Kenan Rubenstein Quartet
I reviewed a group of 8-fold mini-comics over at Poopsheet Foundation.
Astro City, A Voice In The Dark, Black Science, The Bunker, Caliban, Deadly Class, DMZ: Book One, East of West, The Field, The Fuse, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Hacktivist, Jupiter's Legacy, Lazarus, Letter 44, Manifest Destiny, The Massive, Moon Knight, Pretty Deadly, Saga, Sex, Sex Criminals, Sheltered, Starlight, Star Wars, Tales of Honor, Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth, Umbral, The Wake, Wasteland, X-Men
I reviewed a group of 8-fold mini-comics over at Poopsheet Foundation.
Sponsor Plug: 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 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. www.yesteryear-comics.com
The Massive #8 (Dark Horse): One of the things that comes with being a critic is that I read a lot of (mostly boring) comic book reviews. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone comment on the 3-issue arc structure that Brian Wood and his collaborators have been delivering on this series. It’s the distillation of a classic formula: Act 1 is the set-up of a compelling story proposition, Act 2 ratchets up the conflict, maybe has some action, and Act 3 offers some form of resolution. I remember, I think it was Warren Ellis, saying that this is one of the tried and true approaches he uses; in his paraphrased words, Act 1 is “what does your protagonist want?” Act 2 is “what obstacles does the person encounter?” Act 3 is “what is the person willing to do to overcome said obstacles?” Doing this in just 3 issues as The Massive does, instead of stringing it out over 5, or 6, or even 8, is like some kind of direct injection narrative delivery system. I’m hooked on the stuff. You get into scenes as late as possible, you get out as early as possible, and that well-used David Mamet method tends to avoid insulting the intelligence of the reader (aka: exposition), doesn’t try the patience of the audience while they await forward progress, and dodges the biggest sin of all, being boring, because it forces you to engage with the work instead of being a passive observer. For example, there’s a late scene in this Act 2 installment where some Moksha Station soldiers rough-up Callum Israel. On the next page, he’s already in the hospital bed being woken from the ordeal. You never see him carted off down the hall or anything that occurred in between. It’s the very opposite of last decade’s tendency toward decompression in comics. It’s a hyper-compressed method that forces the audience to interact with the story and provide “closure” in the gutters between the panels. That’s where Scott McCloud said all of the real action actually occurs in comics. You have to process information fast, and that makes me feel kinda’ smart. This issue, this approach, is one of the best recent examples of Wood really understanding the true power of the medium. Like all good Act 2 offerings, there’s plenty of action here, all in different micro-sets. The super-cyclonic storm hits, the station is on lockdown. That’s probably jarring enough. Cal is banged up, essentially held captive. Lars is aboard The Kapital solo, being asked to carry out some drastic orders. Mary has apparently gone rogue, and makes a startling discovery below the surface. We have the interesting strike team of Mag, Ryan, and Georg heading off to meet a contact, in the form of the old Soviet engineer Yusup (which is a reminder that I seem to be enjoying the b or c-characters even more than the main cast, I loved Yusup, while Ryan and Georg have quickly grown to be favorites as well). Garry Brown is one of the emerging artists of our time, capturing all of these disparate moments and weaving them together with a unifying aesthetic style that is perfect parts warm and emotive, cold and gritty. He helps Wood bring everything right up to the precipice of change, the direction of events abruptly turning on a dime, everything is in flux and the tension around who’s carrying out which task under who’s orders is palpable. It underscores what a fragile existence Ninth Wave occupies in the post-Crash world. John Paul Leon is another artist not to be underestimated. He brings a smart cover that skews the cover layout for the first time and thematically mirrors all of the fractured story threads contained within the book. As we await the final chapter of "Subcontinental," we see that loyalties can upend control, power is subject to whim, and survival hangs in the precarious balance, subject to cunning, but also to basic human error. I still miss the print backmatter, but there’s a robust online substitute you should check out at www.the-massive.net. Grade A.
It’s a strong week, with THE MASSIVE #8 (Dark Horse) leading the pack, and MIND MGMT #7 (Dark Horse) hot on its heels. I’ll be curious to see how this volume of the title wraps up with STUMPTOWN VOL 2 #5 (Oni Press) also hitting the shelves. With the Brian Wood and Matt Kindt goodness I mentioned up top, here’s yet another title that was on my Best of 2012 list, it’s PROPHET #33 (Image). Lastly, as the lone corporate comic I show any interest in any longer, BATWOMAN #16 (DC) is also coming out this week. Enjoy the JH3 involvement while you can, because once Before Sandman comes out with Neil Gaiman, I think he'll be off the title for a good while.
Most people would probably call this a light week, but in terms of volume it’s basically back to normal for me. We’ve got Conan The Barbarian #12 (Dark Horse) from Brian Wood and Declan Shalvey with Saga #9 (Image) from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples as sure buys. I’m kind of interested in Todd, The Ugliest Kid on Earth #1 (Image) because the art by M.K. Perker looks interesting. Other than that, my only recommendation is One Trick Rip Off / Deep Cuts HC (Image). This is a reprint of one of Paul Pope’s early works, but it’s presented in color for the first time by colorist extraordinaire Jamie Grant, who did All-Star Superman. If that’s not reason enough to pick this up, the book runs 288 pages total, but 150 pages of that is comprised of new material printed for the first time. Namely, the manga story Supertrouble that Pope produced for Kodansha in Japan, which was never released.
I reviewed four of Sean Azzopardi's mini-comics over at Poopsheet Foundation, including 100 Days of Winter, Nine Months of Beige, Eight Tablet Dream, and Same Day Return.
The Legend of Luther Strode #2 (Image): Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore have created a character, a property, a universe for themselves that has all the style and charm of your favorite cult movie. I already liked this book, but the return of Petra extends its prowess even further. Similarly, Moore’s art was already really strong, but you can see improvement here from the first volume of this book. It’s a pure eye-popping joy to wander through, some crazy mixture of Frank Quitely and Ashley Wood, the only person who even comes close in style would be an artist like Tan Eng Huat, but Moore’s thin-line material is even more damn lively with kineticism. Whether it’s the silhouetted dudes getting plowed through like they stepped off a page of Frank Miller’s 300, Jordan’s Whedonesque lines for self-aware Petra, or the fact that Moore just gets all of the firearm details right (a pet peeve of mine), with the right style of front stock tactical grips or the aesthetic of the slide on a Kahr hangun, every page, every panel, every line is something to be savored. By the time you get to Luther using a dude, another human being I’m saying, as a projectile to fling through a wall, you suddenly realize... YES. This is what comics are for. It’s grindhouse with a heart. In the same way Tarantino invigorated cinema in the 90’s, say hello to the new generation of comics creators. Grade A+.
Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse): Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda pick up events in motion directly following the destruction of the first Death Star, with Leia, Luke, and elevated b-character extraordinaire Wedge Antilles searching for a replacement home for the outed rebel base on Yavin 4, all while dealing with the personal emotional fallout of the many lives lost in the name of the Rebel Alliance. Let me just say up front that there’s so much to like about this book! Carlos D’Anda’s art is crisp; I loved the sharp clean precision of the hangar bay and the shots of Leia with a blaster dealing the unflinching disposition of a TIE fighter pilot. It’s evident that D’Anda “gets” the Star Wars Universe; it’s there in the bulgy pouches, the detail of the uniforms, and all of the technology, from gleaming lightsabers to the bridge of the Star Destroyer, which isn’t gleaming clean, but dirty and tattered, capturing the “used future” of the Lucas originals. Wood delivers a seamless re-immersion into a familiar world, managing to capture the voices of all your favorites. We are quickly introduced to emotionally-guarded Leia, smirking cavalier Han, openly introspective Luke, capable soldier Wedge, and the barely-controlled-rage of Vader, with even a story-driven reason for putting a more serious spin on the comic relief character of C-3PO, thus leaving his mark. The comfort of the known is there (look for the homage instances of omniscient narration like you’d find in the old 70’s and 80’s Marvel Comics), but Wood is also careful to add layers of new intrigue and just… frickin’ cool stuff… in a script that feels dense with content, but still moves at a swift pace. There’s a good balance of action hook and talky bits that set up this new direction, with Leia acting as headliner, mixing it up with the boys as a soldier-statesman, leading covert ops with two very precise mission objectives from Mon Mothma, as the survival of the rebellion hangs in the balance. Notice that there are two incredible female leads driving the entire premise. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Wood’s penchant for diligent research that this book has an authentic sound; it gives good ear with its “ion plumes,” and “TIE Interceptors,” and talk of “Sienar Fleet Systems,” and the “Incom T-65,” when lesser writers would just go ahead with the common vernacular and say “X-Wing Fighter.” Honestly, I entered this hopeful, but with a little hesitation. I thought that maybe the creative team, any creative team, would be hard-pressed to provide fresh thrills to someone like me who grew up steeped in the Star Wars mythos, had the action figures, acted out every fucking scene of The Empire Strikes Back with my cousins and the neighborhood kids, read the technical manuals and encyclopedias – not to mention all the various comics, won college trivia contests because I knew what a damn Bothan was, and watched the films countless times. For good or bad, our generation is one that can often see the world of pop fiction through a Star Wars lens, everyone became a pseudo-expert on Joseph Campbell’s notion of crossing the threshold and monomythic self-discovery by sheer galactic osmosis, without ever having read the book(s). It’s obviously a credit to Lucas for tapping into something so primal and imagining a world with such limitless possibilities, but I have to admit I’m genuinely impressed with this incarnation from Wood and D’Anda. They’re immediately knocking it out of the park with compelling entertainment that taps the nostalgia button, but also adds a modern flair for stakes, tone, and style, while filling in the logical gaps in the interstitial space between movies, and building toward an incredibly rousing payoff to this issue that would make the audience cheer if it took place in a movie theatre. I’ve read tons of Star Wars comics and this instantly ranks the best. Everything feels right. It’s hard not to imagine existing comic book fans eating this up, hard not to imagine this functioning grand as a gateway drug to the medium for any curious moisture farmer civilians, hard not to imagine the LCS circuit ordering this by the thousands, and hard not to imagine the interest spilling over to other deserving Brian Wood titles. So, if it takes the inherent draw and mass appeal of Star Wars to make people finally realize that Wood is the voice of our generation, then so be it, reroute auxiliary power to the front deflector shield and punch it, Chewie! Grade A+.
If you’d told me when I was reading Channel Zero in 1997 that the same guy would someday be re-launching this bold new direction for this particular property, I probably would have muttered “not bloody likely.” What a difference a decade and a half makes. The only book you really need to know about this week is Star Wars #1 (Dark Horse) by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda. It ignores everything superfluous and picks right up after the destruction of the first Death Star, prominently features all the classic characters on the run, including cult favorites like Wedge Antilles, and positions blaster-wielding, Incom T-65 X-Wing Starfighter-piloting, Rebel Alliance-leading, Princess Leia Organa as the series lead. From what I’ve seen, it’s quite obvious that both writer and artist intuitively “get” the universe. It’s going to be the next big thing. And if you’re anywhere in Southern California this coming weekend (Los Angeles/Orange County/San Diego), don’t miss Brian Wood, Carlos D’Anda, and letterer Michael Heisler at Beach Ball Comics in Anaheim, CA on Saturday 1/12 at 1pm signing Star Wars #1. I’ll be there. As for additional floppies, Wood also has Ultimate Comics: X-Men #21 (Marvel) out this week, if you happen to prefer Marvel Mutants to Mon Mothma. If you need some bigger chunks of Wood, both classic and current, I can also point you to Northlanders Volume 07: The Icelandic Trilogy (DC/Vertigo), collecting the 9-issue tail end of the show, not only marking the very last volume in the series, but (I think) the official end of Brian Wood’s forthcoming collected editions for now from former employer DC Comics. You’d also be well-served picking up Conan HC Volume 13: Queen of The Black Coast (Dark Horse), which is the first piece of the story helmed by Brian Wood, with art by Becky Cloonan and James Harren. It’s quite good! Continuing the (non-Wood) collected edition thread this week, it’s worth noting that Batwoman HC Volume 02: Drown the World (DC) is also out, which I think is the second volume of the so-called New 52 run of this title. Which finally brings us to the rest of the floppy stack, including the fantastic Legend of Luther Strode #2 (Image) being an early contender for Best of 2013 (already!), Clone #3 (Image) with the usual art insanity from Juan Jose Ryp, and Think Tank Military Dossier #1 (Image) from Matt Hawkins and Rahsan Ekedal, closing out the powerful Image Comics trifecta this week. It’s also worth mentioning Thor: God of Thunder #4 (Marvel), which is still surprisingly on my radar given Jason Aaron’s unique tertiary narrative structure and Esad Ribic’s crisp “You Keep Comparing Me to Jerome Opena!” aesthetic. What a week!