6.27.12 Reviews (Part 2/2)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak, Owner of Yesteryear Comics, for sponsoring this week’s review books. Make Yesteryear Comics your first destination in San Diego for great customer service on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles at the best discounts possible. For a limited time, new customers can enjoy a promotional 25% discount on new releases, valid until September 30. After September, customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Kearny Mesa, or find them online at www.yesteryear-comics.com

Scalped #59 (DC/Vertigo): Thank God for Jason Aaron getting the small details right. As someone who sat in countless hours of college lecture analyzing grisly crime scene photos, it still unnerves me to this day when writers use the incorrect blood “splatter” instead of the correct blood “spatter,” that Aaron employs here. That’s one tiny little example, but it’s indicative of the authenticity that the writer brings to every aspect of Scalped, from the language patterns and histrionics of the swearing, to the more complex criminal elements, general decay of society on the rez, and basic complexity of human nature in a larger sense. Hey, I actually have one piece of criticism for this book! That’s something you don’t usually hear me say. In the early passages, the inking is so dark and murky that I think it can be a little difficult to parse what’s occurring. I know the scene is supposed to be dark and ominous, but it veers a little too close to confusing for me. In a couple panels, I really couldn’t tell who was doing what, where Dino Poor Bear was, or the positions of Catcher and Dash. After 5 or 6 pages, it all worked out, but still. There’s a 4-panel page which I just adore; it has Lincoln Red Crow, Catcher, Dash Bad Horse, and Dino Poor Bear narrating each panel with their own motivations simultaneously, and this intersection is one of the most crafty things that Aaron and artist RM Guera have ever pulled off. It’s a good lesson in the fact that reality, and realistic fiction, don’t actually typically possess rote “good guys” and “bad guys.” There are just different people, with different goals, and different motivations, and different psychological or physical stressors, which will cause them to act in different ways, often times in direction opposition to the next bloke. This issue is another extended fight scene, and a brutal one at that. It sees severed hands, broken jaws, gunshot wounds… hounds, gangsters, and Feds. As I blurted out on Twitter, it all culminates with a BLOODY MEXICAN STAND-OFF CLIFFHANGER IN FLAMES!!! teeing up the final issue of not just one of Vertigo’s best comics ever, one of the best comics EVER. Period. Grade A.

Prophet #26 (Image): It’s the all Brandon Graham issue, and you know the creator(s) has done some immaculate world-building when an entire issue doesn’t even need to feature the titular character and it can still be compelling. “The towers still stand. The Empire’s signal repeats. Maybe all the way from Old Earth.” It’s sentences like these that made me say Graham is the Hemingway of comics, using these short, crisp, declarative sentences without a lot of adjectivey flourish that are so powerful. While they’re superficially simple, they’re actually quite complex because they allow an interactive experience with the audience where we perceive, and interpret, and imbue them with further meaning. And that’s just the guy’s writing! This issue sees a long travel by one of John Prophet’s bio-mech robot suit things, and a recent revelation Graham gave in an interview (Newsarama, I believe it was) was that each issue/arc by a different artist takes the approach of the perspective of one of John’s different bio-mech tool apparatus things. Given that explanation, this issue makes perfect sense. This story is quirky and informative, further fleshing out an already pretty fleshy world, but grand and dirty sci-fi concepts like the Cyclops Rail and Armscye Ring totally make me squee in entertained delight. The idea of this global engineering ring used to shift the planet's orbit is cool enough, but then you throw on some parasitic worm leech things and it just goes right over the top. Artistically, one of Graham’s greatest attributes is that he can shift his figure scale at will, providing supreme close-ups full of detail, and then race the camera out to these big two-page immersive expanses that have you rapidly searching for the protagonist in the abandoned wasteland. It’s just so much fun. By the time we get to the Red Dwarf Star and a person curled up in the shape of a planet, I found myself thinking, “oh shit, that visual kinda’ reminds me of Planetary for some reason.” But, then I reminded myself that this book has been compared to so many things. It’s Conan! Yeah, it’s like sci-fi Conan. No, wait, it’s like sci-fi Conan in a European Comics style. No, wait, it’s sci-fi Conan in a Euro Comics style, but with the world-building of Tolkien, Herbert, Martin, etc. No wait, it’s also like some of the discovery elements of the hidden history of the world in Planetary. The easier explanation? It’s actually like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s the most original comic to debut in several years. The claustrophobic, expertly colored back-up by Emma Rios is just the icing on the cake. Grade A.


6.27.12 Reviews (Part 1/2)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak, Owner of Yesteryear Comics, for sponsoring this week’s review books. Make Yesteryear Comics your first destination in San Diego for great customer service on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles at the best discounts possible. For a limited time, new customers can enjoy a promotional 25% discount on new releases, valid until September 30. After September, customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. in Kearny Mesa, or find them online at www.yesteryear-comics.com
X-Men #31 (Marvel): The approach that makes this incarnation of Marvel’s Mutants stand out against the fumbling morass of X-Men books out there is that writer Brian Wood roots the story in social science, and not superheroics. With the discovery of 700 year old mutant proto-DNA that could literally rewrite the history of the mutant species on planet Earth, we see the rising danger of bio-engineered weapons being used for either paramilitary or political means. There are little ideas I like in this script, from personal “likes,” such as Sabra the mutant Mossad Agent, to the personalities of the characters coming through loud and unique. Storm asserts her command presence, Pixie is clearly the rookie, Domino can be flirty, Psylocke still seems disillusioned from her Uncanny X-Force experience and is looking to belong, while Colossus is more than just the dutiful soldier. There’s depth to the way all of these different archetypes mesh together so well. Yeah, there’s big action, big ideas, big personal moments, and also big contributions by artist David Lopez. I try to keep things semi-classy around here, but damn it if his work doesn’t give me an art boner. I mean, I get excited when Psylocke actually looks Asian, Storm looks like she’s plausibly North African, Pixie has an impish/elfin quality to her. Dude is frickin’ paying attention to what he illustrates, not just schlocking it out. All the while his style is clean and crisp and vibrant in a way that engages you fully. Who would have ever thought that the guy who delivered books like Demo or Local or The New York Four could have ever made this jump? Yeah, that was a rhetorical question. The key is that Storm, Pixie, the X-Men, the mutants, people in general, can all be outsiders looking to define their identity and purpose. And if you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that shit is right in Wood’s wheelhouse as a creator. I still can’t resist the comparisons to some WildStorm properties, I always go for Planetary, the archaeologists of the unknown, uncovering the hidden truth about the world around us; Wood suggests Authority, a global power play, in their mysterious ship, with the fate of mutantkind hanging in the balance. Either way, it’s Grade A.

The Manhattan Projects #4 (Image): If “imagination is more important than knowledge,” as Einstein suggests, then I figure Jonathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra have nothing to worry about. Hickman has his usual fun with sci-fi alternate history, linking the Roswell and Tunguska incidents (botched ones at that) with scheduled visits coordinated by the Allied powers. There’s the fun of the FDR AI forming a rudimentary DARPANET, Fibonacci sequences and Stargate harmonics, with alien conquerors hiding their intentions through (hilarious) translation difficulties. Pitarra’s art is so very agile, able to pull off the harsh and gruff detail of stuff like Einstein’s frustrated stubble, yet bouncing back to handle gleaming retro technology, or impressive desert vistas. My only gripe is that I’m confused on issues… I thought this was a 4-issue mini-series(?) Yet it certainly seems like it could still go since it ends inconclusively and there are still some dangling threads. Did it get extended to 5 or 6 issues? Was it always? Totally in the weeds here. OH SHIT WAIT I JUST LOOKED AT THE IMAGE COMICS  WEB-SITE AND THIS IS AN ONGOING MONTHLY BOOK?! Dang. That’s something new for Hickman @ Image. Cool. Grade A-.



In April of 2011, LIVE FROM THE DMZ launched after a few weeks of discussion with Brian Wood. In addition to being one of the longest running series in Vertigo history, DMZ was an important cornerstone in Brian’s larger body of work, published in singles from 2005 to 2011. It was really the definitive alpha and omega entry in the second major period of his career. [For fellow Brian Wood historians, I tend to approximate the first period as 1997 to 2004 (CHANNEL ZERO to DEMO: VOL. 1), with the second period being roughly 2005 to 2011 (LOCAL to DV8: GODS & MONSTERS). THE MASSIVE now serves as flagship for the third period marker of 2012.] That said, the idea of commemorating this very special, 6-year, 72-issue saga in some way seemed like a logical move to make, but nobody was quite sure what form that should take. We looked at options, we worried about who would own the content, then we just did our own thing, and the rest took care of itself. Ultimately, we decided to do something very different. Phrases like “director’s commentary” and “backstage pass” and “all access” and “dedicated site” and “behind the scenes” kept popping up in an effort to describe something that I’m still not sure has been done before. I got a kick out of a Wiki entry describing it as a “canonical companion site curated by Justin Giampaoli.” It was designed as a destination resource that would enhance the reading experience of the individual collected editions for years to come, with interviews, concept art, making-of stories, and all sorts of process stuff. I wanted to do a deep dive and figure out what made the series tick, and by extension, maybe the creator too. I wanted to entertain, sure, but mainly to fascinate, by pulling the curtain back and demystifying the craft. The elevator pitch was way too long. There wasn’t a clean sound byte. But, sometimes complex work requires complex discussion. I still don’t think we have a concise name for it. There’s nothing like it. I always felt like we were breaking new ground, perhaps fitting for a creator with an equally unique voice.

Now that the entire DMZ saga has been “declassified” in this way and made public, I thought I’d post a final link-dump to catalogue all of the entries. With my introduction accompanying the final trade which shipped this month, I guess this is also a goodbye. Now that it’s over, I could reminisce about interviewing several artists, the colorist, and a senior editor. I could go on about interviewing Brian dozens of times, exchanging hundreds of emails about DMZ, discussing his work, other creators and their work, the general state of the industry, movies, pop culture, politics, dipping our toes into personal life outside of comics, the trust and burgeoning friendship that developed, and all the things Brian taught me along the way, probably without even realizing it at the time. I could make one final impassioned pitch to the PTB at DC/Vertigo and talk about how DMZ should be reprinted in glorious oversized deluxe edition hardcover format like it so richly deserves, and what exceptional bonus material the LIVE FROM THE DMZ content would make. I could focus on the fact that this ended up taking over a year of my life to complete, and that it led to freelance work-for-hire at DC Comics, a goal I’d set for myself that I got to unexpectedly and humbly cross off the list. But, none of that is really why I did it. I just wanted to talk about something cool that I liked. The rest took care of itself. I got to talk about a very important book. I got to support a creator-owned comic from a guy I respect. I got to know one of the most important creative voices of our generation; someone who’s straddled that sweet spot between indie swagger and mainstream appeal. Thanks to our audience for reading. Thanks to everyone in the online press who pushed it. Thanks to all of the interviewees for being so generous with their time and content. Thanks to Brian for the opportunity. It was my pleasure to be involved in this small way. It was an honor to feel like Brian trusted me to watch over his baby for a short time. Read DMZ. Read Brian Wood books like THE MASSIVE. Read Creator-Owned Comics. The rest will take care of itself.

End Transmission


DMZ VOLUME 12: THE FIVE NATIONS OF NEW YORK is now broadcasting LIVE FROM THE DMZ. 14 months since the project began, the last volume of the series has now been commemorated with a final in-depth interview featuring Brian Wood’s thoughts on the conclusion of the story. Please visit the only site dedicated to Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli’s 6-year, 72-issue, contemporary classic that chronicles would-be journalist Matthew Roth stuck in an active war zone known as Manhattan, in a not-too-distant future plunged into the Second American Civil War.

LIVE FROM THE DMZ is a companion site that takes a behind the scenes look at the series, with “director’s commentary” style interviews with the writer and artists, never-before-seen concept art, and more, as we provide you a backstage pass to the flagship title from one of the most important creative voices of our generation. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that’s done with the full cooperation of Brian Wood and his series collaborators. The entire series is now available in this format, that’s 12 interviews with Brian Wood and 5 bonus interviews with other creators.


6.27.12 Releases

Scalped #59 (DC/Vertigo) promises a Mexican Stand-Off for its penultimate issue, and I’m curious to see how that will be tied to (what I’m assuming is going to be) a flash forward issue for the finale in #60. For me, this is the last hurrah of Vertigo. With DMZ, Northlanders, etc. all gone, there really isn’t a long-running flagship title for the imprint any longer. DC is also offering Batman Incorporated #2 (DC) which, if I were still buying company-owned properties, I’d probably check out for the Chris Burnham art alone, so I’ll give this a flip. I’d also be lying if I said I wouldn’t at least thumb through Before Watchmen: Nite Owl #1 (DC). I’ve enjoyed JMS work in the past (namely the first run of Supreme Power), but I can’t say anything else has really moved me; it’ll also be interesting to see what the Kubert boys associated themselves with. On the GN front, I’m really excited to check out Get Jiro! (DC/Vertigo) from wise-ass foodie turned culture snob, Anthony Bourdain. Image Comics continues their run at Best Publisher Of The Year, with Manhattan Projects #4 (Image) from Hickman and Pitarra, as well as Prophet #26 (Image), the all Brandon Graham issue(!), reason enough to celebrate. I’ve basically been catching up on this title in trades, but BPRD: Hell On Earth:  Exorcism #1 (Dark Horse) is something I’ll definitely consider because of the Cameron Stewart art. I suppose life just wouldn’t be complete without a Brian Wood book up in this mother, so let’s have X-Men #31 (Marvel), one of my new favorites. For my money, it’s Wood doing an old-school WildStorm/Planetary tale right in the middle of the present-day Marvel U. Lastly, in the Pigs Are Flying department, we have League of Extraordinary Gentlemen III: Century #3: 2009 (Top Shelf). Good luck making any sense out of that titling nomenclature. I’ve really been underwhelmed with this incarnation of LOEG (really only the first two volumes are any good, this is actually the fourth despite the naming convention, but here I go digressing into the stupid title idiocy...), but I’ll probably see this thing through since I picked up the first two, provided it passes the casual flip test. Overall, this looks like a very strong week with 4 sure buys and a couple of maybes.


6.20.12 Reviews

Casanova: Avaritia #4 (Marvel/Icon): Everybody’s reading. Everybody’s enjoying. Everybody’s thinking. Everybody’s engaged. Everybody’s entertained. Everybody’s impressed. Everybody’s discovering. Everybody’s admiring. Everybody’s living. Everybody’s healthy. Everybody’s happy. Everybody’s satiated. Everybody’s staring. Everybody’s proud. Everybody’s loving. Everybody’s succeeding. Everybody’s buying. YES THEY ARE. [Dude, I seriously want to own the original art for that last page.] “That was a lifetime, two miniseries, and a whole publisher ago, Seychelle.” (Sounds of shit not working anymore). Charles Dickens! “Onomatopoeia!!” Not since Automatic Kafka have we had this level of experimentation. Nobody draws emotional shrapnel like Gabriel Ba. Grade A.

Saga #4 (Image): I was thinking that when it comes to world-building, it’s really the little touches that you remember. It’s stuff like bounty hunters having the honorific first name “the,” as in "The Will." Saga is sexy, and smart, and really an inventive conglomeration of storytelling. I do enjoy the childish but powerful Izabel as both the good and bad devil floating atop the proverbial shoulders of Alana. Also? There’s nobody I want drawing my winged goddesses floating around with strap-on dildos while they go down on each other Sextillion style more than the magnificent Fiona Staples. It just goes to show that when creators have fun with their book, guess what? The audience does too. Staples’ art is interesting from a technical perspective here. Her focus seems to be on favoring figures vs. backgrounds. The figures are strong and grand and full of poised emotion, coming off natural and believable and resplendent with meaning and intention. The backgrounds are merely “good” for my money, they’re in a different style altogether, more monochromatic and, dare I say, simplistic in their execution. I don’t think that’s really a knock, just an observation for now, as I’m sure it’s intentional and I just haven’t grokked why yet. This issue ends with a great cliffhanger, but honestly the issue feels like all middle. Protagonists (I guess? Or is it really their daughter, who is narrating after all) Alana and Marko don’t really do much. They’re still on the run. Most of the ish focuses on The Will @ The Sextillion pleasure house dealing with a Jodi Foster in Taxi Driver situation. Saga is really really really solid, but I don’t feel blown away by it and I’m not sure if it quite deserves all the attention it receives. Yes, Fiona Staples’ art is pure joy. Yes, it’s nice to see BKV actively working in comics again. Is it the BOOK OF THE YEAR that I’ve seen more than one critic already call at the halfway mark? Umm. No. There’s something just on the edge of my understanding that I don’t like about it. It’s something a little formulaic about the process, not the resulting content, but the approach. It’s as if Vaughan is following some recipe, taking 2 pinches of this, a teaspoon of that, baking for 15 minutes, and voila! There’s something that feels inorganic about its construction, a tickling thread in my brain. I’m not sure if I want to pull on that string, lest the whole thing fall apart, or just sit back and enjoy the quirky sexy space adventure melodrama for what it is. The pleasure house scenes seem to be “too clever by half” (a little too “haha, look at how quirky and sexual and almost subversive and weird and outlandish we are!!!”) when I prefer things a little more raw and grounded, like, I don’t know, Inara Serra in the Whedonverse. I enjoyed the responses to the reader survey, but damn it, I thought for sure I had the “winning” response to one in partic. This is very close to getting the "minus" on the grade, but I think me art-crushin' on Fiona Staples prevented that. Grade A.

Glory #27 (Image): Honestly, I still don’t feel as if I have a strong foothold on this book. Drr Drr Drr Glory was born to unite worlds, but she goes to Earth for… some reason. Drr Drr Drr she brawls and stuff. Riley and the… uh, other girl, helper person, help her because of… something? There’s some kind of invasion or something here, and the 4 focus characters seem to want to go somewhere, but don’t ask me why. Maybe this book actually needs a little more exposition? You never hear me say that! The larger narrative thrust is a bit obtuse so most of the action comes off like mindless filler. I guess I’ll risk piercing the thin veil of erudition I’ve conjured here, but the art seems blobby and fuzzy (these are the technical terms, yes?), something that I previously just chalked up to Campbell’s style, but now I’m starting to think they might not fit the tone of the book. While the pencils are totally consistent, if not tonally consistent, perhaps they’re just not to my personal liking? I keep saying to myself I’ll stick with the first arc and make a determination, but then I just noticed this issue was “Part Two: Savage,” and I really wasn’t aware that Part One had occurred or that the previous few issues had formed any sort of distinct arc that had already ended. Wha-huh? That sure doesn’t bode well for my understanding of the story structure. I’m moderately entertained when I read the book, but don’t seem to retain any of it. Who’s doing what and why? I’d probably fail that test. So, I guess Glory is on alert, I’m considering dropping it because I just don’t “get” it in the way that makes me fervently want to support the titles which I can turn around and evangelize to everyone. Grade B+.


Danger Club [Shotgun Blurbs]

Danger Club
Published by Image Comics
Creators: Landry Walker & Eric Jones

What It’s About: When Earth’s greatest heroes mysteriously disappear after facing a cosmic threat, their teenage sidekicks are forced to step up and fill the void. Unfortunately, their generation isn’t quite ready to wield the power and shoulder this immense responsibility. Most of the impressionable youngsters are swayed toward a less than altruistic figure and the world degenerates toward an evil theocracy in this disturbing vision that’s like Lord of The Flies meets 1960’s Teen Titans. The small sliver of hope in all the dark dystopian despair is a small band of teen sidekicks who rise up to rebel against the PTB and fulfill their heroic legacies instead of slipping further into this nightmarish reality. Fans of the hyper-violent youth culture of Kick-Ass or the sheer power spectacle of The Authority will be entertained. Fans who appreciate the smarts of Battle Hymn, Automatic Kafka, or No Hero will love the honest raw take on human nature.

Why You Should Buy It: Walker takes the standard genre tropes that have existed for decades and subverts them in sublime fashion, creating startling renditions of familiar archetypes, like Kid Vigilante (genius level hand-to-hand combatant), Apollo (super-powered demigod), and the city of Micro Tokyo (think The Bottle City of Kandor as rendered by Osamu Tezuka). It’s easy to label work as “superhero deconstructionism,” but few works demonstrate in such short order this intensely flawed paradigm. Jones’ lean figures create a moody and atmospheric world that’s both dark and dynamic, comfortable with big bold action or the small personal moments which find the kids struggling to control their own destiny. The one-page retro flashbacks offer a sense of aesthetic nostalgia that creates the most crisp and effective character introductions ever seen. Danger Club is shaping up to be another cult classic in the making.


"Cold Winds Are Coming"

Cold Wind (Ninth Art Press): Writer Dan Mazur and artist Jesse Lonergan, of the Boston Comics Roundtable, bill this done-in-one story as Dashiell Hammett meets C.S. Lewis, or Hans Christian Andersen alternately. I’m going to put my spin on that and go ahead and call it Whiteout meets The Island of Misfit Toys… umm, that is, if Carrie Stetko was sent to assassinate King Moonracer. Mazur is able to pull off a little magic act and write a script that’s 24 pages long and only contains about 200 words in the entire issue. To put that in context, some of the more text heavy writers out there have been known to crowd their comics with 100 words per page. There are 5 page sequences that contain no dialogue or text whatsoever here and it creates a more solemn and moving experience. Mazur understands the strength of the medium, particularly when he’s paired with such an excellent panel to panel storyteller as Jesse Lonergan. The artist’s transitions are seamless, always careful to telegraph precise movements and clear intentions that quickly propel the intense and meaningful plot forward. There’s a strong level of detail, sense of place, and latent kinetic energy reverberating in his lines. The assassin infiltrates the ice compound of “King Winter” (that’s my term for him) in an opening act worthy of Ian Fleming’s infamous double-0 operatives, bypassing Polar Bear sentries with cold precision. Lonergan’s pencils are lean and muscular, like icicles punctuating the frozen landscape. The use of colors is amazing as well, using sparse reds and yellows to heat up the northern blues and grays, or zeroing our attention in on a couple choice inset panels. The color palette slowly transitions us out to warmer Earth tones and light pastels as news of the job is delivered to “King Spring” (again, my term for another wealthy competitor in this dangerous world). “Spring” discusses the job with the assassin and what it means amid his existential dilemma about leaving some form of legacy behind when he’s been given just a few months to live. There are subtle notes of environmentalism amid this more personal crisis, but what really sticks with me more than anything is the world Mazur and Lonergan have swiftly created. Though the creators indicate this is a one-shot, it’s so irresistible for me to imagine a world where a “King Summer” and “King Fall” would also be vying for global dominance with the new monarch of the frozen world and perhaps an ultimate replacement for the spring figure, moving their pawns and knights around the board issue after issue in their cyclical war. It’s a fertile world that could easily churn out more of these inventive stories. I’m also wondering if Mazur is a fan of George R. R. Martin. There’s a line at the end, “Cold winds are coming,” which could easily be homage to the Game of Thrones Stark family words “Winter is coming,” or even some of the advertising lines HBO has used for the series, like “Cold winds are rising.” It’s not a swipe or anything, just possibly a subtle nod in an otherwise wholly original world that leaves me desperately wanting more. Do yourself a favor and order this book today at www.NinthArtPress.com and check out one of the best small press titles I’ve read this year. I’m sincerely hoping that Mazur and Lonergan aren’t done with this world. I’d love to see more. Grade A+.

6.20.12 Releases

I think most people would probably lead with Saga #4 (Image) as the buzz book of the week (and I have a hard time resisting after artist Fiona Staples, blogger Keith Silva, and I traded Twitter quips about the infamous perineum of all things), but I’m going to go with Casanova: Avaritia #4 (Marvel/Icon) as my pick. It’s the last issue of this third creator-owned installment of the greater Cass saga, and regardless of the huge gaps between issues, will still probably go down as Matt Fraction’s recombinant avant-garde contribution to the medium some day. Throw in all of the luscious Brazilian art at the hands of the dueling brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon and you’d be foolish not to check it out. Image Comics continues their assault on the stale offerings of Marvel and DC with one of their first two shots fired (Prophet and Glory) with Glory #27 (Image). I wouldn’t say it’s as crisp a genre distillation as the aforementioned Prophet, but it’s still something different and entertaining. It’s an interesting counterpoint to Prophet (which has short definitive arcs, currently in the middle of the second), with its longer form meandering arcs (still running through its first, though they began at the same time). As you may recall, I recently gave up the Marvel and DC mainstream, so even though I won’t buy them, I’ll still probably give Batwoman #10 (DC) and Before Watchmen: Comedian #1 (DC) a flip in the LCS just to point and laugh.


6.13.12 Reviews (Part 2/2)

X-Men #30 (Marvel): If you bothered to notice that the name of this arc is the “Blank Generation,” you could probably guess it’s a Brian Wood joint. Not only does the writer seem to push his characters to discover their identities, but by extension he sometimes seeks to clarify the identity of his own generation. Here, that’s represented by the way he quickly introduces proto-mutant DNA which could rewrite the entire history of the X-Men, subverting their origins in the process. I feel that the high concept of this book is basically Storm leading a small strike team in the form of the Authority meets Planetary, in fine WildStorm fashion. They’re aboard their tricked out ship, not unlike the Authority’s Carrier, teleporting globally to investigate anomalous incidents hidden from the world at large, not unlike Elijah Snow, Jakita Wagner, and The Drummer. It’s not that these are blatant swipes or anything, just subtle influences of Warren Ellis and the WildStorm “what could have been,” which maybe imprinted on Wood’s own DNA. The ideas have gravitas, you get the sense Wood did his trademark research here, from the inclusion of small “likes” such as the Mutantes Sans Frontieres organization, to the Ellis-ian sci-fi bits like the way their stealth cargo ship is powered green (and I certainly hope Wood comes up with a name for it, because all great ships have a name, from the Millennium Falcon, to the Authority Carrier, The X-Men Blackbird, or Malcolm Reynolds and Serenity). David Lopez is not an artist I was familiar with, but his work is simply fantastic, and I think instantly underrated. Dude should be a star that everyone knows. There’s so much slender detail and consistency running throughout the work. It’s almost like if you crossed, I don’t know, a smaller scale John Cassaday with someone like JH Williams III. Storm has never been one of my favorite X-characters, but between her confident leadership and best-ever aesthetic, I’m suddenly a fan. Lopez’s characters all have something unique to them, something ethnically distinct, and I was deep into the book before I even realized that 4 of the 5 team members are women. That’s something we probably need more of. It’s important to note that not only does Lopez depict them differently, with different visuals, but Wood does the same with their personalities. And none of them play the stereotypical roles of interchangeable window dressing, damsels in distress, or ruthless robotic killer types. These are all strong women with something special to offer. This might sound hyperbolic, but I think it’s true for me. In the last 20 years, the best X-Men books are probably Whedon & Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men, Remender & Opena’s Uncanny X-Force, and now Wood & Lopez’s X-Men. How the heck did that just happen? Grade A.
Conan The Barbarian #5 (Dark Horse): Something you might forget with everything else going on is that this arc, "The Argos Deception," is basically a heist story at heart. Early on, and I’m not sure if this is true of Howard’s original or something Wood has added, there’s definitely some social commentary about socioeconomics and class standing about the Messantian 1%. I think I still prefer James Harren’s art to Becky Cloonan’s, that first shot of bloody Conan sitting in a dark cell really typifies everything about his style. I like the rough textures and the mood it’s able to evoke. His art is also a more subtle creature, rewarding a slower pace, like the almost imperceptible smirk on Conan’s face when the “mysterious lady” (ha!) proposes a contest of champions. The ultimate fight is something else. In the middle of this rigged, unfair-on-both-sides affair, you realize that Conan might not be the smartest guy, he might not be the strongest guy, he might not even be the fastest guy as he suggests, but he’s certainly the most cunning, and that’s always his advantage. It’s his ability to read people and situations, and be perceptive, that saves his bacon more often than not. I think some people have complained that the script is a little heavy with omniscient narrative text, but I don’t mind it. I enjoy the voice and the aesthetic of the old typeface that Kurt Busiek even used in his run. It’s like it’s become something of a Dark Horse house style for the Conan property. I think I might have spotted a small mistake! Is “lime” actually the right word when they’re talking about throwing a shovelful of something into a grave? I always thought it was “lye” that was the corrosive alkaline substance that aided and expedited a body’s decomposition? Lastly, let me again just heap praise onto Dave Stewart. Notice his use of red in this issue, the way it punctuates certain actions, you’ll know them when you see them, there’s so much going on artistically between Harren and Stewart, emphasizing perspective and speed, it’s really a master class in how the entire creative team works together seamlessly to create effect. Grade A.
Ultimate Comics: X-Men #13 (Marvel): Brian Wood jumps into the Ultimate Universe and does his best to turn the aircraft carrier on a dime and right the good ship after Nick Spencer’s odd conglomeration of unwieldy plot threads finally got away from him. Wood makes some quick moves, centering the drama back on a strong female lead like we knew he would – this time the fan favorite character Kitty Pryde. He jettisons Johnny Storm, aka: The Human Torch – who’d been running with the crew – because he’s not technically a mutant anyway. Before you know it, Kitty’s decided to leave New York City (which looks more like the NYC of Wood’s DMZ, with forces divided and resembling an active war zone), tosses away her silly Shroud guise, slaps on an X-arm band with her stripped down crew of Rogue, Iceman, and Wolverine’s son Jimmy Hudson, finds a new identity for herself, and heads to the American Southwest to fight Nimrod Sentinels who are trying to exterminate her entire species as an outlaw resistance fighter that the government will surely label the greatest mutant terrorist of her time. We know this because Wood opens with that shocking statement. Fuckin’ A, this book! It's going places with speed. Paco Medina seems to be keeping up for the most part, art ranging from quite good and distinct to some spots that are a little wonky and generic, but we can probably blame that on the fill-in guy. Compared to Wood’s other X-Men book this week (a phrase I didn’t expect to be saying), this is probably less high concept sci-fi and a little more grounded in militant subversion, exercising different parts of the brain, and I’m excited to see where it goes. Grade A-.


6.13.12 Reviews (Part 1/2)

The Massive #1 (Dark Horse): I’ll start at the end and say that I totally loved the bonus content, especially the hints at there being division in the ranks between Mag and Mary as to who the most qualified second in command is. The DHS memo placing the Ninth Wave on a terror watch list and being essentially stripped of their rights is also a great way to frame their isolation. And hey, the second I can buy one of those Ninth Wave patches, I’m all over it. I generally hate the cosplay and all the silly merchandising associated with con, but I’d gladly throw that patch on a hat or t-shirt and rock that at Comic-Con. One of the things that comes across in this issue about environmental activists post-Crash searching for their missing sister ship is that I think Brian Wood is doing a better job at focusing on his core cast of characters and developing them to a greater degree vs. sheer reliance on killer plot hooks. Another thing that comes across is a flair for incorporating uhh… massive amounts of research into the script in an unobtrusive way, from wind patterns to wildlife to other weather phenomenon. I particularly like Wood’s use of the term “crash” as a proper noun. “The Crash.” It’s become a contemporary buzzword in the same way that he played with the made-up sociopolitical militarized words of the time in DMZ, like “insurgents” or “failed states” or “hearts and minds.” Kristian Donaldson turns in the best art of his career and I certainly hope he can keep up with the pace of a monthly book. I always like when the artist who helps define a series aesthetically is there for the duration of the run. His figure work is stronger here, with rounded edges instead of the sharp lines that defined his earlier works like Supermarket. The characters and backgrounds are full of rich detail, and I liked the striation lines he uses on some of the faces, like an early shot of Lars that reminds me of Tradd Moore in the recent The Strange Talent of Luther Strode. What is there to say about colorist Dave Stewart? He’s generally acknowledged as (one of) the best in the industry. His palette relays the crisp cold, and his colors over Donaldson’s art convey a slight ethnicity to the figures, not some homogenized superhero thing by any stretch. The best thing is that this is an utterly fresh path being blazed. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen. I have no idea where it will go. The only thing for sure is that it will entertain, surprise, and be socially relevant, only there’s a progression of something too. It’s so much bigger in scope for Wood than previous work. The pitch I’ve been using for people goes a little something like this: If Channel Zero was about a girl and her broken city, and DMZ was about a boy and his broken country, then The Massive is about a man and his broken world. When Brian Wood burst onto the scene in 1997 with Channel Zero, Warren Ellis gave him one of his first cover blurbs and said (I’m paraphrasing from memory) about his activist slant that "someone has remembered what comics are for.” You can easily say of The Massive with its wholly unique spin that someone’s remembered what creator-owned comics are for. I was actually getting a little worried that The Massive would not be able to live up to the full court marketing press that Dark Horse Comics was lavishing it with. It was an all out aggressive campaign for months on end. It lives up to the hype, serving as a marker for something special in an already stellar career. Grade A+.

Saucer Country #4 (DC/Vertigo): There’s something that feels very, I don’t know, “serial” about this. It’s like an episode of a good TV show. I’m not really sure what I mean exactly, if it’s pejorative or a compliment, so let’s just call it an observation for now. What I’m sure I like is the effort to separate fact and science from urban myth and group-think relative to alien abductions. Saucer Country delineates these as the “experiencers,” who may truly believe they were abducted, but their minds might also be pulling a bit of a transference of past traumas, something that “hypnotic regression therapy” would identify by replacing aliens and anal probing with a garden variety rape. On the other end, you have the scientists in the know who are tracking actual nuts and bolts alien craft in the sky, or at least a government conspiracy to hide all that, and trying to prove their existence with hard fact. That’s the part of this book I enjoy, the other soap opera elements between all of the characters, maybe what I was referring to up top as cheap “serial” stuff, well, that I could take or leave. I enjoy the smart level of detail that tries to differentiate fact from fiction in our cultural collective consciousness. I like how the supposed abductions start to be examined here, with the governor right in the middle of that story during her campaign run, as well as the more grounded security turf war. The coloring is maybe a little washed out for my taste in a few spots, but Ryan Kelly’s art is strong. I was noticing the body variation in his figures. I mean, for a book where 90% of the people are middle aged white guys in suits, he makes them all fairly distinct. I especially like his women and people of color who stand out from that crowd. There’s also a pretty dope house ad for the 12 volumes of DMZ. Grade A-.  

Mind The Gap #2 (Image): Well, I guess my LCS didn’t get the memo that there was a printing problem with this issue and that they were supposed to pulp it, because it was right out there for sale like everything else. I decided to buy it just to kind of subversively prove the point that my LCS can be woefully uninformed about things. I don’t recall what the printing error is, but it must be something fairly significant since writer Jim McCann is so carefully placing clues and red herrings and assumably leaving everything we need to “solve the mystery” right out in plain sight. The “Who’s Who” chart definitely helps with such an intricate plot. Now, I’m not the type of person who is going to pore over every single little detail and re-read the books indefinitely to try and investigate this little mystery. I’ve done enough of that in my real life. But, I do appreciate the degree to which McCann will go to create an interactive experience with the readership. That’s not something you see a lot of today. I think that takes what would otherwise be a fairly mundane "whodunit?" with soap opera trappings and bumps it up to be something special which transcends its basic story. I’m happy to follow along, if not play the game outright. You know what I think a big clue is? That bottom panel where Edward Sr. is holding a picture of (what I’m assuming is) Elle’s birth. Who is that other man in the room? I’m getting a whiff of CDC medical experimentation, which is now impacting Elle’s “powers” and has created some type of conspiracy angle between medical community and family that needs to be covered up with murder. Anyway, that’s my loose guess for now. My only real complaint is that Esquejo’s art can be a little uneven. I think his strongest ability is with character faces and their emotive expressions. Those are really good. Where it falls down a little is on some of the larger figures’ perspective and proportions, which just come off a little awkward and unnatural at times, like the aerial two-page spread of the gurney being wheeled down a hospital corridor. The arms, the heads, the feet, almost everything is “off” in some way. He also doesn’t compose the panels with a ton of background detail or objects, so I don’t think this gives Oback’s color much to do. I’ve seen her do amazing coloring on X-Force, but that was typically with artists who had a much more detailed and full style, which is something that I can’t say of Esquejo. I’m still intrigued enough to come back for a bit, but it’s not without some glitches. Grade B+. 


The Identity Group

Face Man (Domino Books): Clara Bessijelle’s book is a unique artifact that could probably serve as a perfect example of modern art comix. It favors reader interpretation over directly prescribing meaning, it values presentation diversity over bland conformity, and contends with the challenges of real life vs. anything more fantastical. Besijelle’s environments are rich and full of texture. The dense panels feel almost constricted and heavy at times, with a fuzzy quality (someone chime in and confirm the medium she’s working in, un-inked pencils, raw graphite, charcoal?) that adequately reflects the struggle the protagonist experiences on our behalf. His struggle is really one in which we all participate. It involves the identities we assume in society... but, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s talk about how we participate in society. With the rise of technology and social media (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, pick your poison…), essentially everyone has become a potential “star” or functions as a “broadcaster.” At times, we’re so preoccupied with documenting life that I fear we’re not actually experiencing it. Personal Anecdote: I recently attended my daughter’s Kindergarten graduation and it was a good example of this phenomenon. Surveying the crowd of parents and assorted family, approximately 90% of the crowd dutifully whipped out their cameras and iPhones and started snapping pics and recording the proceedings for posterity. They were largely so busy fiddling with settings and trying to contort their bodies to get that one perfect clip, that one perfect photo-op, that I think they missed the moment entirely. Precious few were sitting back and just really soaking it all in. Members of my party got their pictures and video clips too, but I deliberately tried to be consciously present and just took it all in. In the middle of this frenzy, I caught my daughter’s eye on stage through what I would like to believe is sheer willpower. I gave her a little wink. Her little chuckle and wave is etched into my memory, a shared moment of intimacy in the middle of this parental melee, that I’d gladly take over any picture produced that day. Anyway, Face Man knows this truth. Face Man grapples with this dynamic, literally opening with the detachment of critical discourse as a writer contends with how to properly review a play. It addresses these two ends of a continuum, are we merely observers in our lives stuck on the sidelines tracking the activity, or are we active participants in our own lives? If “all the world’s a stage,” as Shakespeare postulated, are we the critic in the audience or actually one of the players upon it? How are we truly interacting with the world? Or, are we truly interacting with the world? I think that’s the better question (or “aye, there’s the rub” if you prefer ol’ William from The Globe Theatre, follow him on Twitter @WillShakes). From there, the book jumps through its story of a writer sent on a mission. But is the writer the follower or the one being followed? Is he both? I usually hate writing reviews in this fasion, by throwing out a string of rhetorical questions, because it always feels like a lazy writer’s cheat, but that’s what this book does. It gets to the heart of our paranoia about there being no easy answers in life, about the masks we wear being literal or figurative representations of the personas we put on, worrying about how society perceives us. There’s odd imagery to accompany these ideas too, a flair for the dramatic, like the doctor laying a man on a table in order to eat a plate of food from his body, like society itself feeding off our own insecurities. The Identity Group, the secret organization the man encounters, is really a microcosm of society itself, and all that “other” imposes upon us. It’s funny that in this group, yes, there actually is a doctor in the house, yet another playful literal interpretation of a phrase that became a euphemism after being based on something literal. It’s come full circle, as layered as this book. Despite its clever cachet, there’s also something primal about the work, it reminds me subtly of Kubrick’s last film Eyes Wide Shut, in that there is so much raw unbridled power lurking just below the surface of the human condition, and it’s when we find a way to access it that we begin to intensely control our own lives. The last panel of the book is a favorite that bookends the very first panel. In the first panel, the guy is that detached observer I describe. In the final panel, the man looks out at us as and looks us square in the eye, as if to question the role we play (exhibitionist or voyeur, you can only watch or be watched in this binary arrangement), suddenly an active participant in his own drama. Grade A.

Third Time's A Charm

Three #3 (Self-Published by Rob Kirby): Rob Kirby helms another one of his anthology-style books, this one a recipient of the Prism Comics Queer Press Grant. My only slight quibble, even though you can eventually sort it all out, is that this doesn’t have a traditional TOC for the reader to instantly be able to discern who did which piece. That aside, it certainly has the professional polish of the Rob Kirby joints I’ve sampled to date. The production quality is fantastic, down to the paper, the color, and the general layout. The book contains several short spot pieces, but is really anchored by a triumvirate of longer stories. The first extended piece by Ed Luce is a little obtuse for my taste (in fact, I can’t easily recall now what the thrust of the plot is), but I do like the figure work. There’s a brief interlude with something I always enjoy - a good Matt Runkle yarn. So, I was happy to see “The Tennessean Gem” from him (though it’s later listed as “The Tennessee Gem”) about Dolly Parton as mommy-goddess. It’s a fun blast of entertainment and his style always makes you consider fairly mundane things in new light. “Oh No!” is really the second anchor in the set, a jam comic where something bad occurs every 3 panels, masterminded by Jennifer Camper. With 6 or 7 artists contributing, the throughline is sometimes a little hard to understand, producing a choppy edit effect where things may not be directly connected, but it’s a fun experiment for the most part. Rob Kirby, Howard Cruse, Diane DiMass (and later Ellen Forney) were the brightest spots for me, around the time the exorcist shows up to deal with donkey babies in hell. From there, it speeds toward a fourth wall breaking “is this strip really working?” rant that culminates with absolutely killing the most famous ol’ Charlie Brown gag. The strips clown on Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and Peppermint Patty in what can only be described as Freudian proportions. The third piece in the core set I mentioned is from Carrie McNinch, telling the story of her youthful sentencing to a Christian school after getting into trouble in LA (well, the San Fernando Valley). It’s got this great vibrant DIY art, and hones in on the foibles of entry level drug culture, while dodging the Hillside Strangler, and ditching school in the process. Being from the SF Bay Area, anything that drops the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk into the mix scores instant points with me. What McNinch does so well is capture this moment in everyone's life that’s all about identity. Trying to find yourself at this age through friends, music, clothes, and everything else is hard enough, throw on top of that the self-discovery that you’re probably gay, and the results are a heartfelt feature length piece lovingly rendered and entertaining in the process. There are a couple of very minor glitches in this project, but overall Rob Kirby is slowly building himself an empire of thought-provoking, contemporary culture pieces masquerading as fun indie comics. Grade A-.


2012: The Year Creator-Owned Comics Won

“Kirby cooked up some tasty comics. Should we keep warming up his leftovers, or get in the kitchen and start cooking?”
-Kody Chamberlain, Twitter, April 2012
There’s an early episode in the second season of Game of Thrones that opens with young Arya Stark squatting to take a piss near a stream right before the Gold Cloaks from the City Watch at King’s Landing come to serve a warrant for her friend Gendry, the bastard son of the late King, Robert Baratheon. Now, the only relevant part of that sentence is that this little girl is taking a piss. It’s just this small touch of realism. There’s an uncomfortable impermanence to real things. Real things piss, shit, fuck, tarnish, lie, and even die. You won’t see anything like that in Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Sam trek to Mordor to cast the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom for something like six months. In that entire trilogy, you never once see them go to the damn bathroom. Game of Thrones doesn’t trade in that type of illusion. The needs of story authenticity trump the needs of everything else; it’s gritty in a way that mainstream work can never be. It’s because HBO operates with a sort of creator-owned carte blanche, if you will. NBC, ABC, and CBS were once thought of as “The Big Three” networks. In the wake of FOX coming along to disrupt the status quo, we witnessed the rise of original programming on networks like HBO, Showtime, AMC, and FX. Before that analogy gets away from me, I’ll bring this back around to comics…
The criteria I use to buy monthly comics have changed a lot over the 30+ years I’ve been doing so. I’m sure I could dive into all the byzantine personal criteria about what type of writing and art I’m drawn to, but I’ll save you most of that convoluted agony. Most people think I only like dystopian style writing (which isn’t entirely true), and since I grew up on stuff like Dave Gibbons art on Green Lantern and George Perez on New Teen Titans, it’s easy to see how that’s informed my interest in the clean austere styles of artists like John Cassaday or Jamie McKelvie. But, it’s actually a lot simpler than all that.
When I was a kid, I was limited to however many books I could get with about $5 a week, sometimes less, depending on the odd jobs I picked up around the neighborhood and whether or not I wanted to have anything left over for a movie that weekend. This was when new comics came out on Fridays, and it was a glorious time. Even though $5 went pretty far back when floppies were 75 cents a pop, there were always more that I wanted. I could never get my fill.
So when I got older and started earning the type of discretionary income that allowed me to throw it at any passing interest, I just bought everything I liked. Period. It was a simple method. It also required a lot of money. While it made me pretty well-versed in comic book lore and canonical creative teams, it was also nothing more than a gigantic revolving door policy. There was lots coming in, and lots going out, with precious little actually being retained long term.
After some time, it became buy only what you love. This was a little more stringent. It required really paying attention to what I was truly enjoying and consciously avoiding purchases made out of sheer inertia. I had to love both the writing and the art, one never guaranteeing a purchase based solely on its own merit. About this time, I also made the mental decision to follow creators over characters or companies. And that felt good, like a step in the right direction. Yet even with this more focused practice, some chaff still managed to find its way into the wheat. I’m a pretty adventurous consumer. I like to try new things. I was still buying quite a bit, but retaining only a small percentage of the overall haul long term. In fact, a recent look at metrics revealed that I only continued to support 17 titles out of 91 new #1 issues that I tried during a one year period.
One day it became – and this is basically where I’m at today – continue supporting only what you love so much that you’d actually be willing to pay for it again in a collected edition. It wasn’t as elegant a sound byte, but it made sense to me. In short, if it wasn’t good enough to go on my bookshelf one day, then why even bother? Wasteland by Antony Johnston, Chris Mitten, and Justin Greenwood (published by Oni Press) is an excellent example of this practice. I buy the single issues. I then upgrade to the trades, while passing on runs of singles to people in an effort to hook them. Later, I buy the oversized hardcover Apocalyptic Editions when they come out. Can you hear me in the back? I buy this book three times. That’s true love. That’s voting with your wallet. That’s taking a stand.
But, something’s still been bugging me about my comic book purchasing habits in the last couple of years, and I could never quite articulate what it was. I was getting bored, or frustrated, or something, by some specific part of the holistic experience. There was something cyclical and predictable about it. I enjoyed supporting the select cadre of creator-owned titles I was loyal to, loved turning people on to lesser known work, and didn’t have moral or ethical beef with any of the creators I supported. But, occasionally I’d still get hooked into some dumb crossover event or some new rebooted #1 issue from Marvel or DC in their tired vain attempts to further recapture the junkie high with THE GREAT ILLUSION OF CHANGE surrounding a company-owned property. I mean, really, how good can a new Moon Knight or Mister Terrific series really be? I needed to look at the approach I’d been taking to my buying habits in a different way. I needed some new mechanism of delineation.
Part of what I was feeling was that I’d already seen the best of what corporate superhero properties had to offer. I’ve seen the pinnacle of what Superman can be with Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All Star Superman. Sorry, but unless you can do better than that, I’m not interested. I’ve already seen the best Batman stories too. I’m skeptical that anyone can further the enduring mythos of the character better than Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100. I’ve seen the strong women of Greg Rucka and the inventive art of JH Williams III on Batwoman. Topping that is harder than bottling farts in the wind. I mean, DC can’t even get their act together enough to continue it, let alone surpass it. I’ve enjoyed the DC history lesson depicted in the quintessential liminal state between Golden Age and Silver Age in Darwyn Cooke’s The New Frontier. The thought of diluting that magical Absolute Edition with some dopey Earth 2 book from the so-called “DCnU” is horrifying. Tell me, is that book better or worse than the aborted First Wave line? Barf. Can I interest you in a can of lukewarm New Coke? Over at Marvel, is it reasonable to expect that a better looking X-Men book than Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men will ever come about? Will the raison d’etre of an amoral covert mutant hit squad ever be more carefully considered or lushly rendered than the Rick Remender, Jerome Opena, and Dean White issues of Uncanny X-Force? Can anyone deliver better flash fiction renditions of Iron Man than the fertile minds of Warren Ellis and Matt Fraction? I doubt it. Yeah, I can still quote lines from the old Kurt Busiek and George Perez Avengers run: “Ultron… we would have words with thee.” To me, that run will forever be what the Avengers are supposed to be. These are all good books. I like them. I own them. I also feel as if forthcoming creative teams will forever be chasing their magic. It’s what Kody Chamberlain was talking about in that tweet. They’ll just be reheating leftovers ad infinitum, ad nauseum. There’s a glass ceiling on how special you can make something simply by retooling what’s come before at the hands of others, without offering up some original part of yourself in the process. I’m hungry for something new.
Those comics I mentioned have capped the properties in such a way that I feel like I never have to return to that particular well. What’s the artistic objective of going back to extremely well-tread ground? I’m burned out, because they’re played out. My intention here is not to sound like an elitist snob by proclaiming I’m done with Corporate Cape Comics. But, the game’s changed. So has this player. People change. People move on. The industry evolves. Genres, characters, properties, the thing is that their creative paths can mature to the point of conclusion. It’s possible to achieve a state of creative bankruptcy. Besides, given the choice between any of those great takes on company-owned properties I mentioned above, I’d actually prefer the creator-owned vision of Planetary, Heavy Liquid, Desolation Jones, Queen & Country, Battle Hymn, Automatic Kafka, Arrowsmith, I Am Legion, Danger Club, Prophet, The Massive, or 20th Century Boys. Amid all the controversy surrounding Before Watchmen, I’d strongly prefer to see pitches from those same writers and artists for original creator-owned series of their own. I’d buy some of those instead. That’s what’s going to keep the future of the industry vibrant. Creativity lies ahead. Looking back is fleeting.
It’s impossible to talk about this stuff and not acknowledge the work of a few people that acted as some sort of thought-catalyst for me. There was the tipping point of Chris Roberson essentially being fired from DC Comics because he spoke out on the creator rights issue and ethical concerns about their practices, as well as Roger Langridge quitting Marvel and DC work over the same concerns. I was also inspired in part by David Brothers’ public cold turkey “quit” of all Marvel and DC books, but want to differentiate that what I’m doing is different, and for different reasons. Bloggin’ buddy Keith Silva’s swearing off of Marvel and DC material in favor of creator-owned comics led to some healthy exchanges between us. I started asking myself questions. Could I do that? Would I be able to give up Marvel and DC books? Yeah, no problem with the mainline universe titles. I mean, I’d woken up one day and the Marvel U and DCU had suddenly become “616” and “DCnU” or some fucking thing. No sweat ditching that mess. The gray area became imprint books at places like Vertigo or ICON. Those were creator-owned after all. Would I be willing to drop books like Scalped or Casanova? Well, no. That’s not what I wanted to do. Not exactly. My main objective wasn’t to shun Marvel and DC in their entirety for unethical business practices associated with Before Watchmen or the Avengers movie. That’s a good fight, but what I wanted to do was slightly different. After verbally water-boarding me like I’d been deemed an unlawful combatant at Gitmo, Keith cornered me with a phrase that stopped me dead in my tracks: “So… you’re saying you only want to do creator-owned, then?” The words still ring in my ears like truth. That was it. I wanted to support creator-owned titles, exclusively.
In less than sound journalistic fashion, I always tend to bury my lead. So, yeah, here’s the news: I’m no longer buying Marvel or DC books unless they’re creator-owned. But this has less to do with being a punitive move against Marvel and DC than it does with me just really wanting to support creator-owned titles exclusively. There will be one exception. If you’re reading this, it’s probably no surprise that I’m something of a Brian Wood completist. He’s a creator I’m loyal to, and I’ll ride with him to whatever end, be it creator-owned, company-owned, or licensed work. I’m planning on buying X-Men and Ultimate Comics: X-Men when he jumps on with their next issues. That’s just the way it is. It’s non-negotiable. I’ve spent a considerable amount of time writing about his work and the arc of his career. I absolutely plan to continue examining his books as long as he keeps writing them. I realize I don’t really need to seek anyone’s approval other than my own about what monthly floppies I buy, but y’know, transparency and all.
Honestly, it didn’t take much effort to make this deliberate shift. I was actually already leaning into this position through natural attrition, but this stance is now by design. In terms of what I’m buying today, here are the substantive changes, which will be put into effect immediately. I wasn’t actually buying a single Marvel book regularly, so that’s easy. The closest thing I have in the line-up is Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s Casanova, and since it’s technically creator-owned under the ICON imprint, it gets a pass. On the DC side, the titles on the chopping block are Batman, Batwoman, and Worlds’ Finest. Who doesn’t love George Perez art? I’ll miss that about Worlds’ Finest. But you know what I don’t really care about? Power Girl and Huntress. I love Greg Rucka and JH Williams III’s Batwoman run that originally aired in Detective Comics, and I’ll keep that Elegy hardcover on my bookshelf, but this new run has degenerated from that rapidly. I don’t mind giving this up since I was already considering it. Batman is a book I enjoy reading for straight-up mainstream done right. But, I also came to the realization it’s a sad commentary that this above-average effort is basically the best thing DC could muster from the flaccid New 52 initiative. It should actually be the bare minimum level of quality allowed, yet the cold hard truth is that this is actually the best book in the line. That’s ridiculous to me. So, farewell Batman. It’s like Michael Corleone said when he wanted to off Captain McCluskey and “The Turk:” “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.” No hard feelings, I hope. Next time Scott Snyder and/or Greg Capullo launch a creator-owned book, I’ll check it out. As far as DC imprints go, my only other books at the moment are actually Scalped and Saucer Country. Scalped has only two issues left, so that will soon be a moot point. I’m enjoying Saucer Country, but who knows how long that will hold. So, it’s kind of interesting that even including imprints (which get passes for being creator-owned anyway), that’s just two books I’m currently supporting through Marvel and DC. Essentially, everything else in my current line up, or on the horizon, is from Dark Horse, Image Comics, and Oni Press, with a whole slew of self-published mini-comics and small-press boutique publishers.
This is something that I already decided to do a while back, but I want to reiterate it and maybe encourage others to do the same(?). I’m no longer using the verbiage “The Big Two” to refer to Marvel and DC. Words are powerful. I just think it’s unduly empowering. It’s become this weird default nickname. I think people use the term a lot without even thinking about what it means. They don’t consider if that’s truly what they intended to say. They don’t consciously acknowledge the embedded messaging the phrase contains: That there is a hierarchy. That they dominate. That there can only be two. That everyone else is small by comparison, and thus, of lesser inherent value. It’s artificial segregation. It’s a closed paradigm, and I don’t like that. Maybe it’s not even accurate in some circumstances. I mean, when I ran my own personal metrics on the last year of purchases (I track everything), I found that in a statistical heads-up comparison, I was buying 64% more Dark Horse and Image Comics alone than Marvel and DC. If you factor in Oni Press and a few others, the numbers get even more compellingly lopsided. With the creative push that Image Comics alone is on this year, I only anticipate that rift widening. As it stands today, Image Comics and Dark Horse are basically my “Big Two” in terms of actual financial market-share. Should Dark Horse and Image Comics be called “The New Big Two?” Should I refer to them as “The Twins?” (yes, another Game of Thrones reference). With Oni Press, are they “The Medium Three?” Somebody invent a term for this that I can use. Nah, I’m just playin’. Inventing new language like that to label these publishers would only further marginalize their status and reinforce the practices of a flawed system.
Seriously, I’d rather just say this: “I only buy creator-owned comics.”


6.13.12 Releases

After much anticipation and a few prologue installments in the DHP anthology, Brian Wood’s new long-form series, with Kristian Donaldson, is finally here. The Massive #1 (Dark Horse) hits shelves this week. It’s also the continuation of another Wood series with Conan The Barbarian #5 (Dark Horse). If you need more Wood in your life, there’s an impressive double-tap over at Marvel finally hitting as well. It’s X-Men #30 (Marvel), the first issue of his run on this book. It features a proactive team led by Storm with an Authority-meets-Planetary global strike team vibe and some very impressive art. Of course, on 6/13, Thirteen Minutes also recommends Ultimate Comics: X-Men #13 (Marvel). In addition to the alignment of those three 13s, we get to see the title refurbished to feature Kitty Pryde as a mutant freedom fighter in an alternate reality dystopia. You’d be hard pressed to come up with a more appealing pitch for me. Also of note, Wood is the first writer ever to helm an X-Men book in both universes simultaneously. And hey, 4 Brian Wood books in one week, that's some kind of wonderful. I’ll also be picking up Saucer Country #4 (DC/Vertigo) from Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly. DC also has Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 (DC) out, which I will not be buying, but will probably still thumb through at the LCS. If it’s anything like BF: Minutemen #1 last week, it’ll be fairly middling and prove that this project was unnecessary and ill-advised filler at best, ethically reprehensible trash on the other end. I’m also curious to see if Mind The Gap #2 (Image) continues the fun mystery laid out in #1. Lastly, I’ll probably check out Bad Medicine #1 (Oni Press), which my LCS didn’t seem to get the first time around, and with it being solicited again this week, I’m not sure whose mistake that was. I also see Bad Medicine #2 (Oni Press) scheduled, and since they form a little 2-issue arc, I might just grab them both to enjoy Chris Mitten’s art in color and see if the story can really hook me.


6.06.12 Reviews (Part 2/2)

Secret #2 (Image): I’m going to go ahead and say that Secret is the best Jonathan Hickman project since Pax Romana, which I really liked. Ryan Bodenheim’s work has also never looked better. These two facts intersect to create a very direct and intense story. It’s pure and crisp and distilled down to its core elements, which Bodenheim washes out with gray tone flashbacks and then punctuates with bursts of crimson or Earth tone sepia sequences. “All Behavior is Predictable. All Communication is Threat.” Yeah. This is the Jonathan Hickman of old, who burst onto the scene with activist works like The Nightly News, followed them with sci-fi-meets-graphic-design social commentary in Pax Romana, coupling the believability of real world elements with insanely huge hooks. Roger Ebert has this theory that a good movie is not about what it’s about, but about HOW it’s about what it’s about. To say that the plot here involves Steadfast Security Solutions (S3) and a scheme involving a key client isn’t enticing all by itself, but seeing how Hickman and Bodenheim lay down the corporate espionage tale without exposition, with style and grace that doesn’t insult the reader, and the attitude of restrained confidence makes all the difference. The only thing that really prevents me from giving this the “+” mark is that this specific issue feels like the middle chunk of a singular chapter, with no connective tissue to what I remember from last issue, and of course, haven’t yet seen in the next issue. It’s also over lightning fast, something that’ll surely be rectified in the eventual collected edition. Grade A.

Bleeding Cool Magazine #0 (Avatar Press): Judging by the style and quality of the content, this print version of Rich Johnston’s infamous gossip/news site seems to be aiming for the gap between the vacated market positions of Wizard Magazine and Comic Foundry. Unfortunately, it leans a little more toward the former than the short-lived latter. Most of the material reads like regurgitated hyperbolic press releases, which reveal Johnston’s conflicted interest relationships with publishers like Boom! and Avatar. There’s also a lot of attention being paid to the Valiant relaunch. While I admire the story of the company owners and everything in these interviews sounds swell, the actual content of the Valiant books I’ve sampled isn’t very good. I think people are being swayed by nostalgia for these properties. The X-O Manowar first issue was dull and derivative, while the Harbinger sample was just plain boring and almost impossible to slog through. Anyway. I certainly like the idea of a print magazine too, and I applaud Johnston for flipping the paradigm and going from digital to print, instead of print to digital, but it’s also hard to avoid the content feeling dated the minute it hits the street. Most of the stuff in this issue is stuff you could find online with just a few mouse clicks. And a fucking price guide? C’mon. Is it 1993? Because as soon as I sell you this complete set of Limited Edition Chromium-Plated Spawn Pogs CGC’d at 9.8, my kids will surely be attending Stanford University. I probably wasn’t going to buy this, but then I saw it contained a piece on The Massive with a Brian Wood interview. And it’s only $1.49, which goes a long way toward swaying my interest, so what the hell? I bought it! Big surprise, I didn’t find a whole lot of value to the majority of the banal pieces. The one article I enjoyed was that Brian Wood interview, where I think Johnston and Co. actually got some type of scoop-y info that hasn’t been revealed elsewhere. Wood has another rejected Vertigo project tucked away called Starve, which he intends to repurpose as a sequel to The Massive, involving a land-based water shortage, something I can assure you he’s done extensive research on. Of particular note in this issue of BC Mag is the Len Wein Before Watchmen interview, which I’m sure people will be trolling around to glean salacious information from, and it’s definitely there. Wein essentially toes the company line, focusing on characters and property building and DC having done nothing wrong legally, while completely ignoring the business ethics end of the discussion, which is basically the whole point of the debate. He plays a lot of Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc logic games with his answers, but does point out one often overlooked fact, that Moore is still making substantial amounts of money off of Watchmen residuals, he just doesn’t own the property outright. I guess you can certainly understand Paul Levitz’s former position of frustration that Moore was out there badmouthing DC while they’re cutting him “checks every year that would choke a horse!” at the same time. I’m not sure if forthcoming 100-page issues of BCM will also be $1.49, but I’ll probably check out at least the first issue because I’m intrigued by the promised "Top 100 Most Powerful People in Comics" list. Grade B-.