Monday, January 31, 2011

CBR Review: Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #6

I recently reviewed Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #6 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "When the latest X-Men comic was launched, Millar was annoyed because it involved vampires, too, and would run against his very own vampire story. Except the presence of both stories isn’t what hurts Ultimate Comics Avengers 3, it’s the slow build up to a clever-yet-unsatisfying finish. The payoff in the finale isn’t one that seems worth it. It happens and that’s about it. It seems like Millar anticipated such a reaction when a dying vampire Nerd Hulk accuses Captain America of cheating to defeat the vampires and Cap responds that it was tactics. 'It’s not a cheap, anticlimactic finish, it’s just clever!'"

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Secret Avengers #9

I recently reviewed Secret Avengers #9 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The focus in Secret Avengers on the Shadow Council becomes a little more dominant in this issue with Steve Rogers and company aware that such a group exists, and that John Steele and Max Fury are working for them. For Rogers, the revelation of Steele’s involvement in this group and his willingness to kidnap Sharon Carter to further his ends (resurrecting Shang-Chi’s villainous father) is shocking. What could make this former ally and ‘original super-soldier’ seemingly turn against what he used to fight for? The slow build of Rogers and his forces on one side and the Shadow Council on the other becomes more interesting each month."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Avengers #9

I recently reviewed Avengers #9 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The idea of the Illuminati, Tony Stark’s group of superhumans that have worked behind the scenes since the Kree-Skrull War, being revealed the heroes of the Marvel universe has been a long time coming. I remember reading an article in an issue of Wizard prior to the New Avengers: Illuminati mini-series came out where Brian Michael Bendis discussed the fifth issue of the series dealing with knowledge of the Illuminati coming to light. The issue that came out, instead, helped kick off Secret Invasion by revealing that a Skrull had replaced Black Bolt. Now, four years since that article saw print, the Illuminati stand revealed with new top cop Steve Rogers demanding answers."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

28: Reconsidering Noh-Varr Post-Morrison

I have an unnatural attachment to Noh-Varr. What a goddamn weird sentence to write. My first essay for this blog just under six years ago was on Marvel Boy and it remains one of the pieces I'm best known for. I've since been a vocal reader when it came to the character's subsequent appearances and a very vocal critic of his depiction in those appearances. The way that Brian Michael Bendis writes him, in particular, has drawn some very harsh words from me. You see, Marvel Boy was a big book for me. It was the first comic you could say that I 'got.' My first time reading the first issue, I was a little lost, but I worked at it and, by the end, I could see Grant Morrison writing about the entire Marvel Universe, about teenage rebellion, about the real 'ultimate Spider-Man' and everything else I discussed in that first essay. I'd never 'gotten' a comic like that before.

I was 17. Today, I'm 28.

Those two numbers are significant. When I was 17, I wasn't exactly what you'd call an 'angry young man,' but I wasn't far off. I was smart and I knew it. Worse, I was smarter than most of the people around me and I knew it. Worse than that, I wasn't smarter than a few people around me and I knew it. Arrogance, jealousy, and a little self-loathing all mixed together is not a fun combination. I don't think I've ever outgrown it either, if I'm being honest. I was in high school, of course, and would soon discover the internet. I would soon get the internet at home and would soon find ways to terrorise the world. I wrote a weekly column on my own geocities site. It was called "Shut Up and Listen." Ha. Yeah. I ranted and raved once a week for five years. I looked around at the world and I hated it all. I hated how bad everything was. This was after Bush got elected, after 9/11, too. I actually cared about what on around me, or thought I did. I was also horribly self-involved. For a while there, I had a running section devoted to trying to figure out how to get excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Eventually, I realised that it didn't matter, because just walking away was a lot easier and healthier.

It sounds a little stupid to say that I'd compare myself to Noh-Varr at this time, but there were elements of wanting to carve FUCK YOU into a city in my personality. I was just more apt to act within the boundaries set out by society. Be angry and say angry things, hate the world, while getting good grades and going on to university. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But, somewhere, I equated myself with Noh-Varr. He looked around and didn't see a civilisation, he saw ignorant stupid creatures that thought themselves the pinnacle of intelligence in the universe. Hard to be that age, a little bright, and not see the same thing when you look around. Of course, you're both right and wrong.

Today, I'm 28. I'm both that guy and not that guy anymore. I've graduated university, gone to grad school, had no job for over two years, fallen in love and moved in with a woman, found a decent job, review comics, and lead a pretty normal life. I don't write angry columns anymore. I don't pay attention to politics as much. I still get worked up, not so much on a daily basis. I've settled down some. And I couldn't help but notice that Noh-Varr has as well.

The Marvel Universe doesn't move in real time, but it's hard not to notice that where he is now is where I am now. He went to prison, learned a few lessons, had a crappy job, has gotten a better one, is dating a woman, and has calmed down quite a bit. I've attacked Bendis in the past for these changes, for saying that they're out of character, and now I'm not so sure. Maybe they would have happened more organically and maybe they make for a fairly boring character, but that doesn't mean that's not the way things go. Not everyone stays an angry teenager forever. I didn't.

I reread Marvel Boy last weekend at work. That seemed like an appropriate setting. I read it partly on my lunch and partly when things were slow. It's hard to see it as a comic anymore; it's more a memory. Something that I know, a familiar song that brings back a feeling, a time, a place, another me... How do you read a comic like that with anything other than a mixture of nostalgia, memory, and embarrassment? So much of my love for that comic comes from an emotional connection that was formed when I first read it and that connection is hard to recreate. It's still there, I just can't access it the same way. I read the comic with a purposeful eye to the past, to my younger self, to Noh-Varr's younger self, and where we've both wound up.

I've wound up wondering where Morrison would have taken the character. The only logical endpoint is somewhere near where he is now. He couldn't remain the abrasive, angry teen that he was. He couldn't take over Earth. He couldn't beat the system and reform it. The series points at his growth towards maturity and as a responsible protector of Earth. It's really only in issue three when he takes down Hexus, but that's only because his conflict with Midas gets in the way. Before he could become a true hero, he needed to deal with his personal villain, that angry figure of capitalism and greed, which also tied into Hexus. Both Hexus and Midas represent using people for survival and profit. Oddly, while Hexus is a 'living corporation,' its concern isn't with acquiring wealth, it's with obtaining the means to reproduce and continue its existence. It uses capitalism as a means of survival.

Midas, on the other hand, is a figure of pure greed. He calls himself a scavenger and a pirate. There are no pretences to his own brilliance beyond the repeated mantra that he turns everything to his advantage. He reacts, he uses, and he never innovates. He is the corrupt system, the one that feasts upon people, obsessed with only gaining more wealth, more power, not seeing people as anything but pawns and things to lord over. He's so rich and powerful that he can call in SHIELD for his own personal use and he still wants more. He's everything that a teenager hates. The corrupt, uncaring system of old people. More than that, he's also the evil father figure. As Oubliette's father, he's that prick of a dad that's overprotective and wants to interrogate you before you take his sweet, precious little girl out, and treats you like you're not good enough for her (because no one is). Even his daughter is just a piece of property that he covets and wants for himself just because he wants everything for himself. An ugly, sad man with no redeeming qualities. Almost an exaggerated form of evil, the sort that teens sometimes see adults as.

But, with that seminal figure of authority for a teenage rebel defeated, where would Noh-Varr go next? He defeated greed and capitalism and Daddy... or, at least, moved past those ideas. Came to terms with them in some way. He's still angry. It's not just that small stuff, it's the larger picture, the system that allowed people like Midas to exist. He got past his girlfriend's father and the story ends with him stuck, basically, in school. Prison is school. They say they'll break (educate) him in six months, he says he only needs five before he's running the place.

As we eventually saw, post-Morrison, that wasn't the case. He was broken, for a time, and eventually gained his freedom, taking over. Call his time in charge of the Cube 'college.' He's still in prison (school), but he has the illusion of freedom, of running the show. But he's not free, he's still there! He's learning lessons that being 'free' and 'in charge' isn't all fun and games, it's a lot of bullshit. It's actually not all that different from what came before. From there, it's heading to the real world where his sense of self-importance was still intact until he, basically, saw one of his professors get shitcanned for bad reasons (fake Captain Mar-Vell gives his life to fight the Skrulls), but win his respect in the process. Noh-Varr gets a job (the Dark Avengers), thinking it follows the example set by that beloved mentor/professor only to learn that it's an awful job full of weird office politics and a fairly evil purpose. Hey, it was his first real job, what did he expect? While on the run (unemployed), he meets a nice girl, wants to settle down a bit, tired of the constant rage and fighting, so he gets a bland set of clothes, and gets a regular job with a stupid title but a little bit of self-respect.

While I have no doubt that Morrison's plans for him would have been more interesting and more organic, I'm not sure I see a different end point. He was always destined to be a hero, a protector. Maybe I'm reaching here, looking for parallels between the two of us where none exist. Then again, it makes an odd amount of sense to me. Even the lack of Oubliette fits: the crazy high school girlfriend that he never sees again when he goes away to college.

Today, I'm 28 and I don't think I hate where Bendis has taken Noh-Varr so much anymore. I still find his interpretation of the character bland and uninteresting, but I understand it a little better.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Best of 2010: The Top Ten

Well, here it is, the top ten. These are the ten comics that I loved the most in 2010. I won't pretend that they're the actual ten objectively best comics or that if I had read everything that came out, some of these wouldn't get booted off the list. But, this is the ten best comics from my very subjective perspective out of what I read from 2010.

10. Prison Pit Vol. 2 by Johnny Ryan. You know what this comic got me to do? Flip through a pdf. See, I reviewed this for CBR using a pdf copy. Usually, with pdfs, I read through them, use them to reference character names and events if necessary and, then, delete the fuckers because I hate reading comics on pdfs. It's a necessary part of the gig and I'm always grateful for pdfs when they allow me to read something I wouldn't have otherwise, but give me paper any day of the week. With Prison Pit vol. 2, I kept opening the pdf and just flipping through the pages, stopping here and there, and enjoying the book. I did that for the week following my review of it. I couldn't leave this book alone -- it kept calling me back. Never had that happen before with a pdf copy of something. Prison Pit satisfies that part of me that loves stupid violence. The comic opens with a big fucking monster taking a shit and it's hilarious! I showed the opening to Michelle and even she laughed. This book is so focused, so direct in what it's about that it's hard not to be taken in. It's just SCENE OF VIOLENCE, slight pause, SECENE OF VIOLENCE, slight pause, SCENE OF VIOLENCE, and that's a little refreshing. No pretenses, no excuses, just fucked up shit right away. Johnny Ryan's art is simple and direct in the same way. He has a good sense of visual timing. I still love the parts where Ladydactyl is slamming the main character into the rocks. The way Ryan draws that is perfect. Not for everyone, but I loved this book.

9. Supergod by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny. As the conclusion to the thematic trilogy that began with Black Summer and No Hero, Supergod is the colest, the one most focused on ideas. The other two were grounded in characters to differing degrees, but this... this was just Ellis outlining a different approach to post-humans. It partly seems like taking Alan Moore's Dr. Manhattan to the next level, that idea that a post-human wouldn't think the same as a human, and seeing how far it could be pushed. Combine that with the idea of post-humans as gods -- even more than that, created in this world to be gods -- and it's a very interesting result. A lot of reviews of the first issue took it for task for not being a compelling narrative. That's rectified somewhat was the series continues, but that never bothered me. It wasn't meant to be one. It's an intellectual exercise, a comic of theories and arguments. And why not? This book looks like a blueprint for future comics by different people, a way of writing superhumans and superheroes that isn't done really. If there's something that holds the book back, it's Garrie Gastonny. I like his art and find it serviceable with it sometimes knocking it out of the park. But, those fantastic pages only happen once or twice per issue. He does handle some of the more challenging visuals well, like the post-human with tactical time as a power. That's just a weird-looking creature and Gastonny nails it. I do wonder how this book would have looked if done by one of the industry's top artists. Still, a comic that made me think about superhumans/post-humans in a different way -- the sort that could unfairly change how I think about them and, thus, take it out on books that don't live up to that standard. When a comic does that, that's something special.

8. Demo Vol. 2 by Brian Wood and Becky Cloonan. This coming back was a nice treat for the year. The first Demo series was a favourite of mine and seeing Wood and Cloonan reunite to show off their growth was cool. It occurred to me that Demo has become such an open concept that I wouldn't mind seeing the two return to it every five to ten years for a short little tenure like this. A check-in to see what they can do with the open idea of self-contained short stories. Actually, this go around reminded me of short films more than stories. The second issue in particular seemed like a ten-minute movie. That's a different sensibility than you usually see. Cloonan showed off a variety of styles, switching it up for every issue. There's a softness to her line work that brings her character's down to earth that I like. She and Wood strike a nice balance between emotional investment and craft... sometimes, I like an issue for one more than the other, but it's usually a mix of both.

7. Grant Morrison's Batman stuff by Morrison, Frazer Irving, Matthew Clarke, Dusting Nguyen, Cameron Stewart, Tony Daniel, Andy Kubert, Franky Quitely, Scott Kolins, Chris Sprouse, Yanick Paquette, Ryan Sook, David Finch, Lee Garbett, Pere Pérez, Georges Jeanty, and Chris Burnham. (Did I forget anyone?) Is this a surprise? A lot of Batman comics by Grant Morrison came out in 2010. Issues seven through 16 of Batman and Robin, Batman #700-702, Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne #1-6, Batman: The Return #1, and Batman, Inc. #1-2. That's, what, 22 comics? Many of which were longer than usual. That's a lot. And that was really nice, wasn't it? A huge chunk of Morrison's story unfolded this year as Bruce Wayne returned, semi-outed himself with regards to Batman, and started up Batman, Inc. Throw in some time traveling, some lingering effects of Darkseid, some Joker, some Simon Hurt, and more talented artists than you could imagine and, yeah, these were some good comics. The complaint about them that always makes me laugh is that Morrison is just writing about Batman. Well, kind of... but, even so, what's wrong with that? He's writing Batman! Why not write about Batman? But, if you can't find that extra depth, that's not my problem. It's a take on the character that I find intriguing and it's a run that will be worth looking at in the context of his other work. 2011 may feel a little empty without all of the Morrison Bat-books.

6. Punishermax by Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon. I loved Jason Aaron's writing on Scalped, but he's always been a little hit or miss otherwise for me and, heading into this, I didn't really think anyone could do the character after Garth Ennis, especially in a MAX book. Ennis's run on the title is epic, a great novel of the 21st century about the death of the American Dream. Marvel followed that up with mystery and thriller novelists showing they haven't figured out how to write comics yet. Punishermax wasn't help when it was revealed that the first two arcs would introduce the 'Max' versions of the Kingpin and Bullseye. This book seemed like one I would buy two or three issues of before dropping entirely with mutterings of "It was fine" and "Just not my thing," while secretly thinking "What a piece of shit." Instead, Aaron fucking nailed it and did it with Ennis's my famous collaborator. And I love that. There's something ballsy about it that appeals to me. The rise of Wilson Fisk and, then, Bullseye's hunt for Frank are intense, funny, and fucked up stories. I'm amazed at how surprising and cold they can be. Bullseye's dedication to getting into Frank's head is... frightening. And Steve Dillon draws him with such an innocent look. Often, Bullseye looks like the happy idiot. It's so disarming... and then he does something so crazy and fucked up. Fisk, so determined to acquire power, gives up everything. Meanwhile, Frank is pushed again and again until he crosses a line that he's never crossed. Probably the best surprise of the year for me was this book being fantastic.

5. The Boys by Garth Ennis, Darick Robertson, and Russ Braun. For a while, this was lower on my list and, then, when it came time to write about it, it didn't feel right to have it so low. I looked forward to and enjoyed this comic more than every comic lower on the list. Possibly more than some above it. If pressed, at this point, I'd possibly call The Boys my favourite ongoing comic series right now. But, that's in the most subjective manner possible and, while I say that's where all of this comes from, I do try and balance things with an objective appreciation of craft. The weird space between 'favourite' and 'best'... that's what I try to navigate. The Boys kills everything when it comes to 'favourite.' The Boys is always the first comic I read on the week it comes out. Always. Because I have to know what happens next. It's gotten to that point -- I'm hooked, I love the characters, and I need to know what comes next. But, it's not just that. People wrote off the book as simply making fun of superheroes and I won't deny that that was a big part of the series, but it's amazing to see how much of that laid the foundation for what's happening now with Hughie and Annie, Butcher and the Seven, and the rest of the characters. It's been a build-up to where we are now. The Hughie/Annie relationship finally imploded and you knew it was going to happen, it was inevitable, and it still broke my heart. It was a gut-wrenching, awful scene to watch unfold. That ability to deliver on something so obvious while still making it emotionally impactful is a wonderful talent of Ennis's, one that's often underappreciated. This year also introduced Russ Braun to the book and he's been amazing. He's adapted his style to match Darick Robertson's and is fantastic at character acting. I miss Robertson, but Braun is such a close second that I usually don't think about it. This is my serialised soap opera comic and I can't wait for every issue.

4. Parker: The Outfit by Darwyn Cooke. I guess you could technically include the oversized The Man with the Getaway Face as part of the reason why this book gets the #4 spot for 2010. That oversized 'preview' was pretty awesome. The complete opposite of the presentation of the hardcovers. A smart way to whet the appetite for The Outfit. What impressed me most about this book is that, more than The Hunter, this was a comic book. Cooke played around with styles and layouts and compositions in a way that only works in comics. He really worked at adapting the prose story to the comics medium. And I'm not just talking about the heist portion of the book although that's the easiest to spot area where Cooke uses different styles. But, look at how he lays out the armed truck robbery or when Parker breaks into the Syndicate's boss's office. Just masterful storytelling and art. It makes me anxious to see the next book to see what Cooke does next.

3. Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, Jason Latour, Davide Furnò, and Danijel Zezelj. Making its third straight appearance in the top ten and failing to make it to the top spot again. Okay, that sounds harsh, like we should pity Scalped. "Poor awesome comic, you're really great and all, but you're never the best! You only got beat out by Chris fucking Ware!" I'm sure Jason Aaron is reading this and crying, because he has two books in the top ten, but not the #1 spot. I'm sure he even cares. (And, yes, I'm making fun of myself right now, no one else.) People take Scalped for granted. It just appears on top ten lists automatically almost, because it's the best monthly comic book coming out right now. It just is. Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, and their stable of guest artists kill it every single month. Every single month. It is a fearless comic. It is a passionate comic. It's a comic that surprises me every single month. Just when you think you've got it all figured out, something changes, and you're back playing catch-up. The characters are complicated and unpredictable except for their simple, predictable ways. You can count on them to act a certain way. In the midst of this we got Dash's father appearing, looking like he's the Native Boggart. We've got Dash and Carol both trying to get it together but not able to get together. Red Crow is Red Crow. Fuck, I love this comic. This comic gets read last every week it comes out, because nothing can follow it.

2. Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. This book was number one until just after Christmas. For Christmas, I got the number one book and it bumped the Twins. I knew I'd like Daytripper since a comic drawn by the Twins would be worth it for the art alone. If the writing was decent, bonus. Well, the writing was phenomenal. It was passionate and affecting. It was allusive and elusive. It was a simple structure that left itself open to so many possibilities. My favourite issue didn't even have the main character in it -- yet he was on every page, in every panel. It takes so much talent to be able to pull that off. It was a comic about death that was really about life and love and family and writing and storytelling. The points were so specific, but felt universal. The Twins knew the score: universality in specifics. Share your specific memories of something and people will associate it with their own. The issue about going to grandma's just made me remember my childhood going to my grandma's. Brás spotting that perfect girl in the supermarket made me think of all those perfect girls I've seen over the years. This book was an emotional punch to the gut sometimes. And, in all of that, there was the art of Moon and Bá. Moon handled most of it and I think he's my favourite of the two. But that's maybe because he handled the art. It's one of those things where the one whose art you've seen last is your favourite. You can't choose. But, Moon put in so many soft touches, was able to capture facial expressions so well, backed up by Dave Stewart's expert, moving colours. *sigh* I get sad and excited even thinking about Daytripper. It was just a stunning work.

1. ACME Novelty Library #20 by Chris Ware. I look forward to a new edition of ACME Novelty Library more than anything in comics. I don't read it right away, though. I like to wait until the right time and the right place and, this year, I blew that. I read it at work. I wasn't planning on it, but I had it and... well, it was read. Sitting at a desk while waiting for more shipments to come in for me to clear. Maybe because I want it to be, it feels appropriate that I read it that way. Like The Outfit, this year's edition of ACME Novelty Library could only have been a comic. The way that Ware uses each page to give us a glimpse into that year of Jordan/Jason's life, the way he layers the pages, and uses the lettering and the colours... it all screams COMIC BOOK! In some ways, this is a cute story. It's a gimmick. One page, one year. It could be cold and superficial, but it somehow reaches into depths, partly because we just get these brief glimpses. We don't see the whole picture, we see as Jordan/Jason misremembers things, how he changes... only two pages ago he was a complete jerk! Now his family's been abandoned! Now he's got a new one! It all happens so fast that it's jarring. It's shocking. What seems to take forever in real life, happens by small increments and steps... it's just done here.

Ware's art is some of his best here. His usual style is represented, but he also delivers work in a few different styles. The looser, proto-style that he uses for birth and the early years, the incredibly nuance and deep art he uses for a photograph later in the book... the art for Jordan/Jason's son's book... he pushes himself and tries to evolve with the life he's showing us. Using one style and doing things in one way would be wrong almost. The art reflects the man.

I've been trying to think about the larger construction of the "Rusty Brown" story and I can't see it yet. How does this book fit into a single narrative with #19? With #17? How does it fit together besides associations? Or is that all? "All"... like that's not enough. Like associations aren't everything sometimes. I'm not sure I can tell you really why this is my favourite comic of 2010. Yes, it's the level of craft. Yes, it's the depths of emotions. Yes, it's the formal playfulness that appeals to me. But, there's more there. I say this every year, but when we get into the top five or so, we're really just splitting hairs. It's instinct and quick judgment calls that determine the order. This being the number one book feels right. And that's good enough for me.

Thanks for reading. Later.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Best of 2010: Not Good Enough

Every year, I like to spotlight some comics that I enjoyed throughout the year that didn't make the top ten. Partly, it's books that were on the top ten list I gave CBR and feel guilty about not talking about here. Partly, it's books that I just want to discuss briefly because, while they weren't top ten good, they were great reads or just made the year a little better. Everything in alphabetical order just to be fair.

The Various Avengers books by Brian Michael Bendis, John Romita, Jr., Stuart Immonen, Alan Davis, Olivier Coipel, Bryan Hitch, Mike Deodato, Mike McKone, and anyone I'm forgetting. Okay, so Siege didn't turn out as great as it could have, but the ending to both Dark Avengers and New Avengers were as great as they could have been. More than that, Bendis launched "The Heroic Age" with Avengers and it's some of his best writing. Big stories, lots of action to balance out his dialogue, and John Romita, Jr. on art. What more could you want? New Avengers relaunched with Stuart Immonen and was almost as good (yeah, I prefer Avengers). It was a year of Bendis working with great artists and playing to their strengths. It seems like he made an effort to grow as a writer and step out of his comfort zone post-Siege while still remembering that it's comfortable because he's good at it from time to time by delivering a fantastic script for New Avengers #7. I know there's a big chunk of people who don't like Bendis's work on the Avengers franchise, but, in 2010, he did some of his best work on the books.

Deadpool MAX by David Lapham and Kyle Baker. Holy shit, a comic that's meant to be funny that's actually funny! This comic is exactly what it sounds like: an adults-only Deadpool comic. All of the inane stupidity of a Deadpool comic, but with none of the restrictions. It's crude and mean and ugly and gorgeous and just funny as hell. The joke that made me laugh most was about a father beating his child with a baseball bat. I've begun to think it's a cruder version of Pynchon's writing (though he's not above a lot of what's here). Same tone, same structure... Kyle Baker's art blows me away the way he crafts the characters and the world. It has one foot in the photorealistic, another in the stupid computer colouring... it's a book that never sits still long enough to be a single thing. It is a joy to read everyone month and, if 2011 continues the way it began with issue four, this book will definitely be in the top ten next year.

Irredeemable and Incorruptible by Mark Waid, Peter Krause, Diego Barreto, Howard Chaykin, Emma Rios, Paul Azaceta, Jean Diaz, Horacio Domingues, and Marcio Takara. Irredeemable is the only book to drop from the top ten since last year. Every other book either remained on the list or was something that ended or was a single work like Young Liars or Asterios Polyp. I would say it was a slight downturn for Irredeemable this year. There were some fantastic moments like the Plutonian at the end of issue 17, but the alien invasion plot didn't do much for me. It seemed to cut short a story that still had a lot of mileage in it. It seemed more like something we'd get in year four or something, not year two. The fallout from that story has been interesting, though. While Incorruptible technically launched in 2009, that was just for a single issue, so 2010 was its first year and it held up. It wasn't as strong as Irredeemable, either in the writing or the art, but it made for a good complement book. I can't imagine anyone reading it who isn't reading Irredeemable, though. It's a reflection of that book much more than the other way around and, in that respect, it's surprisingly effective. It's one of the first 'secondary' books I've read that is a perfect fit with the 'primary' one. When events in Irredeemable affect it, that actually makes BOTH books more interesting somehow. These titles are ones that I always drop what I'm doing to read and that's a pretty big compliment.

Secret Warriors and SHIELD by Jonathan Hickman, Alessandro Vitti, Stefano Caselli, Mirko Colak, and Dustin Weaver. Secret Warriors is one of my favourite longform comics right now. It's telling a big story and Hickman's doing it in an interesting fashion. The skip over much of the Leviathan/Hydra war threw some people, but it was a smart choice. As he moves towards the end game, he's getting rid of anything that's not essential and it makes for a tighter, more engaging read. I can't wait to see how it works as a whole. SHIELD has a lot of promise, but isn't coming together how I'd like. I'm still wondering what the actual plot of the comic is. What's the point? Dustin Weaver's art is inconsistent, moving from gorgeous pics to unfinished, sloppy panels. I wish I'd jumped on Hickman's Fantastic Four to see how the three books all fold together, but I guess that's something for the future. Secret Warriors, like Deadpool Max and Thor the Mighty Avenger, got bumped off the top ten I gave CBR... part of what determines my top ten is how much I simply look forward to reading an ongoing comic. It's one measure of determing overall quality: if you don't look forward to reading every issue, how good can it really be? Secret Warriors is something I love seeing in the upcoming shipping list.

A whole host of Thor comics like Thor, Thor the Mighty Avenger, Thor: For Asgard, and Ultimate Comics Thor by Kieron Gillen, Matt Fraction, Pasqual Ferry, Doug Braithwaite, Roger Langridge, Chris Samnee, Robert Rodi, Simone Bianchi, Jonathan Hickman, Carlos Pacheco, and others. I read a lot of people shit on Marvel for releasing so many Thor books. You know who that was a problem for? People who don't like Thor. For me, it was fan-fucking-tastic. Two ongoings, numerous minis... I loved it. Thor is one of those characters that I have that unnatural fanboy attachment to. I could read quality Thor books all month -- and, for a month or two there, that's what Marvel let me do. I won't deny that Matt Fraction's tenure on the main title has been a disappointment, but it seems to be on the road to turning it all around. Thor the Mighty Avenger came and went, but that's still eight quality comics. Thor: For Asgard is depressing and dark and sold entirely on mood. Ultimate Comics Thor uses the ultimate setting to be very playful. I've also enjoyed the first two issues of Loki quite a bit. Surprisingly so. I can understand people talking about Marvel flooding the market, but, hey, I was that market and I loved the fall of 2010 for all its Thor goodness.

Tomorrow: the top ten.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

CBR Review: Age of X Alpha #1

I recently reviewed Age of X Alpha #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The framing story, illustrated by Mirco Pierfederici, is where most of the information about the 'Age of X' world is provided, usually in allusions or references. Mike Carey doesn’t force feed a lot about the world, trusting readers to connect some dots and pick up on what the characters are talking about. Some pieces of dialogue are a little clunky and exist solely to provide some information, like Namor lamenting being in Fortress X and Storm responding that he gave up the oceans for her. But, establishing new character relationships and that mutants are on the run, sequestered in Fortress X, fending off humanity, is the point of the comic and, sometimes, the only way to deliver certain pieces of information is as directly as possible."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sketch Reviews (January 26 2011)

And it's funny, now I am one of those Avengers that dumb people say aren't really Avengers. So I got mine.

--Ben Grimm,
Avengers #9/"Avengers Assemble: The Oral History of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes" Chapter 13

That bit made me laugh. Bendis says "FUCK YOU!" and I'm with him.

This was a bigger week for me and I even skipped over some stuff I was tempted to get like Magneto #1 (I'll get it next week if people say it's worth getting) or that polybagged Fantastic Four death comic... really just for the off chance I'd get one of the signed editions. But, no, stuck to comics that I would be getting normally. Let's get to those...

The Boys: Highland Laddie #6: This was a good finish to the series. I'm interested to see what happens next with Hughie and Annie (obviously). There's a sense of closure here but a lot left unsaid. I'm still surprised that the older criminal who looks like Hughie wasn't revealed to be his biological father. Maybe it was meant to be one of those things that we all saw but would never get addressed in the comic. If so, that's an interesting call and, probably, the right one. [***1/2]

Captain America #614: I know it credits Butch Guice for pencils and six people with inks, but... these look more like layouts and finishes. The look of the art changes drastically from scene to scene with different inkers. BIG changes. "The Trial of Captain America" has been a pretty good story -- and it hasn't played out as expected. The way this issue ends has me excited to see the conclusion next issue. [***3/4]

Detective Comics #873: Hurm. The weakest issue of the storyarc. Snyder discussed putting the focus on the 'detective' and I never got that feeling from this story. There was a slight mystery, but it wasn't engaging, it was a plot device to set up this encounter, one that came off as bland and... lacking in stakes. I don't know, this issue just felt very generic to me. I didn't care what happened or if the bad guy was caught. Jock's art continues to not win me over much of the time. He nails some panels, but others just look ugly and unfinished. Not the creative team's fault, but the lack of the back-up feature hurt the issue. We go from two issues with the back-up feature to the conclusion of the first arc with none. It's jarring and shows why line-wide implementation of certain ideas don't work in a creative medium. [**3/4]

New Avengers #8: This comic features one godawful, ugly cover. An issue that has the characters speak to the frustration of an a dangling plotpoint, but that makes it work. I loved Acuna's depiction of the waitress as she stood there, waiting to take Luke and Jessica's order while they just ignored her, caught up in their own bullshit. It's funny, but also makes them come off as real jerks. They don't even acknowledge she's there with a "Could you come back in a few minutes?" I wonder if that was in the script. A decent issue. I liked the 'Power Woman' stuff, too. [***1/4]


Best of 2010: Joe Casey Comics

Part of my 'end of the year' wrap up tradition is briefly discussing the comics by Joe Casey that came out during the year. This year has more than I thought it did. If you search with the 'Joe Casey' tag at the end, you'll find reviews of almost all of them in one form or another. But that won't stop me from saying a few words now on all of them.

Gødland with Tom Scioli. Three issues came out in 2010. That's not a lot to go on, is it? I guess the second 'Celestial Edition' hardcover came out as well, but I haven't gotten that yet (I will!). Casey has promised that this series will wrap up in 2011 and it seems like the delay has been more about putting that end off a little, gearing up for it, etc. The issue that stands out most is the origin of Nickelhead where I drew an immediate connection to Automatic Kafka. I still stand by that interpretation and it's the one I favour, but I also know that's a personal choice. There's no objective right or wrong in these situations, folks. If it's in the text, it's there. And I see it there.

Superman/Batman #68-71 with Jesus Merino and some editorial interference. Ah, the 'controversial' Joe Casey comic of the year. This was not a good story. Even without the editorial interference, "Big Noise" would be stuck in a section of Casey's bibliography for the shitty, hacky stuff. The plot had some potential with an ancient Kryptonian enemy, but it never really went anywhere. The writing never felt 'there.' It reminded me of Casey's writing on Adventures of Superman prior to that final fantastic year. Now, it wasn't total trash; it was mediocre. It did pick up a little bit as it went on before the odd final issue that was part Casey, part DC editorial, and all bad.

Avengers: The Origin with Phil Noto. The latest edition to the 'Joe Casey Fills in Stan Lee's Plotholes' line of comics from Marvel is a prequel, if you will, to his Earth's Mightiest Heroes, retelling Avengers #1 over five issues. As one would expect, the retelling of that issue is spread a little thin when expanded so much. But, there are some really good parts to the series. Noto's art is stellar, especially his version of Asgard. I like the way he draws Thor skinny ala Kirby. Casey writes a fantastic Hank Pym. This is pre-hitting Jan and even pre-Ultron, so he can actually be written in a somewhat interesting way that doesn't revolve around those two events. That character has been so penned in by those events that it's amazing how refreshing he is when they haven't happened yet. He's a neurotic genius. As a character piece, Avengers: The Origin works well, but it is a little light and fluffy. It just doesn't hold up for five issues.

Iron Man 2: Public Identity with Justin Theroux and Barry Kitson & Iron Man 2: Agents of SHIELD #1 with Tim Green II, Felix Ruiz, and Matt Camp. These comics were a little surprising. I only read the first issue of Public Identity, meaning to get the whole thing eventually. It was fine, but nothing special. Actually, Agents of SHIELD stood out to me mostly for the art of Green, Ruiz, and Camp, all illustrating different stories and making for one of the most visually impressive comics to come out that week. It was a little showcase of artists with Casey delivering steady, solid writing that allowed them to show off. What's weird is that Casey has written a surprising amount of Iron Man comics but never written the main title except for an annual. He writes a good Tony Stark -- and has done so in a few different time periods. I wonder what he'd do on that book full time.

Officer Downe #1 with Chris Burnham. Probably the best thing that wasn't Gødland that Casey wrote this year. Over-the-top extreme violence and direct thinking... Burnham's art had a strong Darrow and Quitely influence that was gorgeous. No wonder he's beginning to get work at DC on Morrison's Batman stuff. This was a comic that I kept flipping through weeks after it had come out. I'd just grab it and look through it. Casey's story was simple and full of funny little bits. I haven't gotten Nixon's Pals yet (I don't know why!), but definitely want to more after reading this pair's follow-up collaboration.

Two-page Zodiac story with Nathan Fox (in Age of Heroes #4). Yeah, I basically bought a four dollar comic for two pages. But, shit, it was pretty much worth it for the sight of Zodiac getting a blowjob from Death Reaper while she wears a Captain America costume. I wish they'd let Casey do more with this character, but, instead, I expect him to show up in three years written by a writer who, while talented, just can't get the tone right. Definitely a character that requires a specific perspective ala many Morrison characters. A villain that glorifies in being a bad guy. No redemption, no compromise, just FUCK SHIT UP. And it's two pages of Nathan Fox art. That's awesome.

2011 looks like a bigger/better year with the end of Gødland, the debut of Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker, and possibly more stuff. 2010 was a little bit of a downer year, a breather year. Nothing major came out. Hmm.

Tomorrow: some 'not top ten' books.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Best of 2010: Favourite Pieces of Criticism

Last year, I did a brief thing on one critic and, this year, I wanted to present a list of my favourite pieces of writing on comics online. It's not a complete list. It skews more towards earlier in the year when it was on my mind more. I've no doubt left things out and it doesn't take into account the things that people write regularly that I enjoy as much like David Uzumeri's annotations. I loved reading those, but none stood out on their own as something that I wanted to bookmark. I'll make the odd comment sometimes, but, mostly, this is a lazy link post. And, remember, this isn't necessarily the BEST, it's just stuff I dug. It presents a picture of my online reading habits that may not be as diverse as I or anyone would like, but that's how it goes. Only so many hours in the day and these are the people whose work I enjoyed most. (Everything is in chronological order...)

* David Brothers on Ganges #2
* Tim Callahan on Punisher War Journal
* Tucker Stone on the art in DC Comics (at the end of a Comics of the Weak post)
* Tim Callahan on Daredevil #26
* Tom Spurgeon on House of M
* Greg Burgas on superhero politics
* Jog on thought balloons
* Tim O'Neil on Cry for Justice and other stuff
* Jeet Heer on word balloons
* Noah Berlatsky on Morrison's Batman
* Zom on Alex Sinclair's colouring of Batman and Robin
* Tucker Stone on Justice League The Rise of Arsenal # 3 (as part of a Comics of the Weak post)
* Matt Seneca on Marvel and DC
* Colin Smith on The Authority
* Sean Witzke on cinematic comics
* Matt Seneca on Neal Adams and Milo Manara
* Tucker Stone devotes a Comics of the Weak post to figuring out Mark Waid giving up superhero comics
* Witzke and Seneca on Steranko
* Tucker Stone and the Year in Stank

And that's that.

Tomorrow: the year in Joe Casey comics.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Best of 2010: CBR Top 100

I'm horribly late with these posts, but let's kick off a week of the best of 2010 with the CBR top 100. It's a list that's compiled from top ten lists by CBR contributors (on the main site and the blogs). We were asked to give a top ten with short blurbs for each book. This year, I made an effort to keep my blurbs very short and very pithy.

#100-76, including my blurb for Prison Pit Vol. 2.

#75-51, including my blurbs for Supergod, The Boys, and Deadpool MAX

#50-26, including my blurb for Punishermax.

#25-11, including my blurb for Demo 2.

#10-1, including my blurbs for Thor the Mighty Avenger and Daytripper.

Other blurbs I wrote:

Scalped (Vertigo; Written by Jason Aaron, drawn by RM Guera, Jason Latour, Davide Furnò, Danijel Zezelj): Consistently the best ongoing monthly book in the industry and has been for the past few years. (Made the CBR list at #5.)

Secret Warriors (Marvel; Written by Jonathan Hickman, drawn by Alessandro Vitti, Stefano Caselli, Mirko Colak): Leviathan rose, the Howling Commandos took their last ride, and members of Fury's caterpillars fell. This book kicked it into high gear and proved every month that it's a masterful novel in comics form. (Did not make CBR top 100.)

Now, the ten books I voted for there are not my final top ten for 2010. Since that list had to be done before the year was over, I hadn't read everything I had wanted to yet (still haven't really...) and my top ten list now is different. Some books are on both lists as you could imagine. But, it is a different list.

Tomorrow: a fairly random list of my favourite pieces of online criticism/review.

CBR Review: Memoir #1

I recently reviewed Memoir #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The high concept is interesting in Memoir and the first issue gives it to us right away, while establishing mood and tone. What suffers is the plot. The issue ends on what is, in-story, a surprising turn of events, but, for anyone who’s seen an ad for the comic or heard anything about it, is somewhat anticlimactic. It’s the focus on setting the tone that makes Memoir #1 so appealing, especially artist Nikki Cook’s depictions of the people in Lowesville, all seeming scarred or simply made ugly by events. It makes Trent MacGowan, our protagonist and point of view character, stand out as a stranger in town even more."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

CBR Review: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust #8

I recently reviewed Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "When I heard about a prequel series to Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? I rolled my eyes and told myself I’d check out the first issue to see how awful it would be. Do I feel a judgmental idiot now... Dust to Dust has told an entertaining and interesting story within the world of Dick’s novel without redefining that world or simply repeating what Dick wrote. It fits into that world, expanding upon it, without creating an internal conflict or departure from what made the book so interesting. Roberson writes a story that provides a different take on the androids in this world, while fitting it into a familiar story."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Superman/Batman #80

I recently reviewed Superman/Batman #80 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "If there’s an overused word in discussing comics right now, it’s ‘fun.’ Any light comic that doesn’t feature superheroes raping nuns while blinding old people and smothering babies is ‘fun.’ I’ve certainly been guilty of this practice, so why not be guilty another time? Superman/Batman #80 is a fun comic. I had fun reading it and it seems like Chris Roberson and Jesus Merino had fun making it. It’s a joyful, goofy issue that glories in the legacies of Superman and Batman, in that idea that good will always win, and that there will always be the World’s Finest to ensure that. But, you know, told in a fun way."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

CBR Review: Thor #619

I recently reviewed Thor #619 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Odin returned last issue and he’s not pleased with his son for bringing him back. It’s refreshing to see Matt Fraction take a more back-to-basics approach to the All-Father, one that’s very understandable given his wish to remain dead and continue to contain the likes of Surtur in the afterlife. I was concerned that bringing back Odin is just another move to return Thor to a familiar status quo, but it’s a decision that adds conflict to this issue, one that manages to speed things up a bit after issues of the plot moving at a glacial pace. This issue of “Thor” delivers some tension and action, and the first confrontation between Asgardians the Word-Eaters, one that leaves neither side unharmed."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

CBR Review: Deadpool MAX #4

I recently reviewed Deadpool MAX #4 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of Inherent Vice right now, but it’s finally occurred to me that David Lapham is doing a Thomas Pynchon riff with Deadpool MAX. The shifts from absurd comedy to way-too-serious action back to lunacy? The popculture references in the text and Kyle Baker’s art? The general feeling that the text is mocking itself while also trying to be important and deep? They’re all hallmarks of Pynchon’s work. More than that, there’s something in the style, the way that a scene between Bob and his thought-to-be-dead ex-girlfriend and handler of Cable plays out, her storming into his room and him lying on the bed, two flutes of champagne in hand, Hydra-themed boxers on... It’s parodic and silly and completely sincere in its own way."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sketch Reviews (January 19 2011)

If you don't pay attention and care, I resumed my Random Thoughts! posting yesterday after a few weeks off. I haven't given you a link, because I assume finding Comics Should be Good isn't too intellectually taxing. Pretty decent week for comics, let's get to it.

The Boys #50: Really strong issue. Standard length, but felt a little longer. Butcher is a right bastard -- and I'm surprised to see how Ennis writes Mallory. Not at all what I expected. This whole thing went down in a way that I didn't expect really. Could have read the PDF of this if I wanted, but waited for the actual issue. Glad I did. The 'bonus' stuff is some pin-ups that are fine and two interviews from the internet with Ennis. The one from the Beat is a nice inclusion since it's from 2007 and done after it was announced the book would resume publishing with Dynamite. The other, one from Newsarama, is fine, but a little puzzling since it's just some random interview from ten months ago. Why not use something more recent or just do a new one with Ennis instead of some random 'check in' interview that's out of date? That's not a criticism of the interview itself, by the way, since it's a decent interview. I'm just not sure why Dyanmite chose it for this issue. Anyway, a really good issue that provides some more depth to the conflict with the Seven and just how fucked up Butcher is. [****1/4]

Invincible Iron Man #500: Decided to give this a look, see what's what. It's a decent story that never really coheres into something AMAZING as it looks like it was meant to. The art is pretty great aside from the present sequences. It's a suitably big story for this sort of issue. Not the sort of thing that's going to make me change my mind about buying this title (or, not buying it as it were), but I don't feel like it was a waste either. The Iron Man 2.0 preview did absolutely nothing to make me want to read that series. I've liked what I've seen from Nick Spencer so far and will probably give it a look, but, man, those are not pages that hook someone. Sorry, but they aren't. I also loved the usual cover collage that Marvel does... if only to see how many fucking variant covers Invincible Iron Man has had since its inception. Christ. [***1/5]

Scarlet #4: This couldn't be issue five? That would have amused me. I loved the scene with the detective and the other scene with the fed, but everything involving Scarlet made me roll my eyes. Even the scene with her mother seemed 'just there' and didn't actually do anything. Maybe it's because everyone except for the detective and the fed seem to be operating on some primitive brain level... this is so fucking simplistic most of the time and it was refreshing to see a couple of characters rise above that. Maleev's photoreferencing continues to annoy me. Yeah, people do make those faces sometimes, but they just look awkward and dumb in a static panel. Torn on this comic. [***]


Monday, January 17, 2011

CBR Review: Red Robin #19

I recently reviewed Red Robin #19 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Within that framework, though, Nicieza and To do produce some entertaining scenes. With Tim and some of his friends and allies mentally trapped within the Ünternet, the villains’ version of the internet as seen in Futurama, they need to figure a way out while somehow preventing Mikalek from maintaining his control over it. Since it’s virtual, anyone in the Ünternet appears as they see themselves. Tim, for example, wears a Red Robin costume that’s a mix between the Alex Ross design he normally wears, Dick’s Nightwing costume, and his own Robin costume. It’s actually a better look for the character, one that allows him to maintain his youthful appearance and show more continuity with his past. Hopefully, someone at DC thinks the same and it becomes his regular outfit."

You can read the rest HERE!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

CBR Review: Doc Savage #10

I recently reviewed Doc Savage #10 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With Phil Winslade providing art for this issue, Ivan Brandon steps outside of the current storyline to show us a related tale that takes place several years previously during the war in the Middle East that’s been alluded to during the current story. Since that story revolves around Ronan MacKenna, a friend and ally of Doc Savage thought dead in the war, an interlude featuring MacKenna and the good Doctor in the war is an ideal companion piece. This issue adds some subtextual depth to the regular story and gives us a little more insight into the areas where Savage and MacKenna disagreed, something that is sure to come to the forefront as the story picks up next issue."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Thor the Mighty Avenger #8

I recently reviewed Thor the Mighty Avenger #8 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "To address the obvious, this is the final issue of Thor the Mighty Avenger and damned if that doesn’t depress me just a little bit. This has been a comic that’s always made me smile and always made that week of comics better. Being a Thor fan, a funny, light comic that took the character back to his beginnings and presented that material in a romantic comedy fashion was a comic that appealed to me. That the names Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee were on the cover only made the deal sweeter. Not everyone saw it that way -- hell, not enough people saw it that way, really. And, so, the title ends with its eighth issue, one that’s endearing and entertaining and pretty much as good as what came before. As far as series ending, you couldn’t ask for much better than an issue that sends the book out as well as it came in."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

CBR Review: Infinite Vacation #1

I recently reviewed Infinite Vacation #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "With such a high concept, it would be easy to get lost inside of it, but Nick Spencer and Christian Ward avoid doing so by grounding us in Mark, a man obsessed with finding the right version of himself, the right world and life where things don’t become stall and boring and fall apart. Right from the beginning, it’s obvious that the problem is him — something another version of himself tells him — but his stubbornness is intriguing, especially when he becomes obsessed with alternate versions of himself that are dying. He thinks there’s something more to it beyond the simple fact that every second, in some alternate reality, he is dying."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Sketch Reviews (January 12 2011)

I bought seven comics this week (six that I would be getting anyway and one just for reviewing) and all but one were $2.99... I can't remember the last time that happened. But, that's also the way the week worked out. Only two of the books used to be $3.99 and they were ones that were worth the extra dollar. Doc Savage had the fantastic "Justice, Inc." back-up feature and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was closer to 30 pages of comic. And the lone $3.99 comic? 32 pages of comic plus six pages of text. So, if DC hadn't gone to 20 pages for $2.99, it would have been a week of three $3.99 comics that I was more than happy to pay the price for and four $2.99 comics. Though, I did notice something: The Unwritten #21 is 22 pages... But, as I was saying to Tim (my retrailer, not Callahan) at my shop, most of DC's books were $2.99 already and I wasn't buying them already. The change meant little to me. And, as I've said, the two titles that were $3.99 and have been affected by the change suffered a little to me. Well done. Let's run through these quick like usual...

Casanova: Gula #1: I haven't read the text stuff yet -- for this version of the comic or rereading the original text stuff from the original issues. Otherwise, this is just nice to reexperience. The blue doesn't seem as striking here as it originally was, which is a little disappointing. It seems to incorporate the green of "Luxuria" a little, too. A line that I missed previously by Cornelius Quinn made me laugh quite a bit this time. And Moon's art... he's my favourite Twin. The way he draws Ruby Seychelle looking down at Kato... goddamn, man. [****1/2]

Halcyon #3: This series is growing on me more and more. As it eases into the idea of a world without aggression and the investigation into how that could happen, it's drawing me in. The best issue of the series so far and I do love me some Ryan Bodenheim art. [***3/4]

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents #3: Hey, it's Howard Chaykin! FUCK YEAH! Not sure if the Dr. Manhattan parallels are purposeful or if my mind is just connecting two emotionally distant blue superguys, but... not sure how I feel about that. I did enjoy this issue quite a bit. The main plot progresses slowly, but is very engaging here nonetheless. Definitely one of my new favourite comics. [****1/4]

The Unwritten #21: In this comic book Age of Awesome, Mike Carey wins the literary geek subaward by having Frankenstein appear in Moby-Dick. Everyone tremble in fear. [***1/2]


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

CBR Review: Jonah Hex #63

I recently reviewed Jonah Hex #63 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It’s sometimes hard to think of Jonah Hex as an ongoing comic series that’s coming out right now. There’s a very classic feel to the book any time I pick it up with its self-contained stories, straight forward storytelling, and solid art. If it were colored the way that comics were 20 years ago, you could put out a collection with the word ‘archive’ on the cover and I doubt many would notice. There’s something very nice and comforting about that. You pick up an issue of Jonah Hex and there’s a standard level of quality to be found, but it also rarely rises above that standard. Issues tend to hit their mark and that’s that. Issue 63 is no exception: a solid, entertaining issue that leaves little lasting impression. Disposable comic book entertainment at its finest."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

CBR Review: Who is Jake Ellis? #1

I recently reviewed Who is Jake Ellis? #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The most appealing part of the debut issue of Who is Jake Ellis? is the confidence on display. I was tempted to say that this is a poor first issue because it barely tells us anything, but that’s by design and part of the story. We’re not meant to know what’s going on. Instead, the scenario is presented with style and flair and skill, and that’s enough. Edmondson and Zonjic throw it out there in an exciting and engrossing manner, and it’s up to us to keep up. I admire that sort of confidence and it’s apparent in Who is Jake Ellis? #1 from the first scene."

You can read the rest HERE!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

CBR Review: The Thanos Imperative: Devastation #1

I recently reviewed The Thanos Imperative: Devastation #1 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Coming two months after the end of “The Thanos Imperative” and two months before the beginning of The Annihilators, Devastation acts as a bridge for the two series, one that’s necessary and extremely tedious. Think of it as a calling to arms issue as Cosmo, the former Guardian of the Galaxy, carries out Star-Lord’s final wish by gathering a new Guardians-type of group. Sorry, I accidentally just spoiled the entire comic for you. That’s how unessential and tedious it is: it is the premise and it’s about as exciting as you’d expect from it. It’s a comic where the story is the premise and fans will be excited because the characters they love are in a comic book, doesn’t matter what little happens."

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Avengers Prime #5

I recently reviewed Avengers Prime #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "The bimonthly series that was meant to repair the damage to the relationships of Thor, Steve Rogers, and Tony Stark came to its end with lots of action and a few lingering questions about its place within the Marvel Universe. In that respect, it’s hard to balance the series and its finale taken on its own terms against the other comics featuring these characters that seem to either contradict this series or would have some sort of fall-out from Avengers Prime. Still, if taken on its own terms, the big action-packed conclusion is just about as thrilling a superhero comic as you’re likely to find this month with stellar art by Alan Davis."

You can read the rest HERE!

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Sketch Reviews (January 5 2011)

2011... easier to type, but doesn't feel right just yet. Nor does the first week of comics, which is kind of a small, sad week. No The Boys, which is just wrong. Most of what I got was for reviewing purposes. I could share a few words on Parker: The Outfit and ACME Novelty Library, both of which I read this week finally, but I will most likely discuss them in my 'best of 2010' post in the new week or two. But, for now, onto this week's haul.

Ultimate Captain America #1: I don't blame writers, but part of me wishes they'd account for solicitations when writing first issues. Look, I already know this book is about the Captain America of the Vietnam War... so that being the point on which the end of the issue rests is a little anticlimactic. Not really Jason Aaron's fault because I see it happen all of the time in comics. The first issue builds to the premise/reveal on which the series hangs and, sorry, I already know it ahead of time, making the first issue seem like a big waste of time. That the issue itself is a rather mundane story about a raid on a North Korean facility that's making Super-Soldiers doesn't help. Ron Garney's art is always very hit or miss for me, much of this issue falling into the 'miss' category. There's a sketchy, unfinished look to it, line work looking too thin and not entirely connected to the rest of the art at times. I really liked the opening scene, but, after that, it was just stalling for the reveal for me. I'm hoping next issue picks things up a bit. [**1/2]

Wolverine: The Best There Is #2: The first issue was crazy and fucked up and seemed like it wanted to be a MAX book. This issue is more sloppy than crazy. Juan Jose Ryp was not made to draw Wolverine in costume. The dialogue isn't terribly funny when it means to be, and isn't at all deep when it tries to do that either. Aside from the double-page montage of Logan's mind, there wasn't a lot about this comic that made me want to give the third issue a shot. [*3/4]

The best part about Marvel's comics this week was the "Age of X" preview stuff... I'm looking forward to that story. I do love alternate reality stuff. Since I'm a Cyclops fan, I really can't wait to see what Basilisk is like. Love the different mask.


Hello Cosmic Part 29: Darklon the Mystic

[Continuing my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic comics work. This time, I'll be discussing the short-lived serial he did for Eerie (issues 76, 79, 80, 84, and 100) and was, later, collected and coloured by Pacific Comics in 1983. That's the version of the work I have, but you can find some of it online here.]

Darklon the Mystic is a prefiguring work to The Metamorphosis Odyssey. It's hard to miss how ideas raised and presented in Darklon show up again in The Metamorphosis Odyssey and The Price (one chapter of Darklon is even named "The Price"). But, it's a simpler and less compelling work with Starlin not doing anything of great interest or import. Darklon is a powerful mystic, once the weak and artsy prince of a warrior culture who sought great power to avenge the coup that dethroned his father. In the process, he gives up his soul, his destiny, his life, and his ownership of himself to the Nameless One, a dark god, in exchange for the power to avenge his father and return him to the throne. From there, his father becomes his enemy, he kills his father, and then destroys his home planet when he must give it to the Nameless One. There isn't a lot of development of the ideas beyond that.

The desctruction of the planet has that 'destroy the village to save it' mentality that marks Aknaton's actions in The Metamorphosis Odyssey, Starlin's response to some of the actions taken in the Vietnam War, which he served in. The idea of weighing the value of millions (billions!) of lives against lives of enslavement and misery, and choosing death as the better option is a hard one to fully comprehend. Starlin never explores it with any real depth here, it coming at the very end of the story. But, the way that Darklon escapes in a magic bubble that eventually crashes on another planet is the exact visual of Aknaton and Dreadstar escaping the doomed Milky Way Galaxy before crashing on a planet millions of years later. In The Metamorphosis Odyssey, Starlin gives the idea more space and a little more discussion and debate. Here, it just happens out of nowhere.

Darklon's deal with the Nameless One is, similarly, a more simplistic version of Syzygy's sacrifices for power in The Price. Darklon's deal is one based on a very direct revenge desire with a being of pure evil. It's a basic, no-nonsense Faustian bargain, while Syzygy's deals for power are more complicated. He uses what power he has to gain more, manipulated by another person to fulfill a larger destiny. By the end of the story, he willingly sacrifices the life and soul of someone he loves for power. He pays with his own flesh, but also uses others. Darklon's sacrifice does have a bitter ring to it when he's finally impressed his father with his newfound power and skill, but must abandon his home because of the deal. There's a stronger "O Henry" vibe to Darklon's deal: he gets the power to make himself worthy of being the ruler of his home, but he must give up his home to gain the power. Syzygy gives up his home, but it's not to gain the power to save it.

Beyond those early versions of later Starlin stories, Darklon the Mystic's most interesting part is the middle story entitled "He Who Waits in Shadow!" where Starlin does an overwrought story that seems to be about him. He broods in the darkness of his apartment, stewing over murdering his love until he kills himself. There's an epilogue where Darklon bursts in, looking for him and the resolution of the plot with his father sending assassins after him. There's an obvious symbolism -- Starlin never killed anyone, he just killed his relationship with someone most likely. It's like Neil Young's song "Down by the River," which, if taken literally, seems like a song about Young killing his girlfriend/wife, but is really about ending a relationship. Starlin's story is pure angst and attempts to seem poetic and deep. The metafictional aspect spills over into the next story where the fight between Darklon and his father is reflected in a father and son on Earth, both in comas where, when Darklon wins, the father on Earth dies. An interesting way to approach the story, but not revealing in any meaningful way.

The art in the Pacific Comics collection of the stories is atrocious. Awful printing that makes the art look like some of Starlin's worst. Granted, the black and white art isn't his best work either, the garrish, slopping colours and blocky printing process give this book the look of some bad self-published comic made by a teenager. Figures look half-finished, backgrounds hastily drawn, and the colours just thrown on. Starlin does try to use some different techniques, like high contrast shading, and the more illustrative style that would show up in his painted work. Nothing coheres, though. I'd have to see the originals to really compare the quality.

Darklon is significant because he eventually appeared in some Marvel books as Darklore in Warlock Chronicles #1 and, then, at the end of Starlin's run on Warlock & The Infinity Watch. He's older, his look is the same, there are references to his home planet being destroyed, and the name is similar. Before I knew about Darklon, Darklore simply struck me as an interesting look at another hero-type to compare with Adam Warlock. Now, the way that the Soul Gem tries to take him over, but fails seems like an allusion to Starlin's brief work on the character before doing Dreadstar and, eventually, returning to Warlock.

Darklon the Mystic is definitely one for the Starlin fans only.

Monday, January 03, 2011

CBR Review: S.H.I.E.L.D. #5

I recently reviewed S.H.I.E.L.D. #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "It’s not always easy to forge a clear and concise opinion of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s one of the more challenging and different titles published by Marvel in a year that saw more Strange Tales, Spider-Man: Fever, and Deadpool MAX hit the stands. Jonathan Hickman has a large story to tell and is still in the process of setting the mood and context. But, does that mean we just ignore the lack of plot? Or the fragmentary storytelling that doesn’t actually provide a context? We’re five issues in and I can’t really say what S.H.I.E.L.D. is about beyond a vague description about the secret organization and some historical figures. It’s a comic you have to give a large benefit of the doubt to and, as it approaches the end of its first volume, how much longer should that benefit be extended?"

You can read the rest HERE!

CBR Review: Secret Warriors #23

I recently reviewed Secret Warriors #23 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "'Don’t be an idiot, son. There is no out.' You had to see that line or some other like it coming when it came to Sebastian, a.k.a. Druid. When he was seemingly fired by Nick Fury because he was a liability, that couldn’t be the end of him with regards to Fury, because no one walks away, especially guys with potentially limitless magical ability. Fury had to have had some plans for someone like that and, here, after the events of 'Night,' we get to see what exactly Sebastian has been doing since he was fired six months ago."

You can read the rest HERE!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

CBR Review: Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #5

I recently reviewed Ultimate Comics Avengers 3 #5 for CBR and, in the process, wrote the following sentences: "Well, at least the vampires have finally attacked. 'Blade versus the Avengers' has somehow outmatched previous Ultimate Comics Avengers story arcs for its maddeningly slow pace. This is the penultimate issue in the story and it ends in such a way that the desired 'Oh, no, how ever will Nick Fury and his Avengers defeat the evil vampires?!?' isn’t there so much as 'Alright, now what lame "twist" or "surprise" is going to be pulled out of someone’s butt to get this thing done in one issue?' The tension that this comic leaves has nothing to do with the story; It has everything to do with the storytelling. Namely, if so little has happened in five issues, how can one issue wrap up what appears to be quite a lot?"

You can read the rest HERE!

Hello Cosmic Part 28: The Metamorphosis Odyssey, The Price, the Dreadstar graphic novel, and Dreadstar #1-31

[During the month of December 2010, I wrote about Dreadstar at a rate of one issue per day on Comics Should be Good. The posts fit into my larger examination of Jim Starlin's cosmic work, so here's an archive.]

The Metamorphosis Odyssey, The Price, and the Dreadstar graphic novel
Dreadstar #1
Dreadstar #2
Dreadstar #3
Dreadstar #4
Dreadstar #5
Dreadstar #6
Dreadstar #7
Dreadstar #8
Dreadstar #9
Dreadstar #10
Dreadstar #11
Dreadstar #12
Dreadstar #13
Dreadstar #14
Dreadstar #15
Dreadstar #16
Dreadstar #17
Dreadstar #18
Dreadstar #19
Dreadstar #20
Dreadstar #21
Dreadstar #22
Dreadstar #23
Dreadstar #24
Dreadstar #25
Dreadstar #26
Dreadstar #27
Dreadstar #28
Dreadstar #29
Dreadstar #30
Dreadstar #31