Thursday, December 31, 2009

The ten comics that I happened to read in 2009 that I thought were better than the rest of the comics that I read in 2009

1.) Adventures In Cartooning (First Second) By James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost In addition to its being brilliantly written and drawn, this book was just plain more fun to read than just about anything else I read this year (save for some of the other entries on this list) and, upon finishing, was immediately seized with the desire to give it to everyone I know, up to and including my own seven-year-old self through some kind of time travel. It’s a fun, funny how-to cartoon book that is, all on its own, a pleasant reading experience whether you care to learn what the creators are trying to teach or not.(Originally reviewed here).

2.) The Bun Field (Drawn and Quarterly) by Amanda Vähämäki I can’t think of anything more valuable and pleasurable than dreaming—which I don’t mean in a metaphorical, Reach for the stars, kids! kind of way, but the literal what-happens-when-you-sleep kind of way. Remarkably, Vähämäki was able to recreate the experience of a dream, and put it on paper. (Originally reviewed here).

3.) Far Arden (Top Shelf) by Kevin Cannon One of the zanier, sillier, more fun-for-fun’s-sake books I read this year, this arctic adventure comedy was deceptively well structured, and managed to slyly be about stuff beyond simply having a good time. Cannon’s artwork also made me enthusiastic about drawing in a way the work of no other comics artist really has since I was in my early twenties or so. Something about the way he draws human limbs and figures in action just made me want to pick up a pencil and draw people running around and punching each other. (Originally reviewed here).

4.) Jin & Jam No. 1 (Sparkplug Books) by Hellen Jo This was probably the coolest book I read this year which, as I pointed out in my original, extremely gushy review, that’s even better than being good. Although it is good too. You guys should all totally read this if you haven’t already. (Originally reviewed here).

5.) Johnny Hiro Vol 1 (AdHouse Books) by Fred Chao This slice-of-life/slice-of-fantasy story about a young couple in love trying to make it New York City despite problems ranging from being able to make rent to staving off kaiju attacks is charming in just about every way a comic book can be charming, and it works just as well in this hardcover collection as it did in the original serialization as comic books. (Originally reviewed here).

6.) Larry Marder’s Beanworld Book 1: Wahoolazuma! (Dark Horse Comics) by Larry Marder There is nothing like Marder’s Beanworld, and I don’t just mean in comics. There is seriously nothing like Marder’s Beanworld. (Originally reviewed here).

7.) The Muppet Show #1 (Boom Studios) by Roger Langridge Honestly, I’m just as surprised as you are to see licensed TV show adaptation on this list as you are, and, perhaps if I got to Asterios Polyp or Footnotes in Gaza or something before today it wouldn’t be. But there are two things I look for in a comic book when I’m trying to evaluate how great it is: Whether or not it is the sort of story and/or experience that could only be told/experienced as a comic, and whether or not it does something new and unique. And Langridge’s Muppet Show met those criteria, the fact that it managed to do so while being a licensed TV show adaptation is a little like doing, I don’t know, playing a perfect game of golf with one hand tied behind your back (That would be hard, right? I suck at golf and haven’t tried it in like 15 years). I listed the first issue only, because that was where Langridge’s accomplishment was really first revealed, but the other Muppet comics he’s done have been just as strong…the end of the third, Gonzo-focused issue? I swear to God I almost cried. (Originally reviewed here).

8.) The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book (Fantagraphics) by Joe Daly Despite his rather cartoony character designs, there is an incredibly precise, machine-like quality to Daly’s panels, making for a deceptively realistic milieu and perfectly deadpan delivery. And what he delivers in the two stories collected in this book are unlike anything else I’ve seen in popular comics. They’re slightly surreal mystery stories featuring two stoner characters who find themselves in ever-escalatingly odd circumstances. (I gave this book perhaps too short shrift in my original review, as the clock was winding down on ’09 as I was reviewing it, but there’s a few paragraphs on it near the bottom of this post).

9.) Remake (AdHouse Books) by Lamar Abrams Almost 150 pages of the adventures of Max Guy, an Astro Boy-like hero with a the coolest weapon ever (a gun that turns things into other things) as he navigates silly, random gags and character humor drawn in fast-paced, panel-packed pages. (Originally reviewed here…after the Johnny Hiro bit).

10.) Wednesday Comics (DC Comics) by Various No, not every strip in this rather radical experiment was a good one—in fact, at least one of them was actively, aggressively terrible—but this was by far the biggest, best and most exciting project either of the direct market’s “Big Two” publishers put into comics shops this year, and the experimental nature of it lent it a rather thrilling aura. It was full of great art, some strong writing here and there, and a neat format we’ve never really scene before and I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw again. Wednesday Comics proved to be much greater than the sum of its parts.

The Best Comics of 2008
The Best Graphic Novels of 2007
Thirty-Three Notable Graphic Novels of 2006

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Weekly Haul: December 30th

Or should that be “Weekly Handful”…? (Or does that sound too dirty?) As you no doubt already know, there was only one new book available in direct market comic shops this week, plus a freebie Marvel gave away. I picked up both, as well as a couple of older trades, and I’ll review ‘em all below.

I don’t usually do “spoiler warnings,” because these are reviews and not previews (and also, I don’t personally care about “spoilers,” being more interested in how a comic is executed than what occurs within it), but I’ll go ahead and say it this time, since Blackest Night has a completely predictable-but-still-somehow-surprising twist, which accounts for the only really fun to be had in the reading experience.

So, for any crybabies in the reading audience, SPOILER WARNING, okay? Read on only after you’ve already read Blackest Night #6 and/or if you don’t give a shit that Hal Jordan and Barry Allen end up making love atop a pile of Teen Titans corpses on page 22…

Blackest Night #6 (DC Comics) First off, I’d like to congratulate and thank DC for working with Diamond to get this issue in comics shops in time to be available for sale today, despite the usual holiday delays and the unusual week off that the direct market’s (almost-)only distributor decided to take this year.

I’ve heard retailers say that they would appreciate getting comics early like this more often to make their jobs easier, and the argument against shops getting their books early is the concern of spoilers leaking and, more seriously for retailers, some unscrupulous types ignoring street dates and embargoes and selling the books as soon as they get them, in order to get a jump up on the scrupulous ones.

As a person who hates it every time a holiday bumps a New Comic Book Day from a Wednesday to a Thursday, I would love it if Diamond, retailers and publishers could figure out a way to do something like this more often, if not every single week. However, I’ve heard that some retailers did break the embargo on this issue, so perhaps that won’t ever become a reality after all.

Ah well.

So, that’s the good thing about DC’s Blackest Night #6. Here’s the horrible thing: DC’s been less than forthcoming about the contents of these issues, and somewhat sneaky—I’d go so far as to say Marvel-esque—in their pricing of the issues of this series. It started with a 40-page #1 priced at $3.99, and the next five issues kept that $3.99 price, while the page counts were drastically reduced for the next four issues—26 story pages at the most, 24 at the least.

This issue features the least amount of story pages thus far—just 23 (four of those are spent on two two-page splashes). That’s pretty much the definition of “not cool.” Visit and you’ll see that it says Blackest Night #6 is 40 pages long. And it is, but only if you count the ads.

Your average DC comic book is 22-pages for $2.99, but lists those at 32-page comics, as they count the ads. So a reader would always reasonably factor in 10 pages of ads and, seeing this solicitation, might have assumed it was a 30-page book with ten pages of ads because, Jesus, why else would DC charge an $1? It’s not like they’re highwaymen like Marvel, right?

But a reader would be wrong, because this comic features far fewer story pages, and far more ads. That extra $1 is to pay for the price of the ads which, in this particular issue, includes eight full-page house ads for future Blackest Night tie-ins (although I guess DC could chuckle nervously and say, “What? It’s a cover gallery!”), a full-page house ad/check list of the next few months’ worth of Blackest Night tie-ins.

In other words, DC would like you to pay $1 for the privilege of being exposed to some ads for things they would like to sell you.

So while yes, great, I’m glad I could read a new super-comic this Wednesday, holy shit this one was pretty evil.

Basically one thing happens in this issue, and it’s another one of those great awesome/stupid moments that Geoff Johns pulls off so well. I found this one particularly satisfying, because it was something that seemed so obvious for months now, something that I’ve heard blogosphere pundits wondering after before and something that we’ve already seen happen in a tie-in, and it’s something that Johns has been foreshadowing so heavily that any word with “shadow” on the base seems too insubstantial a word for it, and yet it still came as a surprise, on account of the fact that it hadn’t already happened yet, and the somewhat random way in which it occurs here.

And so here’s the spoiler, ready? Ganthet makes himself a Green Lantern ring and joins the Green Lantern Corps, while explaining that all of the folks on the cover of this issue have the ability to duplicate their rings and temporarily deputize someone nearby to their ranks.

Which means various DC super-characters get various colored rings, making for Red Lantern Mera and Sinestro Corps Scarecrow and Orange Lantern Luthor and so on.

I thought that was a pretty cool development, for the very same reason that seeing Batman’s Green Lantern costume back in 2006’s Green Lantern #9 or the appearances of any of the various otherly-colored Lanterns right on up until the Black Lanterns started appearing was pretty cool. So many of these characters and their designs—and let’s face it, characters like Hal Jordan and Barry Allen were never characters as much as they were designs until recently anyway—are so familiar, that seeing them not only tweaked a bit, but radically tweaked is sort of exciting. Sure, the change is only cosmetic, but the cosmetic change is still a radical one.

Unfortunately, most of these designs are terrible. Orange Lantern Luthor is simply wearing a glow-y orange version of his stupid green and purple Super Powers armor. Indigo Tribesman Ray Palmer looks like a shirtless Sword of The Atom Atom with body paint. The Scarecrow just changed coats. And Star Sapphire Wonder Woman, well, Yeesh. Still, it’s something different, and in the world of super-comics, different is good.

Red Lantern Mera and Blue Lantern Flash offer the most promise of exciting looks, but I guess I’ll need to see more of them before I make up my mind. These New New Guardians or whatever they are only appear in a single splash and on a check-list in the back, and The Flash’s costume is sort of obscured by his pose. Given that the character is so associated with red though, I kinda like the idea of a Blue Flash.

And that’s this issue’s big Holy shit! moment and, in fact, pretty much its only development. Hal and Barry escape their Black Lanternized friends (Not sure why Black Lantern Superman didn’t just murder the fuck out of them both in like one second flat—he is still almost Flash-fast while wearing evil jewelry, right?) and evade the rings that were seeking out their fingers, then Ganthet throws some rings in the direction of various DC characters, the end.

Just two more issues to go! Or, if you read all the tie-ins too, then just 26 more issues left to go, I guess.

Marvel Adventures Spider-Man Vol. 14 (Marvel Comics) As plenty of folks noticed, Marvel’s solicitations for March included the final issues of their last two remaining Marvel Adventures books, MA Spider-Man and MA Super-Heroes, which has become the de facto MA Avengers book.

The timing was extremely odd, given that both of the books had just recently been given new, rather different directions, including continuing storylines (over the previous always done-in-one stories), regular artists and new, regular cover artists giving each a distinctive and consistent look. Each book also got a bump in the sales charts seemingly resulting from these changes.

It seems highly unlikely that Marvel would have gone to the trouble of relaunching the books like that only to pull the plug a few months later, so chances are Marvel Adventures will return sooner rather than later, and in a different form or format (I’ve seen it mentioned in a comments thread somewhere that this may have something to do with the Disney deal too, since these books were among Marvel’s few all-ages efforts).

The unfortunate part of all this is that Marvel Adventures Spider-Man is better than it’s ever been, and, as this volume suggests, was apparently being refocused to be a bit more like Ultimate Spider-Man.

This volume has a great title (along with Nightcrawler: Bamf!, Spider-Man: Thwip! was a title I’ve been anticipating since Wolverine: Snikt! was announced), and collects MA Spider-Man #53-#56.

Writer Paul Tobin does an excellent job of coming up with something that reads and feels new and original and fresh, while still maintaining enough of old school Spider-Man to feel right.

Peter Parker is still a high school student living with his Aunt May and all that but, in the first issue, two mutants visit his school—psychic Emma Frost and new character Chat, who can talk to animals. They discover his secret identity (and learn his origin for, you know, a good jumping on point) and the latter has enough of a crush on him to enroll in school. Also new to the school is Gwen Stacy, the daughter of a police captain who also discovers Spidey’s secret identity.

A bit of a love triangle—or like triangle, I guess, given hos chaste these kids all are—forms between Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Chat and Gwen, adding teen melodrama to the mix of normal Spider-Man problems like bad PR, keeping his identity secret and fighting villains and other heroes after misunderstandings.

Matteo Lolli provided most of the art, save for one issue, which was drawn by Jacopo Camagni. Lolli’s work is pretty amazing, and a great pleasure to read. Camagni’s? Even better. With Skottie Young’s inventive, slightly sketchy covers, this comic was all around great looking and, as soon as I finished it, I couldn’t wait to read the next one—although I guess there’s only going to be one more collection.

By the time the final issue ships in March, there will only be five more issues after the last one collected here. I suppose that’s enough time for Tobin to wrap this up, but it’s still kinda disappointing. It seems like Marvel finally really got this book just right, and now it’s being changed (if not completely canceled). I sure hope its next iteration is at least this good.

Origins of Siege #1 (Marvel) This is the much-appreciated ad for for Brian Michael Bendis and Oliveir Coipel’s upcoming event miniseries Siege, an ad that is the size, shape and basic form of a comic book, which Marvel thoughtfully made available for this stupid New Comic Book Day With Like One New Comic Book skip week concept of Diamond’s. It’s straight advertainment, and as such, isn’t worth spending any money on, so the fact that Marvel gave it away for free is pretty fitting.

It opens with an eight-page story written by Brian Michael Bendis, and drawn (Illustrated? Ginned up?) by artist Lucio Parrillo in what looks like skillfully applied airbrushing. It opens with Norman Osborn sipping wine in front of a gigantic Avengers poster by Mike Deodato (I think), ignoring the view outside his window, which is an aerial photograph of a city run through some sort of filter. Suddenly, Loki appears, startling Osborn (“NUUHH--LOKI!”).

Osborn tells Loki he doesn’t understand what Asgard is, and Loki tells him over the course of two two-page spreads, the first of which looks ripped from Ivan Reis drawn spread in DC's DC Universe 0. Then the two characters agree that they are going to appear in a big event miniseries entitled Siege.

That’s followed by the six-page preview of Siege #1 that everyone who reads Marvel comics has already read, and then that is followed by the most interesting bit of the book, a series of 12 one-page origin stories written by Fred Van Lente and drawn by artists associated with the characters.

These are all very basic, and are designed more for people who have no idea who Captain America or Norman Osborn are instead of explaining what those characters have been up to recently—they’re origin stories, not summaries of recent events.

These are kind of interesting in that they are essentially the same sorts of things DC was doing in the back of 52 and Countdown, but only half the size, and thus even though Van Lente does a decent enough job of explaining the basics of who these people are and how they came to be, the origins are never complete stories like the better DC origin stories were.

If you’re wondering who will be “major players” in Siege, I suppose these pages will answer that: Both Captains America, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Norman Osborn, Loki, The Sentry, Wolverine, Doctor Doom, Ares and The Hood. I plan on sitting this one out, on account of having never read a Bendis-written superhero story I enjoyed that didn’t have the words “Ultimate Spider-Man” somewhere in the title, and this didn’t do anything to change those plans.

Still, it was nice of Marvel to give me something to read on this otherwise pretty barren New Comic Book Day…I do appreciate that.

Spider Man J: Japanese Knights (Marvel) I was torn between Thwip! and this other all-ages Marvel digest featuring a Spider-Man, so I ended up just getting them both—I guess that’s one advantage to a week in which only one new book ships.

It collects the manga stories by Yamanaka Akira that were previously published in Spider-Man Family and, before that, presumably in Japan somewhere. I would have liked a little introduction or something to explain these comics’ existence a little better—all I’ve got to go on are the “Originally published only overseas” on the back cover, and this odd sentence that ran across the top of each new chapter: “Each corner of the globe has its own unique take on the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN! Direct from Japan, Marvel is proud to present…”

That’s about all I know about these comics, although they were apparently flipped (they read right to left, and the “J” on Spider-Man J’s spider-symbol is always backward).

They’re awfully fun though, in large part because of how different they are. Spider-Man J is still Peter, and he still lives with his Aunt May (a much younger looking aunt). His best friends are Harold and Jane-Marie, and the only one who knows his secret identity is police detective Flynn. He battles a variety of animal-themed villains, although they’re not manga versions of the animal-themed US versions.

Instead, there’s General Wasperus, Dragonfly, The Spotted Cat (a species of Beetle, apparently) and “B-Warrior Tough Goraias.” Oh, and a female ninja named Elektra shows up in one story, but she’s more heroine than villain.

There’s a loose, rough zaniness to the proceedings, with most of the villains being fairly over-the-top, and Akira finds plenty of imaginative, unusual uses for Spidey’s webbing and for the defeat of his various foes. They often seem to die at the end of the encounters, but the light-hearted, cartoony nature of the book makes it hard to tell if they die like Wile E. Coyote or, say, Gwen Stacy. For example, Dragonfly meets his end by flying “SPLATTT!” into the spinning blades of a helicopter propeller (his cartoon eyes flying out among the debris, ghost monster style) and is never seen again, while Goraias has the spire of a skyscraper fall point first onto him…but later appears with two bandages over his ass.

I can’t imagine Spider-Man J being to too many Spidey fans’ tastes, but I enjoyed it a heck of a lot, and certainly much more than the various manga-style Spidey stories Marvel had produced in-house in the past.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rough drafts for other blog posts count as blog posts, right?

Every Tuesday afternoon I post a column I call 'Twas the Night Before Wednesday... at Blog@Newsarama. That's where I run down some of the good/bad/interesting/easy-to-make-a-bad-joke-about new releases due in comic shops that week. To help distinguish my column from the many other fine columns that do the exact same thing, I usually draw a little colored pencil-on-index card cartoon to kick it off each week.

I had a lot of trouble this week, on account of there only being like one new comic book out. I ended up going with this, but not until after trying a couple of other ones.

Here's the most complete attempt, which I decided against because it's way, way too long (like, three times too long), and I wasn't really happy with how it turned out. Particularly Osborn's hair on the second card...

...and the fact that I couldn't figure out how to convincingly make the white space seem more like a comic book shop. And I screwed up my arm in the first panel. But otherwise...

Monday, December 28, 2009

How The Warlord got his tiny little costume

Travis Morgan is famous for many things: Repeatedly defeating the devil priest Deimos, bringing gun violence to the lost world of Skartaris and striving valiantly to popularize “The Green Arrow” as a facial hair arrangement. But perhaps Morgan’s greatest claim to fame is his tiny, tiny costume.

Sure, female superhero characters are prone to wearing scanty, barely there costumes, but male heroes generally get better coverage. Morgan, on the other hand, may just be the most scantily clad hero in comics. If you count his helmet, bracelets and boots, he may have more surface area covered than the famously near-nude Namor, but without his accessories, Morgan has naught by a sliver of snow leopard fur to maintain his dignity.

Why does the man known as The Warlord dress like this? I used to think it was merely the style in Skartaris, the bizarre world within the hollow center of our own earth, where there is eternal sunlight. It’s obviously pretty hot down there, as everybody goes about wearing as little clothing as the Comics Code Authority would have allowed them to.

But then I sat down with Showcase Presents: The Warlord Vol. 1, and was surprised to discover that when Morgan first arrived in Skartaris, he wore a pretty modest outfit that covered most of his body:

It wasn’t until the ninth issue of his series, 1977’s “Lair of the Snowbeast,” that Morgan would adopt his better-known, hardly-there costume. And the circumstances under which he acquires it were most unexpected. You see, he exchanged his blue onesie with boots and skull-belt ensemble for a loincloth while in the snow—to keep warm.

Here’s how it happened.

After having escaped from a lonely, lustful android atop a floating island via homemade hang gliders, Morgan and his traveling companions Machiste and Mariah found themselves trudging through a blizzard in a rare, snowy area of Skartaris.

As you can see, Morgan was dressed rather warmly at the beginning of the adventure.
They soon ran afoul of a dread megalictis. These beasts were prehistoric predecessors of the modern wolverine, and they were the best they were at what they did in the Miocene period.

Morgan draws his sword and meets the beast’s charge, but his clothes don’t survive the encounter intact:
Morgan rallies, however, and puts seven shots of his .44 magnum into the back of it’s head at point blank range. This was early in the wolverine’s evolution, before they had acquired adamantium skulls, and that amount of head trauma overwhelmed the monster’s natural healing factor, killing it dead.
His foe finally vanquished, the Warlord collapses under his own wounds, and before Machiste and Mariah can even attend to them, they are captured by some wooly mammoth-riding jerks. Morgan is left for dead.

But he doesn’t die easy! He eventually rouses himself and tries to stumble onward, but collapses once more. This time, he dreams that a naked, scaly, butterfly lady lifts him in her arms and flies him to safety.
When he awakens, he finds himself naked in a warm cave. His wounds are healed, but his tunic is no more. As he ponders what must have happened to him, the owner of the cave arrives—a yeti! Morgan and the yeti do battle for a bit, before he looks into her eyes and sees it was this she-squatch who saved him.

Here are three pages of Mike Grell finding clever ways to draw a totally naked Warlord fighting a yeti while obscuring his penis. Enjoy!

After the two work things out, she points him to the citadel where his friends are held captive, and Morgan looks for something to wear.

Yes, he’s about go back out into a blizzard and will need clothes to keep himself warm…and that is how he arrived at his current costume, a tiny fur loincloth:
Well, I’m sure his penis, right shoulder and legs from the shins down are toasty now…

Oh, and how do his friends make out? Well, they’re tied to a poll being danced around, about to be sacrificed or eaten or something, so Morgan swings in and starts killing people. Seeing things going badly for our hero, the abominable snow-woman joins the melee, helping him kill folks. Machiste, mistaking the snowbeast for the unfriendly sort of snowbeast, hurls a spear into her.

The creature dies, and Morgan sheds tears: “Why? Why did you have to kill it? It was only trying to save me!

But out of the dead beast rises the naked, scaly, butterfly woman—

—who explains that she was cursed and placed inside the body of the yeti until someone came “who could see beyond the ugly exterior of the beast to the beauty within” (and someone else killed her with a spear).

She plants one on Morgan’s mustache and then takes flight, leaving The Warlord, his friends and his loincloth ready for their next exciting adventure in the world of Skartaris.

Hey Kids! Comics!

(From DC's Green Lantern #49, written by Geoff Johns and drawn by Jerry Ordway)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Review: Batman: Cacophony

I see Kevin Smith has gotten pretty rusty in the three years since he wrote a comic book.

About ten years ago, Smith was responsible for some rather high-profile, extremely well-received comics work, including some stuff for Oni Press based on his film characters, a Daredevil story arc for Marvel that helped return the character to some prominence, and a short, 15-issue run on Green Arrow for DC. He seemingly disappeared from comics around 2002 or so, leaving one project half-finished (Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do) and another just begun (Daredevil: The Target).

He reappeared and finished the second half of his Spider-Man miniseries in 2006, but it was hardly worth the wait—four years of not writing comics hadn’t made Smith any better of a comics writer. He returned to DC a few years after that, with Batman: Cacophony, which may just be his weakest comics work to date.

It’s pretty poor, reading like a published version of a first draft for a miniseries—it’s formless, badly paced and meandering. Many of the characters sound off, including the title character, which is something of an accomplishment. Along with The Fantastic Four’s Ben “The Thing” Grimm, Batman is perhaps the most recognizable, easy-to-get “voice” in superhero comics. One seemingly doesn’t need to write Batman’s dialogue so much as ask Batman what he’d like to say in this panel.

It doesn’t help at all that Smith is here paired with his weakest artistic collaborator to date, pencil artist Walt Flanagan (whose name, if its familiar, you may recognize from the expression “faster than Walt Flanagan’s dog” in one of Smith’s films). Flanagan’s drawn comics before, but he’s not punching in the same weight class as, say, Phil Hester, the last pencil artist Smith wrote a DC super-book for. The reason he drew the book, as Smith himself explains in the collection’s very Kevin Smith-y introduction, is that he’s Smith’s friend.

Cacophony is all around poor-bordering-on-amateurish work, and yet you can’t really blame DC for publishing it. Kevin Smith’s name may not command the sales it once did (he refers to himself as “persona non grata in the comics community,” due to “incessant lateness”), and Flanagan may not be the best possible artist for a Batman comic, but if Smith wanted to do a three-issue, throwaway story arc, the sort of thing that DC generally publishes in Batman Confidential in the hopes of moving 20-to-30K units to retailers and, if they’re lucky, produce an evergreen Batman trade, well, why the hell not? Even a fallen Kevin Smith is likely to sell twice as many issues as a Tony Bedard or Peter Milligan or Doug Moench or Fabian Nicieza or whoever they’ve got doing that month’s least-important Batman story. And hell, Flanagan knows how to draw a comics page, and is conversant in the medium—he’s better than some of the guys DC’s had drawing the main, flagship Batman title over the course of the last few eyars.

As I said, there’s an introduction to this collection (Hooray! I love introductions), and in it Smith addresses his getting Flanagan the gig in a Smith-y way—it’s a sweet, charming story of friendship that naturally leads to a gay joke:

So here we were: two comics-lovin’ dudes from the Jersey ‘burbs who both fulfilled dreams of making funny books. But we’d never done it together (y’know, a comic book; not “whoopee”).

Smith also talks a bit about Batman, whom he wrote rather extensively into his first Green Arrow story arc, “Quiver,” and was, it was announced once upon a time, supposedly going to write in a Brave and the Bold series that never materialized. Smith said he had lost the desire to write comic books, but found his love of Batman reignited by The Dark Knight, and hence this project came along (Cynical reading: He saw how successful The Dark Knight was, realized he had an in and wanted some of that sweet, sweet Bat-money).

The result was Cacophony, which was originally sold as the secret origin of Onomatopoeia, a mysterious (and kinda clever) villain that Smith dreamed up for the end of his run on Green Arrow. Instead, it turned out to be a weird, zigzagging storyline in which the characters pass through, as The Joker fights Maxie Zeus, Batman fights The Joker, and then Batman and The Joker have a long, heartfelt relationship talk.

It opens with a mysterious figure with a smooth, round black head and wearing a trenchcoat, thus looking an awful lot like O., breaking into Arkham Asylum, while Smith’s verbose narration explains how the economy has impacted the asylum and helped this stranger break in.

It turns out that he’s not O., but Deadshot, who’s the fifteenth or so assassin hired to kill The Joker. Before he can do the deed, Onomatopoeia shows up and apparently shoots Deadshot dead…the old my villain is so formidable that he can take out the villain you thought was at the top of the heap in like nothing flat trick.

Onomatopoeia frees The Joker, who immediately goes after Maxie Zeus, a crazy costumed criminal who has seemingly gone legit, but who is actually selling a party drug derived from Joker Venom (I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen a story where Joker Venom is used as a party drug, but it certainly feels like I’ve read dozens of stories where various villain poisons and super-stuff are used as the sources for designer drugs—Brad Meltzer having the Signal Man hooked on Scarecrow gas in JLoA is the last one that springs to mind).

After taking on Mr. Zsasz, the one-off villain from that has proved to be Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s most enduring gift to Batman writers, Batman gets involved, and after a climatic battle between Batman, The Joker and Onomatopoeia on the roof of police headquarters, Batman is given his 297th chance to either let The Joker die by inaction or save his life.

The crux of the story comes after, as Batman and The Joker have an eight-page chat in the hospital, followed by a short, four-page sequence revealing Onomatopoeia’s home life.

Smith is still an overly wordy comics writer. In fact, he seems to be an overly wordy writer in general, as his movies are incredibly talky, but the excess verbiage is no vice in film, where one hears the words, rather than sees them all gathered in once place, eclipsing the art.

There are some panels, particularly in the first issue, which look a little like those on this page (Not that Batman: Cacophony #1 is as bad as Batgirl #1…it’s not good, but it’s not that bad), and Smith still hasn’t quite mastered a golden ratio between words and pictures.

It’s also awfully crude and/or unpleasant for an all-ages Batman story.

In the first issue, The Joker jokes with Deadshot about his green pubic wig, and mentions that the Asylum cuts out “The Family Circus” from the funny pages because it riles up the inmates that “like to touch children.” When presented with a suitcase of money by Onomatopoeia, he pulls down his pants, bends over against a tree and asks that O. not tell The Mad Hatter, as “That midget’s been tyring to get me to do this for years now, and I told him I don’t swing” that way. A badly off-model, out-of-character Zsasz is about to mutilate his own penis when Batman jumps through a skylight, thinking, “I crash Zsasz’s unholy briss. Baruch haba, SCUMBAG.” When rattling off a list of what he wants to Zeus, The Joker includes “and to one day murder Batman and defile his carcass sexually.”

That’s just the first issue, or first third of this collection, and I sort of quit paying attention after that (although the finale includes a rather random bit, in which The Joker mentions to Batman that he “saw a little bit of your junk” when the Dark Knight was changing out of a disguise and into his Bat-costume behind a curtain.)

I’ve complained about DC’s inclusion of discussion of heinous sex crimes and (attempts at) sex humor in their DCU books so often that I’m sick of hearing me talk about it too, but this is yet another rather striking example of the publisher refusing to label anything outside the Vertigo line for “Mature Readers” and then proceeding to try and stuff square mature story pegs into their round holes, the ultimate result being that the books read exceptionally juvenile. It’s kind of like watching an R-rated movie cleaned up and dubbed for broadcast on network TV,

The most interesting bit of the book is that conversation between Batman and The Joker, in which Smith takes his stab at trying to explain their relationship and why neither’s killed the other yet—do they even want to kill each other?

The idea is that The Joker is pumped so full of morphine and “an ass-load of mood stabilizers and anti-psychotics” that he’s “momentarily psychologically balanced,” so Batman wants to ask him, “Do you really want me dead? Do you really want to kill me?”

Batman reveals that he doesn’t want The Joker to die, if for no other reason than that he doesn’t ever want to see someone die in front of him again (which probably makes spending his whole life in the pursuit of serial killers a less-than-ideal career choice). He even goes so far as to reveal that that’s the reason he’s Batman; to prevent deaths.

The Joker says he does want to kill Batman, and that that’s the reason he kills so many people, and the reason he’s crazy at all. Once Batman’s dead, The Joker says, he’ll quit being The Joker (So shouldn’t Batman just kill himself, to save thousands of future lives, if he can’t bring himself to kill The Joker to save thousands of future lives…?)

I say it’s an interesting scene, and it is from the perspective of seeing a writer with a fairly individual voice wrestle with one of the more artificial aspects of one of our most prominent superheroes, an aspect plenty of other writers have wrestled with and come to different conclusions regarding.

But it doesn’t quite seem to belong in this story, as very little leading up to it mattered–the first two and a half issues were essentially just random events necessary to get a knife in The Joker’s chest to set up yet another choice of whether to save him or not for Batman. (I also question the choice to render The Joker temporarily sane through drugs—mental health is treated so bizarrely in Batman comics that it’s almost necessary to completely ignore it, or at least think of Arkham’s inmates as “mad” in a Victorian or gothic novel sort of way, rather than clinically insane in a real world way. Because, really, if all you need to do to The Joker to make him mostly insane is to pump him full of drugs, why isn’t he constantly being pumped full of drugs? Even if there are laws against forcibly drugging genocidal madmen against their will, why doesn’t Batman just break into Arkham and drug The Joker each night? It sure would solve a lot of problems and save a lot of lives).

As for Onomatopoeia, his presence in this story is completely unnecessary. His M.O. when he first appeared in Green Arrow was as a villain who stalked normal, non-super-powered superheroes. The Green Arrows certainly fit that bill. Apparently, he visited Gotham—a damn fertile hunting ground—to take on Batman, and The Joker was simply bait for Batman (Hmm, if you can’t take down either Green Arrow, why would you go after Batman? Why not start in Gotham with an Obsidian or Azrael or Huntress or Pagan or someone and work your way up to Batman?)

What do we learn about Onomatopoeia? Nothing, other than the fact that under his mask and coat he’s apparently a normal, boring-looking family man who dresses up to try and kill vigilantes as a hobby. Panels show him greeting his family at a small, two-story home with a picket fence as he seemingly returns from vacation, checks his mail, and puts away his costume in his secret room.

Flanagan, who is inked by Sandra Hope and colored by Guy Major, improves by leaps and bounds in the space of these 90-ish pages, so that his Joker and Batman resemble Graham Nolan-esque versions during their conversation at the end, but even the that improvement is a sign that he probably wasn’t ready for this project yet, if his style is still so fluid and developing.

Like I said, he’s hardly the worst Batman artist around, and is better than some of the guys drawing the character these days, but his character’s are often off-model, even the models he himself has established in the book. If he is still improving, as the work within seems to indicate, then his current collaboration with Smith (the limited series Batman: The Widening Gyre, which Smith’s introduction promises is much better than Cacophony) is probably a better, more polished comic…and the one after that will be better still.

Have I ever mentioned that sometimes I just don't get DC?

Last week,’s Kiel Phegley spoke with DC Executive Editor Dan DiDio about the current state of the publisher’s “co-feature” program (That’s “back-ups” to you and I).

He was happy with “the fact that everything didn't crash and burn when we added the extra pages in and put them out with a higher price point” (Not that that’s a low bar for success or anything), and that readers seemed to regard them as extra value for their extra dollar (DC’s main rival, Marvel, has simply been adding a $1 to the price of many comics, sometimes having reprint back-ups or cardstock covers and, more recently, back-ups of their own, in attempts to add value for that extra buck).

I was kind of excited about the prospect of the co-features when they were first announced, and remembered hearing that one of the selling points from DiDio’s perspective was that they would allow DC to snag a very busy artist or writer who might not have the time (or interest) to work on 22 pages of a Metal Men or Blue Beetle comic every month, but could work in eight pages a month no problem.

There are a lot of what seem like virtues to the program too, including keeping characters in the public’s eye, testing them out for possible future exploitation perhaps chief among them.

Given the fact that one of the first characters to get a co-feature strip was Blue Beetle, I assumed that a large part of the idea was that the back-ups would allow DC to continue to generate new material for trade paperback collections, without having to take the same amount of risk on a monthly. Blue Beetle, for example, didn’t do so hot as a serial monthly comic in the direct market, but did much better as a trade, at least as one being sold to libraries.

Manhunter was another book that DC seemed to really want to keep publishing, even though the direct market couldn’t support it, so I assumed maybe Manhunter trades did better than other trades, and the back-up was a way to build up material for future volumes.

But among the changes DiDio announced were that both Blue Beetle and Manhunter would be leaving their home books.

Since trades collecting the strips from their brief time as co-features haven’t been solicited yet, DC can’t have data on whether or not their remains interest in the Blue Beetle and Manhunter trades, so that apparently wasn’t the thinking after all.

See? I don’t know what DC’s thinking…in this case, it’s certainly not what I thought they were thinking.

According to Phegley’s article, Green Arrow, Booster Gold and Doom Patrol would lose their co-features and become $2.99 books (or, in the case of DP, would become canceled…although DiDio didn’t say that. I’m just guessing).

Action, Adventure Comics and Streets of Gotham would remain $3.99, 30-page books, although they’d get new back-ups (So Captain Atom, The Legion of Super-Heroes and Manhunter were ending…although Legion was getting promoted to lead feature in Adventure).

And team books JLoA, Teen Titans and JSA All-Stars would all be $3.99, 30-page books—some months having back-ups featuring characters from those teams, sometimes simply having a 30-page lead feature and no back-up.

The only “evidence” I can offer on how well any of the co-features actually worked is, of course, anecdotal, and the only anecdotal evidence I can offer with any authority is my own.

I know they certainly got me to try new books that I otherwise might not have (Doom Patrol, Streets of Gotham) and to pick up a book I had previously dropped (Booster Gold). On the other hand, at least one caused me to drop a book (Detective Comics), as paying an extra buck for content I didn’t like made a pretty convincing Hey, why not just start waiting for the trade? argument.

I’m not currently reading any books with co-features, assuming the co-feature I liked the best (Metal Men) would eventually get a trade of its own and, again, that would be cheaper than paying $4 a month just to read eight pages of a comic.

I wonder about the somewhat chaotic nature of the changes though, with the page-counts and price points of some comics fluctuating so much. It certainly seems to be one more instance of DC not knowing what it’s doing, or at least giving the impression that the publisher is flailing and making its decisions by the seat of its collective pants (whether it actually is or not).

For example, Green Arrow was canceled and re-launched as Green Arrow/Black Canary after the two superheroes were married. Then its price was increased by $1 and it’s title changed back to Green Arrow, with a Black Canary back-up. Now it’s price is going to be decreased $1, and it will be back to being Green Arrow with no-co feature. In other words, the title is right where it was a few years ago after a rapid succession of format, title and price changes.

Booster Gold similarly went from $2.99 for 22-pages to $3.99 for 30-pages (with a Blue Beetle back-up) and will soon return to a $2.99 for 22-pages all Booster Gold comic.

Will fans and readers accept fluctuating price points like that, given how dramatic they are? Each change in price and format seems like a potential jumping-off point (as does changing co-features, I suppose), so I wonder if DC should go out of its way to provide such natural instances for their readers to re-evaluate their purchasing habits.

Regardless, I’m excited to at least see what the next round of back-ups will include. The last solicitation for Warlord makes it sound like the title would be ending but Warlord stories would continue, and other low-selling, about-to-be-canceled books seem like good candidates for back-ups. Personally, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed for a Kelley Jones illustrated Ragman in the back of Streets of Gotham and a Stephen DeStefano Plastic Man in the back of JLoA

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A few thoughts on Unkonwn Soldier Vol. 1: Haunted House

—It's just brutal. The eventual Unknown Soldier, Dr. Lwanga Moses, returns to Uganda, where a crazy Christian rebel group has amassed an army of boy soldiers to terrorize the Ugandan people, visitors from other country who came to help and to fight against the army. Rape, killing and torture—of soldiers, innocents and children—occur rather commonly but writer Joshua Dysart and artist Alberto Ponticelli don't pull their punches. They're not afraid to call a spade a spade, and if someone gets killed, it's not made to look fast, easy, cool or aesthetically pleasing—it's generally gross, messy and slightly terrifying. That can make the book somewhat hard to read, especially depending on your sensitivity to such topic, but shit, that's the sort of thing going on in Africa and other places in the world right now—if you're going to go to the trouble of setting an action and intrigue story there, better to do it honestly than to somehow make it glamorous (The main fantasy element Dysart ads is having a seemingly unstoppable soldier there to kill some of the bad guys who most seem to deserve it—although the good guy is just as brutal as the villains...his brutality is simply more justifiable, in an Old Testament sort of way).

—Artist Alberto Ponticelli is a force to be reckoned with.

—Vertigo trades still make plenty of use of blurbs. I only very rarely see blurbs on DC's super-books (or Marvel's, for that matter), but they seem to be on most every Vertigo trade paperback I pick up, and they are all over this one. There are some testimonial type ones from Garth Ennis and Warren Ellis on the cover, another from Brian Azzarello on the back and a whole mess from various, mostly comics-covering media: IGN, The Onion, Ain't It Cool News, G4TV, Newsarama and Comics Buyer's Guide.

—I love Vertigo trades. This volume contains six issues worth of the monthly comic book, which sells at $2.99 a pop, and it only costs $9.99—probably even cheaper through Amazon or some place like that. So the trade is almost exactly 50% of the cost of the monthly...? That's an insanely good value. This one doesn't use the pulpier paper that some Vertigo trades use, but it's not super-slick and highly reflective either.

—I was surprised to see a certain amount of continuity between this and past versions of The Unknown Soldier. He was originally a DC character, somewhere between a war hero and superhero (in that he had a unique visual hook and incredible skill set approaching the more-than-human), although Vertigo has made use of him before (In a four-issue, 1997 Garth Ennis/Kilian Plunkett miniseries). The character has appeared since in the DCU though, and, rather surprisingly was just in Blackest Night: Wonder Woman #1, while this new Vertigo ongoing was being published. What happened to that "wall" between the DCU and Vertigo properties (Personally, my theory is that the Vertigo editors are protective of the DCU editors screwing with their characters more than anything else).

Often times when Vertigo decides to relaunch a DCU property, there's a pretty radical reinvention process, but this is simply a more violent, graphic, mature and swear-word heavy version of what a new DCU take on the character might be.

Midway through, there's even an appearance by the original (or at least a previous) Unknown Soldier, who seemed to have played some role in the creation of the new one. So even if this doesn't necessarily flow from the original comics or the previous Vertigo miniseries—that is, it's not meant to be the next installment in one long, ongoing story—at the very least the premise has changed rather little and at least allows itself to be read as a continuation of those stories in a way that many Vertigo reinventions do not.

—This Unknown Soldier isn't a master of disguise, which is somewhat strange in that the premise of the original character was his ability to adopt the face and identity of just about any soldier or actor on any side in the war. The original Soldier was eligible to train for that ability because he didn't have a face of his own—it was blown off, giving him a blank canvas of sorts to work with. This Soldier also loses his face—in a fit of rage, he beats and scrapes it with rocks until it's a gory mess that insects and scavenging birds continue to ruin once he loses consciousness—but seemingly only to adopt the bandaged look of the original (and, perhaps, some sort of metaphorical destruction of his old identity).

At any rate, if you think of the Unknown Solider in terms of being a superhero, being a master of disguise was sort of his superpower. So this Soldier wearing the bandages and doing all the fighting and killing but not disguising himself is a little like if they made a Spider-Man movie and gave him the name, costume and sticking-to-walls powers, but he never shot webs.

This may change in the future, of course, since this Soldier shares elements of his origin with the original and seems to have been trained by the original, but it was one of the significant differences (Perhaps also significant is that this Soldier doesn't seem to be working directly with or in behalf of the U.S. military—he's not fighting with troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, but on his own in a country the U.S. isn't publicly at war with).

Friday, December 25, 2009

This is the closest thing I have to a Christmas special

That's the first panel of a mostly drawn/partially altered pre-existing comics panels Christmas-related comic strip-like thing I made for the site two years ago. If you weren't reading EDILW back then, please enjoy "A Visit From Bat-Santa" here. (Hmm, in retrospect, would A Visit From Saint Batmancalus have been a better title...?) If you were reading the site back then, you can re-read the strip if you's all I got for today, and beggars can't be choosers. Oh wait, I did a half-dozen short graphic novel reviews for Blog@ too. I suppose you can read those if you're absolutely starved for Caleb-related content.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

So this is a book that exists

While searching for something else in a library catalog, I stumbled across a picture book entitled Stan Lee’s Superhero Christmas (Katherine Tegen Book; 2004), and was intrigued enough to check it out. Stan Lee having written a children’s Christmas book seemed like the sort of thing I should have already have heard about, so I was surprised to learn of its existence just now.

I suppose the title itself tells one pretty much all one needs to know about the contents. Stan Lee is, of course, the writer, and though the format is not the one Lee’s best known for writing it, the book reads pretty much exactly what anyone who’s read any Stan Lee comics would expect.

I wasn’t very impressed with the script at all—of course, I’m not the recommended ages 4-8 either—which is as generic and straightforward as can be. There’s still a certain charm to it though, based mostly on the fact that it’s written by Stan Lee, and sounds like it. I often have a hard time explaining this sentiment toward Lee, but, love him, hate him, love certain things about him while hating other things about him, it’s hard for anyone in comics to not have some sort of affection for the man. He’s become so identified with comics and superheroes (in large part after a great deal of effort on his part) that it’s hard to separate him from them.

I tend to think of him as a very distant family member than a writer, so even lame, generic work like this gets a little smile out of me.

Anyway, here’s the story: Its Christmas Eve, and Santa Claus and his sarcastic, trying-too-hard-to-be-funny elf assistant are readying their sleigh, when they are attacked by the Ice King (has no one used that name before) and his “terrifying trolls. The Ice King has Spartan abs, but is otherwise a generic Christmas wizard villain type, with a beard of icicles.

Meanwhile, “In his hi-tech, state-of-the-art command center, the powerful Protector had monitored the Ice King’s cowardly attack.”

The Protector (did no one use that name before either?) is a square-jawed, S-curled, cape-less Superman type in a revolting purple and gold costume. He flies to the rescue, but gets caught alongside Santa.

Luckily his wife, superheroine Protectress (looking like a caped, purple and god Phoenix), and his superpower-less children, are able to fly to the North Pole to help save the day. This particular day being Christmas.

Lee’s artist collaborator is Tim Jessell, and I suppose it’s his fault I didn’t enjoy the book much more, as it tends to be the artwork that makes or breaks picture books for me as a grown man. Jessell’s style is described in his back flap bio as “realistic ‘with a twist,” but I probably would have stopped at realistic.

It’s all painted work, and from the poses and expressions, it definitely seems like live models and/or photos were used as reference, which gave the illustrations a stiffer, somewhat creepier look than I would have liked…especially considering its stars were born from the comic book medium, and it was written by one of super-comics’ most influential voices (Although even by 2004 I guess one could argue that superheroes no longer belonged to comic books the way they used to, but were just as much the product of movies).

Jessell’s not bad at what he’s doing—although the character designs are as dull and uninspired as Lee’s written conception of them—but seems an odd choice for a superhero story.


RELATED: I posted about this at Blog@ this afternoon, but it seems appropriate to mention it at the bottom of a post about a Stan Lee-written story about Christmas Eve. has a video of Stan Lee reading A Visit From Saint Nicholas, and it’s pretty much like having Lee read you a bed-time story.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Weekly Haul: December 23rd

Amazing Spider-Man #616 (Marvel Comics) This is the second half of Fred Van Lente and Javier Pulido’s Sandman story that I was raving about last week. The script is still smart, exciting, funny and even a bit unpredicatable, and Pulido’s art is still incredible. The story itself is big of a bummer—not only is there an element of tragedy about the villain, but Spidey’s essentially an ineffectual jerk whose only real skill is hurting supervillains, and his intervention merely makes things worse for the innocent victim. So it’s a bit of a downer, but it’s a well written, gorgeously illustratd bummer, and really, isn’t that the very best kind of bummer?

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #12 (DC Comics) Think you know the true meaning of Christmas? At least, the secular Christmas with the Santa Claus and the sled and the chimney and the Christmas tree and lights and ornaments and all that business? Would you believe we owe it all to Batman?

This is probably Landry and Walker’s best issue of the series so far, offering a perfect balance of all-ages action and knowing but effective humor for grown-ups.

It’s called “Final Christmas,” and it’s about the time Adam and Alanna Strange zeta beam Batman to Rann just seconds before the Earth is destroyed in an attempt to save the entire universe from annihilation. The villain of the piece is actually a generic DC alien type (A nameless Psion, I believe) rather than the guy on the cover, who is my second favorite Bat-villain to draw (coming in right behnd The Scarecrow). Calendar Man still gets about four wonderful pages though (“Your rampage of irritating misdemeanors ends now, Calendar Man!”).

Green Lantern #49 (DC) Oh hey wow, I’ve read forty-eight consecutive issues of this title, making it the single serial comic book I’m still reading that I’ve read the longest. I came very, very, very, very close to not reading this one, though, when I saw the name “Ed Benes” was attached to it.

Flipping thorugh it in the shop, though, I saw he was actually only one of three pencil artist to draw the issue, so I ended up bringing it home.

This is one of the many things I think is bad about Benes (althought it’s actually good for me personally, since I dislike his art so). Why does DC keep giving the guy work when he can’t keep up with it? This is only a 22-page comic book, and yet all he contributes is 11 or 12 pages of a 16-page lead story (the final page is a longshot splash of the planet Xanshi orbiting the planet Earth, with a bright green light between the two talking, and it seems like the colorist and letter might have drawn the whole page).

The division of labor is parceled out pretty organically though. Marcos Marz and Luciana del Negro apparently handle the pages of the lead story that Benes doesn’t, but they’re flashbacks, so the dramatic shift from one style to another’s not quite so drastic. The book ends with an entirely sepearate six-page story in which Black Lantern Jean Loring explains the nature of the universe to her captives Mera and Ray “The Atom” Palmer, and it’s drawn by Jerry Ordway (and is, thus, gorgeous).

Benes fares much better here than I would have expected, given some of the truly awful work of his I’ve seen recently in catching up with JLoA trades. Perhaps it helps that he’s inking himself? It certainly helps that he only has one or two non-skeletal humanoid characters to draw (so it hardly matters that he does such a poor job of differentiating characters), and there’s only one woman to draw, so the content of the panels are never re-written by the artist to actually be about butts and/or boobs. If DC’s going to continue to give Benes high-profile work, maybe they’re better off giving him easier, one-character work like this then books with sprawling casts.

Johns’ story is kind of dumb, and not the kinda awesome kind of dumb he’s often written on the title, but a more prosaic sort of dumb—it’s not aggressively, overly insulting kind of dumb though, so it’s certainly readable.

The focus is on Green Lantern John Stewart and how his retconned military background is reflected in his current role in the so-called “War of Lights.” So concerned with his time in the marines that this story is entitled “Semper Fi,” has John ring-genearted a marine uniform and guns for himself to use (instead of, you know, just wearing a force-field and shooting beams) and, at one point, he generates a whole platoon of G.I. Joes to help him fight the Black Lanterns of Xanshi.

Hellboy: The Bride of Hell (Dark Horse Comics) I was rather amused by the letter colum in the back of this issue. Editor Scott Allie was responding to a letter calling him out for some statements he made about how difficult it was to just plain enjoy modern superhero comics these days, given the degree to which they are based on past continuity or sprawl their various stories out among dozens of titles over the course of several years.

“I recently got excited about a couple of their books again, but realized I couldn’t follow the stories without figuring Civil War out—which I wasn’t interested in doing,” he wrote.

Thre reason I found it amusing was that I’ve always had difficult with the Hellboy franchise for that precise reason—I wasn’t there for the beginning, and there seems to be so much back story in so many different miniseries that I feel a little frustrated with and put-off by the whole franchise.

Which isn’t to say I’ve never read any Hellboy of course…over the last ten years I’ve probably read most of the books with the world Hellboy right there in the title, but I read the same ones over and over when the trade dress changes, and I read them out of order, and there are all these side projects I find daunting.

My point is just that any serial comic you’ve missed a whole lot of can seem extremely new reader unfriendly. Thr problem with the Hellboy-iverse, I think, comes down to the way that it’s been published—as a series of miniseries, so that I couldn’t just find a back issue box somewhere and start working on Hellboy the monthly with issue #1.

On the other hand, Hellboy is a hell of a lot easier to understand than something like, say, Secret Invasion or Infinite Crisis. There’s this big monster guy, he works for the demon and monster-fighting version of the FBI, and he fights demons and monsters. The basic premise isn’t exactly hard to wrap ones head around, even if I tend to forget the names of characters or details of Hellboy’s past and origins in the years between a trade or one-shot.

I don’t bring this up to argue Allie’s point. In fact, I’m glad he finds super-comics so hard to get into today, because that is apparently what inspired Dark Horse’s “One-Shot Wonders” program of special, easy-to-read, perfect jumping-on-point one-shot comics, of which this is one (How serious are they about keeping these things self-contained? They’re not even labeled or logo-ed as part of the “One-Shot Wonders” initiative, save for on an ad on the back cover).

This is only the second of ‘em I’ve personally bought and read, but it’s a good one, and another good example of how easy to “get” Hellboy is.

Your $3.50 gets you an ad-free 24-page story written by Mike Mignola and drawn by Richard Corben. In it, some Satanic cultist types have seemingly abducted a girl which they plan on offering up to a monster that turns out to be a big-time demon. Hellboy goes to rescue her, and along the way he and we learn a lot of interesting Biblical and medieval back story (This issue in particular made me sort of wish there was a section of notes or at least bibliography in the back of Hellboy comics; there are enough real names and real history in here that it all felt pretty genuine, whether it was or not. It was the sort of comic that made me want to read some books about the subject matter after finishing it).

Corben’s art was a bit of a revelation to me, particularly in how well it worked with Mignola’s scripting and characters. The people looked extremely Corben-esque, but rather than filter the title character through his own style, his Hellboy looked an awful lot like Mignola’s—in certain panels, he actually looks like a slightly more textured version of a Mignola drawing.

And damn, the demon he draws? When it appears at night, it’s just a black shape with eyes and teeth—it its flashback, it regains a shape, and, when we see it in the light, it’s broken and aged. That’s some accomplished, evocative art work that can so thoroughly transform the same character while keeping the interpretations firmly rooted in a base version. It’s cartoonish art that treats the subject like it was “real,” and that’s pretty exciting.

There’s also a two-page letter column and a six-page preview of Guy Davis’ gorgeous looking Marquis: Inferno graphic novel, so, all told, this has gotta be one of the better values on the racks this week.

Incredible Hercules #139 (Marvel) In the never-ending war of Marvel vs. DC, there are a million little battles, and each one has a different victor. In the Battle of the Back-Up Features, though, DC does an infinitely better job of advertising the presence of a back-up and how and where to find it. Look at the above coer design—not only is it a mess, but it hardly encourages an Agents of Atlas fan to pick it up, does it? Additional, the Agents seem to be sort of wandering around from book to book, so it’s difficult to know when they’re going to be where in any given month unless you pay very close attention (In March, for example, instead of a new ish of Inc Herc, there will be the first-part of a two-issue miniseries entitled Hercules: Fall of an Avengers, and the AoA back-up will be there. Seems to me like it would be far easier to ingor the Agents’ appearance in comics, and just wait for the trades).

Anyway, in this issue Herc and his handful of allies (Spider-Man and –Woman, USAgent, Quicksilver, Hank Pym and Wolverine) fight Hera and her allies, and the full extent of her plot is revealed. Then in the beautifully illustrated back-up, the Agents fight some mythological types while wearing neat-o disguises. It’s all pretty decent, but perhaps not remarkably so.

Power Girl #7 (DC) This actually came out last week, but I left it sitting on the shelf, despite significant temptations—it’s always hard not to buy Amanda Conner art, and shirt-less, pant-less, mustachioed manly man Vartox of Valeron on the cover was practically demanding I purchase it.

Of course, that was before Michael Hoskin pointed out in the comments section of last week’s column that it featured Golden Age Wonder Woman villain The Blue Snowman (Whose appearance in the modern DCU I’ve specifically asked for before).

I was quite pleasantly surprised by the entire issue, actually. I gave Power Girl a couple issues, but I decided to drop it around #2 or #3, as it seemed just as concerened with ickiness and retroactive continuity as all of the other DCU comics I don’t enjoy reading (albeit with much more fun, distinctive art).

But this issue was much more full-on comedy in a cape, and thus made better use of Conner’s particular gifts when it comes to design, detail and facial expressions. It’s pretty silly, containing words like “contraception bomb” and “seduction musk rifle” (which is so penis-shaped I’m kinda surprised DC even allowed it to appear) and using a gender-flipped version of the Maxima/Superman plot as a springboard for character comedy and monster-fighting.

Poor Blue Snowman doesn’t seem to survive the issue, but she’s swallowed whole by the monster, and is wearing a metal suit, so she shouldn’t be too hard to resurrect when Gail Simone or whoever decides it’s time to knock off all the mythology business and revisit Wonder Woman’s golden age for inspiration.

The metallic battle-suit and snow-shooting pipe and top hat on Ms. Byrna Brilyant aren’t really what I was expecting design-wise, but I think it turned out pretty cool. (Ha ha! Cool! The Blue Snowman design was cool!).

The rest of the issue was pretty cool too, and I’ll be back to check out #8 next month. That means, DC Comics, you owe Hoskin for the sales of two comic books.

Tiny Titans #23 (DC) I’m so happy that there exists a comic book in which the line, “There! All the bunnies are dressed like Batman!” is a perfectly natural one. This issue, which I believed shipped most places last week but just hit my shop today, is an all Bat-related one, featuring Robin, Batgirl, Bat-Mite, Alfred, the various animals that have taken up residence in Wayne Manor over the course of the past 22 issues and even the big guy himself. Oh, and younger kids Tim and Jason are introduced as well, so there are several panels of Art Baltazar and Fraco’s story that evoke the premise of the fun Batman and Sons webcomic.


And that's this week's haul discussed. Tonight's Christmas Eve Eve, and I'm not entirely sure of what my posting schedule will look like here or at Blog@ over the course of the next few days.

I have some half-written posts and a stack of books I've read but haven't reviewed yet, and I think there was even an announcement or two this week that I may have opinions about, but holiday-celebrating—paired with the fact that no one's going to be looking at the Internet for a few days anyway—may make posting light and/or lamer than usual between tomorrow and Sunday. I'll probably still try to get something up every day, but, whatever ends up happening, rest assured both EDILW and my contributions to Blog@ will be back to normal by Monday.

If you celebrate Christmas, then I hope you have a happy and safe one, and, if you don't, then I hope you have a happy and safe Friday.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Marvel's March previews reviewed

Eh, I've already talked enough about this one. So instead of talking some more about it, I suggest you visit Comixology to see what Tucker Stone has to say about both Girl Comics and DC's Earth One initiative.

It sounds like this:

Hey, I would've loved to be there and applaud when they tore those "Whites Only" signs off the water fountains in Atlanta, but that doesn't mean I'll be dancing in the streets of Crown Heights just because Black Lightning got a Year One series. Nobody throws me a party just because I made it to work on time, and you don't deserve one for only being 15 minutes late. Making a decision to publish a Batman graphic novel that won't include Ragman or any of those other thirty superheroes who fight crime in Gotham City isn't exactly a paradigm shift either. These are business decisions, and while one of them might have a lateral sociological benefit, it's not like either company had to wait until 2009 for the world to be ready.

IRON MAN 1.5 #1 (of 3)
Written by JOE CASEY
An all-new adventure set in the movie world of IRON MAN and IRON MAN 2!
When Tony Stark announced "I am Iron Man" at the end of the blockbuster Hollywood mega-smash, his life changed forever. When IRON MAN 2 opens, it's months later and the world is totally different. What happened during that time? How did Tony Stark put a new chapter in the history books? And how did Iron Man break and rewrite all the rules? Find out in this OFFICIAL in-movie-continuity story!
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$2.99

This is a somewhat weird project, given that Marvel hasn’t really done anything set in the continutiverse of any of their film projects before. But then, there are about 500 Iron Man comics in this month’s solicitations, so I suppose it was a simple matter of statistics that they would do an Iron Man comic set in the world of the movies.

Speaking of which, whatever happened to that Jon Favreau/Adi Granov Iron Man: Viva Las Vegas miniseries with Fin Fang Foom and Elsa Bloodstone? Did they ever get around to finishing that? Because that seemed like the ideal tie-in, being scripted by the director of the film and illustrated by one of the designers who worked on the film. And gee, wouldn't spring of 2010 be the perfect time to have that trade paperback collection available for sale?

Variant Cover by ROGER LANGRIDGE
Once upon a time, in a world of super heroes and villains, there lived a team of animals that saved the universe...and no one knew it. These creatures asked not for fortune or fame, merely to help the humans that pet them. But a new threat to the world has arisen, which only they know of, that could change everything...and kill one of them. Join CHRIS ELIOPOULOS, IG GUARA, and CHRIS SOTOMAYOR for an epic tale of adventure, courage...and sacrifice.
32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99

Fuck yeah! It will be hard to choose a cover though, given that the Guara one looks so nice (and has a panda!), but Roger Langridge is drawing the variant, and it's so awesome looking. Although maybe it's one of those incentive variants, in which case I won't need to decide anyway.

Written by PAUL TOBIN
FINAL ISSUE! There’s been a fight brewing for some time, and it all explodes in this issue when Emma Frost comes face-to-face with justice in the form of...Sophia “Chat” Sanduval, the girl who can talk to animals. But is she a match for the woman who will become the White Queen? And with Spider-Man hunted by an entire crime family, and with Bullseye on his way...what can one wall-crawler do to help his girlfriend Chat, when she can’t even remember who he is?
32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99

Written by PAUL TOBIN
FINAL ISSUE! Who remembers Gary Gaunt? Considered a monster during World War II, he was secretly dropped behind German lines so his terrible “Jekyll and Hyde”
transformations would disrupt the German war effort. Gaunt...forgotten by society, has been able to control his hideous transformations for over 60 years...but when
his special serum is stolen, Nova and the Avengers find themselves at ground zero with the strangest man/
monster of them all!
32 PGS./All Ages ...$2.99

Final what now...? These books were both recently given new directions, which seemed to improve their sales in the direct market a bit. Seems like an odd time to pull the plug, unless it's only to relaunch. I guess we'll see.

Oh so Luke Cage didn't die after all? That's good.

Issue #1 Variant Cover by ED MCGUINNESS
Witness the birth of the most important super hero team ever in a universe-spanning event that will rock the month of March! Wade Wilson has been tapped to save the Universe, and to do that he’s going to need help. Enter: The sexy-but-insecure Lady Deadpool! The devious-but-lovable Headpool (a.k.a. the Zombie Deadpool Head)! The bratty-but-brilliant Kidpool! And the irascible mutt known as Dogpool! Individually, they’re, well, kind of messed up, but together, they’re the unstoppable force know as DPC.
Issue #1 40 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99
Issue #2-#5 32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$2.99

Three ongoings and a miniseries...? I don't know Marvel, I think you might be starting to push Deadpool's inexplicable popularity a bit now...

The art roster interests me—on issues #3-#5, anyway—but this has "Wait to Borrow the Trade from the Library" written all over it. Metaphorically speaking. I don't think it will actually have those words on the final cover.

SIEGE #3 (of 4)
Pencils & Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL
Variant Cover by JOE QUESADA
Sketch Variant Cover by JOE QUESADA
The Marvel blockbuster of the year!!
In the halls of Asgard and on the streets of small town America the entire Universe is gripped
in a the greatest battle ever seen: SIEGE!! Lives
have been lost! Lines have been drawn! And the
battle for Asgard is in full force. The moment for
revelations and life-changing moves is here, and for some, this will be the last choice they ever make in this world. What happens next is so epic, so historic, that it changes the entire dynamic of the Marvel Universe. You're gonna want to be there for this us.
40 PGS./Cardstock Cover/Rated T+ ...$3.99

Weird. I read every sentence in this paragraph, and despite all the exclamation points—sometimes two to a sentence!—I don't feel an iota of excitement (Oh my God, am I finally dead inside?!). Nor do I have any inkling of what is actually happening here. The Marvel Universe is changing again, people are fighting, people are dying...that's been happening since "Avengers: Disassembled"...what different this time? I'll tell you what's different—it's completely vague. With other big Marvel events, it was pretty clear what was going on and why it was exciting—all-new paradigm for the Avengers, hero vs. hero, no more mutants, alien infiltration, Hulk beating everybody up—but all Marvel's offering here is a "trust us."

And given that it's being written by the guy who wrote "Avengers: Disassembled," House of M and Secret Invasion, it's hard to believe any of this "greatest battle ever seen" business. I've read hundreds of pages of Bendis writing Marvel superhero action, including several entire series devoted to vast assemblages of super-people fighting, and he is terrible at it. Secret Invasion was an eight-issue series with about two battles, one in which some heroes milled around the Savage Land, and another in which some heroes met some Skrulls in a field. There were double-page splashes of poses, and a green lady got shot in the head.

I suppose it's worth noting that this will be longer than 22-story pages (probably 30 or 32, if we assume there's 8-10 pages of ads...but who knows with Marvel), and it's got a cardstock cover for $3.99. With Secret Invasion, only the first issue was oversized with a cardstock cover, the rest of the series was $4 for 22-pages and the heavier cover stock. Which was insane.

Penciled & Cover by OLIVIER COIPEL
Get a behind the scenes look at Marvel’s premiere event of 2010! Beginning with the ravaging affects of Avengers Disassembled and following the aftermaths of House of M, Civil War and Secret Invasion, culminating with the evil Reign of Norman Osborn, the Marvel Universe has been left with its greatest villains holding more power and control than ever before. On the brink of madness, Osborn, in his final bid to take total control, targets the final obstacle in his mission...Asgard. Events are set in motion forcing our heroes to put aside the deep rifts that have grown over the past seven years. Opposing them stand a horde of evil that has begun to take down the gods of the Golden Realm! SIEGE will rock the foundations of every super hero, villain and team in the Marvel Universe. As an era ends, one word will ring above all others...”SIEGE.” This bonus edition reprints SIEGE #1 in its entirety – plus the SIEGE PROLOGUE, previously available only online, and other choice extras.
48 PGS./Cardstock Cover/Rated T+ ...$4.99

This comic has a director...?

Written by BRIAN REED
Penciled by CHRIS SAMNEE
The world is watching the Siege unfold as H.A.M.M.E.R., The Initiative, the Dark Avengers and more clash against the greatest assemblage of heroes ever. But will the transmission be cut short when Norman Osborn attacks? And what secrets will be exposed for all to see?
32 PGS./Rated T+ ...$3.99

Why isn't Frontline providing Phil Urich with a reporter's notebook? Why must he carry around that huge thing?

Also, has anyone revealed what H.A.M.M.E.R. stands for yet? That's been bugging me for months now...

Written by DANIEL WAY
You want barbarian action? You got it! Nomad. Slave. Warrior. King. All of these describe the man known today as Starr the Slayer. But before he was any of those, he was simply an idea floating around in the head of Len Carson, a pulp novelist with ambitions of literary greatness. His dreams dashed and his career on the skids, Carson makes the fateful decision to revisit his most famous creation. But what he never expected was for his creation to revisit person! Let the smashing and slicing commence! Collecting STARR THE SLAYER #1-4.
96 PGS./Explicit Content ...$19.99

Ugh. That's the sub-title they're going with? Well, whatever...a Corben-drawn comic is a Corben-drawn comic.

Penciled by CHRIS WESTON
Europe, 1945: Captain America leads a mission to destroy the Nazis' missile program...and The Phantom Reporter wants in! An untold tale from Marvel's Golden Age featuring the forgotten heroes who would go on to become "The Twelve"!
40 PGS./One-Shot/Rated T+ ...$3.99

I’ll be happy to see some more reasonably priced Twelve comics, whether JMS gets around to finishing his series or not. I was actually more interested in what the characters would be doing in the modern Marvel Universe after that mini wrapped up more than I was who killed Blue Blade or whatever anyway. So, hooray for this book! Everybody guy a copy so they’ll make more!

Written by JASON AARON
Pencils & Cover by RON GARNEY
"Tomorrow Dies Today" Part One
Beginning an epic, action-packed arc featuring the debut of an all-new, all-different Deathlok. Killer cyborgs have come from the future to kill the heroes of today, while Wolverine embarks on an international pub crawl with a certain recently reborn Sentinel of Liberty. Beer and bullets galore!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

I recently read the first trade paperback of this series and really enjoyed it (it's one of about a half dozen graphic novel reviews I've been meaning to get to at some point soon). I can't imagine reading this serially at this price, and I have a feeling I'd like it a lot less with a month between chapters, but that first volume was pretty much a perfect Wolverine story. This one sounds fun too.

Written by JASON AARON
Welcome to Dunwich Sanatorium, where the only people weirder than the patients are the doctors in charge. The newest resident is a man known only as Patient X, a poor confused soul who doesn't remember who he is or how he came to be here. He only has vague memories of living with wolverines and traveling to the moon and killing lots and lots of people. Lucky for him, he came to the right place. The good Dr. Rot knows everything there is to know about the human brain. Including how to remove it! Collecting WOLVERINE: WEAPON X #6-10.
120 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$24.99

This story arc however? Ugh. First, there’s that sub-title—if it were a person, I would slap it. Then there’s the whole sane person in a crazy asylum premise. And Yanick Paquette, whom I recall being pretty good, in for Ron Garney, who was a big part of why I enjoyed the first trade. And, finally, the name “Dunwich Sanatorium.” I’m pretty tired of H.P. Lovecraft allusions in comics, if only because that well is so well frequented (“The Dunwich Horror” was one of my favorite stories, though).

I’ll still give this a read if I can find it at a library for Aaron’s sake, but it doesn’t sound as promising as Wolverine vs. The Laser Claw Wolverine Team.

Pencils by TBA
Cover by C.P. SMITH
Spinning from the pages of X MEN NOIR: MARK OF CAIN...
“In the fourth century, Saint Jerome said that the face was the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.
I wear a false face, true. One that is hideous and deformed, to hide my true nature.
Or perhaps it is the mask that is real, and the face...a DEMON.”
40 PGS./One-Shot/Parental Advisory ...$3.99

I really dig the title for this one, as it sort of suggests Marvel's just randomly smooshing various title together. I expect a House of M Noir and 1602 Noir before next fall.

Written by JEPH LOEB
Pencils & Gatefold Cover by FRANK CHO
Villain Variant by LEINIL FRANCIS YU
Foilogram Variant by FRANK CHO
If only a few super heroes survived the Ultimatum -- who is left to become the next super powered team to be reckoned with? The NEW Ultimates! With Thor gone, Loki takes his revenge unleashing the worst of Asgard on Earth. Iron Man must gather the heroes for their biggest Ultimates adventure yet. But who has made the final cut? And who can’t be trusted? The Ultimates face evil once again and you’ll never guess the new enemies they’ll find...or should we say old friends? Superstar creators, JEPH LOEB and FRANK CHO (in his Ultimate Comics debut!) bring you the new face of the Ultimate line in NEW ULTIMATES: THOR REBORN!
32 PGS./Parental Advisory ...$3.99

Given the state of the Ultimate line before and after Jeph Loeb's Ultimates and, especially, the Ultimatum-prompted reboot, this book's very existence boggles my mind. And I don't mean that on a creative level—Loeb is working with artist Frank Cho, so this is guaranteed to be a bit more readable than his Ultimates 3--I mean on a strictly business level. Ultimatum didn't exactly kill the Ultimate (now Ultimate Comics) line, but all it did was cause a brief spike in sales before returning all the books to ever dwindling slumps. Can the line afford to risk more Jeph Loeb stories?

X-23, Armor, Blindfold, Mercury and Pixie are stuck in a
nightmare high school and they can’t get out. Who is the
person responsible? Could it be Pixie’s father? And who is he? Here’s one hint—Hellfire.
32 PGS./Rated A ...$3.99

Hey, an X-Men book that interests me! Too bad about Marvel's stupid $4-for-22-pages pricing...guess this is another one to put on my Hopefully Read in Trade...Someday list.