Thursday, February 28, 2013

365 Comics...59: Marvel Super Hero Contest Of Champions #2 (1982)

A couple weeks ago I was flipping through a "just in" box of comics at a local used book store when I flipped past this on my way to finding a copy of an old Tower T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (which is pretty much what I was hoping to find).  But after finding my prize, I went flipping back, because there was something about that title, that cover... I had that book.  I also got rid of that book in a 5 cent lawn sale I held when I was eight or nine... where I sold some of my comics for 5 cents.  I don't think I made much more than a dollar.   

While often revisiting things from my childhood only wind up in disappointment, in cases like this, where I had pretty much forgotten all about said thing, a cascade of memories wash over me.  Terribly vague, non-specific memories mind you, but accompanying those memories is the sense of familiarity and the comfort of youth.  This second issue (the only one I had of the series) is a dose of rediscovery, a constant barrage of "hey I kind of remember that", but moreover I remember reading it in my bedroom, the one I had before we moved just before I turned 11, with the orange low pile carpet and the configuration of my bedroom desk, dresser and bed.  I remember my clock radio and the red curtains and my closet. It just spirals out, thinking of my sister's room and her white wicker furniture, the upstairs hallway light (which I used to read by after "lights out" and probably ruined my eyes, just like my mom said it would).  I remember the stairwell where I used to play He-Man and the stereo cabinet which always had stuff on top of it so we couldn't listen to records easily.  There's so many things I start thinking about having nothing to do with the comic, things I haven't thought about in 25 years. 

Comic books for me have unbelievable power, they're a time portal to my past as much as they are entertainment and sometimes-obsession.  That could very well be the reason why I've never stopped reading them, they're like storage devices for little nuggets of myself.  Time capsules to perhaps be reopened and discovered once again years down the road.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

365 Comics...58: Marvel Team-Up #97 (1980)

I didn't grow up a Marvel kid. I've likely spent more time in the Marvel U in the past decade than in the previous 2 combined.  There were Marvel characters I liked but mostly it was aesthetically rather than having anything to do with their actual adventures and personality.  Those characters were: The Thing, Jack of Hearts, Nightcrawler, Rom, and Spider-Woman.  As I've grown older and dove deeper I've developed other favourites through actual prolonged exposure to them, but that original group I've steadfastly had a fascination for.

Spider-Woman I've always preferred to Spider-Man with no logical reasoning beyond I think her costume is cooler.  If you were to ask me what Spider-Woman's alter ego was though, I couldn't tell you.

Marvel Team-Up #97 is a recent $1 pickup if only because my 3 year old is obsessed with the Hulk and I'm still drawn to Spider-Woman.  It's a story by Steven Grant and Carmine Infantino, one a writer at the beginning of a long career, the other an artist at the tail-end of his.  Infantino is a favourite of mine, partially out of nostalgia and partially in genuine appreciation for his distinctive style of compressed or elongated figures, his lantern jawed men and cats-eyed women.  Grant's script is typically (for the era not for Grant) over-written with explanatory dialogue and thought balloons.

"Hulk feels... like he is changing... into Bruce Banner! That ray... must have stimulated the pleasure centers of the Hulk's brain...Relaxed him... But... the Hulk was practically invulnerable ... and I'm totally defenceless..."

Hulk for his part is still talking like Captain Caveman, a particularly silly trait he finally grew out of in the '90's.  Infantino's rendering of him is not great, he looks ... I don't even know how to describe him.   Like a cross between Shrek and Tracy Chapman (look it up young people) perhaps.  Spider-Woman however looks amazing.  Nobody draws big hair like Carmine.

The story is like most random team ups from the 70's/80's... a very random sequence of events that lead into a team up.  This one features a quasi Doctor Moreau and a host of creatures for the Hulk to fight while Spider-Woman makes a phone call. Actually after further review, Hulk and Spider-Woman never appear in the same panel together. It's like Joan Van Ark and Lou Ferrigno's schedules just never algned.

Meanwhile Captain Marvel saves Earth from an invasion with Hostess fruit pies (R.I.P.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

365 Comics...57: Axe Cop: President of the World #1 (2012)

I thought my affinity for Axe Cop had passed... I tried reading this fist issue of President of the World 3 times and still hadn't completed it.  The third trade paperback is still unfinished somewhere in the house, where its resided for months now (I'm not sure where I left it anymore).  Does it have to do with Malachai Nicolle getting older, more cynical as he nears closer to being a pre-teen?  Is the bizarre anri-continuity that I once loved now driving me away?  Was Axe Cop jus a kind of meme or fad that finally played itself out?  Or, perhaps I just needed a little break, and to finally play Munchkin Axe Cop and rekindle my affection for the series.  Time to take another stab (or is it "hack"?) at President of the World.

Monday, February 25, 2013

365 Comics...56: Action Comics #893 (Free Preview)(2010)

Over the past 30 or so years I have literally read hundreds of comics starring Superman, and you know, I can't think of a single Jimmy Olsen story that stands out among them all.  I think Jimmy's fine, and he's part of the mythos, but I've never seen Jimmy as being much more than a very, very minor player in Superman scheme.  Clark sort of acts as his mentor, Lois treats him like a dutiful kid sibling, and he's as close to a sidekick as Superman gets, except this sidekick is always getting into trouble and needs Big Blue to bail him out.  I don't ever recall Jimmy being fleshed out much outside of his role at the Daily Planet.  I seem to recall at one time he dated Lois' sister who got turned into Bizarro or something.  Okay, I don't really recall.  There was another time I may or may not recall Jimmy drank some of Elongated Man's gingold stuff and reacted badly... but again, that was just a story where Jimmy does some dumb shit and Superman bails him out.  Hell of a character trait.

So beyond the signal watch, red hair, freckles, and bow tie, there's not much to Jimmy Olsen.  In the New 52 Jimmy seems to be a contemporary of Clark's, rather than his junior, which should be a step up, but they're still trying to establish Superman, never mind his supporting cast, not that I'm really paying attention (see 365 Comics #52).  But just prior to the Flashpoint reboot, while experimenting with the new $3.99 price point by way of 10-page back-up features, Jimmy Olson finally came to life.  And I missed it.

You bet I missed it, because I didn't care.  OH! So they're introducing a character from that TV show I barely like (yet secretly really enjoy... see 365 Comics #37 and #9), I didn't really care.  So Jimmy Olsen is starring in an ongoing story for the first time in decades, yeah, cared even less.  But good words were coming out that back-up feature, this Nick Spencer guy... really talented.  Everyone was saying so... well, maybe not everyone, but still the reaction was really strong.  It was on my radar, and I decided to trade wait.

And wait.
And wait.

Still waiting.

Nick Spencer's become one of my favourite writers.  He finds a very human angle to surreal characters.  T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was my first exposure to him, then Ultimate X-Men, then Morning Glories, and now a whole bunch of other stuff.  He's good and worth following.  But I'm still endlessly curious about that Jimmy Olsen run.  Why is it not in trade?

I was cruising the "free comics" in Comixology and found this free preview of Action #893 (the full first Jimmy Olsen 10-page backup), and it's every bit as good as I'd been led to believe.  Jimmy, still Superman's pal, but now he's got a supporting cast of his own, a nemesis, a maybe girlfriend, and both major swagger and a lack of self-esteem.  Spencer cuts to the root of Jimmy Olsen, a man empowered by being a pal to the mightiest being on Earth while at the same time left lacking his own identity without him.  Brilliant.  It's everything I expect out of a Nick Spencer story, and far, far more than I ever expected out of Jimmy Olsen.

Still waiting.
I want that trade.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

365 Comics...55: Deathmatch #3 (2013)

What's better than the Oscars? Deathmatch #3 that's what. This issue is a little hammy with excess exposition, but compared to Seth McFarlane it's a Tarantino script. Okay, I'm not going to compare a comic book to an awards ceremony any longer. Things get more intriguing this month as certain remaining heroes decipher who their captors are... or, at least they think they did. I came to the realization this issue that so many of these charaters wear masks and it would be so easy to plant a faker in their midst. It's not even hinted at but with Rat convinced he's seen the men behind the curtain I realized how many of these heroes even really know Rat, who seems very explicitly a loner. Beyond that, the "who's who" bio of Meridian in the back pages further lends credence to the idea that everyone's identity could be suspect. I enjoy this book so much, awkward dialogue and all.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

365 Comics...54: Model A #1 (2012)

Silent comics invariably feel like a bit of a let down because they're so quick to read, especially when the art is so smooth and the storytelling so clear.  But at the same fine it can be so easy to overlook the incredible skill and craftswarship required to tell a story only in pictures.

Model A is a book l came across in the free section of Conixology, a 24-page book from SLG following a robot fresh off the assembly line who discovers independence after a knock on the dome.  Its a simple story of self discovery but delightful and masterfully rendered by Jef Bambas.  There are currently only two subsequent issues  but for 3 books at less than $2 it's a steal.

Without the distraction of words, Bambas' art really starts out. It is an exceptionally clean cartooning style with simple designs but expert shading. Bambas infuses a wonderful amount of physical expression (as well as creative panel layouts) to compensate for his one-eyed robof protagonist's lack of facial expression (or face).

There's the spirit of WALL-E and Owly (and other all-ages material that treads in wordless waters) in this which especially younger novice readers should key into.  I'd like a trade collection for the kids but maybe it's just time to expose them to the App.

Friday, February 22, 2013

365 Comics... 53: Arrow #1 Special Edition (2012)

So what's the best costumed vigilante series on TV right now?  Fricken' Person of Interest, for sure.  But they don't make (or haven't yet) POI comics so I guess I'll just have to talk about Arrow.

Actually, I've been pleasantly surprised by Arrow, despite its overtly CW tendencies towards family melodrama, oversimplifed romance, and plenty of beefcake (or so I'm told, I don't actually watch all that much CW... not that there's anything wrong with that...).

I think after Smallville having a weekly comics-derived superhero live-action series that aurally has some semblance of a plan, takes itself relatively seriously and understands character and story development is refreshing, em if it's not the greatest television ever.  It is generally entertaining, has added its own unique fruit on a B-level superhero without overtly betraying the core of the character, and...
... and...
Aw fuck, who am I kidding?  The Show is a guilty pleasure through and through.  If it weren't loosely tried to characters I grew up with as a kid I wouldn't give it a second look.  And yet each week I pull it eagerly from on-demand and, cocktail in hand, enjoy myself immensely.  I'm particularly fond of Paul Blackthorne as Laurel Lance's police detective Daddy... he cracks me up, Chris Walken style ... he's got such great presence.  And I do hope they create an original costume and moniker for Diggle, that'd be great far them to contribute something back to the comics.

The comic listed in the post title above,if I had to guess, was probably made as a promotional book for the Convention circuit and as a digital freebie which it remains.  It took 4 writers (Marc Guggenheim, Andrew Kreisberg, Geoff Johns & Grey Berlarti) and it's a solid 10 page introduction to Oliver Queen of the past and the daring Hood he would become.  The action sequences or the show are actually very good but you can obviously do things in comics that you just can't realize on  a CW budget.  It's a template for the digital-first series that followed, unnecessary but still not bad if you're a fun of the show.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

365 Comics... 52: Action Comics #17 (2013)

The pull list was 10 comics deep this week (would have been 11 but my shoppe ran out of The Sixth Gun: Son of The Gun #1 before I could pick up my books yesterday... it is on reorder though) and includes some of my ongoing favourites like Wonder Woman, Batwoman, X-Factor and Saga, all of which were excellent, but of the 8 books I read (Mind MGMT and Sixth Gun I still  need to catch up on) none are inspiring me to write with any great excitement or passion.

So let's talk Superman a little bit.  Specifically Action Comics.

With the New 52 came a new Clark Kent, a new Lois, Lex and Jimmy and a tremendous amount of apathy.  George Perez got in 6 dense world-building issues of Superman, and frankly, I liked it but it was not exciting in the least.  When his short stint was over I dropped the book.  I wasn't invested in any of the characters, most of all Superman.

With Action Comics I was holding out hope, hope that Grant Morrison would give me a redefined Superman I could actually care about.  Alas we have come to Morrison's penultimate issue on the series and I may have been entertained, I may have been engaged, but I still don't care about this character.

Even with numerous sub-reboots post-Crisis, pre-New 52, Superman seemed familiar, constant.  Morrison tackled the familiar /constant Superman in AIl-Star Superman, and an though it was'nt in continuity the Superman presented was still a Superman we knew.

With Action Comics Morrison set out to remold Clark and Superman for today, perhaps for tomorrow. But in rapidly injecting years worth of tangential history in a short span of time, his intention of rebuilding the icon has backfired.  Through the morass of his always-clever plotting we lose the getting-to-know process (one which, post-Crisis, John Byrne actually shepherded well for a few years over dozens upon dozens of issues) which just can't be achieved in 18 issues, especially when a half dozen other books feature the character in a somewhat different light Superman isn't as versatile as Batman, character consistency matters far more.

After Morrison's final issue next month, I have to wonder just when I will next pick up a Superman comic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

365 Comics...51: Sweet Tooth Vol.3: Animal Armies

''Animal Armies" begins with a uniquely laid out chapter (issue 12) in which the top 2/3 of the page tells one story and the bottom 1/3 tells another. More specifically Dr. Singh is dictating his personal recollections of the eruption of the affliction through to certain conclusions his made since meeting Gus, all of which is written in prose accross the page bottom, while immediately above are visual representations of his notes.  The top 2/3 follow Gus through the rest of his first day at the camp.  It's a really effective storytelling technique which I was ready to praise Lemire highly for, but at the end of the chapter he writes "For Wolfman and Perez'' which makes me think he took inspiration from an issue of "The New Teen Titans".  I totally want to read that it indeed this is the case.  Anyone know what issue it was?
To the google machine!

Ach! I was wrong.  It was an homage to Crisis on Infinite Earths #1O,"The Monitor Tapes."  Still it's an amazing storytelling device which Lemire wields well.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

365 Comics...50: Sweet Tooth Vol.2: In Captivity

By the end of Vol. 1 Jeff Lemire dekes to the left making you think (or, at least, entertain the thought that) perhaps Jepperd isn't a main character after all, given what he does to poor Sweet Tooth.  I mean the cover of the first chapter of this second volume quickly negates that idea, and logically of course Jepperd is a main character, but it does relate to the effectiveness of Lemire's writing as well as use of the strong/silent loner tropes that it could have conceivably gone either way.

With "In Captivity" Lemire fleshes out Jepped's backstory as he wrestles with his demons, while simultaneously weaving that back story with Gus' tribulations in the concentration camp he's found himself in.  Its with both these through lines that Lemire brings forward more and more details on what happened to society when the affliction first hit and how it regressed thereafter.  The big mystery of the series, hinted at early in Vol. 1, is explored further, that of what exactly Gus' role in the Affliction was.

Though Vol. 2 is, like the first, a brisk read it should not be construed as a criticsm or that the story is oversimplified.  It's expertly crafted and utterly addictive and digestible (I went out and got the 3rd Volume today cause I needed more).

Monday, February 18, 2013

365 Comics...49: Sweet Tooth vol.1 (2009) / Stake Land (Crossover part 2)

(continued from Graig and David Sometimes Disagree)

There's not a long history of ongoing post-apocalyptic comic book series, which is odd considering it seems to be the perfect medium for doing so.  Early efforts, like Kamandi and the Atomic Knights, were more adventurous than somber, while the aforementioned Winterworld appeared in the 1980's but was a mini-series, as was Tank Girl.  It was only recently with Y: The Last Man, DMZ, Crossed, Wasteland and, most notably, The Walking Dead that the idea of continuing to explore the bleak terrain of the recent apocalypse seemed viable.

Sweet Tooth owes much to The Walking Dead for its existence, as I`m sure publishers were actively looking to find similar successes, but its first volume differentiates itself quickly, much in the same way Stake Land quickly distinguished itself from Zombieland: with its tone.  Writer Jeff Lemire launched the book fresh off of his quiet, generation-spanning, farm community drama Essex County, and that similar small-world sensibility pervades early on.  

The series opens with Gus, a 9-year-old boy with a deer-like appearance, living in an isolated cabin with his terminally ill father.   His mother passed when the Affliction hit nearly a decade, while ever since Gus and all others born of his generation have all been born as hybrids, humans with animal traits.  Gus`father teaches him religion, survival and to steer clear of society. as his kind are now hunted. When his father passes Gus is targeted but saved by Jepperd, a hardened, leathery man at once dubious and honorable, who says he`ll escort him to the Preserve, a safe haven for hybrids.  Gus know`s he`s a man of bad deeds, but believes him to have a good heart.  Along their journey to the Preserve, they rely upon one another, Jepperd protecting Gus, and Gus tending to Jepperds injuries.  However, like in Stake Land their destination point isn`t all it promised to be.

The journey in a movie like Stake Land or 28 Days Later, or a comic like Winterworld or Y: The Last Man is the story.  Unlike most post-apocalyptic films, however, the arrival at the haven is just the launch point for the rest of the story in Sweet Tooth.  As well, I presume that what`s happening at the Preserve has more to do with the origin of the Affliction.  

Lemire`s story is spacious, with plenty of quiet reflection and dream sequence, but also brisquely violent.  In Sweet Tooth`s world there`s no prolonged action set pieces, just quick and ugly death. The story of the first volume could fill a methodical, low-budget feature film (along the same lines as Stake Land) but as a comic it is a brisk read.  I had originally purchased the first five chapters of the title in floppy form but found it to be too quick and somewhat unsatisfying a read on a monthly basis, so I dropped the book and waited for the series to be collected in trade (the final volume is due out in June).  As a volume, it`s far more appealing and fulfilling.  As well, it was something I was quite glad to revisit.

(Sweet Tooth, Volume 1 is on its fourth printing)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

365 Comics ...48: Bedlam #4(2013)

This review appears in this week's <a href=""> Thor's Comic Colum</a> alongside fellow Second Printer Devon's Uncanny X-Men review.

(see 365 comics #4 for brief reaction to issue #1)

Bedlam #4 (Image, $3.50)
by Graig Kent

The subtitle of Bedlam reads: “Is evil just something you are or something you do?”  It’s the question at the heart of this series which takes a Tarantino-esque approach to thriller (sub-genre: serial killer) storytelling.  By that I mean it very liberally borrows from its genre forefathers, completely bathed in homage, but also transcending it.

The first two issues of the series were quite a head trip.  The obvious set-up was a Batman-Joker dynamic within the fictional city of Bedlam, however with the Joker character, Madder Red, pushing to ever more drastic extremes to provoke not just the city’s champion (The First) or its police, but the city as a whole.  Madder Red’s final act was a grand scheme to try and make the good people of Bedlam more like him, violent and murderous, seemingly committing suicide in the process.  But despite the masked head rolling around on the floor Madder Red did not die.  Instead he found himself in the care of The Good Doctor who has seen fit to try and “deprogram” Madder Red’s psychotic tendencies, to make him into a viable, average person, named Fillmore. After a decade of treatment, now cooped up in a bachelor apartment, Fillmore becomes obsessed with a recent serial killing case on the news.  He wants to help out, by engaging with Detective Ramira Acevedo but can only do so by taking credit for the killings.

However, these gruesome murders aren’t being done by Fillmore, but a scarred, genetalless man with a pair of iron wings. There’s a connective thread to his murders, but the police can’t figure it out while the bodies pile up.  Fillmore -- the former Madder Red ten years and countless psychological experiments later -- becomes suspect number one, given his quickly rescinded confession, but he’s really just there to help.  It’s a definite toying of with the Silence of the Lambs structure in this regard, as it plays to the similar thriller aspects, rather than murder mystery.

The overall structure of Bedlam is a bizarre one.  The first extra-sized issue, dealt primarily with setting up Madder Red as psycho-supreme in the city, with a diversion into his rehabilitation.  The second issue dives into the serial killer story set-up, while exploring Fillmore’s fragile state of mind.  The third issue brings forward more of Madder Red’s past therapy, while establishing the relationship between Detective Acevedo and the profiling-savant Fillmore.  This issue, unlike the others, is completely story driven, following Avecedo as she cracks the case (Fillmore, meanwhile is on the roof getting re-acquainted with The First), perhaps far too late.  

Having read quite a bit of Nick Spencer’s increasingly prolific output of the past two or three years, I can say this is both par for the course for him, the way he jumps around in focus from issue to issue, but also a surprising change.  He seems to be experimenting with how he dispenses information and details, and ratchets up the complexity of the structure, the timelines purposefully blurred.   However as the series settles, the puzzle pieces are easier to join and the picture is forming nicely, especially here as the series goes from blunt to pointed and sharp.

At the heart of this book is it’s sub-title, examining whether a mass murder can be reformed of his tendencies or if they are embedded within him, while at the same time a damaged man commits increasingly horrific acts, but is evil in his nature or a response some other stimulus?  I doubt Spencer has the answer, and I’m not even certain if he’s attempting to answer it.  The subtitle seems to be something meant to rattle around in your brain as you read it.  I can see a lot of this stemming from the recent (and not so recent) spate of mass killings that have occurred, and Spencer prodding the topic without taking direct focus on any one situation or person.

Artist Riley Rossmo is responsible for portraying the rather dramatic and frequently grizzly imagery in the series, full scope, pencils to colours.  His work in the first three issues was insane, particularly his deft restraint with colour in the flashback sequences.  The black-and-white-and-red sequences involving Madder Red and his transitionary treatments are both disturbing and attractive at the same time.  I keep going back to them.  This issue didn’t feature any and fell a little flatter as a result.  The jarring break those single-colour sequences provided in the book is missed here, though Rossmo’s constant experimentation with line and colour keep things more than interesting enough.  His figure work can feel pretty stilted at times, but the overall effectiveness of the disarming FIncher-esque mood he establishes on every page quite makes up for minor shortcomings.

While it’s hard to disparage the Batman and Joker relationship right now (give the incredible conclusion to “Death of the Family” in the Batman title this week) Spencer has crafted a stimulating twist on it, taking it somewhere deeper and darker he probably couldn’t have gone with DC’s characters  Bedlam is a sober, moody, chilling and graphic bit of business, which, depending on your receptiveness to such things is either great praise or a dire warning.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

365 Comics...47: Storm Dogs #3 (2013)

I don't know if writer David Hine and artist Doug Braithwaite are actively giving Avatar the finger (since I refuse to see the movie) or if this is just a story they want to tell, sharing a central conceit but refusing to oversimplify things.  I love Storm Dogs.  Its got such a rich alien landscape explored through  political and racial tension as well as personal drama and intrigue.  It's all centered around a murder investigation but Hine and Braithwaite take the tropes and formulae of CSI and Law and Order and blow it into 72mm cinema-worthy storytelling.  It's still got action but it's not action-centric, this is full on, broad-scope storytelling.   The characters all have a history, they're not archetypes in any respect, and Hine each issue puts a character in focus in a backup profile to the story. He details some of the thoughts put into their creation as well as hints as to their backstory which may not get a chance to surface in-story.  Equally the political structure of intergalactic civilization as well as the planet Amaranth on which the story takes place fascinate me.  I am quite taken with this universe and some of these characters,to the extent that I'm hopeful for more of it beyond just this 6-part story. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

365 Comics... 46: Harbinger #1 (2012)

It's free so why not.  Thanks Valiant and Comixology.

As I was saying yesterday with Shadowman, Valiant really seems to have a plan for their brand and they're sticking to it.  Beyond just the character-centricity of the storytelling all their #1 issues have had, they've also looked back on their 90's breakout popularity and deciphered what made it work.  Beyond the characters they are bringing in talented but undersung writers, people who know how to develop a story and build characters without requiring the ego fluffing.  By hiring reliable talent and not going for the gimmick and /or concession of hiring "superstar" talent, they have a roster of writers who aren't going to overshadow their stories.  The artist stable is much the same, all very capable storytellers who wont distract from the story with showyness.

Now, I should say that I like Superstar talent for what they do and how they do it, but I also acknowledge that they do it their own way which is what makes them stand out.  Valiant back in the day had a"house style" to keep a consistency across the line, which seems very much to be part of this revamp... it's not a rigid style but the consistency is key making one book approximately as enjoyable as the next.

In that regard I liked Harbinger #1 a little bit more than Shadowman #1 which I liked a little more than Bloodshot #1.  I liked X-O #1 a little more than any of them and I like Archer & Armstrong ever more than that.

Harbinger #1 really brought me back to reading the original series' first issue ever so long ago.  Much of the old Valiant line from then feels very of-the-era so this feels like a nice overhaul /reboot.  I hope it establishes a different relationship for Peter and Harada than what we may have already seen in the past but that old dynamic still looms over this issue largely. From what I have seen of Valiant so far however they seem very focussed on forging a new future more than reliving the past.

Its not the absolute best stuff on the stands today, but I think its some of the most accessible super-hero material out there.  A monthly $3.99 price point is about the biggest barrier to continued support.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

365 Comics...45: Shadowman #1 (2012)

I went through this all before, back in the 1990's. I was rather enamored with Valiant's more... naturalistic take on superheroes and the shared universe.  The characters in Valiant were new, fresh and somehow more relevant than what DC, Marvel, Image, Malibu and Dark Horse were putting together at the time.  Characters seemed to be the center focus, no art, not story, not gimmicks (though Valiant revolutionized the gimmick cover in the industry, they made their name with their characters).  It was exciting to have a universe where characters could learn and grow and age and die and it wouldn't matter as much to the trademark holders and it would only matter to the fans insomuch as they love the characters and their journey.

After a while, though, after countless gimmick covers and new titles and crossovers and Wizard-headline-grabbing shocking moments, my interest in the characters began to dwindle.  I don't know if it was the market bust that did it or if quality dipped, or if I really only got caught up in the hype and never cared to begin with.  I just stopped reading.  When video game maker Acclaim bought Valiant in an effort to develop new video game properties out of established comic book characters, there seemed to be a lack of understanding about what the market needed, or wanted, or could handle, given its then battered image and depressed sense of self worth.

A decade and a half later, I've got that same feeling.  Valiant is back creating a small stable of solid, character-driven series that once again feel vastly different than any other superhero universe on the market.  Creators have come in with fresh takes on these characters, given space to develop them and the flexibility to let them shine uniquely.  This stuff is good, surprisingly good.  I couldn't care less about Shadowman and now this freebie issue from Comixology has me wanting more.  A poke around X-O last year put me on the trade-wait list, and I'm a monthly subscriber to Archer and Armstrong, and I don't even want to go poking around Harbinger (my pull list can't take it).

Shadowman shouldn't be this interesting, but damn if that wasn't one of the best opening sequences in a superhero first-issue of the past 3 years (and you know there have been a LOT of super-hero first issues over those three years).  I'm also a sucker for "legacy" comics, so this has me wanting to buy in.  But seriously, it's Shadowman, I'm trying so hard not to care, like I not cared so much up until 25 minutes ago before I read the damn thing.

I'll give it time.  Maybe it will pass.
But, Valiant, if I wasn't already, I'm certainly impressed now.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

365 Comics...44: Batman #17 (2013)

I can't remember the last time I've been this satisfied with an ending to a major storyline, to the point where I feel like the final chapter is the strongest of the story.
Scott Snyder hit all the right notes with this conclusion to "Death of the Family", a title which should have been taken literally, rather than thinking that poor Alfred was going to bite it (is that a spoiler?).   There we so many perfect moments:
Page 4: Joker's death trap (classic Joker)
Page 7: The "oh no he didn't" reveal with that freaky 2-faced cat
Page 8 & 9: Joker explaining his deluded sense of Batman's courtship of him
Page 12: Of course Batman has away out of the death trap (Joker's reaction:"that's not funny")
Page 13: Batfather and Robinson
Page 18: Bats takes a crowbar to Joker (showing a little vindication for Jason? That even the wayward son still matters him)
Page 20 -22: Batman has figured it out and Joker is not amused
Page 23: The notebook & the Bat family (particularly noting Bab's and Jason's position is the scene)
Page 24: Bruce & Alfred (Alfred:"Go to hell"... one of the best moments in a Batman comic ever)
Page 25 - 26: A brilliant explanation of the Batman/ Joker dynamic and why Joker was so upset that Batman had figured it out... If Batman truly loved him for who he really was...
Page 27 -28: Death of the family
Page 29: last laugh
I don't get The significance of the fly though.
So good, this one. Soo goood.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

365 Comics... 43:Prophet Vol. 1- Remission (2012)

After commenting on the digital first issue I read last week I pretty much immediately went out and bought the trade, which I then consumed toute suite.  I was so psyched, given the such resoundingly positive critical reception it's recieved since its debut and my quite favorable reaction to what I had read already.  It was almost like I was setting it up to fail.  I didn't love it like I thought I was going to, I didn't even really enjoy it all that much.  I frankly found it tedious after the first 3 issue arc ended and it went on a 3 issue series of digressions.  Are these all supposed to be connected somehow?  Is this just setting up something bigger and patience is order?

Mainly I have a low threshold for gobbledygook and this book is so damn full of it... enamoured with it even.  Much of it is to establish the unique and fantastic (and to be sure it is uniquely fantastic) but you can't yst keep throwing this shit out there, especially in narrative where 50% of it is inconsequential, eventually you have to make it feel lived in. There has to be a purpose to this copious amount of alien culture and education otherwise all this narrative obsessing over minutiae is kind of wasting a lot of time when the art (and there's nothing but fabulous art here from Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham, and Giannis Milonogiannis) can do much of the heavy lifting.  Without the constant narration this would be a largely silent book.

The trade collects 6 issues for $10 so it is a freaking bargain and despite my serious issues with it (issues I'm not convinced aren't actually purposeful) I do see its creative uniqueness and will stick with it through a second trade.

Monday, February 11, 2013

365 Comics...42: Superboy #11 (2011)

Oh, that's exactly what I was afraid was going to happen (as mentioned in 365 #1).  I so decidedly did not want this eleventh issue to be the end.  Jeff Lemire had set up so many wonderful ongoing story threads, established such incredible relationships between the characters, and created a truly unique superhero book as a result.  Small-town farming territory is not conventionally the height of action, but they've been pulling stories out of Smallville for decades, and somehow Lemire had managed to establish a less absurd, more exciting, and more believable community and write a series of events that embraces the super-science and mystic elements of DC Comics, past and present.  What Lemire (and series artist Pier Gallo) did with the series is more in line with the fantastic output currently coming from image, than what we see out of the New 52.  It's the type of distinctive storytelling and creative vision that is generally lacking from DC these days, with few exceptions.

I'm already missing Simon Valentine, and his potentially deadly future as Prime Hunter storyline that Lemire was teasing throughout this series run.  Sigh.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

365 Comics...41: Global Frequency #1 (2002)

I don't know why it's taken me this long to watch the Global Frequency TV pilot, since it's been floating out there on the geek web since mid-2005 after it was abandoned by the CW in 2004.  Better late than never, I guess. Response to the leaked pilot was exceptionally positive, I recall, and it seems to have remained one of the most legendary never-ran shows, up there with Heat Vision And Jack.

After a youtube viewing I have to agree.  I'm shocked that this show was tanked (after originally receiving a 13 episode order).  I haven't read the comics for almost a decade so I wasn't comparing the show to Warren Ellis' series while watching, but reading the first issue again, it is a tonally accurate adaptation, though certainly not a Iiteral one.  The pilot takes the first issue and expands upon it to make it 44 solid minutes of new-cinematic quality television, adding an outsider character (played by Cougartown's Josh Hopkins) to the Global Frequency to bring the audience in with him.

The pilot adeptly establishes Miranda Zero (Michelle Forbes, perfect in the role) as the mysterious, genius, well-connected benefactor/commander of the network of volunteer experts, as well effectively shows the Frequency at work as conducted by the snarky Aleph (Aimee Garcia).  The episode loosely adopts the first issue's plot of a forgotten Russian experiment, a human weapon from the Cold War whose unconsciously causing a lot of havoc and is close to destroying San Francisco entirely.

There's an X-Files element to the show but the structure of it was more than enough to distinguish itself from likeminded peers.  Almost a decade later, the pilot still plays strong (only a quip about the cel phone having a camera struck me as dated) and seems a forebearer to Person of Interest and Fringe.

I realise they are different mediums attempting to achieve different things with their storytelling, but to be honest, I kind of like the TV show structure setup with a regular cast than the ongoing done-in-one setup of the comic.  I mean I like the comic and will continue my re-read but despite being late to the party, I'm now lamenting the TV show's sudden end.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

365 Comics...40: Classic G.I. Joe Vol.11(2011)

The original Marvel G.I. Joe series is at once incredibly silly, surprising, thrilling and frustrating.  I didn't quite grow up on this series in the same way a lot of my peers did, but I did cross its path more than a few times in its lengthy, 13-year,155 issue run that ended in '93.  So while it is a nostalgia trigger, it's not nostalgia for the comic itself. Even though I also wasn't an avid fan of the toys (I was more of a He-Man guy), I had a few, but never did get too into the Cobra vs. Joes adventure of it all. I very much like discovering the rich history and diversity of the toy line and its characters through these 200+ page collections (started by Marvel back in the late '90's, and continued by IDW in more recent years. They take me back to childhood but with a freshness (not competing with existing memories).

That its entire run was produced under the auspices of one man, Larry Hama, is incredibly impressive despite what I sometimes think about him as a writer.  As I've gotten deeper into the series, I have gained an appreciation for Hama's storytelling, particularly under the impetus of having to continually  promote new toys, of which more and more were produced in every year the series ran, up until its cancellation year.  It's hard to establish characters when your roster keeps growing.  But Hama picked favourites early on (particularly Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes and Cobra Commander) and new guys each year were frequently only seen in the background or minor mission roles (perhaps they were given bigger roles in the also long-run GI Joe Special Missions series?)

Some of Hama's stories are utterly silly while others are fully "comic-book action" or "comic-book drama".   He frequently vacillates between them.  For instance, the big set piece which closes out this volume finds 10 Joes captured and a sit-com ready miscommunication between Cobra Commander and Tomax and Xamot has them slaughtered by a Saw Viper instead of set free (''He popped caps on the Doc!!").  The increasingly intense ordeal for the remaining Joes continues as they attempt to escape only to find themselves outnumbered and outgunned and their numbers dwindling.  Their backup is on the way via a lower orbit space shuttle, dropping a "mobile battle bunker" which faces all sorts of wacky, seriousness-of-death-undermining high-jinks as Wild Card keeps goofing up.

There's an interesting, if oversimplified, Civil War going on in a made-up country, with Snake Eyes in the middle of it all, alongside a European circus down and dwarf (and that's actually the serious part).  In the end Snake Eyes takes a little girl (orphaned since Snake Eyes refused to help her father, a nominal member of the outgoing regime, be killed by a vengeance hungry mob) home with him to America ultimately giving her to a retired Grunt to adopt, because that's how immigration worked in the '80's.

But it is the dialogue that is the biggest challenge in reading the series.  Exposition is delivered excessively, often repeated 2 or 3 times over within the same issue.  I realize the necessity for exposition in a long-running series like this with a huge cast and multiple ongoing stories, so I tend to give it some leniency.  But some of the other dialogue is... woof.

Still, in spite of its drawbacks it remains, 20 years after its cancellation,  a  continually enjoyable series.  I've lasted 11 volumes and am still going back for more.

"They kilt the Doc, man! They kilt the Doc..."
"Yeah, they sure did. And Thunder, Crank-Case, and Heavy-Metal, too."

RIP: Doc, Thunder, Crank-Case, Heavy-Metal, Braker, Quick-Kick and Crazy Legs.

Friday, February 8, 2013

365 Comics...39: Swamp Thing #17 (2013)

So the always excellent Yanick Paquette has been the official "series artist" since Swamp Thing began, while  Marco Rudy, one of my favourite up-and-comers, has been the official fill-in guy giving Paquette a breather when  he needs it.  So what is Andrew Belanger doing here on the penultimate Swamp Thing Rotworld issue?

I'm not meaning to diss him as an artist, but he's just not the right artist for this gig.  It's not that Rudy and Paquette have the same style, much in the way that Travel Foreman and his replacement on Animal Man, Steve Pugh (and his back-up Timothy Green II) do not have the same style, but altogether they are quite complimentary, and at the same time, consistent.  Belanger's overly simplified, cartoony figure work and details are jarring (especially when coming over from Pugh and Green in Animal Man this week).  It lets the whole epic Rotworld storyline down just a little bit.  I don't blame Belanger, though, his style is what it is.  You have to look at editorial on this one and wonder just what they were thinking.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

365 Comics...38: Think Tank #5 (2013)

Matt Hawkins is a smart guy, far smarter than I.  Smart and well read.  He reads books about science and technology and does extracurricular research and all those wondrous things that expand his brain.  Me, I read a lot of comics.

Thankfully, smart guys like Matt Hawkins write comics as well, comics that take advantage of their interest in science and technology to create a work of disarmingly fun fiction that dabbles perilously in real world logistics.   Also thankfully, writers like Matt Hawkins take the time to educate their audience on the "real world" that isn't as skewed in the story as one might think (or hope) through creative use of backmatter pages.

Think Tank is the book that Matt Hawkins has created, and it's a surprisingly enjoyable trip into the world of military-applied science, centered around a hyper-intelligent character who can also be a self-absorbed, sexist asshole.  He's also got a stunted maturity despite (or because of) his intelligence and yet is charming, relatable and watchable.  Dr. David Lauren is a compelling character, and the shocking start to this second series makes him doubly so.

The first arc of Think Tank was originally intended as a stand-alone, and I don't know if it was sales or critics or the publisher or just Hawkins himself that inspired it, but it's now ongoing.  Where we ended a few months ago, David had managed to extract himself (and his girlfriend) from the DARPA facility where he worked/lived/was practically a hostage and retire away from it all.  Also, we learned that Mirra, his girlfriend, was actually a working for his Military boss, so things we know weren't going to work out permanently.

This issue starts with David back in the bullpen of his DARPA agency, and diving full bore into genetic weaponry with a sociopathic fervor.  Something most definitely has changed in him.

The projects and ideas behind the projects David is now working on are explored in "Science Class", Hawkin's blog-like back pages where he strips down the salient story aspects into bite-sized consumable nuggets, with links to turn to if you want some more.  It's rather brilliant how Hawkins manages to take this I'm sure overwhelming amount of knowledge and craft it into usable chunklets with his stories.  Think Tank has a lot of science backing, but it's truly a character-driven story.  As such this issue's surprise opening twist makes it the best yet, leading to both meaty science factoids and hearty character stuff.

I quite like this book, and always feel amply rewarded with every issue.  The cover warning - "Danger: Reading this book will make you smarter" isn't just a bold proclamation, but the truth (for most of us anyway).  Hawkins' partner, Rahsan Ekedal quickly found his own unique illustrative voice early in this series, and has been knocking it out with great character physicality and design ever since.  The only thing I don't like about the book: the way Ekedal draws David's facial scruff. It just irks me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

365 Comics...37: Smallville Season 11 #10 (2013)

Part of the reason why the concept of this '365 Comics' idea developed was because I didn't really have a forum to just geek out over my monthly comics.  What I've been doing has, generally, been far more long-form and far more time consuming than I originally considered, but hey it is what it is and I like it.

But I still want to geek, and as much as I like/love the comics I reading now, very few of them give me the geek tingles like Smallville Season 11.  This issue continues to tingle my dingle (wait! what? no, that's fair) and I just can't help but geek on it.

Brian Q. Miller continues the thread of Chloe's alternate-dimension-self who died in her arms, must have been something she said, and what she said was "the Crisis is coming".  Dr. Emil Hamilton performs some truly Walter Bishop type doodle-hickery with alterna-Chloe (Chlopelganger?) - who's been frozen using appropriated Victor Freis' technology - and manages to show our Chloe the last few bits of other Chloe's (Chlother?) life... and what we see is a giant moon-like thing filling the skyline, with the face of the Anti-Monitor raining destruction down upon humanity.

Meanwhile, Clark seeks to help Bart with his Black Flash problem, the evil speed demon that tries to eat him up every time he pushes himself too hard in the speed force.  Problem is, Clark's just not fast enough, not in tune with the speed force to help.  They need another honest to gosh speedster. So Clark takes Bart to see Ma Huckle to let them into the JSA museum to search for clues to Jay Garrick's whereabouts.  Fuckin' A!  If we get some Stargirl action in the process, even better.

Smallville was a goofy-ass show (just read the ongoing episode guide in the back of the book), hard to like, but also, really, the only game in town for live-action superhero stuff for a time.  But suffering through any of the 10 seasons of that show were worth it for this comic series.  So good.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

365 Comics...36: Prophet #21 (2011)

There was an obvious reason why I didn't read Prophet back in the mid-to-late-1990's, but I'll spell it out for you: Rob Liefeld.  You may have your own opinions of the guy, and hey, for a 2-year span from 1990-1992 I was pretty dazzled by him myself, but let's face it, he's got his thing and that thing ain't so good.

I've been meaning to, at the very least, check out the stuff he had Alan Moore do for him on Supreme, but I still have this block with him and the derivative characters that he created.  It's the same reason why I didn't give his recently rebirthed books at Image a second look.  Yet, with Prophet making many top ten lists for 2012 (and in many cases topping those lists) I have no choice but to reexamine.  I hate to miss out on good genre stuff.  The Comixology app made it pretty easy to get a taste, with the "first" issue (#21) available for free.

Though the series numbering continues, it's evident this is a hard reboot, stripping away the overmuscled physique, the warrior's grimace, the obscene shoulder pads and prevalent pouches, and diverting far, far away from the modern-day setting.  Instead writer Brandon Graham has been given carte blanche to do with the character as he pleases, awakening John Prophet from a deep subterranean slumber in the very distant future where alien life are keep the devolved human progeny as cattle for milking and meat.  Prophet, no longer buff and be-spandexed, instead looks famished, gaunt, and his orange jumpsuit seems less than snug.  But his appearance betrays his formidable abilities as a fighter, and his acquisition of numerous gadgets and supplies give him a Bond-by-way-of-John Carter feel.

I wasn't fond of Graham's narrative choice at first, but I settled into it and eventually understood the necessity of it.  There's an abundance of ideas in place here, much of it hearkening back to Edgar Rice Burroughs in its execution of alien life and civilization, and a human thrust among it. It's enough to be dazzled by that the actual plot kind of escaped me after an initial reading.  I definitely liked it though (artist Simon Roy, a stylistic hybrid of Frank Quitely and John Romita Jr., is astounding at making the alien environments a believable space) and will certainly be trade waiting/hunting for more.

I'm going to have to rethink Glory now too.

Monday, February 4, 2013

365 Comics...35: Hall of Fame Featuring the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #1 (1983)

I get on these weird comic collecting fixations from time to time where I decide it's time for me to have everything I can get of a certain title, or publisher, or character, or writer, or artist.  My current collecting fixations are Red Circle/Blue Ribbon/Archie Comics Group Superhero titles from the early 80's--  which were resuscitating semi-forgotten Golden Age superheroes-- and the THUNDER Agents, which at the same time in the '80's these equally forgotten Silver Age heroes were being resuscitated.  I frankly didn't know of the Agents until the recent revival at DC (which, coincidentally, coincided with DC's attempt at reviving the Archie heroes once more) but I became fascinated with them, especially the idea that across a half dozen different publishers over a 45+ Year span one continuous universe was being maintained.

I'm going back, picking up as much THUNDER as I can find (for cheap).  The '60's stuff isn't all that thrifty but there's also not that much of it.  This book in question is a reprint book from the short-lived John C Productions.  They basically pumped out, I believe, three reprint books and two issues of original THUNDER Agents material before they folded.   I need to cheek out Back Issue Magazine to see if they have any articles or interviews on what exactly happened (or perhaps I could save myself some hunting time and money and just Bing it). [Update: TwoMorrows, publisher of Back Issue, created an entire THUNDER Agents Companion book]

It's evident John Carbonaro was a huge fan of the Agents and a lot of love went into this reprint including an all-new coloring job (which today still looks gloriously old).  The stories are vintage sixties, high concept, low character. THUNDER Agents was a superhero riff on Bond and Man From UNCLE but taking advantage of the medium to push the limits of action and fantasy.
There's always a lot of focus on Wally Wood's contribution to pop art here -- and deservedly so -- but for me Reed Crandall's ink-heavy, dark and dramatic work on Noman dazzles my eyes even more.  The actual written narrative may be corny as hell, but Wood and Crandall are amazing visual storytellers.  I'm looking forward to finding ratty copies of the actual back issues.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

365 Comics...34: Sixth Gun #20 (2012)

Well, that was dumb.
No, not the book.The book was Flat-out awesome.  what was dumb was me, or  rather my decision to stop buying this title mid-last year.  It wasn't for lack of enjoyment, that's for sure, because Sixth Gun has never failed to entertain me.  Instead it was a response to my reading habit with the book wherein I sale up about six to eight issues and then gorge myself on them.  It's a great monthly title but I just find one issue generally doesn't satisfy me... I need more.  Somehow the fact That I had f issues sitting beside the bed unread sent a message to my scattered brain to say not "maybe you should catch up" but instead "maybe you should stop buying this title". Sometimes I think my brain has shit for brains.  Now I'm halfway through catching up and I've tried to fill in the gaps at my LCS since issue 28 came at this week an 7 only managed to find #24 and 27.  Looks like catching up is going to take a forced hiatus as I try to locale 25 & 26 (or else I just go digital. Sigh.)
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Issue 20's gunfight in a town called Penance was totally badass.  Bunn & Hurtt knock this metaphysical Western stuff out of the stratosphere every damned time.  I'm so impressed. Just not with myself right now.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

365 Comics...33: Avengers Arena #1 (2012)

As I teased on Sunday (365 #27) I was working on a rather massive review (but not a review of The Massive) of the "Most Dangerous Game"/"Battle Royale" retreads now on the market: Avengers Arena from Marvel , New Guardians Annual/Threshold from DC, and Deathmatch from Boom Studios.  Well, it's now posted at, all 20 paragraphs (5 pages!) of it.

It's excessive, I admit but to be honest I love the genre, even bad versions of it.  So I loved exploring these books and writing about them.  In brief (and pretty much saying everything I said in my review:)  Avengers Arena does a pretty good job of mimicking Battle Royale/The Hunger Games, while Threshold could be a lot better, but Giffen has some ideas he's enjoying playing with.  Neither, however is remotely as awesome, compelling, engaging or as satisfying as Deathmatch.  You should be reading it.

Even still, I'm staying with Threshold and Avengers Arena.  I've even gone back and picked up the first two Arena issues.  Now having read the first issue, I can see why my colleague Jeb had reacted so negatively to the book.  Despite writer Dennis Hopeless' insistence that the book's number one focus is character development this first issue puts it quite squarely around the game of death.  I see now the threads of how character development can erupt from the proceedings (who has a killer inside them for instance?) but in issue 1 and issue 3 that I've read, so far, I don't see the characters as the focus as much as the game.

The set-up is crucial, and as it's explained in this first issue it's almost too over-the-top to buy into.  I was happier with the book when I has only speculation about how it all happened.

Also, besides the fact that it capitalizes upon the highly marketable "Avengers" trademark, I'm not certain why this book is called "Avengers Arena" and not "Murder World" or "Arcade's Arena".  "Avengers Arena" actually doesn't make much sense when you look at who's involved.  Ah well.

Friday, February 1, 2013

365 Comics...32: Masters of the Universe: Origin of He-Man (2013)

There's a new MOTU ongoing series coming in a few months.  Why is it not being written by Joshua Hale FiaIkov?
While this origin book isn't quite as r insaneIy good as the Origin of Skeletor, compared to most MOTV comics (esp. the current mini-series debacle) its still some damn fine He-Manning (brother of Payton and Eli).