11.28.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at 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 Boulevard.

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2 (Image): Welcome to "Brandon Graham's Road Trip Comix," as the diagrammatic cover tells us, and it's exactly that as Nik and Sex adventure through a toll booth on a mountain pass, ultimately settling in a hotel for a quick stay, while Nura continues encountering her target. This future melding of cultures and food and fashion and rustic technology seems to alter the very way comic book stories can be told. Graham basically invents his own visual language that blurs the line between what is pure art and what is pure text, the two forming  a symbiotic perpetual world-building rubric. Within that dynamic construct, we see Shakespearean worldplay ("tacks tax" or "pair a normal filters"), a rhythmic dance of panels ("x!, y?, z..."), an aesthetic I can only compare to Stan Sakai and Paul Pope's lovechild, manga influence, 2000AD influence, food fetish rivaling Brian Wood's The Couriers/Couscous Express world, and may allow yourself to get lost in Geoff Darrow-like vistas, while enjoying the simple majesty of the way Sexica's hair blows in the wind poking out of a somewhat sentient Russian sunroof as a dutiful car sputters clouds of exhaust, the way a road disappears at the vanishing point on the horizon, and the way sexuality is presented as fun and leisurely instead of cheesecake degrading. Multiple Warheads is a hybridized creation, simultaneously so almost-familiar just on the periphery of your understanding, but also uniquely Brandon Graham's own intellectual property. It's like nothing else out there, a style of "World Comics" I'll call it, one we'll probably see emerging 20 years from now. Prescient, playful, innovative, and visually arresting. Sounds like a big fat Grade A+.

Prophet #31 (Image): Old Man Prophet and his uncanny lot are off to the trade cities, drinking aboard the ship, floating orbital moons in the shape of curled up men in the distance, searching for some woman army, but then Badrock, but then a cool find for Diehard at the end. It's kind of all over the place, but it feels like an organically paced set of meanderings, not like Brandon Graham has lost control of the plot or anything. It's such a jazzy jam session that ebbs and flows in an unpredictable and unconventional, but utterly natural way. That dynamic extends to the art as well. Let's face it, I never have much idea who the hell is doing what to which page, Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and Giannis Milonogiannis come and go at will sharing writing and art duties interchangeably, but who the hell cares? You have this trifecta of big names who are all great and the end result speaks for itself. Joseph Bergin III's colors deserve a nod too, with these rich crimsons and purples that saturate the page, it reminds me of what modern master Dean White was doing over on Uncanny X-Force. There are a few book this year that are going to be on all the hipster doofus "best of" lists (Building Stories, I'm looking at you), but Prophet will probably be the one most deservedly consistently permeating all the critics lists. It reminds me of the power comics held over me as a kid, with the swift ability to sweep you away to another world, the way I felt about Green Lantern Corps or Jim Starlin's Dreadstar, in a true bout of escapism. Grade A.

Ultimate Comics: X-Men #19 (Marvel): Paco Medina is up on art for this issue as Brian Wood delivers the result of the choices handed to Kitty and her band by President Steve Rogers after the war ended. Essentially, the political denouement is take the mutant cure and reenter "normal" society or, for the 20 who refuse, reservation life on a plot of land that's some sort of 18 mile Utah salt flat, with no water and probably irradiated toxic soil. It's all a nice lesson in the harsh realities of being a sovereign nation, surprising what you DON'T get from the United States. Kitty and company are literally building a nation from scratch and they hold their impromptu first election. While only 15 of the 20 votes are seen, it's a great scene that instantly let's you know where loyalties lie and is a fun peek into where everyone's head is at. It's basically Nomi vs. Kitty, coexist vs. fight, the age-old mutant diaspora dilemma of Magneto vs. Xavier, now being echoed in the Ultimate Universe. The coloring helps Medina's art pop at times; I like the coloring and shadows around Kitty's face, yeah, these are the small things that I notice. I also think Medina handles the quiet intimate moments well, for example, between Jimmy and Kitty or between Kitty and Rogue, but overall I find Medina's aesthetic a little cartoony, with sometimes wonky facial expressions that aren't the perfect match for such a serious script with dire ideas being bandied about. Grade B+.

Uncanny Avengers #2 (Marvel): I'll tell you what, John Cassaday's art is mostly pretty, but it looks rushed in a couple spots. For example, when Thor is holding Mjolnir the perspective looks off, which is something you don't except from Cassaday. I feel like Rick Remender is having trouble getting this to all come together. In a roundabout way, it seems like Remender is trying to focus on the two women characters and show us why they're so special, which is nice, but there's so many other obstacles. Cap and Logan are monologuing at each other in these very long expositional scenes. It all feels a little disjointed to me, with so much going on in so many different places, flitting around from one disparate scene to another, the book feels like it lacks some focus, or an identifiable throughline. It's smartly written on the small scale, like Rogue's escape is clever, Red Skull's string of pejoratives for Wanda is crisp, but then we get the all-too-typical villain monologue where he explains himself for no reason other than reader gain. I'll give this one more issue to astonish me, and then it's going to be relegated to the "I'll buy the trades for 50% off at con" pile. Grade B.


11.28.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at 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 Boulevard.
Wasteland #41 (Oni Press): Hey, if you were at Lucky Donut & Deli in Scripps Ranch today (shout out to Minh) and saw me in the corner grinning from ear to ear like an idiot, yeah, I was looking at the first page of this issue. Specifically, a map of the Western United States, from the POV of an orbiting satellite, witnessing what sure looked like a series of thermonuclear detonations on the surface of the planet, perhaps the “New Killer War” mentioned a few times in the run-up to this point. Thomas uses more of his powers for this reveal, and additional connections to some of the series regulars are made. Michael and Abi are still in Far Enough (for now) investigating the downed orbital object in the ruins of a pre-city and all hell kinda’ breaks loose. It’s like Antony Johnston was cruising along in 4th gear, slammed the shifter down into 3rd, and hit the gas, rocketing the macro-narrative forward. I feel like we’re now in a race to the final issue and it’s going to be regularly blowing our hair back on the way. I’m also loving the addition of Russel Roehling on art. His style is such a skillful balance of realistic life drawing and stylish caricature. In spots, it’s actually starting to remind me of the work of Brazilian brothers Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon. Random, but I noticed this has a cover price of $3.99, when did that happen, didn’t it used to be $3.50? Grade A.
Thor: God of Thunder #2 (Marvel): I heckled Jason Aaron and Esad Ribic on Twitter this afternoon that they’ve basically done something I’d long given up hope on. They made me give a crap about Thor. I actually care about the title, I care about the character, I care about what happens next, and one of the “hooks” for me in this has been that we get to see three Thors, past, present, and future. Lo and behold, Jason Aaron explains that that dynamic is going to hold, not only for this introductory arc, but also beyond. Thrilled to hear that. Aaron takes his Conan-infused Thor and sets him off on a deified murder mystery that manages to capture the cosmic awe of the Silver Age, but adds modern time-jumping conventions to hold our interest, along with Aaron’s ear for rich memorable dialogue. There are little details that take a slightly revisionist, or “filling in the gaps” is probably more apropos, take on the mythos. It’s stuff like depicting Thor before he wielded Mjolnir, here seen with his axe Jarnbjorn. Ribic is on point, easily switching from the wispy world of ethereal gods and fog bearing a lush painterly quality that matches the time period and settings, to startling violence, hard-fought battles, lean muscle tissue, and eyes with a level of detail that walks the line between John Cassaday and Jerome Opena. Yeah, there’s a typo in Aaron’s text piece at the end, but I was already sold long before then. Grade A.
Masks #1 (Dynamite Entertainment): Not a lot to say about the art; it’s Alex Ross so people who like Alex Ross will get exactly what they expect and be perfectly satisfied, that last page is especially pretty. People who don’t like Alex Ross, well, they’re going to get exactly what they expect too, and probably be put off by the cold detachment of his lifelike paints. I lean more toward the first camp, so visually this worked just fine for me. I’ve never really warmed to any of these Dynamite Pulp Titles, but I’m a fan of Chris Roberson (especially on Twitter), and hey, did I mention Alex Ross is on art? So, The Green Hornet heads to NYC and encounters The Shadow (The Spider shows up waaay later) and they waste no time jumping right into a story about mobsters and politics. The plot doesn’t have any real hook, the treat is the dynamic itself of the team-up(s) of old pulpy properties, though Roberson tries his darndest to give the book an ethos – “If the law is unjust, then justice must be an outlaw.” I sort of found myself with an appreciation of the period racial stuff, like the Asian character sticking up for the Hispanic character, both basically “the other” in this largely white world of privilege. I enjoyed this for what it was, though I’m a little dismayed to see that Ross maybe isn’t doing all the interiors in future issues(?). On the fence as to whether or not I’ll support this in singles or trade-wait. Grade B+.

Nowhere Men #1 (Image): Man, I really wanted to like this more than I did. The World Corp. logo looks almost exactly like the old Warners logo, so there’s that. “Science Is The New Rock ‘N’ Roll” sure sounds like a cool premise to hang a new series on, but I just got no sense of that from the contents of the issue. It was just boring board room stuff and an attempt at a shock/twist/cliffhanger end that just sat there. I felt like Stephenson and Bellegarde were really trying to swing for the fences, in a way that I maybe haven’t seen since Hickman’s first Image work, The Nightly News, for a “different” kind of debut, but it didn’t connect for me. The bios up front as framework for avoiding direct character exposition seemed really clever in concept, but the execution was a little bland. World Corp. is supposed to be the biggest corporation in the world, yet I have no idea what they actually do or produce beyond, uhh, “invent stuff,” I guess? Something something mysterious virus and the back third of the book has a bunch of dialogue that was a chore to slog through. I’m still not really sure what the book is about, that was as hard to pin down as the rambling interviewee at the end. Artistically, Bellegarde has some awkward moments, like when Simon is standing around, otherwise I like the detail and fine lines in the art. Oh well, Image is on fire this year, but they can’t all be hits. Grade B-.


11.28.12 Shipping Report

This is my kind of week, a mix of interesting creator-owned books and few key mainstream titles that have managed to catch my eye. First up is Wasteland #41 (Oni Press) and I’m excited to see where Antony Johnston is taking us with the aid of Russel Roehling, probably my second favorite artist after Christopher Mitten, who set the tone for the series. I’m curious about Masks #1 (Dynamite Entertainment), which pushes together all of the pulp properties DE has licensed in a big ol’ crossover, at the hands of Chris Roberson and Alex Ross. None of the individual series or creative teams have really grabbed me, but this could be lots of character bang for the buck, with two creators that are worth a look. Image Comics has a trio of books I’ll be picking up, and I’m at least 2/3 already very sold on them. Prophet #31 (Image) is a sure buy, as is Multiple Warheads: Alphabet To Infinity #2 (Image), both helmed by Brandon Graham, the former an exciting reimage of an Extreme Studios property best described in collective blogger elevator pitch taxonomy as “Sci-Fi Conan,” the latter his own unique post-apocalyptic off-beat sexy vision from top to bottom. The only newcomer is Nowhere Men #1 (Image), which sounds like an interesting push on scientist rock stars from Eric Stephenson, Nate Bellegarde, and Jordie Bellaire. Over at The House of Ideas, I’ll definitely be getting Ultimate Comics: X-Men #19 (Marvel), which promises a new chapter from Brian Wood, and I’m sitting on the fence, but leaning toward picking up, Thor: God of Thunder #1 (Marvel) and Uncanny Avengers #2 (Marvel), just because of the strength of the creative teams.  


Thirteen Minutes Nominated For 2012 PCG “Paradoscar" – BEST COMICS WEBSITE

I’m humbled yet again to report that Thirteen Minutes was nominated for the third year running in the category of "Best Web-Site" at the annual PCG “Paradoscars” (formerly the Paradox Comics Group "Oscars”). There are some outstanding nominees in all categories, while the competition in this category is pretty stiff. This year, I'm up against Comic Book Resources (CBR), Bleeding Cool, and 2000AD Online.

Despite my win in the same category last year, I'm still a relative underdog against the big boys, so I'm shamelessly asking for your support. Sign up and vote today over at their Facebook page so that when the winners are announced in December, I can hold my title! If you’ve enjoyed any of my work, please vote, blog, tweet, and encourage your friends to do the same! VOTE NOW: www.facebook.com/groups/thePCG/
The “Paradoscar” actually means quite a lot to me because I consider the nomination to be from true peers in the industry. This also serves as a great opportunity to give a quick shout out to my friends from across the pond at The PCG. With their recent site rebrand and redesign, the crew posts tons of timely reviews that are well observed, articulate, and filled with lively opinions. It’s one of my daily web stops and is always a good read!


11.21.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at 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 Boulevard.
Thor: God of Thunder #1 (Marvel): [This Title Was Not Released This Week] After also seeing some great reviews, my LCS proprietor talked me into checking this out and I’m glad I did. On the very first page, it was obvious that Jason Aaron’s Thor is going to be more Conan than Avenger. I like that. And if you can’t get, say, Jerome Opena on art, well the next best thing is probably Esad Ribic and Dean White. Their stuff is really slick. Thor is basically hunting a god-killer in a time-spanning murder mystery that goes in all directions at once, but never loses focus. It takes place in the past, in the present, and in the future, on Earth, in Asgard, in deep space, and throughout time. On rare occasion, the dense text could feel a little laborious (line after line about the Lost Gods of Indigarr, for example), but with stellar art and a mostly engaging plot, this really felt new and fresh. Confession: I’ve never really given two shits about Thor. I’ve tried runs old and new; I tried Fraction’s work. The only thing that ever really worked for me was the way Kurt Busiek and George Perez handled him in their old Avengers run, which is echoed here with a choice line. I don’t know, Jason Aaron may have done the seemingly impossible and made me care about what happens in the next issue of Thor. Grade A.
Stumptown Volume 2 #3 (Oni Press): [This Title Was Not Released This Week] My LCS finally got this in after some type of shipping mishap that was beyond control. I generally enjoyed the issue, but it was far from perfect. Dex is still investigating a missing guitar, which just happens to show up on her front door step, begging the questions of identity and motivation for whoever returned it. There’s also strong evidence suggesting the case was being used for smuggling something other than its intended contents. Rucka’s script was fairly seamless, but a couple spots up front struck me as being really expositional. It felt like there was a long delay between the second and third issues and Rucka was intentionally trying to reload the audience’s memory on where we were. Lines like “That’s her guitar, isn’t it? Mim Bracca’s guitar? Mim from Tailhook? Her guitar?” stick out as the kind that nobody actually speaks with in real life, they only exist in Aaron Sorkin material to take a big stylish info-dump all over the audience. Except for a horrible looking revolver at the very end, Southworth’s pencils continue to grow. He’s able to pull a lot of emotional content out of the faces and I really liked a scene where Dex just sits quietly in her living room, staring at the guitar case on her coffee table, rolling things over in her mind. Renzi’s colors can be a little flat in spots, but they mostly shine, like in the aforementioned scene. There’s something about how he handles shadows and light-sourcing that I really like. There’s also a very smudgy inky look (yes, that is the technical term) on some of the faces, not sure if this is art or coloring, that gives a really nice effect. Stumptown is the kind of series that I can pick apart critically if I wanted to, but in terms of sheer enjoyment I’m always excited to read it, and I’m glad I’m pot-committed to continue supporting it in singles. Grade B+.
Comeback #1 (Image): The best thing about Comeback is the one-two punch of Michael Walsh’s art and Jordie Bellaire’s colors, the end result feeling like you’re somewhere in the neighborhood of Sean Phillips. The adverts say this is about a secret agency named “Reconnect” (though that name appears not once in the first issue), which can, during a limited window of about 2+ months, save a loved one from impending death by going back in time and plucking them out of the time-stream somehow, but it’ll cost you millions. The actual science or physics of this very different kind of travel agency is obviously very murky, but even the slim attempts at techno-babble weren’t very interesting, something something we can try again to grab a person, hide him, for… something? On top of that, there are two primary stories, one about a man whose family wanted to save him that got botched, another about a man wanting to save his wife from a car accident, then there’s someone following someone, but I was never quite sure how Mark, Mr. Ingram, Mr. Fields, Hargreaves, Terrance, and on and on were meant to connect or who was who and what they were doing. The art was nice enough, but the lack of narrative clarity was a showstopper for me. Grade B-.
Bleeding Cool Magazine #1 (Avatar Press): This is a physically *heavy* magazine, which initially makes me feel like there’s good value for the $4.99 price tag. Unfortunately, for me, there was very little content I found interesting. Your mileage may vary. The gossip/rumor section was full of vapid humor and the deathmatch section was very shallow and fanboyish. The Shadowman spotlight (and entire hype around Valiant as a whole) is something I’m really tired of. I think it’s a really cool story how this company restarted, but I just don’t like any of their products, yet everyone seems to be buying into it and jumping on the critical bandwagon. Ditto Cyber Force. Extremely cool that we’re getting 5 issues Kickstarter’d for free, but they’re just not very good. Don’t care about an Alan Moore interview. Don’t care about what Tim Burton’s doing. I thought the Mike Richardson article about Dark Horse taking on superheroes again was nice, so I’ll give that a pass. It was nice to see some reviews (especially for some indie thing called The Red Ten I’d never heard of), but nothing else looked interesting. Don’t care about Judge Dredd. Don’t care about something called Charismagic. Don’t care about a price guide. The big draw for me was the "Top 100 Most Powerful People In Comics" list. I’m not one of those people that’s going to quibble with the list and rewrite it (too much anyway!). You can obviously cherry-pick this with personal agendas and different rankings. For the most part, I thought it was fairly diverse and included a good mix of personnel from different sectors in the industry. It is a *very* mainstream list though. There’s really no mention of small press publishers. I would have definitely included Dylan Williams and the legacy of Sparkplug Comic Books. There’s no mention of ownership of small regional indie-centric shows like BCGF. If you’re going to bother putting the “Anonymous Register Jock” as an entry, you might as well include me, that’s the “Anonymous Blogger,” on the list. Collectively, the tastemakers who have some influence over public opinion and what’s being purchased. Deeper on the financial end, I would have definitely included whoever owns the Comics Guarantee Corporation (aka: CGC). They changed the industry, for good or bad, in terms of collecting as a hobby and the associated inflated dollar amounts changing hands. Being an agent of change is powerful. I might have included a creator like Brian Wood as an example of creative paradigm shift; not everyone writes Conan, Star Wars, multiple X-Men titles, and a whole host of critically acclaimed creator-owned series, a model that doesn’t rely on exclusive contract. I might have included an editor like, say, Will Dennis, basically the guy responsible for the last wave of Vertigo hits, American Vampire, DMZ, Northlanders, Scalped, etc. I’ll stop rewriting the list there. Lastly, sorry to be that guy, but if you put yourself on a list like this, you just lose some credibility with me. You can either report the “news,” or you can be the “news.” It’s hard to do both objectively. Yeah, I used those quotes intentionally since I’m not sure if the intent is to be hard-hitting journalism or just light-hearted entertainment, especially with the interactive signature gimmick. There’s something about the look of the interior that feels odd to me as well. I think it’s the font size, or font style, or the way it’s justified on the page, or just the layouts in general? It feels like, I don’t know, the early incarnation of Wizard Magazine, with a sort of low-fi desktop publishing aesthetic. The one or two times I’ve briefly said hello to Rich Johnston at cons, he’s struck me as super humble and amiable. I bear him and his venture no ill will personally. I think a print magazine is a gaping hole in the market that ought to be filled. It seems like he’s been doing at least some anecdotal market research and is somewhat open to feedback. There's clearly energy behind this attempt. I’m just not sold that this is the vehicle to fill that gap as it currently exists. It’s admittedly one person’s opinion with very quirky taste, but it certainly doesn’t represent the segments of the market that I feel like I identify with as a fan or as a critic. Grade C.

11.21.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at 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 Boulevard.
Batwoman #14 (DC): Batwoman continues her team-up with Wonder Woman, on the trail of missing children at the hands of Medusa. Their decent into the Greek underworld takes them to Pegasus, the son of Medusa. Williams’ does a tremendous job depicting Wonder Woman and Batwoman playing off of each other as aspects of “light” and “dark,” while they admire each other for completely different reasons. We see a still-slightly-awestruck Kate and a vulnerable side to Diana, which had me scribbling in my notes that this is the best portrayal of Diana that I maybe have ever seen, and it’s not even her book! Williams’ layouts are, at times, the experimental variety he used in Promethea and are, for me, at their best when he’s using things like the Roman Key design on inset panels during the two-page forensic analysis spreads. JH Williams III is just on a different plane of artistic existence, visually stunning and a joy to behold for how it’s completely not like anything else out there. 20 or 30 years from now, our kids are going to look back at his oeuvre like we looked at Steranko, or any number of others who atypically revolutionized the medium. No disrespect to Snyder and Capullo over on Batman (which is a fine, fine book, probably the only other success for me in The New 52), but this is actually the book everyone should be talking about. It was also nice of DC to push all the ads to the very back for an uninterrupted reading experience. Grade A+.
Ultimate Comics: X-Men #18.1 (Marvel): Filipe Andrade’s art strikes me as some kind of Danijel Zezelj / Brett Weldele hybrid with sharp angular lines that still manage to have a welcoming warmth to them. The issue is framed around a Kitty Pryde interrogation / detention / debriefing scene and it has a very cinematic flair to it. The story is told in flashback as she relays it in an effort to shape the “official record” of events, which is highly subject to narrative spin. This somewhat standalone issue is very charged with familiar Wood language of insurgencies and displaced militant forces. The core incident with Paige Guthrie is a startling event that rings with real world relevance, not to mention the slick two-page spread that accompanies it. It’s a closed room character study about Kitty as a Professor X, with someone like Nomi acting as possible Magneto archetype, and by the end Kitty realizes that she may have ostensibly won the war, but lost the point. If ever there was a question as to why Brian Wood should be paired with a property like X-Men during his work-for-hire sorties, here you go. It’s the best issue of the series to date and serves as a primer for potential newbies about the concepts he’s working with. Grade A.
Clone #1 (Image): I’m not sure if this is a mini-series or an ongoing, but it’s an impressive debut from David Schulner and Juan Jose Ryp. I’ve long been a fan of Ryp’s explosive and detailed art, so it’s the type of book that I’d almost pick up for that alone. But, TV writer David Schulner comes charging out of the gate with his first comic book and really made me take notice. There’s no exposition whatsoever about the larger plot machinations, which I think some people will find challenging, but I loved it. Just when you think it’s getting perhaps a little too obtuse or coy, Schulner knows right when to pull the trigger on the script side so that you have some idea of what’s happening, but still no idea why. It’s a strong hook for the first time comic scribe, about, well, the titular clones and literally confronting different versions of yourself. By the time I got to “biodegradable film with time release coagulants” I felt like I was reading some Warren Ellis. PS – Neither here nor there, but if I had a magic wand I’d still create a JLA book by Warren Ellis and Juan Jose Ryp. Anyway, Clone is one of those debuts that makes me happy to be reading comics, the surprise find you don’t see coming that reaffirms your faith in the medium. Grade A-.
Captain America #1 (Marvel): Yeah, I caved and basically picked this up solely for the Dean White art, which is phenomenal, particularly with stuff like the lighting as the B-52 plunges down toward NYC. I think Remender tries his best to offer something slightly new here. I did enjoy the pulpy adventure vibe to the whole thing, but the generic villains up front just feel really bland, and the revealed villain at the end (complete with inconsequential Bond contraption) just feels like really tired rehash. The origins of Steve’s family and the push to modernize him with Sharon Carter flirtation and proposals is admirable, revisionist poking at both past and possible future, but for me the whiff of attempting to alter the status quo just played awkward. Amid the expositional voiceover permeating the majority of the book, there are some awkwardly constructed lines as well, such as “Okay, distant… what’s bothering you?” Really, how many times have you ever called someone “distant,” but as a proper noun?! Weird. There are also some noticeably off art transitions. Steve is in his suit for the date and then I guess when he’s out cold, the bad guys changed him into his Cap uniform(?). Later, I guess shirtless Steve found time to don the rest of his uniform on his way down during a multi-story fall(?). This has the potential to develop, I suppose, but not enough of a hook to keep me coming back monthly. With apologies to the astounding Dean White on color, for 50% off the first trade at a con, I’ll see how it pans out. Grade B.


Mr. Monitor in The Pig Sleep @ Poopsheet Foundation

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

The Disappearance of Gordon Page, Jr. @ Poopsheet Foundation

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


11.21.12 Shipping Report

There’s not much on the creator-owned front for me this week after the deluge of books I picked up last week. If there’s any exception to my no-fly rule on Marvel and DC fare (other than Brian Wood), it oughta’ be Jim Williams, still killing it with BATWOMAN #14 (DC). I think this may be the last issue of the team-up with Wonder Woman, which has been spectacular visually, but also in the way the pantheon of Greek Gods is being interpreted on the narrative end. At the House of Ideas, there’s a couple books worth mentioning. I’ll obviously be picking up Brian Wood’s ULTIMATE COMICS: X-MEN #18.1 (Marvel), which is something of a stand-alone issue that contains some controversy, so I’m curious about that. The other one, and how nerdy is this, that I might be checking out is CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 (Marvel). I have no real interest in the character, Remender is a writer that I’ve only actually liked on two books previously (Fear Agent and Uncanny X-Force), Romita Jr.’s pencils can actually leave me cold sometimes, but I’m super stoked about Dean White being on colors. He’s, like, the best colorist and the previews I saw looked amazing. Yeah, pretty nerdy that I’d buy a book because of coloring when it’s otherwise devoid of much interest. Lastly, I was a little underwhelmed by #0 back in June if I recall, but I’ll probably flip through BLEEDING COOL MAGAZINE #1 (Avatar Press). No interest in the Alan Moore interview, but the other item they’re leading with is the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Comics” and I’m interested to check out Johnston’s perception of who should make that list and to verify that I’ve once again maintained my long streak of not appearing on such lists.


11.14.12 Reviews (Part 2)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at 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 Boulevard. 
Punk Rock Jesus #5 (DC/Vertigo): The penultimate issue of Sean Murphy’s creator-owned baby opens with a Kasabian-style club riot, with Thomas trying to protect Chris outside the confines of J2. Murphy’s art is simply to die for, with a compact and detailed essence, and an overarching management of beats and pacing that’s done so well. The art is full of flourishes in the form of background graffiti, nods to DCU properties, music and bands, 80’s pop culture drops, and a bike that might as well be right up there with Kaneda’s, it’s so iconic. I loved the crazy two page spread, from the in your face WWPRJD t-shirt to the miles of depth behind it. I loved the band profiles for the group from the flooded Isle of Manhattan, Front Man Jesus Christ, Bassist "Tape," Rabbit on Guitar, and Henny on Drums. The band is completely independent, and it’s hard not to view that idea as a welcome statement from Murphy on the creator-owned rights issue. One observation, not a criticism, is that the issue feels so dense, the news feed crams events in, very fast-paced, almost as if Murphy was panicking, having realized the final issue was impending and he still had lots of ground to cover. The content was no less satisfying though, and it basically just felt like you were getting $5 worth of material for $2.99. The IRA back stories are always fun in the way they inform the present, and I loved the swagger at Milton’s bedside. I found it a little funny that Murphy makes the same small mistake that the crew on The Massive did a couple issues back, by showing a still-jacketed slug spinning off of a tire after it's been fired. Yeah, that’s not how projectile munitions work, but whatever, I wonder if Murphy will undergo the same fanboy outcry that Brian Wood and company did? What I appreciate the most about Punk Rock Jesus is that it’s now ramped up to be incredibly raucous and fun, but it’s not just mindless punk energy. Murphy actually has some important social commentary to voice about the covert civil war brewing over religious extremism, the hypocrisy of groups like NAC, corrupt politicians, and media excess, which extends out of the pages of fiction and into our real world. All this is happening as Chris is intent on playing the ultimate gig – Jerusalem. Grade A+.
Conan The Barbarian #10 (Dark Horse): It’s the start of a new arc with artist Declan Shalvey, and I immediately noticed his Mignola-esque blocky angular lines, which are never devoid of emotion, blood, or strife. It’s almost as if Shalvey has managed to mine the best bits of the Conan artists that have preceded him, a nice balance of, say, Cloonan and Harren, the right edge without being either too soft or too stylized. Conan and Belit are basically content in the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to, but start to question if riches and success not earned can be hollow. When a derelict ship is put alongside The Tigress, it presents a mysterious threat like none they’ve ever faced before. Though this introductory issue is perhaps a bit quieter than we’ve become accustomed to, everything is in sync here, from Dave Stewart's lovely warm colors and cool night time palette, to the way N’Gora seems to already be anticipating the need when he tosses Conan’s blade just as he calls for it. It all feels like the calm before the storm, and Brian Wood’s scripting continues to reach a level of soulful excitement instead of the dry academic prose that some original texts can offer. In short, it’s an example of brilliant interpretation and presentation. Grade A.
Batman #14 (DC): Snyder and Capullo are basically firing on all cylinders here; the issue is enjoyable from first page to last page, never a dull beat in between the two. I have to say that I wish DC would pull the tangential back-up feature out and slip the price back down to $2.99 for the trouble, because it never seems to add to the experience, only detracting from the quality of the whole and gouging an extra buck in the process. This is an immersive assault from the Joker, who references the Bat’s recent troubles with the Owl. You get the sense that it’s not just Snyder being self-referential for kicks, but really making things feel like a fully realized world, where Joker was watching on the sidelines as he planned his brutal attack. He blindsides the Bat because he’s doing the scariest thing you can do; he’s changed his thinking and is utterly unpredictable. Capullo’s art seems to steadily get stronger and stronger, full of gloss, detail, and kinetic energy. As a fan of Dick Grayson, Nightwing, and all of the assorted Robin lineage from the time I was old enough to read, this tickles all the right buttons and feels terribly consequential. Snyder has found a way to display absolute mastery of the illusion of change, the best you can hope for in mainstream superhero fare. Somehow the Bat Office @ DC has cornered the market with the two best books, Batwoman and Batman. If I was still buying non-creator-owned DC stuff (and not getting comps), these would be top of the heap, basically the best things the DCU is capable of producing at the moment. Though I’ll damn with faint praise or give a backhanded compliment or insert your colloquial slight of choice here, and say that 2 successes out of a New 52 is a dismal percentage. Grade A-.
Locke & Key: Omega #1 (IDW): Joe Hill’s comic book opus begins with a brilliantly concise recap page regarding the overall narrative, though if you came into this blind (and I can’t imagine who would do that), it’s a little disjointed in that you’d be absolutely lost about who’s who. It doesn’t even come close to passing the “every issue is someone’s first” guideline. It’s really the beginning of the end, as Gabriel Rodriguez’s crystal clear lines depict past regrets looking back over the course of the series, which have all shaped the present. The Kavanaugh film bit grows a little tiresome as a way to unnaturally frame the exposition, but overall it was an engaging read with Kinsey and all the rest confessing, while Dodge basically has all the keys and power, preparing to open the portal for other non-corporeal demons. The one ray of hope is a somber little scene with a duo trying to forge something anew. Grade A-.

11.14.12 Reviews (Part 1)

Sponsor Plug: Special thanks to Michael Cholak at 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 Boulevard. 

Think Tank #4 (Image): Short version? Ready, set, go: This is the best issue of the series to date. More detail, you say? Well, it’s a wild ride from the start to the twisty-end finish and I finally figured out who Rahsan Ekedal’s art sometimes reminds me of. For me, it has a very Carla Speed McNeil vibe to it, in that it can deftly capture all of this fantastic high tech, but it’s also very Earthy and warm when it comes to human emotion. Matt Hawkins delivers a lesson in strategy vs. tactics amid the best bust-out caper in recent memory. I enjoyed the priceless “Rules of Engagement” scenarios and the fact that the book is so smart it can surprise you even when you already know going into it that the internal rules mean David Loren can outsmart and surprise you at any given moment. There are some very timely reservations embedded here about our covert drone UAV fleet and its remarkable capabilities. This issue is basically flawless, and that’s a term I rarely use. It's so smart and crisp that I found myself frantically scribbling a question in my notes: "Is Think Tank a contender for one of the best series of the year?" Only a few more weeks and you can find out when I unveil my annual list. Grade A+.
Mind MGMT #0 (Dark Horse): This is a collection of 3 webisodes that background the series, full of secret histories and so much style. The fascination with espionage and wild imagination of Matt Kindt give us things like flux houses on ley lines, with Meru investigating early mentions of the Mind MGMT organization. She’s on the trail of the Soviet “Bear,” their top agent who is pointed through the Berlin Wall at his American counterparts. The next story is a series of “perfect murders,” which interlocks with the other stories via code words. The last of the trio is about a Brazilian expedition with Sir Francis at the turn of the century. We learn clever factoids, like mind over body being the functional Fountain of Youth, as the agents Forrest Gump their way through a couple real-world historical events. One of the letters described the narrative as “Herge meets PKD,” and that’s just fine with me. This was a great issue, a mix of haunting aesthetic and background information on current events that all leads to one mysterious place… Mind MGMT. Grade A.
Saga #7 (Image): These scenes are smartly edited together, and Saga remains a very dynamically paced series, a fun world-build, and it’s good, good, good. But, something about it still bothers me. It’s perhaps smug in its ability to be good. In other words, Brian K. Vaughan knows it’s good, and maybe flaunts it a little, which is off-putting and not endearing. Anyway, I like lines like “You have no idea what I know,” and the family dynamics and refreshing acerbic female humor of Alana are all spot-on. All this happens amid an interstellar race war that echoes so many problems in our society, it’s hard not to stand up and take notice. It’s no surprise the series is resonating so well with the masses. While I did actually LOL at the slothy giant’s twig and very dangly berries, I have some mixed feelings about the art as well. Fiona Staples’ foreground figures are simply amazing. They pull you right in and engage you so much, you almost don’t notice the skimpy backgrounds. I’ve heard tell that this is some sort of intentional sci-fi aesthetic, but sometimes the backgrounds look like blurry generic shapes that the characters are green-screened in front of, and that leaves me a little cold. I like Saga a lot, yet I don’t feel it deserves *all* of the acclaim it’s getting. It’s a good series and has proven to be extremely consumable, but it’s not really high art or anything. So, if possible, I’d like to somehow issue a very contrarian Grade A-.
Great Pacific #1 (Image): The debut issue of the much-hyped Great Pacific had me squarely engaged early on and then sort of slowly lost me with a degradation in the art and scripting. Joe Harris brings what is actually a great premise full of interesting stats about the massive garbage swirl lurking in the Pacific Ocean, and it felt like some sort of distant cousin to Brian Wood’s The Massive. As time went on though, you can see the obvious influences of both Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark (not to mention the last name of one of the original X-Men), the merging of billionaire philanthropist paradigms, down to specific lines about racing in Monaco and a secret “Applied Sciences” division w/in the protagonist’s late father’s company. This is all crammed together with the enviro-apocalyptic realm in a way that violates an old filmmaking guideline, which might as well apply to comics too. “Get into scenes as late as you can, and get out as early as you can.” Great Pacific essentially does the opposite, getting in very early and taking too long to ramp up (I mean, dude isn’t even on the damn island yet, all this could have been done in half the space or in flashback), then lingering so long that it begins to telegraph its moves. For example, I knew well before I was supposed to that Chas Worthington was going to stage his own death. You can just see it coming in formulaically staged more-than-a-clue tells. Some of the science is interesting, sort of a very watered down version of what’s going on in Think Tank, with a plasma beam that makes water vapor out of oil and plastic and other hydrocarbons, yet those golf balls seem like they’re right out of Twister. Which I guess is a half-assed segue to some issues I had with the art. Martin Morazzo’s sinewy detail is interesting and 70% of the time very sharp. The rest seems too elongated in spots so that figures are distorted, and all manner of little things began to bother me. Those golf balls I mentioned, well, sitting in the bucket they have a scale that’s just way off, Alex’s hair looks ridiculously inconsistent in places, I’m not sure why two of the Maasai warriors are floating in that one panel, and why is the house wait staff all black?! It’s not the South in the 1960’s, it’s West Texas in the present day. If you’re going to rock a racial stereotype based on region, if anything, they should be Mexican or even Native-American. Grade B-.
All New X-Men #1 (Marvel): Didn’t buy this, but had a chance to read the issue. Let’s face it, Immonen’s art alone is probably worth a Grade B. It’s great. The dialogue wasn’t as bad as I was expecting; the problem for me is really in the concept and where this falls in continuity, both big and small. Last time I saw Scott Summers, he was in a SHIELD prison when his brother Alex came to visit him in Uncanny Avengers. So, I guess he’s out now? When did that happen? How? Why? There are two X-Force teams running around and NOW! this rogue group, along with whoever else I’m forgetting. There are so many fringe X-Men groups, is anyone just a regular X-Man? Not everyone can be outsiders if there’s no insiders. In a larger sense, it’s basically a time travel story, full of paradox traps that would make Doc Brown and Marty McFly seriously balk. I’m just not sure that you can get an ongoing series out of this premise. I just don’t see the need for this book to exist. How long can you really milk the basic idea of “The old X-Men meet their future selves! Ha!”? As if time-traveling alternate future reality X-Men continuity wasn’t already fucked enough. Grade B-.


s! #12 (Baltic Comics Magazine)


It’s not hyperbole when I admit I love everything Kus! publishes. The completist in me wishes they’d just send me everything because I want to own their entire catalog. s! is their house anthology and it’s worth noting that previous editions have taken home Alternative Comics Awards at Angouleme. It’s easy to see why. In addition to reeling in some top talent from Europe and North America in this volume, the production values are immaculate. This is a full color, perfect bound publication that manages to avoid so many of the pitfalls common in small press anthologies. It very crisply and cleanly catalogues the titles of the pieces, their corresponding page numbers, and creator bio information in the rear. It manages to maintain a very high level of quality and the size is perfect; it belies the powerful roster of talent contained within. The theme of Comics From The Future, or “Future 2.0” as the subtitle claims, includes Annie Koyama acting as Guest Editor (immediately banking some credibility), Michael DeForge, Ryan Cecil Smith, Charles Forsman, Dustin Harbin, and a whole slew of European talent I recognized from previous Kus! projects, like Martins Zutis, Kuba Woynarowksi, Ernests Klavins, and Leo Quievreux.

My only real criticism of the content is that sometimes the shorts are, well, very short. Some of the pieces end rather abruptly and felt like they didn’t have time to develop and relied on non-sequitur style endings that leave the reader grasping for meaning. While that dynamic can sometimes play obtuse be easily dismissed, it also forces the more adventurous reader to engage with the work, pore over it, and attempt to decipher their own meaning, which is something I appreciate. None of the pieces are easy reads per se, and unlike most mainstream American comics, Kus! comics never insult your intelligence. It was also interesting to see how so many different artists from so many different countries with so many different backgrounds and aesthetics interpreted the theme. “Future 2.0” is a limitless area of creativity. Subsequently, there are very few cliché sci-fi stories contained with s! #12, which is what one might knee-jerk expect upon hearing the theme. Most of the artists took one of two different general approaches, which were a) a literal interpretation of comics *about* the future, which tend to be more revealing about our present, and b) what I can only describe as comics *from* the future, which seemed to upend any notions of conventional storytelling. They were all very enjoyable, and before I dive into my typical quantitative scoring analysis, let’s talk about the work specifically.

Catch Ball by Anja Wicki was a literally playful opener suggesting that time is not linear and the most alien things found are probably those we’re most familiar with. It had warm colors that were a nice segue into the project. Flokar by Maciej Sienczyk was one of my early favorite pieces, with figures reminiscent of Benjamin Marra’s work. There’s an earnestness to the art that matches the serious tone of a traveler from the year 10 Quintillion. Fear of Relapse by Julie Delporte used rudimentary forms and free-floating text and I enjoyed the colorful way it dealt with the ethereal nature of waking dreams and nightmares. Space by Tiina Lehikoinen was full of unique layouts that examined space and the duality of man. There was something akin to static electricity in the art that was deeply moving. Mud Diamonds by Ryan Cecil Smith was another favorite entry, employing a rich density to the art and playing like some kind of teaser to a larger world of strife. I love what Ryan Cecil Smith does with light-sourcing. Fortune Telling by Jane Mai was also one of the strongest pieces in s! #12, about two future youngsters judging culture by sideshow detritus. There were little world-building flourishes in the dialogue, like “little discs” referring to coin currency and emotive colors that reminded me of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s work. Restoration by Nicolas Zouliamis seemed to focus on man’s universal struggle to retard time in an unnatural fashion. There were some sparse beautiful colors that highlighted the evolution of skeletal structure.

Chris Kuzma’s Life Drawing was particularly effective for what it didn’t show. The restraint and camera placement were admirable, but on a couple occasions I felt the basic storytelling mechanics were difficult to follow. Michael DeForge’s Leather Space Friend concerned itself with truly knowing someone. I enjoyed the small figure scale and fact that his dialogue and use of language flowed so incredibly well. Konig Lu.Q.’s Future 2.0; It Is In Your Hands was a simple but effective one-pager. Michael Comeau’s Sir Softly seemed to have trouble with apostrophes and very strange cadence, yet was one of the most interesting pieces in the project. I think it was about experiencing time as a consumer, with digressions to examine pre and post-singularity events, and a type of claustrophobic “claymation” art style that suggested inhaling comics with your eyes and exhaling through the fingers(!). It’s also got a very self-aware kick with lines like “I took a semester of graphic novels at community college.” Dace Sietina’s Eye Power was a sort of visual time capsule of culture with no dialogue. Charles Forsman’s Better Men offered a quick sad evolution of existence. It was striking in its simplicity. Dustin Harbin’s Future Medicine was like some type of hyper-cool version of The Far Side strip, which is an odd comparison to make since I never really liked that strip anyway. I love the panel size and general aesthetic of Harbin’s work here, along with the colors and rich world-building he’s able to squeeze out of so few pages. Paul Paetzel’s Travel Center lends an industrial construct to a future where humans seem to be mysteriously absent.

Prepare Thyself For The Singularity by Jesse Jacobs grabbed my attention with an improbable Mobius Strip and flowed into geometric constructs of a highly evolved creature of the future. If You Read This, You Will Die by Martins Zutis was another favorite piece. It seems to infuse some horror tropes and is all about escaping physical manifestations of death. The cloudy qualities to the beautiful art were one of the most original looks in the book. Letting Go Of What The Future Holds by Luke Ramsey delivered a quick set of crimson time lapse photography. Feelin’ Fine! by Patrick Kyle had downright quirky and strangely appealing figures and colors, concerning itself with the enduring politics of expansion in the far-flung future. Z-E-N-D-O-R by Jon Boam featured a type of biomechanical creature and some diagrammatic effects that reminded me of Chris Ware in places. Little Stump by Ginette Lapalme examined the utility of prayer vis-à-vis Huxley pastels and the power of internal vs. external solutions. The layouts felt vastly different and experimental, which was very welcome. Return To The Moon! by Steve Wilson was another winner, cataloguing imaginative mutated creatures from moon landings. The art style reminded of the pointed precision of Kevin O’Neill. Curious by Oskars Pavlovskis is another contender for single favorite piece in the project. It’s about a surprising Mars mission with a thick and rich painted style. In short, I could use an entire book in this aesthetic style from this creator. Note to Kus!: please publish one!

Jules Karnibal N. 2 by Irkus M. Zeberio delved into an inevitable retreat into virtual reality. The art was a dizzying immersion into a possible future that I hope isn’t a likely one. UPDATE-25034FGGSX by Leo Quievreux chronicled a surreal decline of civilization and the cold rise of automation. Around The Galaxy In 8 Days by Ernests Klavins was a fun tale of the titular attempt to circumnavigate the galaxy in 8 days using nothing but public transportation. Along the way, our eclectic heroes hop prison ships and encounter A.I. that’s subjugated humans. OK? Y/N by John Martz felt like a self-contained Spy Vs. Spy style story with no dialogue that charters the robot afterlife. Baroque by Kuba Woynarowksi used bold iconic imagery and panel transitions that slowly pull out to reveal a familiar monument in a post-apocalyptic world. It was powerful and startling once you realize what you’re looking at. Animals by Melissa Mendes was a great quest story about kids dreaming of long lost animals, and I could definitely envision Mendes crafting some successful children’s books in this style. This is another one of those creators I’d like to see stand-alone feature length work from. Future 3.0 by Anja Wicki wraps things up with a clean visual about literally making this book, which can also be read as making your own future.

From that last piece, I took away the key message that Kus! is making the types of books they’d like to see in the world and becoming that precious agent of change. That’s a terrific way to begin winding down this review, summarizing the accomplishments and collection of raw talent showcased in this book. s! #12 is one of the rare anthologies that is able to maintain a consistent level of quality and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re drawn to the theme or any number of the creators contained within. This also signals some type of quantitative scoring rubric. As is my usual practice, I awarded letter grades to each entry. Out of 30 total entries, I found 15 Grade A’s, 14 Grade B’s, and 1 Grade C. The plus and minus marks essentially cancelled each other out and were a perfect wash. Statistically, this equates to something like an 87% achievement. Even when I throw in an additional point or two for overall production values, we’re still in the collective neighborhood of a very strong Grade B+.


11.14.12 Advance Review [The Massive #6]

The sixth issue of The Massive follows the crew of The Kapital to a drifting UK corporate container ship called The Caledonia (Word Nerd Alert: It’s the Roman/Latin name for Scotland, coincidentally also the subtitle of the Supernatural mini-series based on the WB show that Brian Wood wrote for DC), which has ostensibly been abandoned and is fair game for boarding and salvage under applicable maritime law. But, if you’ve been reading this series with any semblance of regularity, you know that it’s unlikely events will play that simple. Not only does the mission go a little sideways, but Wood and artist Garry Brown (also from Scotland) lace it with more important flashback sequences that build the world and the characters in the process. Let me mix my metaphors all to hell, and say that if you buy my old theory that this theme of “identity” is some sort of endemic connective tissue supporting the apothecary of diverse series in the Wood library, then you can probably focus your microscope to an even more granular level and say that this story is increasingly becoming about identity crisis.

From the Congo, to Sri Lanka, to Gulf War I, with burning oil fields, assorted dictators, and obtuse blanket orders, it’s all a quick crash course in the type of “just following orders” atrocities man is capable of. It would be easy for a lesser writer to use this breed of vignette to dutifully explain why war should always be a last resort to avoid at all costs, or some rote lesson in preachy morality, but Wood moves a step further to personalize the horror and show us a couple historical moments when men like Cal and Mag need to decide precisely what kind of men they want to actually be. Or, at the very least, what kind of men they don’t want to be. We’re seeing in these systematic “building the crew” flashes sprinkled across the series how the main characters have all been pushed toward Ninth Wave as an outlet for redefining their identity when it was either listless (Ryan) or actively going down the wrong path (Cal, Mag). Even during their present Ninth Wave tenure, as they decide what to do about this ship on a sliding scale of ethical conundrums (ie: break the law to confirm they can legally salvage an adrift vessel?), their identities are in a constant state of flux, begging for further clarification in this post-Crash world. Everyone has their moment, and one we get to see in this issue is Mag’s moment of satori, involving a child, the hint of family, evidence that everyone has their unique trigger points to force a decision favoring a personal sense of integrity over a professional sense of duty. For what it’s worth, I also loved his ultimate Jed Bartlett line “So… what’s next?” It doesn’t stop there.

For me, there’s one moment in this issue that’s absolutely key. Not only is it the precise moment Cal quits his former life (physically this time, not just spiritually as he did in the North Sea), but it’s a point where the art also converges with this story thread to act in perfect unison. It’s a silhouette shot of Callum Israel in a doorway when he finds the clinic. That quiet crescendo says everything. It’s a moment when the mission is abruptly aborted, Cal is emotionally deflated to his core, and his very identity is called into question. It’s the moment he quits, literally laying down his weapon and choosing a different path. It’s a powerful scene that you can sort of just gloss by, so don’t miss it, go back and look for it, realize what’s happening in that small space. The silhouette also makes me think of a similar moment in DMZ, when Matthew Roth seems to accept his final fate and give into the tide of events, walking out into the wilds of war torn NYC – danger be damned. But, I’m digressing when this is supposed to be about The Massive. Wood isn’t one to analyze his own work too deeply for meaning, and who knows if these silhouette shots were on-the-fly artist interpretation and not even scripted in the first place. However, I do wonder if there’s some subconscious connection at play for Wood, with characters obscured in shadows at precarious moments of uncertainty, knowing their lives will be irrevocably altered depending on the judgment call at a singular intersection in time. These realistic moments, which are not the tidy fait accompli we so often see in fiction, are something Wood has acknowledged he favors and is fascinated by, so it’s hard not to jump at the idea that they’re not just being written from the gut, but that their portrayals carry more intentional meaning.

Speaking of art, Garry Brown needs to be commended yet again for an affable visual style with tons of dramatic versatility. He can handle pure blockbuster* shoot-‘em-up action scenes, relatively quiet (but no less important) environmental establishing shots, or the emotive facial expressions during intimate character moments that offer all the insight lying somewhere in between. On rare occasion, I found the types of automatic weapons he was depicting drawn a little too small for the scale of the figures holding them, but that’s admittedly being super nitpicky. For the most part, the figures are lean and muscular, but in a realistic way, not some superhero-influenced parody of a style. I enjoy little things like the stray wisps of hair out of place, or stubble that logically hangs on the characters, and the heavily inked lines that almost remind me of Sean Murphy in spots for how well they relay a level of grit and weariness that strikes just the right tone for a series like The Massive. Dave Stewart’s colors are always worth discussing and work particularly well in the shadow of Brown’s warm pencils. Stewart tends to work in tonal palettes, obviously so here, with sepia for panic and violence, black and dark blue for oceanic depths, light blue for the icy chill of a winter kill, the green lush of a Sri Lankan forest full of Tamil Tigers, and brown hues that saturate a sunbaked ocean surface. The colors make you feel a certain way, as imperceptibly as a good musical score in a film. They’re all smart choices that are so seamless they might actually go unnoticed if not called out for being precisely what they are.

Beyond wordy themes and artistic craftsmanship, authenticity also plays a starring strong role in The Massive. It’s all over the place, permeating the book with the voluminous research Wood conducts, so it’s difficult to whittle it down to one perfect example. That said, I’ll just note a few assorted ones. I like stuff like “motion detectors” and “line of sight,” specific word choices in the dialogue that are a language I speak, smacking of my day job and appealing to me from familiarity and their logical placement in a tactical situation. The way that Mag and Georg quickly banter about snipers is a very small throwaway piece of dialogue, but it’s the type of non-expositional jocular conversation these two would likely trade in. The lower floors of Ursk-Holler corporate HQ being under the Thames is evidence of how a small flick of a writing flourish can world-build, letting us know that the UK is just as impacted as the rest of the world, even though we’ve never seen it, we’ve never been there in the book, but the image is quickly painted in our mind’s eye. There’s that massive field of containers on The Caledonia; the way Mag’s field interrogation quickly deduces there’s more than meets the eye. Yes, just what are those people doing there for whatever that is? It’s Mary either thinking like Cal or knowing him so well she can anticipate his next line. It’s Georg saying “From Grozny. With love.” It’s stylish as hell, with movie-like* panache, but it also speaks volumes about the nature of his character. The way sudden violence is a total silent surprise that had me quietly whispering “fuck” when it happened. ‘Nuff said on that one without spoiling more. The derogatory term “wog” lends a well-placed sense of authenticity. There it is, one word, three little letters, an apt pejorative given the speaker’s culture of origin, establishing one person’s worldview, and building dramatic tension in the process. It’s all just very effective.

The issue closes when you think there’s been some sort of satisfactory denouement of the mission aboard The Caledonia, and the overarching character arcs we’ve seen in flashback. But like I said up top, it’s just never quite that simple. There’s some division in the ranks brewing, small secret favors being dealt, and let’s not forget the proverbial North Star driving the primary narrative – The Massive is still lost at sea (radar blips being tracked in the backmatter, along with other notes on deteriorating global status in Cal’s “Ninth Wave Dispatches” forming a set of compelling journal entries). I can’t wait to see what Wood and Brown (now the regular series artist) have in store next. It’s also worth pausing to note that #6 marks the end of this arc and issues 1-6, along with the three 8-page prequels from Dark Horse Presents, will be collected in the first trade due out in March 2013. In the wake of still raw and palpable evidence of planetary climate change in the form of “Superstorm” Hurricane Sandy, the world of The Massive is more relevant than ever. The Massive can literally go anywhere, do anything. This is creator-owned comics at their most potent. The Massive plays a high stakes game that not only leaves you thinking, but begging for more. Grade A.

*If you don’t believe the series has movie-like qualities, then I dare you to check out The Massive Motion Comics.

11.14.12 Shipping Report

It’s a huge week for me, and leading the pack is THE MASSIVE #6 (Dark Horse) from Brian Wood and Garry Brown. I’ll leave it at that for now, because I’ve got an in-depth advance review of the issue that I’ll be posting late Sunday night or early Monday morning, so check back for that! Brian Wood also has CONAN THE BARBARIAN #10 (Dark Horse) coming out the same day, with artist Declan Shalvey helping to continue Conan's adventures with Belit. MIND MGMT #0 (Dark Horse) is also hitting the shelves from Matt Kindt and this is, I believe, a collection of prequel-style shorts that may have appeared in Dark Horse Presents and elsewhere. I won’t purchase it, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to thumb through BATMAN #14 (DC) to see how Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo follow up last month’s cliffhanger. I’m finding that a couple of the Bat Family Titles (basically just this and Batwoman) were the hardest things to give up in the great Marvel & DC Purge of 2012, in favor of near-exclusive creator-owned purchasing. Speaking of Batman, there’s also the BATMAN ARKHAM CITY: END GAME #1 (DC) project coming out. It’s something something video games, but I’m only curious about it because it has art from the great Jason Shawn Alexander. Though, I’m not sure if I’m $6.99 curious. I’m also looking forward to PUNK ROCK JESUS #5 (DC/Vertigo) from Sean Murphy, which is quickly nearing the end of this terrific mini-series. As for collected editions, there’s the final volume of one of the best comics, like, ever with SCALPED VOLUME 10: TRAILS END (DC/Vertigo). See how it all ends for Dash Bad Horse, Lincoln Red Crow, Carol, and all the cast. Fans of this series will be going crazy; it’s LOCKE & KEY: OMEGA #1 (IDW), which is essentially the final volume of Joe Hill’s comic book opus (barring another edition of collected one-shots and miscellany). I’ve been reading the series in trades, but I decided to jump on singles for the final push. Speaking of creator-owned efforts, I’m curious about GREAT PACIFIC #1 (Image). The general high concept is a little reminiscent of a few other books coming out right now, and I never quite fully warmed to Joe Harris’ writing after trying his Spontaneous mini-series at Oni Press, but as a new Image book set in one of those near-future worlds I so adore, I’ll give it a look. SAGA #7 (Image) is also hitting the shelves and even though I don’t think it deserves *all* the hype it’s getting, it’s fun enough. Lastly, I’m looking forward to THINK TANK #4 (Image) from Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal, which is shaping up to be one of my favorite series of 2012, marrying smart scripting, morally ambiguous black and white art, and real-world technology in a compelling package.


11.07.12 Reviews

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Colder #1 (Dark Horse): Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra deliver the book of the week, beginning with the hint of some type of improprietous experiments at an insane asylum that may have kicked the entire plot into motion. There’s a natural flow to the dialogue and no awful exposition as the clues to the puzzle all slowly begin to emerge. We meet Declan with his mysterious affliction, Reece the tough female, and I really appreciate the off-type cop. It’s been quite a few weeks for the introduction of modern age sociopaths, from the resurgence of the Joker, to Madder Red over in Bedlam, to Nimble Jack here in Colder. At first glance, Jack looks a little blatantly like young Joker in The Killing Joke, but by the end he seems to morph into his own being through sheer force of will. The art is very glossy and clean, and I was convinced I was intrigued with this mischievous psychopath soul-eating, or life-force eating, creep by about page 8. I’m intrigued by this book and will probably keep picking it up. I’d encourage my readers to pick this up instead of something like Mind The Gap; it feels like a cross between that and the aforementioned Bedlam. Grade B+.
Manhattan Projects #7 (Image): There are still some things I like about this book, but overall I feel like I’m just about done with it, in singles anyway. I like the notion of the Soviet Star City being driven by the Tunguska event, while the opposing Manhattan Projects driven by the Roswell incident all come to a head. At the core, that’s a cool idea, and is basically the thrust of the book, the dueling capitalist and socialist “proxy propaganda war through science programs.” Unfortunately, that core idea, the type that Hickman is so good at dreaming up, is mired in a bunch of other muck that has it treading water. The single issues are starting to feel redundant, there’s no real sense of a larger plot direction beyond the notion of old men debating with cool science-infused lines and kitschy shock value visuals (Truman is a Freemason! FDR is A.I.! Huzzah!). But cool tricks doesn’t equal cool story. The art is still interesting and the color palette is beautiful, but it sometimes shifts (Von Braun goes back and forth from red to blue for example) and I’m not exactly sure why. There are some irregularities in the dialogue (Einstein’s use of the Germanic “ze” instead of “the” comes and goes willy-nilly), not the least of which is 4 really bad obvious typos in the script and another 3 really bad obvious typos in the Hickman letter at the end. As for the letter, it’s meant as an earnest explanation to fans, but sorry, I just think it’s lame to be announcing a bunch of new books in the same breath as talking about all the existing late ones you can’t deliver. I mean, c’mon, Secret (the one I was most interested in) is now months late, and it’s a reminder that every single one of Hickman’s numerous Image projects (mini-series, mind you - Red Mass for Mars probably being the most egregious example, 4 issues that took 2 years to come out) have failed to run monthly and have experienced lengthy delays. So, at this point I’m happy to trade-wait Manhattan Projects and pick it up for 50% off at a con. Grade B-.
Shadowman #1 (Valiant): Man, all the reviews I’ve seen for this book have been overwhelmingly positive, so I’m feeling a little awkward about being in the minority. I’ve never been shy about voicing a contrarian opinion though, provided it’s my honest reaction. That said, this didn’t really work for me. It wasn’t bad per se, there just didn’t seem to be any narrative or aesthetic hook that really grabbed me. Starting with the story, I enjoyed the originality of Justin Jordan’s Luther Strode work. But by comparison, this just felt so rote and standard, with a typical angsty “chosen one” script treatment that felt like a young writer or filmmaker who’d just read Joseph Campbell and wanted to set up a classic “crossing the threshold” moment. Loner guy, mysterious parents, sage older characters, suddenly thrust into a larger mystical world, a totem, a destiny, and powers he doesn’t yet understand, shoot, it might as well have been Luke Skywalker instead of demon fighter guy, or whatever he’s supposed to be doing. There was a lot of unnatural exposition in the script, yet no real sense of story drivers beyond “bad guys doing stuff,” and along the way we meet stock waitresses, cops, and all manner of creature. These are the kinds of characters speaking the kinds of lines that you shake your head at and go “bah, nobody talks like that in real life,” they’re talking like they’re on a back lot at Universal Studios advancing the plot with cleverly staged lines while talking at the audience. For example, there’s the forward flirty waitress literally saying “I don’t know your name,” just so that the main character can then exposit who he is and where he’s going solely for the audience’s benefit. Artistically, there are moments of grace from Patrick Zircher. I really enjoy the design of the new Shadowman purely visually. But then, there are some stiff poses, generic action, and generic monsters who spout odd lines like “Receive this flesh of my flesh… which, I realize, may not actually taste like chicken…” Umm. Ok? I’ve tried ‘em all, and once again, Valiant has yet to produce a book which has really hooked me, despite critical acclaim and nice production values. Not horrible, just underwhelming; I was really hoping this might be the Valiant book that was the one for me. Grade C+. 


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