Friday, November 30, 2012

Monthly Dose: November 2012

Monthly Dose is a semi-regular column where I reread one issue each month of long-completed series.

100 Bullets #1: There's a very interesting and well-put-together structure at play here. We get only the briefest introduction to Dizzy as a character before she meets Graves and he offers her proof of who killed her family and 100 untraceable bullets with which to do something about it. It is only after this intriguing set-up that the issue truly dives into Dizzy herself, though Graves does give the reader a rundown of her history during their conversation. Still, I really dig the approach of first sucking us in with a mystery, and then winning us over completely with this excellent portrait of a thoughtful, brave, intelligent woman who's been dealt such a shitty hand that she's trying to play a different game entirely. Dizzy is an amazing character, very human but somehow also slightly above it all. She is the only real voice of reason, surrounded by low-level criminals and corrupt cops with narrow, selfish viewpoints and motives. Brian Azzarello writes everyone with equal care, though, and there is a lot of life in his dialogue. It's not just comfortable and natural, it's precise. Everybody has their own unique way of speaking, even characters who're similar to one another, like Emilio and his friends or the pair of jackass police officers. As unlikable as some of them are, there's still a powerful humanity in their words and, by extension, their actions. All of this is bolstered tremendously by Eduardo Risso's art, which has had praise dumped on it innumerable times, for this series and others. But it's more than deserved, because Risso is a spectacular talent, particularly when it comes to his cast's acting. When Dizzy asks Graves if he's "Five-Oh," his only response is a single, tightly-framed smirk, yet somehow Risso makes that one look speak volumes. Graves is the furthest thing from a cop, but still clearly a figure of power and authority, which is all succinctly expressed in that one panel. There are plenty of other examples contained in this issue, but let's just say that both Azzarello and Risso really bring it here, from cover to cover. A strong and enjoyable lead character, her shadowy benefactor, a complex supporting cast, and a rich world for them all to live in. What more could you really want?


The Intimates #1: This isn't just a strong debut, it's 22 pages of constant introduction. Even the last panel introduces a new character. Not only do we get a detailed explanation of The Seminary (a high school for superheroes) from Miss Klanbaid, we get to see a map of the classrooms & bedrooms, small bits of numerous actual classes in-session, and background info on all the teachers we meet. Plus we get a very full, multi-faceted introduction to Punchy (the most main of the main characters so far) along with at least some info on each of his classmates, from their family histories to explanations of their powers to more subtle and personal details. Of course, plenty of this comes not from the actual story being told but the info scroll bar at the bottom of each page, but that suits me just fine. It adds to the sense that this issue wants to be nothing more than a loud, complex, powerful introduction to this world and the people living in it. I suspect that if I read this when it originally came out, I'd be wary of the info scrolls showing up in future issues, but in this initial chapter it does a lot of helpful fleshing things out and filling things in. It's an interesting tactic Joe Casey takes with the story of this issue, where there is no large central conflict, just a series of tiny conflicts that pop up and are either quickly resolved or never important enough to necessitate a resolution. Which is, of course, exactly what being a teenager is like, and that's the point. This is much more a teen book that a superhero book, in tone and focus and rhythm and feel. Giuseppe Camuncoli's art would absolutely fit in a more traditional superhero book, but it's a bit exaggerated at the same time, a bit wilder and larger-than-life. It's a superhero "house" style filtered through the lens of teenage experience and perspective. It couples perfectly with Casey's narrative approach, and gives the whole book a very consistent, fully-realized voice. Even without a single central problem or narrative hook, The Intimates #1 makes you want to see more, to learn more. It screams "INTRODUCTION!" from the first page to the last, but it's never overly expository or dry. On the contrary, it's all humor, honesty and heart from top to bottom. 


X-Force (vol. 1) #1: Well, this certainly made me anxious to read issue #2 next month. With almost 40 pages of story, Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld are able to cram in an awful lot of action and information. We get the juicy opening fight scene, which may be more filler than meat but is still a heckuva lot of fun and gives several characters a chance to show us their individual styles and attitudes. And once it's resolved we still have plenty of room to get a bit of background on leader Cable, get snippets of personality from most of the rest of the sizable team, and meet some of the supporting cast as well. Gideon and Sunspot's connection to the rest of the book is unclear as of yet, but the set-up of superpowered businessmen is enough to hold my interest for the few pages they take up. It's probably the weakest part of the issue, because we don't really know the stakes yet, but it's not terrible. And then there's the morally middle-of-the-line Bridge, who right now aims to be an obstacle for the titular team yet never comes across at all as a villainous character. That's a lot of people to become familiar with, but Nicieza gives everyone a pretty distinct voice, and Liefeld makes them all visually unique while still drawing everything in the classic Liefeld style. It's a very full comicbook, in terms of both art and story. Lots of fast-paced scenes with quippy dialogue, small panels overlapping larger ones, and muscular characters in bulky outfits taking up large sections of the page. It's not mind-blowing, but it's non-stop, has tons of bombastic action, and is just an all-around super fun read. I mean, it's the first fucking X-Force book, ya know? It comes out the gate at top speed and never lets up.

P.S. A quick disclaimer: I am not necessarily committing myself to reading all 129 issues of the first volume of X-Force. As of this writing, I own only the first 24, and though I may well expand my collection in the next two years (i.e. how long it'll take me to read what I have at the one-issue-per-month rate) I'm not devoted to getting ALL of it as of yet. There were various creative teams, lineups, story arcs, etc. over the course of this series' history, including, at the very end, the total retooling of the title by Milligan and Allred, so if I reach a solid, satisfying stopping point down the line I'll probably call it. But we'll see. Maybe in ten years I'll still be including X-Force in Monthly Dose and totally regretting this longer-than-planned disclaimer.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Pull List Review: Prophet #31

When Prophet began almost a year ago, Brandon Graham took his sweet time building up the central story piece by piece. It was a strong series right away, but an intentionally slow-burning one, with many issues designed to introduce a single character or concept. Last issue, all of that gradual set-up hit a major peak, and Old Man John Prophet finally had his full team assembled to battle the Earth Empire. That brings us to Prophet #31, which seems to be starting a new cycle of steadily planting seeds so that they can blossom into delicious fruits of story down the line. It's an excellent issue, but one which I liked as much because of what it promises for the future as for what it actually contained in its pages.
     Old Man Prophet wants to form an alliance with the as-of-yet-unseen Woman Army, so he arranges to have a meeting with them, and he and his companions arrive at the location of said meeting and spend some time there preparing themselves. We see Prophet talk with Troll, an old friend of his, who warns him of terrible things to come, which noticeably worries him. But before he can even fully react, he and Diehard discover an open Earth Empire pod, and their new priority becomes finding and killing the Prophet clone who emerged from it. This leads to the first direct conflict between Old Man Prophet's group and the Earth Empire, which our heroes win almost instantly. Not the most exciting of fight scenes, but what it lacks in action it makes up for in brutality and visual appeal.
     Visual appeal is the name of the game when it comes to Prophet anyway, and Giannis Milonogiannis is my personal favorite of the book's rotating team of artists. There is a breathtaking two-page spread right at the start of this issue of two giants floating in space, one of whom is dismembered (and has had his body parts colonized) and the other is curled up in a ball, presumably sleeping. I could not stop looking at those pages, even returning to them while reading the rest of the issue to get another fix. And there's more like that. The fight scene, as I said, is exquisite, all harsh reds and stark whites. Lots of really powerful coloring throughout, actually. Then there's squat, faceless Jaxson strolling around in a hooded robe, which made me do a bit of a double take and subsequently laugh out loud. But my favorite single image has got to be when Diehard looks longingly at Rein-East and we see her distorted reflection in his face. It's a heartbreaking panel, and of all the seeds for future stories planted in this issue, this is the one for which I am most excited.
     Old Man Prophet's strange, sad connection to Rein-East is another piece of groundwork laid out here that I imagine will be significant later on, but really the biggest thing is waiting to see what goes down with the Woman Army. Who they are, what they can potentially offer the cause, and what they'll actually do are all intriguing questions. I'm also crossing my fingers that this isn't the last we've seen of Troll, a wonderfully enigmatic and strangely-spoken creature who I'm betting will have a sizable role to play before all is said and done. So there's a whole lot to look forward to, as well as plenty to enjoy in the present.
     There is no more reliable a comicbook on the shelves today than Prophet, and issue #31, while not explosive or active as some, is a damn fine example of what this title can do. Brandon Graham obviously has a carefully-thought-out plan in place, and every issue adds a brick or two and excites me for whatever will follow. This time even more so than usual.
8.0/10

Pull List Review: Secret Avengers #34

For the first time since Rick Remender took over, I'm having a real blast reading this comic, which is too bad since it'll be rebooting in a few months with a creative team I steadfastly refuse to spend my money on. Remender has done fine work all along, but here at the end of his run things have become zanier, looser, and less tense. There was a lot of bickering amongst the team before, and though they still take some verbal jabs at one another, the tone is more playful now, and the action far more cooperative.
     This whole Father and his Descendants storyline has never exactly enthralled me, and the introduction last issue of the Undead Avengers was good for a laugh but, again, not necessarily thrilling. Yet in Secret Avengers #34, the good guys are so enjoyable that the bad guys don't need to carry so much of the weight. Venom has been a great addition to this title from the start, and if nothing else he makes me want to go back and read all of Remender's Venom series. So score one for Marvel there. Flash Thompson has a strong and intelligent voice, thoughtful but not overly contemplative, because he needs to make decisions and act quickly. In contrast, Black Widow has felt a bit underused in Remender's hands, but this issue she has a slightly bigger role and several very sharp, funny lines. It's Hawkeye and Captain Britain, however, who win the prize this month. They crack wise at each other and even tease one another a little, all of which was genuinely funny, but throughout their entire conversation they are fighting as a fluid two-man unit. It gave their scenes a lot of energy and excitement, and though the concept of Undead Avengers may not be astounding, they made very very cool-looking opponents for Barton and Braddock.
     Matteo Scalera has a lot of great art here. There's tons of chaotic shit going down, and he displays all the madness of it skillfully, but never loses any clarify for it. I noticed this most of all in the early scene with Venom trying to survive and save Valkyrie amidst the flames of the burning space station, but it's equally true in the large-scale battle of the undead world. And even though the ending was the worst part for me as far as the story was concerned, I did dig deathlok Hank Pym. Not a surprise, exactly, but a cool-looking cyborg all the same. There's a frenetic feel to Scalera's pencils, and it fits with the ever-increasing insanity faced by the Secret Avengers. Things are heating up as Father gets closer and closer to reaching his goals, and the visual style of the series matches that feeling.
      I love this team, really for the first time since Remender grabbed the helm. They're fighting some of the craziest (in every sense of the word) baddies I've seen in a while, dealing with betrayal from one of their own, and currently aren't even all together to battle these threats at full force. Yet they still joke with each other, find romance, and generally keep their wits about them. It makes for a fun romp of a superhero tale, and as sad as I may be to see it end, I'm powerfully looking forward to the remaining installments.
7.5/10

Pull List Review: Teen Titans #14

What a pile of crap.
     Let's start with Bunker. When, exactly, did he go from being an excellent example of how to handle gay characters (treat them like everyone else) to an offensive set of ridiculous stereotypes? Is this the result of some new editorial mandate? Is it Fabian Nicieza's script "assistance" that's to blame? Because Bunker is absurd here. Almost every line he speaks is a gay cliche, most idiotically when he gets excited to change his clothes multiple times. And his down time outfit is equally moronic. I'm not saying there aren't teenagers like this in the world, but it's new for this character, and it's a huge step down from the way he acted before. Where once we had a fun-loving kid who happened to be gay but was more focused on being the best, most enthusiastic superhero he could be, now we have an over-the-top gay kid who just happens to be a superhero once in a while. Awful.
     But not even the worst part. The worst part was Diesel. Quick writing tip: using the line, "This is what I get for NOT killing you when I had the chance," is not different than using the hackneyed, "I shoud've killed you when I had the chance." Those are the same, and they are both so dumb. Even dumber is, "Kill them! Kill them dead!" I mean the guy is just laughable. He looks like a fool and he acts like a bigger one. And then Wonder Girl defeats him too easily, and spouts off a poorly-written and unconvincing speech about how much she loves him. No, Cassie, you don't. You were infatuated with him when you guys were a pair of risk-taking teenagers who thought of themselves as badasses but were basically just petty crooks. That is not love, and neither is taking on the burden of his weird sentient armor. It may be the right thing to do, and it may be done out of concern for his well-being, but I do not buy the true love angle. Pull the other one.
      So Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza's script is a big fat misfire. I haven't even talked about how Superboy and Red Robin both take off suddenly and awkwardly so that they can go be in other titles. And that's another thing I hated: the excessive ads for other titles. Birds of Prey, Superboy, and  Batman all got shout outs via obnoxious captions. Is it not possible for DC to have a team book without pulling this crap? They did it in Justice League Dark and now they're doing it here, to a truly unbearable degree. Even the cliffhanger ending of Teen Titans #14 was an ad for the "Death of the Family" event. I understand that the cast of this title are involved in other things, but that shouldn't make it impossible for the book to stand on its own.
     So was the art any better? Yes, but barely. AlĂ© Garza does a servicable job for much of the issue, but there are definitely a few odd/confusing layout choices. What really bothered me, though, was the way he drew the female characters. It's not just that they were overly busty, but their breasts were highlighted as often as possible by what they were wearing (or not wearing), the way the shots were angled or lit, or even just by having Kiran continuously try to cover hers up with her hands. These are supposed to be teenagers. Any chance it could be the one book where gross fantasies can be set aside? Evidently not. And of course there is Bunker's clothing, which I mentioned above, plus Kid Flash looking weirdly gaunt and big-eyed. I know that this is all taste-based stuff, as opposed to a technical critique of the artwork, but so be it. Garza's work apparently runs counter to my tastes. Strongly so.
     What can I say, Teen Titans? You're getting dropped. You used to be a lot of fun, but basically ever since "The Culling" you've been a jumbled mess. And with this dreadful issue, I'm giving up entirely. Peace.
1.0/10

Pull List Review: Thor: God of Thunder #2

I'm so glad that it only took two issues to meet Gorr the God Butcher, and that when we did meet him it happened quickly and we got a whole lot of him. No needless teasing of his abilities or drawing out of the reveal. He attacks full force, and it make this issue his almost as much as it's Thor's, because while Thor tells the reader a story from his childhood through narration boxes, it is Gorr who dominates the actual in-battle conversation. And the battle itself. Giving him enough time and space to fully display his power level, his hatred for gods, and his physicality was a smart move. Suddenly the faceless villain from last issue has not only a face, but a powerful personality, and it definitely got my attention in a way the debut did not.
     Jason Aaron makes a lot of these intelligent decisions throughout Thor: God of Thunder #2. He gives most of the story this month to past Thor, with only a few very brief cuts to see present Thor and future Thor at the beginning and end of the issue. It just makes good sense that the reader would meet Gorr for the first time by seeing Thor's initial conflict with him, and the few instances where we do jump in time are effective and deliberately chosen. And because the bulk of this issue is devoted to one enormous battle between two superpowerful combatants, that fight gets to be as hard-hitting and impressive as it wants. Yet by having Thor tell the tale of the insane, murderous god from his past, we still get content and characterization in the midst of all the fighting. It's a well-crafted script through and through.
     Just like last time, though, it is Esad Ribic's artwork that most delights me. This issue sees him with a different colorist, Ive Svorcina, and while the palette is still excellent and even feels Dean-White-esque, having someone new on colors helps cement for me that Ribic is the true star of this book. There is such a tremendous level of detail, even in the clouds. It gives a sense of realism, of life to the artwork, even when what we're seeing is a god and god killer battle each other in the sky. Gorr's actual appearance doesn't wow me, but it doesn't bother me either. He's appropriately menacing and strange, and his look is definitely not what I was expecting, which always wins points.
     I really loved the end of the fight with the massive lightning blast, both visually and in terms of the story. It was easy to predict based on the preceding page, but somehow that didn't lessen the impact. It was such a huge moment, and a huge bolt of lightning, that it's just as satisfying when you see it coming as it would've been as a surprise. Thor is the god of thunder, and though we are used to seeing him bash his enemies with a hammer (or, in this case, an axe), it's good to be reminded that this is not the only tool in his belt. Plus who doesn't love seeing the villain put in his place? Suck on that, Gorr!
     This is shaping up to be one hell of an epic, balls out Thor book, and I am thrilled. It's been some time since I was this amped up about the character, even though historically he is one of my favorites. I have high hopes and, as of now, high expectations for Aaron, Ribic, and team. But regardless of what comes next, they knocked it out of the park on this one.
8.5/10

Pull List Review: Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1

A sequel to last year's Witch Doctor series, Mal Practice doesn't miss a beat. It kicks off right away with a fun, funny, disgusting procedure to defeat one of numerous demons possessing a child, showing us Dr. Vincent Morrow's bizarre tools and tactics as a magical medical practitioner. We're also reintroduced to Eric Gast, Morrow's paramedic, and Penny Dreadful, the strange and horrifying creature who acts as a sort of assistant to Morrow. And, it turns out, as his bodyguard.
     Brandon Seifert is very at ease writing these characters and this world, which allows Morrow to be similarly comfortable. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience and power, so he's able to face unthinkable threats with a smile on his face. But here we also see Morrow become rattled, panicked even, when forced to deal with the unknown. Waking up alone with a woman's bra beside him after a night he can't remember sends the doctor into a tailspin, assuming he's been drugged, poisoned, both, or worse. Seifert gets a lot of humor out of the situation, because Morrow is already a pretty manic guy, but once the fear of something mysterious grips him, he becomes full-on hysterical. It's a subtle but important difference in his personality, and I enjoyed seeing an already intense character be heightened even further. Yet Seifert never lets things go off the rails completely. After all, Morrow is still an arguably brilliant man, and quite resourceful, so he does start to get to the bottom of things, even if the answers only lead to more questions thus far.
     Artist Lukas Ketner is also back for this new series, and arguably stronger than ever. Though there is a stray panel or two where his style becomes overly rough, in general he nails it, able to capture the horror elements just as proficiently as the comedy.There were several small artistic touches that I really dug in this issue, like the Strigoi parasite, which itself was pretending to be a woman's tongue, having a pig's snout instead of a tongue in its own mouth. Or Penny's crazed look and unsettling smile when she declares to Morrow that she's hungry. Lots of stunning single panels like that, which come together to form an impressive whole.
     Speaking of Penny's craziness, my favorite part of Witch Doctor: Mal Practice #1 was easily the small but significant change in Morrow and Penny's dynamic. Because she immediately figures out more about what has happened than he does, she refuses to take an order from him, instead hiding herself outside his room so she can protect him from an attack later on. (Sidebar: the fight scene between Penny and the Strigoi-infected woman is Ketner's best work in the issue by far. Particularly at the end when Penny drags and then lifts the woman by her head and face. Hilariously gruesome stuff). Obviously Morrow is grateful for this, but as he points out, it is also a bit of a power play on Penny's part. Disobeying his command, proving to him that he needs her...these are the kinds of behaviors that indicate a forthcoming shift in their relationship where Penny may position herself to be the one who's more in charge. This might well never happen, but the danger of it is very real, and I'm excited to see how that plays out long-term. Penny is my favorite character in this world, so seeing her take control of her life is absolutely something I'm for.
     A solid showing all around. Glad to have Witch Doctor back in action.
7.5/10

Saturday, November 24, 2012

This Exists!: Soul Bound

This Exists! is a semi-regular column about particularly strange, ridiculous, and/or obscure comicbooks I happen to have stumbled across. 

Before I moved to Austin, me and the two guys with whom I was planning on moving came down to visit the city and see if it was really where we wanted to live. One of the most important and enjoyable parts of that visit was printing out a list of all the local comicbook stores (there's an impressive amount of them here) and visiting each of them to see what they offered and how they differed. Mostly, the only significant difference was the size of the building. In terms of current comics, almost everywhere we went had the same (very good) selection, and they pretty much all had sizable back issue sections as well. However, somewhere right in the middle of this tour of Austin shops there was a place that had a single, sparsely covered shelf right by the exit with locally-produced comicbooks. I wish so much that I had paid closer attention to which store it was, because in the three-plus years I've lived here I have never again found that local comics shelf, and the longer I go without seeing it the more I suspect that, wherever it was, it has since been removed. Regardless, it seemed silly to come to a city for the sole purpose of feeling it out as a place to live, be offered comicbooks created and published locally, and not go home with them, so I picked up a copy of each of the two series that sat so alone on this particular shelf. One of them was a strange western I can't remember the exact title of, which I read once that day and never returned to. The other, though ultimately not significantly better than the western, was an unexpectedly interesting and enjoyable comic called Soul Bound #1.
I'm not even entirely certain what the book is about. There is a family of what seem to be gods, two parents and their countless children, who I guess interact with the normal people of the world with some regularity. They are also trying to destroy "the blade," which they sometimes refer to as an "elios," but neither of these things are explained in any detail. What the blade is and why it needs to be destroyed remains a mystery, and so do the exact powers of these apparent deities, as well as their goals and backgrounds. Indeed, we get only the sketchiest and most basic bits of world building in Soul Bound #1. For example, each of the children gods are told to choose their avatars, and there is some mention of these avatars having powers of their own, but what they can actually do, what purpose they serve, and why they're needed at all never comes to light. The most we learn is that avatars are selected from dead humans, which is shown to us in the final four pages and acts as a sort of half-assed semi-cliffhanger for this debut issue (which I believe, based on what I can find online, was the only issue ever produced).
So there's not a lot of information provided, or even that much characterization. We learn that the young gods, or at least two of them, are pretty typical petulant children, disobeying their parents with dire consequences and then desperately hurling excuses for their behavior to avoid blame. The parents, meanwhile, are similarly archetypal, delivering threats of taking away their children's powers and/or turning them into mortals much the same way a real-world parent might cut off a child from TV for a week. It's not a bad relationship between parents and kids, it's just not all that fresh or original, especially with the dialogue never quite feeling genuine.
All of this kind of weak, vague material, though, is in the latter half of the comic. The opening sequence is a near-silent 15 pages, and it is this fast-paced beginning that really captured my attention when I first read Sould Bound #1, and it's the reason I've ever bothered to revisit it since then. We follow two of the young gods as they battle each other mid-air, tearing through a village full of normal humans and leaving utter destruction and widespread death in their wake. As their fight progresses, the book takes several pauses to turn away from the combatants and zoom in on the everyday people whose world is being devastated because of these immature immortals. And there is just something that has always appealed to me about this kind of story, examining the realistic and terrifying consequences of a world where superpowered beings can and do directly affect the lives of regular people. There is a large part of me that actually wishes Soul Bound #1 was just that and nothing more, that the entire issue was one long fight between these kid gods with breakaway moments where we see the consequences and immense collateral damages caused by their foolish brawl. As soon as the fight is stopped and the real plot of the book begins, things become a bit dull and confusing and slow, but those first 15 pages (and particularly the initial six pages without any dialogue whatsoever) are a fun if simple way to look at a concept I've always found interesting.
Of course, there are plenty of bigger-name, better-produced comicbooks that have explored these ideas, be it superheroes or gods or something in between messing up the lives of the non-powered masses, but even if it is somewhat familiar, I appreciate the approach of Soul Bound #1. It dives head first into the chaos and destruction without any kind of lead-in or introduction, which makes it all feel more immediate and urgent and real. If this was the kind of thing that actually occurred in our world, I imagine this suddenness and lack of warning would be a very big, very scary part of it. So throwing the reader into the thick of things helps us to empathize with the victims of this immortal boxing match, even if we don't yet know the hows, whys, and wheres of what we're reading. It's a shame that things slow so significantly from there and never pick back up, because I'd like to love this comicbook from the city I call home, and instead all I can manage is to feel a lackluster appreciation for having found it at all.

SIDE NOTE: Neither the website for the publisher, Electric Chinchilla Comics, nor the printer, Dark Phoenix Printing, seem to be active anymore. Also, the 800 number listed for Dark Phoenix on the back cover now belongs to something called National Annuity and Life Sales. I do recommend calling it after hours though, when the message says only, "Thank you for calling for free information." Free information? That's worth its weight in gold!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanks

It's Thanksgiving! So here's what I am thankful for right now, comics-wise, in no particular order:

1. I got eleven new comics yesterday! That's a big haul for me. Only read Uncanny X-Force #34 so far which means I get to read ten other issues throughout my holiday. Huzzah!

2. The announcement of Riley Rossmo's Dia De Los Muertos project. I love that guy like crazy, and several of the writers are people with whom he has done excellent work before. Also it'll be unusually-sized.

3. My dad is reading some of the Marvel NOW! titles that I'm not. So far he has picked up All New X-Men #1 and Fantastic Four #1. My dad is the reason I read comics and love comics, so I'm pretty excited to eventually get his take on the series he ends up following. Or not following, as the case may be. It's been a while since he regularly picked up new comicbooks every week, so hey. Score 1 for the Marvel NOW! project, amiright? There's a "lapsed reader" those guys can definitively claim. Although, so far, all he's said about the above two issues is that they were confusing. So maybe he'll re-lapse. Is that the same as relapse? Does relapse apply in this case?

4. My guest room closet where I get to keep my longboxes. I also have torn out pages from comicbooks which were damaged or I have multiple copies of taped up on the walls. And a couple pin-ups. It's real cozy in there, and it's all mine (except the shelves around the top).

5. There are sequels to both Who is Jake Ellis? and Witch Doctor. The Witch Doctor one technically isn't out yet, but it comes out next week, and Where is Jake Ellis? #1 came out last week. Both of the original series were a ton of fun, so I have high hopes for Round(s) 2.

6. The Valiant Comics resurrection. I may only be reading 2 titles (so far), but I am rooting for the whole damn company. Good luck to the die-hard fans who are using enthusiasm and good taste to live their dream and produce excellent comicbooks.

7. I have too many things that I own and haven't read. I have too many things that I love and haven't reread. I have far, far too many things I have never read and don't even own yet.

8. The $5/pound of comics deal on Black Friday at the Austin Books and Comics Sidekick Store.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Pull List Review: Where is Jake Ellis? #1

The band is back together!

My love for Who is Jake Ellis? is no secret, so to say that I was hotly anticipating this follow-up series would be one hell of an understatement. And though it didn't rock me to my very core as I might have wanted, Where is Jake Ellis? #1 was a more than satisfying return to the world and characters I so adore.
     In terms of story, this really was just about bringing Jake and Jon, heroes of the previous series, back together. Jon has been in hiding since Who ended, but some agency or other seems to have finally found him, and so he is forced to run for his life through Bangkok, ending up at the US embassy only to discover he's no safer there than he was before. Meanwhile, Jake has been trapped in a military hospital, not allowed to leave or even get a phone call until he tells his government what he can remember from his time away. Which, he claims, is nothing. Ultimately Jake, too, gets to do a bit of fleeing, escaping his captors and making it home to his wife. Sadly, she has moved on with another man, and even has a child now, so, like Jon, Jake is no better off where he ends up than he was where he began. These parallels between Jon and Jake's experiences---the running, the futility of said running, the teams of armed men on their heels, etc.---remind us of how much these two men have shared, while at the same time displaying their key differences. Jon is motivated by survival, but Jake actually wants to get somewhere, get back to a normal life, get back to himself. Neither succeeds on his own, though, and so by the end Jake takes leave of his own body and becomes once again the helpful voice in Jon's head.
     And there was much rejoicing.
     Nathan Edmonson's script is direct and brisk, giving the action sequences plenty of room to breathe while the dialogue stays fairly light. It all works quite effectively, and considering that anyone who'd read the previous series could more or less predict where the first issue of this sequel would end up (i.e. that Jake would be Jon's guide once again), the choice to waste no time in arriving there was an excellent one. From here, exactly what the world has in store for our two-heroes-in-one-body is anyone's guess, but mostly I'm just glad they're back in action.
     Meanwhile, the best part of Where is Jake Ellis? #1 isn't anything specific that happens in the story. Instead it is, as it was all throughout Who, Tonci Zonjic's masterful artwork. Although there isn't so much of the pages-washed-in-one-color technique he used so skillfully before, Zonjic's coloring is no less brilliant here. From the brash blues of the hospital to the murky green-browns of the water, everything is given a perfectly appropriate hue to set the mood for each scene. But colors aside, it is Zonjic's deft grasp on action scenes that really makes this book what it is. He can cram a page full of fights in two different locations, each with multiple combatants, bystanders, and more, yet never once confuse the reader with clutter or a lack of clarity. And he just nails the climatic moments, like Jon jumping off a roof while getting shot through the arm, or diving off a boat just in time to avoid getting shot again. Zonjic keeps the energy frenetic and the violence crisp, the perfect feeling for a spy/thriller such as this.
     But don't think he's any less talented in the calmer moments. Quite the opposite. In fact, while the action scenes may be the most impressive, it is during those times when Jake is quietly, furiously brooding that Where is Jake Ellis? #1 has the most emotional weight. He is a broken man, desperate to return to a life he knew long ago, and though his words are few, his misery is heavy and enormous and obvious through Zonjic's drawing. And when, seeing his wife with her new family, Jake finally gives up and gives in, sending his consciousness back to Jon's mind for safekeeping, Zonjic draws the shit out of that, too. It is the moment we've all been waiting for, but still a somber one.
     Some things have changed and some have reverted, and now the ball is truly rolling once again. Where is Jake Ellis? #1 is a damn fine debut to a promising sequel. It was well worth the wait, and it makes waiting for the second issue that much more difficult.
8.0/10

Pull List Review: Ex Sanguine #2

There seem to be a lot of human-vampire romance tales these days, so what makes Ex Sanguine any better than the rest? Obviously it has the crime procedural facet, but truth be told, those parts of the book are kind of boring. Comparatively boring, anyway, when held up against Saul and Ashley's messed up love. I'm not sure precisely what it is about their relationship that I find so compelling, but I'd say it has something to do with their nonchalance. Even two humans who've just started dating aren't normally this comfortable around one another, so to see Ashley and her vampire lover so quickly and seamlessly get on the same page is refreshing. It makes their murder/theft/date a lot of fun, and because they don't treat it like a big deal, it seems practically commonplace. That dichotomy between the couple's casual attitude and the severity of what they're up to is Ex Sanguine #2's greatest strength.
     I called the cop scenes boring before, and I meant it, but they are not without promise. The agents are clearly intelligent and capable investigators, and it undercuts Ashley's confidence to watch them creep closer to discovering the truth about her involvement and motives. But as characters, both agents (whose name escape me at the moment) are a bit shy of three-dimensionality. Even Saul and Ashley, to a lesser extent, are hitting a lot of the same notes over and over, and I hope the book can let its cast stretch their legs a bit more before everything concludes. I have faith that it will, though, because Tim Seeley and Joshua Scott Emmons pretty clearly know the ins and outs of these characters, even if they haven't shown them all to us as readers yet. There's a lot of background mystery remaining in this series, and as the details of what drives each of these people come to light, I suspect they'll all become more fully-formed and real. For now, Seeley and Emmons are satisfied to focus on Saul and Ashley's twisted budding romance, and it is more than enough to hold my interest and keep me coming back. They are a fascinating pair, Ashley most of all, and I look forward to seeing how their relationship grows (read: escalates) from here.
     Seeley's artwork isn't awe-inspiring or anything, but it's rock solid. The acting is clear and strong, everyone looks consistent, and the look of the series walks the perfect line between realism and cartoonism. When we see Saul's true form, the horror and the comedy of it shine through in equal parts. Watching Ashley write her bizarre cipher in a man's blood is no more disturbing than anything else in the book, even though conceptually it should be. The art adds tremendously to the off-kilter love between her and Saul, highlighting their laid back approach to breaking & entering, murder, and blood-soaked sex. Indeed, if it weren't for the visual tone Seeley establishes, I'm not sure if I'd be so enamored of Ashley & Saul's casualness. It is only because the world they live in matches their attitudes that they can pull off their particular brand of dating.
     Ex Sanguine #2 didn't blow my mind and melt my face with its awesomeness, but it absolutely amused, intrigued, and delighted me. It's definitely the best vampire rom com/serial killer mystery/apparent heist story I've ever read. At the end of their night together, Ashley says to Saul (in an excusably self-aware cliche), "This was fun. We should do it again, sometime." My thoughts exactly, Ashley. My thoughts exactly.
7.5/10

Pull List Review: Thor: God of Thunder #1


First of all, this is a beautiful book. Esad Ribic does an impressive job of displaying the grandiosity of the story in relatively small spaces. There are a few full-page splashes, it's true, but when Thor makes his way through the emptied city of the lost gods of Indigog, for example, Ribic makes the vast size and scale of the place obvious without needing to zoom out too far. He also makes the title character quite an impressive and powerful figure, in all three eras we see. Young Thor's exaggerated cockiness, modern Thor's skilled might, and old man Thor's enormous power are all clear and consistent, and they come together to paint a picture of a character who, no matter his age or experience, has always had incredible strength of one kind or another. They're distinct men, these three Thors, but what connects them is an obvious confidence in their own abilities that Ribic boldly underlines.
     I am not always a fan of Ribic's facial expressions, but here his somewhat oversized eyes and gaping mouths actually worked for me, particularly when it came to the slain gods. Seeing the tremendous pain and horror in the faces of the dead immortals was important, especially since that's really all we know about the apparent villain of this story---he can fuck up gods but good. Dean White's soft, rich colors do more to add to the art than detract, even though there were moments, particularly in the final scene, where I thought something a bit harsher or brighter might have been more fitting. But overall I like the Ribic-White combination, for a Thor title most of all, because the art feels epic in the same way as the story. The settings are so alive and detailed and the colors are so deep that there's a certain sense of reality brought to this book about a god. The murders are given more heft because of it, and the entire story is given more life.
     Unfortunately, as much as the art helped out, Jason Aaron's story wasn't all that gripping. It's not a bad idea, it's just not one which felt very interesting. Basically, so far, it's just like any number of other serial killer mysteries where the cop has a long history with the murderer, except that in this case the killer targets gods. If the revelation of the existence of these gods were part of the story, we might have something, but this is the Marvel U, where more and more gods pop up all the time. Aaron seems to be saving the actual reveal of this butcher of gods for a later issue, which is fine, but it's hard to get excited about a villain you haven't met, no matter how immensely powerful you understand him to be.
     I do like the Thor through time aspect of the book, if only because each of the three Thors won me over individually. It's a good script, actually, even if the narrative doesn't wow me. The dialogue was solid, giving each Thor a unique voice without any of them sounding forced or off. As was the pacing, with a brief young Thor in the beginning, an even briefer old Thor at the end, and the long stretch of current Thor in the middle. Current Thor is, after all, the one we're bound to be most interested in (even though, personally, I think young Thor seems way more fun) and is presumably the character around whom the main thrust of the story will be built. So while Aaron gives us a decent chunk of time with each, it is this primary Thor we see the most, and who has the most to say and do. Good choices all around, and they, like the art, gave the story some life it would otherwise have lacked.
     I'm not deeply hooked yet, but I have no massive complaints. Thor: God of Thunder is off to a solid enough start, and with as strong a creative team as it has, my hopes are high that by the time this narrative wraps up, we'll have a much more dynamic and fascinating ending.
6.5/10

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Dirty Dozen: Rachel Rising

Dirty Dozen is a semi-regular feature with twelve disconnected thoughts on the first twelve issues of a current ongoing series.

1. Rachel Rising is deceptively difficult to summarize. It doesn't feel like that vast an idea when you read it, but any boiled-down description feels like it detracts from it. If I try it in one sentence, the closest I can get is: In the present day in a small American town, a witch is taking her revenge on the descendants of the people that tried to kill her and successfully killed her witch friends, along with a bunch of innocent childless women, 300 years ago. But that doesn't even mention the title fucking character, except inasmuch as she's one of the witches. Only...she's also a totally normal non-witch living in the modern world. And this is where the summarizing hits a snag, because to be honest, I'm not even clear yet on exactly how that whole thing works. It seems like maybe Rachel's body is housing the spirit/soul of the murdered witch, but if that's the case, why does she have modern Rachel's memories and personality? And is that also true of the other resurrected witches? Does the woman with the snake in her throat remember her life from before in the same way Rachel does? And now I'm teetering on the edge of a rabbit hole, and there are still like five to ten major characters I've yet to mention. Maybe it's not difficult to summarize. It's impossible to summarize. It is too well-built and complex to be understood from a distance, and should instead be experienced firsthand. By everyone.

2. It is so, so easy to forget that, mixed in with everything else that's going on, there is still a murder mystery that needs solving. Rachel was strangled and buried by somebody, and it seems totally separate from all the witch trial stuff. Somebody killed modern-day Rachel, and that somebody hasn't been discovered yet or even talked about in a while. But he/she exists, and will have to turn up eventually.

3. There is an incredible balance between the violent climaxes and the gorgeous, deliberate scenes of total silence. The first issue opens with nine pages of silence, but it's captivating and significant stuff. The longest, loudest, most crowded conversations are often the least weighty or informative---they're used to show us who the characters are rather than drive the plot. When the important shit goes down, it is often wordless, and on top of that there are plenty of calm, almost mundane silences, too. Two rabbits casually munching on a fox corpse. Rachel walking through the heavy snow. Zoe hiding up in a tree. And so on. This back-and-forth between the dialogue-heavy scenes, violence-heavy scenes, and scenes which are just generally a bit lighter is perfectly calculated, and gives the book a unique and unsettling tone overall.

4. I did a bit of counting, and it looks like each issue is only 18 pages. Meaning these twelve issues have a total of 24 fewer pages than any twelve issues of any other current series. So if I wasn't thoroughly impressed with the size and scope of this book before (which I suspect I was) I sure as shit am now.

5. The way insanity is handled in Rachel Rising is atypical and admirable. Even the craziest characters are capable of functioning in the world, interacting with "normal" people, leading "regular" lives. And more to the point, their craziness is not all that defines them. Dr. Siemen may have meals and conversations with his long-dead wife, but that doesn't make him any less competent a medical professional. I trust him with fixing Jet's spine even though I don't buy any of his "Angel of Death" philosophy. It's not a treatment of madness I see very often in fiction, but it's true-to-life and I appreciate it tremendously.

6. So many badasses. Obviously the villains, meaning Lilith and Malus, have incredible power and use it for some crazy violence, but that's not what I mean. Or it's not the only thing I'm referring to. Rachel, of course, is a badass in her own right, if only because she takes everything in stride. She has several unthinkable situations and developments pop up, but never loses her level-headedness or rationality. Plus there's the end of issue #12 when she digs herself out of a grave for the second time and declares that Lilith made a big mistake, which I am guessing will lead to a pretty spectacular face-off between the two of them. And even Zoe, now free of Malus' possession, turns out to be a pretty badass little kid, able to laugh in the face of the demon who has controlled her for centuries and refuse to do his bidding any longer. Hell, the fact that she's the only person to ever survive his possession is a significant and impressive fact on its own. So yeah, there's a lot of that kind of thing in this book: tough-as-nails survivors who won't back down no matter how large the threat before them.

7. The covers may be my favorite artistic aspect of the series. Always using blacks and reds, but with a different "base" color for each set of (so far) six issues. So the first six are green, black, and red while the second six are orange, black, and red. It's a cool if simple way to tackle cover art, and makes for a seriously compelling visual if you lay them out next to each other. And of course, each image stands alone as an intriguing invite to look inside.

8. Somehow I have gotten this far without actually saying the name Terry Moore, which is just ridiculous, since he is the writer and artist for the entire series. It's amazing how complete the whole project seems to be already in Moore's mind. Every member of the vast and growing cast is fully-realized from their first appearance, and the shape and speed of the larger narrative is clearly under control. That's why we get hints about the witch trial from Johnny in Issue #2. It's why Zoe is convincingly both a brutal murderer and a scared little girl from the beginning. It's why Lilith doesn't even need to speak in order to introduce herself to the reader. Moore has thought all of this through to the end, you can tell, and is deliberately and carefully showing his readers only what we need to know at each stage in the game. It's rare to find that kind of consistent pacing, raising and answering questions at just the right times to keep the mystery alive without it growing overly confusing.

9. It's not often that the distinction needs to be made (especially in comicbooks where the majority of titles are superhero-based), but Rachel Rising has very little action and an awful lot of violence.

10. Earl's strange, sad, silent love for Jet is the single best detail in the book. He's the best character, I guess, in my opinion, although I wouldn't have said that until I just now thought it through. But he is. It would have been so easy for him to be a creep, but instead he is, as Jet says, a perfect gentleman, and I love that for several reasons. First of all, it was unexpected. In the initial scene where he pronounces his love to Jet's corpse I kept waiting for the creepy/inappropriate shoe to drop and instead he just got sweeter and more respectful. And as their relationship has advanced since Jet came back from the dead, Earl has only won me over more and more. His near-stoic admiration for Jet, his willingness to help out, his composition in the face of the impossible, his total honesty...he may be a bit left of center in appearance and mannerisms, but he's what all men should aspire to be like. All people, really. Let's not make this a gender thing.

11. There are definitely things that would be lost if this series were in color. In particular, I think of all the scenes with heavy falling snow. There is a sense that the snow takes over everything, washing out the rest of the world, and somehow that effect would be diminished if the rest of the book were fully colored. Having it already be in black and white makes the addition of even more white seem all the more significant. Also, I think that if the blood were red it would pull the focus in some of the death scenes. I am thinking specifically of Jet's death right now, but there are doubtlessly others where having a lack of color means the gore is easier to ignore in favor of the emotional weight of what's happening. And that's important. I'm sure that if Moore had chosen to work in color he would have adjusted accordingly and the series would still have the right look, but he didn't. He chose black and white, and therefore he plays to the strengths of that decision.

12. Having a snake that lives inside you and jumps out of your throat to kill people is the coolest goddamn power I've ever seen. I guess that's the teenage boy inside of me, maybe even younger, but I don't care. I love that shit. I eat it right up.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Constantine & The Shadow: The Names Stay the Same, but Nothing Else Does

Roar.

Last night I read this. Ten minutes ago I read this. Now I'm all moody, grumbling and mumbling to myself.

I had been enjoying the hell out of Garth Ennis' take on The Shadow. I'm a fan of the old radio series, having innumerable episodes on cassette tape when I was a kid, and even though what Ennis was doing was a darker, more violent departure from that original show, it still worked for me. Lamont Cranston was perfectly smug, careful with his words, and brilliant. Margo Lane walked an interesting line between being a supporter of The Shadow and being kind of terrified by him. The villains were rich and nuanced, not even all on the same side as each other, but equally deserving of the titular hero's wrath. It was as much a war story as a spy story as a superhero one, equal parts noir, action, and political thriller. Not the greatest title I've ever read, not even something that blew me away, but definitely a strong, consistent book with a clear vision from talented creators that made me excited to see more.
     Enter Victor Gischler as the new writer on The Shadow #7. I mean, booooooooooooo. Here we have an issue that pays such little attention to what preceded it that, for the first time ever, I actually would've preferred if they'd started the numbering over again with #1. Suddenly Cranston is a wordy, awkward narrator, crowding the pages with poorly-written expository caption boxes. Gone is any subtlety or pacing, replaced by rushed explanations that lead to uninteresting scenes. Margo Lane disappears and is replaced by the less-than-two-dimensional and less-than-two-eyed pilot Miles Crofton, whose only purpose in this issue is to spew out his entire background story in a single, unnatural burst of dialogue and then transport Cranston from place to place. Which, let's face it, could've been done by anybody. And the bad guy, Red Raja, is equally underdeveloped, little more than a handful of archetypes flung together and given powers similar to those of our hero. It's uninventive dreck, basically, and dreck which makes no attempt to reconcile itself with the decent comicbookery that came before, and it's going to result in me dropping a title for which I've had growing enthusiasm for months.

So that's bad enough.

Now I have to learn that DC is canceling it's longest-running (because of the relaunch) and arguably strongest series, Hellblazer, and replacing it with the New 52 version of the same character in a new book called Constantine.

This is the worst New 52-related decision to date.

Because here's the thing about the John Constantine of Justice League Dark: he has almost as little in common with his Vertigo counterpart as I have with a motherfucking chimera. I don't know why I chose that analogy, damn it, I'm just pissed!
     Did anyone else read Justice League Dark #0? Talk about making me drop a title. I'd love to rant and rant and rant about it, but I know at least one person has already said it better than I ever could, so I'll sum it up this way: booooooooooooo. What's the point of naming a character John Constantine if you're just going to do whatever the hell you want with him? Is DC so afraid of trying to warm people to a new character that they really thought this was a smarter move? Or, even worse...does Jeff Lemire think that this is a strong interpretation of the character? Because it is not, and the last thing in the world I want to see is this new, watered-down version stepping in and replacing the Constantine I've grown to adore.
     But that decision has already been made, so what can I do? Certainly I'll cherish the remaining handful of Hellblazer issues I get to buy, and continue to work through the extensive catalog of back issues with which I need to catch up, so it's not as if I personally will never again enjoy a new story about the real Constantine. And I can "vote with my wallet," as it were, by steadfastly refusing to pick up Constantine #1 (or any other issue of that insult of a title). And I can write this little tantrum and stick it on the Internet.


Changing everything about a character is the same as creating a new character. Stop pretending it isn't, comicbook industry.