10.31.12 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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com

Wasteland #40 (Oni Press): [Wasteland Countdown Clock™: 20 Issues Remaining]: Artist Russel Roehling joins writer Antony Johnston for a new arc that sees Michael and Abi fleeing Godsholm while their dad, the “Branded Man,” assumably heads to Newbegin. You notice the dramatic art shift on the very first page. There’s a level of detail to the ruins of the city, details on the close-up of the eyes, and a sense of motion in the thick speed lines thanks to some very robust inking. That’s the key, Roehling’s use of ink is really something special. It makes the slight big eye caricature of the faces really pop, and tends to frame actions to center your attention, like when Diana and her father touch hands during the “fown” scene. Roehling also does great things with shadows on skin when it comes to inking. His style is one we’ve not really seen yet on Wasteland, perhaps the closest to a life drawing aesthetic among some very stylized artists that have come before. Technically, it’s probably the best art we’ve seen, except for Chris Mitten, whose style I still prefer just out of personal preference. I enjoy Roehling’s depth of field, the careful placement of objects with different line weights in the fore, middle, and background, like when Diana is being chased through city ruins by weirdos (that’s “dwellers" in the "pre-city” if you speak the local). Anyway. I’m going on and on about inking, which isn’t something I normally do! Occasionally, Wasteland seems to take these detours, to the Dog Tribes, to Godsholm, and now to “Far Enough,” that further the main journey, but also flesh out the world even more. Johnston is careful not to digress too far away from the main narrative, continually upping the rate at which he drops clues and answers that snap together like puzzle pieces in a larger mosaic that’s forming. Here we find other people out there imbued with special “powers,” a man with a rudimentary “library” of scientific journals and other assorted tomes, maybe a shot of Abi’s dead mom(?), and something about what (with a little Google assist) looks to be a downed GPS sat from a USAF operated satellite constellation. There’s also (and I’m speculating) a backwards “78” in a flashback that could even be the phonetic tail end of the “see” sound in “A-Ree-Yass-I.” One of the little things I really enjoyed in the script department was Thomas warning Diana not to see a boy; she promptly sneaks right out and sees that very boy! It’s a small reminder that even in this post-apocalyptic Western Sci-Fi, teenagers are teenagers, and some truths about human nature are just timeless and universal. When you see that rustic swagger of Thomas, Michael, and Abi looking like masked ruin runners preparing to enter the pre-city, you suddently realize why you fell in love with this book in the first place. It’s the best this series has been in a while. Grade A+.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #18 (Marvel): The country is disintegrating, Cap has been sworn in as President (silly, but beyond Wood’s control I realize), and we see that there’s a kind of freedom in feeling like you’re totally screwed. Kitty and her people making a last stand gives them a sort of pure resolve to give it everything they’ve got. Kitty does just that, winning the war on the battlefield like Rob Stark of Winterfell, but ultimately losing at all the political shenanigans going on behind closed doors. It feels like the end of an era, as Fury phases out in a silent transition and Kitty becomes the sole representative of her people. There’s tension around Kitty’s free will vs. Stryker’s fascism, and mutants ultimately being urged to take an anti-mutant gene virus/cure or live on reservations. You can draw hideous corollaries to real life with Native Americans, treatment of homosexuals, integration/segregation, the internment of thousands of Japanese and Italian-Americans on the West Coast during WWII, and so many real life issues. With that, Wood is tapping into one of the main reasons why the X-Men are such an enduring property, one of the basic primal factors that resonates, particularly with young(er) readers, not a grizzled old 38 year old like me. Everyone, at some point in their life, can identify with being the “other,” the outsider. On the art front, Barberi and Padilla are really good at times. They’re good with giant action shots of killer robots filling the sky, Warpath and Kitty doing their own little “fastball special,” and I generally like how they depict Kitty in her redesigned uniform. But, Fury has one of those t-shirts that looks like it’s been painted on his rippling muscles and looks pretty silly if you really think about it. I was also thinking about him, wondering why with all the SHIELD tech he doesn’t just have some bionic eye? The eye patch? Really? But, again, this is kind of outside the purview of Wood as a work-for-hire writer, and I guess you do have to just suspend disbelief at some point when you’re in a world where mutant telekinetics are blowing giant killer Nimrod Sentinels out of the sky and there’s a Civil War and Cap is President and and and. At the core, Wood has given us militant Freedom Fighter Kitty Pryde and that’s something I’ll gleefully geek out about. Grade A-.


Selected Transmissions From Youth Spies

Over the weekend, I absorbed Rookie Yearbook One helmed by Tavi Gevinson. I’ve always been drawn to strong writing from cultural insiders, and as a dad who is in the process of helping a 6 year old daughter navigate the world, this phone book sized edition amounts to an extended treatise from what John Waters calls “youth spies.” I enjoyed how it defines “hipsters” as those who “think and care about what their tastes say about them instead of just liking what they like” in an organic and authentic way. It’s also careful about examining how a strong group of outsiders can curate their own likes and style to create a healthy counterculture. Most importantly, it captures the complex contradictions in being a modern girl. As Tavi says, they’re “trying to be innocent but sexy but purity rings but grinding at homecoming.” *Gulp*

While Gevinson acts as Editor-In-Chief and sometimes writer, there are a whole host of contributors. For my money, one of the better is 17 year old Lexi Harder who sums up the ethos of the whole contradictory threading-the-needle dilemma this way: “I am supposed to be pretty (without trying), skinny (without trying), smart but not too smart (without trying), and perfect (without trying)… What my point is: society sucks. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation. I’m not allowed to be fat, but not I’m not allowed to go on a diet either. I’m not allowed to be dumb, but I’m not allowed to be smarter than a boy. I’m not allowed to do drugs, but I’m considered boring if I don’t. I’m supposed to be an empowered woman, but if I ask for respect, dudes will just call me an annoying bitch. Heck, if I wait to have sex I’m labeled a prude, but if I lost my virginity today there would be a lot of people thinking that slut.”

If you want a secret look into the soon-to-be mental space of your young daughter, I recommend this to all the dads out there that I know.


10.31.12 Shipping Report

It’s sort of an odd collection of stuff this week that has my interest piqued, but there are only two sure buys amid this crazy mix. The first is the start of a new arc with a new artist in Wasteland #40 (Oni Press), which will also officially mark the fact that there are only 20 issues left of this book, so I’ll have to start including my patented countdown clock with the reviews. I’ll also be picking up Brian Wood’s Ultimate Comics: X-Men #18 (Marvel), which I think wraps up this arc before there’s a special #18.1 issue and then a new arc beginning in #19. There’s a chance I may buy Happy #2 (Image), but it didn’t really grab me personally. I feel like sometimes I read stuff like this just to keep up with what everyone’s talking about, which can be a dumb reason to support a title. On the indie side, it’s cool to see Pope Hats #3 (AdHouse) from Ethan Rilly due out, yet I highly doubt anyone on the San Diego LCS circuit will be carrying it. The other “maybe” single is the CBLDF Liberty Annual 2012 (Image). There isn’t really a set of names or a single piece I’m aware of that really grabs me, but it’s for a good cause and I have enough mild interest in it when you combine a Gabriel Ba cover and some work by people like Brandon Graham, Jonathan Hickman, Terry More, Joe Keatinge, and Chynna Clugston-Flores. Swamp Thing Annual #1 (DC) is also out, and though I won’t be picking it up because of the whole Marvel/DC boycott (with a few exceptions), it’s interesting to see Scott Snyder and Becky Cloonan working together again, so I’ll give it a flip. I definitely won’t be buying the Batgirl Annual #1 (DC), but I wanted to mention it because I’m waiting for female fandom to start calling out the cover for its ridiculously-posed latex-clad bodies, complete with Catwoman Camel Toe and Babs Gordon contorted so that you get one of those simultaneous face, tits, and ass shots with her back, hips, and shoulders so unnaturally arched that her body seems to form two 90 degree angles, and you could probably set your gin and tonic with a twist on the shelf of her ass without actually spilling a drop. Lastly, thought I’d mention the Metabarons Ultimate Collected Edition (Humanoids), which collects the first 4 volumes of this seminal Euro Sci-Fi series from Alejandro Jodorowsky, with bonus material and an introduction by Matt Fraction.


MARCH 29, 1912 by Jordan Shiveley


Ding. Ding. Ding. We have a winner, folks. It’s always a gratifying critical experience when I put the call out for review books, undaunted creators step up to answer the challenge, and I’m able to discover something as brilliantly executed as this book from Jordan Shiveley of Grimalkin Press, which I might not have otherwise been exposed to. Aesthetically, if you can imagine a bizarre combination of the sparse environments of Sammy Harkham’s Poor Sailor (Gingko Press) and the cold Winter chill of Dan Mazur and Jesse Lonergan’s Cold Wind (Ninth Art Press), you’re somewhere near the March 19, 1912 neighborhood. From a narrative standpoint, if you’re the type of discerning consumer who enjoyed Ben Towle’s based-on-actual-events tale of a lost dirigible in Midnight Sun (Slave Labor) or even the historical bits of the more mainstream Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber Whiteout (Oni Press) series, then you should be all over this book. Well, have I laid down enough references to other great books to sell you yet?

March 29, 1912 is a bit of an interactive mystery. In fact, I had to ask Shiveley to even be certain what the title of the book was. There’s no title or clues on the cover, only a representational assemblage of ice formations rendered in chilly blues and yellows. There are no words in the book, except one lone entry which is the greatest clue. There’s a cover page which reveals the title of the book, simply reading “March 29, 1912” and after some Google assistance, you too can perform some nominal detective work and figure out that it refers to Robert Scott’s Royal Navy expedition of the continent and, more specifically, what turns out to be a supposition of his final moments. 

The art is an exercise in minimalism. With a few strategic lines of ink laid down, Shiveley systematically reveals a world of ice formations, empty food cans, stray weathered tents, skeletal remains, and a single set of footsteps that trail off into the distant horizon. The stripped-down elongated 3-panel pages stand in stark contrast to the emotions that Scott must have felt and to those Shiveley is able to pull out of the reader. The reader pieces together all of these clues forensically, they grow more and more dire with every turn, only to realize that they’ve stumbled into Scott succumbing to the elements in his last few moments of life. Shiveley’s restraint as an artist is incredible. He knows that you actually get more fascination out of what you don’t show, that you get more emotion out of relying less on dialogue’s crutch, to the point of using none.

There’s also no sense of time as a comforting reference point. All we see is a slow transition over a series of 7 powerful pages in deliberate succession that show the snow slowly mounding over Scott’s fading body and swallowing him, with no discernible trace of his existence. In this sequence that so deftly controls pace, Shiveley forces the reader to focus on a single point in space repeatedly, frantically hoping with every turn of the page, with every beat that something will emerge, that something will change, and then dashing that hope as he manipulates the emotion we’ve invested. March 29, 1912 is rendered in all black and white (mostly white actually, with a few stray black lines), but then introduces a dirty gray wash as we pan out to more abstract lights in the sky, the planetary phenomenon emphasizing man’s small place in the universe. Grade A.


10.24.12 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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com
Multiple Warheads: Alphabet To Infinity #1 (Image): I joked on Twitter that it was hard to find a way to adequately praise Brandon Graham for this, because it’s basically a perfect comic. I really liked King City. I love Prophet. Yet, somehow I miraculously adore this much more than those two books. I’m glad I recently picked up the old black and white Oni Press back issue Graham did (for a quarter, no less!), because it plays like a prologue story about the life of organ smuggling and werewolf dreams that Sexica and Nikoli are trying to escape from here. Graham throws down a vibrant sense of wordplay, double entendre, and pun. On just about every page, there a couple of these clever lines that bring new meaning to old phrasing, showing a sort of cultural evolution. The book is just so cool! It’s in full color and plays like hip-hop Shakespearean street art comix porn, if you track that and it means something to you. It’s an immaculate futuristic world build, one of best books of 2012 instantly thrust upon us, a fun adventure with an incredible amount of thought and attention to acute ornamentation poured into crafting it. Graham is a generous creator because sometimes these artistic flourishes and depths of field and detail aren’t even necessary to relay the story per se, but he gets so many style points for so much of the world being “told” in such a visual feast. There’s also a concurrent story running featuring Nura, perhaps not as adorable as our lovers Sex and Nik on the run, but equally fun and interesting in its own way. I certainly hope Image is treating Graham well because he’s such a large part of their resurgence this year and the Creator-Owned tidal wave. You know what else? It’s 48 pages for $3.99! Some of those other comics give you half that content for the same price. Grade A+.
Prophet #30 (Image): This is an odd book for me to review sometimes, because as much as I love it, I feel like I have nothing much to say beyond the obvious or repetitive. Graham and the boys add more characters, more species, and it still flows natural and effortless. It’s such an expansive beautiful universe, Diehard rejoining and some other team members being assembled. Creatively, you have Graham, Milonogiannis, and Roy as the core trio, all riffing on each other like the great jazz ensembles, jamming and rotating roles at will, each of them capable of writing, pencils, inking, or coloring, yet it all comes together in this beautiful mosaic of storytelling. Call it “Sci-Fi Conan,” compare it to the great Franco-Belgian Sci-Fi epics, talk about the reimaging of Image properties, get all Fine Art literati on me and we can discuss the reappropriation and recontextualization of found objects as a contemporary art hallmark like I’m at my day job, call it something new with a clever phrase you coin on your own, call it what you want – great comics is great comics. Grade A.
Mind MGMT #6 (Dark Horse): Matt Kindt finishes off his first story arc of this critically praised gem and unfortunately I have to echo some of my comments above. Love the book, but not much to say. Meru discovers some additional clues about her role in the Henry Lyme as ex-agent debacle, but more importantly I’m eating up how this builds into some type of indie espionage (vs. superhero) Planetary secret history of the world thing, with the keepers of the secret world hidden in plain view. Now, maybe I’m still on a major Argo high. Maybe it's because I have always loved things that smack of what the “Other Government Agency” ("OGA" being a euphemism used in some circles of the Federal Government I ran in for covert CIA involvement in “stuff”) refers to as “basic tradecraft.” Anyway. Kindt rocks the watercolor washes as a medium for all they’re worth, consistently delivers a unique story that builds in unexpected ways, something you can squeeze more out with every re-reading. As a “one man band,” you’re really missing out on something special if you don’t get Mind MGMT. Kindt sort of toiled away on even more indie projects for like a decade, and it’s nice to see the industry shining something of a spotlight on him finally. Shit, this book should be selling 100,000 copies; I’d take something like this over Spider-Man or Aquaman or whatever any day of the week. Grade A.
The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine #1 (Dark Horse): Umm, WTF? I wanted more Geoff Darrow Shaolin Cowboy comics, not some black and white pulp prose with a few spot illustrations. I never would have ordinarily been interested in this if I’d had a chance to flip through it, but I asked my retailer to order it and didn’t think it was cool to stick him with something that was $15.99. I tried reading it and couldn’t crack it. Andrew Vachss contributes a lot of the writing. Even when I was deep into crime stuff as a young naïve college kid who mistakenly assumed that was all I could read because I was getting an undergrad degree in Criminal Justice Administration, even then, I never warmed to Vachss’ writing. So, this did absolutely nothing for me and it was expensive as hell and was not what I thought I was getting. I certainly hope that new #1 advertised for 2013 is a return to the comics I liked from Burlyman Entertainment. Grade D.


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10.24.12 Shipping Report

There’s a handful of interesting books out this time around, but it looks like it’s going to be Brandon Graham’s week. He’s got his brilliant reimaging of 90’s detritus in Prophet #30 (Image) and the long-awaited second volume of one of his creator-owned series out with Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #1 (Image). Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT #6 (Dark Horse) also hits the shelves. I’m very curious to see what Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine (Dark Horse) is all about since I really loved Geoff Darrow’s original Shaolin Cowboy run from the Wachowski backed Burlyman Entertainment, which seemed to come and go under everyone’s radar a few years ago. Lastly, I’ll note the FreakAngels Complete Collected Slipcase Edition (Avatar Press). This is all 6 volumes of the Warren Ellis and Paul Duffield series chronicling 12 young kids in a post-apocalyptic flooded London, holed up in the infamous Whitechapel. It’s really the first major web-comic experiment I saw that successfully gauged interest and demand to transition to print with equal gusto. It’s $99.99 for 864 pages, and while I generally am in favor of supporting your creator/publisher/retailer ecosystem, if you’re on a tight budget it’s currently being offered for $41.94 (42% off) w/ free shipping at Amazon.


10.17.12 Reviews (Part 2)

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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com

Godzilla: Half Century War #3 (IDW): It’s not often that you decide you love a book because of the very first image on the very first page, but it happens here with that map of Ghana. The map puts us in context for the recounting of the tragedy at Accra that follows, and the level of detail in that image is something I’ve just never seen before. Not from Paul Pope, not from Rafael Grampa, not from Nathan Fox, not from Juan Jose Ryp, hell probably not even from Geoff Darrow, or any of the other creators I generally consider the “masters of detail.” The astonishment had me just shaking my head wondering how the fuck does James Stokoe do that? Here we basically see that throwing the AMF at Godzilla and his monstrous brethren is like throwing stones into a hurricane force of nature. Stokoe does the smartest thing and makes this story not just about atomic age paranoia and rampaging monsters (cool in itself, thanks to his art), but about the human impact, and showing off his equally remarkable writing ability in the process. The basics of human nature demand that greed will ultimately kick in, backfire disastrously, and draw more monsters into the melee. Stokoe gives us a sort of impromptu field guide for the monsters and the various specialized AMF teams that fight them, which totally made me smile from ear to ear. On one hand, it reminded of Dan Brereton’s old work in the terrific GiantKiller, but on the other more important hand, it reminded me that stories like this which are fun, have a heart, and incredibly slick art are basically why I started reading comics in the first place. Grade A+.

The Zaucer of Zilk #1 (IDW/2000AD): Brendan McCarthy and Al Ewing kick of this inaugural publishing partnership between San Diego’s IDW and venerable UK powerhouse 2000AD, and I have to say that the results are slightly mixed, but that’s probably a reflection of my quirky tastes more than anything else. Of course this has amazing production quality and is a good value in terms of price to page count ratio, basically everything you’d expect from both IDW and 2000AD. Visually, it overwhelmingly succeeds. In fact, I almost enjoyed the bonus content non-colored sketch page as much as the extended primary content. It’s sort of this psychedelic pop art Billy Batson going down the rabbit hole sort of thing; the creators later describe it as “Wild British Surrealism” and “Elric meets Time Bandits meets The Yellow Submarine meets The Wizard of Oz,” so I guess I wasn’t too far off the mark with my elevator pitch? The main character felt like some sort of Morrisonian empty cipher to me, but I do always enjoy characters like Spantalex and Crissymouth, functioning as sort of dueling id and ego, devil and angel constructs. It’s all about the power of belief and magic wands and the symbolic idolatry of Tutu The Biggest Fan (one of the great female characters in recent memory, to be sure), The Sultan, Errol Raine, everything starting with a “Z,” and on and on and on. My biggest gripe is that I was never quite sure what the dramatic thrust of the story was (why are these characters doing what they’re doing?), or if that was even the point per se, but it’s undeniably fun to look at and enjoy the playful interactions with the reader, and the dayglo cotton candy disco roller skate colors enveloping the page. Grade A-.


10.17.12 Reviews (Part 1)

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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com
Batwoman #13 (DC): This issue is so utterly gorgeous and enjoyable, as Kate and Diana journey deep under the sea to Poseidon’s realm, toward what Diana describes for her DCU readers as an “Amazonian Arkham Asylum,” in search of (I think?) Medusa, but I don’t really recall if that’s correct or how it relates to the child abduction investigation Kate is on. Anyhow, the dynamic between these two amazing women is just incredible. I love how Jim Williams depicts Diana, maybe even better than Cliff Chiang, which is itself a Herculean task. They make a great combination, representing darkness and light with wonderful interplay, sizing each other up, one slightly awestruck, the other one more curious, while possessing god-like powers akin to Superman. They ultimately come to view each other as equals, but it’s all in the journey, you know? Jim Williams fills the entire book with these lush two-page spreads, but the thing is it doesn’t feel gimmicky even in the slightest. I was actually about half way through the book before I even realized that’s what was happening. They descend into the ocean in a two-page spread, then through an elaborate maze (loved the Minotaur sequence), we get to see DEO Director Bones (always a joy) and Agent Cameron Chase, Kate and Diana buried alive, a flash-bang, a Flamebird, and JH3 just. keeps. slinging. them. for the entire book! Every one of them bears a different aesthetic that is rooted in artistic purpose. It’s got this great organic feeling to it, and is certainly one of very few bright spots in THE NEW 52. Grade A+.
Cyber Force #1 (Image/Top Cow): Ok, so the first 5 issues of this print comic (and/or digital if you prefer) are FREE thanks to a very successful Kickstarter Campaign (though if you follow me on Twitter, you know that some unscrupulous LCS proprietors are trying to charge $2.99 for it!). It’s a great way to try and build a fan-base through a no-risk first arc incentive. I have no knowledge of the original Cyber Force (one of the few 90’s Image titles I totally missed), but I seem to vaguely recall that Ripclaw was the brother of Warblade over in WildCats(?). Anyway, I assume that writers Marc Silvestri and Matt Hawkins are sort of pulling a Prophet here, reimaging and continuing the story based very loosely on the original premise and characters. It seems to be a totalitarian regime of the future, featuring a “fast-mover” protagonist girl named Carin Taylor, who encounters some of the old Image characters, like Heatwave, Cyblade, Impact, Ares Prime, Ripclaw, and even Aphrodite (another old Top Cow property). The art was far better than I expected, thanks to the team of Khoi Pham, Sal Regla, and Sunny Gho on pencils, inks, and colors respectively. None of those people would really be on my “get” list of talent, but it all really comes together. They squeeze a lot of emotion out of the characters, with loads of flashy color and sense of place, not just necessarily mindless action. It’s perhaps a little too “Hunger Games,” but I also really enjoyed the post-apocalyptic world they built; one in which overpopulation leads to starvation leads to isolationism leads to wars leads to the “Aphrodite Protocol,” which supposedly enhances folks to adapt to the harsh conditions. The script occasionally uses some zingers like “accelerated eventuality,” which definitely sound like the type of real-world cutting edge scientific principles that Matt Hawkins is using over on Think Tank and applying to speculative fiction. I also just got a kick out of scanning through the Kickstarter Supporters, noting names like Andy Lanning, Sergio Cariello, Ross Campbell, and even Peter Hamboussi (who I happen to know is an editor at DC Comics). Now, the million dollar question (or rather, the $2.99 to $3.99 question) is really: would I pay full price for this? Probably not at this point, but I will continue to pick them up and see if it can hook me. There was nothing that I strongly didn’t really like about it, it just didn’t grab me or feel terribly consequential. But, when the content is FREE, audience complaints are heard on kindness alone. Grade A.


Not That Henry Miller

ESCAPE by Henry Miller

Miller describes this as “an ode to BBC’s popular property-based program “Escape to the Country,” which I’ve not seen, but I have a description all my own. It involves a resurgence of UK comics from a similar school, these multimedia blenders from people like Simon Moreton, that incorporate traditional pen and ink work, full of strong but weathered lines, photography, collage, and often times travelogue stylings. Escape is something of a contemporary art pop culture piece of ephemera, taking what seems like quotes out of context, and then with the lost art of superimposition, juxtaposing those words with randomized backgrounds in order to squeeze out additional meaning. The results range from humor, to irony, to poignancy. Miller’s colors are great, whether simple things like a red sweater, or peacock feathers, to a field of creepy looking headstones supposedly left over from a witch’s coven. Escape will be a challenging read for some, in that it’s non-linear and there’s not much sequential narrative to speak of, but it’s extremely quirky and fun to wander through and think about different ways the imagery can be interpreted. Grade A-.

If you like the little cottage industry “Shit My Dad Says,” then this may tickle your fancy, though it’s maybe not as vulgar, in favor of being endearing most of the time, thanks to the words originating from Miller’s 8 year old daughter. It uses the same juxtaposition and recontextualization of quotes vis-à-vis found imagery that I described in Escape. The pieces really provoke, best exemplified by the innocently heartbreaking “Dad… do I look weird? Tell the truth.” Here, Miller’s daughter is a small lone hand-drawn figure amid a rocky cavernous background. It’s almost as if this placement makes us intuit that she risks losing her identity amid the larger world. I also enjoyed a piece concerning “angel delight” (which I assume some is some sort of candy or popular treat?), about which she says “There’s a secret ingredient. Nobody knows what it is apart from the makers.” Those quick lines are juxtaposed against a military helicopter in flight, almost hinting at paranoia over some covert government operation in our modern world. The pieces are playful and clever, but also serve as an interesting artistic time capsule, a unique gift that Miller may save and pass on to his daughter some day. I explored Miller’s web presence a bit and discovered some great Christmas cards available in his shop. I’d love to have some of those. Grade A.

THE FLAMES by Akvile Miseviciute


The Flames is probably my second favorite mini-comic (after Killman) of this latest batch from Latvian publisher Kus! It moves from a very centered set of familial environmental concerns to, by the end, magic tigers s summoned at will. The layouts are imaginative and the muted color palette really works well to lend the happenings a slightly ethereal vibe to the real world concerns about man’s treatment of the planet and the entry level activists who want to respond. In terms of a pure aesthetic, this reminded me of something like Ludovic Debeurme’s Lucille at Top Shelf or the work of Tessa Brunton at Sparkplug Comic Books, further evidence of the superb production quality and eye for talent burgeoning from this publisher. Grade A+.

BOBIS by Dace Sietina


This mini is a pure ode to Bobis the dog, in a sketchy style that my daughter would call  “scribble-scrabble.” However, that description really belies the hidden energy latent in the reverberating yellow lines recounting the dream. I enjoyed how the text from Sietina is itself an act of ornamentation, blurring the line between dialogue and art, but thankfully Kus! diligently translates via footnotes in all of their productions for us English speakers. Grade A-.

RAINBOW OF PAIN by Ernests Klavins & Andrejs Klavins


Rainbow of Pain telescopes in on a singular idea, which is really the danger of being competitive at any and all costs, and how doing so in a chronic ongoing fashion will tend to skew one’s perception of reality. The art style is almost like a 1960’s R. Crumb throwback, with garish colors, a plump wobbly line, and a fine sense of awkward humor. Grade A-.


KILLMAN by Box Brown

By Justin Giampaoli 


I was surprised to see Box Brown’s name attached to a Kus! comic offering; as far as I know he’s American and is the brains behind his own publishing venture Retrofit Comics, but who the hell cares about origins and pedigree when you get one of the best books of the year out of it. Let me say that again for my Latvian friends: This is one of the best comics I’ve read in 2012. Inviting Brown to contribute to their international line-up yielded some sort of heady distillation comprised of the essence of Jack Kirby’s cosmic affairs, Leiji Matsumoto’s ethereal space-faring nature, and the brash clang of old 2000AD Euro adventures, all packed in some slick indie Latvian box. It’s about destroying gods to save the universe, with a central core rife in this controversy of opposing ideologies. It weaves together bold riffs on somewhat familiar superhero archetypes and robot constructs, forcing metaphysical concepts to take corporeal form and get absolutely loud. The colors and production quality are simply unmatched. Kus! is the kind of brand I can get behind, conjuring up an ongoing creative showcase that propagates a medium of global diversity, as a global concern, for a modern global audience. Grade A+.

FUTURE IS NOW by Leo Quievreux


I’ve reviewed a couple of Kus! (pronounced koosh!) comics in the past, namely Kuba Woynarowski’s The Story of Gardens, and Being by Martins Zutis, both of which came damn close to making it on my “best of” list for the year, so I was very excited to check out more from this Latvian mini-comics house when publisher David Schilter contacted me. Perhaps the best way for me to describe this book to my (mostly American) audience is to say that it’s like analog Latvian street art depicting the literal financial meltdown. It contains this apocryphal non-linear imagery and free-floating Ben Bernanke text, full of spot-on analogies and Eastern European design iconography. I really liked it. Grade A-.

The Janice Shapiro Trio


So, I received three comics from Janice Shapiro for review purposes, and one of them is entitled 3 Comics, so why not run with that and review them all together? 3 Comics is a bit of a solo anthology, featuring the stories "Red River," "BRRRRRR!," and "Welcome to Jeopardy!" Shapiro is a filmmaker/writer turned to the sequential arts, so I was curious to see how her transition would transpire. The results are good! While there are a couple of small typos to be found, I enjoyed the tales of John Wayne, snowfall, and Alex Trebek.

These pieces seem to be connected by a sense of how we perceive the world around us, and how those reactions may shift with age. Regarding film, she posits that perhaps we want something different from the movie-going experience as we age, or that at the very least, we can appreciate different aspects of cinema, more willing to give something a chance than immediately dismissing it. "BRRRRRR!" continues her observations, examining snowfall vis-a-vis life in LA vs. NYC, each with their own unique attributes. In the Jeopardy! piece, I found it interesting how hobbies and our own obscure knowledge base mesh with Jeopardy! acting as an interesting metaphor for life.  

Crushable Harry Walker and Crushable Ricky Nelson are part of a larger ongoing series entitled Crushable – My Life In Crushes, From Ricky Nelson to Viggo Mortensen. Harry Walker was a school-age crush and it highlights in comedic fashion the dangers of obsession, living life “in your head” and projecting faux interactions vs. well, reality. The art is emotive and I enjoyed some of the secondary observations from Shapiro, like kids trying to reconcile the seemingly strict order of the grown-up world. In the Ricky Nelson issue, the focus was more on the way nostalgia works, how music is often times about a connotation with a specific time and place. The story captures that concept nicely. In some ways, Shapiro’s work is fairly standard autobio fare, but (some slightly fuzzy reproduction quality aside) it’s done very well, with a forthcoming sense of humor and warmth that many will find engaging. Grade B+.

SO BUTTONS #5 by Jonathan Baylis & Various


Jonathan Baylis continues writing his own little cottage industry of self-published mini-comics under the So Buttons banner. The fifth issue is a short(er) one, but a strong effort that pays cover tribute to Baylis’ first Jack Kirby comic, with Tom “Godland” Scioli riffing on Captain America #212. Maybe the best quality of Baylis as a creator is his affable storytelling; you just can’t *not* like the writing. He also reels in the artistic talent here. Boatwright nails the secretive aspects of the story he contributes to, Westover nails the emotional content, and my personal favorite, Noah Van Sciver, has a way with his downtrodden aesthetic that bursts with complex glances and concepts hitting close to home. The connective tissue in all of these disparate stories seems to be the secret to life found in the simple joys, be it the perfect coffee blend, some amazing slow-cooked brisket, or a friend’s humor lightening a weary movie. Grade A.


10.17.12 Shipping Report

Talk about feast or famine! Last week I made purchases in the double digits on singles and this week we’re basically down to just one for sure, though I’ll admit it’s getting hard(er) to track because of the comps I’m receiving. I’m most looking forward to James Stokoe continuing to tear things up on Godzilla: Half Century War #3 (IDW). I’ll also note that Batwoman #13 (DC) is out, but who knows who’s doing the writing and art and what the long term creative plan is on this book. I haven’t been keeping up with this next book, but I probably should, and the forced perspective of the sleek cover this month absolutely caught my eye in the new ongoing series Courtney Crumrin #6 (Oni Press) from Ted Naifeh. Other than that, the only thing that caught my eye in the solicits was that IDW appears to be having some sort of fire sale, with a bunch of trades marked “SALE ED” down in the $5 to $10 range. If my LCS orders these, I’ll be tempted by things like the American Freakshow GN (IDW) for $4.99, the Groom Lake TP (IDW) for $4.99, and especially the Fishtown HC (IDW) for $9.99. It looks like there's about a dozen or so titles to choose from that have been discounted and it makes me long for the old IDW parking lot sale where singles were all $1 and some swank signed hardcovers were only $5. Anyway. That’s it! What looks good to you?


10.10.12 Reviews (Dark Horse & Oni Press Edition)

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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com
Conan #9 (Dark Horse): No disrespect intended, but I can’t say I’ll miss Vasilis Lolos on this title. At times, his art is interesting and actually spot on; he’s able to nail the visceral cold and the wolves look downright amazing, almost looking like Paul Pope if you ever saw that stand-alone story he did in Brett Matthews' old Lone Ranger series about a coyote attack. But, Belit certainly does not appear like the “desert rose” Wood describes; there’s no sense of her ethereal beauty that Becky Cloonan first gave us. You could probably make the argument that the harsh environs of Cimmeria have partially cracked her looks, but I don’t buy that. Her mop of hair looks almost like Conan’s at times; pale skin and ruby lips aside, they look very similar in shots. Wood’s story still manages to shine though. It’s about lovers’ trust, and how true love doesn’t mean being strong 100% of the time, but admitting when you need help and leaning on the other person. The impostor is finally revealed and I’m glad the art doesn’t hinder the thrust of the tale concerning Conan and Maeldun, which almost strikes me as some type of mythological influenced story, if this was part of the original REH material, I wonder if he was influenced by Norse mythology and the Marvel-style fallout between Thor and Loki. Anyway, it’s an interesting realization for Belit that she may not like Cimmeria very much, but she still feels some affinity for this new home of sorts, because she deeply appreciates how its qualities helped shape the man she loves. Grade A-
Stumptown Volume 2 #2 (Oni Press): This title has really been a roller coaster, and I don’t mean that in a positive sense. I enjoyed the first series, despite some glitches with the art and inconsistencies with colorists coming and going. Here, I thought the first issue was largely ok, and this second installment has an absolutely striking cover, with a studio session looking like it’s something right out of Local. Diving in, it suddenly struck me as a little off-putting that over in Batwoman, Rucka used DEO Agent Chase, in Queen & Country he used MI6 Agent Chace, and here in Stumptown it’s DEA Agent Chase. Hardy-har, and hardly a show stopper, but this is also from the same guy who refused to acknowledge that the MI6 Agent opposite Carrie Stetko in Whiteout was also Tara Chace from Queen & Country. Man, that sounds nerdy. Let’s move on. Some of the faces are just… ugly, there’s no other way to say it. Sorry, Matt Southworth. When Dex says “what, alone?” in the first scene, it’s a good example of just how rushed and doughy and lacking detail the art feels about half the time. The art also, or maybe it’s the coloring, really seems flat in spots. It’s really disappointing when I want to like this so much. We do learn some additional facts, like Dex having a military service record post-9/11. I don’t think we knew that. David Mayes seems like an interesting character, but here we go again with muddy art. I *think* he’s meant to be flirting with Dex (she flirts with everyone!), but the art is so unfocused and devoid of intent that it’s hard to tell. Dex slips outside Mim’s window and then suddenly is on the floor inside(?). It’s just confusing. I didn’t understand how she got from point A to point B. There’s good “detective stuff,” like how Dex gets to the meth smuggling logically, but I think the art inconsistencies just put me in a bad mood. In the first issue, I liked the PI backmatter, but now it just feels like Rucka is boring me, repeating the same one or two points over and over. I’ll stick with this because I feel like I have time invested in the character and the world, but this is a not very enthusiastic Grade B.


10.10.12 Reviews (Image Edition)

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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com
Think Tank #3 (Image): Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal offer the right mix of brains and style here without it coming off like smarmy fluff. There’s substance behind some fantastical ideas that are surprisingly rooted in real science and entertaining technology, from UAVs to cutting edge chemical warfare. At its heart, it’s about one man finding his passion and purpose and trying to exercise free will while others try to pull him in other directions. It’s peppered with interesting zingers in the dialogue like “They can’t report the truth. No one would believe it.” There’s maybe a little too much Dark Knight this and Michal Corleone that, Obi-Wan Kenobi over here, and Clint Eastwood over there for me; it really wears its pop culture on its sleeve, but it’s also very observant about the way people act and the way things actually work. This issue is essentially one long escape sequence which plays like a cool heist movie. Grade A-.
Point of Impact #1 (Image): If you want the quick version of this review in just one word: Yawn. Here’s the explanatory take: Mitchell Rafferty is having a really bad day. Someone kills his wife, breaks into his house and beats the shit out of him, then it turns out his wife was cheating on him, and now she appears to be implicated in some larger insidious plot. I called the little twist ending as it was happening, so I guess that means it’s predictable. The art from Koray Kuranel is mostly nice, but there’s a few spots you can’t distinguish the men, but I will say the panel breakdowns are interesting. It’s a decent story, but I’m kinda’ just tired of these generic crime things that play like interchangeable episodes of CSI or Law & Order. It’s not bad, but I won’t remember it 30 minutes from now. Writer Jay Faerber then spends an entire page full of three-column text describing just such a TV show. I don’t really want to read comics I can see on TV. I want to read comics I can’t see on TV. You also have to question the wisdom of emulating something that was quickly cancelled on TV. It’s basically just a TV pitch that’s not disguised very well, with stock characters, that’s not terribly memorable. Point of Impact? More like Low Impact. Grade B-.

10.10.12 Reviews (DC Edition)

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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com

Punk Rock Jesus #4 (DC/Vertigo): I just love Sean Murphy’s sketchy hyper-detailed emotive lines. This issue, the whole series for that matter, is that balancing act between slick art and a killer story, faith vs. logic, destiny vs. choice, church vs. state, creation vs. evolution, and on down the line. Plot-wise, we see what happens after Gwen’s bout of divine intervention and it’s a fucking heartbreaker that toys with the two timelines being presented, making you think everything might be fine when it most certainly is not. Nearly all of the scene possess shocking levels of unapologetic action and violence, as Thomas is finally forced out of the J2 compound, though a network of insiders is still covertly helping Chris. Murphy also adds in an IRA history lesson that immediately brought back memories of the old Queen & Country arc that Antony Johnston wrote. In the process, we see the full extent of Thomas’ origin and I kept thinking what a far more compelling origin this is than Marvel’s Punisher property. When I hear lines about vintage Webley revolvers and the thought put into the lower Manhattan flood zones, I know Murphy must have done the work too, there’s no cheats or shortcuts, the story is the real deal. I also enjoyed the power of music infiltrating things, from The Dead Kennedys, to Fugazi, Black Flag, and “The Flak Jackets.” This issue feels incredibly dense, but is never plodding, challenging ideologically, but never dry or academic, building to a killer live TV reveal that leaves me wondering just where Murphy is going to take this and how the hell he’s going to wrap it up in just two issues. This doesn’t get the “+” grade only because I’m a greedy bastard and I think it’d be breathtaking in color. Grade A.

Batman #13 (DC): So I walked into my LCS and even over the din of the fanboys scrambling to get their 96-dollar 1-in-100 Uncanny Avengers #1 Deadpool Variant Sketch Cover or whatever, the owner says something that sounds like “OMG YOU HAVE TO READ BATMAN IT’S FRICKING TERRIFIC LIKE IN THE TOP 3 BATMAN STORIES OF ALL TIME ALONG WITH THE KILLING JOKE AND DARK KNIGHT RETURNS WHAT'S UP DO YOU WANT A DONUT.” To which I replied, “duuude, but did you see my contribution to the backmatter in The Massive #5? Huh? Huh?! How about it!?” A few things flew through my brain. One, I was enjoying Snyder and Capullo’s Batman when I gave up Marvel and DC stuff in favor of focusing on creator-owned, but have been kinda’ keeping up between online reviews and speed-reads at the LCS. Two, I generally agree with the guy; I mean, if I had to pick some of the “best” Batman stories, The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, and maybe Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100 would certainly be on the list. So, he has some credibility with me even though I don’t know the guy that well and I’m also trying to factor in that Batman is totes his fave and he’s a big DC guy. I’m skeptical, but what the hell, comps copies is comps copies, so I’ll check it out in order to verify his claim, if nothing else. Yeah, there’s a lot to like! Snyder really nails a horror vibe, with talk of ominous umm, omens, and a story of creepy foreshadowing and all the cinematic technique that Capullo brings to his very accomplished and clean style. What Snyder really gets right in the script, and Capullo brings to life so well, is the psychological horror that the Joker is capable of inflicting, not just a high-IQ insane violent dude. The pitch black scenes in the police station are visceral, you can imagine it as a movie that makes your heart pound with anxiety, and there are seamless callbacks all over the place to the Nolan movies, to The Killing Joke, and many others, including the Death In The Family  storyline, which this story is obviously riffing on - “baby bird smashed with a crowbar” and whatnot. It’s interesting to see Joker attempting some type of rebirth in THE NEW 52 by reenacting his first work in Gotham. I did find some small things off. I don’t like the way that Harley just exposited and telegraphed the Joker’s intentions for this entire story arc. Sure, she was desperate and you can make the argument it was an in-character moment, but hey, exposition is exposition. The coloring in spots also felt wrong, such as the blue cop shirts looking a weird opaque sort of aquamarine green. So, there’s that. What I like the most about Snyder’s writing though, is that he’s able to weave together all sorts of things that propel the story at a quick pace, it’s history, facts, nods to the canon, strong characterization, and old fashioned mystery and investigation that have a sense of urgency and intensity to them. It’s outfox the Joker before he guts you. It's no wonder that this and Batwoman (when JH3 is on art anyway) are the best things Mainline DCU is capable of producing at the moment. As for the back up story, oh, poor Harley. Seeing adoring women traumatized and tortured in exchange for their love, even if misguided, isn’t very pleasant. The true test will be if that love is unconditional, or if she’ll finally reach a breaking point and Snyder has something up his sleeve, namely making Harley some kind of addition to the Bat Family. For now, what she’s just endured certainly sucks away any lingering fun her character had from what I recall in the old animated series; she sort of gets put in the proverbial pit while Wild Bill makes her put lotion on. Creeps me the fuck out. Grade A.


10.10.12 Reviews (Marvel Edition)

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 and the best discounts possible on a wide selection of mainstream and independent titles. Customers receive an attractive 20% discount on new books during their first week of release. Yesteryear Comics is located at 9353 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. Come introduce yourself to owner Michael Cholak and tell him that Justin from Thirteen Minutes sent you! www.yesteryear-comics.com
X-Men #37 (Marvel): I’ll just call it, Gabriel Shepherd and the whole “proto-mutant” concept is one of the coolest ideological additions to the property in quite some time. Though it probably comes as no surprise I love Brian Wood’s writing on this, of equal strength is the discovery of David Lopez on art. This lean austere style works so well, somehow warmer emotionally than John Cassaday, but with a bit of Jamie McKelvie around the sly eyes and facial features in spots. I don’t think characters like Sabra, Psylocke, and Storm have ever looked better. I also really enjoy the small instances of attention to detail, like how Storm loses her headpiece during the fight with Colossus. It’s just smart visually. I never really noticed this until last issue, but I almost feel like this arc started to become written from the POV of Pixie. I think it’s an interesting temptation that some writers have had, to use sort of new/underdog female characters as entry points for the audience. Matt Fraction did it in his original Uncanny X-Men run when he created Pixie, Joss Whedon did it when he brilliantly used Kitty Pryde in Astonishing X-Men. Nobody else gets neglected though; I mean, shit, we probably got more character development from Colossus here in that one scene with Ororo than we have in the last 10 years. At this point, I certainly hope Marvel is considering a long-term place for Wood in the whole Marvel NOW! extravaganza. We get so few thought pieces any more tied to the basic idea of mutants. I’d basically let him do whatever he wanted, even his crazy Mutantes Sans Frontieres mini-series. It might not sell like gangbusters, but I’m betting it’d be an important story to tell. Here at the end, all there is left to say is that I’ll miss this creative team on this title. It’s the kind of X-Men book, conceptually and aesthetically, that I’d like to be buying. Of course, I’ll follow Wood wherever he goes. But, you know what? I picked up a new guy too! David Lopez is on my list now and he’s a creator I’ll also be following from this point forward. I’m sure I’ll flip through X-Men #38, but judging by the cover art and the creative team, I have a strong feeling I won’t be buying it. Grade A.
Uncanny Avengers #1 (Marvel): Ok, so you take the gravitas that Remender brought us on Uncanny X-Force and marry it to the cold precision that John Cassaday brought to Astonishing X-Men or Planetary, and that is a very tough combination to beat right off the bat. There’s a couple things I really dug here. I like the feeling of cohesion to the Marvel U, not just the shared drama between the Avengers and the X-Men, but Maria Hill, SHIELD, Magneto, and now Alex Summers. Kitty Pryde and Alex Summers have been my favorite X-Men for, oh, 20 years now? So, I love seeing Havok step out of the shadow of his brother, something that’s troubled him for years. I feel like with Remender taking on this title, we’re finally getting a group of writers in my age group who are hitting all the right buttons that were ingrained in us as younger fans. From 70’s and 80’s Clairemont lessons, good and bad, to shlock 90’s X-Cutioners Song shit, to Peter David’s old X-Factor run with Joe Quesada that featured Alex so prominently. And yeah, Cap is right, Alex really *is* the best candidate left. I’ve been really annoyed with Captain America in the whole AvX debacle. He essentially was the jackbooted government thug that Tony warned him not to be, since Tony had been that figure in that last big event, and Cap went and ahead and escalated the whole thing by throwing due process out the window, essentially deeming Hope an unlawful combatant, and grabbing her from Utopia. All the while, Scott was fundamentally right all along about what Hope and The Phoenix Force could do for the mutant species. Mutants have returned, the Avengers are forced to restructure, but somehow it’s being played like the X-Men lost and the Avengers won? (Ok, I guess you can't ignore that Scott killed Xavier...) I don’t know, I’m totally digressing now, but I guess it was just nice to see Cap with a bit of humility, asking Alex for help, recognizing Alex’s pedigree, treating him as an equal, not fronting like he has all the answers, and his course of action is the only course. A couple of rough transitions aside (for example, one minute Cap, Thor, and Alex are talking, flip the page and they’re suddenly in the middle of a gigantic fight outside without any semblance of segue), Cassaday’s art delivers. The tension between Wanda and Rogue is well-played, but that’s just an odd villain choice that doesn’t do much for me. The Thor latte humor also really didn’t work; sorry, but it’ll never be funnier than Deadpool saying “nom nom.” High-five if you go that reference. Anyway, mostly gorgeous art and some really nice character moments. I don't know if I'd buy it long term, but as long as I'm getting comp'd on it, I'll eagerly check it out. Grade A-.
Ultimate Comics: X-Men #17 (Marvel): I enjoy this book, but I never feel like I have much to say about it. I really liked seeing the West Coast declared independent on the map. I enjoy the core premise here that Wood is versed at, debating civil liberties vs. national security. Kitty Pryde’s “Mutant Declaration of Independence” is rousing, feeling like a gutsy all-or-none gamble. I like the paramilitary bits with Fury. First we get Paige Guthrie, and now Hisako. Cool! On the down side, the art aesthetic is a bit too Saturday morning cartoon animated style for me personally. I’m not sure it stands up so well to the serious tone of the ideas Wood’s grappling with. Talk about false sense of security; Kitty’s strike teams take over the Stryker concentration camp in the Southwest, and then… that last page is a killer set-up. Grade B+.


10.10.12 Advance Review [The Massive #5]

By Justin Giampaoli

The Massive #5 (Dark Horse): If I had to sum up what this issue is about in a single word? Commitment. It’s really about these two female characters and their commitment to both the Ninth Wave cause and their own acute sense of survival. If you read the issue a little closer, you can even pick up on some subtle references. We see Ryan as a younger student at the University of Vermont, writer Brian Wood’s home state, and then Ryan confesses to Mary that she’s from Minneapolis, just like frequent Brian Wood collaborator Ryan Kelly. As a long-time fan who pays attention to details, I just eat stuff like that right up. I’ve seen some comparisons of this issue online to Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber’s Whiteout, but aside from the bleak Antarctic setting and both being terrific in their own right, they really don’t have much else in common. Mary and Ryan go on a mission to retrieve some ice core samples, which means a source of clean water unfettered by radiological fallout and whatever else it would have otherwise been exposed to on the surface. Clean water, now one of the most valuable substances on the planet. Some unexpected visitors pop up and a terrifying bit of isolated action ensues. Wood also continues an attack on our politically gridlocked and jingoistic American view of the world, stating through Mary that America is essentially just a 200 year old experiment, a “good concept” as she says. Being American doesn’t really mean shit at the end of the world, in fact it’s probably a liability.

I really enjoyed the callback sequences to the Dark Horse Presents prequels. At times, non-linear storytelling annoys me when it’s over-used or if it's just used as an empty gimmick, but here it feels organic, as you find yourself following what are probably the characters’ inner thought processes and triggered memories. The lines about the sea having a greater purpose for these people, Callum, Mary, Mag, and now Ryan, all feel significant. There’s a sense that Mother Ocean (my term) really is some sort of sentient being, selecting a handful of individuals for a higher purpose. The whole notion of destiny and the cast’s dogged determination to reinvent themselves and do something right gives the series a romantic glimmer in an absolutely devastated world. Once again, we see parts of the event that turned Cal from mercenary to activist, and get more traces of Mary’s talents and secretive past. Mary is a nuanced character; she continually dodges questions about her origin, she’s there at Cal’s “rebirth" ("immaculate conception" is probably too hoary a stretch considering her name), and the mystery that surrounds her seems to imply that she is more than she seems. It’s not that she’s superhuman or that it’s a taking a supernatural turn or anything, I don’t think, but at the very least she must be in peak physical form to dive 450 feet with another person in tow, resist freezing temperatures barefoot, and then revive someone with rescue breathing in cramped quarters.

I’ll have to let my day job emergency management brain take over for a second and give you this factoidal aside that CPR only works about 10% of the time statistically. Here, Mary does it to successfully revive Ryan, totally beating the odds twice on the same person. Now, Ryan was not breathing for just a few seconds and probably still had a pulse, so we can argue that Mary is doing just rescue breathing and it would be much easier to revive Ryan since her heart doesn’t need restarting too, just flushing the lungs of water. Mary’s got to do this in just 2-3 minutes, to avoid exposure as she says, but also to be under the 4-5 minute window where the onset of long term brain damage occurs without oxygen to the brain. OMG, have I just become one of those guys who is going to bitch about shell casings still being on bullets and hyper-analyze everything??? Nah, just kind of reasoning my way through the plausibility of things. 

This is another complete aside, but there seems to be a recurring item popping up in Wood’s contemporary body of work, maybe involving these inconclusive traits surrounding women who possess some vague sense of spirituality or the ethereal to them. To wit, Zee Hernandez disappears at the end of DMZ as the physical embodiment of New York City. Here in The Massive, Mary seems to have some mysterious origin, some kind of, dare I say, “abilities,” and could at the very least possibly be Wood subconsciously writing her as the physical manifestation of this “Mother Ocean” ideologue I’ve just coined. I realize that two points don’t make a trend, and I don't think I can quite make a connection from memory to the titular "Gods & Monsters" in DV8, but it’s something I’ll be keeping my eye on in future work, namely Mara coming in December from Image Comics.

I try not to be one of those reviewers that gives short shrift to the artists involved in a project, so let’s talk about Garry Brown for a while. His work is just phenomenal in this issue. It first jumped out at me on page 4, with that absolutely majestic expanse as Ryan and Mary stand on the edge of the snow cliff. It gives you a sense of just how small people are juxtaposed against the sheer scale of the unspoiled stretch of land mass enveloping them. There’s a stark beauty there in the open space and the simple (not simplistic) colors of Dave Stewart. Brown is also really strong at depicting action scenes that convey the majority of the narrative thrust without any dialogue necessary to make the activity crystal clear. It’s surely the mark of a great panel-to-panel storyteller, and the trust that Wood places in his collaborator. I also like how Brown is able to punctuate singular ideas; the big full page spreads, like the entirety of page 15 as the sea, probably exhibit this the best. I could do this all day, but another bit I found remarkable was the long thin vertical panel on the right side of page 19 that emphasizes the motion of the duo swimming up. You don’t really see this type of panel variation and intuitive layout sensibility all that much anymore. It’s the kind of thing you can fly past reading quickly, but if you really stop to look at how the overall page is composed, it becomes a rare and clever treat you want to linger on for a beat or two.

This issue is a favorite (not just because I contributed to the backmatter, but yeah, how about that?!) because it’s an intimate story. It’s a story about a smart, stylish, and successful little mission, sure, but it strongly develops what’s been a minor character so far, and through their bond, furthers the Mary mystery a bit in the process. It finds a way to focus on characters, despite the title’s huge world-building events, despite the litany of cool factoids and research, and despite the politics I can generally get behind. It’s first and foremost about people and characterization; Wood knows that you just can’t have a story without that, no matter how strong your high concept hook is. It might be self-indulgent or conflict of interest-y, but I really see nothing wrong with this issue, and the fact that the backmatter even exists as a bonus feature in these singles, any backmatter at all – regardless of who has a hand in it, is a total win that’s evidence of what some creators are willing to pour into a creator-owned labor of love purely out of unique goodwill to their fans. It’s immeasurable what it may contribute to the bottom line and I can tell you from experience now that it takes a ton of time and effort. So, I’ll end with some advice. If you like something, say something. Comics, backmatter, writers, artists, inkers, colorists, restaurants, music, movies, customer service, whatever. Tell a creator, tell a publisher, tell a retailer, tell family, tell friends, tell coworkers. Word of mouth and voting with your wallet can make or break these beloved indie projects. Grade A+.