Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Sunday Open: Fourth Week of April 2008

I didn't know that the shop I go to here in Windsor doesn't open until noon... until this past Thursday when I arrived via bus shortly after eleven. Shits. Thankfully, there's a lovely little cafe nearby, so I was able to kill an hour by finishing South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami (my second time reading it--and if you haven't read anything by Murakami, you should). That has little to do with this week's comics, but I think an anecdote is a nice way to begin.

The Death of the New Gods #8

Since I haven't been reading Countdown at all, I have no idea how this relates to it. I've been reading this series because it's Jim Starlin and the New Gods will play a big role in Final Crisis. What I love about this issue is that the cover has Superman kneeling, looking like he's been trying to take a shit for three days, the New Gods in the background, and shouting "NO! / IT CAN'T END LIKE THIS!"... a feeling shared by many, no doubt.

Myself included, because this series provides little closure. Apparently Darkseid died in Countdown, killed by Orion (or was it Orion's soul as it appears in this issue?), which you'd think would happen in a book called The Death of the New Gods. Ah well. New Genesis and Apokolips collide to form a new planet that's half of each. Superman is powerless to do anything. Darkseid escapes after nearly beating down the Source.

I enjoyed this mini-series, because I like Starlin's work, but it works only on that level. Reading this book for any other reason than to appreciate Starlin would be worthless, I think.

That said, bring on Holy War. Starlin. Lim. Hells yes.

Mighty Avengers #12

See, this is the type of tie-in issue I can get behind despite the fact that the Skrull take on Avengers #4's cover has nothing to do with the comic itself. We get a glimpse at what Nick Fury has been doing since Secret War and how he's made it his mission to stop the Skrull invasion. It's a solid issue that fills in some blanks and raises more questions than answers--particularly those final two pages. I know Bendis must have giggled himself silly with those pages. What do the red and blue circles mean exactly? Is that who is a Skrull, or just how Fury thinks is a Skrull? Wolverine and Spider-Man are circled in different colours... Alex Maleev's art is its typical loveliness.

Star Trek: New Frontier #2

Goddamn, I love Peter David's Trek stuff. Seriously, he is probably one of the top five writers to ever touch the property. Here, he kicks off the second issue with a few laughs, which is always nice. However, I'm not sure the pacing for this series is completely down. Since I'm used to the novels, this is moving much slower than I want--it seems like where we are at the end of issue two would be only 30 or 40 pages into a 200-plus-page novel. That said, I'm enjoying the crap out of this series and find myself wanting the next issue immediately.

Thor #8

A decent issue with some nice moments between Thor and Odin--as well as shedding new light on why Odin adopted Loki. We're eight issues in and now the main story can begin, it seems. Finally. This book has been a little too decompressed for my tastes. Djurdjevic's art continues to impress--hopefully, he'll get more interior work soon.

Hellblazer: Dangerous Habits

And, so, I finally get into Ennis's Hellblazer run. It took me long enough. I've gotten into the habit of buying a trade each week with my comics and keep looking at Ennis's Hellblazer stuff and it hit me: why am I not buying these? So, here we go.

At this point, you could argue that John Constantine is the one character that I will follow with any real devotion. Thankfully, I've yet to read anything too horrible involving him--mostly because Vertigo seems to do its best to protect the character.

Ennis's run kicks off with its most famous story about John dying of lung cancer. The Ennis here is one we don't see too often now, but we get glimpses of. His focus is so specific, so narrow on one character that it's almost surprising as Ennis tends to focus on ensembles now--even Punisher is more about the criminals than Frank a lot of the time. Not here: it's just Constantine. And it's a leisurely stroll through the Valley of Death that ends in a typical Constantine way: him pulling it all together to save himself and then realising that he nearly killed us all and feeling like a piece of shit.

I'm looking forward to the next trade.

Scalped: Indian Country and Scalped: Casino Boogie

I mentioned last week that I picked up these two trades while in London--well, finally finished the second one this week. And, yeah, it's a good book. I forgot while in the shop on Thursday, but, if I remember this week, I'll try to track down the singles that have come out since the end of the second book, and then begin buying this monthly. Will that make people happy? Good.

Regular posting will not resume this week, because I'm taking the next few days easy in preparation for my thesis defence on Thursday.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The last of my top ten that I expect to see

Well, Preacher has shown up at the #8 spot and that should be it for my top ten runs (I had it at #4). Eight out of ten isn't too bad (and I knew the other two were unlikely). So, to show where they all fell:

1. Stormwatch/The Authority (Warren Ellis) -- 271 points combined -- #83, #60 (#34 -- combined points, although that includes points by people who voted for both, most likely, so it would fall a little lower)
2. JLA (Grant Morrison) -- 574 -- #12
3. Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson) -- 418 points -- #23
4. Preacher (Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon) -- 857 points -- #8
5. Warlock (Jim Starlin) -- 109 points -- #86 (although, I'd rank this #6 now)
6. Wildcats (Joe Casey) -- 117 points -- #78 (and I'd rank this #5)
7. Punisher (Garth Ennis) -- 389 points - #24
8. Animal Man (Grant Morrison) -- 430 -- #21
9. Cable (Joe Casey)
10. Iron Fist (Ed Brubaker/Matt Fraction)

Now, should I do a series of posts justifying these rankings or can we all just assume I have my reasons?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Splash Page 12: Batman #675

Tim and I discuss Batman #675 in the new Splash Page. But, who gives a fuck, because, at the end, we each rank our favourite Grant Morrison superhero books and, once again, we see that Tim and I don't seem to actually see eye-to-eye on a lot of stuff. Okay, it's usually little minor differences of which work we enjoy most by a specific writer, thinking all of it really good, but whatever. In the world of hardcore comic criticism, we're world's apart.

My number two book...

Grant Morrison's JLA run has popped up at #12 on the top 100, but I ranked it at #2.

What I am surprised to see is Morrison's New X-Men ranked higher... dunno why, I just am (probably because I think his JLA work is better).

I only expect Preacher to show up soon, leaving Casey's Cable and the Brubaker/Fraction Iron Fist shunned.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

My 50 Favourite Albums Series Begins Elsewhere

As people seem to like lists and blog series, I wanted to direct you to My Daily Journal Thing where I've begun a series looking at my 50 favourite albums as of today. It will be updated randomly and not really have a point beyond me rambling on about whatever occurs to me while listening to the album in question. Also, the number assigned to each album is meaningless as that's just its spot in the alphabetical (and then chronological) list... which I randomised for the fun of it (and to avoid having to do posts on the same artist in a row).

I began things with Even in the Quietest Moments... by Supertramp. Yes, Supertramp. The band has three albums on my list.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

ideas stolen from my brain

As you may know, I presented at the Comic Arts Conference in San Francisco in late February on the idea of truth in autobiographical comics. I started my discussion with a brief look at James Frey's "memoir" A Million Little Pieces and continued on to briefly mention, among other authors who deal with truth in fiction, Tim O'Brien. That all served as introduction to my discussion of one particular autobiographical comic, "Showing Helder" by Chester Brown. During my speech I made mention of other autobiographical works by Brown, such as I Never Liked You and The Playboy, as well as the autobio works of Brown's friends Joe Matt and Seth.

So today I got a copy of a new book I've been meaning to read for a while, This Book Contains Graphic Language: Comics as Literature by Rocco Versaci. Rocco Versaci is an English professor at Palomar College whose work I first became aware of via when I first proposed a comic book course in Olney several years ago. This book came out in December, and sometime between then and February I found a copy of it in Borders one day. I recognized the author's name and thought I should pick it up, but I didn't have the money at the moment. When I finally made the decision to buy it, in the hopes of reading it before my presentation, I went back to the store but the only copy they had was sold. I searched everywhere around the city but couldn't find another copy anywhere.

Recently when I placed an order on Amazon with some birthday money, I decided it would be a good time to pick up this book too. I ordered it, it came today, and I flipped through it quickly, planning to give it a proper read later.

As I flipped through, my eyes caught the words "Tim O'Brien." I stopped, went back and found the page, and read. It was a reference to his philosophy on truth in fiction as portrayed in the book The Things They Carried. I was aghast, so I turned to the front of that chapter. I discovered then the second chapter was called "Creating a 'Special Reality:' Comic Books vs. Memoir" and on the FIRST PAGE of that chapter Rocco Versaci is talking about... James Frey and A Million Little Pieces.

Versaci continues by addressing Chester Brown's use of literary techniques in some of his work on pages 39-43, particularly focusing on "Helder" and "Showing Helder" in pages 70-73. He also brings up Joe Matt on pages 64-66 and Seth on page 76.

I am really fucking glad that I didn't read this book before my presentation, because I HAD THESE IDEAS for years (and addressed some of them in the past when teaching "Showing Helder") before presenting on them, and if I HAD read this book, I would have felt like I needed to start my presentation over from scratch so as to avoid the implication of plagiarism. As it is, I feel rather foolish thinking that someone at that conference might end up reading this book and thinking I lifted my presentation from it, but there's nothing I can do about it now, as what's done is done.

I do think I'm going to email the organizer of the conference to point out the similarity to him, lest he think I'm a plagiarist. And of course I'm going to track down Rocco Versaci's email address too; the coincidence is too uncanny not to find him and point out to him.

Three of my top ten runs

Well, in the lastest post of five of the top 100 runs, I had three of my titles pop up: Garth Ennis's Punisher (7) at #24, Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson's Transmetropolitan (3) at #23, and Grant Morrison's Animal Man (8) at #21. So, that's six of my top ten to make it so far. I expect two more on my list will make it.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Wondercon presentations

Now that almost two months have passed, here’s a quick rundown of the presentations I saw at Wondercon:

Friday Feb 22—

Jeff Kahan was supposed to present on the first panel that day, but he didn’t make it. I wanted to get a copy of his book Caped Crusaders 101 but couldn’t, obviously, and that made me sad.

So David Baldizon presented the whole time on “Literacy and Social-Political Awareness” and talked about how he used comics to get his students thinking about concepts in new ways, concepts like Lois Lane as a feminist icon, the connections between Batman and Hamlet or Hulk and Jekyll/Hyde, Captain America as the Nazi ideal, or body images changing over the years as seen in representations of Superman. He brought two of his students to show off their own comics work and talked about how the students, when they were doing comics, were much more perfectionists than when they normally worked because they owned the ideas.

My presentation on “Showing Helder” started off the second panel, followed by Shawn O’Rourke’s presentation on Alan Moore and “Religious Pluralism in Promethea.” I hadn’t read Promethea so I didn’t get a ton out of his presentation unfortunately. He did discuss the concept of theosophy, all religious beings working together and being a part of the same pantheon, so I asked a question of him afterward in regards to that concept in Gaiman’s work, such as American Gods or Sandman: Season of Mists. Also he talked about Promethea’s use of another plane of existence called Immateria, which seemed to me to have a lot in common with the “Blazing World” of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But unfortunately he had not read THAT book, so he couldn’t comment on the similarities.

Saturday Feb 23—

The first panel of the day was all Douglas Wolk. And it was great. It was called The Sense-Shattering Novel of Ideas, and he was basically talking about how, because drawings are automatically the subjective interpretation of reality of the artist, they are naturally drawn to the type of metaphorical explorations that are rare in fiction these days. And then he just basically listed a whole bunch of metaphors that comics have dealt with, from their inception to the present day. And he talked about how, when the metaphor is non-existent, like with Hawkman, or way too obvious, like with Hawk and Dove, the characters tend to fail to catch on.

Some of the ideas he threw out included: how Spiderman’s earliest enemies all seemed to be old men, personifying the youth v. adulthood metaphor of the character; Iron Man being born out of Cold War fears, hence his Vietnam origins and his villains frequently being tied to foreign invaders; how the Flash’s rogues almost all rely on gadgetry, thus turning the book into an exploration of how science when used responsibly (by Barry Allen) can be used for good but also how it can be corrupted in the hands of others. He talked about Green Lantern, how as a galactic police officer he imposes his will on others constantly, and how he checks in with his morality via his oath regularly to avoid straying from the path he has established in his mind as right. And his weakness, yellow, is the color of fear, fear that his will might lead him astray (as we’ve seen with Parallax and the Sinestro Corps recently). He loved House of M for turning the identity metaphor of the mutant inside out, and he loved World War Hulk as a metaphor for post-9/11 blowback. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what he talked about in this truly interesting lecture.

The second panel had a cancellation so the entire hour and a half was taken up by Travis Langley, who spoke on the psychology of Batman. I have to say though that I found a lot of his insights rather elementary. At one point he claimed that such analyses into Batman’s psyche were lacking, and I wanted to shout out, “What about Batman Unmasked? What about The Many Faces of The Batman? Did you actually DO any research before you came here?” He also stole one of his images from my Long Halloween website, which I found kind of funny.

And the last panel I attended that day was called Teaching Comics, and it was a panel discussion that featured among others Stephen Cary, author of Going Graphic, and Gene Luen Yang, author of American-Born Chinese. It was a really insightful discussion and it was great to hear from other people who also use comics in the classroom… But I failed to take any notes during the presentation, so I simply cannot provide any kind of comments about this panel.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Sunday Open: Third Week of April 2008

I bought comics in two cities, none of which was New York. New York can kiss my ass for I have lovely Windsoria and London to go home to. As I'm tired and lazy, here are quick reviews (quicker than usual):

Captain America #34, 37

Finally got a copy of #34 and it wasn't anything that special--beyond being a typically high-quality issue of Captain America. For the record, I officially hate everyone who bought it just because Bucky shows up as the new Captain America and didn't continue buying the book after. I hate you all so much--if only because my not being able to find a copy until now would be offset by more people realising how great this comic is, but if you didn't buy an issue before or after, fuck you. Although, I suppose not liking the book would be a good reason, but then I'd have to question your taste in comics and the aesthetic criteria you use to judge which books you buy and which you don't and so on and so forth. So, basically, I don't like anyone who bought issue 34 and nothing else for a variety of reasons. Issue 37 is good, too.

Doktor Sleepless #6

I like this comic. It's crazy with big ideas and hidden character motivations and seems important. Also, it's weirdly entertaining as Warren Ellis comics are wont to be. Ivan Rodriguez draws pretty pictures, but played horribly against the Blue Jays today--I don't think he got a hit, but I could be wrong. His ability to draw well while playing professional baseball is astounding. The Jays/Tigers game, by the way, was pretty great. I had seats seven rows from the field (back and to the left from the visitors' dugout) and, damn, it was a good game. The Jays won 5-3. I got sunburnt on my arms. And I'm fairly certain this is a different Ivan Rodriguez, but I only just made the connection tonight and figured I'd use it to discuss the game quickly.

Ghost Rider #22

Ghost Rider versus a haunted highway. Fuck yes. And it looks like Danny Ketch may be back and working on the other side. Shit, I hope so. Jason Aaron is very good. So good that I bought the first two Scalped trades in London. I read the first one last night and it was good. Haven't gotten around the second one yet.

The Order #9

I hope Matt Fraction kills them all. Kill the whole fucking team. Why? Because, that's why. End the series with the death of them all and a victory for Stane that leads into Fraction's Iron Man book. And because people may not like that at all. Yeah.

The Programme #9-10

CP Smith's art is more clear in these two issues. The rush must be on a bit for him to finish. Consequently, these two issues are the best-looking of the series as he maintains his slightly-obscure style, but in a more coherent and easy to understand way. And Peter Milligan seems right on track. I'm liking the book, but two more issues are left, and they'll determine a lot.

Punisher War Journal #18

Wow, that was not worth an entire issue. I'm sorry, but it wasn't. That was a third of an issue at most. Much of this issue was unnecessary and a waste of time. I have decided that this storyline with Jigsaw determines if I keep buying this book and, so far, it's not looking good.

War is Hell: The First Flight of the Phantom Eagle #2

I should probably reread this issue as I read it last on Thursday just before drifting off to sleep in the afternoon for a brief nap. See, I had only slept, like, an hour-and-a-half the night before and was very tired. Most of this issue was read with me forcing my eyes to stay open and I probably didn't understand a lot of it as a result. But, I trust it was decent since Garth Ennis wrote it.

Batman: Dark Victory

Wow, this didn't make The Long Halloween seem better at all. Nor was this all that good. Better character work a lot of the time, but also some forced explanations for the behaviour of characters that was already established elsewhere (Catwoman). An almost interesting intellectual exercise about the replacement of the gangsters by the freaks, but not really--the fact that Two-Face got rid of the gangsters was a good touch, though. And for all the talk of Robin, he was barely in the fucking thing and didn't contribute much. The mystery also did nothing for me. Again.

That does it for now. Maybe more posts this week, but probably not.

review updates

I've got a huge pile of stuff I need to review for Playback, so expect reviews in the near future of Incognegro, Life Sucks, Flight Explorer vol. 1, Daddy's Girl, and Funeral of the Heart.

In the meantime, I participated in that site's celebration of Superman's 70th Anniversary by writing and article on Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? in which I very briefly discuss the nostalgia I have for that Alan Moore story.

Kind of a non-update, but there ya go.

Friday, April 18, 2008

The Splash Page 11: Top Runs

In this week's Splash Page, Tim and I discuss our top ten runs of all time... well, some of them. Between the two of us, there are 19 runs, so we don't get to quite a few of them. We even discuss Warren Ellis's Stormwatch/Authority run... and Tim agrees with me: it is one run. So take that naysayers. Tim and I are usuallly right on our own, but when we agree about something, there's no doubt.

Anyway, go read it. Please.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Small Break

Alright, because of various things, I will be putting my look at Joe Casey's Wildcats run on hold for a week or two. Just school and personal stuff, no biggie--I'm just not in the right headspace to do a good enough job. My Sunday reviews will still happen, mostly because I can rant and rave like a lunatic without it affecting quality too much.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #15

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Christ, my brain is very, very tired. On Sunday, I lost five thousand words of my novel/thesis in a PDA "fatal error" that caused the document to just disappear. Thankfully, it wasn't a substantive amount of text, only being what I'd written on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. So, yesterday, I did a marathon writing session to rewrite it all--and complete the section. But, that did mean the novel is, basically, finished (barring revisions and a couple of additions, plus the essay I have to write for it). That's my way of saying that I'm mentally drained and if this post isn't that long or great, that's why.

Thankfully, this is part two of the six-part "Serial Boxes," so not a whole lot worth discussing.

--Samuel Smith continues to track down and seduce women with the last name Marlowe only to use his superpowers (heat vision) to kill them.

--Noir is assigned to work alongside Void on Halo's Otherspace project.

--Pris continues to shop (and then return her purchases) with the Halo credit card under the name of Marlowe--she and Jeremy discuss their heritage a little and she seems apathetic

--Smith heads for Miami

--the introduction of Agents Wax and Mohr of the National Park Service. They are on the trail of Smith.

--the introduction of Anthony Pacheco, an LAPD captain

--Smith begins his seduction of Pris

What does it all mean? Important characters first appear here, specifically Agent Wax, who is a major player in Casey's run. The Smith v. Marlowe family feud continues as he reaches his penultimate stop. The introduction of Otherspace, a concept from Casey's Mr. Majestic run--and Noir's growing ambitions/antipathy for Void. Note his treatment in subsequent chapters of this story. Jeremy is close to curing Pris, but does she want to be cured of her Daemonite heritage?

Everything is questions right now, which is to be expected. I'll be better on Thursday.

Monday, April 14, 2008

2008 Eisner nominations

This year's Eisner nominations are available for viewing at Heidi's blog.

And here are my (Steve's) thoughts on the categories that I care enough to have opinions about:

I'm surprised to see Johnny Hiro nominated a few times. I thought that book was lame, and I wouldn't give it a vote in any of its categories it's nominated in.

I think Dan Clowes is a shoo-in for best short story because... he's Dan Clowes. But I'd like to see either of the Mome contributions win, or Town of Evening Calm. all good stories.

The best single issue nominees I've read, I didn't care for. So no opinion there.

Darwyn Cooke's The Spirit deserves best ongoing, even though it's got stiff competition from a final issue of Y that kicked all kinds of ass and the sheer geek joy that is Buffy. But The Spirit is beautiful and captures the tone of an earlier era but with a modern twist.

I could see Nightly News winning best Limited, and people (including me) loved Umbrella Academy. But I'd kinda love to see Parade with Fireworks win, because it was damn good and got no hype.

Best new Series is a tight race but I'd love to see Scalped win. In the end however if I were laying money on the outcome, I'd guess Buffy would win.

Scott Chantler's Northwest Passage doesn't seem to me like it is necessarily a "teen" book, but it's still quite good. Unfortunately I think Sturm will win for Satchel Paige (that's again based on his name more than anything else; I haven't actually read this yet).

Perry Bible Fellowship for Best Humor, and if you challenge me on this, I'll call in unicorns to gore your ass.
Mome for Best Anthology. Ever.

Again, I still need to read Satchel Paige, but I'd vote White Rapids for best "reality-based" work, whatever that means. Such a finely crafted book, although its "story" is negligible.

Exit Wounds for best new graphic album, Super Spy by Matt Kindt for best reprint. Both were absolutely fantastic books.

I like that Best US Edition of International Material is given a separate category for stuff from Japan... it allows the Europeans to stand a chance. I vote... I Killed Adolf Hitler (hard choice though) and I'll give Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms my manga nod. Quite a thoughtful book. If I had to guess, though, the buzz I've heard about MW would make me think it'll actually win.

Brubaker for best writer I guess, though I'd be happy if any of them won. Criminal is just too damn good.

Rutu Modan for best writer/artist.

(I'm skipping many of the art categories, as in the end, I just don't care enough.)

Matt Silday for special recognition

and Reading Comics for best comics-related book, because I often imagine it's the kind of book Chad and I would have written together if we'd had the chance.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Sunday Open: Second Week of April 2008

Welcome to another edition of me writing very short, unhelpful reviews! This week, I took a major step and created a pull list here in Windsor. This was the result of the shop sometimes being sold out of books I wanted (maybe one a week at most, often not) and me being sick of having to wait until I got back to London for some books. I still have the pull list in London, too. But, it wasn't a huge week (and next week looks even more slight), so let's get to it...

ClanDestine #3

I love that Alan Davis is revisiting his Excalibur run, even though I haven't read it. Great concept. As was Newton's sexual roleplaying. The rest of the issue is kind of iffy, but the suspense keeps growing as we're left wondering "What the fuck is going on?" Also, I'm a little annoyed that we only get two more issues as this is a very, very good comic.

Fantastic Four #556

While this is not. I'm sticking with this title through next issue, because I want to see how Millar and Hitch handle a complete story arc... and so far, it's horrible. What is the plot? No, seriously, what is goddamn plot? Okay, this issue kind of has one with the giant robot Captain killing people, because "Smart people create robot that then goes crazy and begins killing people" is ever so original. But, beyond that, what's the plot? What does any of this matter? Gee, "Mrs. Fantastic" was smart enough to make sure the robot wouldn't kill her, but not smart enough to actually have control over the fucking thing? I am loving how Millar is trying to present these people as being smart enough to build an exact replica of the planet Earth, but too stupid to build a robot that won't go crazy and kill people without at least one hundred different means of shutting it down instantly. And, I'm sorry, but this is the worst artwork by Bryan Hitch I've seen since before he came on board Stormwatch. I don't know if it's the colouring or the inking or just Hitch, but it looks half-finished and muddied and not at all up to his normal standards. Unless the next issue is quite literally THE BEST COMIC EVER WRITTEN, I won't read another issue short of someone handing me them all for free with the promise of a memory wipe at the end if I so choose. (Oh, and do you think my assessment is a little overboard, a little hyperbolic? Well, that's the only way to discuss a Mark Millar comic as he himself will tell you.)

Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin #6

A decent ending to a decent story. Iron Man and the Mandarin fight. Iron Man wins. The Mandarin will be back. Who didn't see that coming? But, Casey does a solid job and Eric Canete's art is fantastic. I really like this sketchier, more fluid style he used on this book.

The Last Defenders #2

Ah, Douchebag Iron Man is back as he disbands the Defenders after they cause a lot of property damage in Jersey fighting a giant fucking lizard. Of course, this is obviously meant to show Stark as a hypocrite and tool, considering the amount of property damage he alone has been responsible for is staggering. It's also an interesting attempt by Casey and Giffen to show that things have changed. Now that superheroes are all registered, the old shit isn't acceptable: if they're going to be professionals, then they're going to act like professionals. Nighthawk isn't that good a superhero, though, as demontrated here. He is a decent one, I suppose, but not in the same league as the big boys and probably shouldn't be running a team. The running commentary on the fight is solid, as is the rest of the issue. This is turning out to be a really good series that combines old and new styles to comment on the state of the current Marvel universe a little bit.

Wolverine #64

Didn't I see Logan's trick from this issue in Preacher? Heh. Doesn't change the fact that this is a pretty decent but brainless story. Logan does what it takes to try and kill Mystique, while she does what it takes to escape. Pretty simple and Jason Aaron is doing a great job. I'm even digging on Ron Garney's art here, which is odd since I'm usually not a big fan. Next issue is my last for this book (it's actually a fluk that I've been buying it almost for a year, really) since Millar and McNiven take over for that story about old man Logan or somesuchshit.

Young Liars #2

Oooooooooooooh-kay. This isn't a bad issue, but is hurt by our not knowing these characters better. We get one issue in the present and then a flashback issue right away? It seems a litle... off, unless it's going to be a back-and-forth story structure. Maybe this will look better in the context of a few more issues. As it is, it falls a little flat. But, I did enjoy parts of it--just not as much as I feel I should have. I am liking how the cover is the first panel of the issue--a technique that I'm surprised more people don't use. This series looks like it will either be very good or very bad. I'm looking forward to seeing which.

Army@Love: The Hot Zone Club

I picked up the first issue of this when it first came out and wasn't that impressed. I wish I could say that the trade changed my mind. Rick Veitch has some interesting ideas, but that's about it: they're interesting ideas... so what? I find the execution lacking here. There's not much substance despite the fact that these are dense comics. Maybe I'm not the target audience as it is very much a soap opera with the intricate plots of who is sleeping with whom (and did I actually get the who/whom thing correct there? You'd think as a writer and English grad student, I would know such things, but I don't...) and I really don't care. All of the characters are vapid, superficial and not really worth my time. The only sequence that really impressed me was when the mom of a mentally challenged soldier shows up during a firefight to ensure that he's being treated equally. It was a cheap book, though, only ten bucks. I do dig the art as Veitch and Gary Erskine make a great team. Anyone else paying attention to this book? Thoughts?

Batman: The Long Halloween

Finally picked this up as I've heard many good things... and it was okay. It was competent and did the job, but didn't really go above and beyond. I'm sure that this was one book that read better monthly in singles where the whole "Who is Holiday?" mystery could keep up the interest. In trade-form, though, it all goes by so fast that it isn't nearly as engrossing as it should be. As well, the story is so sprawling as far as a cast goes, you never really get a chance to latch onto anyone. We're supposed to feel for the Dents and I did--but just not as much as I feel I was supposed to. I've always thought that mystery stories work best when the narrative perspective is focused on one character--and Batman narrates the story, but we also get scenes that he didn't witness. Imagine if, during one of Raymond Chandler's novels, we suddenly got some scenes thrown in that Marlowe wasn't present for. It would fuck up the story. Now, Loeb does do it consistently enough that it doesn't become too much of a problem, but it took me out of the story at times. Tim Sale's art is great and I loved the pages where Harvey Dent is knocked out and Sale's layout on those pages.

Getting this also gave me a chance to read Steve's essay on the identity of Holiday, and he makes a really strong case--one I'd have to agree with--but, as I've said before, I'm not the type to care about the solution to a mystery, which could be another reason why this book didn't wow me. Where other mystery writers can engross you without making the solution of the mystery the only reason to keep reading, I'm not sure Loeb did that. He tried, but didn't succeed for me.

That said, I may pick up Dark Victory this week, because it was an enjoyable enough read. It just doesn't live up to the hype, for me.

And that does it for this week.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Splash Page 10: Criminal 2 #2

The new Splash Page is up. Okay, okay, it's a day late and that's my fault with my staying out to all hours drinking and shit with my fellow grad students (followed up with my sitting on the couch, eating chips and watching The Prisoner, which I got on DVD this week--it is amazing, by the way, go buy it). You see, our academic lives are coming to an end and we can't act this way in the "real world," because they tend to call you things like "alcoholics" and "unemployed losers" and "criminals." Speaking of which, Tim and I discuss Criminal 2 #2 (actually, is it officially called Criminal 2 or should we just be calling it Criminal?). Tim, on the other hand, is a responsible man who also delayed the column by going to bed early. We may live on the polar opposites of life, but we came together this week with some shared love for one of the best comics out there. We also drop some knowledge on narrative voice, buying habits and diversity in comics. It's quite possibly the smartest weekly column on comics you'll find... or, at the very least, it's in the top ten. Whatever, just go read it.

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #14

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

We begin "Serial Boxes" here, a story where nearly every loose thread comes together in one way or another. Like most first issues of an arc, this one is set-up.

The first scene has an old man coming to the bed of another old man but the second is in a coma of some sort. The first old man talks about how he was the second's aide back when the second was a mob boss who could shoot fire from his eyes until a midget fried his brain. The aide has kept track of the midget, who we know as Emp, Saul Baxter and Jacob Marlowe. Although Emp is dead, he has family (Jack Marlowe), so the aide contacted the mob boss's grandson who also has the ability to shoot fire from his eyes. The aide told him everything and the grandson seems quite insane. The aide unplugs the mob boss and then takes a pill, committing suicide.

Jack Marlowe is meeting with Chinese businessmen and discusses Halo as a force beyond politics, using business to make the world better--the meeting is interrupted by news footage of a high speed chase, so Marlowe flies over then and lands right in front of the criminals's car... which barely damages his suit. He's taken in for questioning, but leaves when not charged with anything.

In Miami, Jeremy Stone is running some tests on Pris. He promised to take her shopping in return, but backs out--he does tell her to take whatever she needs from his wallet, where she finds a Halo credit card for J Marlowe.

The grandson, Samuel Smith is in bed with a woman he just met. She asks about him and he tells the story of his grandfather and Emp, and when he mentions the name Jacob Marlowe, she remarks that her name is Marlowe, too, isn't that a coincidence? His eyes light up.

This will be a story about family and the legacy of family. Smith hunts down Marlowes in an attempt to avenge his grandfather despite the fact that Emp is dead. Pris is not a Marlowe, but may as well be as she's part of the extended family. Void has returned, also a member of the family. So is Maxine and Jeremy and Grifter. Jeremy is concerned with the genetic fallout of his and Pris's family, namely the Kheran and Daemonites, and the effect it has.

As well, this is, again, a post-superhero book, in a sense, but it has many superhero elements. In this issue, Marlowe acts like Superman, but you will note that his costume is now his business suit. He is not above getting his hands dirty, but that is not the way in which he chooses to make the world better. Here, he tries to do business with Chinese business in an attempt to free that country from its communist dictatorship.

He also now has an archenemy, of sorts, in Sam Smith, a man who shoots fire from his eyes. They will have a confrontation. Smith attacks Marlowe in the way that villains often do, through loved ones--here, not really, as having the same last name does not mean a blood relation, especially in this case as this Marlowe is not human and neither was Emp. The name means nothing. It is much like the superhero name in that sense--it is chosen, it is a disguise. Jack Marlowe's secret identity is Spartan, a Kheran android meant to act as a bodyguard. However, that secret identity no longer exists... the superhero has taken over completely. Ironically, his secret identity is his former superhero name and his superhero name is what we'd normally consider a secret identity. In a traditional comic, he would be mild-mannered Jack Marlowe during the day and the superhero Spartan at night.

That's all I have for now. See you Tuesday for more.

The other half of my #1 run...

Well, the other half of my pick for top run has charted at #60. I still say that Ellis's Stormwatch and Authority are one run, though. I explain that in the comments section of the post that had Stormwatch listed (right near the bottom, I have two comments that sum up my position pretty much).

Regular Saturday post later.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Ladytron

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats with the special dedicated to Ladytron. Do you need to read it to understand Casey's run? Hells no, but that doesn't mean it's not important. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Actually, this special isn't that important and it doesn't reveal anything that noteworthy--but considering Maxine's fate in the upcoming Serial Boxes, it's worth looking at. There are some interesting bits of foreshadowing.

This story tells of Maxine's past up to her introduction in Alan Moore's first issue of WildC.A.T.S. as the special ends with her learning of the drug deal she decides to rip-off in that issue. Maxine has, apparently, always been a bitch as she's kicked out of school for apparently beating up the headmaster. Instead of trying to present Maxine in a sympathetic light through various cliche beginnings (the dad who molested or beat her; the mom who didn't pay attention, whatever, etc.), he just presents this horrible person and let's the reader make its own judgement.

After "leaving" school, she spends a few years hooking up with men and slaughtering them until it all goes wrong and the police nearly kill her after a robbery. Then, Dr. Khaz turns her into the cyborg we all know and love. She escaped and is eventually captured. She's then released to hunt down a robot, Stanley Khaz built--but the two fall in love and go on a Natural Born Killers type killing spree/lovey dovey honeymoon. Then, they get the bright idea to kill Khaz, but he hits a button and Stanley is reprogrammed, causing Maxine to kill him and the doc.

Faimly is big here as Maxine marries her half-brother, in a sense, kills her "father" with an electric kiss--and, at one point, Khaz uses Maxine's disconnect arm to... well, give himself a handjob. This is clearly a world where family is fucked up. The issue begins with Maxine living in a place with these robot stuffed animals, allowing her to regress to an innocent child, in a sense, but they betray her to Khaz. We never learn about the home life of the Manchesters, though, so we don't know what happened there.

The reprogramming of Stanley foreshadows Maxine's eventual destruction and reprogramming at the hands of Noir... and then Jack Marlowe.

Eric Canete provides some fantastic art that is energetic, sexy and very disturbing. He shines when he's drawing mechanical stuff and this issue is no exception.

This issue ties into the main run thematically and through a little foreshadowing, but doesn't do much else. Really only for the hardcore completists.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Top 10 Runs: Wildcats

Joe Casey's run on Wildcats landed at #78 on the top 100 runs list. I voted for it as number six.

So, that's two-and-a-half of my ten runs to show up (and we'll assume the other half will surface at some point).

Half of My Number One Run...?

Well, half of my number one run (well, really, just over two thirds of it) placed #83 on the top 100 runs. That being Warren Ellis's Stormwatch, which I count as one run with The Authority. Here, Cronin separates the two, which I think is a mistake--if only because The Authority is just "book three" of a large, 38-part story where each book is a response to what came before (which means the first book has an implied response) and builds on it to make a statement. I don't have time right now to discuss it in detail, but I may soon. Although, I should say that I added a note to my vote that if he was going to split them up, I wanted my vote to count for The Authority--which was a mistake. It's one run.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats Annual 2000

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats, which you just know made my top ten runs of all time... but what spot? Hmm? New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Okay, this issue actually takes place... well, I don't know when it takes place exactly. It doesn't take place before Serial Boxes, but it also doesn't really take place during that storyline. I'm sticking it here, because it makes a bit of sense to happen between storylines.

This annual was part of a month of Wildstorm annuals called "Devil's Night" where some big bad guy raised the dead or some such shit. Four annuals were involved--the first and the last were written by Ben Raab and actually dealt with that plot directly. The middle two were written by Joe Casey and really just use the "raising the dead" shit to tell a couple of solid stories. In the other annual, for The Authority, the team fights against the black ops Stormwatch squad that Midnighter and Apollo were created for. Here, Casey continues to explore his pet themes of family, what to do when the war ends, and post-superhero comics. Also, it has fantastic art by Lee Bermejo, who doesn't seem to draw the insides of comics anymore--which is a damn shame.

In this issue, Max Cash returns from the grave and haunts his brother's life. We open with Cole waking up and there's Max... and then he's gone. The rest of the issue meanders around this resurrection as Cole is disturbed by it--as is Ladytron, who we'll remember had a thing for Max back during Alan Moore's run on WildC.A.T.S. Last we saw her, she was in LA, but, in this issue, Jack Marlowe has Void transport her back to New York.

Cole is the true focus of this issue as he has his dead brother on one hand and Reno Bryce, the superhero formerly known as Warblade on the other. These are the two possibilities for Cole: death or retirement. He knows this and retirement would be so easy, because the war he fought is long over, but he can't give up on it. As he says at the very end of the issue: "SOME OF US CAN'T ESCAPE WHAT WE ARE... / ...AND ALL THE THINGS WE HAVE TO LIVE WITH BECAUSE OF IT. / BIG DEAL." Just prior to this, he tells Reno to stay retired, because he's managed to escape this life, while Cole never will--by choice.

Reno Bryce is an interesting character in this issue as he represents the post-superhero, post-war element of the book best as he lives a normal life. In one scene, he actually uses his powers to end a barfight, but we don't see it happen. The entire fight happens off-screen, because it's not important... it's really just an old memory invading the present, a reminder of what he once was, and seeing that would undermine the progress he's made. Casey needs to tease the reader with the possibility of action to remind the reader that that's no longer the life led by this character... or, for the most part, any of these characters.

Marlowe and Void play a small role in this issue, but act as the reminder of the family unit these characters have created. This idea of family will be big in Serial Boxes. As well, the real family in this book, the Cash brothers, is one of dysfunction where Cole ends up having to utterly destroy his brother's body at the end by firing two guns at it at point blank range. Casey's work is often filled with a distrust of biological families and a favouring of created families, of groups of people who choose to be with one another rather than thrown together through the random chance of biology.

On Thursday, I will look at Ladytron.

Top 100 Runs Has Begun

Over at Comics Should Be Good, Brian Cronin has begun posting the results of his poll to determine the top 100 comic runs. So far, he's done 100-86 with five more planned later tonight.

As of yet, only one run on my top ten has shown up: Jim Starlin's Warlock, which I ranked as number five and has tied for 86th on the top 100. I won't reveal my top ten until the entire top 100 is up--but, I may post anytime a run that was on my top ten makes the top 100.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Sunday Open: First Week of April 2008

Very brief week. Partly because of what shipped; partly because I really shouldn't send too much time writing reviews of comics when there's work to be done.

Anna Mercury #1

Ah, I love how Warren Ellis seems to have a very sink-or-swim attitude going on in this book. He hints at a lot of stuff, but never really explains anything, figuring that any reader picking up this book should be smart enough to put the pieces together. And, he's right--the basic concept seems pretty simple enough, same with the actual plot. Anna Mercury is trying to make sure one city/nation does not wipe out another using a big fucking ray gun that's on a moon colony. She is powered by some central source that can't give her a lot of power. She's kind of like a superhero. The last page reveal helps put a few more pieces into place. I'm looking forward to seeing what Ellis has planned here--and any fan of Morrison may want to check this book out as it's covering some similar territory.

The Boys #17

Okay, I finished this issue and looked at the cover again and laughed at how right it is. That has got to be one of the most perfect covers for a comic I've ever seen. You can see it here. Why is that cover so appropriate? Well, Hughie and Annie finally hook up and... well, it's a certain time of the month and... okay, so Garth Ennis isn't always the most "witty" of writers, but he does handle the scene well--particularly Butcher's reaction when he picks Hughie up the next morning and Hughie has no idea what's on his face. The final page of the issue is also really fucking funny in many wrong ways--namely a reanimated Blarney Cock invading Hughie's apartment because "AH WANNND MAH HAMMZDAH BAGGGKK...!" Clearly, Ennis is a very bad man... but, this is a very good comic.

Cable #2

This, on the other hand, is not a very good comic. It's not very bad, either, though. If this and the first issue had been combined, it would have made for a much stronger beginning to the series as this feels like the second-half of a double-sized debut issue. Cable and Bishop have a showdown until some locals show up and decide to... kill them both? What? The final couple of pages were ruined by Ariel Olivetti's horrible 3-D rendition of a semi truck that doesn't even attempt to fit in with the rest of the art. The issue, like last, ends on a pretty solid cliffhanger. I'm on board for now.

Infinity, Inc. #8

Okay, so my fears that Pete Woods and costumes would mess with the weird fun Peter Milligan has been cooking up with this comic were laid to rest here. Woods has altered his style to fit in with the tone already set and the costumes are almost treated like a superficial element without any real effect. All they do is set up the group as officially having the goal of dealing with the fall-out of Lex Luthor's Everyman Project and the fact that those who were part of it seem to gain new powers and go insane. There's also a subplot about Gerome's multiple copies wanting to kill him, kind of--and his refusal to wear a costume fits with the rest of the commentary on superhero teams. I do hope this title manages to stick around, but I don't see it lasting beyond issue twelve.

Omega the Unknown #7

Huh, this issue has no credits. But, it continues apace, being all awesome and intriguing. We get a few more hints about the overall picture with three issues left to go.

I also bought Secret Invasion #1, but disucssed that with Tim and don't have much to add. I picked up a trio of Stormwatch trades to complete my collection, but don't have much to say about them right now. I'll probably discuss them at a later date.

See... brief.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Playback updates

Here are three reviews I've written recently for Playback St. Louis, as well as a feature article on teaching a class on comics.
Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi
White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet
Midnight Sun by Ben Towle
Bringing Comics into the Classroom

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #13

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

Okay, the title of this issue is "ТРИНАДЦАТБ" (or maybe "ТРИНА ДЦАТБ") and I have no idea what that is supposed to mean as no translation tools online will give me anything close to English. But, this issue focuses on Void in one of Casey's more trippy comics.

The focus of the comic is on Adrianna Tereshkova, the human that has bonded with the Void entity and the problems encountered by the relationship between the two. We get flashes of Adrianna's past, including her family life and the pressure put on her by her father to be a great cosmonaut--and her rebelling only to settle into that life anyway.

Here, the Void entity is mistakenly cast as the Archangel that Adrianna's father always discusses and Adrianna realises this, which is part of what causes the problem. It is about control and who has dominance in the relationship, when neither does.

Again, this issue is really about what happens after a war. In Adrianna's case, her life was defined by the Cold War and living under communism in the Soviet Union--which fell just prior to WildC.A.T.S. #1 where she became involved in another war. For that time, she and the Void entity needed one another--there was purpose there. But, now, what purpose is there?

In the end, Adrianna chooses to forego life and die, leaving Void soulless. Void falls to Earth, specifically to Halo's offices and the arms of Jack Marlowe. Adrianna goes to heaven, is reunited with her father and sister, and finally meets the mother she never knew.

Like other issues in this first collection, Vicious Circles, this is merely set-up. The elimination of Adrianna from Void is a necessary one for the direction of the book. It also brings Void back into the fold, specifically as an ally of Marlowe.

This issue ends the first trade of Casey's run. Before starting Serial Boxes, I will look at the "Devil's Night" annual as it ties into the run and the Ladytron special that Casey did with Eric Canete.

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Splash Page 9: Secret Invasion #1

New Splash Page in which Tim and I discuss Secret Invasion #1. I would hype things up this week per usual, but I think our track record speaks many truths--namely, that Tim and I are amazing comic critics and if you're not reading this column, you hate comics. And, quite possibly, puppies. How can you hate comics and puppies, you inhuman monster?

As well, I want to point out that Tim is also a new reviewer over at Comic Book Resources. Sure, he's sometimes wrong, but it's good stuff nonetheless.

Lots of reading for you to do, so you best get to it.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #12

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

This issue has Spartan establish himself as Jack Marlowe, the nephew of Jacob Marlowe, one of Emp's human alias. This includes a funeral for Jacob Marlowe as well as a move from New York to Los Angeles--and, one can't ignore the name Marlowe when looking at that move.

One of the main thrusts is Marlowe's control of Halo now and his using the company's resources to better the world. Not much is explored here, but the set-up is done in a scene where the PR person for the company is weirded out that all of the talk is taken seriously by Marlowe.

A big chunk of the issue has us checking in on Pris and Jeremy in Miami as they get a message from Marlowe about the funeral ahead of time. This shakes up Pris as she and "Hadrian" have a past--which will come into play in the six-part "Serial Boxes" soon. Not much is done here, either, but it acts nicely as set-up.

Noir is positioned as an employee of Halo and Grifter drops Maxine on Marlowe's doorstep. The final page sets up next issue's focus on Void.

Casey continues to lay the foundation for his run by giving a lot of information with little payoff. I did enjoy the short scene between Marlowe and Grifter as Casey continues to use them as foils for one another.

Sean Phillips continues to wow, his mastery of body language and facial expressions doing much of the work here.

Next issue: Void.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Joe Casey Comics: Wildcats #11

[Continuing my look at Joe Casey's run on Wildcats. New posts Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.]

This is a very straight-forward issue that acts as a transition between the previous three issues and the rest of the run, in a way. Most of the issue follows Grifter being hired to find something that turns out to be Maxine Manchester, aka Ladytron--which results in fighting evil child robots and a couple of robotic religious people. Very action-filled, kind of funny and defines what Grifter's post-WildC.A.T.S. plans are: mercenary and guy-who-shoots guns. He does not evolve.

The reintroduction of Ladytron is a fun one as Casey writes her very well. She is pure id and Casey runs with it. She is also the first reintroduction of the second group of WildC.A.T.S. that Alan Moore brought in while the first team was in space. Casey's run is very much about building on the past and Ladytron has also lost her way like the other characters. She has had two causes in her life, Tao's war on crime and the rbot religion where she was a nun, and both have led nowhere, leaving her unfulfilled and purposeless. She comes from a different place than the others, but fits in with them well.

There is a two-page scene that gives us the full message from Emp to Spartan where he informs Spartan that Halo is his, that it's all been set up and Spartan can do what he wants, free from the influence and goals of Emp. Casey is very smart to make this the only Spartan scene in this issue, as it sets up next issue's big revelation as to what Spartan's next move is.

So, join me next time when we meet Jack Marlowe, new chairman and CEO of Halo.