Currently Reading: Aliens: Defiance, The Autumnlands, The Black Monday Murders, Black Road, Black Science, Briggs Land, Britannia, Deadly Class, Descender, East of West, The Fuse, God Country, The Goddamned, Heathen, Injection, Lazarus, Low, Manifest Destiny, Moon Knight, No Mercy, The Old Guard, Paper Girls, Rebels, Saga, Seven to Eternity, Shipwreck, Southern Bastards, Stumptown, They're Not Like Us
Why does it seem like it’s always feast or famine week to week? Some weeks I’ve been surprisingly buying into the double digits, and some weeks it’s down to a single item of interest. I own the original of this book, but I’m happy to see it being reprinted. It’s Pterodactyl Hunters in the Gilded City (Top Shelf) by Brendan Leach. The original is in foldable newsprint format, so it’ll be interesting to see how Top Shelf handles the reprinting of this fantastic book. It won a Xeric Grant in 2010, headlined my list of the Best Mini-Comics & Small Press Titles of 2010, made it into the 2011 Best American Comics series, and hopefully will continue additional accolades with this printing, which it very much deserves. What looks good to you? What am I missing this week?
Prophet #24 (Image): American Indie Comics Creators Reappropriating & Recontextualizing With European Sci-Fi Flair. If that little outburst turns you on, then you should be buying this book. Period. It’s like, I don’t know, a sci-fi rendition of Conan done by Jodorowsky or Tarsem. Yeah, that’s probably the closest I can some using Earth language. Farel Dalrymple jumps on this short arc, most readers of this site will know him from his work on titles like Pop Gun War and Omega: The Unknown. His art has never looked better, those instantly recognizable refined stylistics of his line infused with Brandon Graham’s playful camera angles and singularly original thoughts. So, John Prophet wakes from some type of suspended animation on a spaceship containing “the pod row of an Earth Empire pro-embryo” which itself has crashed into massive city/capital ship L’Horizon in low orbit over a fabricated planet. Didja get all that? See, there are more inventive ideas at play here in a few stray lines than most books get around to sharing during their entire run. This ain’t Star Trek, with its gleaming utopian future; it’s a bleak and vile place, completely foreign to human sensibilities. Prophet is a unique vision from powerful creative forces, showcasing the limitless potential in the medium still largely untapped by the vast majority of creators. Comics like this make me excited about comics. That’s the best praise I can bestow. It’s beyond liking it, beyond poring over every panel, and beyond recommending it to buy. It makes me still want to do this. The art snob in me will tell you that the reappropriation and recontextualization of found imagery in order to derive new meaning from that juxtaposition is basically the definition of contemporary art. So, this is no longer just great comics, it’s now impregnated the elusive elitist realm of Fine Art. And you can trust me on that, I work in one of the top 5 contemporary art museums in the country. Grade A+.
Near Death #5 (Image): I got this for free, so I'm going in totally blind, heck, I don't even know if it's an ongoing or a mini-series. First impressions? Bland art, stiff dialogue, and the story involves a plane (maybe?) or something that hit a building? Oh no, wait, it was an explosion and a girl got hurt. The main guy is sad about this, but doesn’t know what to do! He's on the run from the cops! But he has answers! Honestly, not much clue what's going on. It feels like a very generic Hollywood thriller pitch, with stock tough guy types, attempts to root things in familial drama to make you care, but ultimately it never gets picked up by the network. I don't know, any book that cites Jon Sable: Freelance as inspiration reveals its boring Comico Comics era influences. At least Jon Sable had sexy women (by 1980’s standards anyway) and sexy guns (like the infamous Mauser machine pistols). This book doesn't have any of that. It’s not awful. It’s not good. It’s just there. Shoot, it doesn’t even warrant my time finding a picture online to accompany this. Grade C.
Batman #8 (DC): Night of the Owls officially kicks off, and it’s immediately evident that Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo are just pouring their hearts into this book, unleashing a story they’ve been setting up since DC’s New 52 began. It’s essentially an extended assault on Wayne Manor by the Talons, and I’ll tell you what… it’s pretty rare that a comic book actually makes me feel nervous. Bruce is simply overwhelmed by the Talons, Alfred is hiding out in the Bat Cave, and ultimately they retreat to an impromptu safe room in order to try and mount a counter-offensive. It’s a very tightly paced issue, as Snyder picks a great moment to pause and end the issue. Capullo really is a master of using shadows and silhouettes, at times bordering the drenched-in-darkness feel of someone like Eduardo Risso on 100 Bullets. At times, he might dip his toe into the waters of style points vs. logic (for example, a metallic bat mounted on the rooftop weathervane of the manor might be a big tipoff for anyone investigating the identity of Batman!), but for the most part I feel like he was simply born to illustrate these characters and this city. Despite a few very minor eyebrow raises like that, this is certainly shaping up to be one of the most memorable runs in franchise history, and is certainly in the (small) upper echelon of great books coming out of the main DCU, err DCNU, err DCNEW52, or whatever the heck the kids are calling it these days. Now, for the price increase of $1 to $3.99 you’re given a “back-up” story penciled by Rafael Albuquerque. Honestly, I could do without the decidedly non-essential passage and would just rather have my dollar back, kthxbye. I mean, Albuquerque is a good enough artist, but the transition in styles is pretty jarring. It’s also not really what I’d call a "back-up" per se, but a direct continuation of what just occurred when it’s not off on a boring tangent about the Gotham City Comptroller. Once Alfred initiated the widespread distress call, I also found it distracting that Batwoman was prominently NOT displayed. I guess that book isn’t participating in this? Grade A-.
1999 (Retrofit Comics): You know what always makes me happy? New Noah Van Sciver Comics! For this feature length story, we meet Mark, a loser who drops out of school, lives with his mom, has a shitty job, no girl, no life, and basically no future. Van Sciver starts with the last 10% of the story and then rewinds hard to run us back through the first 90% to show us how Mark got to that point. The clever juxtaposition of this story is that Van Sciver sets the sordid tale against the backdrop of the year 1999, when the impending Y2K paranoia was at its peak. This deft move allows Van Sciver to perform the ultimate subversion of existential navel-gazing angst, by not only mocking that brand of self-absorbed vanity press, but by mocking our fascination with self-importance as a whole society. In the face of nihilistic attitudes about the apocalypse, and the death of everything from technology, to romance, and social graces, Van Sciver completely obliterates an entire stereotypical genre of self-published autobiographical mini-comics in the process. He does this with a great self-referential mirror, by creating a faux, a pseudo, a pretend autobiographical comic. It’s such a simple, smart, and effective artistic choice. I’m sure some members of the audience will wonder if Mark is a bit of a cipher character for the great Noah Van Sciver. I’d actually argue the opposite. I think this is a continuation of this phase of his career, which sees him moving away from his pure autobiographical roots. He’s moving toward straight biography (with the epic The Death of Elijah Lovejoy and the impending book The Hypo, chronicling the early adventures of Abe Lincoln) and into speculative fictional accounts of autobio-like figures, which gives him the freedom to explore a greater range of stories as a creator. I think he’s made the mental switch, recognizing that this step is necessary to ensure his career evolves beyond its point of origin. Getting back to the plot, Mark’s journey through meeting horny coworker Nora, and then losing her, displays the progression of how boredom ultimately leads to depression. Van Sciver brings his usual strong art skills to the story, full of emotive lines that are so used to capturing emotions on the negative end of the spectrum – exasperation, surprise, grief, anger, etc., but then does something else. There’s a playful sense of experimentation with background patterns used to emphasize mood, and one terrific example of an abstract Picasso-inspired dream sequence. At the end of the day, I’m just happy to see this creator continuing to push himself in new directions. I’ll keep pushing him too, so that one day when the movie is made about him (like Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor) or they adapt the HBO series about his foibles (like the unfortunately underwhelming HBO series Girls by Lena Dunham), I’ll just position myself as a “Noah Van Sciver Historian” (Coolest. Job Title. Ever.), say I knew him when, and try to ride his coattails to the stardom he deserves. ;-) Find more great books at nvansciver.wordpress.com and retrofitcomics.com. Grade A.
Stranger Two Stranger #3 (Self-Published by Robert Hendricks): It’s the next volume of real life Craigslist “missed connections” ads taken from Chicago, New York, Detroit, and San Francisco, then illustrated and interpreted by the author/artist. Overall, the contents of this issue felt relatively light and quick as compared to previous installments, and there didn’t seem to be any that jump out for me as being particularly memorable, yet I still enjoy the project immensely from a cultural anthropology standpoint. The pieces range from those involving David Lynch, to size 16 shoes, another foot fetish, STD results being broadcast into the ether, and a tough one about a man hitting a woman’s dog, killing it, and then using this as an in to ask out the particularly “hot” girl. I think some audience members may find these pieces polarizing, in that you’ll either love the cross-section portrayed, or be repulsed by it, but contextually they all punctuate moments in time about lonely souls desperately just wanting to connect. Hendricks has, knowingly I believe, captured this odd cycle of the rise of technology impairing face-to-face social skills, but then empowering these awkward attempts to connect by providing a nameless and faceless venue. It’s a seedy underbelly, and one of them most robust exercises I’ve seen in revealing the strange dichotomy of our Modern Age. Grade A-.
After the high that last issue ended on, I’m excited to check out Prophet #24 (Image), especially considering that Farel Dalrymple is jumping on the art. He’s easily a favorite and in that special group of artists that I wish worked more so that I could enjoy their art more regularly. Manhattan Projects #2 (Image) makes it a duo from the publisher this week. I think that Secret (the other Hickman Image book going right now) might overshadow it, but it’s still got some juice. The art in Manhattan Projects is much too over-the-top in spots, but the ideas are the sort of manic sci-fi that remind me of Warren Ellis. I was pleasantly surprised to see 3 Story: Secret Files of The Giant Man (Dark Horse), a late follow up from Matt Kindt, which I’ll probably check out. And from New York, we’ve got Batman #8 (DC) marking just about the only straight superhero book the publisher is doing right at the moment, and Avengers Vs. X-Men #2 (Marvel) which (not counting the #0 issue) has been surprisingly palatable so far. Lastly, if you’re looking for something a little meatier this week, I can wholeheartedly recommend Naoki Urasawa’s “Watchmen of Japan,” with 20th Century Boys: Volume 20 (VizMedia). It’s planned to run 24 volumes and the plot is so complex you’d better start with Volume 1! What looks good to you?
Secret #1 (Image): This is yet another reason why Image Comics is going to totally dominate 2012. This new ongoing series from Jonathan Hickman and Ryan Bodenheim is where it’s at. This is the type of book that Mark Millar wishes he could do. The way the conversational nature of threats and violence are handled is really intimidating. Artistically, the washed out black and white, with bursts of color to emphasize light, threat, blood, calm, danger, contemplation, or whatever, is just so damn effective in directly controlling the mood. I always thought Ryan Bodenheim’s art was pretty cool, but I’m pretty sure this is the best it has ever looked. There are a few panels where it looks like you’re taking in some crazy hybrid of old Dave Gibbons and Jamie McKelvie, with that clean austere finish both of them are capable of producing. The security guy in me LOVES this book, with all the corporate espionage and talk of backgrounds and NDAs, and the clever spins in the dialogue about the industry standard who, what, and why in the investigative process. It’s all high pressure and fast pace, with Mr. Miller and Mrs. White instantly sparking my interest in this con game. I probably like the raw high concept of something like Hickman’s Pax Romana better, but in terms of execution I think this is basically the best thing I’ve seen him do in the creator owned arena. It no longer feels like he’s shouting and grandstanding his political worries or social commentary, but embedding them in a story first approach. The angry whispers of this book are so much more convincing than the blind fury of, say, The Nightly News. If this keeps up, I could easily see it making My Thirteen Favorite Things of 2012 list. Grade A.
Northlanders #50 (DC/Vertigo): LAST ISSUE. First off, congratulations to Brian Wood and company for delivering another long-form epic to the medium, which is a rare accomplishment these days. He’s joined by artist Danijel Zezelj and colorist Dave McCaig, who are an insanely powerful art duo. This is the conclusion of the multi-generational Icelandic legacy of the Hauksson clan. The main source of tension is the generational divide between Oskar and his father Godar, and then, to some extent, the gender inequality between Oskar and Freya. In short, Oskar’s ego pushes him to a place of entitlement, where he attempts to demand respect rather than earn it. He’s also a warrior, and as the old saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem starts looking like a nail. It’s all set against the larger context of a civil war and the dominion of European powers, including the church. If nothing else, Oskar reaches a point where he’s self-aware despite all of his other flaws, realizing he’s just a warrior – not a leader, and ultimately removes himself from the faulty equation in the desperate hope he can salvage some shred of dignity. That’s the plot, I guess, but I really enjoyed the larger theme Wood plays with more than anything. It’s captured in this dichotomous piece of dialogue: “Is it the death of a culture? Or the birth pangs of a new nation?” I enjoy that so much, the sense of inborn fatalism, and the tension between the conceptual idea of a society, and the actual people who inhabit it in reality. Like the best of Brian Wood’s work, there’s something analogous to our own culture and society to be taken away from what we’re seeing on the page. Northlanders was a brave experiment on so many levels (quieter than DMZ, not as popular as Conan, rotating artists, protagonists, and settings, non-linear arcs, etc.), and I doubt we’ll really ever see anything like it again. Grade A.
Wasteland #36 (Oni Press): This book makes me feel greedy! I mean, it makes me yearn for the eventual collected edition, single installments are just not enough of a fix. When I get toward the end of an issue, I feel myself slowing down, savoring every line and not wanting it to end. So, Marcus wants Gerr to kill Michael and Abi if they find A-Ree-Yass-I. Yeah, I'm wondering why? I mean, has anyone really asked that question? Why would he want that? That means there's some truth there that threatens him, some resource there that could shift the balance of power, some bit of knowledge that incriminates him, or... what? It's something. And now, Abi knows that Marcus sent Gerr after them because of what she found. Anyway, I keep really liking Abi's physical prowess, in addition to her healing powers. I keep really liking the subtleties of Michael, but also his telekinetic(?) ability, and how there's such a biblical overlay of all these things. The Ankya Ofsteen journal entries keep getting more and more interesting, and I'm starting to feel like they're going to intersect with the main narrative(?) and if (when?) that happens, all hell is going to break loose, or a million questions will be answered. It's strange to think that issue 40 is right around the corner, meaning that the book will be 2/3rd into its planned run. I've reviewed every issue of this book, and if I haven't sold you by now, then that ain't me, that's on you. Wasteland is one of the most unique books ever crafted. Everything about it is special. Grade A.
The Caveat: Yeah, none of these books are on my regular pull, but I picked them up for a coworker.
Conan #3 (Dark Horse): I like the way this book opens because it puts some context around the direction Brian Wood might be aiming for with this series. It’s as if he’s taken the identity theme in his work to the extreme, here examining what makes people who they are at the very core of their being, and looking at how that affects the way they relate to the world around them. I used that word “extreme” deliberately because this also feels like an exercise in intensity, be it the intensity of identity, violence, or even sexuality. This issue is as intensely passionate as the brutal lightning quick action of last issue. Lines like “with this fair skinned young tiger cat” are dripping with lust, just ripe with passion, and Becky Cloonan is right there matching the tone with her art. Notice how she zooms the camera in a little too close during the sex scene with Belit, just close enough to emphasize the claustrophobia, the intense sexuality, the frenetic all encompassing nature of an intense soulful fuck. Pardon my French. But it's true. And then… there’s that full page that allows you to catch your breath and punctuates the whole experience. She’s exhibiting so much control over the page, your eye movement, your reactions to the art, it’s all very masterful. There are so many parts to like about this book. I really liked N’Gora and they way he and Conan quickly earn each other’s respect, the way that they’re storytellers in their own right, it just feels very rich. It’s immediately convincing why the crew would have such fanatical devotion, almost religious devotion, to her, and to the very freedom she provides, though I’m sure all the gold and silver helps too. There are the small motion lines and emotive eyes in Becky’s art, how she’s able to move beyond basic storytelling mechanics, to infuse her art with style now. There are Dave Stewart’s “best in the business” colors. There is the idea that Conan, as the sole survivor of the Argos, is just that – a survivor. If you’re reading The Massive too, Wood’s fascination with the sea seems to permeate this arc of his career. It’s really got it all, a fresh introspective take on the character, one on the precipice of change in his life, along with ravaging action and fiery romance, what’s not to like? Grade A.
Come see intrepid new comic book blogger/reviewer Keith Silva, of Interested in Sophisticated Fun, and I attempt to breach Jack Kirby’s Source Wall and tear a rift in the fabric of the multiversal space-time continuum as one blogger interviews another blogger, about blogging, for his own blog, which I will now link to from this blog. It is The Nadir. It is The Omega. It is The Apocalypse. Honestly, it was a lot of fun. Keith grilled me with Thirteen Questions for Thirteen Minutes, where we skip from a book called Ready Player One, to touching on the state of comics blogging then and now, making and reviewing mini-comics, the digital divide, blurring the line between objectivity and opinion, some writer you may have heard of named Brian Wood, and the use of Twitter. We also use important sounding words like “ephemera” and “objets d’art.”
Well, I guess I can’t complain any more that there aren’t any good comics coming out or that I’m tired of these slow weeks where I only pick up one or two issues. This is certainly the biggest week for me so far this year, and probably well into last year. It’s tough to pick just one to lead with, but I’d probably say I’m most excited for Wasteland #36 (Oni Press) because Antony Johnston and Justin Greenwood have been on such a tear in this arc, revealing secret after secret about The Big Wet Universe. However, a very close second is Conan The Barbarian #3 (Dark Horse), because the second issue was one of the best singles I’ve read in quite some time and it’ll be interesting to see Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan attempt to sustain the magic they’ve already bottled. Speaking of Wood, Wednesday marks the end of one of his most epic series ever, with Northlanders #50 (DC/Vertigo). DC tries to offer up a long form Vertigo replacement in the wake of books like DMZ, Northlanders, and Scalped all coming to a close, with Saucer Country #2 (DC/Vertigo) from Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly. I was intrigued by the debut, so I’m hoping this book will quickly hook me and I can keep a foot in *something* Vertigo. The Distinguished Competition is also offering Batwoman #8 (DC) this week, but who the hell knows what’s going on with the art shake-ups in that book. I’m scared to death that what has served as one of my favorite titles in recent memory is on the verge of being dropped. Gasp! Image Comics continues their run at total domination of the 2012 Comic Book Scene, with Glory #25 (Image), Saga #2 (Image), and Secret #1 (Image) from the always interesting Jonathan Hickman, with art by Red Mass For Mars collaborator Ryan Bodenheim. I’m also very curious to check out the collected edition of The Strange Talent of Luther Strode: Vol. 1 (Image) after someone I know has been raving about it. It looks like The House of Ideas offers me just one slight possibility this week, with Secret Service #1 (Marvel/Icon). I’ve never really warmed to Mark Millar’s writing, but the Dave Gibbons art will surely get the requisite Casual Flip Test at the LCS. I was also pleasantly surprised to see an ongoing version of this series of mini-series from Ted Naifeh, with Courtney Crumrin #1 (Oni Press). Timed just right, the publisher is also offering remastered hardcover special editions of the series, starting with Courtney Crumrin & The Night Things Special Edition: Vol. 1 (Oni Press). I read all of the collected editions of Courtney Crumrin long ago and recall it as being that rare book that is clearly aimed at a younger demographic, but isn’t totally dumbed down, allowing adults to enjoy it just as much. It lives sort of in a dark place between stuff like Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Locke & Key, etc. It’s really good!
It's only 2 months away!
Casanova: Avaritia #3 (Marvel): I think I said something on Twitter like this was a no holds barred effort to instantly distill the manic pure beautiful imperfections of Fraction’s brain directly onto the page. There’s so much ape shit crank the volume to 11 energy to like here that it rarely gives you a moment to breathe. As you still try to parse what’s on the last page, Fraction is already 5 steps ahead of you waiting for your human brain to catch up to his idea machine. To some degree, the plot is almost irrelevant. It’s the themes that I like. At the end of the day, Cass is really ultimately struggling with the quintessential existential dilemma that defines our existence. What is our purpose? How do we best serve the world? It’s a challenging read, one that infuses the lost art of textual superimposition into the narrative, stops to discuss the perception limitation of lacuna, and just keeps charging fearlessly ahead at 100mph. Gabriel Ba’s art is a perfect match. Stylistically, it’s manic and kinetic enough to keep up with Fraction’s script, while being just slightly realistic enough to anchor the reader in the proceedings. I really only have two gripes about this thing. One, I didn’t even realize it was $4.99 until I started wondering where my $20 bill went. That feels expensive, especially when a portion of that price point assumably went toward 8 pages of rambly fan letters discussing illegal downloading or something. Honestly, it’s the first time I haven’t read the backmatter because it wasn’t backmatter in the traditional sense, not the kind that Fraction has treated us to in the past. Two, the long delay between issues here is absolutely hurting the flow and resonance of the book. You’re dealing with a non-linear narrative involving time jumps, space jumps, multiple realities and timelines that repeatedly fold in on themselves, and intersect with causality loops, all of which absolutely cannot be read in single installments with long gaps between issues. They read better when back to back monthly, and best in collected edition. Grade A.
I’m a little torn on the pick of the week this time out. Honestly, I’m probably most looking forward to reading Casanova: Avaritia #3 (Marvel/Icon). But, on principle I feel like not supporting Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba’s latest effort since the last issue came out 6 months ago. At this rate, it’ll probably take the guys a year to wrap a 4-issue mini-series, but hey, maybe they’re hiding behind the “art takes time” defense. Wolverine & The X-Men: Alpha & Omega #4 (Marvel) is also out this week, and I’ll be curious to see where Brian Wood ultimately takes this. As far as other singles go, Image Comics has a couple that I’m not instantly sold on, but I’ll probably give them a flip at the LCS to see if they pass muster. First, Supreme #63 (Image) doesn’t quite continue the reimaging phenomenon the publisher has been engaging in with other title such as Prophet and Glory, it’s just a… continuation, I guess, with an Alan Moore script and Erik Larsen on art. I was never into this title before, and candidly, I think Alan Moore is over-rated, so this is passive interest at best, based on the general strength of everything else going on at Image currently. Danger Club #1 (Image) probably has a better shot of making it home, with intriguing art and an interesting premise about a band of heroes who disappear, and their teenage sidekicks taking up arms to do… something, continue their legacy, or find them, or maybe both. No doubt the pick of the week for collected editions is Flex Mentallo: Man of Muscle Mystery Deluxe Edition HC (DC). Hey, I still have the long out of print single issues from the early 90’s, which are something of a novelty, so I’m not sure if I’ll pick this up. But, if for some reason you never got your hands on this story, this book comes with the highest recommendation. It’s one of the few Grant Morrison books I actually own, and the rare tale where I feel the Drunk Scotsman’s writing ability actually lives up to the deified hype surrounding him.