2.01.12 Releases

I’m excited for Dark Horse Presents #8 (Dark Horse) this week, which features the first installment of Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson’s The Massive. If I understand correctly, there will be 3 prequel style stories in DHP #8-10, leading us into the regular ongoing series which begins toward summer. I think it’ll be a spiritual successor to the recently wrapped DMZ over at DC/Vertigo. Be sure to pick up the Donaldson cover too, since he’s a friend of the site. I’ll also be picking up Uncanny X-Force #21 (Marvel), though my faith in the title has slipped a bit. I generally liked the inclusion of the Captain Britain Corps last issue, but some of Remender’s flashycool style seemed to be absent, and I also found Tocchini’s art to be a little muddled. I’m hoping it autocorrects so I can wholeheartedly recommend the title again, as I did in the Jerome Opena arcs, rather than considering dropping it. I’ll also probably give Winter Soldier #1 (Marvel) a flip. I haven’t paid much attention to Brubaker’s Cap/Marvel work, but the premise looks interesting, the cover is great (too bad that’s not the interior artist), and I’m up for trying new #1 issues to see if I can buy more than just 2 Marvel books regularly, both of which (Uncanny X-Force and Secret Avengers) have slipped in quality recently.


"I Am a Quantum Copy of You"

Rockstar Scientists #1 (Angry Fruit Salad): Writer Kenny Jeffery was kind enough to send me a PDF review copy of the first issue, and it was pretty fun! The series is planned for 5 issues, will be available at Graphicly.com, and postulates a world where scientists became adored by the masses like rock stars. There are stand-ins for Elvis and a Beetle-esque group, building a world that makes connections between the 1950's and 60's cultural touchstones of war, music, space, and civil rights. My favorite part, though, was definitely the art of George Zapata. It demands your attention with a garish pop color sensation that suits the tone of the rolicking story very well. The aesthetic reminds me of something in between Nathan Fox and Mike Allred, with the thick wisps of ink that someone like Guy Davis puts on the page to provide a sense of movement to static objects. The back-up story, with art by Jordan Cutler, isn't quite as strong, but still offers some interesting visuals. It's apropos that it feels like a Grade B to the Grade A work of the first piece, since it's overtly structured as a b-side cut from an album. The only small criticisms I have are that at times the narrative was a tiny bit unclear, but that was a result of the writer avoiding exposition and letting the art shine, and was quickly cleared up by a second read-through of one sequence. It also feels a bit like a sampler package; the bad part of that is that it seems incomplete, but the good part is that it makes me want to read the forthcoming issues. It would be fun to see a print version of this someday, complete with a more polished cover including creator info and price point, and all of the little accoutrements that print offers. The contents are certainly strong enough to carry such a package. Grade A-.


Not The Hypo!

Dueling (Self-Published by Noah Van Sciver): This is not a review of The Hypo! The Hypo isn’t out yet! The picture you see might not even be the cover of The Hypo! This is a review of a totally different book! This book IS “Dueling,” which is an extended deleted scene from the forthcoming soon-to-be-mega-hit The Hypo, and I couldn’t find a pic of the cover. That’s my fault, but the figure work you see here will give you some idea of the style of the contents. The Hypo is the book I’m most looking forward to in Van Sciver’s graphic oeuvre (damn, that sounded pretentious!), so I was excited to see even a deleted scene.

It’s immediately obvious that Noah isn’t going to offer just attention to detail, it’s beyond that, it’s a commitment to detail. It’s evident there in the painstaking wisps of hair, the blood spatters when people are shot with antiquated .50 caliber rounds, or the flecks of color in the cover stock. It’s there in the running adherence to heavier inks, bolder use of negative space, and the sheer depth of field present in every shot. The end result is a much more somber tone than we’ve seen in his autobiographical work, or even in The Death of Elijah Lovejoy, which was the first major shift away from autobio, into historical fiction (I guess that’s what we’re calling it?). My favorite bits of artistic extra-mile are these big smudges of ink. They’re not haphazard, still controlled and effective, but it’s almost as if you can imagine Van Sciver taking a big syrupy gob of ink and thumb-printing it on the page, punctuating the action when someone is shot, like the blood is so dark that it’s now black ink on the page.

From what I can gather, The Hypo will focus on some early, little-known tidbits from the life of Abe Lincoln, but this detour in Dueling highlights the infamous duel as a way of settling disagreements that’s socially acceptable, complete with commonly accepted rules of social engagement. Though dueling is illegal, though it’s obviously violent, Noah lulls you into almost believing that this was a more civil way of settling disagreement than much of the vitriol we so often see slung on the web today. Yeah, you believe that right up until the gruesome end that poor William Graves gets when he ostensibly wins such a duel.

Another remarkable aspect of the construction of this book, which I assume will continue in the full length main feature, is the predominant use of a 6-panel grid system. 9-panel grids have been tinkered with plenty, 4 is common with this 8.5 x 11 folded in half mini-comic size, but with 6-panels, Van Sciver does some really clever things with pace and versatility. He’s able to layer info both horizontally (expected) and vertically (not so expected). For example, in the last page of the intro piece, panel 2 of 6 shows two men back to back preparing to duel, then in panel 4 of 6 beneath it, we expect the typical experience of reading panels left to right, and you can, but you can also follow the interesting discussion of the duel stance to the panel directly above it. It actually pulls your eye up so that the panels can be read up and back, not just side to side.

I was so absorbed by the book that I almost didn’t catch another dynamic, which was the fact that this book is essentially a deleted scene, assumably abandoned in progress, so some of the backgrounds are not fully rendered, just sketched, providing a really slick behind-the-scenes look into the craft of comic-making. Aside from a blurry inside front cover (maybe some meta commentary about the exhaustive process and excruciatingly long wait for the full length The Hypo!), this is flawless execution of what has essentially become a throw-away passage. If this excerpt is this good, I’m reeling at the possibility of how good the feature length story is going to be. Bring the noise, Noah! Grade A.

Examining "The Sighing Man"

Blammo #7.5 (Self-Published by Noah Van Sciver): You could probably sub-title this issue “The Sighing Man” (a line taken from the book) and have some clue as to the core running theme. While this issue is a collection of previously run web-comics and various anthology strips, there’s a certain world-weary existential angst that pervades the work. If that description sounds pejorative, I apologize. It’s not meant to be. I think Van Sciver taps into an accurate vibe present in his generation. With the accelerated future we experience today, it’s not uncommon to feel these mid-life crisis rumblings in your 20’s.

If you pay attention to the arc of Noah’s career, it’s almost as if you can feel the energy behind this issue. With his graphic novel “The Hypo” coming out later this year from Fantagraphics (something I am totally stoked about, by the way), I think that Van Sciver is truly, finally, on this precipice, of really being appreciated for the talent he is. There’s tension in this moment before the big shift, and if this issue feels a bit hastily rushed out, I think that’s a viable explanation as to why. Everyone wants “the next book,” so Noah offers this as a bit of a placeholder until the big event, so that we don’t forget about him.

The print quality on the book, particularly the cover, is a little less refined than what we’re accustomed to. The content is solid though, ranging from an interpretation of a Japanese parable that sees karmic kindness rewarded, to his trademark portrayals of fellow traveler John Porcellino in some sort of bug-eyed, socially exhausted, near vegetative state (one of my favorite reurring crack-ups), all the while society’s perceptions of the cartoonist loom like vultures. Whether it’s dueling roommates, interpreting The Book of Mormon, or dressing up as a woman and being “sexually accosted” by drunken men (his words) on Halloween, the connective tissue in these shorts is Noah occupying space and then being perceived, judged, and sometimes persecuted by those around him. There’s a preoccupation with the world’s view of the cartoonist that seems to inform some of his autobiographical creative output.

Consciously or otherwise, Noah is examining his own liminal state, traversing the border between the fringe and the mainstream, the struggling artist and the commercial success, the kid envious of stardom and the man destined to feel guilty about his impending fame. It’s like Biggie said I guess, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.” I’m spending a lot of time on the psychological underpinnings of this book and the relationship to what I’m sure will be his impending “break-out” book “The Hypo.” I’m not even telling you about how funny this issue of Blammo is. It’s funny! I always enjoy the strips that show Van Sciver tabling at conventions or doing in-store signings for the completely wrong demographic. They’re biting commentary about the seedy realities of this medium, along with all the hidden motivations and common archetypes that seem to inhabit it. Amid all the generic superheroics and bland storytelling, Noah’s broad noses, scraggly lines, and wobbly figures are a welcome sight. He’s not just regurgitating fleetingly nostalgic stories that are copies of copies of copies, but actually has something observational to say about the world around him and his own unique experiences. Grade A-.

1.25.12 Review_

Secret Avengers #21.1 (Marvel): You can definitely see what Rick Remender was going for here, but it just didn’t work for me on so many levels. The idea of a Point One (have I mentioned I hate the very idea of Point One, I hate saying it, I hate typing it, I hate the name, I hate that it exists?) diverting to show the transition of team leadership from Steve Rogers to Clint Barton, while setting up the new arc, is probably about as good a use of the silly Point One nonsense as you’re going to get, but the execution falls short. It opens with this highly expositional banter that just never lets up. When characters have lines like, “remember, blah, blah, blah is currently happening,” that’s never a good sign. These types of lines tell us that this place is x, our suits do y, and the bad guys want z, and it’s just awful scripting. The characters are essentially saying stuff to each other that they already know, so the lines exist for no other reason than to inform the reader. It’s petty as hell I’ll admit, but I don’t even like some of the spelling choices, like “cameraed.” I know what it means, but “camera’d” would just flow so much smoother visually. The humor is awkward too, Remender is forcing his characters to try to be pithy and funny with a sledgehammer, and they’re just not. The title of the book is Secret Avengers, so why Clint would intentionally blow his cover to a corrupt Senator on an unauthorized covert mission in a sovereign nation when he just said he’s in possession of some SHIELD stealth imager thing is beyond me. Steve and Clint bicker like an old married couple For. The. Entire. Issue. By the time Ghost Rider showed up, I was just about done. If ever a screen version of a character ruined the comic character for me, it’s Ghost Rider. It’s an instant turn-off. I had no interest in him before, and I have less than no interest now thanks to the one-note acting of Nic Cage, yet Remender seems intent on continually shoehorning GR into stories. Get! Steve says “I’m bored to hell with your attitude, Barton” and that’s basically how I feel about this issue. Zircher’s art is competent I guess, a little more loose and messy than Alan Davis, yet not as menacing or dark as Laurence Campbell, somewhere in between the two, which means that it’s not offensive, just inconsistent. I guess Steve does a good job of psycho-analyzing Clint, but it just feels so forced. By the end, the ultimate point is lost to Hickman’d out villains (<- see how that works with the ‘d? I didn’t say “Hickmaned” did I?), the layering of the twisty script, and all of the political grandstanding. It’s books like this that make me think there could be a day when I no longer read comics. So y'all creators are on notice, you have one more issue to wow me before I drop this book. Grade C+.



DMZ VOLUME 08: HEARTS AND MINDS is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. With the series recently wrapped and just two collected editions left to see print, it’s time to jump on board the site dedicated to Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s 6-year DC/Vertigo epic. DMZ is a contemporary classic that chronicles Matthew Roth stuck in a Manhattan war zone in a not-too-distant-future America plunged into the Second American Civil War. Volume 08 marks a tragic turning point that irrevocably alters Matty’s fate.

LIVE FROM THE DMZ takes a behind-the-scenes "Director's Commentary" look at the creation of the series, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we examine the flagship title from one of the most important creative voices in the last 15 years. There’s nothing else like it and it’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and his series collaborators.


1.25.12 Releases

Talk about a dud week of comics. I’m pretty sure I’ll be picking up Secret Avengers #21.1 (Marvel). Apparently, this marks the transition of team leadership from Captain America to Hawkeye. It’s also Rick Remender’s first shot at writing the series before he officially takes over with issue 22, in the wake of Warren Ellis’ departure. I’m always a little dismayed when movie costumes infect comic book renditions of the same character, I’ve never been a huge fan of Patrick Zircher’s art, and I really can’t stand Marvel’s continued adherence to this Point One thing, but I am interested if Remender can bring the same type of magic he brought to Uncanny X-Force to this title. Other than that, I don’t see a damn thing! I always hear that Sixth Gun is pretty solid, so I might give a flip to Sixth Gun #18 (Oni Press), even though I think I picked up an issue from a $1 bin or on FCBD or something and didn’t really understand the appeal. Any suggestions for what to pick up this week? Otherwise, I might fall asleep over here...


1.18.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Uncanny X-Force #20 (Marvel): Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini kick off a story about Captain Britain holding Fantomex accountable for assassinating the child Apocalypse, with Psylocke right in the middle. Early on, I was enjoying the art, which has a sort of painterly aesthetic, referencing the Excalibur era, and the Captain Britain of decades past. The art transitions grow to be a little confusing toward the end, but it’s mostly held together by Dean White’s amazing colors. I enjoyed the elitism of Brian, Otherworld containing access to the Omniverse, and the team attempting to swap in the AoA Nightcrawler for Warren, which really disrupts the dynamic. Deadpool doesn’t have as much of his trademark humor as usual, but does get a couple nice moments, with a snapping monologue. What’s really crazy about the guy is that he has these moments of clarity, and you never know what you’re going to get. Interesting tidbit that Fantomex is an anomaly which only exists in 616. It’s not as grand as the prior highs the book has witnessed, but there’s still enough flash and complex themes at play to keep me interested. Grade B+.

Wonder Woman #5 (DC): The transition from Cliff Chiang to Tony Akins isn’t as jarring as I thought it would be, but hey, it still ain’t Cliff Chiang. The doe eyes are a little distracting, and there seemed to be some small little sharp notes here and there, and the arc break also feels odd. Did things really resolve after last issue? Is this the start of a new arc already? It feels almost as if I missed an issue, though I know I didn’t. Will the first trade really collect only 4 issues? This feels like an off place to break. Anyway. I enjoyed the over-the-top incarnation of Poseidon and the John Constantine, err, “Lennox” character, but then we dive into exposition overdrive. I enjoy the mood captured in London, the fallibility of Diana, and the general vibe of a War Between The Gods playing out among the lesser deities and mere mortals, but I don’t know, something is just missing. I appreciate the new direction, but I still don’t feel really personally hooked. I’m not sure that I can continue supporting this in singles, but may revisit it in trade format to give it another shot some day. It’s a good book, but I want to be buying great books. Grade B.

Venom #12 (Marvel): This isn’t on my regular pull list, but I picked it up for a co-worker and couldn’t resist giving it a go. I generally have liked Remender’s recent Marvel work, so it should have a decent shot. Can’t say that I recall anything from Lan Medina (any relation to Paco Medina who did some Dreadstar waaay back?), so yeah, it has a decent shot. There’s a really weird typo in the “Previously…” section, and stuff like that puts me in a really bad mood right off the bat. It’s this partially duplicated text with an “open quote that never gets closed. That’s extremely sloppy basic copy editing, matched only by the sloppy amateurish art. On the writing front, it’s an uphill battle, since I never cared for Flash Thompson, Venom Symbiotes, Red Hulk, or umm , the Merv Pumpkinhead guy, basically the entire cast of this book. It’s full of clichéd drunks, chicks, and casino thugs. The story is uhh, about a ‘roided out monster who beats up some guys, or something? And then somebody has a drinking problem, and then Matches Malone shows up, and then Red Hulk can fly? Apparently this kicks off some 6-issue crossover thing with more characters I don’t care about, like Ghost Rider, X-23, Red Hulk (again), and Venom (again). It’s basically generic, phoned in on all fronts, and not even in a really bad way that you can revel in while mocking, and have any fun with. Grade C-.

1.18.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Wasteland #33 (Oni Press): Here’s 3 words that I love together: Chris. Mitten. Color. Beyond that, reading the recap blurb made me realize just how much story and world-building has been squeezed into the 32 preceding issues. Johnston doesn’t waste any time jumping right into revelations about the “Branded Man,” and catching up with Gerr upsetting the Michael/Abi duo, all 3 of them with secrets in tow. “Cross Chains Towns” is a clever turn of phrase that’s a great example of how crafty Johnston is as a writer. It’s a phrase that we’ve never heard before, but it’s one we instantly understand the implications of by inferring the meaning. On top of that, there’s more clues, like someone referencing “back east,” insinuating that this story possibly takes place further west(?). Also, let me just say “DAMN YOU, ANTONY JOHNSTON!” For years now, we’ve all been postulating our pet theories about where/what “A-Ree-Yass-I” lies/is/does/means, ie: is it the corrupted name of a town, a place, a facility, a person, a thing, an event, a bastardization of “Area 51,” etc. But now he throws us for a loop by placing those words up on the Christian cross in the cover pic of issue 34. They’re placed there just like “INRI” is in Judeo-Christian visuals, the Latin acronym for “Iesus Nazarene Rex Iudea,” or “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” I mean, fuck! Now I feel like I have to somehow try and translate “A-Ree-Yass-I” to an alpha-acronym, say “REAC” and then correlate that to Latin to figure out what it means!? “Rex… something, something, something.” I don't really know much Latin. It could be a red herring, I’m probably not right, but it’s just another fun clue/possibility in trying to figure that piece of the puzzle out. Anyway, I like how he doesn’t pull any punches in discussing the difference between the literal and the figurative in belief systems, and puts the “Branded Man” right out there as a possible Christ figure. Justin Greenwood’s art is less detailed, has thicker line weight, and a more representational quality to it than Mitten’s, but one isn’t necessarily better/worse than the other. They’re just different styles. I like Greenwood’s style (though you do have to watch dudes with the “JG” initials), it never fails to convey emotional content or clarity of movement. Speaking of movement, it actually feels a lot like an animated style, as if this were some B&W animated movie. Now, that’s something I’d like to see. Probably not for Saturday mornings though. Get on that, Hollywood. I was prepared to give this the “A” grade, but considering the ridiculous price point, let’s call it Grade A+.

Prophet #21 (Image): This is the first shot in a couple of new titles from the old Liefeld “Extreme Studios,” helmed by Brandon “King City” Graham and Simon Roy, who actually reminded me of Simon Gane in spots – but I confuse my Simon’s easily, so pay no attention. Graham seems to blend the genres of sci-fi and fantasy in disproportionate quantities; it’s a pulpy blend that emphasizes some of the fantasy elements a lot harder than the sci-fi. I’m not complaining though, because regardless of the formula, the results are a wholly unique vision unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I keep trying to find mental comparisons for the sake of ease, and the fact that I can’t is probably a sign of how strong and original the ideas are. I think that this title deserves the type of attention it’s getting, unlike, say, Nate Simpson’s Non-Player, which was all the rage for about 5 seconds, and then didn’t do anything with it, like, say, put out a second issue. Anyway, I like the deliberate and effective design choices, little things like the way the red bleeds down the title page. It’s clear very early on that we’re in for something different. The combination of the weird critters and aesthetics bathed in warm Earth tones make the proceedings feel like we’re reading some dirty old 1950’s pulp rag; when John Prophet emerges, it’s not in some gleaming future utopia, it’s more like Dune, but without the impenetrable internal mythology and social editorialization. Roy’s level of detail is not quite on par with someone like Geoff Darrow, but the creative duo does seem intent on world-building in the idea sense, if not the physical minutiae. Rest assured there’s big ideas amid big places. With all of the wrecked ships, parasitic wolves, and mutated Earthscape, it’s like some sort of post-post-apocalyptic setting, with diagrammatic layouts I just eat right up. The voice-over narration in lieu of any actual dialogue for the first 2/3 of the book also gives it the feel of being some cautionary parable, like an old lost text that was found about different paradigms clashing. After reading comics for 30+ years, one of the best compliments I can give something is that it's like nothing I’ve ever seen. It feels fresh and new, which is a difficult thing to pull off. Prophet does that. So go ahead and believe the early buzz and say hello to one of the potential best books of 2012. Grade A.

Batman #5 (DC): Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo continue to bring their “A” game to this book and ensure that 2012 is off to an amazing start. I enjoy the way this issue slips quickly into the unconventional, in an effort to deconstruct Bruce Wayne. And man, the dialogue just flows *so* easily, it’s such a joy to read. You can breeze through every line, but also go back and savor each line. It’s never stumbly or awkward or staged like so many comics are. Jim lamenting leaving the Bat Signal on, wanting to believe in hope, is wrought with emotion. The 1960’s Silver Age flair to the maze works in a way that Grant Morrison never was able to pull off without over-the-top self-congratulatory Easter egg dramatics. Snyder understands that this world is about a family, understands how to use an ensemble cast effectively, and understands that tech must be balanced with old-school detective work. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, but the reason this incarnation of Batman succeeds is that it’s a distillation of everything great about the character. Capullo’s depiction of Bruce losing mental acuity is equally precise. The mental breakdown works because it has the right balance of lifelike and stylized art, believability but superheroic flair. Most criminals would do better if they understood that choosing between a mental fight and a physical one is a losing proposition, attempting both in a dual attack may be one of the only ways to break the Bat. The physical maze is also a mental puzzle that literally turns Bruce upside down. The (probably) hallucinatory cliffhanger is easily reversed, but that doesn’t make the visual any less powerful or startling. Grade A.


Bridge Lost in Imagination

Lost in Imagination (Self-Published by Bridget Flanagan): Flanagan’s first full-fledged entry into self-publishing is a slightly mixed bag of results, but overall I really enjoyed this first attempt. As part of her MSU Comics & Visual Narrative Class, the first entry in the book is an assignment requiring her to illustrate her Artist Statement. She does a good job of capturing how her creations can come alive off the page, and though there’s some rudimentary figure drawing at play which is sometimes distracting from the thrust of the story, as well as the occasional awkward turn of phrase, Flanagan basically wins over the reader with her self-effacing charm. I hesitate to use the term “cute,” because it’s like the antithesis of a manly descriptor, but it certainly applies to Flanagan’s self-drawn alter ego. The Black Fedora is the second short entry in the book, which displays some inconsistency with the lettering style, but amid some of the more expository dialogue, I liked the creativity behind some of the action sequences. Not only are the fights choreographed particularly well, but there are some clever visuals thrown in for style points. I’m thinking specifically of the The Black Fedora Thief falling suddenly off the side of a building, and then hopping her way down in framed inset panels which draw attention to her punctuated movements quite nicely. Brain vs. Voice was an interesting exercise in displaying different aspects of human physiology all attempting to control a person in concert, sometimes to calamitous foot-in-mouth results. I appreciate Flanagan’s method of visually differentiating the different aspects, complete with altered personalities. The idea of the human body being some clockwork mechanism that these personifications control is actually very fun. The Pas de Deux is the final entry and it’s probably Flanagan’s boldest attempt at comics-making. I say this because not only does it attempt to depict some relatively complex emotional content with a burgeoning relationship dynamic amid personal hardship, but it also does so without any dialogue or text whatsoever. It’s always difficult to accurately depict things like music or dance in static imagery, but Flanagan pulls it off. That it’s successful is a testament to the fact that while there are some minor craft issues to continue to hone with practice, Flanagan offers more to enjoy than critique, and definitely shows promise as a mini-comics creator. More information at http://www.kirbygal.deviantart.com/ Grade B.


1.18.12 Releases

I think 2012 officially kicks off this week, showing how strong and wondrous the indie/creator owned trend is going to be this year, with Wasteland #33 (Oni Press) hopefully returning this title to its former glory, and then Prophet #21 (Image Comics), umm, eclipsing its former glory by a wide margin thanks to Brandon Graham. If you believe the advance buzz, Prophet is sure to be one of the books of the year, and I do admire the sheer bravado with which the New Image seems to be fully embracing their publishing paradigm, scuttling all that’s come before, and letting Graham re-appropriate this Rob Liefeld creation in the finest contemporary art tradition. Regarding Wasteland, it’s important to point out that this is a special New Year/New Interior Artist/"New" Cover Artist (It’s Chris Mitten – But in Color!!!)/New Story/New Commitment to Monthly Schedule issue that’s friendly to new readers and most welcome to existing readers. Because of all that, it’s at the low low low price point of just $1. My advice to everyone is to actually buy 3 copies, enjoy 1, and pass the other 2 along to likely converts. You’ll still only be in it $3, which is less than the price of a regular issue. Do your good deed for the new year and make Wasteland the destination book it’s always deserved to be.

DC is offering up Batman #5 (DC) by Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo, which I’m all in on. It’s essentially a perfect blend of everything that makes Batman special. Wonder Woman #5 (DC) is also hitting the shelves, and even though I can feel my interest slipping away for this title, I’ll probably at least finish out the first arc, and then re-read in order to pass my final judgment. Lastly, I’m looking forward to the best X-Book currently being published, Uncanny X-Force #20 (Marvel) from Rick Remender and Greg Tocchini, a team that last collaborated on the interesting The Last Days of American Crime. Pitting Captain Britain against Fantomex is an idea that automatically makes me smile, ideally with Psylocke caught right in the middle. What looks good to you this week?


Everything Dies #7 @ Poopsheet Foundation

Check out my latest mini-comic review at Poopsheet Foundation.

Monkey Squad One #8 @ Poopsheet Foundation [My 300th Mini-Comic Review at PF!]

Check out my 300th mini-comic review at Poopsheet Foundation.


Reinterpreting 1979 Japanese Sci-Fi Comics

SF Supplementary File #2A & #2B (Self-Published by Ryan Cecil Smith): If Jack Kirby had been born in Japan and decided to start making mini-comics instead of working at Marvel and then defecting to DC, it might have looked something like this.

Smith explains that he is redrawing by hand a 1979 Matsumoto Leiji comic called Queen Emeraldas. Those not familiar with Leiji’s work will probably recall the operatic “Space Battleship Yamato” (known as “Star Blazers” in the US) as some of his most widely known work. If your tastes swing toward this type of music and you too thought the only good thing about Tron: Legacy was the musical score, then you might also recall his involvement in the production of a couple of Daft Punk music videos. Queen Emeraldas certainly seems to live up to Leiji’s hallmarks, filled with brooding males, determined females, the hint of mysterious powers, and a fascination with retro technology. The most overt example of this type of anachronistic technology is the Queen Emeraldas vessel itself, which is actually a sailing ship strapped to the underside of a zeppelin-like rocketship hurtling through the cosmos. The aesthetic dichotomy, paired with the logic dichotomy, is just grand.

It’s almost instantly proven that SF Supplementary File transcends its sequential art origins to enter the realm of Fine Art. The sub-categories of Modern Art and Contemporary Art rely on a definition that, in part, includes the re-appropriation of found imagery, juxtaposition with new elements, and from that re-contextualization, the derivation of additional meaning being squeezed out. Oh, it sounds so clinical when I put it like that. It shouldn’t. The book crackles and sizzles with life, pounding the reader with fresh energy despite its dated aesthetic references. It feels like an exercise in Silver Age American Comics, with 4-color 1960’s print-making on that woody pulpy paper. But, it’s many things. It also feels a touch European. It feels like the type of avant-garde work that Travis Charest should have been doing instead of shlocking out that WildCats stuff at WildStorm 10 years ago. It also understandably has an obvious manga aesthetic. It actually reminded me of some old 1950’s Yoshihiro Tatsumi genre work, specifically Black Blizzard, in terms of the layouts and subdued coloring choices which assault the senses so pleasurably. Perhaps Leiji’s anime work shines through as well, because there’s definitely a cinematic quality to the experience. It’s so easy to imagine these sequences as animated shorts with origins in your ethereal dreams.

The construction of the book is flawless in the way it achieves its intended goal. Smith has taken so much care to create rich texture and depth of emotion on every page. He’s clearly thinking through every minute detail; even the staples binding the pages together are painted red. The paper stock seems to simulate the viscous texture of Japanese rice paper. This is part of the reason why I’ll just never be sold on digital comics. In order to appreciate this work, you have to experience it in a tactile sense. You have to run your fingers across the page and feel the paper, you have to tilt the pages into the light to see how they vaguely glimmer, you have to catch the miniscule dips and valleys that run across the body of the page’s relatively rough hewn stock. It’s an experience that pixels laying lifeless on a screen could never adequately emulate.

In #2A, which sees Queen Emeraldas destroy Planet T-Rex and the evil black-blooded bandit Deathskull, it’s interesting that only one color is used per page on the interior. That color is predominantly one shade of blue. As the story progresses into #2B and Emeraldas and her companion “Boundless Ocean-Boy” reckon with that act and their transpiring fate, the colors increase and change as their emotions escalate. We still see only one color per page, but the color choices now swing from blues, to purples, to blacks. Leiji, and Smith’s reinterpretation of his work, are so masterful at world-building that the universe undeniably extends beyond the panel borders. It’s not a guess or speculation on my part, I can prove it by showing you pages where the panels are cropped so that partial figures and dialogue boxes trail off the page, getting closure only from our imagination, such as an early scene with “Boundless Ocean-Boy.” There’s one minor typo in issue #2A, in which Queen Emeraldas’ name is spelled “Emereldas,” but otherwise the writing and the use of themes is as flawless as the wondrous aesthetic.

I think Smith aptly uses the sub-title “Storytelling of the Future,” because as Queen Emeraldas narrates, it becomes clear that there’s such a preoccupation with this vessel that carries them through the stars. The writers came out of a generation that was promised their “Jetpack Future,” when burgeoning reliance on technology essentially permeated society. The idea of this limitless future is captured in expansive full page spreads and sprawling double page spreads. This sense of wonder about the limitless future reminded me of one of the themes in Naoki Urasawa’s epic 20th Century Boys, and I wonder if Leiji was also working from a state of mind informed by post-WWII reconstructionism in Japan, part of a generation that desperately wanted to be in control of their own destiny. Smith weaves what I assume is a translation(?) to include commentary on class warfare, with the inclusion of the “Space File ID Card” that creates a caste system in this future. As “Boundless Ocean-Boy” (foreshadowing if I’ve ever seen it) and his true identity of “Boy Zero” are revealed, it’s clear that his main goal is simply freedom, to determine his own fate as he’s dropped on a mysterious planet and into peril.

Aside from the confluence of aesthetics at play, what I appreciate the most about the work is that it functions with clear intent and unambiguous proportions. The Queen says “...but when you start a fight in space… you have to finish it.” It’s this type of full commitment to an endeavor that I love. It’s reflected in the energy of the project, a return to comics with no creative indecision. The results are like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s a transcendent experience that makes me fall in love with comics all over again. Grade A+.

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1.11.12 Reviews

Scalped #55 (DC/Vertigo): It’s the conclusion to the “Knuckle Up” arc, and I’ll just say that I love the name of the final arc to come: “Trail’s End.” This issue picks right up moments from where we left off, and what ensues is a raging shoot out, which turns into a knife fight, which degenerates to a down-and-dirty street brawl between Dash and Shunka. These two men have probably despised each other the most, because only a con man can spot another con man, and they both sensed that the other possessed the most secrets in this harsh world. Shout out to Giulia Brusco, whose colors vibrate with rage-fueled red tones that bring RM Guera’s well choreographed action to life so damn well. You can feel every shot, every broken finger, and every guttural growl in your freakin’ bones, man. This has got to be one of the most intense, brutal, unpredictably violent fights ever depicted in comic books. I haven’t enjoyed a comic this much in a long time, sitting here with a nervous smile throughout, just eating it up, reading panels fast – unable to control my excitement and desire to see what happens next, and then going back to read them slowly – to really savor them and take it all in. Agent Nitz storms the casino with half of the FBI in tow. Shunka seems to utter a dying confession. Red Crow saves Dash with so much compassion, calling him “son,” saying “Dashiell” instead of the dismissive “Bad Horse” repeatedly, and in turn, on the last page, Dash says to Lincoln… well, that would just be a spoiler wouldn’t it? This is just something you have to experience for yourself. It’s a satisfying emotional payoff 55 issues in the making. It fucking blew my skull off. Grade A+.

Batwoman #5 (DC): It still strikes me every time I read a new issue how awesome the intro pages are on this book. As the camera zooms in, you read the recap, and get these staccato mental images, it’s clear that the "Hydrology" arc is something special under this creative team. Batwoman seems to be operating on a whole other level of function, transcending its identity as a “superhero” comic, employing ruminations on life, our existence, what we dedicate our lives to, and why. JH3, W. Haden Blackman, and Dave Stewart in particular are tearing it up every single time out. I feel like Dave Stewart should be listed as co-creator of this book, on equal billing with writer/artist because color plays such an important role. Holy crap, that full page reveal of Cameron Chase and Director Bones! Holy crap, I forgot about Flamebird! It seems that this sets up a new arc to track down the Medusa Organization as Bones comes recruiting, offering Kate a job with the DEO instead of Batman Inc. It’s awesome to see her striking her own path, but pitting her against someone you do not want to be pitted against (Bruce Wayne) will certainly have eventual consequences. Batwoman not only has it all, but does so intensely. It’s loaded with gripping characters, intricate storylines, the most imaginative layouts and fresh penciling ability around, solidifying itself as the best thing happening in the mainstream DCU at the moment. Forget Green Lantern. Forget the JLA, forget Morrison on Superman. Heck, you can probably even forget Snyder & Capullo on Batman (blasphemy!!!), because if you only had one DCU book to buy, this is it. Grade A.

Secret Avengers #21 (Marvel): It’s the last Warren Ellis issue before Remender comes on, and I’ll be sad to see this fun experiment go. The pairing of Ellis with Cassaday (cover) and Immonen (interiors) are two of my favorite pairings (Planetary, Nextwave anyone?), so it’s a treat to see both here in one compact package. Ellis repurposes the old O*N*E concept. I loved the whole emitting false fire scenario, with Beast in that inset panel aboard the ship. It’s clever and fun, representative of the whole affair. The panels are so slick, like Steve holding the gun, with Moon Knight and Black Widow flanking him. It’s just a visual delight. “I don’t believe in torture. So I’m going to let my colleagues do it” is the type of crisp turn of phrase, imbued with dark humor, that we love to love from Warren Ellis. Immonen also brings his “A” game, check out the Paraguay flashbacks. Only this guy could be the artist on everything from Nextwave to Moving Pictures. He’s incredibly talented and one of the most under-rated guys working today. Man, I’m a sucker for paramilitary style radio banter every time. Great colors from Chris Sotomayor, as evidenced by the glow of dimly lit rooms illuminated with only emergency lighting. The tragic denouement calls into question the very existence of this incarnation of the team. As far as individual panels go, it might never reach the heights of Moon Knight with that white mask in the all white suit that Michael Lark turned in previously, but overall this is probably the best issue of Secret Avengers yet. Way to end on a high note, Warren. Grade A.

Northlanders #47 (DC/Vertigo): Declan Shalvey really steps up here, with big iconic shots and depth to the environment as we come in on the tail end of Brida defending the Haukssons. It seems like this trilogy continues examining the universal existential questions of “who are we?” and “what is our legacy?” I recently read some little sound byte about how hope is juxtaposed with obstacles, and that tension created is basically your story. It sure seems like Brian Wood is living into that description with these stories. Dave McCaig deserves a special nod for the type of warm Earth tones he infuses into the mix. I like the whole package though, the influx of Christianity rapidly changing the world is such a nice backdrop, and the emotion of an exasperated Brida yelling “You are the bloodline!” With the introduction of Isobel, marriages to buy peace, and secret paganism, it becomes clear that survivors adapt, while people of strict principle can be consumed if they’re too rigid or inflexible. Grade A.

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1.11.12 Releases

It’s a nice tight week of comics, with Batwoman #5 (DC) probably being the most anticipated of a very strong lot. With DMZ wrapped, the two best Vertigo books being published today are both out in one week: Northlanders #47 (DC/Vertigo) with just 3 more issues of that series left, and Scalped #55 (DC/Vertigo) with just 5 more issues of that series left. It should really be a treat to see the Nextwave team unite, as Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen bring us the last of Ellis’ run on the title before handing off to Rick Remender, with Secret Avengers #21 (Marvel) also hitting the shelves this week. What looks good to you?


John Paul Leon is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. Please join us at the DMZ tribute site for our interview with series cover artist John Paul Leon.

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 is the only site dedicated to Brian Wood's contemporary classic, taking a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the series, with interviews, never-before-seen concept art, and more.

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1.04.12 Reviews

Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #1 (Marvel): Right from jump, I like the swagger displayed on the cover of this book. It’s too bad that Mark Brooks wasn’t able to handle the art exclusively. Roland Boschi and Dan Brown handle the Westchester sequences here, and I can’t say I’m a fan of the art in those passages. I thought the backgrounds were skimpy, there was some stiff, awkward, angular posing in spots, and the panels just lacked the detail to keep up with the visceral attitude of the script. The good news is that the script has that edge in abundance. The writing on the very first page captured Quentin Quire’s attitude instantly as he strolls the halls of the Jean Grey School and verbally spars with Rachel. It’s tightly crafted courtesy of Brian Wood, and a return to Marvel’s Mutants that only took 12 years. I also appreciate the way that a conscious effort is made to stay in tight sync with the continuity we just saw in Jason Aaron’s Wolverine & The X-Men series. Wood is really able to get in Quire’s head, capturing his rebellious justification for his own actions. I’m assuming we’ll explore just who Quentin really is, hero, anti-hero, villain, or something else, with the school as a fun backdrop. Logan told Captain America that Quentin was redeemable, so I’m curious to see if he was right. The concept of “psychwar” is a good one, as Quentin places Logan and Armor into a mentally projected virtual reality construct, and then tries his damnedest to sustain it, and cover his tracks out in the real world. Logan might be "the best there is at what he does," the best player, if you will, but if Quentin runs the game, who knows what will happen? It’s a smart way to level the playing field. Switching over to the construct sequences, Mark Brooks (and 4 other people!) nail the art. It just looks more like a proper Brian Wood joint. I enjoyed those passages a lot more, with equal critical gusto for both the art and the writing. Quire projects them into some sort of PKD futuristic dirty cityscape, which, forgive me for saying so, but it almost looks like a “mutant DMZ,” with Logan and Armor geared up and on the run like Matty and Zee, haha! Brooks’ art sells the construct, Armor looks great in torn fishnets and her mismatched attire. When she actually armors up, it calls to mind the John Cassaday look of the original. In Brooks, I see some Jim Lee in there, some Jamie McKelvie, and a level of European detail and figure scale variation that I can really get used to, all good stuff. This is a little arbitrary to get my grade to settle one way or the other, but since there were more Boschi pages than Brooks pages by my count, I’ll downgrade a bit and go with a Grade B+.

Uncanny X-Force #19.1 (Marvel): I think it’s a little odd that Marvel keeps doing these “point one” things. It basically only serves as a one-shot or prologue story to another book that’s starting up, so why not just have it exist as a stand-alone thing rather than shoehorning it in here to disrupt the flow of a great run? I guess the idea is to divert some of the interested UXF readers over? Not a huge deal, but it just sticks out as a pretty big departure point from the thrust of the regular series. So, Rick Remender, with Billy Tan and Jose Villarubia, takes us back to the AoA timeline where some mutants and a human resistance fight the dominance of the ApocaLogan, narrated by some guy I don’t know named Prophet, ‘cuz he’s, you know, prophetic or whatever. Tan’s art is not nearly as clean as Opena’s (which will forever serve as the high water mark on the title for me), but it’s still serviceable. The lack of Dean White coloring also takes away some of the book’s consistency. I suppose the rougher hewn look and pale washed out colors are oooooo-kayyyyyyyy for the timeline they’re in, but I’m begrudgingly admitting that because I really wanted to like this more than I did. The “Last City of Men” awaiting the Akkaba attack has a vague “White City of Gondor” feel to it. Clones of Wanda as a secret weapon was a total snoozer for me, because the “no more mutants” line is telegraphed for miles. However, there were some small bits like “Solar Hulk” that eked out a chuckle, like a Mitt Romney win in Iowa. Ba-dump-bump! He’s powered by the "good yellow sun." Man, Remender sure has a thing for clowning on Superman/DC, like he did with the Ma/Pa Kent riff in the last arc. This book is competent, but overall I think it just lacks any pizzazz, humor, or gravitas. The fact that it takes place in another timeline not our own doesn’t make these events feel like they possess much consequence. By the end, it all feels a fait accompli. Depowering the x-gene to save humanity doesn’t work. The Last City of Men is destroyed, along with the majority of the species, who were already admittedly too few to repopulate, so what’s the point of the series then? Apocalypse won this timeline, there’s nothing left to save. I’m not clear on the storytelling calculus. Grade B.

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1.04.12 Releases

…and away we go with 2012 releases. Marvel opens strong, basically shutting out DC for me this week. Uncanny X-Force was one of the best books in 2011 and I look forward to seeing that continue in 2012. The first shot will be this week, with Uncanny X-Force #19.1 (Marvel) by Rick Remender, Billy Tan, and Jose Villarubia, taking us back to the AoA timeline. With DMZ having just wrapped and a new Marvel mini debuting, I think it’s safe to say that the next period in Brian Wood’s career officially kicks off this week, with Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #1 (Marvel) hitting the shelves, pitting Logan against young Quentin Quire. I’ve had a hard time getting into Rachel Rising with the same passion I felt for Terry Moore’s Echo, but nevertheless, I’ll give Rachel Rising #4 (Abstract Studio) a flip at the LCS. In my opinion, unless you’re going to top the first series, you shouldn’t try a new one, and I think it’ll be difficult to top the Brett Matthews, John Cassaday, Sergio Cariello effort. That said, I’ll certainly give The Lone Ranger #1 (Dynamite Entertainment) the requisite flip at the LCS to see if it even comes close. What looks good to you?