Estuaries #1 @ Poopsheet Foundation

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


02.27.13 Reviews

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
Deathmatch #3 (Boom!): I’m really enjoying this book! It completely transcends its basic premise of an NCAA style bracketing system pitting familiar superhero archetypes against their own friends and allies. The assembled heroes and villains who are conscripted into these “Thunderdome” umm, well, death matches, begin to piece together the larger plot driving the action, and in the process Paul Jenkins and Carlos Magno offer up a post-modern deconstruction of the genre that calls to mind books like B. Clay Moore & Jeremy Haun’s Battle Hymn or JMS & Gary Frank’s initial run of Supreme Power. There are whiffs of Captain America, Batman, Superman, Rorschach, Iron Man, Aztek, Wonder Woman, Wolverine, WildStorm stuff, and on and on and on, including Jenkins’ own wholly unique creations. Magno’s art is like the bastard love-child of Juan Jose Ryp and George Perez, with short-hatched fine line details over robust figures. The world-building in the main story, the flashbacks to Crisis-like events, pre-existing relationships like Meridian and Berserk, the bracketing of The Mutate and Hater or Meridian and The Collective, and backup profiles all has me thoroughly hooked. I can’t wait to see what happens next. This is easily the best book currently being published by Boom! Studios. Grade A.
The Legend of Luther Strode #3 (Image): As Justin Jordan points out in the backmatter, this issue is largely an extended fight sequence about a hit squad coming for Luther, but because it’s grounded in intriguing characters and relationships, we’re emotionally invested and care about the proceedings. Petra is comic book gold, it’s full of comedic moments, pop culture references (or subtle winks like a sort of pieced together “Jack in the box”), and the rich reveal of the long history of other such “talented” individuals building a larger tapestry for the property, well, that’s got some legs. I hope we get these mini-series for years to come. I mean, it’s gotta’ be at least a trilogy, right? We had The Strange Talent of..., now we’ve got The Legend of..., so what’ll the next one be? Tradd Moore is the perfect thematic match for what the script calls for; his art moves at 100mph and never lets up the sinewy kinetic energy. Grade A.
Guardians of The Galaxy #0.1 (Marvel): It’s silly to me that this is called #0.1, when it could have just as easily been #1, or even #0 if you must prequel prelude predate the actual kick-off of the run with Quill’s origin, but that’s basically the only complaint I have. At this point in my comic book reading career, I was basically all Bendis’d out about 10 years ago, but this was written very well. It’s got some of the stammering Mamet/Sorkin tics that inform Bendis’ style, but it’s not nearly annoying as some of his work and functions pretty seamlessly, even foregoing dialogue altogether in a few spots and relying on the emotional content of the art. McNiven’s art is totally fantastic, like some kind of hybrid involving John Cassaday and Gary Frank, clean strong precise lines with a knack for emotive facial expressions. The design work is first rate, from the ships to the guns to the uniforms, really lending the sense that there are aliens visiting the Earth and off waging interstellar war. Props to Justin Ponsor on coloring too. The ultimate team that comprises the Guardians is eclectic enough to be fun, but the inclusion of Iron Man feels a little forced here. Sure, I understand the angle, deliberately tying it to existing Marvel Movie Continuity with the Guardians film on deck and even going so far as to brand them as “Cosmic Avengers,” but creatively it still comes off like an overt marketing ploy, smart as it may be from a business perspective. Grade A.
Prophet #34 (Image): What I said briefly on Twitter about this book basically stands. The longer the book runs, the more extreme the “weird” gets. It’s more and more off-kilter sci-fi and the story becomes so lost in the glorious micro detail and inventive manic world-building that there’s really no semblance of a macro plot throughline. At any given point, I really have no idea what the characters are trying to accomplish, where they’re going, or why they’re doing any of that, but the art from (mostly now) Simon Roy, or Brandon Graham himself, or occasional contributors like Farel Dalrymple or Giannis Milonogiannis is all first rate. It’s so good and so cool that I still can’t seem to look away, even though I’m occasionally frustrated by the storytelling style. Since Graham disappointed me with the (not really a) “conclusion” in the last issue of Multiple Warheads, I’m especially suspicious that he has no idea where he’s going, and either doesn’t have an end point in mind or will start and stop indefinitely with audience juking, and is basically making it up as he goes along. The good news is that indie creator Malachi Ward gives us a terrific back-up story (and a cover) that’s one of the better bonus stories I’ve seen since very early in this book’s run. Grade A-.


The Massive #9 [Advance Review]

The Massive #9 (Dark Horse): This issue, simply titled “Sub,” closes the third arc “Subcontinental,” and it’s an insanely good issue for many reasons, not the least of which is the strength of the art. Take something you’d never think about like, say, water. Many artists I know have told me that water, just a plain body of water, is one of the hardest things to draw with any semblance of realism. Garry Brown is drawing a lot of damn water! There’s a lot going on in this issue as the crew’s temporary stay at Moksha Station comes to an end, which will have lasting repercussions (so I guess this is where I should issue some type of spoiler alert?), but two of the main concepts which coalesce nicely are that we learn a large chunk of Georg’s origin and Garry Brown is absolutely on fire! He depicts Grozny, a city built for a singular purpose – war inevitably finding it, as a pile of ravaged rubble, with forced perspective shots from the POV of dragged feet, later echoing that type of extreme perspective as George encounters a submerged vessel, and then as he carries out an unflinching disposal of the guards. I loved page two, where Georg silently plunges down an elongated panel that punctuates his dive along the side of the page. It’s something Brown did back in issue five that I picked up on then too. I’m starting to learn his style and see how his creative choices function the more I study his work.

I think I mentioned before that some of the supporting characters like Ryan, Georg, and even Yusup have quickly grown to be the most interesting, or most memorable, or most compelling, or even my favorites (aside from Cal of course, for reasons which will become obvious the more you read). Georg, who carried his father’s body before he carried a Kalashnikov, has grown up in war, has been socialized by war, his pain has turned him into a rogue element. In a book full of soldier types with military training, it’s important to remember that Georg isn’t a soldier per se, he’s a mercenary, a gangster, a survivor, who may not always gel with the established chain of command. Being a survivor means that he has to operate with a certain moral flexibility, so his status as a wild card adds an immense amount of tension. This is something that Cal and Ninth Wave are likely going to have to deal with.

Meanwhile, resourceful Lars defends The Kapital as a tense scene bewteen Cal and Sumon plays out. I love how Cal is able to call Sumon’s bluff because he knows what he ordered Lars to do and he trusts Mary implicitly. The conversation between Sumon and Callum is basically one about materialism, the latent desire to physically hold ground or possessions being somewhat futile in a world that now is about the impermanence and frailty of life. All these people have in the post-Crash world is belief, belief in something, and the ability to trust, to trust in something. Cal has tried to surround himself with people he trusts and believes in the idea of something larger than himself, a mission, a legacy, something like Ninth Wave that can live beyond him, or else, what was the point of it all?

I guess this is a nice segue to (again, spoiler alert) the fact that there’s an extremely important reveal about Cal’s health that adds a sense of urgency to all of the proceedings beyond the obvious dangers the crew has already encountered. This reveal is something that the foundation was laid for, alluded to, established, in the backmatter about three issues back. The lesson? THE BACKMATTER MATTERS! It’s a part of the story, and if you’re one of those people who didn’t read it, or didn’t get it, or didn’t support the idea of that innovative style of bonus content, then I basically hate you.

One fact that is somewhat surprising to me is that if Wood really intends to close this series around issue 30, we’re basically a third of the way there. Before moving into field work, I came up in federal law enforcement as an analyst, concerned with pattern recognition, behavioral science, and risk projection. I also kinda’ like writing and the structure of things. All of this has made me start to speculate as to what Wood’s end game might be for this story and these characters. Cal is concerned with what his legacy will be. What happens in the future? There are threads here beyond the ostensible mystery of The Massive. Where does this all go? How do all of the pieces get moved around the chess board? If certain players are taken off the board, who moves in to relieve them? I have my theories, but I’ll keep them close to the vest for now. I wouldn’t want to spoil anyone else’s journey simply because I want to be able to later selfishly say “toldyaso!” to satisfy my own ego. That said, there are subtle clues all over the place regarding what’s happening now in places like the intersection between Mag, Ryan, and Yusup, and more open-ended trajectories being set into motion about what’s to come. For now, I’ll say this. Moksha dies. Cal’s in trouble. Georg is gone. The Massive is still MIA. My eye is on Ryan. Right now, The Massive is giving Planetary a run as my favorite series of the last 20 years. Grade A+.


02.20.13 Reviews (Part 2)

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
Mind MGMT #8 (Dark Horse): My retailer reports that back issue sales on this title have picked up since news of the Ridley Scott helmed film option have surfaced. That’s great for Matt Kindt, who is a swell guy that I’ve been following the career of for, what, 10 years now? I can only hope if Hollywood types are looking at Dark Horse Comics, then Brian Wood’s The Massive is next! Kindt's creations are full of ideas; I could use a whole book about The Wish breaking into The Louvre as one of “The Lost Ones,” for example, and here it’s basically just bonus window dressing. Lyme and Meru go a-recruiting, trying to assemble a secret team of ex-agents to thwart The Eraser re-establishing the agency. I enjoy the marriage of a couple of Kindt’s trademarks here, his espionage infused writing and fascination with two sisters (he has another book called that after all). In the book within a book portion, we see the sisters basically creating books as a form of control, able to incite unrest or calm, in a nice bit of reflexive and introspective writing from the creator. Kindt is such a triple threat, clever writer, terrific designer, and amazing artist, using his standard ink washes to create a simultaneously fluid and gritty style that’s able to capture both ends of the emotional spectrum. It’s clear that he thinks through his panel choices, like the long vertical panels emphasizing Meru’s sense of claustrophobic panic as she’s whisked off to Zanzibar and beyond sans passport. There’s a mega-cliffhanger here that you don’t see coming because you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by way of the manipulation of pace, with the small group visiting people over and over. It’s a fast-paced, very well-played issue. That faux romance novel on the back cover is a big deal, no? If Elle and Ella met Henry Lyme long ago, does that mean that Meru is [REDACTED BY MIND MANAGEMENT]? There’s nothing like this on the stands, it’s one of the most unique books currently available, and a good lesson in letting a creator-owned talent just run wild. Grade A+.
Batwoman #17 (DC): Well, it’s all come down to this as JH3 is leaving art duties for a stretch to go work with Neil Gaiman on the ballyhooed Before Sandman or whatever. He’ll be sticking on as co-writer for the book, but the art is really half the magic here, arguably more, so I’m still not sure if I’ll be sticking around for the extended Trevor McCarthy era. There’s a lot riding on that first issue, but I’m really getting ahead of myself. Regarding this issue, there’s so much going on visually that it’s like a seminar in the creative process. Nobody can manage the types of layouts that Jim Williams can, period. It works on a macro-scale and even on a micro-scale, small flourishes like the way Kate’s cape flips up to reveal text underneath, or the gleams of light rounding the contours of her uniform. I think that critics, myself included, probably give the writing short shrift when the art is so phenomenal. When I was reading the first couple of pages, I typed a stray line in my notes that it sounded like David Mack, which is pretty high praise from me. Something about it harkened back to the old Kabuki days when I first discovered that title. The final showdown with Medusa is great, especially the uhh, “Perseus Trick” that Kate pulls, or the two page spread redemption song with Flameb-- , err, Hawkfire saying “I don’t know whether to cheer or puke.” Williams gets downright Geoff Darrow with some of his crowd shots; there’s a bottom half of another two-page spread where I counted something like 38 distinct characters rushing the sequence. I loved the bond that was established between Batwoman and Wonder Woman in this arc, truly living up to the hallowed name "World’s Finest." The reveal that most people are talking about is one that captures the ultimate trust – in more ways than one. However, the actual final page reveal also has some wild ramifications – in more ways than one. Batwoman is still the minority exception that proves the majority rule. Amid the dreck of the generic lackluster New 52, this is by far the brightest bright spot, and the way it should all be getting done. Grade A+.
Conan The Barbarian #13 (Dark Horse): When you dive into the descriptions of the port cities of Shem, you feel a very palpable sense of history for this world. There isn’t a lot of action per se in this issue, so it’s a nice opportunity to slow down and really savor the language. The opening assault being staged on The Fortress Ramah En Ram for some reason reminded me of the Roman siege of Masada, but I guess that’s neither here nor there. Mirko Colak joins Wood for this outing and the art style is noticeably more European, a bit more realistic and less ethereal. At times, I could sense some Richard Corben in there or even faces that reminded me of something out of Metabarons. Colak helps Wood craft a story of pained longing in the aftermath of Belit and Conan’s tragic recent incident, but there’s more than that going on. There’s the respect between Conan and N’Gora which is very enjoyable, and the story of Conan’s conscripted service against Ramah En Ram. Colak creates some great forced perspective shots that get revealed dramatically as you flip the page over. I find it interesting when Wood dips his toe into fascination with the tactics of warfare. The bits about the trebuchets flinging rudimentary explosives reminded me of Northlanders #17: “The Viking Art of Single Combat” back in 2009 (which I distinctly remember because it was one of the first advance reviews I ever did for him, and the lyrical line “some fucker slipping his hunting knife under the shields and unzipping your thigh” has stuck with me for years), or even Warren Ellis’ fabulous Crecy, which ultimately both contend with man’s fetish interest in war and the meaningless brutality of it all. I thought it was cool how even the letters to the editor have picked up on the fact that Wood’s tendency toward character driven storytelling grounds this series in more realism and emotional accessibility than swashbuckling uber-competence ever did. That “100 Issues At Dark Horse!” bullet on the front cover is interesting. It makes me wonder if Dark Horse will start a similar cover treatment for Star Wars in an effort to campaign for keeping that property out of the gaping maw of Disney/Marvel. There must be high-hundreds (thousands?) of Star Wars issues under the Dark Horse banner. Anyway, totally digressing, great issue of Conan. Grade A.


02.20.13 Reviews (Part 1)

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
Locke & Key: Omega #3 (IDW): Honestly, I was a little ambivalent about the first two issues of this series, but it’s finally where I wanted it to be. I feel like this could have been the first or even second issue and would have moved this (essentially) final chapter along at a swifter pace. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez deliver a real corker, where (without spoiling anything specific) Dodge starts to make his final play, outing his current host be damned, several relationship tensions play out (Kinsey and her mom, Tyler and Jordan, etc.), the stakes are already incredibly high as more than one person is hurt, and you can tell that all the story threads are on a trajectory that's going to build to a spectacular final showdown. As if the story didn’t offer enough precision, Gabe Rodriguez’s art is just jaw-droppingly gorgeous. It’s like George Perez and John Cassaday had some kind of love-child, the lines are clean and fresh and detailed, and the people look realistic and strong and stunning. I pity anyone coming into this series now and trying to grasp fully the consequences and emotional payoff of what’s currently happening, but I also can’t imagine anyone seeing this and not wanting to rush out and pick up all the preceding trades and get caught up. I mean, sheesh, for the art alone this is a Grade A+.
Harbinger #9 (Valiant): The recent #0 issue is still probably my favorite of these loose origin issues, but this is a close second that showcases a lot of Joshua Dysart’s strong writing characteristics. Everyone loves a good origin story, and Dysart is careful to avoid stock archetypes and give us some off-type characters. He’s assembled a real band of misfits, who all have their strengths and psychological weaknesses, which makes them more realistic and more compelling than much of what you’d find Marvel and DC currently churning out. We get a large slice of Faith’s origin story and it’s embedded in rich characterization and framed from her POV, which is full of pop culture references. There are nice character moments, it builds toward a nice cliffhanger, and you can see the elements for the whispered "Harbinger Wars" starting to coalesce. Valiant has built a universe in a smart, slow, methodical way, with subtle references to other books and organizations which have taken their time to play out and haven’t been forced on the readership. You can read Harbinger all by itself if you want, but if you also picked up, say, Bloodshot, you’d catch a couple bonus things here and there inter-woven between the titles. It’s a nice balance. My only gripe has to do with the art, which sometimes can feel a tad rushed or flat; I wish it had the type of rendering and polish that Valiant puts into the cover work. For me, the art isn’t quite on par with the strength of the writing. If that equates to the writing being a Grade A, and the art being a Grade B, then for this outing we land somewhere around a Grade A-.
Saga #10 (Image): Well, here goes my usual caveat with regard to Saga. I like it, but I don’t love it. It’s good, but not flawless. I don’t feel it deserves the blind fawning it receives and could use a little more constructive feedback than I currently see it getting. For every 3 things I like about it, there’s 1 that I don’t. So, up front, the whole book within a book deal feels like it begins to get lost in its own self-aware meta-commentary. The characters discuss a book within the comic that reflects their own reality of the comic we’re reading, which is also a comic book that might reflect our own reality out here in the real world(?). I remember back in Ex Machina (a book I really enjoyed), BKV would occasionally wear his very liberal politics on his sleeve and have his characters soapbox his own beliefs. Now, I say this as a pretty liberal guy myself, but I don’t want to feel like the characters are ciphers for the creator to preach at me, even if I happen to agree with the politics. Just tell a good character driven story and do some decent world-building, everything else will take care of itself. But hey, you actually get that too. You get Orange Flame Gorillas, and another great scene between Alana and her father-in-law Barr, and an epic two-page spread from Fiona Staples. Just when I was coming around, ready to say that BKV was still a great world-builder doing all this unique and original stuff, he goes and swipes a scene pretty much directly from The Hunt For Red October, where a ship closes the distance between itself and an incoming torpedo/missile before it can arm (which now that I think about it, they may have also pulled that bit in Crimson Tide). So, yeah, there’s lots to like in Saga and I’m sure I’ll keep reading it because the good outweighs the negative, but please don’t pretend that the sprinkling of derivative annoyances isn’t there no matter how much you dig the book. Grade A-.


Living in Eel Mansions

Eel Mansions #1 (Uncivilized Books): This book is a little bat-shit crazy, in all the right ways of course. If you can imagine the younger indie cousin of something like Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT, then Eel Mansions presupposes that similar secret histories of the world well and truly exist. The intertwined stories expand deftly from Armistead Fowler being summoned back from a carnival barker atmosphere to reluctant government service. Though he says “I’m done, baby, quits!” this secret government cabal is fairly relentless.
Eel Mansions is a compelling mélange of Duran Duran references, occult government conspiracy, hipster lingo, and strong humor, like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s a wholly unique sound and aesthetic from Derek Van Gieson. What I think makes the title succeed so boldly is that it’s able to subvert archetypes, simple ones like the lantern-jawed high school jocks who turn to law enforcement or military service so people will give them the respect they could never genuinely earn on their own, or reclamation of the “hipster” designation, but also more complex ones. Even aloof arcane archetypes are made totally self-aware and grounded in reality instead of becoming lost in their own mythologies. Meaning, there’s no Doctor Strange monologuing about the Eye of Agamotto incessantly to the eye-rolls of his Avengers counterparts, but a more complex characterization, resulting in our cool, capable, and quipping protagonist who lives in a book that every once in a while takes the time to pause and wink at the reader.

The (inky, very inky, she's a very inky girl) black and white art and highly variable line weights are an engaging mix of the old EC Comics ethos of basic morality plays, but also makes an effort to push the indie comics confines to find a higher level of understanding through a third eye at the bottom of the toilet bowl because “The hookers in Dinkytown, they got the clap something fierce!” Now, I don’t know what any of that means, but it sounds pretty frickin’ cool to me, not “…too inky” or “…too icky” as the book itself tongue-in-cheekily asserts.
The copy editor in me is required to tell you that there are a couple of typos here and there (mayonnaise and barbecue, if memory serves), but that doesn’t really matter. I want you to follow the brief interludes and other vignette strips concerning Doomin and Leroy record shopping, segue to the reflexive way the music snob characters are seen reading the same Doomin and Leroy strip, and go all the way to the well-played timing of the woman toward the end. I love her. She playfully feigns ignorance of a drinking problem while the camera suddenly zooms out to revel she’s sitting in a bar. We then loop back around to the two agents who confronted Armistead Fowler in the introductory sequence. There’s a crazy cliffhanger end to the book, which I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say it only makes me want to desperately see more from Van Gieson.
Not to end on a melodramatic note, but look, nobody can replace Dylan Williams. He built Sparkplug Comic Books out of thin air, attempting to instill connoisseurship in a barely formed audience. That said, I’m feeling very good about the combination of newer publishers like Austin English at Domino Comics, Matt Moses at Hic & Hoc Publications, and Tom Kaczynski at Uncivilized Books. They’d make Dylan proud, to see guys following their passion and publishing the types of books they want to see in the world, that probably would have a hard time building an audience or finding an outlet elsewhere. Bravo. Grade A.

Post York State of Mind

Post York (Uncivilized Books): James Romberger’s tale of foraging survivors in New York City after the polar ice caps have melted operates within a genre that’s very near and dear to my heart. Yeah, you can classify this story as post-apocalyptic. Anecdotally, I was interviewing colorist Jeromy Cox once about his work on Brian Wood’s DC/Vertigo series DMZ, and together we stumbled onto this theory about why people are so drawn to post-apocalyptic storytelling in their pop culture diet. Cox said that “everyone has a post-apocalyptic story in their head.” We all believe we’re fairly resourceful and like to imagine how we’d fare, what we’d do, how the stragglers of society might be able to restart civilization. I countered with the fact that our survival instinct is programmed into our DNA, so perhaps we respond and gravitate to these stories subconsciously in a primal, intuitive, visceral way.
Romberger fashions his protagonist after his son Crosby, explicitly concerned with the world we’ll be leaving our children. The very nature of that idea is a nice gateway to the type of tension that the book explores, considering the optimal balance of the natural world and the man-made world, of selfless altruism with that pragmatically selfish survival instinct I mentioned before. In short, if either of these dynamic relationships becomes imbalanced, bad things happen.
Romberger introduces us to his engaging world in an impressive 16-page wordless sequence that really forces the reader to study the eerie silence of New York City. The only thing you can really hear in your mind’s ear is the quiet sputter of the small boat as it trolls the streets of submerged Manhattan, or the wake gently lapping up against the overgrowth now intertwined with rubble, the man-made and natural worlds once again trying to find a symbiotic arrangement that actually works. Artistically, there’s a terrific balance between Romberger’s line being structured enough to form buildings and man-made objects, but sketchy and erratic enough to denote the dilapidated state of things and the imprecision of natural objects encroaching on the crumbling metropolis. The cats and crabs and birds and plant life now inhabiting Post York similarly make for a perfect tonal balance. One of my favorite shots, or layouts, might be the spread on page 6 and 7, where the panel borders just stop and recede under the weight of the water taking over the city. It lends a sense of everything truly breaking down; we understand it conceptually with what we’re shown, but now the very vessel delivering that message is also distressed and fading. It’s a clever choice.
The world of Post York is obviously a pretty bleak place, one where birds pick at the skeletal remains of dead bodies. I found it interesting that our protagonist takes the time to shoo those birds away with his oar. I found it interesting that he restrains himself and decides not to take the entire cache of food he finds. I find it interesting that the aforementioned food is actually cat food for his adopted pet, something he seems more concerned with than his own sustenance. The question you can extrapolate from this mess is whether or not there is a place for that level of humanity or altruism in this world. Is that “smart” for survival? It’s either the worst time for it, or the best time for it, with really no room for the gray area in the middle. I think Romberger leans into suggesting the latter, that in this Post York universe, long term survival will require a fundamental shift of mindset and paradigms of existence, that acting for the greater good rather than with the culpability of the “Me Generation” will be the key for establishing a healthy balance with Mother Nature relevant to the impending environmental apocalypse.
Now, I don’t want to spoil too much, but everything changes when the protagonist stumbles into a movie theatre projection booth that appears to be occupied. I love the way Romberger silhouettes much of the action in order to emphasize the rarity of actually finding another human in the city. Post York delivers an innovative binary choice of alternate outcomes for this story. In one scenario, base instincts largely take over, clinging desperately to the old world “Pre York” paradigm of survival. One party is left dead, and it’s a fairly chilling dead-end outcome considering the genial nature of what we’ve witnessed up to that point. It makes a strong case for avoiding this particular route. In the scenario that ultimately supplants the first, the conflict is resolved with a more territorial exchange of food for gear, in an almost playful or flirtatious manner, which isn’t guided by greedy instinct, but by mutual aid. It fully embraces the new Post York paradigm likely required for successful navigation of the new world.
The latter scenario leads to the audience discovery of a small settlement within the movie theatre, it leads to life rather than death, and ultimately sees our protagonist freeing a trapped sea creature in order to avoid bringing down the building he’s squatting in. It’s a large animal that punctuates the grand point that this symbiotic relationship can be achieved. My only minor complaint with the book is that the end can feel a bit truncated, like an abrupt denouement to what was such a rich journey. However, I’ll admit that comes with a pretty superficial read of the narrative. If you accept the underlying thematic message about the dance between man and nature and what it takes to either prevent or endure the impending environmental apocalypse, it’s a very satisfying and poignant conclusion. Thanks to Tom Kaczynski for sending over what will likely be one of the best small press books I read this year. Post York is an utterly recommendable work. Grade A.


02.13.13 Reviews

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
Star Wars #2 (Dark Horse): One of the interesting things that writer Brian Wood has been able to quickly accomplish is that even in a universe that’s very well-established and very well-explored, there’s still a distinct sense that he’s world-building. This task has been achieved through the deliberate, yet organic, inclusion of multiple races, planets, and genders. It’s every mention of the Hutts, a rebel pilot from bounty hunter Bossk’s home world of Durkteel (I think that might even be his ship, the Hound’s Tooth, on the cover!), the gender equality of having just as many skilled female pilots as male, and the fact that the mere mention of what were once b-character names like “Mon Mothma” or “Wedge Antilles” probably happens more times in this single issue than they do in all three of the original movie trilogy combined. It’s not all a factoid-laden Easter Egg hunt to establish SW geek cred with some lame gatekeepers though. Wood grounds the story in the familiar faces (rendered exquisitely by Carlos D’Anda and colorist Gabe Eltaeb) of roguish Han, the sight of the menacing Slave I, or the nostalgic overconfidence of Imperial Officers who seem to function with some sort of divine right or manifest destiny driving their actions. Speaking of D’Anda, he’s still getting it all right, capable of handling the big bold shots or the quiet character moments with equal skill, he is. The characters are recognizable as the actors my generation grew up with, yet stylized enough for him to put his artistic mark on. The Stealth X-Wings, the white puffy panels in the alcoves of the Millennium Falcon that flip down suddenly make you realize “oh yeah, I’ve seen those a million times, is that what they’re for?!” or the way the space battles are choreographed in an understandable way, not all Michael Bay’d out where the camera is too close and you can’t tell what’s happening. I’m not sure how much of this is the extent of the script or D’Anda’s interpretation of it, but the synthesis between writing and art is seamless, as it should be when it’s working this well. I also love the logical extensions taking place. For example, Leia is privately lamenting the loss of Alderaan. Or the real kicker, the fact that Luke isn’t even really an officer yet. He’s basically still a rookie bush pilot from the Outer Rim. Skilled, sure, but a kid who is new to the Alliance mix, with precious few combat missions under his cocky belt. I like how Wood has dismissed the compulsion, at least so far, for C-3PO to function as comic relief and is doing the serious and laborious work that a utilitarian tool like a protocol droid probably would. I like the intros. I like Ensign Llona. I like how some of the newly formed squad is observant or paranoid about the relationships of their counterparts, maybe deliberately making us think “what if the spy is someone on the strike team?!” I’ve heard a few people already complain about the whereabouts of R2-D2, but I think he’s apparently coming soon with the mention of the astromechs being quarantined to the covert hangar, so don’t fret. The creative team is deftly handling three threads, with an Imperial upstart, Leia’s team, and Han and Chewie’s mission. I’m very curious to see how long the team can sustain the magic as they gear up for more high stakes adventures, because they are now two for two with another flawless issue. Grade A+.
Todd, The Ugliest Kid On Earth #2 (Image): It’s funny, there’s a pull quote on the cover that asks if “we’re laughing at or with the character.” I actually think the characters are laughing at us. I think the whole book basically mocks the type of middle class existence that resides in a bubble, largely oblivious to the way the rest of the world operates. Sometimes when you see celebrities involved with a comic, the results can be eye-rolling or in name alone, but I enjoyed the letter from Danny Trejo, which functions as a nice primer that essentially asks on behalf of the book “are we wolves or Chihuahuas?” and “is the world ugly or are we actually the ugly ones?” So, Todd lands in prison, mistakenly identified as the Maniac Killer, due to Chief Hargraves bumbling overzealous ways. He meets a creepy cell neighbor and eventually Caesar, who seems like some type of mentor figure. Ken Kristensen and M.K. Perker litter the place with pop culture refs, the nod to Shawshank Redemption with the Rita Hayworth poster might be my favorite, though the Fredric Wertham appearance on Oprah probably bites the most. The creative team continues their mission to catalogue the failings of modern society with surgical precision, largely through the subversion of archetypes via parody. They take on cultish fans, criminals blaming everyone else for their plight, and the media’s invasion of privacy. Don’t miss this scathing indictment of the way so many people blindly lead their lives. Grade A.
Clone #4 (Image): Well, there’s at least one typo in the book and for some reason my affection for this title is cooling off a tiny bit. I really enjoy the back room political dealings happening and some of the medical lingo being slung, but the action bits with Luke and the clones (which is the heart of the book) seems to be dragging on now and feels a little generic in terms of storytelling. In terms of the art, Juan Jose Ryp is an absolute find purely visually. I remember when I first saw him working with Warren Ellis on titles like Black Summer and No Hero at Avatar Press, and his Geoff Darrow-esque hyper-detail is still amazing and adds a visceral element to the violence that makes it ugly and off-putting (rightfully so) and doesn’t glamorize it in the least. For some reason, I thought this was a mini-series and now I think it might be ongoing(?) and that makes me a little worried as to whether or not the basic premise has the legs to fuel that much recurring content. Time will tell. Grade A-.


02.06.13 Reviews (Part 2)

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

Harbinger #0 (Valiant): In short, this is the best issue of the series to date. It’s an in-your-face account of Toyo Harada’s origin story and the early beginnings of the Harbinger Foundation juxtaposed with a more current mission involving Darpan. I really enjoyed the procedural bits with the mission (I’m a sucker for crisp and authentic sounding ops center/protocol/radio traffic stuff), the underlying idea of the mind being the final frontier in Harada’s worldview, and the art from Mico Suayan and Pere Perez is, in my opinion, the most accomplished and stylish that the series has seen so far. Writers appeal to other writers though, and my favorite part was how Joshua Dysart captures a sense of moral complexity in this world. As in real life, there really aren’t any readily available simplistic stock archetypes of “good” people and “bad” people, there are just different people with different backgrounds, motivations, and intentions, which are frequently at odds with each other. If you read his work on Unknown Soldier over at Vertigo, you know that Dysart has a penchant for research and it comes across in the scripts in the way he’s able to use topics and locales that aren’t frequently seen in the pop media of our mass consumer culture. There’s really only one other writer I know who works like that, which is Brian Wood, and I’m tempted to put Dysart in that category. This is by far the strongest Valiant book in an already really popular line. Grade A.

Multiple Warheads #4 (Image): Man, I came in really wanting to like this book and being excited about an impending conclusion, but was largely disappointed that I didn’t find that. I did enjoy Graham’s trademark wordplay, stuff like “boom arm rang” literally being the thing it describes, and there are plenty of those examples running throughout the book. I still enjoy Graham’s art and coloring, purely as art, as something you can wander through and get lost in, distinct in the way he’s able to seamlessly integrate words and pictures, the line between the two fairly blurred at times. But, I feel like he really lost his way purely as a storyteller, lost the throughline of the story in terms of basic plotting. There have really always been two stories playing out here, the one with whatsherface and the other with Nik and Sexica. I’m partial to the latter, so to find the entire issue focusing on the former going down some narrative rabbit hole was disheartening, and it made me think that perhaps Graham should have segregated these stories and offered distinct mini-series featuring each set of characters. As is, it kind of feels like ad hoc scenes strung together, and a little self-indulgent, as if Graham was just enjoying crafting the art so much that he forgot he needed to deliver a complete story to his audience. By the end, I really had no idea what was going on and kind of just wanted it to be over. Yikes! The biggest problem is that for something labeled as issue 4 of 4, there’s no real resolution occurring here. I understand that Graham now intends to continue on in the Dark Horse/Hellboy tradition of “a series of mini-series,” but that almost feels like a last minute decision, abruptly ending at a seemingly random demarcation point. Grade B.


02.06.13 Reviews (Part 1)

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
Wasteland #43 (Oni Press): I was surprised to find that almost half of this issue is completely silent. It worked very well. Not only is it a brave and difficult choice for a writer (especially one like Antony Johnston who clearly has a love for language) to show that much restraint with the script, but you have trust in your artistic collaborator immensely to deliver the goods. Russel Roehling does just that because his line work is so very emotive; he’s able to convey some pretty complex emotions purely visually. So, Michael and Abi are still split up and Michael stumbles upon a curious occupant in an even more curious environment, one which seems anachronistic given the harsh environs of the post “The Big Wet” universe we've encountered so far. It’s a testament to the strength of the world-building that Johnston and original series artist Chris Mitten did, that this relatively normal looking cabin in the woods now seems totally out of place. The juxtaposition plays with audience expectations in much the same way this series always has, defying anticipation, defying prediction, defying categorization, and defying any pre-conceived notion of what comics can do or are supposed to do. If you love unpredictability, you will love Wasteland. It is disturbing (in a good way) to me that Michael and Abi are still split up. I’m worried! Though they can argue at times, they function better together than they do apart, their personalities often complementing the other. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Michael is also being tracked by a mysterious figure. Though this issue is a relatively quiet one, there are some things going on which have the potential to radically alter the character dynamics. This is sort of an aside, but I also just wanted to reiterate that I love the way Johnston playfully but intelligently works with the language, simple things like the name “Graham” (I think) being corrupted over time, due to slang and lack of individuals who have been taught to write, to become “Grayyim.” Last, but not least, the backmatter in the form of Ankya Ofsteen’s “Walking The Dust” journal entries is very compelling. There’s basically an unofficial three-way race going on right now for backmatter champion between Wasteland, Brian Wood’s The Massive, and Matt Hawkins’ Think Tank. I’ve been evangelizing Wasteland since issue #1 and it’s not about to stop now. If you’re not reading this book, you’re missing out on one of the great modern epics. With around only 17 issues left to go, well, I don’t want to start lamenting anything before it’s time, but I’m half excited to see Johnston reach his goal and half sad that all good things must eventually come to an end. Grade A+.
Think Tank #5 (Image): Writer Matt Hawkins addresses the reasons that he does what I’m about to complain about, and I’m sure it will read in an optimal fashion once collected, but opening the book by saying that David was back at DARPA after we last saw him on the run, and that this issue will begin to explain what happened in between the two, well, it maybe robs the story of a little stakes or gravitas because the outcome is already assured. BUT. What we don’t know are David’s intentions and what his ultimate end game is, and that’s probably where the tension will come. By this point, Hawkins has established enough credibility with me that I trust him and I also respect the fact that he’s being pretty transparent about his creative choices in the backmatter. Anyway. The issue focuses largely on the ethics of genetic warfare, while being grounded in the usual slick pop culture references and real world applied sciences. I also really appreciated the fact that the creative team shows characters like Mirra Sway and Colonel Harrison being totally conflicted about some of their actions. It adds a level of depth and multi-dimensionality to what would otherwise be pretty stock supporting characters. Not only is Think Tank blessed with the gorgeous art of Rahsan Ekedal, but as I said up in the Wasteland review, Think Tank is in that three-way race for best backmatter along with Wasteland and The Massive. Hawkins is a voracious researcher and it comes through in the way he addresses the market penetration of indie books, as well as the social construct of race lacking much DNA evidence to back it up. It’s fascinating stuff and a rare peek behind the curtains to see the creative process informing the work and how this particular brand of sausage is actually getting made. Grade A.


Mini Kus! #10 - #13 @ Poopsheet Foundation

I reviewed a terrific group of new mini-comics from Latvian publisher Kus! Check them out over at Poopsheet Foundation.


Todd The Ugliest Kid On Earth [Shotgun Blurbs]

Published by Image Comics
Creators: Ken Kristensen & M.K. Perker

What It’s About: “So, it’s like this total outsider kid, right, he wears a bag on his head because he’s so ugly, and all the neighborhood kids pick on him and everything, he doesn’t really belong, but I don’t even know if he really knows that. There’s this cute little Korean girl who moves in and he tries to talk to her and befriend her for a second , but his dad is totally racist and ruins that before it even gets going. Oh, and there’s this crazy serial killer running around killing kids the whole time! And there’s these total overzealous idiot cops who are trying to figure everything out, but they have no idea what they’re doing. So, one thing leads to another, and the ugly kid, Todd, ends up getting framed for the latest child abduction. It’s crazy. The art’s really good, very dark and stylized. It’s like this total satire, like an indictment of suburbia and that whole world.” Yeah. There’s an unfiltered look at how I was describing this book to a couple of different coworkers when they asked what I was reading. I often end up giving these impromptu field reports to coworkers.

Why You Should Buy It: From the title page on, it’s clear that the characterization is wound very tight. It’s a subversive take on the middle class bubble of existence and the failings of our society. If you can imagine some kind of heady modernized blender of Charles Schulz’s Peanuts (a story that was largely always about attempting to reconcile the way life is, versus the way life should be) and Joe Casey work like The Milkman Murders (a scathing satire of suburban values in its own right), then you’re somewhere in the neighborhood of this piece of dark humor that’s a cult classic in the making. The luscious art is very clever, using transitional devices like a floating leaf to get from scene to scene, or the unflinching intra-panel view from cleaved frog brains. We have detached parenting, over-medicated youth, socialized ethnocentrism, desensitized violence, homophobia, materialism, bullying, victim-blaming anti-feminism, the allure of fame, and the oppression of the innocent as a parody of everything wrong with our culture, all masquerading as a really funny, really weird comedy.

New Mini-Comics Reviews @ Poopsheet Foundation

I've been reviewing some great mini-comics over at Poopsheet Foundation, including the following selections:

SCAFFOLD I-XXII by Veronica Graham & Jesse Eisenhower

SCAFFOLD XXIII-XLIV by Veronica Graham & Jesse Eisenhower

STRIPBURGER #58 by Various

LAST TRAIN TO OLD TOWN by Kenan Rubenstein