Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reviews of five recent-ish comic books

Darkwing Duck #1 (Boom) I’ll cop to being a fan of Darkwing Duck, the early ‘90’s superhero celebra-parody that was part of Disney’s “Disney Afternoon” suite of after-school cartoons. I think I was in sixth grade or so when Disney started pumping out half-hour comedy adventures based on various reinterpretations of various characters they had lying around unexploited. Darkwing was a particular favorite, as I was just getting into superhero comics at the time, and Batman: The Animated Series debuted around the same time, creating a strange superhero conversation on our television screen, in which Batman and Darkwing echoed one another in weird ways.

Given it’s superhero connections—the character was essentially a Batman-like vigilante battling a variety of villains who were little more than anthropomorphic analogue versions of various Flash, Spider-Man and Superman rogues—Darkwing Duck is, of course, better-suited than most other Disney properties to get a second life as a Direct Market-centric superhero comic (Certainly better than Talespin or Chip ‘N Dale’s Rescue Rangers!)

Despite what a significant portion of my life that was devoted to watching Darkwing Duck over the half-decade or so it was on the air when I really should have been playing outside, however, and the fact that a Disney superhero concept seems well suited to comics, I didn’t have too terribly high hopes for the comic book adaptation. I suspect that the TV show didn’t age that well (I have a second window open and have an episode playing on YouTube as I write this though, and while it’s better in my memories than it is on my computer, there’s some really great voice work on it. DW and Launchpad are both performed suepr-well), and I didn’t really care for the previous Disney superhero comics I’ve read form publisher Boom.

Well, writer Ian Brill and artist James Silvani won me over almost immediately. There’s a swell Dark Knight Returns cover gag on the title page—in which the bolt of lightning the Dark Knight leapt dramatically in front of on Frank Miller’s iconic cover blasts the tail off of the “Duck Knight”—and Brill elicited two “heh”s from me in the two very first panels of his script (A swell duck pun, followed by a coffee flavor/black-out joke).
I’m not sure which creator to heap the most credit on, which is a good sign—they both do such a swell job here that neither outshines the other, or leaves slack that the other must pick up. It’s a really well-made comic, and I was pretty surprised to find I could still hear so many of the characters’ voices in my head as I was reading their dialogue (I had a similar experience with Archaia’s Fraggle Rock; like that book Darkwing had me feeling nostalgia for something I didn’t even really miss until I read the comic based on it), and the issue read an awful lot like the first act of an episode of the cartoon—albeit an episode with higher production values, as Silvani, unrestrained by a shoestring animation budget, really goes nuts filling the panels with background players and action, making them a pleasure to linger on.

The book opens with a recounting of Darkwing’s last big case, which was apparently one year ago. Since then, he’s been forced into retirement by the crime-fighting robots of massive corporation Quackwerks (Sounds like Kraftwerk), which have completely eradicated all crime in the city of St. Canard. Of course, if you’ve seen Robocop, then you know what generally happens when a corporation builds crime-fighting robots, but until they go bonkers Darkwing’s civilian identity of Drake Mallard is a cubicle jockey for Quackwerks, working under the management of former supervillain Megavolt’s civilian identity.

As structured, Brill manages to quickly introduce the character, set-up a new, temporary “Where’s Darkwing been since his show ended?” status quo, and then cliffhangs us toward his reemergence.

Silvani’s designs are dead on and, if anything, sharper and more detailed than that of the show itself. He’s a quite accomplished actor of an artist, using Drake/Darkwing’s eyes to great effect. The character was and is something of a melodramatic, even asinine character, an off-brand Batman who was quite conscious of acting like a superhero, which always means a lot of squinting, grimacing and speechifying mixed with cartoonish eye-popping and jaw-dropping.

It’s only one issue, of course, but if Brill and Silvani can sustain this high level of quality, then it looks like Darkwing Duck might ultimately end up being just at home in this medium as in his native one. In fact, comics’ ability to freeze time around certain actions and Silvani’s skillfull cartooning may mean that Darkwing works better as a comic book character than he did as a cartoon one. UPDATE: Wait, wait, wait…I just thought of some good blurb-bait. Ready? Okay, the Darkwing Duck comic? It’s Ian Brill-iant! Ha ha ha ha! (Has someone made that joke before? I bet someone made that joke before...)

Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #2 (Archaia) Perhaps unsurprisingly given it’s Mouse Guard version of Canterbury Tales structure, the second issue of this David Petersen-curated anthology book is actually just as fine a jumping-on point to his world of medieval mice as the first issue was.

In the Petersen written and drawn framing sequences, the various patrons at a mouse inn continue a tale-telling contest, with three more stories being told, each by a different creative team.

In this issue, those teams are Alex Kain and Sean Rubin, who tell the tale of Guardmouse taking on a bear, Terry Moore, who tells a short story about a couple of mice using a toad to help them escape an aerial attack by shrikes (which may be racist against toads, in the way that dwarves and elves are racist against one another), and Lowell Francis and Gene Ha, who tell a story about a heroic banker mouse who defeats a massive, marauding mink.

As with the previous issue, half the fun is seeing various artists interpret Petersen’s world, and all three of these hew rather close to Petersen’s basic designs, which makes the differences in rendering all the more stark.

I got the biggest kick out of Moore’s story, but probably only because that’s the artist whose work I was most familiar to seeing, and applied to things other than anthropomorphic mice. Sean Rubin’s art in the opening story, “Potential,” was perhaps the best here though, full of many tiny lines which seem to represent every hair and strand of fur on the mouse and bear in the story. It’s highly illustrative-looking, and in-keeping with the tone and spirit of Petersen’s aesthetic, although diverging from his technique.

I really love this comic, both as a fun reading experience and as something to go back and pore over to meditate on art.

I didn’t notice this in the first issue, but if you glanced at the cover there and read my description of the book’s contents, you’ll notice at no point did I mention a ghost mouse. What gives? The cover page has a little paragraph recounting a legend about a ghost. So apparently Petersen’s doing more than just framing sequences; he’s contributing legends to the world of Mouse Guard in this series as well. Neat.

Omega Comics Presents #2 (Pop Goes the Icon) This is the second issue of a quarterly anthology from boutique publisher Pop Goes the Icon, and as such one probably doesn’t need to read #1 in order to get the most out of #2; only the first feature, Omega seems to be a continuing features, and even that was easy enough to jump right into.

It is an anthology though, so standard anthology rules apply: Some stories are better than others, and chances are different readers will rank them all differently, so keep in mind this is just this reader’s assessment.

Omega, by PJ Perez, is a thriller about a terrorist roup taking over the Hoover Dam with high school students taken hostage. Their plan is to blow up the dam, but one of the kids has some sort of strange power that saves them. It’s just a chapter of a longer story, but it has a clear beginning, middle and end, and Perez is subtle enough with the storytelling that it creates a mood of intrigue. The character designs are strong and well-rendered, but as solid as any individual panel was, the art seemed a bit stiff to me…and the computer-lettering left a lot to be desired.

Next up was “Greedy,” a short sex and crime trifle with some obvious twists executed quite well. Russell Lissau and mpMann are responsible for this, and it boasts the strongest and most fluid art in the issue.

Next up is “Greyman: Highway Patrol,” which I didn’t much care for. It’s by Glenn Arseneau and Andy Gray, and is about a sort of liminal superhero being fighting to save the souls of some recently deceased young people from some motorcycle, Venom-esque tongue monster things or something. A lot of it seemed overly familiar to me, but the art was full of some crazy angles and interesting choices; I don’t know that I cared for the art overall that much, but I did like looking at each page in order to see what get drawn next and how.

Finally, there’s a short little gag story by Dino Caruso and J. Korim about door-to-door lawyers selling a pretty good service that has a nice punchline ending. The art is big and cartoony—maybe too big—but it’s all over so quickly that I didn’t have time to dwell on anything long enough to get turned off by it. (The lettering here wasn’t so hot either, actually…I guess I don’t much care for computer-lettering unless it’s so well done that it looks like old-school hand-lettering, maybe…?)

You can follow the link above to Pop’s home page, and see how to order a copy of the book for yourself there.

Pale Horse #1 (Boom) This is a more-or-less straightforward, post-Unforgiven Western comic, which is both it’s strength and its weakness. Cole is a black cowboy who lived with an Native American woman and they had a white baby. Three white men rape and kill his woman, so then he kills them, and becomes a bounty hunter, despite the fact that there’s a bounty out for him as well, raising his son while making his living killing dudes.

Andrew Cosby (who gets a story credit) and Michael Alan Nelson (who gets a “written by” one) don’t do anything wrong, but there’s nothing to Cole that necessarily makes him an interesting character. There’s a bit of mystery, I suppose—like where his baby boy came from—and Nelson does try to ramp it up a bit at the end by suggesting that someone back east wants Cole dead for some mysterious reason—but that’s it in terms for a hook. The character is a hard, cold, emotionless killer and torturer, made that way because his woman was once tortured and killed.

Is this going to turn into a Western Lone Wolf and Cub? Will Cosby and Nelson say something more interesting about race than pointing out the obvious fact that a lot of white folks in the Old West were monstrously racist?

Maybe, but they haven’t so far, and with a book costing $3.99 per issue, it’s hard to imagine decent execution of a straightforward genre book being enough to motivate many readers to spend another four books on a #2 issue. (Might be worth checking back in again with the trade though).

Pale Horse’s biggest selling point (at this point) is the art of Christian Dibari’s extremely expressive art. The backgrounds all look like watercolors—in fact, colorist Andres Lozano gives everything a painted look—and Dibari’s artwork suggests that of a mixture of Leinil Francis Yu and Kevin O’Neil here and there…maybe a slight accent of Tim Sale. It’s pretty great looking, but not so great that it transcends the script it’s illustrating.

Peony Trivet (Beehive Comics) This is an interesting comic. It’s a short, complete, 34-page black and white story about a man named Isaac Gander who is in the process of moving into a new place and attempting to forget a woman who broke his heart and it takes place over the course of about 24 hours.

Isaac and a man from a small moving company named Razel, a comedic if ethnically regressive stereotype character (although his country of origin is never given) unload all of the former’s possessions, and run into one another later that night under strange circumstances—Razel is shirtless and ranting and raving in a convenience store which Isaac has gone into to buy something to eat.

In the parking lot, Isaac meets a woman who appears to be the title character, a sort of magical fantasy girl in striped leggings and a big Flashdance sweatshirt who goes back to his place with her and has sex with him repeatedly. She later leaves under mysterious circumstances.

I’m not entirely sure if there’s another issue to follow or not; the cover of this issue at least implies that the woman has some other stuff going on than meeting and doing Isaac.

The script, by Ed Greene, is a little on the weird side, enough so that it’s difficult to tell if some of the weirder bits—like Peony cajoling Isaac into awkwardly attempting to play out a rape fantasy, some of Razel’s ranting here and there, or what Peony says upon first meeting Isaac—is supposed to be funny or not. I thought much of it was funny, but it was delivered straight enough that looking back, I’m not entirely sure if Greene has super-dry delivery, or if I misread the tone of some of the scenes.

The artwork, by Jeff Sims, is great-looking though. There’s a soft, playful loose-ness to the characters, props and settings that I have trouble thinking of any word other than “charming” to describe. There are very few sharp lines or edges in the work…even the panels are border-less, ending when the gray washes meet the white space that form the panels. Each panel looks a little like a New Yorker cartoon and a little like an illustration in an old childrens chapter book, and is just a ton of fun to look at.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with this comic all the time, but it was a pleasant enough read, made me smile a lot, kept me on my toes and was rather gorgeous.

But don’t take my word for it: You can download a pdf of it here and read it for yourself.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Arthur Curry vs. The World

Screwing around in my sketchbook last night, I was trying to figure out how Bryan Lee O'Malley draws people and, um, somehow the last few pages ended up looking like this. That's Aquaman and Martian Manhunter reenacting the cover of Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4

Superman stealing a pose from Wallace Wells (and his hair too).

Wonder Woman modeled on three different characters: Ramona from the cover of Vol. 5, then Kim Pine and Knives Chau from the beach scene at the beginning of Vol. 4. I'd show you my attempts at making a Batman based on Matthew Patel, but there is some art so bad even I'm too ashamed to share it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Or maybe just a minor art mistake.


(Art by Yanick Paquette and Michel Lacombe taken from Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3, which was written by Grant Morrison and beautifully lettered by Jared K. Fletcher)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One nice thing about newspaper comic strips

I've mentioned in passing before that I have a new roommate now—Yogi, a 12-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever (pictured below). She was my mother's dog and has lived with her the majority of those 12 years, but now poor old Yogo has developed dog arthritis and doesn't travel as well as she used to, so she's been living with me since this past spring. As it turns out, the lifestyle of an old, arthritic dog and that of a comics blogger are remarkably compatible!

A few days ago, I was going to make a pot of coffee for elevenses, and when I opened the cupboard where I keep my coffee I found a Sunday Peanuts taped to the inside of the cupboard door. My mother must have cut it out and taped it up as a surprise where she knew I'd find it the last time she was here.

The subject matter was Charlie Brown ruminating on how thankless the task of caring for a dog is...except for when it's not thankless.

Maybe not the greatest Peanuts strip, and the funnies page it was cut from (not exactly sure which paper, although I can narrow it down to three) had it laid out in an uneven column that hardly flatters it (see below), but it made me smile at the time, perhaps as much because it was a symbol that a family member was thinking of me and used it as part of a nice gesture.

And it reminded me of at least one thing about newspaper comics that is kind of special (Generally I only bring them up on the blog when it's to say something disparaging about how terrible they have become).

Is there any other medium of popular creative expression which lends itself to this sort of gesture? You might see a scene in a movie or a TV show or even a commercial or perhaps hear a song on the radio that reminds you of a friend or loved one, but you can't exactly take a pair of scissors to a TV or movie screen; you can reduce a song to a physical artifact to stick in an envelope or tape to a refrigerator door.

It's technically possible to cut a passage out of a book, of course, but books (like comics!) are expensive. The funnies are delivered to people's houses for such a little amount of money that they're practically free.

I don't want to open any web comics vs. paper comics debates, but I think this sort of funnies-as-interpersonal-currency is something the paper ones continue to do better than web comics. Sure, you can print out any comic you read on the web to put up on the office bulletin board, but it's a more engaged comics reader who will go looking at particular sites on the Internet to see strips (I know I'm the only person in my extended family and circle of friends who does so, for example).

Whatever their deficiencies, newspaper comic strips remain the most cut-out-and-taped-to-kitchen-cupboards type of comic...or popular art of any kind.

Well, newspaper comics or amateur, original art by little kids related to whoever owns the kitchen cupboards, I guess....


The particular strip discussed above:
(As always, clicking the images make them bigger, if you're having trouble appreciating Schulz's line work)

Not comics: Ben Patrick's illustrations for The Monster Spotter's Guide to North America

The Monster Spotter's Guide to North America (How; 2007) is one of those books that has such a strong book design that the design itself was enough to get me to pick it up off the shelf and give it a looksee (Grace Rign gets credit for the design). The conceit of the book is a rather simply one, and rather simply executed, but it's a fun one. As the back cover says, it's "Like a bird-watching guide...only for monsters."

The book is a tall, skinny rectangle (About 7.8-inches high and 4.6-inches wide), and author Scott Francis breaks it up into geographically defined ranges ("Monsters of the Northeast," "Monsters of the South," "Monsters of Canada," etc). Within each chapter, monsters are broken into seven categories ("Sasquatch and Hairy Monsters," "Flying Monsters," "Folklore Monsters, etc.), each with its own little icon/symbol (You can see these all on the cover...I espcially like the Sasquatch one). Francis offers other info as well, including an introduction explaining the hobby of monster-spotting (much safer than monster hunting), what tools you'll need, and some appendixes (one dealing with famous monster corpses, another giving a time line of North American monster history).

If you're looking for original or very specific information on the various cryptids and monsters that some believe share our continent, or some occasionally see on our continent, or folks told stories about on our continent, then this probably isn't the book for you.

Every monster in here I've heard of in another book, generally in much greater detail (As you may have noticed, I've been on a bit of a monster kick in my prose reading recently—Mothman Prophecies sent my reading in that direction, and I'm currently reading Loren Coleman's Mothman and Other Curious Encounters and re-reading Keel's Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings...many of the monsters in this guide are covered in both of those books).

That's not necessarily a failing of Francis' book, however. It's not that kind of book—the publisher's library subject suggestions are "monsters" and "folklore," and suggests the Dewey decimal number for folklore, but the bookstore shelving suggestion on the back cover is "pop culture/humor."

I think it works as a nice survey of American monster lore though, an easy-to-read, single-sitting introduction to a fairly massive monster menagerie that an interested reader can use as a springboard into more detailed reading. The "resources" appendix, for example, lists ten books—four by Coleman, two by Keel—and a dozen websites. Maybe springboard's not the best metaphor...The Monster Spotter's Guide is like a nicely-designed, well-furnished lobby at the entrance of the huge, labyrinthine complex that is the body of writing on the subject of monsters cryptozoological, mythological, paranormal and folkloric.

It's also full of illustrations, which is a large part of why I picked it up (You can read about The Flatwoods Monster of West Virginia, but it's so bizarre it's hard to actually "see" with one's mind), and why I'm bothering to write about it on a comics blog at all.

As a lifelong Ohioan (give or take a few years of college in Pennsylvania) with a lifelong interest in monsters (particularly those native to the Buckeye state!), I was excited to see that the book is the work of Ohioans. Francis was born in North Carolina, but currently resides in Cincinnati (Not to from Loveland, where the Frog Men live, or Dayton, where they keep the alien bodies), and Patrick is a native Ohioan.

So as we previously did with Rick Spears' illustrations for Tales of the Cryptids, let's take a closer look at Patrick's work.

He doesn't draw every single monster listed in the book—some of the lake serpents don't get full entries, let alone illustrations, perhaps due to how little some of the details change from example to example—but the bulk of them get drawings. Most of these are fairly simple black and white with little in the way of background, and the use of grays and lines sort of suggests pencil drawings, although many have very thick black lines.

Some aim for realism, like the Bessie image I'll post in a moment, or the second drawing of the Piasa Bird, which resembles a prehistoric monster more than the sphinx-like first drawing. Most lie somewhere between quick sketch and cartoon—albeit a more representational than expressive cartoon—reminding me of the sort of art I used to see in role playing game guide books (Yes, I used to be one of those people too).

I don't know that I'd run out and buy the book for the art—I borrowed it from a library, which is I suppose how I'd suggest interested readers first experience it—but as is probably obvious by now, I'm fairly fascinated with the way different artists present the same characters or creatures. However I may feel about the art or the subject, I like looking at drawings of things lots of other people have drawn before.

First, let's check out some of Patrick's drawings of some Ohio monsters.

Here's his Bessie, the Lake Erie sea monster that, in my limited experiences, seems to have more hoax and tourism-boosting sightings than real ones: Patrick gives it a Tyrannosaurus-like appearance, with which I can't quibble. Despite growing up—and currently living—on the coast of Lake Erie, I've never seen the beast, which is more locally known as South Bay Bessie and said to dwell further east, closer to Cleveland. She did inspire the name of the Cleveland-based minor league hockey team, the Lake Erie Monsters (they have a pretty sweet logo, by the way).

Here are Patrick's Loveland Frogmen, which look awfully froggy:

Other Ohio monsters covered are our old friend Orange Eyes and the Charles Mill Lake Monster of Mansfield, but neither of them get illustrations (presumably because of their Bigfoot-ishness, as there are several other big, hairy monsters illustrated already).

Next, let's look at my favorite of Patrick's drawings.

Here are his Devil Monkeys:If you've read many books on cryptozoology in the U.S., you've no doubt heard of the Devil Monkeys, which seem to reside in the overlap in a Venn diagram with "hairy humanoids" in one circle and "phantom kangaroos" in the other.

Accounts of them vary pretty wildly, but, in general, they seem sort of baboon-like, sort of kangaroo-like (particularly in their locomotion) and to be real dicks, attack cars and generally be pretty aggressive for animals that refuse to be caught or shot.

I like the ridiculousness of Patrick's version of them, where they literally have the heads of mandrills atop kangaroo bodies.

And here's The Mulberry Black Thing:It's a folkloric monster from Kentucky. It's a shape-changer, so Patrick depicts it in a state of potential, as any of three different forms simultaneously. It's a good way to approach the subject, and it also looks pretty weird and scary in that form.

Finally, I wanted to note Patrick's depiction of the Dover Demon. Another classic case of UFO lore and maybe-it-exists monster lore, the Dover Demon was only seen by a handful of witnesses on several nights in 1977 in Massachusetts. It's striking physical appearance is probably best known from these images:
Despite the demonic moniker, early theories as to just what the hell the creature actually was have gravitated toward some sort of UFO or alien explanation. Maybe it came from a flying saucer, or is some sort of ultraterrestial from a different dimension. Others have wondered if it might not be some sort of creature native to this world, as it bears some resemblance to the fairy-like, mythological Mannegishi of Cree legend. Among the more mundane explanations are that it was perhaps a misidentified newborn moose calf or, of course, a hoax.

Patrick's depiction of the Dover Demon implies another explanation for the creature's true identity:Obviously it was a ninja.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Comic shop comics: June 16-23

Atlas #2 (Marvel Comics) This second issue rinses away the bad taste of the first issue, which Marvel solicited as being 40-pages and priced at $4 but which actually only contained 23 story pages. It's back to $3 for 22-pages of content, as God intended, for one thing. It's also, as Jeff Parker's various Atlas comics usually are, pretty good. In the 17-page lead story by Jeff Parker and regular artist Gabriel Hardman, the new 3-D Man and the Agents complete their fight-than-team-up ritual, while some other mysteries revolving around the number three are teased, and, in the Ramon Rosanas-illustrated back-up, the 1950s Atlas team finishes off those reanimated zombie things they started fighting last issue.

Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #3 (DC Comics) Grant Morrison keeps on keeping on with this pretty intriguing storyline, with snowballing series of connections between characters, times, places and seemingly unimportant details piling up as the series continues. Also, there’s plenty of just plain old awesomeness, like pirate Bruce Wayne dressed up as old DC character The Black Pirate sword-fighting Blackbeard on a bridge made of human bones while a tribe of Anthro-descendants who worship Batman’s time-lost cape and cowl pick off pirates with batwing-fletched arrows from the shadows.

Also, Grant Morrison writes the JLA again, even if it’s only for two-to-four panels (it’s the version of the League that existed for about two issues worth of the current James Robinson run, with Barry Allen, Wonder Woman and Huntress thrown in).

Yanick Paquette pencils, and it’s very good stuff, although if you want to get nitpicky (and I always want to get nitpicky!) he draws a pretty terrible Tim Drake…Red Robin looks like a professional football player in his mid-thirties.

As much fun stuff as the issue contains, it ends with a promise of an even cooler next issue, as a couple of guys hire Jonah fucking Hex to bounty hunt down unshaven Cowboy Batman. And best of all, it’s going to be drawn by Cameron Stew—Oh, right. Well, while Georges Jeanty isn’t a favorite the way Stewart is, I recall him not being too shabby in the drawing things department, and you’d have to work pretty hard to make a Jonah Hex vs. Cowboy Batman comic not at at least a little fun.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #17 (DC) I’ve really been digging Mike Norton’s artwork for this series since he’s come on board, but the Art Baltazar and Franco’s scripting in that time hasn’t been exactly what I wanted from the series. It was a little too leisurely paced, and much too decompressed for a DC kids comic, as they are usually done-in-one stories.

But in this issue Norton continues to do the great work he’s been doing, and Baltazar and Franco turn-out a nice fun, funny done-in-one strip that mentions the ongoing plots without giving the story over to them.

It’s great stuff, including one panel that actually made me laugh out loud (the reveal of Farmer Cosley’s sure-fire method of protecting his cattle from alien abduction) and what sure looked like foreshadowing for the eventual introduction of a version of Hoppy, The Marvel Bunny.

I’d quibble with Captain Marvel’s solution of the problem at the end of the issue—surely the wisdom of Solomon would have ocme up with a wiser solution—but I can’t do it without spoiling the gag.

If you’ve been curious about the book but haven’t tried it out, then this is probably a pretty great issue to sample.

Brightest Day #4 (DC) This is the issue of the Geoff Johns and Peter Tomasi-written bi-weekly in which the storylines apparently begin to start intertwining, as the now-visible Deadman crosses paths with Hawk and Dove, an encounter which ends with a pretty typical Johns-ian cliffhanger, wherein I find myself surprised and in suspense about something I immediately realize that I really should have seen coming.

What’s more noteworthy, and what will no doubt be talked about much more, is the fact that this is the first appearance of the Aqualad…or at least, the boy who will eventually be Aqualad. It’s a short, two-page scene set in the desert around Silver City, New Mexico (No sign of The Comics Reporter’s comics reporter Tom Spurgeon yet, but I hold out hope that he and Aqualad II will cross paths…hopefully in a scene drawn by Sam Henderson).

The artwork remains decent—easy to read, consistent in style despite the multiple artists—if nothing that gets me so excited I feel like doing cartwheels after reading it. With the possible exception of the Firestorm section, which continues to use drawn figures on top of photos, which makes my own personal aesthetic sense sad. Here’s a sample:

Heralds #3-#4 (Marvel) Another advantage to the weekly shipping schedule this short, five-issue limited series is on? By the time a reader has given it a few issues and is perhaps reconsidering how much he or she likes it, and whether or not that $3 being spent on each issue might not be better spent on lottery tickets or something in a 40-ounce bottle to help one make it through the recession, it’s more than halfway over, and it seems perhaps silly to drop it with only an issue or two to go.

At least, that was my experience. About halfway through the third issue I realized that this is essentially an oddly marketed Fantastic Four miniseries starring a completely random half-dozen superheroines, with the FF not showing up until the second act.

The plot revolves around a former herald of Galactus that used to date Johnny Storm and/or be friends with Susan and the rest of the FF and also lived with some lady named Julie…? And her name was Nova, but she’s not related to the male hero named Nova in the helmet…? Does that all sound right? This was all long after the early FF stuff I’ve read, but long before the more recent FF stuff I’ve read, and I don’t remember this lady from any of the cartoons, so I’m pretty thoroughly lost on the back story, and the various character conflicts being referenced.

Luckily, Immonen is an engaging enough writer that the dialogue is generally snappy and fun, and I find myself wanting to see what will happen in the next scene, even if I feel like I went to see a movie and accidentally walked into the wrong theater.

The artwork on these two issues remains troubled, and getting more troubled. Announced artist Tonci Zonjic is still getting help from James Harren on #3, and by #4 the pair is joined by Emma Rios. I like all three artists, and all three are doing a good job, but it’s weird to see the style shifts—even if they’re on the subtle side—as this is a miniseries that’s off in its own little corner of the Marvel Universe, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to publish it in June (other than the fact that there are five Wednesdays in this month) instead of in November or next January or March. So why was it even put on the schedule if the art wasn’t ready yet?

King City #9 (Image Comics) I honestly live every single thing about this comic. The punny names of the various weird devices that Joe finds in one of Beebay’s “lok boxes” (“Blow and Aarow Dart Gun,” “Spy-Anide” poisins, etc). The way she has her assistant pass a kiss on the cheek on to Joe. The street scene with crowds of funny, interesting characters. The way Brandon Graham draws the arrows in the traffic lanes. The evil building’s evil stairs, evil door and evil lobby. The comfortable dialogue (“You guys remember that week where we ate nothing but sandwiches?” “Yes, Sandwich Week”). The white space on page 21, and how the lines all suggest that it’s real space. The simple, casual romanticism (“Eating sandwiches across from here for twenty minutes felt better than a month of weird, cold Beebay sex”).

Guys, this is pretty much a perfect comic book. And I didn’t even mention the two-page board game spread, which contains more verbal and visual information than you get in 22-pages of most comic books.

I love you, King City. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this way about a comic book, but I don’t have another word for it. If only you were a human being, or I were a comic book, but alas, are stars are crossed.

(And hey, if you’re trade-waiting this book, don’t! Your $3 gets you 32 black and white pages of story and art, with zero (0) ads, and little drawings and jokes all over the inside back and front covers and back cover. King City is one of, if not the best values for your comics dollar).

Sea Bear & Grizzly Shark #1 (Image) The name and cover image seemingly include the whole sales pitch here: This is a $5, double-sized comic book about a great white shark that stalks the forests and a man-eating bear that hunts in the seas. Ryan Ottley writes and draws the shark story, Jason Howard writes and draws the bear story.

In my estimation, “Sea Bear” was the weaker of the two, perhaps because Howard found less jokes to tell about a sea-going bear than Ottley had about the similarly out-of-place shark.

After a grisly opening scene in which the sea bear kills a young boy’s family in front of his eyes and, after growing up, he returns to seek vengeance, Howard throws in some elements that seem like a distraction form the core concept of a submarine grizzly bear: The boy is part of some government program that has given him transforming cyborg weapon arms, he fights a robot, and there’s an island of subhuman people who are descended from the Sea Bear and worship it like extras in a Lovecraft story.

I guess it’s silly to complain about a ridiculous story like this, as it amounts to little more than me saying “I would have done it differently” in a long, roundabout way, but while robots and monster people are often welcome elements in comics, I think a marine grizzly bear is a high enough concept that it would have worked better without distraction.

“Grizzly Shark,” on the other hand, keeps its focus mostly on its ridiculous premise, and finding different ways to riff on it. A family is bringing a special hunter into the woods to help them exterminate the shark that’s stalking the area, a shark which appears out of the bushes the second anyone bleeds even the littlest bit in order to make like Pac-Man and chomp them into a red splash with a simple “MUNCH” sound effect.

Here, for example, is a scene in which two of the characters climb into the treetops to try and get their bearings, and see a telltale sign of an impending shark attack:

It’s weird and it’s fun, and that’s probably all one could really ask for from a one-shot about a grizzly bear and a great white shark that, as the tagline says, “got mixed up.”

Tiny Titans #29 (DC) I went right form the comic shop to Niece #2’s tee ball game this week, so I started reading my comics on the sidelines. Niece #1 (age seven) and I will sometimes draw on the sidelines while her little sister plays, but my man-purse was full of new comics instead of a drawing pad this week.

I was trying to read Atlas at first, but she wanted attention, and messed with me for a while (turning to the last page and forcing me to read it, demanding to know what the gorilla was talking about, asking me who my favorite Marvel hero in an ad was, etc).

So I ended up reading her Tiny Titans, while she handled the sound effects. (At seven, she can naturally read all of it, but just wanted to read the fun parts)

This is the first time I actually read it with a kid.

She (and her mom and her little sister) asked if the character key on the first page was actually stickers. It is not.

She asked who Kid Devil is, and why he’s named Kid Devil (“Because he looks like a devil.” “Oh.”). She didn’t laugh at all, or ask for clarification, so I guess she was neither enthralled nor confused by any of it.

She did the activity in the back. I didn’t really explain how to use the squares (I never could get the hang of those when I was a little kid), but she did a fairly decent job, I think: I had to remind her to do the hair though, and she commented, “Oh yeah, he has girl hair.”

Er, I don’t know how valuable any of that information is to you. It’s like all issues of Tiny Titans, I guess: Super cute art and a gently amusing story. Supergirl babysits the various toddler characters, which include The Tiny Terror Titans, Jericho, Wildebeest, Miss Martian, Smidgen of The Atom’s Family and Robin fans Tim and Jason. She gets some assistance in entertaining her charges from Beast Boy and Zatara. Baltazar draws some dinosaurs.

Tiny Titans! You either love it or maybe you don’t!

Jeremy Bastian on Mouse Guard: Legends of The Guard

Jeremy Bastian (Cursed Pirate Girl) is another of the three artists who contributed a short story to Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard #1. I asked Bastian some questions about his story and the creation thereof for this piece on Newsarama, but didn't have room to include every interesting thing Bastian had to say. So I'm putting it here. As with the previous pieces in this little mini-series of posts, my questions are in italics and the artist's answers are in regular font. (And if you're sick of these, don't worry; this is the last one. Reviews of one billion super-comics are coming up next).


How did you come to work on this project, and why was it one you wanted to devote your time too? I imagine you must have been a fan of Mouse Guard previously?

Oh yes. I am very fortunate to be able to call Dave a good friend. I've known him for several years and watched as Mouse Guard grew, not only in popularity but also the level in which he tells and draws the stories of these mighty heroes. When he asked me if I could come up with a story I said "Yeah!" with no hesitation. It was an honor and a pleasure to be invited to join his richly detailed world and to create some characters of my own.

How did working with Petersen work? Did you have carte blanche to do whatever you liked? Was there a lot of discussion regarding your story?

Working with Dave is no problem at all. Working with myself is a little different. I originally came up with a story about a band of Guardsmice who overthrow a garrison of weasels. That just didn't feel like a "legend" kinda story, so I went back to brainstorming. I eventually came up with the story you see now and when I told Dave about it I think he was a little bit relieved for the change. He could tell I was more energetic about this story and so he just let me do what I do, I’m sure it would've been different if he didn't know me so well.

What was it like drawing a story set in a world as thoroughly defined by another artist’s style and aesthetic? Did you find yourself trying to draw David Petersen-like at all? You certainly seemed to make the medieval mice concept your own in your short story.

It was a personal challenge, the kind I like the most. Like most creator owned stories, they only look their best when the person who created them is drawing them. I had some con sketch requests for Mouse Guard mice so I've had a little practice in drawing them. I didn't want to stray too far from the original but then again I didn't want them to be cut from the same die.

Coming up with the costumes was one of the points that made me eager to do the story. I tried to do original pieces of functional armor with little homages to Petersen style armor. The shoulder pieces and the vertical pieces hanging from the belt. Dave also has really individual weapons for Guardsmice and so I tried to come up with a weapon that was unique to his owner and reflected traits of the owner. Faulnir's spike represents a hawk's beak, something to do damage in one quick swing. Silfano's flail ends with a metal fox paw, one swing of this would be similar to a fox taking a swipe at you. I had a lot of fun designing the characters and their worlds.

Was it challenging working with animal characters as opposed to humans? It seems like a more difficult task to convey emotion in the face of a mouse instead of a human, particularly since the Mouse Guard mice tend to look more like real mice than overly anthropomorphic, funny animal types.

No, it was not a problem at all. In fact I like to draw animal characters a lot, and these mice were really fun to draw. When you draw an animal and it looks like the animal you were attempting, even from different angles, it just looks really cool and you think you're really talented (heh heh heh). Just small manipulations of the eyes or even ears can convey the expression you're trying to get across.

Do you anticipate Legends of the Guard introducing your work to a different audience for you?

Oh yes, the amount of Mouse Guard fans out there is really staggering. So even if a fraction of those who pick up this first issue and go, “Hey this Jeremy guy uses a lot of lines, I like lines" and search out Cursed Pirate Girl, I will have eclipsed the amount of CPG fans who already exist. This kind of exposure is greatly appreciated. Dave has been pushing people to give my work a glance for years now and I think this will really do the trick.


While the image at the top of the post form his Legends story is more representative of what Bastian's Mouse Guard story looks like, he actually started drawing Guardsmice a few years ago, and was one of the first artists not named David Petersen to have drawings of the medieval mice characters published. Here are two pin-ups he did for the first Mouse Guard mini, which are both collected in the Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 collection.

As you can probably tell from the fact that I posted all of these, I'm something of a fan of the series and, if for some reason you haven't tried it out, I'd highly recommend giving it a shot—if you live in a big-ish city, your local library should have a copy of Fall 1152, and the Legends issues seem like pretty great jumping on points/cheap samples of the world of Mouse Guard.

And if you happen to be a librarian, particularly a youth one, and you haven't checked Mouse Guard out yet, we really need to, and then to place some orders for your collection. I like Mouse Guard now, but I would have loved it back when I was devouring C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and pretty much anything with capes, swords and castles in it.

Okay, I promise to shut up about Mouse Guard now. At least until I get around to reviewing Legends of the Guard #2.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Follow-up: A few more Mothmans

Here's the Mothman in a detail from the cover of The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings (Doubleday; 1994) by John Keel:The illustration for this particular edition was drawn by Greg Dearth, so that's his take on Mothman.

And here's Rick Spears' illustration from the entry of Mothman in the "Cryptidictionary" section of the previously discussed Tales of the Cryptids: Mysterious Creatures That May or Many Not Exist (Darby Creek Publishing; 2006):

And here's Ben Patrick's illustration for the entry on Mothman in The Monster Spotter's Guide to North America (How; 2007), which apparently takes more inspiration from the name than the witness descriptions:


Previously: "Off-topic: The Mothman Prophecies, and some thoughts on various depictions of its title character"