11.02.11 Releases

I can’t say I’m terribly excited about many of the releases this week, as it’s mostly notables and items of interest vs. any sure buys. Perhaps the most critically anticipated book is Kevin Huizenga’s Ganges #4 (Fantagraphics) as the continuation of his sleepless escapades, which distills so many complex modern dynamics into an easily understood visual language. It’s not as exciting a creative pedigree as, say, Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo for me, but I’ll probably give Kieron Gillen and Carlos Pacheco’s Uncanny X-Men #1 (Marvel) a fair shot. The aforementioned Wolverine & The X-Men #1 surprised me to the point I’ll give it another issue or two, so let’s hope the same applies to this title. Avengers: 1959 #3 (Marvel) is also out. Honestly, some of the dialogue is a little hoary and over-the-top, but the globetrotting mega-cast story is fun enough, and it’s difficult not to like Howard Chaykin’s art. I’ll be curious to flip through Heart #1 (Image) to see if Blair Butler can bring the magic. I gave up on this series probably 10 issues back due to severe delays between issues, but Fear Agent #32 (Dark Horse) is also out. This is listed as a part 5 of 5, and I thought I heard that Rick Remender might be wrapping up the series(?). I’ll give it a flip. Anyone enjoying Remender and Jerome Opena on Uncanny X-Force should check their issues of Fear Agent out. Lastly, I thought it was interesting that the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Omnibus HC (DC/Vertigo) was being put out by Vertigo after the demise of WildStorm, and that it contains both the first and second series (that’s 416 pages!) for $49.99. If you purchased the Absolute Editions of these (like I did), that would have set you back $200. Sure the Absolutes are bigger and have extras, but if you just want the story content in a nice single edition hardcover, you can hardly go wrong here. Anyway, this is a great price, marking the only “good” LOEG stories in my opinion, before Alan Moore really went off the deep end and drowned in his own obscure Easter Eggery. What looks good to you?


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10.26.11 Reviews (Marvel Edition)

I’d planned on putting these reviews up much sooner, but as soon as I was finishing them up, the hard drive on my laptop crashed! I lost the document, so here’s basically what I remember…

Secret Avengers #18 (Marvel): There are so many concepts in here that are trademark Warren Ellis. Things like “transmatter” retaining its illogical physical properties regardless of the universe it’s currently in, and “bad continua” spinning off from the crystalline entity that is the multiverse. For anyone who loved David Aja’s run on Immortal Iron Fist with Matt Fraction, you know he’s well suited to tell a story involving Shang-Chi. The line weight here is thicker, which adds more gravitas than the light popcorn entertainment disposable feel that earlier issues of this series have had. These guys have really mastered the art of the classic “done-in-one” story. Ellis is throwing in more rich storytelling shards here than most series see in their entire run. Hello, Warren Ellis is writing Avengers y’all, with some of the most interesting and underrated artists around, and nobody seems to be talking about it! Grade A.

Wolverine & The X-Men #1 (Marvel): I really like Chris Bachalo’s art here, which seems to be easier to parse than some of his more stylized work I’ve seen in the past, I’m thinking of things like DC’s The Witching Hour. Jason Aaron does a great job paying homage to many of the more popular runs of X-Men comics in the past, really bottling that energy, but then taking a huge bold forward-thinking leap forward in a move that could really be a continuity marker. I hope it sticks. The framing device of the state education inspectors plays a little heavy-handed and dense at times, but I’ll probably stick with this for a few issues. He really nails the portrayal of Kitty Pryde. This isn’t the Sprite or Shadowcat girl we grew up loving. This is Headmistress Pryde, standing right alongside Headmaster Logan at the Jean Grey School For Higher Learning. She’s all grown up, marked by her time in Astonishing X-Men. She’s an educated, experienced, and confident woman. Another treat is the backmatter, including an org chart of sorts that reminded me of this Game of Thrones visual. Grade A-.

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10.26.11 Reviews (DC/Vertigo Edition)

DMZ #70 (DC/Vertigo): [DMZ Countdown Clock™: 2 Issues Remaining] There’s a good riff in this issue warning that if you attempt to control chaos, it will basically eat you alive. If you’re still on board with the concept that Zee is a physical manifestation of NYC, then she explains that if you try to understand her, explaining how the city works, then you’ll just miss the magic. You just have to accept it as it is. Once you try to examine and explain, labeling and projecting your ideas onto her, well, that’s a form of control in itself and will be doomed to failure. Riccardo Burchielli has been destroying the city visually for so long, that it’s a hard trick to now show things stabilizing and making a comeback. Surprisingly, you do get that vibe from the art, that cautious optimism is on the horizon, and Jeromy Cox’s coloring choices support that feeling. It’s interesting to see Brian Wood get overtly cerebral now, subconsciously trying to figure out what the book has meant. It’s basically a framing device allowing an extended conversation between Zee and Matty as they see one example of war passing someone by who is failing to evolve with the times. It’s a scary thought that if the “New” New York isn’t of interest to some, then what was the point of trying to save it all? It’s that tender vulnerability that Zee mentioned. We learn through shots of The Empire State Building and the UN that “Midtown West” and “Midtown East” are the final two of The Five Nations of New York, in this fledgling peace attempt. Man, there’s this line: “What happens next is going to be written about, talked about, and analyzed for years to come. Don’t worry about that. You can’t control that.” I don’t think Brian tries consciously to get meta ever, but this type of thought just organically seeps into his writing. This line is like Brian Wood discussing the end of the series. Wondering about audience expectation and rejecting it. Just listening to his heart, his gut, and putting it out there. Maybe the character(s) we’ve come to love don’t all live happily ever after. Hey, as long as Zee is still kicking, NYC lives. For as much as I’ve written, this is really a quiet issue. But, I have a feeling it may grow to be a favorite, or one of the most memorable. It began last arc, but you can really see it here, the boy who entered the DMZ is no more. Matty is finally acting like a man. Grade A.

Don’t forget, LIVE FROM THE DMZ is your behind-the-scenes resource for all things DMZ. We’ve got interviews with Brian Wood up for the first 6 volumes of the series, and recently posted an interview with DC/Vertigo Senior Editor Will Dennis covering his thoughts on the series. Check it out!

Scalped #53 (DC/Vertigo): Whew! We finally get some resolution on that Shunka cliffhanger fake out from last issue. Here’s a dude resigned to duty in more ways than one, professionally and personally Shunka seems to accept his pre-determined path in the world, and it’s noble and sad all at once. When the hell did Sheriff Karnow become the unexpected star of this book?! I find myself enjoying his appearances immensely. It takes some really skilled creators to take a throwaway douchebag, turn him all around with growth and compassion and determination, and make us not only care about the dude, but actually like him a little. It just goes to show the realism at play here, how every character has so many facets to their personality. It also takes a skilled band of creators to take their lead character, Dash, and create a situation where he can’t talk(!) for multiple issues. Yet, he still “says” tons. It’s so deceptive, you almost don’t notice it’s been happening, but there it is. 50+ issues in, and Scalped is still unpredictable, full of surprises, and edge of your seat entertainment. There’s probably no other series in recent memory that consistently delivers, I’m talking every issue, such jaw-dropping, page-turning performances with grit and style. Grade A.

Spaceman #1 (DC/Vertigo): I’m always down for a dystopian futurescape, and I appreciate the attempt at evolving the language to include short clipped phonetically spoken pseudo words, but this was a little difficult to track at times. Brian Azzarello pours on a healthy dose of cultural commentary with a missing celebrity adoptee that the protagonist gets embroiled in. There’s also the deep dive theme of God vs. Nature, as primates are genetically engineered to be Spacemen, though it’s unclear if those are truly memories or maybe just hallucinations. Eduardo Risso’s art is as sharp as usual, but I’m not feeling very hooked by this story, just largely underwhelmed considering all the hype. Since I won’t be returning, this really makes you appreciate the no-risk $1 price on the first issue. If every #1 had such a price, I’d gladly be trying more even if it didn’t always work out long term. For that low price, I’m happy to participate even if it’s a “miss” for me personally. If not for that very agreeable $1 entry fee, this would have rated lower than Grade A-.

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10.26.11 Releases

This could be a huge week for me if I actually purchased everything I was interested in, so let’s break this down from “definite purchases” to “just curious” and see what we can see. DMZ #70 (DC/Vertigo) is about as sure as a sure thing gets. I’m starting to freak out a little, the fact that the series is ending in just two more months is hitting me hard. If you haven’t been checking out LIVE FROM THE DMZ, please get yourself over there so we can end the year with a bang! Speaking of amazing books soon coming to a close, Scalped #53 (DC/Vertigo) is out this week as well. It’s set to wrap at #60, and while I’m happy that Jason Aaron has gone on to other (Marvel) work and made a career for himself in the industry, it is sad that we won’t get any other Vertigo work out of him, as DC seems to let another hot writer slip through their fingers. Really, what's left in the Vertigo stable that's going to fill the gaping hole left by these two books? Warren Ellis has been delighting us with Global Frequency In The Marvel Universe, with Secret Avengers #18 (Marvel) also coming out. The rotating artist concept means that things can get inconsistent, but few have mastered the art of the “done-in-one” as well as Ellis. It’s always entertaining. I’m curious to see what Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso will do with their Spaceman #1 (DC/Vertigo) collaboration. It’s set to be a 9-issue series. At full price, this might have been in the maybe pile, but at just $1 for the introductory issue, it’s a no-brainer. Azzarello has been tearing it up on Wonder Woman and I’d probably buy just about anything from Eduardo Risso.

On this next tier, these are books that I’m likely to purchase, but something might go wrong during the casual flip test that would derail my noble intentions. Wolverine & The X-Men #1 (Marvel) makes me a little crazy because of the whole “let’s just jigger our whole line so we can squeeze out as many new #1’s as possible, as often as possible, and over-expose Wolverine even more than he already is…” BUT, with Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo on board, it’s liable to be a fairly taught and stylish package. I think Schism felt really plot hammery and contrived, while being devoid of plausible actions, but in theory I can warm to the idea of splitting ideologies between Scott and Logan, so I’ll likely check out at least the first issues of their respective new books. I was surprised to see Captain Swing & The Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #4 (Avatar Press) in the solicits this week. Let’s see, the last issue came out in March, was late itself, and was fairly underwhelming. I still don’t understand why it takes two years to get a 4 issue mini-series out, but Warren Ellis is usually worth a look regardless. Maybe it’s time to put projects like this on the dreaded “wait for the trade” list though. I’m looking for something in Justice League: Dark #2 (DC) to catch my eye so that I can take it home. Not sure what it is, but I’ll know it when I see it. Speaking of interesting but habitually late creators, Jonathan Hickman’s The Red Wing #4 (Image) is also due out. Hickman’s creator owned stuff is better than his company owned work for my money, but even then can be hit and miss. I haven’t enjoyed this as much as, say, Pax Romana. It sucks to say, but honestly I might just thumb through this in the LCS and call it a day.

This last group is books that I’m pretty sure I won’t be purchasing, but I’ll give them a passing look to see if they can change my mind. Game of Thrones #2 (Dynamite Entertainment) will not make it home if it has the same cartoony, totally-missed-the-mark aesthetic to the art as the first issue. Really, short of Scooby-Doo showing up, you couldn’t have gotten the tone of the art more wrong on this book. It’s a shame too, because as someone who loves the HBO series and went on to read the novels, I’m basically the perfect audience for this, so if I’m not buying it, I really don’t know who else would. Butcher Baker Righteous Maker #7 (Image) is the latest issue in a series that I quickly grew tired of, but it’s fun to flip through the backmatter to see what type of faux egotistical rock star word vomit artistic manifesto call to arms Joe Casey will treat us to. The other Legion books in The New 52 have largely missed for me, but I’ll give this tweaking of their beginnings a quick look, with Legion: Secret Origin #1 (DC). Lastly, I think Avengers: Solo #1 (Marvel) has some potential. What looks good to you?


Will Dennis is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Please join us at the DMZ tribute site for our interview with Senior Editor Will Dennis. I’ve been a fan of Will’s editorial stewardship at DC/Vertigo for a long time on quite a few different books, so thanks to him and the PR folks at DC for approving his participation in our experimental project.

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.

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10.19.11 Reviews

Batman #2 (DC): Greg Capullo seems to be capturing a style that’s the best of 90’s Image work, which isn’t a phrase you hear me use often, in fact, usually it’s the opposite of that. Scott Snyder opens with a geography lesson that’s clearly expositional, but it’s done in such a sleek and stylish way that we hardly mind. It acquaints us with Gotham City, making it feel more like New York than it probably ever has before. The attributes of decades old Wayne Tower really foreshadow the existence of Batman and what he means to the city. I think the best part about Snyder’s scripting is that the action is very intelligent, describing why glass breaks a certain way, why certain strike points on the body are key based on what arteries are present, how many pounds of pressure it takes to crush a windpipe, etc. It’s not mindless at all, and Capullo uses some forced perspective shots that are just glorious. Snyder also includes smart tech, and some real detective work in process, as the mysterious “Athenian Owl” and “The Court of Owls” manifest. It pulls you right in. It’s also great how this Nightwing is a better Nightwing than the Nightwing in the actual Nightwing book, far more in-character. We now have a time clock ticking as Bruce Wayne, and maybe all of the Bat family, are under attack. It’s surprising how dense the text is, but it’s never a slog, and the panels are just as crammed with lovely detail. We get board room developments, as well as dead bodies, with Snyder positioning Lincoln March as a sort of Harvey Dent white knight that could take an incredibly entertaining fall. This is just smart and fun, better than the first issue even, and if all the new books were this good, I’d be ready to declare The New 52 a rousing success. I really enjoyed this. It's the first time in a long time that I feel I've truly gotten my money's worth of entertainment from a monthly floppy. Grade A.

Wonder Woman #2 (DC): I love the way that Cliff Chiang can create a Wonder Woman that is absolutely cute, sexy, and powerful, without veering into the flip side of trite, sleazy, or clichéd superhero. Brian Azzarello continues this hard left storytelling that’s deeply rooted in Greek Mythology, feeling more like he took a cue from the Neil Gaiman playbook and is showing us a bickering pantheon of Greek deities reminiscent of The Endless. Everything seems to spin out of Zeus’ dalliances with Earthly women, followed by Hera’s jealousy and their manipulations of the lesser gods and half-mortals. This issue sees Diana return to Queen Hippolyta and Paradise Island, hiding out with Hermes and Zola (who happens to be carrying another of Zeus’ illegitimate offspring). I’m enjoying how Azz shies away from raw exposition, using vagueries like “The Amazon” to refer to our titular heroine. The book is incredibly fast-paced and I have to give a shout-out to Matthew Wilson for some really smart coloring choices. It doesn’t blow me away with pizzazz quite yet, but I’m pleasantly surprised to still feel intrigued by where this will go and just how far the creative team is willing to depart from the familiar. We still get Diana molded from clay, but for the most part they’re creating a new tapestry with mere whiffs of the old mythos. Isn’t that what they should strive for, wasn’t that supposed to be what this grand experiment was all about? Grade A-.

Avengers: 1959 #2 (Marvel): Howard Chaykin continues his unofficial team-up with Colonel Fury’s retro Avengers and John Steed from the 1960s Avengers TV show. It’s got an undeniable aesthetic style, as Nazi remnants seek to establish a Fourth Reich, so England and America must team-up once again, this time in the shadows. Chaykin nails the period visually and in the scripting department, with mentions of Cold War era Clandestine Foreign Service Officers in Europe, Courvoisier, and then dutifully weaves in Latveria and Wakanda for the Marvelites. It seems a missing Black Panther causes Wakandan officials to finance this incarnation of the covert Avengers team against some German Lord of Death zombies, or something? It plays a little bit disjointed with all of the sets and name-dropping, but it’s still gorgeous. Grade A-.

Stark Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (IDW): I actually think the idea of this series is really interesting. Both the ST and LSH properties have this sort of humanitarian Utopian vision of space exploration and the future, so seeing all that get shoved together in this rare inter-company team-up held promise for me. Phil Jimenez starts things off right with a gorgeous cover, unfortunately the interior art isn’t quite as strong, often feeling cartoony, flat, lifeless, devoid of motion, and just wonky proportionally. Both groups somehow get stuck in an alternate universe where a Federation-like fleet is attacking the Durlans. Instead of the United Federation of Planets, we have some nefarious militaristic “Imperial Planets.” The writer seems to get the Stark Trek character voices down pretty well, while the rest feel fairly generic. For $3.99, nearly half the book is house ads and a preview of another book by the same writer. As usual, IDW boasts some slick production quality, but the contents can’t seem to live up to the promise of the packaging and the premise. Grade B-.

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DMZ VOLUME 06: BLOOD IN THE GAME is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With just 3 issues left before the series ends, 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 in a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War. Volume 06 introduces us to iconoclast third party candidate Parco Delgado, as elections are held for the provisional government of Manhattan.

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 nothing else like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and many of his series collaborators.

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10.19.11 Releases

I don’t feel very excited about any of the books on the horizon this week. I’ll probably pick up Wonder Woman #2 (DC), will think about purchasing Batman #2 (DC), and will likely just laugh at Red Hood & The Outlaws #2 (DC) in the LCS this week as I put it back on the shelf. It looks like Avengers: 1959 #2 (Marvel) is going to make this mini-series a weekly affair. I’m also curious to see if Stark Trek: Legion of Superheroes #1 (IDW) can pull of this strange team-up. What looks good to you?


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10.12.11 Reviews (Part 2)

The Unexpected #1 (DC/Vertigo): Rafael Grampa covers things just right with this piece of sleazy, sexy, gratuitous, violent, pop culture fun. Can he please do a monthly book? Please? THE GREAT CARLINI by Dave Gibbons sees the writer/artist using a restrained visual style, but very compelling prose, about what it takes to succeed in The New World. I love how clues in the art enhance the words. Ultimately, it takes an unexpected turn that lives up to the name of the book squarely. DOGS by G. Willow Wilson & Robbie Rodriguez is about a mysterious canine rebellion, with suitably dark art, considering all of the murder and regret. It almost feels like some old David Lapham Stray Bullets story, but cranked up with a creepier and more supernatural feel. Jose Villarubia’s coloring is terrific. LOOK ALIVE by Alex Grecian & Jill Thompson is a poignant reversal of the popular zombie apocalypse genre in a lush painterly style. THE LAND by Joshua Dysart & Farel Dalrymple sure makes me miss the work of this artist. Dalrymple is one of those reclusive New York artists that I wish was more productive. The Pop Gun War and Omega: The Unknown remain perennial favorites. In any case, this piece is full of crisp social commentary from Dysart, and whip smart lines, like how the the police being lazy makes them dangerous. It’s about a wrongly accused man and subsequent race relations in the border region. A MOST DELICATE MONSTER by Jeffrey Rotter & Lelio Bonaccorso works toward humbling our place of being in the universe, but is visually a little too comical for my taste. It’s probably the weakest (and when I say “weakest,” I mean, like, the only piece in the book that fails to rise above merely competent) of the entire lot. FAMILY FIRST by Mat Johnson & David Lapham shows us how extreme situations tend to bring out the worst qualities in people, with a Tales From The Crypt-style, classic horror twist. ALONE by Joshua Hale Fialkov & Rahsan Ekedal employs an interesting visual methodology for conveying a spirit in the afterlife visiting the still living. It’s ultimately bitter and sad commentary about relationships today. AMERICANA by Brian Wood & Emily Carroll is a tightly wound, lavishly illustrated piece that stands out as one of the most memorable contributions here aside from the cover by Grampa, and maybe the Dalrymple art. Carroll is a web sensation, and Brian seems to have a knack for bringing women into the mainstream fold who are deserving of wider recognition. Why is Wood so fascinated with the end of the world? I’m not sure, but I love reading about it, whether they’re natural or man-made disasters. This story chronicles one girl’s experiences from 2012, to 2050, to 2080, to 2100, in the flash of just a few short pages. Of course, we haven't read The Massive yet, but from what we know you can almost imagine this story taking place concurrently in that world. Carroll’s art has a sort of Carla Speed McNeil quality to it, with some general Y: The Last Man vibes thrown in for good measure. It’s about nomadic existence with no government and society breaking down, that teaches us sometimes you have to break things in order to fix them. BLINK: LE PRELUDE A LA MORT by Selwyn Hinds & Denys Cowan is, I believe, a teaser for an ongoing Voodoo Child series at DC. Cowan’s art has really come a long way, showcasing some Kevin O’Neill style crosshatching and rendering, combined with the Dark Horse “house style” of a typical BPRD book. It’s good stuff. Overall, The Unexpected feels less like an anthology, notorious for their uneven quality, and more like a collected edition of “best of” material. Grade A.

Uncanny X-Force #16 (Marvel): I admit that I’m running out of ways to explain how this is one of the best books being published at the moment, essentially a perfect X-Men title. Rick Remender can do scary gravitas: “I am not mired by low mythology such as love.” He can do the humor of a “stew of night train, potatoes, and depression.” Deadpool and Fantomex are the mutant Laurel and Hardy. His originality builds upon X-Men history rather than further convoluting it. There’s romance! There’s pulse-pounding action! Not mindless popcorn entertainment action, mind you, but action of consequence. It’s brutal and emotional, every scene with a sense of purpose behind it. Jerome Opena’s art is beautifully visceral and moody, the perfect match in tone. It’s an impressive visual cache that screams the desires and dangers of the taut scripting. It’s everything an X-Men book should be. Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, and let’s not forget colorist Dean White, are the dream team. Grade A.

CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 (Image): The John Cassaday cover pulled me right into an issue that boasts some big names. The ones I’m particularly interested in include Bob Schreck, Gabriel Ba, Fabio Moon, JH Williams III, Joelle Jones, Carla Speed McNeil, Craig Thompson, Jeromy Cox, Dave Stewart, Frank Quitely, and Chris Mitten! Schreck’s editorial opener lets us know that this year will not only include work dealing with just free speech, but additional rights including a “no bullying” campaign, which seems to be the issue in fashion today. Matt Wagner’s Grendel story uses language that is at times a little over the top, but it embraces the newfound theme, with an interesting weaving in of the titular character. JHWIII’s piece uses a stealthy and fluid sense of identity, hones in on equality, is a lavish 2 page spread, and is one of the best pieces in the lot. The Cowboy Ninja Viking story is a high spirited bit of monologuing that zeroes in on the hypocrisy of censorship, but most of the examples and anecdotes feel shoehorned in. Brandon Montclare and Joelle Jones deliver a beautifully illustrated, historically inspired piece about political dissent, examining the degree to which satire was allowable at a certain time in a certain society. Carla Speed McNeil’s piece on (don’t call it) Down’s Syndrome deals with the evolving nature of PC nomenclature, as the ludicrous reinvention of words in an effort to offend nobody proves impossible. It’s one of the best pieces in the book. Kazim Ali and Craig Thompson, along with Dave Stewart’s robust colors, deliver what is, for my money, the centerpiece of the issue. Hot off of Habibi, we learn that “pool is the Urdu word for flower,” in what is also one of the best pieces in the book. I prefer things like this because they function in a more abstract manner, which allows the audience to infer their own meaning, rather than having it all spelled out for them like so many of the lesser pieces do. There’s a careful distinction between change stemming from within vs. societal change at large. JMS offers up a great lesson about the separation of church and state. It’s always nice to see some Christopher Mitten work, especially in color, here it’s The Conversion with writer Dara Naraghi, about Islamic doctrine becoming law in Iran. Judd Winick provides a tongue in check take on great moments in history, with lush caricatures from Thiago Micalopulos. I enjoyed the funny (and naked) Elephantmen cutouts. The last really standout treat is Mark Waid and Jeff Lemire’s visually potent piece about escapism and belonging. It, too, is one of the best pieces in the book. The last page takes aim at a recent incident involving a Canadian border crossing that the CBLDF is currently involved in. Overall, there are 3-4 really standout contributions here, but as far as anthology style books go (and good causes aside), if I had to pick just one this week, it would be DC’s The Unexpected, which avoids some of the consistency issues and is 100% stories vs. the occasional random pin-up. Grade B+.

10.12.11 Reviews (Part 1)

Batwoman #2 (DC): JH Williams III seems to be continuing his structured visual experimentation, and I think it’s a result of his natural inclinations, coupled with experiences working with Alan Moore (Promethea), Warren Ellis (Desolation Jones), and Greg Rucka previously on this title. He opens this issue with some brilliant little inset panels that show strike points during a fight scene. They’re a bit reminiscent of what David Aja was doing with Matt Fraction on very early issues of Immortal Iron Fist, but Williams takes it a step further by not only drawing our focus to the strike points, but then giving them an x-ray image effect so that we can see all the way down to the crunching bone. It’s a cool effect visually, but also works functionally to inform the direction of the action. Yes, it’s style AND substance. The plot has a lot of threads, all enjoyable. Kate is considering Batman’s offer to join Batman Incorporated, DEO Agent Cameron Chase is poking around, there’s a grisly set of child abductions and were-people murders to investigate, there’s romance with Det. Sawyer, she’s still mentoring her cousin Bette Kane, aka: Flamebird, and Williams manages to have fun in this intricate process, by throwing Desolation Jones (from his seemingly abandoned collaboration with Warren Ellis) into the background of a club scene. So, let’s talk about nipples! That’s a smooth segue! I’ve been noticing how Jim draws Kate’s nipples when she’s geared up as Batwoman, the way the fabric of her uniform hangs against her chest. It’s not a simplistic mound, nor is it some comically protruding erect nipple. It’s somewhere realistically in the middle, where you can make out the vague contour of the slightly puffy areola. I’m not saying this to sound salacious, but only because I think the attention to detail is grand, and this man surely appreciates it. I was all prepared to give this issue a Grade A, right up until that amazing two page spread where Sawyer and Chase visually recreate the actions that led to the crime scene they’re at. It’s imaginative, functional, and just so unlike anything you typically see in comics. It’s a bold risk, but it works flawlessly. That makes this issue a Grade A+.

Northlanders #45 (DC/Vertigo): This is part 4 of a 9 issue final run comprised of a trifecta of 3-issue arcs. Declan Shalvey, this guy is good! You can see bits of David Lapham or Cliff Chiang in those pencils, with some amazing detail in the backgrounds. That full page intro is full of movement and intricacy. Inside, we find another generation of Hauksson and Belgarsson at war, this time led by women. At the same time, there’s an influx of Christianity so that we get multiple layers of culture clash. Shalvey shows good range, able to capture fields of beautiful herbs or the muddy depression of the villages. I like the way Wood strings words together, like when he describes a society based on division of labor: men fight, women administrate, and together they dominate. Anyway, this is a set-up issue, so I don’t have a lot to say other than I’m anxiously awaiting to see how this plays out. I was thinking about the transition that’s about to come in Wood’s career. DMZ and Northlanders will soon be replaced by The Massive and, if you can believe anything Rich Johnston says, Conan at Dark Horse. Grade A.

Orchid #1 (Dark Horse): Unfortunately, the best thing I can say about this was that it was only $1. Man, you can kind of see what the creative team was going for, sort of a post-apocalyptic, spiritual successor hybrid of Antony Johnston’s Wasteland and Brian Wood’s The Massive, with some of Nathan Fox’s Fluorescent Black thrown in for good measure. The Massimo Carnevale cover is great, and Tom Morello and Scott Hepburn begin with a really promising iconic shot of Mt. Rushmore nearly underwater. It reminded me of the crumbled Statue of Liberty you see in Planet of the Apes. Small concentrations of surviving humans live atop high cities, while the rest of humanity struggles to exist in The Wild, some sort of evolving swampland, with bands of rebels trying to overthrow an authoritative regime with a... magic mask... or something? There’s tons of names and places being slung at the audience, with some very high and repetitive exposition. The art ranges from passable to very clunky at times, with some unclear panel transitions. The high concept of the script is nice, but the actual dialogue is very unnatural and doesn’t flow well at all. It’s also got some very clichéd archetypes, like the “hooker with a heart of gold.” I won’t be coming back, but I’d sure like to see that Shepard Fairey variant cover! Kudos to Dark Horse for landing that. Grade B-.


10.12.11 Releases

This week, I’ll be purchasing one of the few New 52 that I plan on sticking with in the form of Batwoman #2 (DC). If JH Williams III isn’t nominated for an Eisner Award in the Best Cover Artist category this year, it will be a shame. Northlanders #45 (DC/Vertigo) is also out, marking just 5 issues left of this powerful Brian Wood series. Speaking of Wood, I’m glad to see him included in this new DC anthology book. It’s called either Unexpected, The Unexpected, or Tales of the Unexpected, I’ve seen it listed various ways in various places, but umm… The Unexpected #1 (DC) has Brian Wood, Joshua Dysart, Rafael Grampa, Dave Gibbons, and more. It’s $7.99 for 80 pages and 9 stories of horror and suspense, just in time for Halloween. DC Comics Presents JLA: Age of Wonder #1 (DC) is an odd book, collecting a two issue story that’s basically a classic Elseworlds deal, written by Adi Tantimedh, with art by Galen Showman and P. Craig Russell. It looks like delicious historical fiction, so I’ll give that a flip. Lastly at DC, I’m curious to see what the 100 Bullets HC: Volume 01 (DC) looks like and how it does. Collecting the first 19 issues at $50 for 456 pages, it means there is still a sliver of hope that DMZ might ultimately get similar treatment. If Dark Horse’s success with musician-turned-writer Gerard Way is any indication, I’ll be checking out Orchid #1 (Dark Horse) from Tom Morello. On top of the creator pedigree, it’s got a post-apocalyptic thing happening and the introductory issue is a no risk $1. It’s also time again for the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2011 (Dark Horse), which is always worth a flip. I’m pleased to see another issue of Uncanny X-Force #16 (Marvel) on the stands. On the OGN front, it’s time for another edition of Naoki Urasawa’s epic, let’s call it “the Watchmen of Japan” as so many do, 20th Century Boys: Volume 17 (VizMedia).


10.05.11 Reviews

Casanova: Avaritia #2 (Marvel/Icon): My thoughts are pretty scattered on this issue, but the most important thing is that I really enjoyed it. Not only the main contents, but also the back matter. I love that first run of Immortal Iron First and Five Fists of Science too, but this is still tops in the Matt Fraction library, because it feels the purest. Gabriel Ba is on point. What more do you really need to say about the art? Warren Ellis recently put this term “super” in my head, and it’s all I can really think of now. Super, as in short for “superimposition,” where text is laid over images, and the juxtaposition creates different meaning, particularly when the background image repeats in different iterations. There’s a ton of that going on in Casanova, as Cass hunts Luther Desmond Diamond, who will become Newman Xeno. It sort of begs that question, if you could kill Hitler as a baby, would you go back and do it? Another option is: what if you tried to make him “good” instead? I think that becomes the Newman Xeno option here. Everyone keeps asking Cass if he’s ok, and that’s actually wearing on him as much as that fact that he’s losing his mind. Will all of the time-jumping, he’s forgetting when he is, what his real home timeline is, and his psyche is fractured, but for brief moments of clarity. Fraction continues to parallel his thoughts as a writer, with his characters' thoughts. His own influences are as fractured as Cass’ mind. There are so many meta-textual references to take in, Michelangelo, and Pilgrims (Mayflower variety), and Pilgrims (Oni Press variety), and Kubrick, and Tarantino, and fan culture on the con circuit (complete with Slave Leia and apple bottom Wonder Woman). There’s so much happening and a frenetic pace to it all, as we see the writer projecting his own thoughts into the work. Diamond talks about song writing, but we know it’s really Fraction talking about comic writing, that it’s like dipping a stick in honey and catching butterflies with it. I love the bit when Fraction, err… Diamond, says that he has to “produce what they pay me for” and hope that “the art will come later.” It pushes the boundary of what comics can do and the methods they can use to do it. For example, the clever writer’s shorthand we see, where “insert homophobic quip here” and “insert Soderbergh reference here” is used in lieu of typical dialogue. The issue attacks the perceived weaknesses of the medium as is revels in them. The back matter is the best part, somehow eclipsing even the sheer maniacal magic of the front matter. Fraction often bares his soul, letting us co-examine his own insecurities. At the end of the day, this is the comic he wanted to do when he thought they’d never let him make comics again. The abandonment of caution shows. Everyone should be reading this. Grade A.

Avengers: 1959 #1 (Marvel): Howard Chaykin IS doing the interior art. That’s nice, but it seems like the solicits weren’t exactly clear about that. In any case, I like the premise for these temporally displaced “Avengers.” We’ve got a fun eclectic cast, with Nick Fury, Ulysses Bloodstone, Kraven, Namora, Sabretooth, a Silver Sable, and Dominic Fortune. Nobody really draws stylized sexy women and men’s men in a period aesthetic better than Chaykin. In terms of settings, he pulls of New York City, Wakanda, and Latveria in a way that makes this a visual treat. The dialogue is a little over the top, so that it becomes hoary in spots, what with the “mooks” and the “tete-a-tete” and the “oh, do go on” and the “doll face” lingo. But, overall, there’s the establishment of a mysterious foe, some early action, and lots of moving parts that will hopefully converge into a story as rich and rewarding as the art already is. Grade B+.

Justice League International #2 (DC): Dan Jurgens. Aaron Lopresti. I’m a fan of neither, but I like the characters, in theory. It was a small-ish week, so I decided to give this another shot. I like Godiva, and it’s nice to see the team dynamics settling in a bit, with most of the characters getting a chance to show their personalities. The continuity is still very sloppy, clearly there’s history of Batman in a Justice League of the past, Ice and Guy have a pre-existing relationship, Batman has knowledge of Skeets, etc. The art is nice and affable, and there’s actually some small bits of, like, Terry Dodson – and someone else I can’t quite put my finger on – sneaking in. Between the ultimate villain, Rocket Red as Iron Man, and the whole X-Factor vibe (government sponsored team designed to address public fears over powers), this has a very Marvel flair to it, I thought. Is this like a Busiek/Perez era Avengers thing? I dig the way that Batman and Booster Gold have each other’s backs with the UN handler. The robotic baddies are still pretty generic, as is the entire adventure, but if the title continues to improve at this pace, I could be sold. I’ll consider this title still on probation, but it gets at least another issue to convince me one way or the other. Grade B.

Supernatural #1 (DC): The Dustin Nguyen cover is nice and moody, but Grant Bond’s interior art is a little cartoony for my taste, lacking much emotional depth or complexity. For example, I don’t think the art really sells the magical element of the big kiss. The style is flat and blocky, almost like something you’d see on CN instead of CW. I like bits of Brian Wood’s script; some of the early voice-over narration rings with the writer’s familiar fascination with the authenticity of place, and there’s a nice little DV8 nod thrown in for us Wood fans. Emma is an instantly likeable Scottish “breaker,” to Sam’s American “hunter” I guess, as they seem to investigate the monsters we are assumed to “share the Earth with.” I think I have a vague recollection of trying the first ep of this show when it came out a few years ago, but I have no specific memory of it (something about brothers and the dad died or something?), so I can’t tell you if it captures the right tone overall. I’d be curious to hear from a fan of the show, or someone at least a little more familiar with it, to see how it compares. There’s nothing really wrong here aside from the art glitch, it’s just probably not for me. Grade B.

Stormwatch #2 (DC): Is this really the same Paul Cornell who entertained me with the Pete Wisdom mini-series and Captain Britain & MI-13? Sheesh, you’d never know it. Blah, blah, something about an alien horn and a war with the moon and everyone is fighting. Characters appear and are never identified or introduced. The plot is a mess, jumping around erratically, with plenty of exposition. There is actually someone who says something like “you wanted to do THIS, because THAT” in an extremely expositional monologue that stuck out like a sore thumb. All talk and no show. Someone mentions the Justice League, then we get one panel, ONE PANEL, of a random Booster Gold just so we can be reminded that this is in the DCU, I guess? Something happens at the “Tenk Farm,” hardy har! Get it? If you rearrange the letters on “Tenk” it spells… oh, never mind. And why does “everything” have “quotes” around “it?” Why is this the second issue and we already have two artists? Why are the panels cropped in weird places? Why is the camera placed at weird angles? This is a mess. I’m out. Grade C.



DMZ VOLUME 05: THE HIDDEN WAR is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With just 3 issues left before the series ends, 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 nothing else out there like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and many of his series collaborators.

10.05.11 Releases

Without a doubt, the pick of the week is Casanova: Avaritia #2 (Marvel/Icon). I mean, c’mon, how can you not love that cover image? I’m really curious to see what Brian Wood does with a licensed property from CW in Supernatural #1 (DC/Vertigo). This seems like the type of thing they were using the WildStorm imprint for toward the end, but with that folded into the New 52, I guess it resides here now. I’ll probably also pick up The Last of The Greats #1 (Image) since I’m kinda’ a sucker for anything that pulls a "superheroes in their twilight" riff. I plan on flipping through Avengers: 1969 #1 (Marvel) because I like the premise, but without Chaykin on interior art, it’s not a sure buy by any means. As far as the New 52 is concerned, this is where it feels like things will suddenly go dark for me and I’ll largely tune out. I’ll give Justice League International #2 (DC) and Stormwatch #2 (DC) the casual flip test, but I doubt either will make it home, perhaps Stormwatch possessing the better chance. I might also take a peak at the Huntress #1 (DC) since I think Paul Levitz is a peculiar choice of writer on that. What looks good to you?

The New 52: The Stragglers

Hey, I swapped New 52 #1 issues with a friend who has pretty different reading habits than I do. We bought roughly the same amount of books, with only one or two examples of overlap, so this was a nice way to read up on what else was going on without any expenditure. The results are pretty much in sync with my previous analysis. The stuff is mostly middling, averaging in the C+/B- range, with some very isolated examples of promise. I cranked through these last night and thought I’d just share my brief thoughts.

Batman #1 (DC): This was the only title out of this "new" batch I sampled that might actually warrant a plunge into #2. Up front, the coloring is a little flat and dull, but it gets better from there. I actually feel like it might be possible to get my Dick Grayson fix from this book instead of Nightwing. He kinda’ stole the show for me posing as The Joker. I loved the shot of Bruce surrounded by Dick, Damian, and Tim. It seems like Snyder is really putting some thought into the book, with the lip reading and contact lens bits. The villains were a bit on the plain side for me, but I loved the designs and rendering of Batman and Jim Gordon. There are plenty of nods to other writers in the Bat Mythos, and this is shaping up to be a really good ol’ fashioned detective mystery with some stylish flourishes. Grade B+.

Aquaman #1 (DC): This could be one of the more surprising titles I sampled in that it didn’t totally suck as I expected it to. It’s a very fast read, but I enjoyed the self-effacing humor, slick art, and different direction that sees Arthur maybe following his emotions rather than simple sense of duty. I thought the villain was schlocky, and there didn’t seem to be a lot of there there for a first issue, despite the bits I enjoyed. If this had a little more substance to it, it might have even gotten the “+” grade. For now, Grade B.

Justice League #1 (DC): There’s a lot of exposition happening here and trying to hide it in character based internal monologuing is a Johns tic I’ve never warmed to. I think it’s very clear which panels Lee spent the most time on and the result is an inconsistent quality in the art. On the plus side, I like the way the team is slowly being pulled together and isn’t accomplished in a single issue, everyone feeling their way around this “new” universe. I like brash Hal Jordan here as a counterpoint to cautious Batman, but the Cyborg redesign is atrocious, and I actually would have preferred the “crustacean” Aquaman design we see in the back matter. That'd make a lot more sense. Grade B.

Action Comics #1 (DC): There’s an almost schizophrenic pace and choice of locales which feels hurried, and Clark Kent really is walking exposition about his intentions and the intent of the book. Many critics seem to have applauded this return to Supes as a social crusader, but there’s a whiff of holier-than-thou about it which is very off-putting to me. Morales’ art can look passable at times, and other times it just looks too stretched, contorted, and generally wonky for me. Grade B-.

Mister Terrific #1 (DC): This is what people mean when they use “DC house art” as a pejorative term. Full of exposition as so many of the New 52 are, all telling and very little showing, feels like some Chris Claremont train wreck written in the 80’s. Was a chore to read from about the 1/3rd mark right up until the end. Grade B-.

Green Lantern #1 (DC): This hardly feels like a reboot since it relies heavily on things that have come before in the Green Lantern books. If Sinestro is Green Lantern and not Hal Jordan, then why is Hal in the Justice League? That’s just dumb and careless. The art was clean, if a little flat. The melodrama was a little over the top. I'm being evicted! I can't pay my bills! I'm an arrogant prick who is unemployed and doesn't get women at all! This really did nothing for me. Grade B-.

Teen Titans #1 (DC): The anemic nature of the art makes it feel like a 1990’s Image Comics refugee. No sense of panel to panel storytelling, just staged “kewl” shots. It’s full of monologuing villains and I’m not sure why they blow up the X-Mansion. Dear God, please don’t tell me there’s going to be a Lobdell “microverse” with this title and Superboy. Please, no. We don’t need more Scott Lobdell creative influence. Grade B-.

Batman: The Dark Knight #1 (DC): Jenkins is a writer I’ve enjoyed in the past, but he really ranked up the overwrought voiceover here. Finch is really trying to be Jim Lee; in the backgrounds, I think he pulls it off nicely, but any time you’re forced to focus on people (which is often), it all falls apart. I was hanging with the art, right up until we got blank expression Jaina Hudson and then some bunny rabbit chic attempting to deflect bullets with her ass. Little logic bits were bugging me, like why does Bruce change before he runs the zip line? Wouldn’t Bruce zip-lining into a public appearance arouse more suspicion than Batman doing so? Where does he stow that big rucksack he’s carrying? Where did he hide that ziplineshooterthing? Is there really abandonded gadgets all over the city? Wouldn’t some bad guys find all that tech and use it against Batman? Wouldn’t some kids find it and hurt themselves? Wouldn’t some forensics experts be able to ID it as Wayne Tech? I don’t know, it was a stupid little throw away scene, but it ended up pushing me right out of the entire premise of Batman. Yikes. Another Arkham Asylum break out? Yawn… What’s up with those women crawling all over Bruce? Aside from the high exposition, it’s like they tried to distill everything about the character down into such an intense brew that it actually became self-satire. This was dumb. Grade C.