Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Captain America #42 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Captain America #42 about which I write the following sentences: "Of course, my immediate reaction after reading this issue was, 'how are they going to collect this?' Because issues #1-42 tell a single extended story, and another 'Captain America Omnibus' volume for issues #26-42 would seem logical, even though it's a bit short for an Omnibus. The point is that Brubaker and his artists -- mostly Steve Epting -- have crafted an engaging long-form superhero espionage thriller, full of finely-tuned character work and intriguing suspense. And it's worthy of a fancy collection, to showcase what Brubaker has accomplished. With 'Captain America' #42 as the final story in the collection, because it really does wrap up the multi-year plot in a satisfying way, with the defeat of the Red Skull coming from an unexpected (but totally appropriate) source and Bucky fully embracing his role as the new Captain America."

Read the entire review HERE.

All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #10 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #10, about which I write the following sentences: "And this issue also explores the anguish of Jim Gordon, very much in line with the way he has been portrayed in Miller's other Batman works. But the Gordon story is crowded out by Batgirl on a skateboard and Black Canary yapping endlessly to herself. Miller's Batman monologues work well enough, but his Black Canary is verbose and flaccid. He still doesn't have a handle on her narrative voice, but that doesn't stop him from using a whole lot of it. I would say it's an improvement over her awkward Irish brogue in previous issues, but there's so many ineffective Black Canary narrative captions in this issue that I found myself longing for a time when she said fewer words, even if they sounded silly."

Read the entire review HERE.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Best Ongoing Title--My Pick and Nine More

In the comments to my post from last week about the best ongoing title now that Casanova and All-Star Superman aren't around, David Uzumeri said, "Scalped is probably the *best* monthly on the market in my opinion, but I look forward to Batman more (perhaps it's just the artificial withdrawal symptoms brought about by the delays)."

I feel exactly the same way.

It's probably no surprise to most of my regular readers that Scalped is at the top of my list. I love it, and I think Jason Aaron is creating a vicious and beautiful crime saga that has a real sense of pain and sadness beneath it. It's quite a feat for any serialized comic, and like The Wire, it's not like any single installment blows you away with its brilliance, but every single installment is very, very good and its brilliance comes from every tiny part working in harmony with the whole.

Yet, Morrison's Batman is the comic I most eagerly anticipate each month (or thereabouts), because I have no idea what's going to happen next, and I love Morrison's packed allusions and dense subtext. Every issue is a feast, even when the art is less than it should be.

But I have no doubt that Scalped is the best comic, month in and month out.

So, here's what would make my Top 10 Best Ongoing Series list, right here, right now:

#1 Scalped
#2 Batman
#3 Criminal
#4 Ghost Rider
#5 Captain America
#6 Northlanders
#7 Green Lantern
#8 Action Comics
#9 Fables
#10 Amazing Spider-Man

Others that just missed the Top 10: Invincible Iron Man, Tiny Titans, Wolverine, Uncanny X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, Ultimate Spider-Man, Captain Britain and MI:13, and Incredible Hercules. (The work of Jack Chick doesn't quite make the cut, sorry. Satan wins again.)

All of these comics make for great regular reading, and if you're not reading all of them, you're surely missing some good stuff.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Baltimore '08

I'll be writing about my experiences at the Baltimore Comic-Con for this week's "When Words Collide" column at CBR, but if I met you over the weekend, know this: you are awesome, and thanks for visiting the site!

(And super-special thanks to Mike and Amy Phillips for not punching me in the face when I was asleep. Or for punching me so hard that I don't remember.)

Hellboy: The Crooked Man #3 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Greatest Hits #1, about which I write the following sentences: "The art here is so good, especially on the close-ups of the Crooked Man -- a demonic creature with apish features and puritan attire -- that the story almost doesn't even matter. It's Hellboy, so you kind of know what you're going to get. Except that's not completely true, not here. While this may not be a story filled with shocking twists and turns, it's an engaging tale about temptation and sin. It doesn't fetishize ancient legends or mysterious artifacts the way some Hellboy stories do. It doesn't fall into the rut of cold exposition at the expense of characterization and narrative momentum. Instead, 'Hellboy: The Crooked Man' takes time to explore the twisted choices in a corrupt world -- and Hellboy himself is merely a supporting figure for the battle of wills between man, god, and the devil. And what makes this battle work so well is that the struggle takes place on the grungy Earth, in the Appalachian mountains, circa 1958. This isn't Southern Gothic, it's Backwoods Hillbilly Gothic, and that's a whole lot more disturbing."

Read the entire review HERE.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Deadpool #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Deadpool #2, about which I write the following sentences: "Deadpool's called 'The merc with the mouth,' but he's really a Looney Tunes character placed in the Marvel Universe. It's his enthusiasm toward violence and his puckish sense of humor that characterize him, much more than his verbal gags. Obviously with any superhero comic book, there's some suspension of disbelief, but Deadpool works best when that suspension of belief is pushed to the edge of the breaking point -- and just when you're about to throw down the comic as an example of juvenile stupidity, you chuckle (at least on the inside), and admit, 'okay, that was pretty funny.' Deadpool's absurdity saves his comic from the icy touch of logic."

Read the entire review HERE.

Guardians of the Galaxy #5 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Guardians of the Galaxy #5, about which I write the following sentences: "And the scenes in 'Guardians of the Galaxy' #5 that don't deal with Drax's one-man martial arts extravaganza focus on the kind of convoluted and hermetically dull continuity shout-outs that twist the series back on itself before its even half-a-year out of its launch. Starhawk reappears, as a female who speaks in riddles from the future. That might seem like an interesting concept, until you actually read her dialogue and the response of the Guardians. It's all gritted teeth and ponderous speeches, like something out of a Marvel comic from a decade and a half ago, but with more shades to the digital coloring (which, by the way, does nothing to accentuate the work of Paul Pelletier and Rick Magyar. I assume their art is just fine, since they are established professionals, but it's hard to tell under the murky hues and garish airbrush effects)."

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Scalped #21 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Scalped #21, about which I write the following sentences: "The virtues of this series aren't obviously apparent if you're just flipping through the comic in the shop, and a new reader might pick up this issue and find very little happening on the surface, but it is very much like 'The Wire' in that respect. It's the accumulation of dramatic moments, and the echoes of past story beats that add up to something remarkable. And although Aaron doesn't try for the bleak poetry of Cormac McCarthy's narrators, he does capture the glimmer of hope within the bleakness that's the essence of McCarthy, and I'll be damned if Aaron isn't terse. But he's terse with a purpose, and though his two main characters, Bad Horse and Red Crow, speak louder with their actions then their words, he isn't afraid to throw in an extended monologue every once in a while. Here, Bad Horse doesn't even appear, and Red Crow says only what he needs to, but the wise Mr. Brass speaks volumes. And like McCarthy, like 'The Wire,' Aaron gives all of his characters a distinct speaking rhythm, capturing their worldviews clearly and precisely without resorting to exposition. These characters talk at each other, making their way through the cold, hard world."

Read the entire review HERE.

All-Star Superman/Batman Hits THE SPLASH PAGE

I've written a lot about All-Star Superman in the past week, and I have a review of the newest All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder issue hitting CBR this weekend. Yet, I'm not done talking about either of those books, apparently, because here I come -- along with my partner-in-awesomeness, Chad Nevett -- to talk about Morrison, Miller, Quitely, and Lee.

But here's the catch: Chad actually prefers the Miller/Lee stuff to the Morrison/Quitely All-Star Superman. Is he mad? Is he justified? Is he right?!?

Check out the newest installment of the debate-tastic Splash Page to find out what happens when two men disagree about their precious comic books.

Or, you know, click HERE.

(One thing Chad and I would agree on: Quitely's version of All-Star Batman is pretty amazing.)

Greatest Hits #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Greatest Hits #1, about which I write the following sentences: "The art here, by Glenn Fabry, is cleaner than his usual style. His lines are more open than usual, and his figures less chiseled. It's quite good stuff all around, though, and he's just about the perfect guy for this particular job. But it's not a great first issue, story-wise. It's got more than a little bit of potential, but while the best Vertigo first issues end with strong hooks, 'Greatest Hits' #1 ends with the lads being rushed by a crowd of exuberant fans. It's hardly a surprise of any sort, given the high-concept of the series, and it's an example of the kind of trap this comic can easily fall into. Okay, it's the Beatles as superheroes, but then what?"

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

When Words Collide: Morrison's Perfect Superman

You've probably already read this week's "When Words Collide" column focusing on All-Star Superman, but if you haven't then you should go check it out now. I'm getting fan mail about it. Hordes of readers are lining up outside my house just to get a snapshot of me thinking about comics. It's a pretty big deal.

Okay, maybe not, but it's me writing 3,000 words about why All-Star Superman is so awesome, and I certainly could have written thousands more. All-Star Superman may be one of Morrison's most straightforward and elegant works, but that doesn't mean it isn't chock full of goodness.

Like the opening page origin recap above, for example. I love it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

When Words Collide BONUS: Morrison's Very First Superman Story

In my All-Star Superman-centric "When Words Collide" column -- to be published later today -- I mention that Morrison's Superman first appeared, in comic book form, in the pages of Animal Man #2. But what I didn't mention, largely because it's a minor footnote in Morrison's bibliography and because it didn't have much to do with the point of my column, is that Morrison's very first Superman story was "Osgood Peabody's Big Green Dream Machine..." a prose tale from a UK Superman Annual published in 1986 1985.

If you read the story, you'll see that it has a distinctive Silver Age meets Morrison feel to it, and though I didn't mention it in my column, I just wanted to assure everyone that, yes, I know this story exists, and yes, I skipped any mention of it in my column anyway.

If that offends you -- if you think, well, he should have mentioned the prose story, even though it's not a comic, I apologize, and to make it up to you, here's "Osgood Peabody's Big Green Dream Machine..." with illustrations by the young Barry Kitson! Enjoy! (Click on the pages to make them big enough to read.)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Best Comic Right Now? An Update.

Based on the comments so far, these are what people are saying should qualify as the "Best Monthly Comic on the Stands Now that All-Star Superman Has Ended":


Walking Dead
Action Comics

Justice Society of America
Comic Book Comics
I Kill Giants
Ghost Rider
Incredible Hercules
Ultimate Spider-Man
Invincible Iron Man
Captain Britain and MI13

I would rank six of those in my current top 10. Some of the others, not so much. But all excellent suggestions! Is your favorite comic not on the list yet? What is it?

(And yes, one of the comics above would indeed get my vote for Best Current Monthly Comic. Which one, though???)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Question: Best Comic Book Series Right Now?

Now that All-Star Superman is over and since Casanova is on hiatus, what is the best comic book series currently being published?

(I'd be hard pressed to chose between either of those as my favorite for the year, but they clearly take the top two spots on the list o' greatness.)

Tell me what you think is the best monthly (or close to monthly) comic book on the market today. Oh, and guess what my answer will be! (I'll give you a hint: it's not DCU: Decisions!)

The Big E: Comic-Con for Farmers with Bad Taste

So the wife, kids, and I went to The Big E, "The Eastern States Exposition" held in West Springfield, Massachusetts. It's essentially a county fair, but what struck me about the whole thing was how similar it was to a comic book convention. It had mobs of sweaty people waiting in lines, dealers charging ridiculous prices for the most obscure items, and a general sense that you were always missing something going on just around the corner.

The thing about The Big E is that, other than the impressive selection of beef jerky (hell, all kinds of venison jerky too), it was booth after booth of the most horrible trash you ever laid eyes on. And unlike a comic book convention, this thing lasts for 17 consecutive days.

Who buys the baseball bats with their names airbrushed on the side? Who picks up the novelty mirrors shaped like Betty Boop or butterflies? Who rushes to this place to get the black t-shirts with the gigantic wolf/snowflake motif across the front? By my count, it seemed like a million people, because The Big E was absolutely packed all day.

The Big E does have some virtues that comic-cons might learn from. The sea lion show was popular, for example, and there's no reason that a panel on "Aquatic Heroes from the Golden Age" couldn't have animal trainers and a giant tank on hand. And one of the longest lines was for the cream puff/eclair pastry booth, and damn if comic book fans don't love their pastries. The beef jerky goes without saying.

If this post has any point, I guess it's this: why does anyone in the media (or elsewhere) jovially mock the nerds descending on San Diego (or wherever) each year when these absolutely terrible county fairs perpetrate the most garish artistic offenses on the world year in and year out and are somehow considered "quaint" and/or a "tradition"? Or maybe my point is that I should open a pastry stand in San Diego next year and make more off my eclairs than you'd ever make off your crappy small-press comic.

You'll recognize me by my stylish wolf/snowflake shirt and Betty Boop-mirror medallion.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Okay, So the Skrulls Win And...

By now, it's pretty clear that Secret Invasion will end with the Skrulls firmly established as overlords within the Marvel Universe. Between the "Embrace Change" television ads (which some people have criticized as not looking professional enough but those people are missing the point: they're designed to be cheesy), and the new Hickman-penned Secret Warriors series and the Dark Avengers, and the fact that Bendis says he'll have to go into hiding after the final issue of Secret Invasion hits, yeah, it's pretty clear that the Marvel status quo will look something like this:

The Marvel heroes will be reduced to various rag-tag groupings of underground resistance fighters, which will serve to make them all underdogs once again (even Tony Stark) and will provide a lengthy lead-in to whatever next summer's event is, probably something called "The Uprising" or whatever. Apparently "Dark Reign" will be plastered all over the comics this winter, much the way "The Initiative" was exploited in the simpler, pre-invasive days.

So when all of this happens, what will become of Brubaker's Captain America, which has avoided cross-over contamination? Or his Daredevil, which is a street-level book anyway?

What happens to The Amazing Spider-Man? Will he stop fighting also-ran revisions of his 1970s rogues gallery to turn his attention to the Skrulls? Will the Skrulls be the villains of every single book for the rest of our comic reading lives?

What about Ghost Rider? Will he join the Dark Avengers and find out that the host of heaven is actually a Skrull plot?

I could be completely wrong about all of this, but I could be completely right, don't you think?

(Also, I like Bendis's work, but he isn't known for nailing his landings. Usually his stories don't end as well as they start. If Secret Invasion does end with, "yeah, the Skrulls won after all. Not much we can do," then that would probably take the prize as the worst ending of a crossover event ever, right? And if the Skrulls don't win, what the hell could possibly fill the void so quickly that it would be a "Dark Reign"?)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Secret Invasion: Thor #2 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Secret Invasion: Thor #2, about which I write the following sentences: "I thought 'Secret Invasion: Thor' #1 was a decent start, but this second issue takes what Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite established in the first chapter and accelerates the pace. Fraction cross-cuts between Donald Blake's delivery of a child with the raging Skrull battle in Asgard. It's an effective technique, because not only does it contrast the vulnerable and the human with the nearly inconceivable war of the gods, but it also provides dramatic tension as Blake longs to join his brethren at arms but knows that bringing a single human life into the world is his more immediate concern."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

When Words Collide: A Bounty of Books

In this week's installment of "When Words Collide," I rank the Top 20 best collected editions and graphic novels scheduled to hit the shelves in the next month. It's an impressive list o' goodness, and I give you the rundown on what's what and why and wherefore.

Honestly, who's going to be able to afford all of this cool stuff that's hitting the shelves?

Maybe if I sell a whole bunch of books tonight, I will! Don't forget to visit Chapters Book Store in Pittsfield tonight at 6:00 PM for a fantabulous book signing event, featuring me (with copies of Grant Morrison: The Early Years and Teenagers from the Future) and Joe Staton (with...I'm not sure, but something good). See you tonight!

Meanwhile, read all about the Top 20 upcoming books HERE.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Speed Racer is Good

I missed Speed Racer in theaters, and I wasn't in much of a hurry to see it anyway based on the reviews I read which called it "rock candy LSD without a soul" and "bright and shiny and as directionless as the recent career of Mike Myers."

But last night, I popped in the dvd and I found myself absolutely loving the heck out of Speed Racer. It probably helped that I was watching it with my seven-year old son, and his glee was apparent. Near the climax of the movie, I turned to him and said, "I think this movie is awesome," and his response was, "this movie is SO awesome." So I recommend abducting a seven-year old when you watch this thing [note: I do not recommend abducting a seven-year old]. But "awesome" is the right word. It's like a movie from the future sent back in a time bubble for our enjoyment today.

True, the plot is overly simplistic and the stock characters are exactly what you'd expect, but who cares? It's all about the visual energy and that stuff is magnificent. This is the best-looking film of the year, without a doubt.

I'm not a huge fan of CGI in general, and I loved how relatively smoothly it was incorporated into Iron Man and The Dark Knight, but Speed Racer embraces the artifice of CGI to such an enthusiastic degree that it doesn't matter what looks fake and what doesn't. The whole thing is an imaginary world where vikings drive badass racecars and sneaky bad guys launch cobras from their car-catapults. Those are actually plot points from the movie, and if you think that stuff sounds ridiculously stupid, then you won't like Speed Racer at all. If you think they sound ridiculously glorious, especially in 8-gigawatt Technicolor, then you will have as much fun watching it as I did.

Critics who have knocked Speed Racer have compared it to a video game. Well, I can understand that feeling, because that's exactly how Clone Wars felt, but Speed Racer isn't like a video game. It's a moving digital painting, vibrant and alive and full of joy. It's not one endlessly repetitive scene after another, with blinding colors for no reason. No, there's a deeply wonderful aesthetic at play here, and while it might be ADD-addled and frenetic, it's also thrilling.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ten Things for Tuesday, September 16th

I just wrapped up a special Fall Preview column for this week's "When Words Collide," my mind is in list mode. So here are ten things I'm thinking about on this Tuesday in September.

1. I like Steve Ditko's Static.

2. The last two DC hardcovers I've purchased both have wrinkled pages on the inside, like water or humidity was trapped inside the books before shrinkwrapping. I had to return the first book because it was so bad, but the replacement wasn't much better. And then, last week, I found that my new Batman: The Black Glove hardcover had basically the same problem. Anyone else running into this with DC hardcovers?

3. David Foster Wallace was one of my first favorite authors as an adult. I picked up Infinite Jest soon after graduating from college, and although I still think it's an unrestrained mess, it made me fall deeply in love with postmodern American fiction. I always preferred Wallace's non-fiction writing, although the stories collected in Oblivion were powerful and vibrant in a way that few other fiction writers have ever matched. Wallace pointed me to Barthelme, and for that I am eternally grateful, and I still haven't shaken my love for footnotes. It's sad to go back and watch Wallace's Charlie Rose interview and see him struggling to find a sense of purpose in his life, even when he had achieved everything he thought he wanted in life.

4. All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder doesn't go far enough into its own vicious absurdity, and censorship is to blame, it seems.

5. The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics is pretty amazing, but when the hell am I going to have time to read it? (It's glaring at me from across the room.)

6. If I had to rank superhero artists who debuted in the past five years, Rafael Albuquerque would be at the top.

7. I don't know if the game holds up as any good now, but I really liked playing Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle with my wife when we were younger and had more free time and less kids running around the house.

8. Greg Horn's art doesn't help make reading superhero comics any less embarrassing.

9. John Byrne writes, "The notion of 'waiting for the trade' has, I am sure, had a negative impact on the sales of the monthly books. How much more negative impact comes from those trades being available in libraries? Not only are they reliably on the shelf from month to month in a library, they are free! Taken from the most cold hearted and mercenary stance (which is where I think we really have to be in this crumbling business!) are libraries a Good Thing for comics?" My question is: what libraries is he visiting? My local library has a wall of graphic novels, but not a vast selection. Does your local library have an impressive graphic novel section that you can rely upon? Personally, I really hate reading library books, and I don't know why.

10. My kids prefer Gene Wilder to Johnny Depp.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Big Hero 6 #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Big Hero 6 #1, about which I write the following sentences: "Fred doesn't appear in the story in issue #1, but the surprisingly extensive back matter not only shows Nakayama's sketches and 'Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe' entries for the team, but it also sneaks a peek at Fredzilla. So, we have that to look forward to: Fred apparently turns into a giant mutated lizard. It's certainly not a comic that takes itself completely seriously. But, at the same time, it's not constantly winking at its audience. Instead, it's more of an old-fashioned, lighthearted, comic book superhero story, like something you'd find in one of the recent 'Power Pack' series, or in the Marvel Adventures line."

Read the entire review HERE.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Book Signing with Tim Callahan and Joe Staton

Every Third Thursday of the month, Pittsfield, Massachusetts hosts a downtown celebration on historic North Street, and this week, you can find me there.

Join legendary comic book artist Joe Staton and me at a 6:00 PM book signing on September 18th at Chapters Book Store (78 North Street).

Joe will be on hand to sign copies of Batman: Going Sane, Millenium, and anything else you want to politely shove under his magic marker.

I'll be there to sign the last remaining copies of Grant Morrison: The Early Years' first edition (the second edition hits comic shops next month, I think) along with the new book I put together: Teenagers from the Future.

Stop by, say "hi," buy some books and support the downtown businesses.

Cancelled Comics hit THE SPLASH PAGE

Chad Nevett and I like to talk about comics that are no longer published, and we like to talk about comics that were published for a bit too long.

In this week's Splash Page, we take our usual arrogance, double it, and then multiply it by ten, as we decree which comics were cancelled too early and which ones should have been cancelled while they were actually still good.

We also tell you what you should be reading right now. I don't think we're wrong, even if we do sound like pompous know-it-alls. Still, Chad and I have really good taste in comics, you have to admit. We're kind of flawless in every possible way.

Read our discussion of comics and cancellation in the newest installment of the internet's hottest oven o' controversy: The Splash Page.

Or, click. HERE.

Ultimate Origins #4 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Ultimate Origins #4, about which I write the following sentences: "My allusion to the 'Star Wars' prequels wasn't hyperbole. Bendis employs the same technique George Lucas became so fond of a decade ago. He creates a story that's sole purpose is to explain how everything in the Ultimate universe connects. Instead of 'lil Darth Vader building C3P0 we get the feisty bandana-clad young Hank Pym playing around with Hulk-ified genetics. Instead of young Obi Wan failing to teach his pupil the methods of self-control we get Peter Parker's dad working for Nick Fury. I won't spoil some of the more blatant connections between the Ultimate universe of the present and what we find out in 'Ultimate Origins,' but I will say that instead of telling a thrilling story about a secret past, each page of this series saps the Ultimate universe of a bit of its mystery, and why would anyone want to see that?"

Read the entire review HERE.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rama, the Legend Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Rama, the Legend, about which I write the following sentences: "I haven't read the 'Ramayana,' but I'm pretty sure that it doesn't contain a goofy crow who wears a baseball cap. 'Rama, the Legend,' does. Let me clarify that. In a graphic novel which is meant to retell the story of Rama, the great Hindu epic hero -- the man who faced multi-headed evil gods and flying poisonous snakes with only his companions and his bow and arrows -- well, we get all that, plus a goofy crow who narrates bits of the story while wearing a baseball cap. It's like Poochie has risen up out of his 'Simpsons' grave and made this ancient Hindu text 110% more extreme! How embarrassing for everyone involved."

Read the entire review HERE.

Ms. Marvel Annual #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Ms. Marvel Annual #1, about which I write the following sentences: "Here, we get a very Spider-Man-centric story involving robots and transforming robots and robots that are actually variants of some rich guy, and, oh yeah, more robots. There's nothing wrong with that, either. Who doesn't like robots? But the whole issue just falls into one cliched trap after another. First we get Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel fighting (because that's what superheroes do before the inevitable team-up). Then we get the endless banter from Brian Reed's Spider-Man (who, by the way, is extra-annoying in this story, and looks like the Ultimate version of the character instead of the mainstream Marvel one). Then we get robots, and an escalation of more robots, then we find out who's behind the robots, and. . . well, it's all just sort of tedious, isn't it? It's just such a by-the-numbers story that I can see why it ended up in a throw-away annual, whether it was always intended as such or not."

Read the entire review HERE.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Watchmen on the Shelves, But...

I stopped in Barnes and Noble for a couple of minutes today, and although they had an entire table covered with sleek new copies of Watchmen -- a table near the front of the store -- they didn't have a single copy of the book anywhere near their graphic novel section.

No Watchmen on the shelf. No Watchmen on an endcap. No indication that the store sold Watchmen. Other than the giant pile of Watchmen in a completely different section of the store. True, it's a section that you might have passed on the way into the store, but maybe not. I only noticed it because I walked over to get a coffee.

So, does that mean that Watchmen has transcended its status as merely a graphic novel, and now it's treated as just another book? Or are the merchandisers at this particular Barnes and Noble just a bunch of idiots? Or both? (Neither?)

Criminal #5 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Criminal #5, about which I write the following sentences: "Ed Brubaker has been playing around with formal structures in this series, using overlapping narratives between issues in recent stories, and even playing around with the flow of time through a measured use of black panels. 'Criminal' #5 seems less structurally playful on the surface, but not only does it bring a minor background character (Jacob) into the foreground of the arc, it weaves flashback and hallucination into the present-day narrative with sublime grace. And Brubaker creates a sense of a fully-realized world in which to torment Jacob by showing Iris and Danny always in mid-argument. Jacob, the captive of these two, always seems to walk in on them as they're shouting about something important, but we never get the full picture of their quarrels. Like Jacob, we are interlopers into their story, and we only see fragments of it."

Read the entire review HERE.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Secret Invasion #6 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Secret Invasion #6, about which I write the following sentences: "Yet even here, up until the final few pages, Bendis lingers on some of the less obviously spectacular moments. It's not all punching and zapping and superheroic maneuvers in this series, and I think that's an interesting choice for an event book. Interesting and worthwhile. Because what we end up with are the tense moments between the battles. Whether it was the Ka-Zar and Shanna bits from previous issues or the Noh-Varr and Mar-Vell moment in this one, we spend much of the series on the outskirts of the conflict, dealing with the human (or Kree) anxiety. Bendis adds those moments together to provide a tapestry upon which the Skrull invasion plays out. It's a more successful approach than the one taken in 'Civil War,' for example, because that series seemed to be missing a lot of the transitional sections. It seemed more like a cool highlight reel than an escalating narrative. Here, Bendis weaves the highlights together, and except for a few pages here and there, most of the highlights focus on character and emotion, rather than on visceral thrills."

Read the entire review HERE.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When Words Collide: Role-Playing Rorschach

My fascination with the days when Watchmen wasn't quite WATCHMEN!!! continues with a close look at the genesis of the mid-80s Watchmen RPG books from Mayfair Games. I mentioned the gaming stuff a bit last month, but I was able to get in contact with the two writers of those classis RPG modules -- adventures produced with direct collaboration from Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons -- and talk with them about how the books came into being.

Back in those days, Ray Winninger and Daniel Greenberg had to fight to get an untested property like Watchmen into the hands of gamers, and both of them have some interesting things to say about Moore's early plans for the Watchmen universe (which wasn't as hermetically sealed as it later became).

So check out the new "When Words Collide" column, entitled "Role-Playing Rorschach," and then bounce on over to my CBR forum to talk about it!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

The Secularity of Comic Book Readers

In a thread about Virgin Comics' demise at Willow Wilson's SA board, Sridhar Reddy said,
I had my own experience with Virgin Comics, having worked with them for a year. While I had my own issues with the company and management (which led to my eventual departure) I can't fault them for their enthusiasm and willingness to add diversity to the comic book landscape.

But I found a major problem in that they weren't pushing ethnic diversity, they were pushing religious diversity, as the majority of their Indian books were rooted in Hindu mythology, which is by default Hindu religion. They never pushed Hinduism as an agenda, but whether they understood it or not, they were pushing religion. This dooms them immediately to a niche market, and they were spending big-budget money on niche material. If they wanted the mainstream to embrace Hindu religion (which Deepak Chopra was successful with), then the comic book market was an unwise place to do this, as comic book readers' perception of mythology is on a far different plane.

In my experience, comic book readers are probably the most secular readers you will find, because they embrace mythology from the standpoint of legend, character and symbolism, and not religious discovery. Neil Gaiman successfully utilizes myth, ethnicity and religion because he places them in the context of an original (and compelling) story, and doesn't use his characters to simply re-tell a myth, which I feel is what Virgin did.
I don't know if Virgin intended for any kind of Hindu conversion in the Western audience -- I suspect not -- but I think Reddy makes a good point about comic book readers being a more secular group than the norm. Perhaps that's why I chafe when specific religious dogma is thrust into superhero comics. I can appreciate it when it's used well, as in Daredevil: Born Again, but when Rocky from the Challengers of the Unknown becomes a makeshift priest, it all seems forced and absurd.

Comic book characters are mythic already, and having them practice religious rituals from our culture is as silly as expecting Ares to take the Eucharist.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Jonah Hex #35 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Jonah Hex #35, about which I write the following sentences: "This issue is a step above the average (if always dependably good) Jonah Hex stories. Darwyn Cooke's art received the spotlight a few issues ago in what I thought was a gorgeous, if overwritten, single issue, and here we get the sumptuous art of J. H. Williams III (as colored by Dave Stewart -- the best in the biz). Williams doesn't rely on as much heavy black in 'Jonah Hex' as he has in other recent work. Instead, his feathering and crosshatching recalls the work of Moebius on the 'Lt. Blueberry' comic -- a series sadly out of print these days, but a clear milestone in the western genre. Williams has a reputation for being a kind of artistic chameleon, adopting the styles of other artists for last year's 'Batman' arc or 'Seven Soldiers' #1, both done in collaboration with Grant Morrison. In 'Jonah Hex,' he's not doing his Moebius impression so much as evoking Moebius in the linework and inking. The layouts and storytelling is all his, though, and of all the mainstream artists working today, Williams is the most fearless when composing a page. It's beautiful stuff."

Read the entire review HERE.

I'm Thinking: Iron Man and Dark Knight and Joss Whedon

I'm really looking forward to seeing both Iron Man and The Dark Knight on dvd, and, in fact, I think I'll show them in my Cinema and Screenwriting class later this year because I'm the teacher and I say we're going to have a short superhero cinema unit in January. So there! But, honestly, I came out of The Dark Knight completely stunned by the brilliance of Heath Ledger's performance but with mixed feelings about the rest of the movie. On the other hand, I thought Iron Man was almost-pitch perfect from beginning to end. Nothing in that movie was as fascinating as Ledger's Joker, but it also wasn't as wildly inconsistent. Iron Man was a sleek, fun, thrilling exploration of that character's world, done better than any comic book incarnation of the character ever.

Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight, as excellent as it was, still had Christian Bale's terrible bat-voice (at least have a character in the movie comment upon how ridiculous he sounds, or something!), Nicky Katt (who I love, but who had a scene that was tonally out-of-place), and a lot of speechifyin' about justice.

Iron Man had evil Jeff Bridges in a giant suit of robot armor.

So, I'm tending to lean toward Iron Man as my favorite superhero movie, but that's why I'm looking forward to the dvd releases, because I want to watch them both again.

You know what, though? Even though they are surely the two best superhero movies ever made, no matter how you rank them (and I know everyone else in the world has TDK as number one, but maybe you will rethink that after the dvd releases. Or maybe I'm 100% completely and utterly wrong), I am kind of obsessed with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog these days, and now that I've downloaded the soundtrack and have been listening to it as I drive to work, I don't know what to think anymore.

My live-action superhero judgment has gone haywire.

Seriously, though. I love Dr. Horrible so, so much. I'm not a big Joss Whedon guy, although I like Firefly quite a bit. But Dr. Horrible is the best thing he's ever done. I'd rank it as my favorite movie of the year, if it were a movie. So take that, Iron Man and Dark Knight!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

El Diablo #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: El Diablo #1, about which I write the following sentences: "Nitz's story is a good one, too, although the first issue doesn't do much more than set the tone for the series and establish the new El Diablo's origin. But at least he gets it done in one issue -- no six-issue, slowly paced origin story here. Instead we meet Chato Santana, a gang leader and hardcore criminal, see him go down at the hand of his own compadre, and watch the Department of Justice do everything they can to get him to rat on his former friends. One of their cruel and unusual tactics is to place Santana, who's been paralyzed during the earlier betrayal, in the same room as Lazarus Lane, a fossil of a man who seems to make everyone around him die in their sleep. The threat doesn't break Santana, but there's more to Lane than just an old guy with a long white beard."

Read the entire review HERE.

Menace: Revealed?

I read so many comics each week, that I rarely pay attention to subtle clues that require connections between issues released months apart. I just don't think that way. (Except about Grant Morrison's work, but that's different for some reason.) Anyway, if Dan Slott puts subtle hints in his Amazing Spider-Man issues, I completely ignore them. I know that he's playing around with the identity of Menace, for example, by showing that the character is putting on some kind of villainous "act" even though we don't know why. But as far as his true identity goes, I have given it zero percent of my brain space. I just haven't even thought about who might be under that mask.

But a reader of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, thinks that Slott has given us a clue in the dialogue of recent Amazing Spider-Man issues:
I've noticed eithier a glaring hint, or glaring red herring, as to who Menace is in issue #570 that no one has picked up on. Anyway, on page 17 (ads included) panel 3, Menace says "and Billy? My l'il Billy-boy? My Billy?" which is very similiar to the introduction Dexter Bennett gave Norman Osborn in the previous issue; page 10, panel 2: "Stormin' Norman, my storm guy, my Stormy."
So, is Dexter Bennett, owner of The DB, the man behind the Menace mask? Or is it just a case of Dan Slott's own verbal tics showing up in dialogue spoken by different characters. Hell, if dialogue is all we're going on, then all of Bendis's characters are other Bendis characters in disguise.

What do you think? Is that a clue worth pondering?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Amazing Spider-Man #570 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Amazing Spider-Man #570, about which I write the following sentences: "Some readers might think it's beyond silly that these new threats like Anti-Venom and Menace are just variation on classic Spider-Man villains. It doesn't seem to indicate that much is 'New' in the 'Brand New Day.' But the tone of this comic is new. It's not the mopey, lumbering pace of the Straczynski issues, and it's nice to be able to see Romita Jr. get a chance to draw a Spider-Man story that doesn't hinge on half a dozen pages of Peter Parker and Mary Jane holding each other in the shadows of their apartment. Eight months after this new direction began, I have no problem declaring it an aesthetic success. 'Amazing Spider-Man' reads better and looks better than it did a year or two ago. And the near-weekly tempo helps keep the energy from issue to issue."

Read the entire review HERE.

50 Things We Love Hit THE SPLASH PAGE

Everyone's doing it: the 50 Things meme, and Chad Nevett and I decided to celebrate the awesomeness of comics this week instead of nit-picking over some random issue of Supergirl or something.

So join us as we discuss "Comics We Would Bring into Space, If We Were Astronauts," "Artists We Would Curate a Show for, If Given a Chance," and many other great things related to comics.

All this and more at the internet's new home for sweet lists of stuff and other sundries: The Splash Page.

Or, as always, get with the clickin': HERE.

Friday, September 05, 2008

When Words Collide: Elliot S! Maggin's Noble Humanity

Look at the frustration and/or anger on Superman's face! I wonder what's causing that? Oh, right, it's writer Elliot S! Maggin and his Jeph Loeb-inspired story, "Must There Be a Superman?" -- one of the great Bronze Age Superman tales.

I kind of became obsessed with Maggin's Superman work over the summer, mostly revolving around his two original Superman prose works, The Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, but I dove into his comics work as well.

Anyway, you can see what happens when you mix my brain with that stuff in this week's "When Words Collide" installment at CBR.

So if you haven't already read my Maggin piece, jump over there and check it out, then comment on the CBR-hosted WWC message board.


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer #1 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer #1, about which I write the following sentences: "Like Garth Ennis and Howard Chaykin's recently-concluded 'Phantom Eagle' MAX series, this is a war comic. It's not WWI on display here, though, it's our current war in Iraq. And while Ennis and Chaykin embraced the disillusionment and the randomness of their time, writer Brian Keene and artist Chris Samnee embrace the chaos and the corporate influence of our time. 'Dead of Night Featuring Devil-Slayer' #1 isn't an allegory about our current military escapades. It's distinctly about what's going on in Iraq right now, but with a supernatural twist at the end. This isn't called 'Devil-Slayer' because he's fighting metaphors. There's some ugly little horned critters by the final page."

Read the entire review HERE.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Teenagers from the Future Now Available!

Initially released in a small preview print run for the NYCC, Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes is now availableworldwide!

Edited by me, and featuring a foreword my Matt Fraction and an afterword by Barry Lyga, the collection of essays covers the following topics:

"The Perfect Storm: The Death and Resurrection of Lightning Lad," by Richard Bensam

"Liberating the Future: Women in the Early Legion," by John G. Hemry

"The Silver Age Legion: Adventure into the Classics," by Christopher Barbee

"The (Often Arbitrary) Rules of the Legion," by Chris Sims

"Shooter's Marvelesque," by Jeff Barbanell

"The Legion's Super-Science," by James Kakalios

"Bridging the Past and the Present with the Future: The Early Legion and the JLA," by Scipio Garling

"Decades Ahead of Us to Get it Right: Architecture and Utopia," by Sara K. Ellis

"Those Legionnaires Should Just Grow Up!" by Greg Gildersleeve

"Thomas, Altman, Levitz and the 30th Century," by Timothy Callahan

"The Amethyst Connection," by Lanny Rose

"Revisionism, Radical Experimentation, and Dystopia in Giffen's Legion," by Julian Darius

"Pulling Back the Curtain: Gender Identity and Homosexuality in the Legion," by Alan Williams

"Diversity and Evolution in the Reboot Legion," by Matthew Elmslie

"Fashion from the Future, or 'I Swear, Computo Forced Me to Wear This!" by Martin A. Perez

"Generational Theory and the Waid Threeboot," by Matthew Elmslie

"A Universe in Adolescence," by Paul Lytle

"The Racial Politics of the Legion of Super-Heroes," by Jae Bryson

Buy your copy NOW at Amazon.com -- check it out HERE.

Or, if you want to order it through your local comic shop, it should be listed in next month's Diamond Previews. More details to follow.

(But, seriously, you can just order it online right now, so why wait???)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

North Wind: The Movie on Paper -- a guest post from Vanja

The following is a special guest post by Vanja Miskovic a Serbian writer and comic book fan. Visit Vanja's blog for more of this type of comic book criticism. This particular post deals with "North Wind" from BOOM! Studios:

1. Introduction
Let's try to imagine that North Wind is a movie. Now, North Wind, the movie, is your slightly atypical post-apocalyptic blockbuster movie, and it just opened in theatres. The story is basically a coming of age tale, set in the backdrop that is much more fantasy than sci-fi.

As a framing device, we're being told the story from a particular point in the future. North Wind, the movie, doesn't give its main character Pak much to work with, painting him as a classic destiny-obsessed figure, whose idealism does not waver or accept the harsh reality the rest of the characters live in.

That said, most of them are stock characters, playing the roles of the strong and ambitious single mother, the spiritual wise tutor who steps in for the boy as a father figure, the slightly fazed love-interest, and the ruthless villain whose single redeeming feature conveniently stops being an issue by the end of the second act, just in time for the final confrontation. The less said about the fun-loving drunkard who Pak relies on when he gets to the city of Lost Angeles, the better.

Having said that, the setting is very early established and except for a single characteristic very quickly fades into the background, becoming yet another dark post-apocalyptic city.

As for the rest, there are a few times when a plot point takes the viewer by surprise, especially the ending, but was no doubt agreed upon to differentiate it from many other movies of the same ilk. There's even a tournament Pak enters incognito after he gets in the city, vying to win the chance to play catch up with his long-lost childhood friend, now distressingly in the domain of the evil governor. In the eleventh hour, the writer decides to throw in the obligatory resistance movement, just to raise the stakes for the explosive endgame.

There's not much more that can be said about North Wind, the movie, except that there's always a possibility for the sequel. You either like this kind of movie, or you don't, and there's enough of a distinction on the surface, coupled with a few twists in the story and a healthy dose of special effects, that it can leave its mark on the jaded audiences, weary from the latest extravaganza that failed to entertain them.

Which is all well and good, but North Wind is a comic-book miniseries, which, depending on how you look at that, could change everything.

2. The Miniseries
North Wind was a publishing experiment for BOOM! Studios, an independent comic-book company mostly devoted to work on projects which could be easily adapted into feature films. It also had the distinction of being the first comic-book to be officially distributed for free on MySpace, simultaneously with its release in the more traditional pamphlet format.

It's already optioned as a movie, which might mean nothing in the long run. It's also receiving flattering reviews on the internet.

Now, North Wind is by no means a bad comic-book; the writing is crystal clear, approachable, nicely-paced and art is fitting, serviceable to the story and atmospheric, mostly of the well above-average level. The main problem lies in the basic idea that this is not a comic-book story, but one told in comics because of the inherent pulp connections. The authors don't aim to achieve any particular artistic or entertaining value connected to the comic-book playing field, they are merely just trying to find their way to Hollywood by publishing a glorified sales pitch.

Which is not bad for the industry, but still makes the whole thing kind of soulless and interchangeable, particularly today, when the book's competing with many similar projects on the market. And that's where the irony becomes apparent, because even at their worst, comics fare better than retreading the same cliches, sporting your average bland protagonist like the latest CG-fueled movie does. The medium has potential for so much better and more innovative stuff, which has been proven time and time again, both in the mainstream and small press publishing.

Comic creators usually pick a more interesting angle, and find space to tell the story sporting something new and quirky, even when it's clear that they're not dealing with a winner. They try, make the whole thing into an ongoing and change direction, struggle with it, and even after it's ended or cancelled, a lot of questions are still in the air, along with a wealth of stories and ideas that might eventually being mined into a solid movie.

But North Wind is a comic-book designed from the start not to stray from its point, and thus forced to go through the motions, just to catch its audience and surprise them when it steers left, at the moment when we all thought it would go right. It's a big action movie, but you are left feeling nobody got too attached to the thing; it was just an exercise in branding something very familiar into the next big thing everyone's kids will pay to enjoy, and later continue the experience with the obligatory video-game tie-ins.

3. Should You Read It?
Now, the only real question is, was the story worth your time and money? And, that depends on the reader – if you're looking to be entertained by a shallow, action-packed movie that hits the ground running and doesn't stop till the big finale, you're in for a fun ride, with some new thrills every once in a while. But, if you're a fan of the medium, of something that is both personal and authentic, you had better give this a pass, just like the you did the last Hollywood blockbuster that you didn't want anything to do with.

[I haven't read "North Wind" past the first issue, which didn't make me want to read any more. But what does everyone else think? Is Vanja right about "North Wind"? Is it a fun, but soulless Hollywood movie in comic book form? Is such a thing a problem? Should every comic aspire to push the boundaries of the medium and be "personal and authentic"? What say you?]

Monday, September 01, 2008

Joe Staton Charms 'em All

Yesterday was supposed to be the final day of "The Art of Joe Staton" at the Storefront Artist Project, but the show has been extended for two additional weeks! You have less than fourteen more days to check it out, so you'd better get moving.

So even though yesterday wasn't really the end, after all, Joe Staton did still show up for a day of sketching and conversation, mostly with younger artists of almost every age. He drew Scooby-Doo for this one, very specific, youngster (who has the attention to detail needed for any aspiring young comic book editor):

And Joe dispensed advice and recommendations to other young artists, some of whom had already begun working toward a career in the comic book industry.

Here he is looking at sketches by the talented Pat O'Donnell as the also-talented Rob Gaughran looks on. I guarantee you'll hear about projects from both of these guys in the upcoming year, and I should know, because I'm working with both of them:

And the exacting young editor-type from the Scooby-Doo sketch spent his time at the Storefront Artist Project creating a work of his own, a detailed apartment building/landscape. Joe looks on, approvingly:

The tables were covered with comics and artists from ages nine to twenty-nine working on sketches and drawings, inspired by the work of Joe Staton on the walls. And Joe could not have been more gracious, and more patient, with his kind words and his helpful tips. He's a great guy, and I'll be seeing him again soon: we have a book signing together in a couple of weeks at a local bookstore. I'll let you know the where and the when as soon as the details are finalized.

Oh, and Joe's really curious about the upcoming plans for the Green Lantern movie. He says Kilowog is a major character in the script, and he has pretty fond feelings about that guy.

Ultimate Spider-Man #125 Review

Recently reviewed by me at CBR: Ultimate Spider-Man #125, about which I write the following sentences: "'Ultimate Spider-Man' began as an experiment in decompression (let's take Spider-Man's eight-page origin, and turn it into six full issues) and cultural relevance (let's make him a teenager of today, so instead of a photographer, we'll make him an internet whiz), but it has become, after well over 100 issues, the best continued exploration of Peter Parker and the Spider-Man mythos. Bendis is able to balance the whimsical teenage nature of the character with the "weight of the world" burden and tie it all together with superhero intrigue and action. There's no great single issue of 'Ultimate Spider-Man,' though. Nothing to point to and say, 'you've gotta read THAT comic.' Instead, Bendis builds a story by the accumulation of moments, the accumulation of character detail, and the machinations of forces greater than Peter Parker."

Read the entire review HERE.