Fighting Back The Tears

Demon Tears (Hic & Hoc Publications): I feel like there’s a new epicenter forming around what’s hot in the indie comics scene, and it can be triangulated somewhere amid the NYC nexus of Secret Acres, Domino Books, and Hic & Hoc Publications. Bernie McGovern’s new project from Hic & Hoc is a bit deceptive. When I flipped through its glorious color cover (love how the flame illuminates the right side of the lettering down the page) and saw those Tony Millionaire style hollowed out gourd eyes, I guess I was expecting some type of offbeat adventure book. There’s something darker hiding within these pages. While it certainly does have a sense of adventure, there's nothing light-hearted about it. It leans more toward a Grand-Guignol grip on our psyche. It’s a powerful and sad swirling-the-drain tale about battling our inner demons, in this case – alcoholism. McGovern’s near obsession with a sense of place starts innocently enough. There are some planetary shots that establish the two “worlds” he’ll be operating in right on the first page, and I also liked the aerial shot of his apartment. As his alcohol-induced blackouts take hold, his shadowy doppleganger emerges (hitting that nice riff on our inner struggle), and his brain and spinal column enter a sort of parallel world. From that point forward, the reader continually tracks which construct they're in. In that world, you can sense McGovern’s desire to create another life – the creations yearning for the way things used to be, the characters lacking the judgmental eyes of reality – something that his current body just won’t allow. If you ever saw that movie What Dreams May Come, you might recognize the sort of abstract puzzle made manifest that McGovern is contending with. The process of solving this puzzle, one which blurs the line between a representational imaginarium and his own reality, is itself the healing agent he needs. He actually holds the secret to what’s holding him back, and it’s in his interpretation that all is ultimately revealed. Interpretation does play a big part in deciphering his two environs, those of the body and mind, but like the $20.00 bottle being mistaken for $2,000 scene, it never gets to the point where it’s too obtuse to qualify as a narrative. I knew from the second I looked at this book that I’d enjoy it. It has one of those bold and iconic covers I’m drawn to, not drowning in its own busy clutter. McGovern’s thin interior lines belie their heavy emotional resonance. In addition to just being a great kinetic illustrator, he understands the power of creation. In the blackout fantasy world, by creating his own cryptic creationism mythology, rising like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes, and rejecting the “goop” as faux developmental fuel, he’s able to get his mind and body working in unison again. I love when this happens, when a creator comes out of nowhere for me with such a strong work. McGovern is definitely someone I’d like to see more from. Spoiler Alert: Don’t be surprised to find Demon Tears on my “Top 10 Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2012” list. Grade A+.


8.29.12 Reviews

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to 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. Valid until September 30th, new customers receive a promotional 25% discount on new releases. Starting October 1st, receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.

Prophet #28: Prophet is the type of book that fulfills the original promise of Image Comics. It’s hard to imagine Marvel or DC, in their stodgy and repetitive ways, having the balls to hire someone like Brandon Graham and the artists he’s been working with on this title. It’s only at Image Comics that they could be brought in and then turned loose to do whatever the hell they wanted. It’s here that they can achieve this unique creative vision. Yeah, this here is what my techie friends in Silicon Valley used to call a “disruptive product,” one which shakes up the existing paradigm, here defying easy genre categorization. It’s a, uhh, sci-fi fantasy adventure… or something? Simon “Jan’s Atomic Heart” Roy opens things up with a loose homage to an old Prophet cover, and Giannis “Old City Blues” Milonogiannis absolutely kills that first two page spread. It’s got this expressive ethereal quality that reminds me of Ryan Cecil Smith’s brilliant SF Supplementary File, which is a Matsumoto Leiji reinterpretation best described as some sort of primal sci-fi dreamscape. Speaking of the “r” word, Prophet is absolutely an example of reappropriation and recontextualization of found objects (the “found” object in this case being the Prophet property itself). Therefore, it’s almost literally, by definition, achieved one of the hallmarks of contemporary art, left the sequential art world, and entered the elusive snobby realm of Fine Art. This story does still involve Old Man Prophet’s rebellious tension with The Earth Empire, but for the most part it becomes Diehard’s story, who even gets a full profile page in the back. Prophet and his Kinniaan companion seek to repair Diehard by finding his head, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t chuckle and think of Chewbacca carting C-3PO around on his back in Bespin when I saw Prophet carrying Diehard’s body around. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this incarnation of Prophet under Brandon Graham's leadership is the continual dichotomy of the organic technology. For example, this old starship is hurtling through space “at the bleed of light,” but inside Prophet is eating the sap of some filthy creature and snapping off giant arachnid legs to eat. I also love the way that the narrative captions are plentiful, yet there is no expository tripe clogging up the dynamic between creator and audience. The caption boxes only describe what you see, there’s no explanation of intent or motivation or characterization or anything reeking of exposition. The colors are also grand, and everything in this issue seems to work in perfect harmony. The new arc kicks off incredibly strong and it’s my favorite issue of the series to date. Grade A+.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #15 (Marvel): Welcome back to Marvel’s DMZ, err, I mean DWF, the Divided We Fall event, which has US States seceding from the Union, Texas declaring itself an Independent Republic, and large sections of the country run by militia groups and patrolled by Sentinels after Washington DC has fallen. Brian Wood continues to characterize Kitty, Bobby, Rogue, and Jimmy Hudson (Wolverine’s son) as extreme outsiders. And, extreme situations typically call for extreme measures, according to Jimmy anyway. The actions required to get them out of the diner are something that Kitty is going to have to wrestle with as de facto leader, while they bide time before throwing themselves into the center of this conflict. I like this intimate take on Kitty and her little band; if you think Wood is working his magic with Kitty, oh, he’s going to kill it with Princess Leia in January. I guess I won’t spoil the mutant they pick up along the way (too much), but if you were one of the 13 people who were reading it at the time, it’s a pretty dope callback to Wood’s very first Marvel Comics work in the old Generation X. There’s a pretty cool reveal at the end and I can’t wait to see Kitty start to build her army, assuming that’s where this is going, since it feels like the team has been on the run for ages just sort of killing time while the rest of the crossover syncs up or something. Paco Medina’s art is serviceable. It’s sort of like background music, something you don’t really notice, it’s just there. Sorry if I don’t have anything more illuminating to add, I just don’t feel that his particular style adds or detracts in any significant way. Overall, I’m enjoying how this title is charged with raw ideas and the cool character moments along the way. Grade A-.

Locke & Key: Grindhouse (IDW): I’ll caveat my disappointment by saying I’ve been a fan of the series to date. I’ve been reading it in trades, but decided to jump on the floppy train for these specials and the impending final arc. That said? Man, this was a hot mess! This is the first time this book has really stumbled hard, swinging for the fence and whiffing huge. The first thing you might notice is the pulpy art style Gabriel Rodriguez employs on this retro one-shot. On one hand, you have to admire any artist’s ability to  alter their style so convincingly. On the other hand, I have to say that this style isn’t one I’m particularly fond of. Art aside, the bulk of the problem lies with the scripting, and that has to be laid squarely at the feet of Joe Hill. There’s a litany of things I could cite, but I’ll try not to waste too much of our time. There’s lot of “it is” and “I am,” totally wooden dialogue that needs some contractions to make it flow better. I also hate when writers shoot for slangy parlance and just don’t make it sound real. There’s the tough guy Palooka Joe gangster “bastid” and stuff like “oh, gee, I don’ never fuckin’ know, this kid!” It’s terribly jerky and makes me wonder if a writer with the pedigree of Joe Hill has actually bombed the old “say your dialogue out loud” test. God, it’s just all booze and thievery and talk of hairy pussy (not making that up), and “my pie is ready to eat.” Seriously? “Who’s the bitch now, bitch?" Yeeeeahhh. That’s some fine writing right there. You might as well imagine James Cagney saying “you dirty rat!” and it’d put you in the neighborhood of this crap. “Hey, lookey hyere, shee, whydoncha clam up ya’ wiseguy, yeah!” I’ll admit that the core idea of the house and residents defending themselves against intruders is pretty bad-ass, but it’s so mired in the preceding crap that takes 98% of the real estate to set-up. It’s just a laborious and awful thing to slog through. I enjoyed the quick essay from Hill and the architectural blueprints from Rodriguez that serve as bonus content, but the story itself is a fail for me. The over-the-top nature is too earnest to be parody, too full of parody to be dark, and too dark to be earnest. That’s a pretty flawed end result. Grade C-.


The Bird Is The Word

Jerry’s Journal (Self-Published by Neil “Jam” Fitzpatrick): Billed as a companion piece to the contemplative Everythingness, Jerry’s Journal is a more focused journey spinning-off the little bird’s escapades from the artist’s first-ever sketchbook strips. It’s got all that humorous existential dilemma we’ve come to expect from Fitzpatrick, or from his bird stand-in anyway. Jerry essentially asks “what makes a life?” Through the course of the book, it’s amazing how much emotional expression Fitzpatrick is able pull out from just two inky eye blots, with just the slight upturn of a beak or the small downturn of a mouth. With just a few stray representational lines, Fitzpatrick is also able to insinuate convincing background details, brick walls, the side of a house, clouds, fences, or even God. For some reason, I was reminded of the more introspective Peanuts strips, the ones with Chuck’s foibles, him feeling like nobody cares, wondering what his great contribution is, if he’d ever find love, pondering why things go wrong, and all the various insecurities that fill our daily activities. The kernel of wisdom that Jerry’s Journal remembers is the idea that what matters in life is not that shit happens, but how we react to it that counts. The only significant critique I can offer is that, being a collection of strips, the “story” is fairly limited in terms of sequential narrative, it’s more of a repetitive theme, but that’s overshadowed by the playful interaction with the reader. I liked Jerry breaking the fourth wall and staring at me and laughing for a change, or, for example, the dynamic in the strip “Uh… Where Is He?” Here we learn that your strip can’t just start without you. It’s a great reminder that we’re all the main character of our own story. Grade A-.


Reviewing Important Comics [Part 5 of 5]

The Regular Man (Self-Published by Dina Kelberman): The Regular Man houses a series of single installments originally available to subscribers (I believe), now in a very handsome collected edition, “collected entirely” as the creator says. This book focuses more intently and expands Kelberman’s catalogue of found imagery, re-appropriating and re-contextualizing to derive new meaning. Yeah, it’s that tried and true hallmark of contemporary art I always talk about. This is certainly the most fascinating of her output visually, and by far my favorite work from the artist. Thematically, there’s the search for a realistic appraisal of how life actually works, where we can find slivers of hope and excitement and meaning amid the detritus of the familiar routine, and the sheer ugliness we’re likely to encounter in our increasingly turbulent world. At this point, I’d be remiss in not mentioning the production quality. Whether it’s the color saturation, the thickness of the pages, or even the binding of the book, it just feels weighty and substantial in your hands. Since I already said her work "gives good eye," well it's time to admit it "gives good hand" as well. It’s one of reasons I’ll never really warm to digital comics. I need the tactile sensation of the tangible object. That’s inherently what makes comics comics to me, especially at this indie small press level. The physical experience is endemic to their very nature. From the handwritten introductory pages citing copyright law and fair usage guidelines, there’s a palpable burst of imagery that takes the multimedia descriptor to a new high. We see Photoshopped images balanced with old-school done-it-at-Kinko's White-Out effects, what I think are random ballpoint pen tricks, all kinds of color manipulation, panels, no panels, etc. There’s brown background pages that look like coffee-stained parchment, stronger use of photography, old books, old furniture ads, old dog-eared notebooks, and a cover section that is a priceless gift. I really enjoyed her mock-ups for all the various covers she’s used by superimposing her own name and title onto several found books, passports, and assorted literary chaff. There’s even a diagrammatic landscape of some odd workbench that feels downright Chris Ware-ian. Kelberman proves that she understands the magic of the lost art of superimposition. Kelberman’s theme of contemplating the nature of reality, isolation, self-obsession, and even the internet is crisp and reaches a clarity of purpose here that I didn’t see before. It’s simultaneously the most fun and most emblematic of her body of work. She throws it all out there in full-throated fashion. It’s too bad this book didn’t come out in 2012 because it would surely be a contender for my annual best of the year list. Grade A.

Reviewing Important Comics [Part 4 of 5]

Relax (Self-Published by Dina Kelberman): Relax was selected as one of “The 30 Best Mini-Comics of 2011” at The Comics Journal by fellow Poopsheet Foundation reviewer Rob Clough, whose critical eye I respect immensely, so I was very excited to check it out. In short, it delivered! Some of the little quirks about Dina Kelberman’s previous work that I think might push out more lay audiences evaporated in this project, and she also included some of my personal favorite aspects of her work, so this one definitely hit on all cylinders for me. First off, the larger size format (9 x 7.5 inches for this one-shot) is just more impressive to behold and suits the bold primary color palette of her work well. With the larger page size, your eye is able to roam the pages more freely, rather than feeling a bit constricted in her earlier collections of web-comics. Kelberman bills this book as an autobio project about trying to avoid the tendency to be uptight. Honestly, I’d prefer to see more original work like this from her vs. collections of prior strips, but maybe that’s just me. Relax chronicles her efforts to put her shoulders down and get a decent night’s sleep; she “started doing yoga” and “quit drinking coffee” all trying to just… relax. This type of project offers more of a narrative throughline to grasp, features a more identifiable recurring character, and highlights her terrific colors, which I’ve quickly grown to love. It is, perhaps, the best example of her work to date. Through various experimentation with drugs, massage, or even quitting the internet (gasp!), she proclaims “I will quiet my mind if it fucking kills me.” That page is immaculate, full of beautiful color, particularly swaths of red which pull the eye across the spread. Kelberman weighs the pros and cons of trying to make a change or just giving up and accepting life as is. In the process, she comes to one of the ultimate realizations in life, that you have to want to change, you have to find the willingness within, it’s nothing anyone else can tell you or any fad you can easily chase, but you have to come to the decision on your own terms. Grade A.

8.29.12 Releases

This week I’m most looking forward to Prophet #28 (Image), written by Brandon “King City” Graham, with the return of Giannis “Old City Blues” Milonogiannis on art, and a cover by Simon “Jan’s Atomic Heart” Roy. There’s just nothing more imaginative or unpredictable currently on the stands, with all its European sci-fi flair reappropriating and recontextualizing the old Rob “I Will Burn This Village Down In Order To Save It” Liefeld creation. Next up is Brian Wood’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men #15 (Marvel), continuing the “Divided We Fall” Ultimate U Civil War. I’ll also be picking up Joe Hill and Gabe Rodriguez’s one-shot Locke & Key: Grindhouse (IDW) as the impending final arc looms. I’ve been catching up with the BPRD saga in trades, but I’ll definitely flip through BPRD: Hell on Earth: Return of the Master #1 (Dark Horse) to see what’s going on in this current cycle. I think Mignola recently said in an interview they were going to switch the sequential numbering to #100 at some point, thus eliminating their “series of mini-series” paradigm, which seemed smart and successful, so maybe this is a sign that something big is afoot as the series drives toward its eventual conclusion.


Reviewing Important Comics [Part 3 of 5]

Important Comics Are Bad (Self-Published by Dina Kelberman): This volume of Dina Kelberman’s work collects the first two years or so of strips published in the Baltimore City Paper. If you want a terrific example of her subversive sense of humor, look no further than the negative pull-quote singularly featured on the back cover from a reader pleading for CANCELLATION of her strip! That killed me. The sheer confidence exhibited is something I’ve always wanted to do with a mini-comic. It reminds me of a pull quote that adorned a run of (was it Erik Larsen’s old Defenders???) a Marvel Comic in the 90’s which read something to the effect of “This is the worst comic being published today.” Bravo to Kelberman for wearing their scorn like a badge of honor. Important Comics Are Bad is twice the length, at 88 pages or so, of the previous two collections I read. It’s another book where you can track the progression of her style. It begins with more traditional black and white strips which are wholly contained within their panel borders (the color is something I found myself desperately missing), and then leaps to a more abstract style, with free floating imagery and lettering, where the panel borders break down and morph. The non-sequitur endings would indeed sometimes baffle the average newspaper audience not familiar with the mini-comics movement that spawned them. I think it’s a frickin’ riot that these ran in the paper for the years they did, flying in the face of the old paradigm. That’s a dynamic I enjoy. Kelberman once again takes her self-critical exploits and ports her own life into her cypher stick figures. She questions why anyone would want to publish her book, contends with the reaction to her strips form the general public, and occasionally a relatively simple strip like “Breakthrough” will hint at hope, at some type of self-analytical revelation. From a formatting standpoint, I have to say that it was a little annoying to continually turn every page sideways. I understand that in order to fit the size of the publication and get two per page in every layout it was necessary, but nevertheless my neck started hurting about a third of the way through. There are also a couple of pretty bad typos, such as “sponteneity” lurking about, but these small stumbles are usually overshadowed by the humor. I really liked the earnest take-it-or-leave-it nature of the raw block of text Kelberman used when she was sick, explaining that she couldn’t do that day’s strip, and the important lesson about her that taught the readership. You rarely see that willingness to interact so directly in a newspaper setting. Another experience I can relay is that occasionally the strips become repetitive in tone and commentary after consuming so many back to back in one setting. It’s probably something that someone other than me as a reviewer wouldn’t experience, but nevertheless I found it to be true. In any case, I hope Kelberman doesn’t genuinely fret about “rigorous pointless art projects consuming her life,” because one of those words just doesn’t belong. Grade B+.

Reviewing Important Comics [Part 2 of 5]

Important Comics: Vol. 2 (Self-Published by Dina Kelberman): The very title of Dina Kelberman’s collection of web-comics is itself a tongue-in-cheek self-deprecating jab that questions identity; it’s our need to make an important contribution to the world, counterbalanced by the human tendency to question if we’re good enough or worthy of that distinction. This second volume of Important Comics offers more punchy primary colors and ornamentation on the page, more adventurous lettering, and an abstract quality which I really liked. Not to diminish her own originality, but it’s almost like an abstract version of Lauren Barnett’s fantastic Me Likes You Very Much, recently collected by Hic & Hoc Publications. Kelberman’s style is more energetic in this volume, the natural progression witnessing creations bursting forth from the confines of their little panel borders, eschewing containment and going full bleed. “I’m turning into an adult and I don’t know what to do about it.” nicely summarizes Kelberman’s ethos of identity struggle, wearing the right clothes, being right or wrong, even having the right type of problems are all paradoxes in the foreground. My favorite page was probably “Gunk,” which finds one character asking “What’s on my hands?” while another retorts “It looks like failure.” It’s one of the best examples of the tertiary information delivery system that comics can offer. There’s what you see, what you read, and what the juxtaposition of the two actually tells you. It’s a piece of original art I’d want to own. I still think that Important Comics might be too challenging for some audiences (trust me, I work in a contemporary art museum and the whiny “But what does it mean?” question from visitors is simply unyielding) who are not willing to engage, but I really appreciate Kelberman’s modern art reinterpretation of old newspaper strips, sans the punch-line fixation, where the creator just lays it out and dialogues with the audience instead of preaching meaning at them so that they can take away their own meaning. Grade A-.

Reviewing Important Comics [Part 1 of 5]

Important Comics: Vol. 1 (Self-Published by Dina Kelberman): Important Comics offers the type of intimate production quality where you can feel the hand of the artist present on every page. This first volume is a collection of previously-run web strips, with Kelberman hailing from the Wham City Collective in Baltimore. It’s probably best described as a multimedia experience of autobiographically inspired strips that seek to formulate a sense of self through artistic expression. This quest for an honest self-image comes across in bursts of original figure work, receipts, whiteout, grainy pictures, legal pads, ink, pencil, and paint, sometimes teeming with re-appropriated found imagery. There’s some subliminal sexuality as well, such as examining one’s lifestyle choices vis-a-vis how we eat hot dogs. At times, some of the characters even try to self-referentially make sense of the strips they’re in, one doughy figure commenting nervously on how the pointy waters of the ocean waves beneath him are drawn, or another character being unable to discern the scribble he’s leaning on. The commonality is that all of the characters are squarely the center of their own narrative, to the point that they question if they’re being self-centered, things happen to them that nobody else finds interesting. In these early strips it’s almost as if Kelberman is concerned with feeling some, nay - any, emotion, even a physical sensation, perhaps explaining her recurring use of the term “synaesthesia.” The artistic style seems to be constantly evolving, “giving good eye” as I sometimes say, an aesthetically pleasing composition that tends to draw in the reader. I can see that for some readers it might play a little obtuse, there’s no real sequential narrative to speak of (more a set of recurring themes about displaced positions in life coming from our own insecurities), and the only recurring “character” per se is the bit of herself that the creator pours into every page. At times, the strips can play choppy when they’re read in rapid succession vs. periodic installments as originally designed, but the start-stop, start-stop, start-stop staccato eventually forms a rhythm all its own. The flurry of activity on the pages was the best quality to me, in the way that it mirrors how we all try to gain focus and make order out of the chaos in our own lives. Grade B+.


8.22.12 Reviews

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 #60 (DC/Vertigo): If you’ve been riding shotgun with me this long after reviewing every single issue of Scalped, then what the hell is there left for me to say? The “Flaming Mexican Standoff” comes to a conclusion, Red Crow popping Catcher, Dash clipping Red Crow, Dash only finishing off Catcher in a righteous fury dream before Nitz does it for him and seals his own fate in the process. Everyone turns out in this finale, from Carol to Granny Poor Bear, RM Guera depicts them all in his visceral murky glory. Catcher’s line about being a prophet or murderer underscores the remorseful resignation of the entire tone, driving home the realization that our most dangerous demon is the ability to justify our own actions, no matter what they are. By the end, everyone ends up in a new place, perhaps where they best belong. It’s “a place for the runaways and the utterly immovable, for the stubborn and the bold, for the survivors and the damned, the full blooded and the bled dry, the stone cold.” Fuckin’ A, nobody writes like that! It’s like Jason Aaron has gone and saved his most representative bit of prose until the very end; this last monologue by Dash is like some bastard son of Hemmingway and Cormac McCarthy or Dashiell Hammett. Instead of trying to find something new to say to sing it’s praises, let me think back on Scalped. There was a time when Vertigo had a perfect trifecta of titles in DMZ, Scalped, and Northlanders. That time has now come and gone. I doubt they’ll ever be that strong again. It’s the end of an era for the imprint. I’m also a little disturbed at the pattern forming, that DC is able to somehow push away their best writers so that Marvel or other publishers snatch them up. If some executive at HBO isn’t working day and night to bring Scalped to their line-up, well, that’s just fucking stupid. After The Sopranos and Deadwood and Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, it’s just fucking ridiculous that Scalped isn’t the next premium hit on TV. It’s perfect. I don’t use the “perfect” word often, but Aaron’s dialogue was always perfect. It’s strong and memorable, but not with the flowery sake of itself tang that Tarantino has. It’s rhythmic and realistic, but not in the overly staged and contrived way that Sorkin or Mamet is. It’s realistic in a way that you just feel in your guts. I don’t remember an issue where Aaron poured so much of himself into the words, like Catcher's lines about wanting to be a writer, about wanting to create when he’s surrounded by nothing but a culture of destruction. There isn’t another book that has such a palpable sense of unexpected danger lurking behind every page. There are few pieces of art in pop culture that have the ability to transcend their genre, to transcend their origin, and offer something more about a segment of society. It’s things like The Godfather and Glengarry Glen Ross and the commentary they told about the collapse of The American Dream. Scalped enters that pantheon. It was a book that was on my best of the year list every single year that it existed, and this year will be no different. Thank you for one of the classics. If you’re into comics and you haven’t read, or are not at least seriously planning to read Scalped, I just don’t think we can be friends anymore. Grade A+.


8.22.12 Releases

You might as well ignore everything else this week because it’s the final issue of Jason Aaron and RM Guera’s long-running treatise on the collapse of The American Dream as seen through the Soprano's style lens of the seedy slice of subcultural crime fiction known as the Prairie Rose Indian Reservation. Yeah, that was a crazy run-on sentence, but it’s not as crazy as my love for this title. It’s Scalped #60 (DC/Vertigo), marking the end of an era for the imprint. With Brian Wood’s DMZ and Northlanders behind us, this is the last of the powerhouse Vertigo titles to sunset. If for some unholy reason you weren’t reading this book, not only is it one of the best Vertigo books ever, not only is it one of the best crime books ever, it’s one of the best comics ever, period. Do yourself a favor and pick that first trade up and run with the whole series. I mean, just look at the juxtaposition of the way that first issue cover bookends so well with the issue 60 cover. Sheesh! Will I ever run out of praise for Scalped? Moving on, Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT #4 (Dark Horse) is also out this week, and the title is shaping up to be a beautiful and mysterious series that plays with the medium in the process. Lastly, I can wholeheartedly recommend the first collected edition of this Brandon Graham helmed reimaging, with art assists by such luminaries as Simon “Jan’s Atomic Heart” Roy and Giannis “Old City Blues” Milonogiannis. Yes, it’s Prophet Volume 1: Remission (Image) and you should totally buy it if you like your Conan style world-building with a very hard innovative and imaginative European sci-fi spin. It’s a small but potent week.


8.15.12 Reviews

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

Saga #6 (Image): So, here’s the deal: I still enjoy reading Saga, yet something still bugs me slightly about it too. I think it’s formulaic in very subtle and slick ways, but you can certainly see that there’s a process at work underneath the surface, and that totally obliterates the “Ars Est Celare Artem” rule. People keep trying new spins and clever pitches to describe this book, with the term “sci-fi” usually being included somehow. But, aside from taking place in space and including interplanetary travel, there honestly isn’t anything terribly sci-fi about this book. It’s more of an outlandish soap opera with an offbeat sense of humor. I think BKV’s time in Hollywood has permeated his writing style; Saga feels layered and cyclical like a TV serial, as one plot thread shuts down, another is introduced systematically. It’s the way that some old-school comic book writers used to work, like how Chuck Dixon cranked out 60-something issues of Nightwing. It’s a reliable method. I’m not saying it’s bad, just that it’s slightly mechanical, it’s there, and I see it. It’s the same reason I keep watching the new 90210 season after season. Yeah, I said that. What? Some of Vaughan’s dialogue poked out at me too. There’s the oddly worded “because of course” in that one panel, and I still don’t get what that means or what it was intended to convey, it’s just there sticking out as if another line of dialogue is missing before or after it. “I aim to murder you” also smacks of Malcolm Reynolds, but maybe that’s just me. I did enjoy the introduction of Special Agent Gale, as well as the organic value system and communication of the rocket. That’s clever and original. I also give BKV a lot of credit for continually upping the stakes of unpredictability. The story has balls. It has a letter column. It has that Baby Hazel narration in white free-floating text, even though it does remind me of Moonshadow. The bigger treat is probably Fiona Staples' lush art; she reveals a dope two-page spread, and then I was even more impressed with the shot of the rocket taking off as the duo finally reach escape velocity and get some sort of brief respite as “Volume 1” comes to a close. Fiona has been coloring her own work, no small feat month after month, and that panel has this immaculate sense of movement and energy I just adore. I guess overall for me, Saga isn’t high art or anything, but it sure is fun. Grade A-.

X-Men #34 (Marvel): Ouch. There’s a typo right in the “Previously” section, “Gray” and “Grey” both being used multiple times in the second paragraph. It’s not like I’m going to threaten to drop the book or anything silly over something so trivial, but you’d think with all of the Marvel Editorial Eyes on this, someone woulda’ caught that. Roland Boschi isn’t my favorite artist (his line is a little wobbly and wonky to me, lacking the clean precision and consistency of David Lopez), but I will say that there are actually few artists that can nail a 5 page sequence sans dialogue with so much clarity and location changing like he did. One of the elements I still like the most about this Wood run is that not only are the characters introspective, but how many cape books actually show these people having to deal with the direct consequences of their actions, considering what they did, if it was effective, etc., not just blindly punching bad guy until bad guy ceases doing bad stuff? Storm takes responsibility and continues to clean up her mess, with all kinds of other dynamics in play, like jabbing verbally at Colossus under the strain of leadership, Pixie still working out her powers, and so on. The team continues investigating the missing sample of the proto mutant DNA, putting Domino and Psylocke undercover. I still maintain that this is a more thoughtful X-Men than we traditionally see, evident in Wood’s research that lends that sense of “ripped from the headlines,” whether it’s the intelligence bots monitoring global information, or creepy cultish groups like Heavenly Path. Grade B+.

The Victories #1 (Dark Horse): Man, I wanted to like this new Michael Avon Oeming joint more than I did. It ended up being a mélange of positive and negatives, about a Batman clone (Faustus, from the superhero group The Victories) taking on a violent vigilante called The Jackal (when he says he’ll rip your head off and shit down hour neck, yeah, he's pretty serious about that). These guys are really just different shades of grey, one willing to maim and murder, the other not. Oeming’s art doesn’t appear to be as sharp or controlled, with some confusing panel to panel storytelling in a few spots that had me flipping back to rewind and try to figure out what exactly happened. Sometimes, the “new” style worked in a visceral abstract way, with primary colors dancing in the night. Sometimes it just felt lazy and rushed, with no background work to speak of, and offered only huge patches of black and dark blue blobs of ink to decipher. I kept feeling like this was derivative of half a dozen other things. Sometimes it felt like an old-timey Powers. Sometimes it felt like Faustus was a Batman clone combined with the put-on of wise-cracking Peter Parker. Sometimes it felt like busted up alcoholic Faustus was the protagonist from Parliament of Justice just circling the drain. Sometimes his journaling felt like an obvious callback to Rorschach. Sometimes it was straight Bendis from Powers, with expositional news reports and multiple panels of different people reacting to something. I think the core idea of one Batman who is principled and doesn’t kill and is barely holding it together vs. one Batman who isn’t afraid to “kill up these streets” and is actually having sick fun and embracing the chaos is a good one… but the execution just isn’t quite the stylish superhero deconstruction I hoped it would be. I’m intrigued, but not entirely sold, which means this is something I’ll probably revisit in discounted trade form. For now, Grade B.


8.15.12 Releases

I’m excited to check out The Victories #1 (Dark Horse) from Michael Avon Oeming. If it’s anything like his old collaboration with Neil Vokes called Parliament of Justice, it has the potential to be one of my favorite dark superhero deconstruction bits ever. Next up is X-Men #34 (Marvel) from Brian Wood and new series artist Roland Boschi. Honestly, Boschi wouldn’t be my first choice for this, not even my tenth, but I’ll admit the art samples I’ve seen look much better than what I remember from their recent Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega collaboration, almost as if he's aping the style of the amazing David Lopez. The guy at my new LCS was telling me that sales on this book have been picking up, so I’ll be curious where it (and Wood for that matter) end up in this whole new Marvel Now! re-shuffling of talent. The only other sure buy for me this week is Saga #6 (Image) and, uhh, anecdote alert, I guess? When I worked at a Fortune 100 company a few years back, the CEO always had this saying that you get more blame than you deserve for things that go wrong, and you also get more credit than you deserve when things go right. I guess that’s my way of saying that I think this book is good, but that it gets more hype than it probably should. At this point, I basically put it in the guilty pleasure category, sort of an offbeat soap opera. But hey, there's a reason General Hospital has been on the air since 1963. It’s worth pointing out that Saucer Country #6 (DC/Vertigo) is also out this week, but I’ve basically decided to trade-wait this series to see if it peps up. If I was still buying company owned, I’d be all over Batwoman #12 (DC), which sees the return of JH Williams III on art duties, and thank the heavens for that. It’s basically the only book I miss since I quit non-creator owned Marvel and DC fare. On the GN front, I give The Making Of (Drawn & Quarterly) my highest recommendation. I picked this HC up at SDCC from Drawn & Quarterly and fully expect to see this new Brecht Evens project on My Thirteen Favorite Things of 2012 list at the end of the year. It should be getting all of the buzz that Asterios Polyp got the year the critics went crazy for it, only with a level of warmth and accessibility that outshines the sometimes clinical feel of Asterios Polyp, essentially highlighting the process of creating art, or the journey, being far more important than the end result, or the destination. Buy it.


8.08.12 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
Godzilla: Half Century War #1 (IDW): James Stokoe kills this! Shortest review in history? Maybe. It’s hard not to fall in love with the staggering level of detail that he gronches into this story about a regretful soldier recounting his tale of battling Godzilla in a Japanese harbor in the 1950’s. I’ve never really been into straight monster books, Dan Brereton’s terrific Giant Killer notwithstanding, but I think part of the reason this works is that Stokoe grounds it in an accessible level of humanity, and it’s also steeped in the atomic paranoia of the era that permeated the culture. While the story strikes a balanced tone between balls out action, manga influenced fun, and meaningful gravitas as these soldiers manage to do what little good they can in the face of insurmountable odds, let’s face it, most people are here for the art. You really can get lost in these panels, where sound effects merge with lettering, a sea of millions of small lines where brilliant coloring pits olive drab fatigues and Earth tones against the clash of fire and smoke and pure energy coming from the monster. I want to say again, the story’s good too as these guys are drafted into the AMF – that’s the Anti-Megalosaurus Force to you – but the art’s just immaculate. Stokoe could draw anything and I’d buy it. Grade A+.
Punk Rock Jesus #2 (DC/Vertigo): It’s not just the literal story of the second coming of (a cloned) Jesus, but the story of a security guy seeking redemption, a young mother pushed toward falling apart, a media whore company man, a tough doctor with problems of her own, and a couple other strongly developed characters who comprise this ensemble cast that seems to operate so effectively without much screen time for its ostensible and titular protagonist. Yeah, the problem with Jesus, real or imagined, is not so much the guy himself, but how the world reacts to him. I enjoy the way that security needs intersect with corporate goals and how that clashes with the people involved. I also enjoyed the politics lesson surrounding Northern Ireland and the Protestant and Catholic clash, reminding me of that Queen & Country: Declassified run that first paired Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten. It’s almost like Sean Murphy is some secret Howard Chaykin prodigy, the aesthetic sometimes bearing that type of imagery and concern with social issues. Murphy’s style is a visual assault full of forced perspective shots and wispy intricate lines that depict the danger with any form of extremism, liberal or conservative. I’m not sure if the art is quite as lovely as the full color Joe The Barbarian, but extra points if you can spot the little Calvin & Hobbes lurking about. Grade A.
Conan The Barbarian #7 (Dark Horse): The balance of emotional power shifts here as Conan shows Belit where he’s from, ostensibly to clear his name from a marauder, but perhaps secretly to put himself on even footing with her by placing her on his turf, and allowing her to trust him with her life this time around. Becky Cloonan returns and does a bang up job in a wide range of environs, from the delight of Conan seeing his desert flower experience Cimmerian snow for the first time, to the harsh mother that we assume helped temper Conan’s personality and his future relationships with women. That special thing I sometimes talk about happened to me while I read this issue. I forgot I was reading a comic for review and just got so engrossed and swept up in it that for the first time I no longer heard Brian Wood doing a convincing Robert E. Howard impersonation, but felt like I was just hearing the source material, an original treatise without the prism of time or another writer’s voice laid over it, examining the price of the sacrifices we make for love. Grade A.

8.08.12 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

The Massive #3 (Dark Horse): Man, I remember “complaining” about DMZ that I wanted more of the back story regarding the outbreak of the war, so I’m very happy to see so many flashback panels to “The Crash” here in The Massive. Whether it’s NYC going dark from a widespread power outage (sending echoes out to other Brian Wood work), or the startling news of a British nuclear submarine mysteriously detonating in the Straits of Magellan, it’s a welcome bit of fleshing out this world. I’ve seen Wood take some flak from fellow reviewers for spelling out too much and creating a choppy effect that veers away from the main narrative, but I actually think this is a smart and calculated juxtaposition. Systematically filling in that backstory gives you a sense of how terrible and bleak this cataclysmic new environment is, making you understand why the characters are pushing themselves and each other so hard for a new ideology and reason to exist. As one of the crew puts it, “We can still change the world, right?” It’s important to stress that this line is a desperate question from someone on the verge of disillusionment. This is the last issue from Kristian Donaldson, capping off this introductory arc, and I’m still impressed with how much his style has shifted since his early work like Supermarket. It’s not as blocky and angular, more human and lived in, more sleek and refined, comfortable doing action like when Mag fends off pirates, but just as at ease during tense quiet moments like when he lines up his shot later at the end of a rifle. So, here we go, The Kapital finds Mary, but will they find The Massive? That hook seems to fuel the narrative at a high level, but now we have this business with Mag and Georg The Chechen (and their mysterious past together) all laid out for us either in the script or in the bonus material’s timeline clues. This is a big cliffhanger that has the potential to change everything, questioning loyalties and motives in the process, hinting at a greater story beyond the crew’s immediate concerns. I’m wondering how many people will really register what just happened? I’m as hooked as ever. The bonus material itself is hard not to comment on; it’s the perfect dessert, full of research, design flair, and the aforementioned clues. (And c'mon Wood, when do we get to order our Ninth Wave campaign patches from your store?!). The time spent explaining the Nikolski town “model,” while seemingly quaint and antiquated and anachronistic, may just be the key to the future, an outpost intent on survival, not ideology or nationality. I honestly can’t think of a way to improve this book. Grade A+.

Wasteland #39 (Oni Press): Ordinarily, I’d be that guy who complained about the overall lack of backgrounds in the art, but what Sandy Jarrell’s style here does is force you to focus on the main characters in the foreground. And those three characters are probably some of the most important in the entire ensemble cast comprising The Big Wet Universe. This interlude issue is about Michael, Marcus, and Mary as youngsters, just 10 years after The Big Wet, which is the oldest flashback I think we’ve seen to date. Antony Johnston offers so much intrigue surrounding the past relationship of the trio, highlighting Marcus’ visions which feel like divine right, Mary’s uncanny psychic powers, and Michael’s mental and physical prowess, all fragments of their early personalities which echo in the future. Jarrell isn’t an artist I was very familiar with, but not only does he depict believable younger versions of characters we’re already familiar with, his silhouetted shots and use of negative space are phenomenal. It creates a dynamic in some panels where the figures become lost in a world that’s already been lost. In short, this is my favorite interlude issue to date, aside from the sheer full color spectacle from Chris Mitten that was #25. On the Wednesdays that Wasteland comes out, I feel the same sense of excitement and the unexpected that I felt reading comics as a kid. You just never know where it will go, Wasteland defies any formulaic approach and blazes its own path. It’s all capped off by one of the most striking covers the series has seen, again thanks to Mitten. And another special thanks to the gang at Oni Press for a pull quote adorning the cover from yours truly. Grade A.


We're All Real Basketspaces

Space Basket (Domino Books): As I sat through the Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic-Con this year, I remember having a stray thought about the butterfly effect when we all learned that Bill Blackbeard was voted into the Eisner Hall of Fame. Without someone like Bill Blackbeard’s influence, you see, there probably wouldn’t have been someone like Dylan Williams and Sparkplug Comic Book, and without someone like Dylan Williams and his vision, we probably wouldn’t have gotten someone like Austin English and Domino Books, and without Domino Books, there probably wouldn’t be an accessible creative outlet for something like Space Basket by Jonathan Petersen. With that anecdotal preamble out of the way, I can tell you that Space Basket is the best kind of experiment. Petersen uses a thick syrupy line weight that creates an overall aesthetic which almost gives you the impression the art is being done in a woodcut style. I mean, really, some of the panel borders are literally a quarter-inch thick in spots, loaded with luscious black. I love the way that the creator unabashedly slathers the page with ink. It’s done to the point that some of the words are crammed so tight into the panels that they appear to be fighting objects for precious real estate, one seeking dominance over the other. It’s almost as if Petersen is subconsciously contending with whether the writing or the art is the more important aspect of the medium. That tension is perhaps reflected in the ways that all the disparate characters seem to be competing for attention, direction, satisfaction in their lives, or the right sense of self, of self-image and self-perception, as they wander out from the lodge of life for this mysterious meandering adventure. The story bounces from somewhat straight narrative to a more stream-of-consciousness style of storytelling and shifts protagonists by introducing and shedding characters at will in a very non-traditional way. I enjoyed the unique effort of that willingness to discard one's own creative output. My only real gripe with the work is that there’s some punctuation missing; maybe it’s intentional, but it’s still jarring to my editorial eye as it hits some of my personal pet peeves. The lettering often uses “its” or “lets” or “your” when it needs “it’s” or “let’s” or “you’re” respectively. Though the book’s ultimate point may be a little elusive despite the brisk pace and fun ride, what I like the most about Space Basket is how it wrestles with perception. It’s a world where roads can be mistaken for rivers, bottles of urine for bottles of rum, bananas for shovels, or the intentions of a man in a van are deceptive. In a world where we’ve all become so desensitized to violence, anger, or depression, a world where two mass shootings can occur in a month, a world where 60 billion dollars would fund a Mars Colony, but we spend 4 trillion on a largely pointless set of wars instead, in this harsh world, we are reminded how shocking something as the beautiful simplicity of a basket of fresh fruit can be. It’s always something so small, some subtle realization that can alter our own course in life. Grade A-.


8.08.12 Releases

It’s a pretty big week for me, which feels like fun. It’s close, but I’m most excited to check out The Massive #3 (Dark Horse) from Brian Wood and Kristian Donaldson. Running that close second is Wasteland #39 (Oni Press) by master world-builder Antony Johnston, which is another interlude issue, this time taking place only 10 years after The Big Wet, so I’m hoping we get some meaty clues to chew on. Brian Wood also has Conan The Barbarian #7 (Dark Horse) hitting the shelves. I also plan on picking up Punk Rock Jesus #2 (DC/Vertigo) from Sean Murphy. I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t in color, but the pencils are still great, as is the irreverent nature of the story. I really don’t care about Godzilla all that much, but I loves me some James Stokoe, so I plan on picking up Godzilla: Half Century War #1 (IDW) from this writer/artist. Those are the sure buys, and I plan on giving mildly interested flips to It Girl & The Atomics #1(Image) and Archer & Armstrong #1 (Valiant). As for the former, I’ve never really warmed to Mike Allred’s work (blasphemy!); as for the latter, all of the new Valiant books have been very underwhelming as far as I’m concerned, although it seems like I’m in the minority on this assessment. Lastly, I’ll give half-hearted flips to Batman #12 (DC) because of the Becky Cloonan art, Batgirl #12 (DC) because of the appearance of Batwoman, and Before Watchmen: Ozymandias #2 (DC) mainly to admire the Jae Lee art, but won't buy any of them! What looks good to you?


8.01.12 Reviews

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 #33 (Marvel): The resolution of this first arc involving the proto-mutants comes along and it turns out it’s actually not “unpenaterable” as some notorious twits of teh interwebs would suggest. It’s accessible, discernible, and perfectly available for comprehension; it’s… oh, let’s go ahead and say “penetrable,” the opposite of “impenetrable,” for the record. I’d say it’s actually one of the most intelligent and thought provoking runs of the property in the last decade or so, offering big adventure, big art, and even bigger ideas, all within the confines of an emotional core where characters question their own actions, making you question the reading appetite of those who so readily dismiss it. It’s not all introspection though, Brian Wood and David Lopez can do big dramatic superheroics too, like that first shot of the team before they dive out of the plane. I also like the way that Wood plays the script to the specific powers of each team member, they’re not interchangeable pawns on a chess board. It’s clear Wood has actually thought about it; where would Domino’s skills come in handy? How can Pixie best use her developing powers? When would Psylocke’s psi-powers be put into play? There’s also realistic emotional fallout to the decisions these people make immediately following the actions they take. They play like real people, not just cold assassins or punch-the-bad-guy-until-he-stops superheroes, in a way that actually enriches their characters. It’s this level of introspection that properties like this need, as they consider how best to wield the power and information they’ve been given. Thank Brian Wood for giving you the thinking man’s X-Men, in the delicious confectionary shell of David Lopez’s crisp, clean, and consistent aesthetic. Grade A+.

Mind MGMT #3 (Dark Horse): Meru continues to chase down leads regarding the Amnesia Flight that take her up the Xun Xi River and deeper into a mystery with so much rich international intrigue. Kindt has always been a master of color, but these are probably the most beautiful watercolors I’ve ever seen. In addition to all of the interactive clues and cryptic coding, there are clever creative choices that blur the line between the artist and writer sides of his brain, such as the “[Unintelligible Chinese.]” speech balloon. The riverboat incident is intense, something straight out of Apocalypse Now, bouts of unexpected violence marring otherwise dull intelligence work. The telling of the myth  (you’ll know it when you see it) is one of those beautiful visual sequences, but also evidence that the further up-river Meru gets, the further down the proverbial rabbit hole she’s taken. One of the things I appreciate the most about Mind MGMT is that we’re now just 3 issues in and it’s clear that Kindt is giving and promising answers, not stringing his audience along inconclusively in the style of Lost or X-Files. Also? I want one of those Mind MGMT t-shirts. Grade A.

The Massive [Shotgun Blurbs]

The Massive
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Creators: Brian Wood & Kristian Donaldson

What It’s About: “The Crash.” It’s a series of global environmental disasters of apocalyptic proportions, engulfing the planet and forcing the Ninth Wave paramilitary environmental activist crew of The Kapital to search for their missing sister ship The Massive. The trio of prequel stories in Dark Horse Presents introduced the origins of the key crew members, allowing Wood to jump into issue #1 en media res, as the crew fends off marauding pirates, visits exotic ports of call, and continues to track a mysterious radar blip that could be their missing sister ship lost at sea. If Wood’s Vertigo epic DMZ carried an embedded anti-war message, The Massive seems to be concerned with the systematic rape, pillage, and depletion of the natural world through over-population and over-industrialization. Never one to shy away from pushing hot button social issues, Wood’s use of the term “crash” itself is imbued with many interpretations, be them post-9/11, post-financial meltdown, post-war, and now the most dangerous and intimidating concept of all: post-Earth as we know it. Captain Callum Israel leads a group of survivors now struggling to redefine themselves and their mission in this turbulent world.

Why You Should Buy It: Third in a very loose thematic trilogy formed by precursory approaches in Channel Zero and DMZ, The Massive ratchets up the tension to a global scale. Wood’s debut work Channel Zero was about a girl and her broken city, DMZ was about a boy and his broken country, and The Massive is about a man and his broken planet, “a socially aware story in the skin of an action comic,” as Wood described in a recent interview. Kristian Donaldson’s art is simply the best of his career to date. Using intricately modeled detail, he creates the grand spectacle of seafaring ships, crumbling glaciers, and flooded cities, and then fills them with an end-to-end spectrum of high octane shootouts and crew members quietly contemplating their ability to save a world that’s already been lost. Wood’s exhaustive research adds a sharp sense of realism to this immersive bit of socially relevant world-building. This final frontier is actually a radically altered planet, suggesting that the future’s greatest threat will not be extreme religious ideology, political divisiveness at home, China’s standing army or financial dominance, but climate change and the resulting crisis of food, water, energy, natural resources, and global sustainability.