown away, but it feels good enough, with a little hookage toward the end regarding the pathogen threatening Earth and our heroes being stranded in time. Grade B-.

Grifter #1 (DC): Man, I really wanted to like this book, but this was pretty awful. It felt like DC was trying to establish Grifter as some sort of Gambit meets Logan freelance operative here, saying “darling” in New Orleans, and it just kind of fell on it’s face. Cafu (with Bit) on the cover looks really nice actually, but inside when it’s Cafu alone, things seem to fall apart. The aisles on the plane are comically large, no effort is made to explain why everyone isn’t sucked out when the cabin depressurizes, and Cole is seated, then up, then told to sit, but only the second time, wait, huh? The choreography of the action and just the… logic of it all is way off. It’s very jerky. Cafu’s art seems best with thicker inks (like the cover), but inside it’s very thin and wispy, and much too delicate to service the tone of the story, which wants to be gritty. Ugh, did I just type “gritty?” So the end result is just generic DC house art once again. “17 Minutes” is planted to look like an old Will Eisner title sequence, but instead looks like a lame bookshelf on the wall. I guess Nathan Edmonson is trying to bring the WildStorm Daemonites (which Grifter and the WildCats fought) in to function as, like The Brood of the DCU or something? Feels tired. The dialogue about sorority girls and con-artists is staged and all kinds of contrived. The weird DC woman in all the New 52 books is in the background, I don’t get why the “Christopher Argent” persona is necessary, I don’t think this team has captured the essence of Cole Cash in any way, and I basically have problems with everything, not the least of which is there being absolutely no hook to make me interested in seeing any more of this. Grade C.

New Reviews @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest round of mini-comics reviews over at Poopsheet Foundation:

BEAST BEGAT BEAST by James Stanton
DITKOMANIA #81 Edited by Rob Imes
GOOFY FUNNIES #4 by Dexter Cockburn
TOO BLUE COMIX #9 by Various
TOO BLUE COMIX #7 by Various
SO BUTTONS #4 by Jonathan Baylis & Various


9.14.11 Releases

Man, there sure is a lot of stuff coming out this week! Who knows if any of it will be any good?! Well, I know a couple things will be great. I’m probably most excited for Batwoman #1 (DC). It’s been a long time coming with this title, after numerous teases, changed dates, and it being caught up in The New 52 nonsense, but it promises to astound on pure visuals alone. Not counting the #0 issue that came out in, what, February or something(?), it marks the first of the run co-written by JH Williams III himself, with art contributions by Amy Reeder Hadley. Jim has been posting up some great B&W art at his site (like the one you see here) as he counts down until the release date. I’ll also be picking up Grifter #1 (DC) to see how this WildStorm alum will fare in the DCU. I caught some stray glimpses of him in Flashpoint and they seemed pretty hoary, so let’s hope it gets better. Scalped #52 (DC/Vertigo) is also a sure buy. It’s amazing to think there are only 8 issues of this title left. So many of my Vertigo mainstays seem to be winding down, with this, DMZ, and Northlanders also coming to an end. Speaking of Northlanders, at his site, Brian Wood has the new issue listed as coming out today, but I didn’t see it in the Diamond Ship List, so I held off on officially mentioning it.

Out of the other DC offerings, Legion Lost #1 (DC) and Mister Terrific #1 (DC) probably have the best shot at making it home, while Suicide Squad #1 (DC), Batman & Robin #1 (DC), Demon Knights #1 (DC), and Frankenstein: Agent of Shade #1 (DC) will receive a very passive casual flip test. I don’t think they have much of a chance considering the, so far, very middling nature of the New 52. To date, the line has very little credibility with me and I’ve been thoroughly underwhelmed by every attempt I’ve made to jump on and be convinced I belong.

I’m quickly tuning out of what’s going on in the Marvel U lately. Gone is the heyday of Whedon and Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men, gone is the magic of Matt Fraction’s company owned work, gone is the experimental gusto of titles like S.W.O.R.D. or Strange Tales. But, Uncanny X-Force is sometimes a bright spot. In the immortal words of C-3PO, “here we go again,” as Uncanny X-Force #15 (Marvel) ships this week. If it’s Jerome Opena on art, I’ll love it. If it’s anyone else, I’ll hate it. Same old tune. My bro Michael and I were discussing how the art seems to be affecting the writing in such illogical ways. For example, when Opena is on art, Deadpool is funny. Yet, when he’s not on art, the humor seems to fall flat. It doesn’t make any sense because Remender writes them all, but this phenomenon doesn’t cease to be so.

I was also surprised to see Optic Nerve #12 (Drawn & Quarterly) listed; does this truly mean there’s a new issue of this now-classic indie book from Adrian Tomine? On the collected edition front, this title has something of a cult following, so it’s nice to see Cheval Noir put out the Complete Major Bummer: Super Slacktacular TPB (Dark Horse). Last, but not least, I’ll definitely be picking up Sweets: A New Orleans Crime Story TPB (Image) from Kody Chamberlain, which is certainly the best crime book to debut in the last few years. My advice to you? Opt out of a couple of those new 52 dogs and buy this instead!


I'll Miss You, Dylan

I feel absolutely crushed by this news.

I can only imagine what his family and close friends may be going though, but my thoughts are with them. For now, all I can seem to dwell on is the initial bout of panic I felt when I heard the news. It’s like one of those tragic events that occurs in which you’ll always remember where you were. I was standing in a crowded room full of 300 people who were laughing and drinking and having a great time. It was one of those moments of intense focus, where I blocked everything else out. The room went quiet around me. I don’t know what they were saying. I only remember staring blankly at the text message on my phone. I felt like I was going into shock. My chest tightened. I got tunnel vision. Time slowed and I ran that damned gamut of emotions. Disbelief, because I didn’t want to accept it as truth. Anger, because I was mad this could happen, it seemed so unfair. Sorrow, because I selfishly thought about how I’d never see him again. Fear, because it seemed so sudden, because he’s only two years older than me and it made me think about my own mortality. Guilty, because I thought about what would happen to the company, to the creators he provided an outlet for, about how I’d need to do this post for my own catharsis, all that instead of first thinking about the personal loss. Confusion, because I didn’t know what would happen next…

Personally, Dylan was merely a friend of a friend to me. I only got the chance to hang out with him a couple of times, every second of which is now etched into my memory. We were much closer professionally, emailing often, as I reviewed dozens of Sparkplug Comic Books over the years. Dylan was gracious enough to put me on the comp list at Sparkplug. I remember the first time I met him. I remember talking comics with him. I remember handing him a copy of my first mini-comic, and the warmth and elation he showed. That genuine interest is something I bet a lot of creators felt so encouraged by…

Dylan created a publishing company out of thin air. He did what all parents tell their kids to do, even if they couldn’t attempt it themselves for more pragmatic reasons. He followed his passion. He contributed something so unique to the industry. He tried to create an audience for the types of books that he wanted to read. There was something so admirable and selfless about that to me. To stake your reputation, your financial means, all on that singular belief. That’s what people mean when they talk about having vision. It felt like Sparkplug was just finally hitting its stride, with so much momentum having reached a crescendo, that maybe the best was yet to come. Sparkplug Comic Books were often, regularly, consistently, on my best of the year lists, and one need only look at the recent round of awards nominations to see the type of brand recognition he’d built. This is a loss that feels immensely consequential. There is a gaping hole in my heart because I’ll miss the guy. There is a gaping hole in my brain where I will miss the intellectual artistry he was responsible for guiding into the world…

Timing is a weird thing in life. It’s a little tangential, but I’ve worked in security and emergency management before and after 9/11. I worked for a company that was directly impacted by 9/11. I thought I’d be spending the 10th anniversary remembering that day, and those immediately following it. Retracing my steps, replaying the events of the day, reliving the decisions I had to make, and wondering about how the events of that day changed my world. It seems that now this horrible date will be colored by another tragic event. In addition to everything else, every 9/11 from this point forward, my thoughts will now wrestle with the loss of Dylan Williams.

Again, timing is a weird thing in life. I keep thinking about DC Comics and their New 52 for some dumb reason. That’s not really what will fix the industry. I always had the feeling that if there were a hundred guys like Dylan doing what he did, following their creative vision, with a transformative agenda, operating with style and influence, that the industry could probably be “fixed” in short order. We didn’t have a hundred guys. We only had one. We had Dylan. The world is better for it.

I’ll miss you, Dylan.


9.07.11 Reviews

Casanova: Avaritia #1 (Marvel/Icon): Even years later into the overall Casanova run, it still feels like Matt Fraction (this time assisted by Gabriel Ba) is pushing the envelope of what comics can be, showing us Comics of the Future. In recent interviews, Fraction has let slip what an ambitious project Casanova might be should it continue to be published. I hate that I just had to type that phrase, “should it continue to be published.” But, he has in mind a 7 part epic, this being the beginning of just the third installment. It’s an initial trilogy, followed by a standalone piece, and then a final trilogy. And already we see some mirroring going on. The first installment of Casanova opened with Cass Quinn saying “I love my job,” and here it opens with him blurting out “I hate my job.” His job is cauterizing several mutant universes that keep popping up as a result of his own time jumping exploits. Fraction’s interactive narrative meta-footnote shorthand just says “sound of spatiotemporal holocaust.” The bleeding edge creativity doesn’t stop there. It’s like Fraction is using some new narrative language, with pseudo-scientific overtones. There’s the visual shorthand of the impressive 16 panel grid on one page, where the line between form and function gets so blurry. There’s the amazing coloring. There’s the visual MacGuffin that is literally a delivery guy from a McGuffin delivery service. [There’s a small goof where the uniform says “McGuffin” but the text says “MacGuffin,” which I believe is the correct spelling, but oh well…]. There are so many Fraction add-ins, and they all play metatextually or meta-medium-ally (see, I have to even invent new language to describe what he’s doing!) that there’s so many layers to what’s going on. And it plays so much more organically and rooted in manic story than something like Alan Moore’s dry and exhaustive LOEG has become. I enjoyed Cass commiserating with Sasa Lisi about essentially becoming the destroyer of worlds, trying to break free from the cyclical deluge his life has become. I enjoyed Cass breaking the fourth wall and referring to “this book.” I enjoyed the backmatter where he discusses how in social networks, “speed and ubiquity have replaced depth.” The backmatter is more humble than self-congratulatory; I think this is what Joe Casey wishes he was actually doing in Butcher Baker. As Fraction seeks to revive a more interactive lettercol, the backmatter also lets slip some little secrets, like the next volume of Casanova being titled “Acedia,” with art by Fabio Moon. We learn Newman Xeno’s secret identity, I think it’s the Fraction stand-in, which leads to the existential crisis the lead character is going through, fueled by the autobiographical concerns that inhabit the Quinn family, from Casanova to his dad. There’s nothing like this book. It should be selling hundreds of thousands of copies. Ba and Moon should be household names. Please transport me to the timeline where that’s true. Grade A.

Justice League International #1 (DC): Hey, it’s the first official New 52 book I’m reading! Sure, I thumbed through copies of Justice League #1 while at Midtown Comics, but this is the first I’m really reading and absorbing. There’s nothing wrong with the book, it’s just very middling. It’s a good adventure, with a diverse cast. It’s a fairly standard “gathering the team” issue. I’m really not a fan of Dan Jurgens, but he’s competent here. The upfront exposition provides the raison d’etre for this incarnation of the UN team. There’s an effort made to expand the cast with a couple of Amanda Waller type characters. There’s a couple nods to other stuff, the Hall of Justice, Queen Industries, I guess Connor Hawke is GA(?), and it’s funny that Booster Gold thinks he’s being asked to join the “real” Justice League. But, it’s all just painfully straightforward. The threat is generic, and it just feels very safe, with no hook. I think a book like this has to have more of a slant to differentiate itself. It’s got to be the funny one, or the irreverent one, or the dark one, or… something. Right now, it’s just the other one. This is the kind of thing that I’d be happy to pick up from a quarter bin, but as is I see no reason to return. It’s not a destination book. And with 13 new titles a week, you’d better wow me to stand out from the crowd and give me some reason to return. Grade B.

Batgirl #1 (DC): Gail Simone. Ardian Syaf. Barbara Gordon. We join the action en media res, where a new(?) villain named The Mirror is killing a list of people, and Babs’ name appears on that list. The only real hook here is that Barbara acknowledges her disabled period, which lasted only 3 years (shit, out here in the real world, I think I was in 8th grade or something when I read The Killing Joke the day it came out!), and is still courtesy of the Joker in the seminal The Killing Joke. Other than that, no effort is made to explain her recovery other than it being termed a “miracle,” and a subtle clue with her “eidetic memory.” There’s some questionable physics, with a batarang being faster than a bullet, but other than that, some decent fast-paced action. On the art side of the equation, I see inconsistency. Syaf runs the gamut from some very awkwardly staged poses and very wonky use of perspective, all the way to a very lean and dynamic look that is almost like a thicker, less busy Jim Lee in spots. Really beautiful stuff when it’s on, and really very ugly and off-putting when it’s not. I’m not sure what I was expecting from this book, but again it all feels just very pedestrian. It’s a competent superhero book, with some emotional growth for the character. It’s not bad, but there’s no wow factor to make me say to myself, "I gotta’ keep reading this title!" I think I could see myself coming back to this faster than I would JLI, but awarding the “+” feels like too much, it’s still in the range of Grade B.

Stormwatch #1 (DC): Paul Cornell. Miguel Sepulveda. Let’s see, so WildStorm’s “The Bleed” has become DC’s “Hyperspace.” WildStorm’s “The Carrier” has become DC’s “The Eye of the Storm,” which was an old sub-imprint of WildStorm, around the time Automatic Kafka launched. Sheesh, self-referential much? Stormwatch has been around for thousands of years, here they are attempting to recruit Apollo as a “Superman level” entity. But, if Superman is new, how do they know that? Hrmm. They also know Martian Manhunter is from the Justice League, but so far he hasn’t appeared in those titles, so uhh, it sure feels like intra-company continuity is already a little fucked, no? The art is all over the place, ranging from sleek and, dare I say, futuristic, to all weirdly squeezed and stretched out in spots, like something is really wrong with my TV. Anyway, there’s a nice reveal of MM, recycled ideas about Jenny Quantum as one of many Century Babies, and I still generally like the premise. They’re a covert team! They’re fighting… the moon! It certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Warren Ellis, positioning itself as a sort of Planetary/Authority-lite. But, right now it feels VERY watered down. I think this feels like it has a little more potential than the other New 52 books I read this week. It has the inherent capacity to be slightly more subversive. I’m not seeing it now, but I’m just interested enough to come back and see it if can deliver on the promise. This probably is the closest to getting the “+” with the story potential and the odd conglomeration of components, but with the inconsistency of the art, it’s still a lackluster Grade B.

The Big Lie #1 (Image): This is an odd book. Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine deliver sort of this fictional time travel story that exposes some of the conspiracy angles to 9/11. It’s a bit of a response to the rushed officlal 9/11 Commission Report, and the wake of inconsistencies that followed. It’s a string of culled facts, expositionally linked together, as some woman who works on the Hadron Collider finds a way to time travel (just like that!) back to 9/11 and attempt to warn her husband who works in the WTC as some sort of Risk Management Movie Consultant for a thinly veiled “Stephen” [Spielberg]. It’s weird. It’s actually pretty easy to debunk most of these conspiracy theories, but I still find the subject matter interesting. It’s a pretty standard assault on building collapse, controlled demolition characteristics, metallurgy, etc. What the book gets right is a rather compelling case for the under-reported collapse of WTC 7 and Cheney and Rumsfeld’s involvement in The Project for a New American Century. It also touches on how surprising the chain of events were to the intelligence community and how passive surveillance could have missed the pilot training, the taking of the planes, the lack of oversight, air defense being told to stand down, and from May to July of that year, intelligence agencies from around the world insisting that an Al-Qaeda attack on US soil was imminent. As the book itself says, evaluating this comic was like examining the “signal to noise ratio” of the content. That said, I’ve seen most of these lines of logic before. I was kinda’ hanging in there with the high exposition, retread arguments, sloppy pencils, and melodramatic acting. Until that last page crosses a line into absurdly insulting. It crosses from presenting selective facts to support a position, into downright fictional presentation of explosives used to bring down Towers 1 and 2. It’s seems reprehensibly irresponsible. It stopped editorializing and just started making shit up. In that moment, I think this book went from a Grade C to a Grade F.


Jeromy Cox is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Please join us at the DMZ tribute site for our second guest interview, with DMZ colorist extraordinaire Jeromy Cox. I want to thank Jeromy for being so generous with his time while collaborating for the interview. Jeromy was a wealth of behind the scenes information for 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.


8.31.11 Reviews

Before I dive into this week's reviews, I thought I'd try to quickly catch up from last week. While most stores ordered up on Flashpoint #5 and Justice League #1, of course Sea Donkey sold out, so here's what I picked up...

Secret Avengers #16 (Marvel): There’s a certain amount of… let’s call it “genre condescension” in this that I really like. You see, Warren Ellis actually thinks that superheroes are a pretty lame idea. He’s proven in works like Black Summer and No Hero what a flawed paradigm the genre is. He did it in a way that was much more visceral and direct than the classic Watchmen, or even more subtle works like Brian Wood’s DV8. The way that plays out is that he seems to take the characters to their satirical extreme. Steve Rogers isn’t so much a leader here as he is the ultimate delegator. Beast is so erudite that he’s annoying. Black Widow is largely smart-ass femme fatale window dressing. Moon Knight is the crazy one, the borderline psychotic. There’s the inclusion of uber-Bond tech weapons like the flechette guns or the Atomic Cadillac. Ellis doesn’t even use his typical pseudo-science, but straight kid logic - Von Doom Radiation. Why can’t Von Doom Radiation be stopped? Because nothing can stop Von Doom Radiation! It’s interesting that with these characters, he’s sort of captured the most basic archetypes for this type of team. There’s the leader, the muscle, the brain, and the female. Part of me wishes that he would have established this story in Cleveland rather than Cincinnati, since he’s subverting the genre, you might as well start in the city that was essentially the birthplace of the superhero. But, oh well. This issue is an adrenaline shot of grand action choreography, it’s crisp and clean, done on a big scale, and you almost don’t notice that the time platform is basically only a MacGuffin to propel the action forward. If this is the book that finally catapults Jamie McKelvie to the stardom he so deserves, then so be it. Ellis has used this story format before. I recently picked up the entire run of Global Frequency out of a quarter bin and he used the done-in-one format extremely well for this type of espionage/adventure book. And let’s not forget Fell, even though that format is used in a different genre, it's still the done-in-one variety. I don't think anybody uses it better. Ellis’ tagline for the book is “Run The Mission. Don’t Get Seen. Save The World.” But, I think he could just as easily have called it “Read The Book. Don’t Think. Enjoy Comics.” Grade A.

Uncanny X-Force #14 (Marvel): This is what I’m talking about! If the book was this good every time, I would never question my continued financial support of the title. It’s like a weird consumer trap, where 2 issues are off, then there’s one good one, then 2 issues are off, then Jerome Opena comes back for a good one. Good lord, just have Jerome Opena be the artist on every issue and you’ll have the best X-book currently being published. It's not that hard to figure out. I enjoyed the ascension of Archangel with Dark Beast and the Horsemen in tow. He’s such a different leader than Apocalypse was. Opena’s art is so moody, so slick, so sharp, so visceral, it seems like he was absolutely born to do this specific book. It’s exactly the type of vibe a covert kill team should be operating with. It’s really got everything, high octane adventure, action that has a sense of consequence to it, individual character moments, the return of Deadpool’s humor, coherent story threads, Betsy acting as a back-up leader when Logan is out of commission, a love plotline, etc. It’s classic X-Men material with a modern sensibility for a desensitized reading audience. Grade A.


9.07.11 Releases

In a nice bit of counterprogramming (or maybe just a happy scheduling accident), Marvel is countering the first wave (not counting last week’s double tap) of The New 52 with Matt Fraction’s raucous Casanova: Avaritia #1 (Marvel/Icon), the first of four issues, and it’s certainly the book I’m most looking forward to this week since we’ll finally be getting new content. I haven’t paid much attention to this title since I sampled the first trade and was underwhelmed, but that sure is a pretty cover to Atomic Robo: Ghost of Station X #1 (Red Five), and I’ll be giving that the casual flip test at the LCS based on the strength of the cover and it kicking off a new 6 issue mini-series. Out of the aforementioned New 52 offerings, I can only say for certain that I’ll be picking up Stormwatch #1 (DC). I generally enjoy Paul Cornell’s stuff, and with the inclusion of Martian Manhunter in what looks to be a Planetary-lite for the DCU in this WildStorm holdover, I’m interested to see if it all comes together. I’ll probably give all the new books a casual flip, but Batgirl #1 (DC) and Justice League International #1 (DC) probably have the best shot at making it home. On the OGN side of things, I’m excited to see Richard Sala’s latest entry into “Gothic funny,” with The Hidden (Fantagraphics).