Friday, August 31, 2007

Can we get together and make this happen please?

Dame Darcy!

Flavor Flav!

Flavor of Love 3!

Go vote for Dame Darcy today!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gigantism -- you're getting it!

Rachelle Goguen at Living Between Wednesdays gives us a look inside WORLD'S FINEST 238, featuring a tale of the Super-Sons of Superman and Batman. They look EXACTLY like their dads, but they jive-talk and, um, ride tandem bikes.

Check out her blog for a rundown of the entire issue -- it's worth it. And, in the holy name of Kal-El, pre-order your copy of Superman/Batman: Saga of the Super-Sons today. Amazon says it's due in September.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Review - Batman 668

By Grant Morrison and JH Williams III
Colors by Dave Stewart, Letters by John J. Hill
Published by DC Comics, August 2007. $2.99

While Grant Morrison is raking in accolades (and rightfully so) for his work on ALL-STAR SUPERMAN, he’s also chugging along on some of the finest -- if also most nostalgic -- Batman stories to come along in some time. His premiere storyline, “Batman and Son” with Andy Kubert, swam the rivers of late-80s Batmen, revisiting Talia al Ghul and the events of BATMAN: SON OF THE DEMON. The current story, “The Island of Mister Mayhew,” revisits the Batmen of All Nations, an international club of Batman look-alikes first seen in DETECTIVE COMICS 215 from 1955.

In this second of three parts, “Now We Are Dead!,” the Batmen (now called “The Club of Heroes”) are having a rare reunion on the very Island of Mister Mayhew of the arc’s title -- only they’ve become trapped on the island and are being picked off one by one. Morrison does a very nice job building interesting and engaging personalities for each of the Batmen -- Man-of-Bats and Raven Red are a Native American father and son duo with a strained relationship, El Gaucho is an Argentine vigilante worth respecting, and the Legionary is an overweight Italian who revels in the stories of his youth -- while still moving the mystery along at a nice clip.

But what really makes this issue shine is JH Williams -- bar none, one of the finest artists making comics today. That he spends so much of his time working the superhero side of things is a one of the best reasons I can think of for superhero fans to get out of bed on Wednesday mornings. A flashback to the last Club of Heroes meeting, captioned “Eight Years Ago,” is playfully rendered in a six-panel grid colored with “comic book dots,” which I’m sure have a real name that simply escapes me tonight. When we’re blasted to the present day -- with the Club’s discovery of another of their murdered number -- we get some of the most sophisticated paneling I’ve seen outside of Frank Quitely. Even in splash pages, Williams employs a handy trick -- a thin black border around details worth our attention, with specific colors standing out of the otherwise gray background. I seem to remember him doing the same things in his run on DESOLATION JONES, and I’m happy to see him back in action here.

BATMAN under Morrison and Williams is, simply put, superior storytelling of trademarked characters. Batman might not be forever changed by the end of next issue, but some of these other characters will be -- if any of them survived -- and thanks to the storytellers involved, that will matter to me just as much.

Tell me more: JH Williams III, Grant Morrison.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Review - Sharknife: Stage First

By Corey Lewis
Grayscaling by Alejandro Fuentes
Published by Oni Press, March 2005. $9.95

I used to see SHARKNIFE mentioned in the same breath as SCOTT PILGRIM a lot, because they both came out around the same time, and both from Oni Press, and both in the same format -- digest-sized, to fit next to the manga -- and both with similar influences and tropes. Like PILGRIM, Corey Lewis through SHARKNIFE invents a world with its own rules and logic, centering on the Guangdong Factory, a Chinese restaurant constantly threatened by monsters that live inside its walls, and constantly defended by the busboy Ceasar Hallelujah, who transforms into the mighty bio-mech ninja Sharknife with the munch of a magic fortune cookie.

Also populating this world are Chieko, daughter of the Guandong Factory’s owner, baker of the magic fortune cookies, and damsel-in-distress to Sharknife’s conquering hero; Ombra Ravenga, crime boss of Sharknife’s unnamed city, and ringleader of the villains who send monster after monster to do battle with Sharknife; and a manageable but forgettable supporting cast that wouldn’t be out of place in an 80’s cartoon with much the same setup.

That’s the great weakness of SHARKNIFE -- it begins with a concept that’s well-worn, and despite artwork has flashes of kinetic fun, doesn’t rise above what we’ve seen before from other post-modern medium-bending action/adventure tales. Chieko is practically Olive Oyl, fainting when monsters attack, and Ravenga might as well be Mum-ra, Skeletor, or any other villain who’s ever lurked in the shadows, flinging deadly beasts at The Hero, either for purposes unclear or clichéd (in this case -- Ravenga is a crime lord who also ran the city’s hottest restaurant, until the Guandong Factory lured all of the customers away).

The dialogue tries to be ironic and sly, but where SCOTT PILGRIM has heart behind its awkward posturing and battle scenes, SHARKNIFE simply stumbles from fight to fight to fight. There’s no sense of what’s at stake, Sharknife himself comes across as a kid’s Ultimate D&D character -- always with a bigger, badder trick up his sleeve, and never in any real danger. And I know that’s part of the joke -- the bombast, the heroic pronouncements -- but knowing your dialogue is stilted doesn’t un-stilt it by itself.

While the artwork shows gleams of a Paul Pope influence (there’s even a Paul Pope poster behind Corey Lewis’s author photo), it’s often too hectic and confusing to follow what’s going on. This could be a case of mine eyes being unused to SHARKNIFE’s manga influences, but I like to think I’m not yet too old to appreciate the Brand New Scene. So, fine, I’ll say it -- grindcore IS just noise, and this comic IS, at times, too busy.

There’s some fun to be had in SHARKNIFE -- asides and captions like “Oh noes!” and “ZOMG!” give the book a sense of humor and freshness, but ultimately it’s a book that doesn’t rise above its influences.

Tell me more: Corey Lewis, Oni Press.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


By Joss Whedon & Fábio Moon
With Dave Stewart and Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics, August 2007. Free for you, and free for me!

LOUD MUSIC! LOUD MUSIC! STRANGE BUZZING!! “I’m not saying that I’m better than you…. I’m not saying I’m rubber and in no way did I suggest you’re glue” goes the future pop-hit from SUGARSHOCK! a four-piece band hailing from another beyond I would not mind visiting. Joss Whedon is taking off to more otherworldly outfits to get his brand of girl power on and I couldn’t squeal louder. SUGARSHOCK! is his own tweaked take on Jem and the Holograms or Josie and the Pussycats and has genre-mashed its way into my heart. One thing I have come to know about Joss is his passion for music, whether it is Sondheim or slow jams. Born from this love of hard-rockin’ tunes, SUGARSHOCK! is poised to be a release for all the creative energy stifled from the cancellation of Firefly, as this online-only web comic draws the closest, of his recent work, to representing the energy and the wit of the tragically befallen series.

Dandelion, the lead singer of the band, is a precocious and slightly schizophrenic Viking- hater. Her drummer, Wade, is a voluptuous woman of such awesomeness she brings home a groupie from every concert for indiscreet sex and absolutely no talking. L’Lihdra, lead guitarist, looks masculine in her pinstriped suit but has ways of resolving the in fighting with a sensitive touch. Then there is Robot Phil, the robot bassist, who is a robot, and he likes to ride shotgun and not to be threatened. I love these characters in a way I have not loved a group of people since the crew of Serenity. Their personalities are so distinct, and every word that comes out of their mouths are facets of who they are, marvelously specific. The language is a shade too precise, and all of the background details are awkwardly, and hilariously, straightforward. (The winner of the South Fairville Hormer’s Shrimp n Taco Rock Off receives a giant check with BIG CHECK written on it. Hee.)

The gorgeous artwork makes this my favorite single issue to come along based on the art alone. Fábio Moon has a way of making everything loose and flowing with electricity. Whimsical details like Dandelion’s stink-eye projecting a small lightning bolt are funzies. I took a special shine to a cloud of hearts obstructing the view, of which I won’t say anything more. Whedon’s mission is to make us fall in love with yet another amazing ensemble, and SUGARSHOCK! is an unqualified success. All I want is to read more, get to know the group better, and see what’s going to happen next. This is 8 pages of pure joy, man, go read it!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Review - De:Tales

By Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá
Published by Dark Horse Comics, June 2006. $14.95

At the risk of turning this into the Moon/Bá blog, I recently spent some time with the brothers’ “first major American release,” a collection of short stories, memories, and tales from Brazil. It looks like the earliest of the stories is dated 2002, so De:TALES covers the twins’ work over the course of a few years, and it’s hard to know when Fábio’s work stops and Gabriel’s begins, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

The collection dips into magical realism from time to time, such as when the brothers pee in a circle to invoke the spirit of a friend who has passed on, just in time for his birthday; or when one of the brothers (Fábio, maybe?) goes on an imaginary date with a girl he was too shy to actually talk to one night in a bar. But just as fulfilling are the stories about being tourists in Paris, or getting into a fashion show for free after waking up in a stranger’s bed.

De:TALES is also an examination of form and craft, particularly when Fábio and Gabriel take turns illustrating the same story with “Reflections I & II.” “Reflections I” paints Fábio as the defter hand at panel layouts and pacing, but part of the fun of looking at a Gabriel Bá comic from 2002 is knowing that by 2006, Bá was producing work like CASANOVA -- a superior study in pacing and layouts if ever there was one.

Tell me more: Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá, De:Tales preview at Dark Horse Comics.

(The only real smudge on De:TALES is the introduction from Diana Schutz, in which she tells us she “chose to politely ignore” the writing not done by Moon and Bá in a Xeric-award winner the brothers passed on to her at CCI years before they found a home at Dark Horse. Maybe it wasn’t to Schutz’s liking -- it was, goodness forbid, an “action-adventure tale” about superheroes -- but why take time in Moon and Bá’s introduction to put down some nameless writer’s early work? There are 112 pages of enjoyable comics to follow -- revel in that instead.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Review - Madame Mirage: First Look

Madame Mirage: First Look
By Paul Dini & Kenneth Rocafort
Colors by (pgs 4-7) Blond,
Letters by Troy Peteri
Published by Top Cow, May 2007. $0.99

Paul Dini is partially responsible for my geek awakening, as I was a serious addict of Batman: The Animated Series. His work on Lost is excellent, and I enjoy his Eisner winning one-shot Mad Love. He is a writer I respect, but Madame Mirage made me feel excluded.

The first thing, well first two things, that struck me are the size of Madame’s breasts. I understand Top Cow has a reputation for having large bosomed women in their comics, but I believe it cheapens the title. I feel this choice is particularly off mark considering Madame’s power. She has the ability to appear as anything she wants; like a mirage, one might say. Therefore, unless there is a character driven reason why an action heroine would desire huge breasts I’m not going for it. Besides, the big failing of the story is we never witness a demonstration of her Mystique-like powers to solve the conflict. Instead, she blows her prey out of the sky with a large pistol. I could not discern a single moment to invite the reader to understand what she is about. Dini’s two-page introduction detailing how Madame Mirage began as an internet cartoon and became a comic series is interesting, but the material for this ongoing series does not grip me.

When I read Dini’s introduction, I thought the pulpy mixture of sci-fi super heroics and noir crime drama sounded intriguing. Of interest is Dini’s goal to explore unusual super powered villains, and I do see promise in a heroine who can appear as anything. It is particularly intense because most everyone depicted has armor or gear of some kind in assisting their power, it seems, but Mirage tramps around in a white high slit slinky number and a wide brimmed hat. I wonder how it is she can allow herself to be vulnerable. I wonder if she can even be vulnerable at all. I’ll admit I am curious to discover why she has investment in fighting crime syndicates, and where her interests align.

I will wait for the trades, and my hope is Dini can impress me. I would be pleased if Dini could subvert every expectation I have from a Top Cow title such as Alan Moore has done with several Image titles. Based on this preview I find the weaknesses outweigh the promise. Rocafort’s artwork is competent, but not impressive. Dini says Madame Mirage is to follow in the footsteps of his quirky girl characters Jingle Belle and Harley Quinn. As this 99-cent preview makes evident, Madame Mirage is more an attempt at a new Aeon Flux.

Why the X-Men will always win ...

(From an Engine thread on the greatest panels in comics.)

Review - Casanova 8

By Matt Fraction and Fábio Moon
Letters by Sean Konot, Cover by Gabriel Bá
Published by Image Comics, August 2008

The very first time I read an issue of CASANOVA was on a bus from Milwaukee to Chicago, following a visit to the Masters of American Comics exhibit, in order to see original pages from LITTLE NEMO and POPEYE. I read it and I thought, “oh, okay. He’s trying to write a Grant Morrison comic book.” It wasn’t as good as a Grant Morrison comic -- what the eff is? -- but it was fun for all of its sixteen pages of comic book, five pages of backmatter. I came back for issue two.

And I came back for issue three, and four, and five-six-seven.

What kept me coming back -- and what I look forward to as I read every issue -- is that backmatter that comes after the story proper. Writer Matt Fraction talks about process, about how each issue was constructed, about how seeing the giant cranes on the Oakland side of the San Francisco Bay (which I’ve been looking at myself for the past year) informed a scene, or a visual, or an entire issue. He talks about overheard conversations that came along at just the right time, and about how the act of creating CASANOVA is a testament to the life that he lives. Folks like Cormac McCarthy go out of their way to NOT talk about the creative process, to let the work rise and fall by virtue of the work itself. But it’s not that simple all of the time -- with CASANOVA, part of the work is the life that surrounds it. I like that a lot. And by the time issues five or six were coming out -- and far and away by the time this issue, issue eight, came out -- I was making special trips to the comic shop on the Wednesdays a new CASANOVA was due. It still feels very Morrison-influenced (especially in eight’s backmatter, where Fraction recounts writing Casanova recover from an illness, so that HE might recover from an illness), but instead of feeling like sheer imitation the way issue one struck me, it now feels like Fraction is building on a tradition instead of replicating it.

The art in this issue, which starts a new story arc, is taken over by Fábio Moon, twin brother and studio-mate of CASANOVA co-creator Gabriel Bá. Though it comes from a different artist, there’s a certain inspired-pop-magic in twins trading off on illustrating a book that very much concerns itself with evil, alternate universe, and sexy twindom. Fábio and Bá are fantastic, apart or together, as I gushed on about a little bit in my review for 5, and they’re on the verge of the rest of the world recognizing it, too.

One thing that leapt out at me -- there’s a pretty unfortunate foot on page four, as Casanova kicks backward at a up-to-no-good nurse … but even that is part of CASANOVA’S charm, watching quality comics craftsmen draw weird looking feet from time to time, or slip into action-comics patterns only to shake themselves free of it a few issues later. CASANOVA is one of the special ones -- a comic book worth reading, re-reading, and examining from all angles.

Tell me more: Matt Fraction, Fábio Moon & Gabriel Bá.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Green Arrow: Year One

Green Arrow: Year One No. 1 & 2 (of 6)
Both written by Andy Diggle
Both drawn & cover art by Jock
Published by DC; $2.99
July 2007

There are virtually no limits to where a comic book can take its readers - and I don't just mean showing green-furred koalas who can shoot laser beams out of their nipples while picnicking on Saturn. How many people know what it's like, firsthand, to bungee-jump the Grand Canyon? Barrel-roll a stealth plane? Dive the Titanic? Seduce a supermodel? Activities that can feasibly be executed in the real world provide excitement a-plenty if your main character has the means of an over-indulgent, thrill-seeking playboy. So, why we learn about the aforementioned escapades of Oliver Queen (Green Arrow to be) while he's sitting on a glacier in the Arctic - essentially, a snowy hillside setting that is little more than a blank, white page - is completely beyond my comprehension. And very, very frustrating.

Subtract engaging art from Green Arrow: Year One No. 1 and there's little else to make up for it. Year One cooks up the proverbial orphan-turned-vigilante-hero origin story. We start with the insanely wealthy Oliver Queen, who has been seasoned generously with disillusionment. His sense of purpose has been strained off long ago and he has been sparingly garnished with interesting minor characters. I'm not claiming that because a storyline is commonplace it has to be mundane, but Year One does more stating than creating. For example, Ollie/G.A. "thinks" (I quote): "My whole life, I've surrounded myself with sycophants and yes-men who'll tell me whatever I want to hear" ...and that's it. There are no actual portraits of that situation. Uh, I'd like know what's it'd be like to be surrounded by "yes-men." It's why I'm reading this comic book. Rather than impose that interior monologue over an image of a boat in the middle of the ocean (bo-oring!), I want to watch some flunky laugh at Ollie's awful jokes, which they both know are not funny. Or show me some asshole egging the Arrow onto buying a meteor crater so he that can fill it with champagne. Anything is better than is nothing.

The only other character fleshed out in Year One is Ollie's one "true" buddy, Hackett, who is straight with him about how empty his life is. (He almost literally tells Ollie just that – "There's something missing in you, Ollie.") When Hackett betrays Ollie, it's not really a surprise – not that I saw it coming - but I just didn't care. In fact, I am betting that you will care so little about that story twist, too, that you won't mind that I didn't issue a spoiler warning just now.

The art in Year One No. 1 aspires to that sloppy, bad-on-purpose style that artists like Ben Templesmith can get away with, but few else can ... and too many try. Yeah, there's the occasionally exceptional panel, but it's difficult to tell if it's attractive on its own, or just standing out from the rest of the scribbles in the book. I do give Jock some props for his skill at drawing hair. There is some nice-looking hair in issue No. 1, especially in the last few pages. Jock really nails that upscale, chin-skimming, frat-boy look that some future CEOs get during their "cut-loose" college years.

Sadly, the transition between issue No. 1 and No. 2 was not very encouraging. At the end of No. 1, Ollie's buddy heaves him overboard in the middle of the ocean. No. 2 begins with Ollie washing up on an island shore. I protest not the degree of improbability in this situation, but its utter lack of adornment. Give me a life-saving school of dolphins! A mermaid! Even a hallucination of Robin Hood would have sufficed. Anything, please! - except for what we get, nothing!

What we do get (finally), looking on the bright side, is some decent character development. There is a stunning description of Ollie's first taste of water in several days. Diggle pens some entertaining reflections on the hoops Ollie has to jump through to survive on the island, even if some moments are sullied by over-obvious and unnecessary observations to the effect of "things are more satisfying when you do them for yourself." The highlight of No. 2 is an dynamic costume-acquiring sequence that is good enough to leave as a vague mention ... so as not to spoil.

Overall, the storytelling improves in issue No. 2. The art is more detailed and the narration switches to present-moment activities rather than just recounting past experiences and summarizing relationships. The effect is amazing. As the ol' design dictates: Simmer your hero with suffering; butter with meaning; and serve with a side of cold-hearted, mysterious injustice.

True to form, the relatively quiet, character-building No. 2 ends with our newly-reborn hero getting back in action. Even though I'd comfortably wager my life's savings on who the villain in this mini-series is, I still might pick it up No. 3 - just to find out what happens. Green Arrow Year One's hardly a shot through the heart, but it doesn't miss the entire target completely.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Review - Ultimate Spiderman #111

Ultimate Spiderman #111
By Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Bagley, and Stuart Immonen
Colors by Justin Ponsor, Letters by VC’s Cory Petit
Published by Marvel Comics, July 2007. $2.99

After two game-changing action-packed arcs - The Clone Saga and Ultimate Knights - Brian Michael Bendis has grabbed our shaken, frail bodies and forced us to sit with him and have a quiet chat. Between fighting various mutated freaks, dealing with the Ultimate love triangle, going to school and working at the Daily Bugle, Peter has had no time to deal with his disapproving Aunt May who once figured so closely to his daily life.

Aunt May’s guilt over Uncle Ben’s death became known in an issue similar to #111, "The Talk", the appropriately titled “Guilt,” issue #45. In “Guilt,” Aunt May talks to her psychiatrist about her inability to cope with a world where vigilantes run around in their pajamas doing whatever they want. She is relieved at the assurance her nephew is not involved in this fast growing trend. Issue #111 brings her growing concerns full circle. May has come to know the ugly truth: Peter Parker IS Spiderman. Yes, it’s time for that talk. I enjoyed reading Peter’s rationalization of the Spidey-sense, and Aunt May knowing the full story of the day the infamous radioactive spider bit Peter. In an odd, subtle moment, he tosses off the once traumatizing incident when Green Goblin threw Mary Jane off Brooklyn Bridge as mundane.

The one disappointment with this issue is a flashback to a battle with Ultimate Spot at the ROXXON labs just before picking up Aunt May at the hospital. The artist Stuart Immonen, to whom regular artist Mark Bagley is passing the Ultimate torch with #111, illustrates this sequence. The reader has the unfortunate position of only seeing their dialogue along the margin. I am disappointed this dull “staged reading” effect was implemented. While I love the witty exchange with May’s comical inability to understand what Peter is saying, and that the trashed lab hurt Peter’s young scientist heart, I would have expected a more ambitious execution of the conversation. Interspersing the intimate kitchen chat with the fight would have proved more engaging, especially if Bagley’s softer style had been integrated with Immonen's contrasting angular take on action sequences. This section felt like there was a last minute decision to include Immonen on the story; as a result, it felt lazy.

In the end, this issue delivered great moments for Aunt May. Her questions are just the right ones, as she feels increasingly nauseous the more she unweaves the delicate web of deceit. May discovers that Ben's familiar wise words of; "with great power..." is the great motivator for Spiderman. In her smile, I can see her relief. She can have a conversation with a superhero, thus providing the perfect bookend to “Guilt.”

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Review - Lost at Sea

By Bryan Lee O’Malley
Published by Oni Press, 2nd ed. March 2005. $11.95

LOST AT SEA is a pre-SCOTT PILGRIM graphic novel from Bryan Lee O’Malley concerning four teenagers, a road trip, lots of cats, a blinking NO, and lost souls. Our hero is Raleigh, who believes she lost her soul the summer after her childhood best friend moved away. What led Raleigh to be in this car with three strangers is something she pieces together for herself, and for us, as the trip progresses.

Raleigh’s lost best friend is given a fair amount of art-and-pagespace early on, only to go unseen for the last two-thirds of the book, but once LOST AT SEA turns into what it turns into, it’s a touching chronicle of post-high school moments that is fulfilling and truthful.

Steph, one of Raleigh’s car-mates, tells her toward the end that Raleigh has survived “your life’s great trauma,” which is melodramatic in the way it should be. But like real life, Raleigh’s story doesn’t end or crescendo with her life’s great trauma -- it just keeps going, moment by moment, as her experiences add up to be who she is. So even though LOST AT SEA doesn’t have the storytelling balance of SCOTT PILGIRM'S PRECIOUS LITTLE LIFE, the honesty of the story being told still endears it to me.

What I noticed in particular about Bryan Lee O’Malley’s art in SCOTT PILGRIM, and what is even more relevant to my own experiences in LOST AT SEA, is his eye for true detail even in a cartoony world. I’ve never seen the spartan utility of rest stop bathroom portrayed so accurately -- even down to the tilt of the mirrors. I feel like every location was drawn a photograph tinged with memory, which makes the story’s proceedings feel even more important -- and makes me remember the rest stops, diners and Americana I’ve experienced in my own travels. LOST AT SEA is the kind of book I resisted at first, but now that it’s done, I keep turning over in my head again and again, finding the places in my own life where my experiences match up with Raleigh’s.

Tell me more: Bryan Lee O'Malley, Oni Press.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Small Press Review - 5

By Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Rafael Grampa & Vasilis Lolos
July 2007. I paid four bucks for mine!

I picked up 5 at CCI, and along with THB and the Fourth World Omnibus it was easily one of my favorite purchases. It’s essentially a love letter to comics, to making them, and to each other, by Becky Cloonan, Fabio Moon, Gabriel Ba, Vasilis Lolos and Rafael Grampa.

5 is made up of four short stories and a cover, each by one of the contributors. The first story is “Becky,” by Gabriel Ba, about a tiny (but menacing!) lady getting out of prison, going home to her pet tiger and dirty dishes, and chaining herself to her drawing table.

“Fabio & Gabriel,” by Becky Cloonan, involves two artists, a mysterious egg, and “Becky’s” Becky reaching up through the comic page to flick the nose of one of our heroes.

“Vasilis” by Fabio Moon concerns itself with spaceships, even more cross-referencing from the previous stories, broken ankles, and yet more comics drawing.

“Grampa,” by Vasilis Lolos, and probably my favorite contribution, features an artist doing battle with a squidy-pug-in-a-jar before the unbelieving stares of the general public -- except for a grinning kid, who happily believes it all, and is rewarded for it with a comic book. Sweet!

Rafael Grampa provides the cover and title pages to every story. His website calls 5 the first, but not the last, collaboration between the five artists, and I really hope that’s true. The Engine occasionally flares up with talk about a “slimline anthology," an inexpensive periodical put together by four or five like-minded souls -- and if Becky, Fabio, Gabriel, Rafael and Vasilis were the souls behind such an effort, I’d be a happy, happy dude.

(I don't know when or where outside of San Diego copies of 5 are available, but earlier this week Comic Relief in Berkeley had copies -- let 'em know you want one!)

Tell me more:

Becky Cloonan
Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
Vasilis Lolos
Rafael Grampa

Friday, August 03, 2007

Capsule Reviews

San Diego was an absolute blast.


But in lieu of one of those con-reports everyone likes to post (and which you can find from my Heart Partner Juan down below), here are a few things I read this week:

By Gibbons, Gleason, Unzueta, Rollins, Major & Balsman

Part three of the Sinestro Corps War and … not much happens. My spidey sense wonders if the Corps is just filler, and the real action will unfold in the main GL book. But Sinestro looks really good, and it’s fun getting a glimpse of his homeworld -- now under the jurisdiction of another red-skinned, and possibly untested, Green Lantern. But Sinestro pulls the old “I will hint at my evil plans without doing much that’s actually important” trick.

By Straczynski, Garney, Reinhold, Milla & Petit

Hey, whattya know -- Spider-Man does the same kind of thing here with the Kingpin. In the words of the Monarch, “all sound and fury, signifying nothing.” But next time -- ooh, next time! -- you better believe it’ll be good!

By Fraction, Kitson, Morales, White & Artmonkeys Studios

Almost called “The Champions,” this book is a non-mutant, non-satirical, post-Marvel-Civil-War X-STATIX. It has the feel of a Matt Fraction book, even if I dunno quite what that means yet -- but if you took the credits off, I’d point to at as by the same author as the last SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN annual, even if it’s not as satisfying. The thing about X-STATIX was that even the fake-out members -- the folks who died in the first issue, for example -- were still interesting individuals in their own right. But the fake-outs in THE ORDER, quickly replaced by, you know, all the folks on the cover -- are pretty obviously ringers. But I trust Fraction enough by now (Spider-Man, IMMORTAL IRON FIST -- yes, sir!) to come back for a second issue. And besides -- the issue two cover tease promises a fight twixt a bear and a robot. It’s like he read my mind!


Thursday, August 02, 2007

Review - Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus, vol. 1

By Jack Kirby
Inks by Vince Colletta
Published by DC Comics, July 2007. $49.99

“This kid doesn’t get it. The Kirby tradition is to create a new comic.”

I always think it’s such a great idea at first, to by yet another collection of Silver Age comics, something big and prestige (or cheap and black and white), but usually I get an issue or two in, and I’m ready to return to the latest given issue of any old thing at all. Even the beautiful weirdness of SUPERMAN IN THE FIFTIES wasn’t enough to sustain my attention through the entire volume.

JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS was another San Diego purchase, and I was wonderfully surprised by how quickly I read through the sixteen comics reprinted therein. The volume contains seven issues of SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN and three issues each of THE FOREVER PEOPLE, NEW GODS and MISTER MIRACLE, the titles handled by Jack Kirby upon his defection from Marvel to DC in 1970, presented in chronological order. While they can occasionally stray into absurdity -- Don Rickles and his look-alike Goody Rickles show up in the last issue of JIMMY OLSEN reprinted -- those moments are easily outweighed by the creepiness of Mantis emerging from his energy cocoon, Granny Goodness seeking to return Scott Free back to her orphanage, and Darkseid’s goon Desaad hooking up all sorts of Kirby machines to his own flesh.

The Fourth World, as Mark Evanier puts it in his afterword, is Kirby at his most Kirby. He had an epic in mind, but he was making it up as he went along. Not willing (or, um, able) to rest on the success of, you know, creating the Marvel Universe, Kirby was playing with themes he’d return to again and again -- gods doing battle on Earth among humans, and mankind meeting the cosmic face to face. A book like GODLAND is fun and all, but see the quote up above -- if Kirby were alive today and still making comics, they wouldn’t look like that. They wouldn’t look like any Kirby comic we’d ever seen before.

Grant Morrison’s SEVEN SOLDIERS is probably the most Fourth World-like project the comics world has seen in recent years, and while that was executed with a beginning and an end, it still was born from the creations of those who had come before. Heck, most of them were actual Kirby creations. To see the pure comic book manic energy SOLDIERS sprang from -- and to understand the debt all of comics, and much of pop culture, owes to Jack Kirby -- the FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS is a great place to start. It’s the first of four volumes, with the second due to arrive later this month.

(Marvel’s DEVIL DINOSAUR OMNIBUS is also new to the shelves, along with Image’s reprint of THE SILVER STAR, a late-80’s Topp’s-published “Kirbyverse” effort. I dunno about SILVER STAR, but DEVIL DINOSAUR is more weird fun -- I think there’s an ETERNALS OMNIBUS out that collects that entire run, as well. I’ve had my eyes on DC’s KAMANDI ARCHIVES for a long time too … look, long story short? Go read some Kirby comics.)

Tell me more: Jack Kirby, Fourth World wiki.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Review - THB: Comics From Mars 1

By Paul Pope
Published by AdHouse Books, July 2007. $4.95

An SDCC exclusive, this is the first THB comic in … I dunno. Years. It coincides with the release of AdHouse’s Pulp Hope, an absolutely gorgeous art book by Paul Pope, one of the best artists working in comics. Also announced at San Diego was the release of THB in a complete four-volume series from FirstSecond, but in the meantime: if there’s any way you can get your hands on this beautiful, scratchy, black and white comic, do so but quick.

THB is the comic Paul Pope has been returning to again and again for more than ten years now, chronicling the adventures of HR Watson and her bodyguard mek (that’s the Tri-Hydro-Bioxygenate of the title), but it’s also more than that -- Paul Pope’s Mars is so fully realized that it’s possible to dip in and out and feel engrossed without getting lost. COMICS FROM MARS offers four short stories that 1) offer a glimpse of a zooball game, 2) give a crash course on Martian history, 3) convey the work day of mek/comics mechanics, and 4) show HR in the course of her normal day, seeking out only the fat-bubbliest of bubble hipshakes.

I think my favorite thing about this issue of THB -- more than the inky black inks, the energy of new comics being told, or the hope of more THB to come -- are Paul Pope’s letters. Hand-lettering is beautiful and slipping away into memory, and I treasure every glimpse of it I can still catch. I don’t know if Eddie Campbell is still hand-lettering or not, but I know for a fact that his letters on FROM HELL made the book just as much as Alan Moore’s words and Eddie’s own art. Paul Pope’s letters in COMICS FROM MARS are another piece to an exquisite puzzle, and for all the fun I had at San Diego this year, one of the best things to come from the con was the news that THB will soon be collected and complete.

Tell me more: Paul Pope, AdHouse Books.

Review - Astonishing X-Men vol. 3: Torn


By Joss Whedon & John Cassaday
Colors by Laura Martin, Letters by Chris Eliopoulos
Published by Marvel Comics, February 2007. $14.99

Like the best Spider-Man comics these days, the best of the X-Men seems to revel in nostalgia. I forget where I happened on it, but not too long ago I read a theory that there were three or four Spidey stories that are told and told again, and the same seems true of Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men. TORN, which collects ASTONISHING X-MEN 13-18, gives us the X-Men taken apart by one of their own, and a revamped (sort of) Hellfire Club, before blasting them off for what will probably be the last ASTONISHING nostalgia trip, the X-Men in space.

So while it’s nothing particularly new, it’s definitely nostalgia done well. John Cassaday packs in the homages to X-Men eras past, from the Storm/Cyclops battle for leadership to a shot of Kitty Pryde, on her own in the sewers, spinning around and ready to free her team from the Hellfire Club’s clutches -- taken right from a John Byrne panel of Wolverine doing the same in UNCANNY’s defining run of the early 80s.

Along with his recent run on BUFFY SEASON 8, Joss Whedon has proven himself a master of comic book pacing -- the reveal of Perfection’s true identity is topped only by Kitty’s reaction to the reveal, and I’ve never LOL’d to a sex scene the way I did at Kitty and Colossus finally getting back together, after years of Excalibur and death-related separation.

While ASTONISHING doesn’t have the dynamism and what-will-come-next of UNCANNY’s Claremont/Byrne run (or even the Claremont/Silvestri run, which is where I first found Marvel’s mutants), the Whedon/Cassaday connection consistently deliver a noble retelling of the X-Men myth, in a way no other creative time is capable these days.

Tell me more: Joss Whedon, X-Men wiki.