Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Here's a Great Comic You Can No Longer Get

So DC puts out a press release saying that Ex Machina #1 is sold out. Within said press release they go on and on about all the positive press the book has received and how great it is. Which when you stop and think about it is pretty strange. Nyah-nyah, we put out a great comic, and now you can't get it any more (though they do end with "still may be available in comic book stores.") One would think that they'd use the occasion to announce a trade collection or a reprint or something.

Quick Reviews

Video; Savage Henry; The Moth; B.P.R.D.; Girlspy

Video #1-2
by Stephen R. Buell
The Second Coming is happening, and it looks like The Revelation will be televised. Jesus appears in the sky, and message is sent out over television (and the Internet) saying that the Rapture will occur soon. Needless to say, civilization starts to go a bit wonky. Keisha, up til now an agnostic, is not quite sure what to do, as her best friend has invited her to hide out in an old fallout shelter until it all blows over, but it also appears that her boyfriend might just be involved in this whole thing somehow. I've always been partial to dramatizations of the End Times--sometimes they turn out great (Good Omens, Only Begotten Daughter, The Day After Judgment), but just as often they can go wrong (Left Behind, The Christ Clone Trilogy). Thankfully it looks as though Buell is eschewing all conventions and heading off on a different track than what has been done before.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Savage Henry: Powerchords #2
by Matt Howarth
Last issue, Henry gave a concert that was so powerful it threatened to open a portal in space-time and allow for an alien invasion. The portal was closed, but some knucklehead has bootlegged the concert and now threatens to reopen the portal so that the invasion can resume. Howarth is one of the true original voices in comics, and it's a great treat to see him return to chronicling the adventures of the denizens of Bugtown after too long of an absence.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

The Moth #4
by Gary Martin & Steve Rude
The opening of this fourth issue take a turn for the humorous, with several good laughs before getting down to the bit more serious plot (best bit: when Jack sees a robbery in progress, and is pleased that he's able to get his costume change down to just 2 minutes.) While the one-shot special which opened the series was a bit dodgy, the regular Moth series has been quite enjoyable. Of course, any chance to see Steve Rude's art on a regular basis is cause for celebration. The only bad part is the upcoming 6 month gap until issue 5--and on a bit of a cliffhanger yet.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

B.P.R.D.: Plague of Frogs #5
by Mike Mignola & Guy Davis
To be honest, up until this B.P.R.D. series I've been a bit disappointed in the various Hellboy comics. Which is very strange, as Mignola's Hellboy has had all of the elements that should make it a great comic for me. But Plague of Frogs seems to have finally found the right combination, and I've enjoyed the heck out of it (no doubt helped by Guy Davis's artwork, which I've admired ever since his days on Sandman Mystery Theatre). This mostly silent issue gives us Abe's near death journey back in time to witness the genesis of their recent problems, and it comes off like a great fevered dream in the Lovecraftian tradition. Alas, this issue, and thus the series, doesn't end so much as it just stops. With another B.P.R.D. starting soon the threads will presumably be picked back up, but I wish wed gotten a bit more of a resolution to the current story.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

by John Allison
Fallon Young--the titular Girlspy--is an attractive but largely incompetent agent for M.I.6. With all other agents off on holiday (taking advantage of cut-rate last minute flights) it falls to Fallon to stop The Crime Pope from stealing Buckingham Palace using the world's longest crowbar ("His leverage is astonishing.") Based on the Web comic Scary Go Round, Girlspy is silly fun, a highly enjoyable diversion good for a few hearty chuckles.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

It's Strange

Mile High Comics has the first issue of Strange (by Straczynski, Barnes, & Peterson) online. As expected, the art is very pretty, and if you squint hard anough you can almost read the lettering.
(thanks to Shane's Near Mint Heroes for the link.)

This one has "Wait for the Trade" written all over it.

Azzarello's Superman

Opinion on the recent Azzarello/Lee run on Superman seems to be near-universal: the art, by Jim Lee, Scott Williams & Alex Sinclair, is a great example of super-hero art at its finest, while the story, by Brian Azzarello, is, too be charitable, incomprehensible.

As a longtime Superman fan, I was initially excited about the prospect of Azzarello & Lee working on Superman. The art was sure to be fantastic, and given Azzarello's previous track record, we were assured of getting a story that would be the equal of the art.

Then the first issue came out. As expected it looked gorgeous, but the story was, well, confusing. Like many, I assumed that the plot would come together and start make sense. Unfortunately we're now five issues in--the entirety of the first hardcover collection--and it still doesn't make any sense.

It is, in a word, bad.

Which is surprising, because Azzarello is a good writer. We've seen him do plenty of good work in 100 Bullets, Hellblazer, even Batman. Even if his past work wasn't your cup of tea, you would at least have to admit that he knows how to construct a story. Even were Azzarello to phone his Superman in, it would have to make more sense than this.

So why is the writing on Superman so bad? Unfortunately, I can only come to one conclusion: Azzarello is writing Superman this bad on purpose.

Having come to this sorry conclusion, the next question must be why? Why go to the effort of writing a purposely bad story when less effort would have produced something at least middling?

Part of the reasoning must have been that, with Lee on the art, it was going to sell no matter the quality of the writing. Put in enough pictures of Superman and other super-heroes pounding away at super-villains (and each other) and the fanboys would eat it up. Heck, probably half of them wouldn't even bother to read it.*

but there's another explaination. If I recall correctly, Azzarello's initial pitch for Superman was rejected by the powers-at-DC. I don't recall Azzarello's exact comments, but it was something along the lines of: 'They hired me--they know the kinds of things that I write--what did they think they were going to get?' It may be that having been rejected, Azzarello has decided to go for the lowest denominator--'They don't want my best work? Fine, I'll give them my worst.'

Or there may be another reason that I can't even begin to guess. I'm just idly speculating here. But the fact remains that this is sub-par writing from anyone, especially a talent like Azzarello. Which is a shame, because this could have been a great Superman comic. Instead, it's just a great looking Superman comic, which is less than we deserve.

* Yes, I will continue to buy Superman myself. I have an uninterrupted run of Superman going back over 20 years, and it'll take more than a few bad stories to get me to quit. Plus, the art is sure purty.

Monday, August 30, 2004


Thought balloons points to a New York Times story about Disney's latest efforts at world-wide domination, wherein they discuss a Disney comic series called W.I.T.C.H.. Aimed at tween and early teen girls, it reportedly sells over a million copies of each issue world-wide, and a trade collection has sold over 650,000 copies in the U.S.

Well holy crap!

Besides putting just about everything in the Diamond catalog to shame sales-wise, how is it that something that popular hasn't even crossed my comic pop-culture radar? Granted, I'm not the target audience for W.I.T.C.H., and I'd probably miss any advertising even if I wasn't skipping over commercials with my TiVo, but I've not even seen any copies of this in any comic store, bookstore, department store or grocery store or any kind of store. With 650,000 copies extant, you'd think I would have come across this...

Quick GN Reviews

You Can't Get There from Here
by Jason
Umm... I'm guessing there must have been some kind of narrative thread holding this thing together, but the way it's presented it's just too disconnected for me to ascertain what it is. It seems like there's just a bunch of panels with little connection between them. So, is this a failing of me as a reader, or of Jason as the storyteller? I'm going for the latter.
Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Blacksad, book 2: Arctic Nation
by Juan Díaz Canales & Juanjo Guarnido
Blacksad has not just some of the most gorgeous anthropomorphic art you're likely to ever see, it has some of the most gorgeous art you're likely to see in any type of comic. And it's all in service of the story, as Canales uses the anthropomorphic setting to tell an allegorical tale of race and society in post-war America.Action, betray, murder, suspense--this is what good noir is about.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

In Me Own Words: The Autobiography of Bigfoot
by Graham Roumieu
Okay, so it's not really a graphic novel--it's more of a picture book for adults, with art done mostly in black ink & watercolor (with a few photographs thrown in). It's still very funny. Ostensibly written by an eight-foot tall barely literate creature of the woods, this a hilarious satire of both modern society and Bigfoot legends.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Remote, vol. 1
by Seimaru Amagi & Tetsuya Koshiba
Officer Kurumi Ayaki quits the police force to get married, but it turns out that she and her fiance are going to need a lot more money if they're going to live a life of comfortable married bliss. So Kurumi rejoins the force and is assigned to Inspector Himuro, a brilliant yet eccentric detective who cannot feel emotion and never leaves the basement of his house. Using a cell phone, Kurumi serves as Himuro's eyes and ears out in the world, and together they solve the cases that are nearly impossible, beginning with a serial killer who dresses up as a clown. Amagi gets the situation set up and the story running in the first chapter (American writers take note: just because you're using decompressed narrative doesn't mean that you have to wait six issues before explaining what the series is about!) and Koshiba's art ranges from servicable to good. They provide just enough fan service to keep the horny teenage boys interested, but not so much that it distracts from the story. A good start, but I'll have to withhold final judgment until I see how the Serial Killer Clown mystery is finally resolved.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Quick Reviews

Strangehaven; Soap Opera; Rock 'n' Roll; Hawaiian Dick; Ultra

Strangehaven #16
by Gary Spencer Millidge
While time is taken to move several of the plotlines forward--notably the murder investigation and Maureen's attempts to rid herself of her husband--fully half of the issue is devoted to a heartwarming little side story about a downed WWII figter pilot who is reunited with his wife after 60 years. It's more blatently supernatural than just about anything we've seen yet, and bolsters Paul's claim in the previous issue that Strangehaven is some sort of nexus of reality. Plus, Millidge gets to stretch his artistic muscles and give us some nifty pictures of WWII-era aircraft. Though irregularly published, Strangehaven is one of the best books being done today.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Soap Opera
by Emily Blair
With her friends all graduated and gone off to college, Megan no longer has a life in her sleepy town. So she turns to her favorite television soap, where Jenny, her favorite character, has been reduced to a bit part. When a friend comes back to town for a visit, and then invites Megan to visit her in the city, Megan realizes just how disconnected she has become. Near as I can tell this is the first comic by Blair, and it's good stuff. The art may be a bit weak on occasion, but it's done with commitment and the storytelling is strong, especially her use of light and dark to subtlely set the tone.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Rock 'n' Roll
by Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, Bruno D'Angelo, & Kako
An essentially wordless story told in three parts, Rock 'n'Roll gives us a quick and satisfying tale of a girl's abduction and her boyfriend's mission to get her back. Each part is done by a different contributor (with Kako providing the interstitial chapter spreads), making for a book whose multitude of styles fight against its narrative somewhat. The star of this book is Moon, whose work on the second chapter is downright gorgeous--just check out that opening two-page spread and the attention to detail that he brings to his fine linework.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Hawaiian Dick: The Last Resort #1
by B. Clay Moore & Steven Griffin
Moore and Griffin are back with another tale of Danny Byrd, private eye in post-war Hawaii. This time Byrd is involved in a case that traps him between two rival mobbed-up hotel developers, and you can be sure that he's going to be roughed up, shot at and lied to, and there'll probably be a chase or two as well. Griffin's art is as gorgeous as ever (how could anyone possibly pass up a cover like this!), which is a bit of a shame as it appears that fr the remaining three issues another artist will be brought in and Griffin wil only provide the colors (as well as the covers).
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Ultra #1
by Jonathan & Joshua Luna
Three women coming home from a ladies' night out decide to stop off at a fortune teller to get their fortunes told. And that's pretty much the plot of this first issue that promises to look at the personal lives of super-heroines. It looks good, and I'm intrigued enough to stick around for at least another issue, where hopefully the story will become apparent.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Quick GN Reviews

Yossel: April 19, 1943
by Joe Kubert
Joe Kubert, one of the grandmasters of American comics, imagines what his life might have been like had his family not emmigrated to America in 1926 and instead remained behind in Poland. Like his real-life counterpart, the teenage Yossel loves to draw, and his skill in drawing comes in handy; Yossel finds a favored status with the Nazi masters of the Warsaw Ghetto, drawing to amuse them, even as his family and friends are taken off to the Nazi Death Camps. The story ends with the uprising of April 1943, as Yossel uses his favored position to strike back. Yossel's vivid imagination giving him hope even as his story comes to an end. Kubert's prose is not quite up to the task of presenting the story as powerfully as one might hope, but his stunning art more than compensates. Reproduced directly from Kubert's pencils on a rough paperstock that resembles a sketchbook, the drawing are sometimes tight and other times very loose, but always manage to convey the desperation and horror.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

by Pascal Croci
Kazik & Cessia, husband and wife, survived the horrors of Auschwitz but have never spoken to each other of their separate experiences. But nearly 50 years later in war-torn former Yugoslavia they finally share their experiences as death once again closes in. The art manages to be both delicate and raw, done in tight pencils with (I believe) grey wash and some charcoal. Supplementary material in the back places Auschwitz within the greater context of contemporary Holocaust narratives.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Around the Horn

A look at what's being discussed around the Comics Blog-o-sphere:

At Highway 62, Matt dissects the recent ICV2 interview with Marvel publisher Dan Buckley, pointing out how seemingly clueless Marvel seems to be about any sort of new paradigm growing in the world of the comics biz.

Rampage (and just about everybody else...) looks at the complex variant cover incentive plan for New Avengers. Marvel seems to think that this will keep orders for issues 2+ from dropping, but I suspect instead that it will supress orders for #1...

Tim O'Neill has begun an in-depth look at Oni in the same way he recently wrote about AiT/PlanetLAR.

Ron Freeman says that sometimes even a Superman comic drawn by Curt Swan can be unreadable.

Brian Hibbs and Peter David have a lively discussion.

Dorian Wright brings us Space Lincoln!

Mike Sterling presents us with The Seven Deadly Harveys, deliciously ruining childhood memories in the process.

And finally, poor Steve Lieber gets no respect.

Quick Reviews

Daisy Kutter; Batman; Forsaken; Following Cerebus; SuperPatriot

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train #1
by Kazu Kibuishi; Phil Craven
In the main story, set in one of those retro western futuristic worlds where robots rub elbows with cowboys, Daisy Kutter is a former outlaw gone straight. She now owns a general store, but though she claims otherwise she misses the excitement of her former life. But her overconfidence in gambling sets her up for a fall, and by the end of this first installment circumstances are set to draw Daisy back to her former life. Kibuishi's line work and washes are great to look at, and he really knows how to pace a story. His characterizations are great too, as you can really read the emotions of the characters through their expressions as their inner feelings betray their outer words. The backup by Craven is "Mongrel," featuring an anthropomorphic private eye. While the art is good, the story is so trite as to be totally forgetable. Unless this is the first noir you've ever read, you know the story by heart.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Batman #631
by Bill Willingham, Kinsun & Aaron Sowd
The most impressive thing about this issue is the artwork turned in by the singularly named Kinsun and inker Sowd. I'm completely unfamiliar with any previous work by Kinsun, but was very impressed by the opening 3-page spread (too bad it had to be stretched over a page turn) as well as the rest of the book. Alas, the story by Willingham is completely by-the-numbers, wih zero surprise and Batman acting like an ass.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Forsaken #1
by Carmen Treffiletti, Kristian Donaldson & Nick Zagami
The comic opens in media res, with an op gone bad and narration by an Agent Delk, who will apparently be our viewpoint character. The narrative then flashes back a week, as we witness Delk handling a hostage crisis. Delk then goes on to be recruited into an ops team by, um, somebody. We're not sure who, and neither is Delk, but he checks his common sense and follows along anyway. The last line is spoken by a Mysterious Rich Man Sitting at a Large Desk(tm): "Please, sit down. I would like to discuss why all of you are here." Too bad they're pushing off the explainations to the second issue, because with nothing to go on from this first issue I'm not forking over another $2.95.
Rating: 2 (of 5)

Following Cerebus #1
by Craig Miller & John Thorne
It's not but one question into the inaugeral issue's interview with the Cerebus Creator that Dave Sim brings up feminists, completely unprompted. Thankfully, the guys at Win-Mill are very good interviewers, and they manage for the most part to keep the interview on the production of the Cerebus comic, focusing much of the attention on how its evolution was affected by Sim's changing viewpoints. As such, it is much more illumitating than Sim's typical unmediated rantings. This issue also features an in-depth examination of the "Somthing Fell" motif that ran throughout the series, and a short but illuminating interview with Gerhard. Even if you thought that Sim went completely off his rocker for the last third of the series, if you were ever a fan of Cerebus at some point you will probably find this to be worth a read.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

SuperPatriot: War on Terror #1
by Robert Kirkman & E. J. Su
Though the subtitle is misleading--there's nary a real terrorist in sight--Kirkman's take on Erik Larsen's cyborg Captain America manages to be lightweight entertainment. From taking on a downsized Nick Fury analogue to putting the squeeze on Hitler's brain, the action is balanced against a look at SP's homelife with his new younger wife and the heapings of life's litle indignities hoisted upon a seemingly harmless cranky old man. Once again Kirkman comes through, showing that just about any thread-worn concept can be entertaining if done right.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Friday, August 27, 2004

Quick Reviews

JLA; Ultimate Fantastic Four; Incredible Hulk

JLA #104
by Chuck Austen & Ron Garney
You may recall how when reviewing the previous issue I stated that if I were smart I'd skip the remainder of Austen's run? As suspected, I'm not that smart. I plunked down my $2.25, suckered in by the pretty cover and thinking that "The Pain of the Gods" couldn't possibly get any worse. Guess what? It's worse. If you have any affection at all for the Ostrander/Mandrake Martian Manhunter series, skip this at all costs. Austen completely ignores the depth of character that was developed for J'Onn, as if he hasn't spent the last umpteen years trying to fit in with and understand humanity. Next issue, Austen takes on Wonder Woman. It'll be like a train wreck, and I won't be able to look away.
Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Ultimate Fantastic Four #10
by Warren Ellis, Stuart Immonen & Wade von Grawbadger
Here we have the ultimate expression of decompressed storytelling (if you'll please pardon the pun). Four things happen in this issue: 1) Reed discovers Van Damme's location; 2) Van Damme broods, and swears he will destroy the Four; 3) The Four decide to take the Fantasti-car and go after Van Damme; 4) The Fantasti-car takes off. Back in the days of Lee & Kirby, these four sequences would have taken about 2-3 panels each--about a page and a half total. Here they take up an entire 24-page comic book. Thankfully, Ellis, Immonen & Grawbadger make all the standing around and talking interesting to read and look at, and the 3-page sequence of the Fantasti-car taking off looks gorgeous--even if Kirby could have done it in 2 panels.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Incredible Hulk #76
by Bruce Jones, Douglie Braithwaite & Bill Reinhold
In this, his last issue, Jones helpfully provides us with a line of dialogue from The Leader that sums up his run: "All that ridiculous running about, all that covert bull--the espionage, the mind games, the trails of dead and broken bodies... all that a needless waste of time and humanity..." I enjoyed Jones's Hulk at first, but as it dragged on it became apparent that it wasn't going anywhere, and now it rushes unsatisfactorily to a conclusion. Oh well.
Rating: 2 (of 5)

Thursday, August 26, 2004

The End of "New Marvel"

With the publication this week of the final issue of X-Statix, the oft-called New Era of Marvel (or, derisively, 'Nu-Marvel') comes to a close. This was the era heralded by Jemas and Quesada's balls-up management and editorial style, which often failed (and infuriated) but also brought some great work as well. It was an 'anything goes' era, where Marvel was willing to try just about anything creatively in order to stave off final bankruptcy. With little to lose and everything to gain, they brought us Peter Bagge & Paul Pope doing Spider-Man stories, Milligan & Allred subverting X-Force for all it was worth, and entrusting the X-Men franchise to the guidance of Grant Morrison. It was a time when you didn't really know what to expect from a Marvel comic.

Sure, today there are still a few remnants of that era left--most notably the Ultimate line--but the time of trying and experimenting is gone. With millions to be made from movies and the like, Marvel is now a safe company again, back in the black and at the top of the market (at least the comic book direct sales market). In many ways, it's like the last 5-10 years haven't happened: dozens of X-Men & Spider-Man books flood the stands, Peter David doing Hulk & Madrox, Rob Liefeld on X-Force, and the Avengers once again facing 'their biggest threat ever.' Not that any of this is necessarily bad or good (your tastes may vary), but it's doubtful we'll be seeing any projects announcements from Marvel that are surprising anytime soon. Seriously, can you imagine today's Marvel releasing anything resembling Morrison & Quitely's excellent We3 today? (Remember--not too long ago these same guys were doing The X-Men.)

So rest in peace New Marvel. It was a ride while it lasted.

Quick Reviews

We3; Astonishing X-Men; Superman; DC Comics Presents

We3 #1
by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely
From the wordless opening sequence through the inevitable escape at the end, this is one gorgeous comic. Morrison & Quitely are experts at flow and pacing--just look in awe at how six 18-panel pages suddenly open into a breathtaking 2-page spread. We immediately gain empathy for the 3 and their situation--and remember, these are animals in battlesuits! (Also note that, as with Seaguy, we get 32 pages of story and art--10 more pages than the typical $2.95 comic.)
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Astonishing X-Men #4
by Joss Whedon & John Cassaday
Whedon's initial X-Men foray has been full of great moments, and we get more of the same in this fourth issue. Whedon has an inate sense of timing, using page transitions like a seasoned pro to surprise and compel. Cassaday is a perfect partner, with my favorite moment being near the end, where Kitty Pride stands motionless, bullets passing through her while she gapes in shock. It remains to be seen if all of these individual moments will coalesce into a meningful whole, but so far I have faith...
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Superman #208
by Brian Azzarello, Jim Lee & Scott Williams
So, we've reached the end of what will be the first collected volume of "For Tomorrow," and still there is no clear idea as to what's going on. Things just seem to happen, and everyone acts completely out of character. But golly, it sure looks pretty! (Check out how Lee drawns the Martian Manhunter, with a subtlely non-human skull.)
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

DC Comics Presents: Justice League of America #1
by Harlan Ellison, Peter David, & Joe Giella; Marv Wolfman, Dustin Nguyen & Richard Friend
Going in, I expected that I'd like the Ellison & David story a lot, and that the Marv Wolfman story would be just okay. As it turns out, the opposite is true. Ellison & David have the misfortune of being in the last of these Julius Schwartz tribute specials, and by this point the whole "Julie meets the super-heroes" shtick has grown old. On the other hand, Wolfman comes up with a very clever way to turn the cover into a story, and does so by paying appropriate tribute to the silver age JLA while still telling a story that could only be told from a modern vantage. Nguyen's art is a strong part as well, as the illustrates the classic and modern characters distinctively.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

For people with more money than sense

Every month Previews comes out, and every month I'm amazed at some of the stuff that's offered. For example:

Lady Death in Lingerie #1 - Leather Premium Edition Creator File Copy
"Creator Brian Pulido unlocks his personal vault to reveal a unique collector's item... Each also comes bagged and boarded, along with a killer custom Certificate of Authenticity."
Eternal Entertainment. FC, 32 pg ... $50.00 (p. 300)

Dawn 12-inch Resin Statue
Diamond Select ... $199.99 (p. 464)

Spider-Man Clock Tower Wall Statue
Diamond Select ... $99.99 (p.179)

Green Lantern: Hal Jordan Power Battery Bookends
DC Direct ... $125.00 (p. 122)

Shi 10th Anniversary Engraved & Numbered Samurai Katana
Crusade Entertainment ... $85.99 (p. 262)

UDA NFL Jersey Numbers Collection - Single Player Versions
"These unsigned limited edition NFL Jersey Numbers Collections each measure 14" x 19" and feature a single player in an actio shot, along with a 6" replica jersey number."
Upper Deck ... $99.99 ea. (p. 417)

Magdalena Ornaments
"The beautiful stained glass 'cross' design is an impeccable representation of this vampire-slaying nun's sacred beliefs."
unknown ... $19.95 ea. (p.466)

A Christmas Story Leg Lamps
"Display it in your front window and you will be the talk of your neighborhood!"
unknown ... $252.oo (p.492)

Lord of the Rings: Sauron Limited Edition Helmet
United Cutlery Brands ... $624.99 (p. 499)

Alien vs. Predator: Limited Edition Collectors Plate
unknown ... $45.00 (p. 499)

Quick Reviews

I Am Legion: The Faun
by Fabien Nury & John Cassaday
I really wanted to like this more than I did. In 1942, there's a secret Nazi plot involving a young Romanian girl with supernatural abilities (where would speculative fiction be without the Nazi obsession with the occult?) This book follows two storylines: the Nazi program, and a group of allies, also secretive, who are trying to uncover the plot. Exciting stuff, but nothing much exciting happens here, as it's mostly talking heads and set-up. Cassaday's art is good, but not his usual great--I gather that this represents some of his earlier work, and it doesn't have the polish of this recent Planetary or X-Men.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Licensable Bear #1
by Nat Gertler and friends
Poor Licensable Bear. He just wants to be loved. Well, not loved exactly--he really just wants to be plastered over millions of tee shirts and lunch boxes. Featuring several short stories by various creators, this satire of consumer culture manages to elicit chuckles, but it wears a bit thin by the end.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Teen Detectives

Newsarama has the story that NBM is doing comics and graphic novels of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. (Link via Thought Balloons)

And cool beans, they've got Lea Hernandez doing the art for The Hardy Boys! I'm so there--though I'll undoubtedly wait for the trade. I'm unfamiliar with Sho Murase, who's doing the art for Nancy Drew, though she has a manga-esque art style that's probably a smart way to go.

I'm very surprised that they're even bothering to release The Hardy Boys as a comic first. I predict that the trades will do moderately well in bookstores, but that The Hardy Boys comic will sell very little in comic stores, and thus the whole thing will be deemed a failure by the myopic direct market-focused Internet comic book intelligentsia.

I read some of the old Hardy Boys books as a kid, but was never a huge fan, although I do have fond memories of the Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew television series. Now if someone ever does an Encyclopedia Brown comic, then I'll be really excited...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Ellis's Apparat

Artbomb has cover images and Ellis-hype for Apparat, Warren Ellis's set of four one-shots coming from Avatar. (Thanks to Rampage for the link.) Ellis of course has been doing trashy horror-suspense titles with Avatar for some time, so it'll be interesting to see how his more substantive works fly there.

I'll probably end up getting all four books (depending on cost...), but the one that excites me the most is Frank Ironwine, mainly becuase I love Carla Speed McNeil's work and it'll be good for her to get more exposure. Quit City also intrigues, due to the strength of the concept (pulp aviators!) and the very interesting art style of the cover; I'm unfamiliar with Laurenn McCubbin but based on that single cover image I'm keen to see more.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Fun with Trademarks

In today's Lying in the Gutters, Rich Johnston ponders about the possible conflict between the UK tv series Spaced, reportedly coming soon in the US to Bravo, and a Platinum Studios tv project/Top Cow comic of the same name. He asks for someone to sort it out, so I'll oblige.

A quick search of the Trademark Electronic Search System (Tess) shows that no one in the US has a registered trademark on "Spaced" (though there are a few for "Spaced Out"). Now while it is not uncommon for comic books not to bother with the time and expense of registering a trademark (and utilize an unregistered mark), I would think that if you're going to the expense of making a television series, you would want the added protection that a registered mark provides.

So, first one to register wins!

(I should note that It is possible, though unlikely, that the USPTO is refusing to accept any trademark on the word.)

Stripping Strips

Yesterday's New York Times reports on the growing trend in newspapers to cut back on the number of comic strips they run. (Ironically, the Times doesn't have a comics section...) (link via Thought Balloons.)

It's a shortsighted move for all of the reasons listed in the article, mainly alienating either current or potential readers in a time of shrinking readership. But it's even worse than that. I think that newspapers need comic strips more than comic strips need newspapers. In these days of the Internet (hah, Wired, I'm still capitalizing it!) a creator can self-publish online, grow a following, then put together a print collection (e.g. Joy of Tech, or the many strips on KeenSpot.) Sure, the chances of emerging as the next Jim Davis or Scott Adams is almost non-existant, but is that so bad? It's more important that the medium survive, not that a handful of people get rich.

Given the sorry state of most newspaper comics pages, many people already read their comics online, since you can't rely on your local paper to have many (if any) strips worth reading in the first place. It's not that far away from the time when readers no longer associate comic strips with newspapers. That's ultimately a loss for the papers.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Quick Reviews

Doctor Spectrum #1
by Sara "Samm" Barnes, Travel Foreman & John Dell
Sara Barnes is a 'protogé' of Supreme Pawer writer J. Michael Straczynski, having been a writer and producer on the television series Jeremiah. As such, she gets the nod to write this spin-off, focusing on the origin of the titular Green Lantern analogue. It's a good story, well-told even if dipping too much into cliché (abusive childhood, war hero, bad relationships); I'm just not sure if it's going to add anything to the overall story. I've don't recall encountering the art of Travel Foreman before; it's rather good, at least as inked by veteran Dell and colored ably by Studio F. I see a bit of Trevor Hairsine and John Cassady, and it's close enough to Gary Frank's work on the main title so as to seem like it belongs.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Strange Killings: Strong Medicine #1-3
by Warren Ellis & Mike Wolfer
While racial tensions run high in London, one-man super-operative William Gravel is blackmailed into investigating the ritual murder of a black boy. Much violence ensues. Ellis gets to get this sort of stuff out of his system in his Avatar comics, and Wolfer does a good job with the art--the pacing, in particualr, is wonderful in this story. But in the end the story is hollow, being about nothing other than itself.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Ex Machina #3
by Brian K. Baughan, Tony Harris & Tom Feister
There was a time when I didn't much care for Vaughan's work, which is why I skipped picking up Y when it first came out. But after hearing so many good things about it, I'm now reading Y in trades. Now with Ex Machina I'm in on the ground floor and I'm not waiting for the trade--I have to read every issue as it comes out. It's that damn good. I'll even put up with the advertisements interrupting Harris & Feister's gorgeous artwork every couple of pages. The plot continues to thicken, and even though it's moving along at a decompressed pace, it manages to maintain my interest and even (gasp!) rewards rereading. This is easily the fourth best book that DC is currently publishing, maybe even the third.
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Cosmic Guard #1
by Jim Starlin
On a rooftop of a city an orphaned boy contemplates suicide, while light years away a great protector watches helplessly as the last remnants of his civilization falls to an unstopable invading army. Of course these two events will become intertwined, in a way that won't be surprising to anyone who has glanced at the cover. Like many, I became entranced by Starlin's work in the 70's and 80's, mind-bending cosmic science fantasy like Dreadstar. Starlin's later work has been disappointing, and it remains to be seen if he can recapture the magic with this new series, but I'm hopeful. Starlin remains the consummate craftsman, especially in his storytelling skills: take away all the captions, make the dialogue of the aliens be in some unearthly language, and you could still easily tell what's going on in this story. (In fact, Starlin overwrites the captions--he should let his art speak on its own more.)
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Galactic #1-3
by Jim Krueger, Sanford Greene & Greg Adams
In issue #1, we learn all about Heath Robertson's crappy life as an inner city teenager, and then at the end he is whisked away, forcibly recuited into an interstellar organization known as Galactic. In issue #2, we learn the history of evil in the universe and of Galactic's self-imposed mission to eradicate evil, by either redeeming it or destroying it. Which with two issues gone in a three-issue miniseries leaves very little space for the plot, action, and deeper examination of the philosophical issues raised. Had Krueger shortened his set-up and compressed it to one issue this probably would have worked better, but as presented there is not enough room for the execution of what could have been some intriguing ideas.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

My Review Ratings System

It occurs to me that I haven't yet explained my ratings system for my reviews. So I'll now attempt to remedy that:

Ratings are on a scale of 1 to 5, on something of a bell curve, so that 1's and 5's are rare and 3's are most common. As for what they mean:

  1. Poor. Bad. Incompetence in writing, art, or both. Not of interest to anyone other than the creators' relatives.

  2. Okay. If you're a big fan of the genre and/or the creators you may find this of interest. Otherwise you should pass.

  3. Good. Solid entertainment. If you're a fan of the genre and/or creators involved you will probably like this.

  4. Great. Must reading for fans of the genre and/or creators, and probably worthwhile for others as well.

  5. Excellent. The crème de la crème of comics art. Should be read by anyone with an interest in comics, and probably by those who think they have no interest as well.

So there you go. As can be seen, the ratings are somewhat relative. A good solid super-hero book will get a 3, but if you're not interested in super-heroes you should probably give it a pass. If a volume of manga gets a 4, you may want to consider picking it up, even if you're not normally into manga. And so it goes.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Quick GN Reviews

edited by Diana Schutz
Dark Horse gives us an anthology of autobiographical comics by some top cartoonists, including Frank Miller & Will Eisner. As with most anthologies of this type there is a wide variety of styles, and some will work better for some readers than others. Unsurprisingly, the four page Eisner vignette, "The Day I Became a Professional," is one of the best, as is Sergio Aragonés' "The Time I Met Richard Nixon." Other stories I liked were the entries by Paul Chadwick, Linda Medley, Stan Sakai, and Bill Morrison. Wrapped up in a nice package by designer Paul Hornschemeier under a simple-but-effective cover image from Eisner, this is definitely worth a read.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

The Flash: Blitz
by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins & Doug Hazlewood with Phil Winslade, Al Gordon & Walden Wong
Collecting Flash #192-200, this volume opens with Gorilla Grodd's army of mind-controlled gorillas parachuting into Iron Heights Penitentiary to pull off a jail break. That scene alone just about made this worth the $9 I spent to pick it up used. The Grodd story leads into the origin of a new Reverse Flash: Zoom (no longer a professor!) By coming up with a nifty way for Zoom's speed powers to operate different from Mark Waid's infamous Speed Force, Johns provides a worthy adversary for the fastest man alive. This is good, solid super-hero work, but is marred slightly by the fill-in art (I like Winslade a lot, but his style clashes with that of regular Scott Kolins) and the majorly stupid decision that Wally makes in the denouement of his confrontation with Zoom.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Friday, August 20, 2004

Quick Reviews

Demo #9
by Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan
This is, I feel, the weakest entry in Demo so far. What we have here is the story of a couple breaking up, interspersed with flashbacks of their relationship. The problem is that these two people were totally unsuited for each other, and most of what we see in the flashbacks are the two of them treating each other like crap. They are a completely unattractive couple relationship-wise, and thus I have no sympathy for the situation of their break-up. On the plus side, Cloonan's art is getting stronger with each issue, although it could only benefit were she to pay more attention to backgrounds.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Supreme Power #12
by J. Michael Straczynski, Gary Frank & Jon Sibal
I never quite know how to read stories that are laid out this way: should I read a page at a time, or follow each story as it goes? Thankfully the four stories are rather distinct, so it was easy to read just the top story all the way through, then the second story, etc. After 12 issues, Straczynski seems to finally have all the major players on the board; we are in Supreme Power in much the same place as we were after the first season of Babylon 5. Which should make the ensuing 36 issues quite the ride.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Daredevil #63 (443)
by Brian Michael Bendis & Alex Maleev
Bendis has a reputation of being a 'talky' writer, with lots and lots of talking heads. And while it's to some extent true, I don't think that he gets enough credit for the action sequences. This issue of Daredevil serves as a great example. While there are certainly plenty of talking heads (the long monologue by Black Widow going overboard), one cannot overlook the opening action sequence, which is exciting and crackles. Maleev's art helps enormously, as the brutality of both the sniper fire and the close-range combat is expertly illustrated.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Whoa. Trippy.

A few months ago I checked out Jim Woodring's The Frank Book from the library. I tend to enjoy a dash of surrealism, so even though I didn't always understand what exactly was going on, I enjoyed the huge collection of weirdness.

Now, thanks to animator Fuyama Taruto, we can enjoy over 5 minutes of mind-bending goodness in glorious black and white animation. Taruto has done an excellent job of bringing Woodring's dream-like comics to life.

(link via The Beat)

Quick Reviews

Adventures of Superman #631
by Greg Rucka, Matthew Clark, Renato Guedes, & Andy Lanning
Two parallel stories in this issue: Lois Lane under sniper fire in Not-Iraq, and Superman battling Xlim and Ruin, who I know were introduced in a previous issue but of whom I remember next-to-nothing. It's not like this is Brainiac or Lex Luthor--we need a little more recap from the writer to remember who the bad guys are. Pencil duties are split between Clark & Guedes; it would appear that one is doing the Lois parts while the other is handling Superman. I'm not familiar enough with the styles to know who is doing which, but the art on the Superman parts suffers a bit from inconsistancy, especially in faces. But the colors from Tanya & Richard Horie are gorgeous: bright and shiny in the super-heor parts, muted in the war parts. This is a case where the coloring really helps to shift the reader mentally among the storylines. There's just as much action in here as in last week's Action Comics, but in this case I actually care about the outcome.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Fade from Grace #1
by Gabriel Benson & Jeff Amano
It's a super-hero origin story, told in the form of a romance. Quite effective, in that it really gets us to care about the hero and his wife. At only 99 cents for the first issue (I really like Beckett's pricing!) it's worth a look.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Heaven Sent #4
by Ben Dunn with Robby Bevard & Doug Dlin
Hmmm. Apparently this series is set in the same universe as the Warrior Nun Areala series, something I don't recall being mentioned in previous issues. I've been a fan of Dunn's since the early Ninja High School days, so I'm quite glad to be getting two different bi-monthly fixes of Dunn. Heaven Sent is the better of the two, with more detail in the art (but too much zip-a-tone!) and a more complex story.
Rating: 3 (of 5)

Plastic Man #8-9
by Kyle Baker
Now this is more like it! The first issues of Baker's Plastic Man were good, but this is great. Non-stop funny, with the first two pages of #8 leaving me giddy. Plus: The return of Letitia Lerner!
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Manhunter #1
by Marc Andreyko, Jesus Saiz & Jimmy Palmiotti
This was a good debut issue, as by the end we know what the new Manhunter is all about and what her motivations are. I'll stick around for a few issues to see where Andreyko takes the story. I really liked Saiz & Palmiotti's work on 21 Down, but for a reason I can't put my finger on it doesn't quite seem to fit here. I can't help but think that cover artist Jae Lee would be a great choice for the interiors--maybe he can do a fill-in?
Rating: 3 (of 5)

X-Men #160
by Chuck Austen, Salvador Larroca & Danny Miki
Austen's pod-people X-Men conclude "Day of the Atom." Doesn't make much sense at all, but the art sure looks pretty. The one good part of Austen's X-Men has been the relationship between Cain Marko & Sammy, at that continues to be the good part here, but only in the last page-and-a-half.
Rating: 2 (of 5)