Sunday, March 31, 2013

365 Comics...90: Spontaneous #5 (2011)

Is it funny that I can accept the metaphysics of spontaneous human combustion in this book, but I have far more trouble accepting telekenisis (funny peculiar, rather than funny ha ha).  Joe Harris constructed a largely natural world in which some strange fire-related things happened, so the conceit that there was something supernatural surrounding the fire was a given.  The introduction of the "enhanced powers of the mind" however seemed a bit of a late-in-the-game introduction, then again, I had a lengthy gap between reading issues 1-3 and 4-5 (like, a year and a half) so I don't recall if it was set up even slightly at all before.  Either way I didn't think it was a natural fit with Harris' story.  It seemed largely unnecessary, save to provide some minor threat during the climax.  It's a minor gripe though, as I liked the story more and more as it progressed to its conclusion.  It was a fine mystery with an intricate and logical conspiracy behind it.  Harris doesn't spoon feed the reader the entire through line either, giving them with all the pieces but letting them finish the puzzle.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

365 Comics... 89: Insufferable (2012)

Just finished reading Mark Waid & Peter Krouse's inaugural title for <a href ="">Thrillbent</a>, his experimental digital comics site (in partnership with writer John Rogers).  I found the characters engaging eventually, though I was initially put off by yet another series whose premise revolves around analogues of more famous heroes (here it's Batman and Robin) and deviating from there.

Waid writes this more as a superhero comedy/drama revolving around family, something he has had plenty of experience with Fantastic Four and The Incredibles, and it genuinely made me laugh out loud more than a few times.  The character of Galahad (the Robin of the scenario) started to read like Sterling Archer by the latter third (which I think is the perfect tone for the character which wasn't coming through quite self-involved enough initially).

The tagline of the series is " What happens when you’re a crimefighter and your sidekick grows up to be an arrogant, ungrateful douchebag?"  In taking the Robin/ Batman tact, though, Galahad never meets the level of asshat-edness and insufferability of Damian Wayne.

I don't have a lot to say about the format.  It's probably scaled for iPhone and iPad, so my Galaxy Note II led to a lot of scrolling. As well the "weekly" structure makes it a little annoying to read after the fact (as it's not continuous reading on the in-page app).

For free it's definitely a fun read.

And look, a guy wearing a coat of babies.

Friday, March 29, 2013

365 Comics...88: Batman #455 (1990)

A few thoughts about Batman #455:
- I kind of forgot that Tim Drake was around already in 1990, but then again I forgot I'm old now.
- Tim was a very angry boy back then, quite unrecognizable compared to how he turned out under Chuck Dixon's guidance
-This was the start of the story arc that introduced Tim in costume (#457)
- Both Batman and Nightwing's inner monologues... florid and kind of poetic (but I wonder if readers who grew up with the comics of the late '90's or '00's look at this over-dramatic writing as challenging to read and enjoy as much as I do Silver Age writing... I grew up with it so while I recognize that its a little ham-fisted, I have no problem with it)
- Tim Drake's outward monologue is like an excerpt from a latin soap opera and Norm Breyfogle's art totally sells it
- Breyfogle is still one of my all-time favourite Batman illustrators
- This was 1990 so they were still trying to make Vicky Vale a viable character because of the movie
- Haha, Vale has to develop her pictures (topless apparently)
-an ad for The Flash TV show (Justice has never been faster... or more furious)... man I remember being so excited for that show (and loving it. I still quite like it)
- an ad for the four-part Superman title X-over Krisis of the Krimson Kryptonite.  I remember reading this arc and I think more than anything I had read before, this was what Superman should be.  I may have to dig those out.

365 Comics...87: T.H.U.N.D.E.R. #1 (1987)

I was completely unfamiliar with T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents when DC started publishing a new title featuring the Silver Age heroes back in 2010.  I gave the series a shot and became an instant fan.  I learned from interviews with series writer Nick Spencer that the series was carrying on in continuity with the previously published storylines rather than wiping the slate clean. Then I discovered that there were only really about three dozen comics featuring T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents in total that came prior to DC getting the rights, so I've been on a quest to get them all (but on the cheap).  I know of the Tower comics, the JC and Archie comics (as discussed in 365 Comics #35), the Deluxe comics, but I had no idea about the extremely short lived Solson Publications series (titled just T.H.U.N.D.E.R.).  It lasted one issue.

Solson was a short-lived publishing house founded by Gary Brodsky, the son of noted Marvel executive Sol Brodsky.  Legendary illustrator Rich Buckler acted as publisher.  They're primarily known for... well, they're not really known for anything.  Solson was yet another in a long line of came-and-gone black-and-white indie press that appeared in the 1980.  They published such wonders as "Codename: Ninja" ("So real, you'd swear it was a movie") and "Reagan's Raiders" (President Reagan and his cabinet do Rambo and Commando one better!"  Here's the back cover ad for some of their publications (many of which I doubt actually made it to press).

There's a good bit of background about T.H.U.N.D.E.R. in the TwoMorrows T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents Companion and it's evident from the comments of the creative team (Michael Sawyer and James E. Lyle) that the project came together in any form at all was fortunate, but those fortunes ran out very quickly.  The creators were disappointed with the cheapness of the publication and the fact that notes on the printing of the book were ignored.  The series, intended as a four-issue mini with a plotted out follow-up, wasn't entirely dead in the water, as Rich Buckler had negotiated with rights holder John Carbonaro a 5-year licensing deal, but deals with alternate publishers ultimately didn't wind up with a published book.

The book itself is actually quite decent.  Set in the wake of the exaggerated fallout of an excessively conservative, xenophobic, Reagan-era landscape, America has sealed off its borders, removed themselves from the United Nations (as well as booted the U.N. from New York) and is cancelling all visas, deporting any non-citizens, rooting out illegal aliens.  But the government-sponsored "White Guard", street-level foot soldiers, are stirring up even more trouble, seeding violence among the small groups of illegals, letting them "take care" of each other.  A resistance group of Americans and Francophones clash, people die, and in the chase, four of the clashing resisters discover an abandoned gateway to T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Mountain and an off-kilter NoMan.

It's an alternate take on the Agents but it still adheres to continuity, utilizing the characters and situations from the past with a dedicated eye towards making it modern (1980's modern that is).  Michael Sawyer's script is good, obviously taking influence thematically from The Dark Knight and Watchmen, but told in a more conventional comic book story structure.  The art from James E. Lyle and Ron Wilber is very much '80's feeling, in the same mode as Tim Hamilton (Trouble With Girls), Bill Willingham (Elementals) or Ben Edlund's early Tick work.  It's a little sparse in the background department and the faces and poses can be awkward at times, but it's the work of young artists with some genuine talent.  In the aforementioned Companion, Lyle notes he did not like the inking, expecting more of a Klaus Janson-style, but Ron Wilber's inks are more akin to Jerry Ordway... it's good overall, but I can see how that would be disappointing.

In all a happy find in the 50 cent bin and a curious addition to the T-Agents collection.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

365 Comics... 86: I, Vampire #18 (2013)

Oh, I thought this was the final issue.  Hrm.  I've not been enjoying this storyline tremendously especially in knowing it's the last of the series.  Taking the main characters and doing to them all manner of injustices was a fun twist for a few issues but in hindsight probably not the best thing for the series.  We had just gotten to know Andrew and Tig before they got nasty and detatching the reader from them without making them even all that appealing as villains (I mean they were appropriately evil but not enjoyably so) has made it harder to maintain interest in the long run.

This issue feels like it's rushing to its finish but somehow it just doesn't feel like it's appropriately escalating, while the dialogue here, as in the last few issues, feels more than a little sloppy (the characters are starting to all sound alike, everyone is quippy in a way that doesn't work well with the looming end of the world before them).  Also the series has kind of lost it's handle on how it's characters are supposed to act and how being a vampire affects their personality.

This was an amazing series to start but the last half dozen issues have tapered off in quality. Fialkov has some cool ideas and he can develop charaters well but he seems to be having trouble negotiating the two these last few issues.  Perhaps it's an increasingly busy schedule or a declining interest knowing the series was facing cancellation... or it could be that it's just not working for me.

I kind of wish Fialkov had another arc, if only to see how Andrew deals with what happened to him and all his friends and associates in this one.  Either way, hoping for a much stronger final issue.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

365 Comics... 85: Deathmatch #4 (2013)

I'm really fond of this series... I appreciate Paul Jenkin's myth-building and his use of archetypes as short-hand.  What I don't care for is the extended tease and dancing around a reveal for the sole purpose of keeping the reader in suspence.

The conceit of the series is that 32 heroes and villains will fight to the death, March Madness style, until one victor remains. There is a purpose to all this beyond simple entertainment, and that reason is revealed to the contestants upon entering the fighting arena, and it's so huge a reason that it makes men and women kill.  Of ccourse one the match is over the winner's memory is wiped.  The other contestants can't know, for some reason.

The start of this issue has two characters dancing around the reveal at frustrating and unnecessary length. Jenkins is teasing this reveal for too hard that he's hitting the breaking point where the actual reveal might not support the build up.

That complaint aside, I like how he furthers the characters investigation into the hows and whys and what fors and WTFs of their predicament.  I'm wondering at this stage how long the series is given that 4issues in the first round is almost complete.  I'm guessing 12-issue maxi-series.  I'm in for the whole ride.

Monday, March 25, 2013

365 Comics... 84: Hawkeye Vol 1: My Life As A Weapon (2013)

After reading this trade, I'm certain I could only read Hawkeye and not need to read any other comic book ever, at all, period.  Just Hawkeye from now on, that's it.   It's that good.  As good as I had heard.  Better even.  Considering I haven't heard a bad thing about it, I was kind of expecting it to let me down a little.  It did not.

I'm not going to stop reading other comics (but I could, really), because I have a problem, but seriously Hawkeye is kind of everything Iook for in a comic book.  Writer Matt Fraction has tapped into all the superhero tropes I love: the flawed hero, a sense of history as well as legacy, and capturing both the hero's perspective as well as the everyman's, giving the reader a very well-rounded look at a world with super heroes in it.  We see the fantastic as well as the mundane and both of it is great.  Fraction uses humour to great effect, situation and character-specific.  I was reading early Palmiotti/Gray Heroes For Hire yesterday and there's a book that tries too hard to be funny but Fraction's comedy is wry, original, and seemingly effortless (his use of the old translated word balloon is inspired).

I was also pondering recently whether all the many female heroes I adore (Sne-Hulk, Spider-Woman, Batwoman etc.) are somewhat marginalized by being, at least in conception (and in name) derivatives of male counterparts and somewhat oppressed by having no perceived identityof their own  (I think Red She-Hulk is the absolute worst example of this, doubly qualified).  But here, in Hawkeye, Clint Barton has adopted Kate Bishop (who took his identity while he was deceased) as a nearly equal junior partner, allowing her to remain Hawkeye even as he has reclaimed the moniker (because lies in movies y' know).  I also enjoy tremendously how much Clint and Kate enjoy calling one another Hawkeye.

Clint has a penchant for falling out/ getting thrown out/jumping out of windows as well as getting knocked on the head.  I'd be thrilled if Fraction started dealing with Clint's concussion-like symptoms as an ongoing thread.

I liked David Aja with Fraction on Iron Fist but I love him here.  Dynamic, creative and deceptively simple, his use of silhouettes is masterful and his comedic timing is on par with the greats like Kevin Maguire, Keith Giffen and Kyle Baker.  Soo damn delightful.  Javier Pulido does a good job as fill-in but just doesn't have the same pizzaz as Aja.  But these two are so good they make Alan Davis, a legend by no small means, look kind of average and mundane in comparison (in the reprinted Young Avengers Presents #6).

I may have to add this to my monthly pickups since I don't know if I can wait for the next trade.  And you know, two days ago I couldn't have cared less about Hawkeye.  Sheesh.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

365 Comics...83: Masters of the Universe #5 (1987)

I don't know how I became so enamored with He-Man as a kid.  I remember receiving some of the first wave of characters and Castle Greyskull as a Christmas gifts in '82.  I would have been 6 at the time, so I'm not quite sure how I came to know what He-Man was.  Did I ask for it or did my parents just intuitively know I would absolutely love it?  This was well before the cartoon, which didn't appear until 1984, but by then I was already firmly a He-Man fan.

I strongly suspect that it was DC Comics Presents #47 (July 1982), in which Superman teams up with He-Man to battle Skeletor (but not before fighting one another first, naturally), or possibly one of the comics, such as All-Star Squadron #15 (see yesterday's 365 Comics #82), which featured the 16-page MOTU "preview" (not entirely sure what it was a preview for... the 3 issue mini-series that followed?  That seems odd.  I'm almost certain that the appearance in DCCP and in the Preview was more advertising for the toy line than any real attempt at storytelling with the characters).  I don't know where my original copy of DCCP #47 disappeared to, but when I acquired a new one about 10 years ago, it felt instantly and intimately familiar (including the, to me, mind-blowing Whatever happened to... Sandy The Golden Boy back-up, which in some regard informed James Robinson & Geoff John's use of him as Sand in JSA).  Reading the Preview yesterday was less intimate, but still familiar.

The DC Comics Masters of the Universe stories were always very interesting to me, even as a kid. There was a waywardness to them, an obvious lack of planning for who these characters were, what their abilities were, what their conflict was about, what the rules of the world were... that sort of thing.  There's a definite sense of winging it, and, if I recall correctly, the DC Comics diverge drastically from the mini-comics that came with the early figures, just as the Filmation cartoon diverges quite wildly from the DC Comics, and just as the movie would diverge from the cartoon (consistency across media was not a strong point for the property).  I lost the mini-comics rather quickly, so the DC Comics stood as character canon for me until the cartoon quickly usurped it to become the official He-Man.

I liked DC's less juvenile take on the characters as a kid, mostly informed by the artwork of Curt Swan (in DCCP and the Preview) and George Tuska (in the mini-series) which were informed more by fantasy tropes than superhero ones.  DC introduced the Prince Adam/He-Man dual identity, as well as Cringer, as Adam's timid pet who transforms into a ferocious fighter.  They used Teela as chief of security, but Teela with her snakeskin armor and staff was used as visual reference for the Sorceress.  Mattel obviously was just starting to construct some sort of mythology  on the way to getting the cartoon made, and Paul Kupperberg had a vastly different approach to the limited concepts than the Filmation writers did.

Kupperberg used the actual toys to guide his stories with the characters.  He-Man and Skeletor each came with a sword (He-Man's sword was grey, Skeletor's blue) that could join together and "unlock" Castle Greyskull's front door.  Kupperberg used that idea in the Preview, with Skeletor needing to join two halves to reveal the mighty secrets of Greyskull.  Of course he had to shoehorn Superman in somehow, leading to an extremely disjointed story (the use of Zodak, the Metron of the MOTU, also caused a lot of confusion... was he good, or seemed like nobody really knew what he was up to?)

The Star Comics (an imprint of Marvel) Masters of the Universe stories were more in-line with the Filmation version of the characters, however, it seemed that the series was even more blatantly used to promote new action figures and toys than the early DC Comics were.  As well, since Star was Marvel's "young readers" line, the writing of the series (from Mike Carlin, up to issue 8) was exceptionally patronizing, lacking any depth, passion or seeming interest in the characters.  But then, if you're tasked with devising a 22-page story about Monstroid and the origin of Extendar that also weaves in the three-way conflict between Hordak, Skeletor and He-Man, while also containing a life-lesson about responsibility for (kid-proxy) Orko to learn, well, anyone would be hard-pressed to come up with anything less silly than this.

I loved this comic as a pre-teen for the very reason it existed.  It featured all the new toys I could go out and buy.  This was unlike the cartoon, which had ended production sometime in '85 and thus had no inclusion of new toys.  My favourite episodes of He-Man were always those that featured more of the characters, vehicles and playsets from the toy line.  But most episodes of the show frustratingly centered around the core cast, or worse, characters who were not toys!

I poke my head into the Masters of the Universe comics and animation and video games from time to time and am rarely happy with what I see, the two recent Origin one-shots about He-Man and Skeletor written by Joshua Hale Fialkov being the exception.  There's not a lot of younger He-Man fans out  there (the toys being produced are boutique toys for adults at this stage, never to be found in Toys-R-Us), the Masters of the Universe of the 1980's was lighting in a bottle and should not try to be recaptured.  Instead, like Fialkov did, treat it seriously.  Don't worry about the kids, because the kids aren't reading.  The Masters has always been a unique hybrid of sci-fi and fantasy, so if there's any interest in modernizing the series, look towards Game of Thrones for inspiration.  Or the complete opposite, make it an outright comedy (I mean, those names alone do half of the heavy lifting).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

365 Comics...82: All-Star Squadron #15 (1982)

Hoo Doggy... nothing used to make me as excited as seeing a whole gob of Superheroes in one place and these classic Justine League-style floating head-framed covers were always a key indicator that many heroes were inside.

This issue of All-Star Squadron is the fourth part (of five) in which (some of) the Earth-2-based ASS (this team was kind of created before acronyms became ubiquitous) teams up with (some of) the Earth-1Justice League and (some of) the future Earth 2 Justice Society. They're gathered to stop the time and dimension-hopping Nazi Per Degatan who has stolen nukes from Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis on Earth Prime... you know,"our" Earth.  His using the nukes to attack the Allies of Earth 2 in 1942, offering all countries of the world to either submit or be destroyed.  He's also enlisted the ever- untrustworthy Crime Syndicate of Earth 3 to help him defeat the heroes but they just keep stabbing each other in the back. No honor among assholes.

Meanwhile, the missing missiles on Earth Prime has escalated into full-scale nuclear war.  Remember when that happened? 

This is an exceptionally convoluted story made all the worse by Roy Thomas' over-keen exposition and the need to always have characters unnecessarily reacting to whatever the hell is happening (as well as entirely too much narration).  One could swear Thomas was getting paid by the word.

The classic pair-offs happen here with Superman, Dr. Fate and Robotman doing something in space Superman should be able to do by himself, but they square off there against Ultraman (I never could guess his secret identity).  Aquaman, Liberty Belle and Starman face Superwoman on missile island.  Then Hawkman, Johnny Quick and Huntress fight Power Ring.  I guess in Part 5 Steel, Firebrand, Green Lantern, Power Girl, Zatanna and Firestorm face Owlman and Earth 3 Johnny Quick before all the heroes reunite to face whatever escalating threat Degatan presents them with.  Sooo formulaic.  I love it but it's ridiculous.

This issue also comes with a bizarre 16-page Masters of the Universe preview hot off the heels of DC Comics Presents #46.  I'll talk more on MOTU tomorrow.

I've read a couple of these early ASS issues lately and it amuses me how many people have written in to complain how much they could not give a shit about the cast of the book and how they just want the Justice Society back.  They did read the title of the book right?

Oh, one last note. Liberty Belle comments that she's heard there's an Aquaman on Earth 2, too but that she's yet to meet him.  Did we EVER meet Earth 2 Aquaman?  I imagine Thomas had something planned there but that Crisis interfered.

Friday, March 22, 2013

365 Comics... 81: Action Comics #18 (2013)

This is heady stuff, certainly not pleasure reading.  I've been having as difficult a time reading this on a monthly basis lately as I did the Invisibles.  You know, I always meant to reread the Invisibles, and it has been 15 years I still haven't.  I don't know if that realization means I should start tomorrow or if I should just get rid of them 'cause it's never going to happen.. At least this is only 18 issues long, but I'm pretty sure I'm going need a complete reread before I truely grasp all of what's going on.  Oh, I get that it is mostly thematic in nature, but reading month-to-month consuming another hundred stories in between I kind of lose the thread quite a bit.

Dan has a great review of the latest issue (he's been paying closer attention than I have obviously) over at (a href=""> Thor's Comic Column this week</a>.  I'd strongly recommend you read it.

I have a review of Five Ghosts from Image, Adam does Constantine, and Jeb takes a look at the looming spectre of cancellation over at Captain Marvel.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

365 Comics...80: The Fearless Defenders #2 (2013)

I love a funky cover.

The "carded action figure" cover isn't exactly new (Scud the Disposable Assassin #9 is the example that comes to mind immediately) but I love it, mainly because I love carded action figures.

After reading a couple of pro-femme raves of this title (and thinking recently about what kind of positive comics I could find with female role models with keeping my daughter's comic reading future in mind) I decided to pick up the first two issues.  It wasn't a hard decision given that I generally respond well to Cullen Bunn's writing (so long as it's not Deadpool), and a rotating roster of Marvel's heroines joining the odd couple of Misty Knight and Valkyre (Birds of Prey-style, but very much like a team-up book), and it wasn't a hard decision to check it out.

But really, I'm just sold based on funky covers alone.  Looking ahead a couple issues, #4 has a paper doll cover and #5 has a Street Fighter homage), all from cover artist Mark Brooks, who manages to draw beautiful women, but powerful and unobjectified.

I've also tried out the "AR App" thing that you're finding in many Marvel comics for the first time.  Enh.  Conceptually DVD-style "bonus features" is a good idea, but it's also a financial investment, and I doubt there's much excess money in producing comics.  But crudely animated images with stilted line delivery, cosplayers with stilted line delivery, and editors explaining what a mutant is (with stilted line delivery) isn't making me want to whip out my phone two or three times an issue.  Has anyone found an essential "AR" yet?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

365 Comics...79: The Crew #1 (2003)

I'm only now beginning to realize how big a fan of Christopher Priest I am.  Unfortunately I didn't do it when it mattered.  I've been late to dinner on almost every one of Priest's major projects, from Xero to Black Panther to Quantum and Woody to Captain America and the Falcon.  I think the only projects I was with him on from start to finish at the actual time of publishing were Justice League Task Force and The Ray (well, actually pretty much all of Priest's output from '94-'96, my peak DC collecting heyday).  I'm coming to everything else in hindsight and I feel like crap for it.  The man is an amazing writer with an exceptional wit, and he's been unfortunately marginalized in the industry.  Priest, on his website a decade ago, discusses his frustration with working within the mainstream system, which he details in much depth there and I won't rehash here.  Suffice it to say Priest was never truly been given the opportunity to hit it big at DC or Marvel, and it's a damn shame, especially since The Crew here is his second-to-last published work in the field. I don't know if one regular reader would have done much difference at the time but a talent like this disappearing from the industry altogether is a damn shame.  From a perusing of his most recent blog posts he seems busy, and likely making a better living than working in comics, but still... we need his talent, his storytelling (he was apparently in talks with IDW for a while, including about Star Trek, but it didn't materialize).  I truly hope Valiant looks to Quantum and Woody as the next expansion book for their line (although, I wonder if they're a creator-owned property and not an outright part of the Valiant stable of characters) or just to Priest for any new title they wish to launch.  Hell, anybody give this man a job and I'm going to read it, whatever it is, that's my commitment to getting him back into comics.

I recall noticing Priest's turn-of-the-millennium work at Marvel.  I was reading mostly trades then, and I actually did pick up the first two trades of Black Panther, and have been waiting ever since for more (none ever materialized).  When the Crew hit, again I was just starting to buy floppies again, but I was still massively in debt, and there was a $1.50 disparity between Canadian and US cover at the time...even today a $3.99 cover price gives me pause (it's the reason why I'm trade waiting on the Hickman Avengers series), but back in 2003, the $4 cover price made me choose my comics very judiciously.  I also still wasn't much of a Marvel fan so a book centered around Rhodey (who, to be honest, I'm not certain I had read a comic with him in it to that point) seemed an easy pass.  Priest did Captain America and the Falcon following the Crew with Bart Sears, who was one of my artistic heroes in the 90's so I was looking at it closely, but gave it a miss ultimately, because, again, I'm wasn't much into Marvel.

Now, for me and comics, it's not about the characters, or the company/universe so much as it's about the storyteller, and whether I like someone's point of view.  And I dig Priest's POV.  So, I'm starting to stock up on what I missed when I find them at the 50 Cent club (see 365 Comics #66) .  Compiling runs of Cap and Falcon, Black Panther, Quantum and Woody, and now Crew are now on my mission radar.  I'm not a religious man, but I realized a little more Priest in my life is not a bad thing.

[I should note that although the title on the cover quite clearly says "THE CREW", the actual title of the series is listed as "CREW" sans the "THE". Weird.]

[UPDATE: Just posted Mar 21:

Looks like Quantum and Woody are coming back.  I'm going to be *very* disappointed if Preist is not attached.  However if they reprint the original Q&W series in trades and that puts $ in Priest's pocket, then I'm all over those.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

365 Comics...78: Freakangels Volume One (2008)

I was thinking recently about how many entertainment distractions there are out there: television, music, theatre, movies, comics, radio, stand-up and sketch comedy, books, magazines, podcasts, games, and how the internet has upended almost all of it.  I originally wrote "usurped" but that's not quite accurate.  The internet has changed the game of making, promoting and selling almost all entertainment, and it's doing its damnedest to replace all the traditional means of accessing your entertainment, which probably isn't completely a bad thing... afterall, if we're receiving all our entertainment digitally, it just means a lot less packaging winds up in landfills, and a lot less environmental impact in producing and distributing physical copies.  I don't know what the trade-off is in the impact of the increase in digital resources required (servers, physical and wireless bandwidth, power consumption), but I have to think it's dramatic.
But at the same time, the internet has made entertainment almost all-consuming, especially if you're like me and love to be entertained.  With the internet and digital media, very little entertainment history is lost, and more and more and more is being created.  It's to the point that even if you stuck to only one format, be it movies, podcasts or web-series, there's just not enough time to consume all of the one's you might have a passing interest in.  Since the birth of my daughter, I've given up on keeping active in the music community, I've had less ability to see films in the theatre and less motivation to watch them at home (when I only have around three hours in any given evening it's hard to fit keeping current on the shows I currently watch (ignoring those I want to watch, for now), sports, reading comics, blogging, socializing, entertaining, gaming, and anything else that needs to be done into any given week), and don't ask me what the last book I read was.  Where my consumption has grown is in comedy (stand up and podcasts have become my commuting savior), and comic books.  Comics are so much faster to consume than almost anything, particularly because you control the pace, which is harder to do with any visual or audio medium.  But even with my sharp increase in monthly reading, I still am no where near caught up on everything I would like to read.

I have a long, long list of titles I would like to read, and probably just as long a list of titles I would like to re-read.  I have so many comics that I liked or loved that I would like to give more time, but there's also so many new, or new-to-me comics that I think I should read that I would literally need to have nothing else to do with my life for me to feel like I was even remotely close to catching up on it all.  I love stories and storytelling, and comics are my most preferred medium to receive them, that I want to be engaged with them as much as anything else.  Yet, in spite of reading so many websites with news and reviews (and writing them myself) I still miss A LOT of things, even from prominent creators like Warren Ellis.

I must have heard about Freakangels at some point over the past 5 years, and yet reading this first trade I had no familiarity except the nagging feeling that this was possibly a web-series.  A quick plunge of the google machine and indeed, Freakangels ran for 144 6-page Episodes at  I know for certain I've been terrible at keeping up on web series so it's no wonder I missed this... but still, to be so oblivious to it.   I'm glad I found this (steeply discounted) first volume (so steeply discounted that it competes quite handily with reading it for free on the website), though it means I'm entering the rabbit hole of Freakangles and may not emerge for a while if I'm not careful.

The first volume runs up to the end of Episode 24, and it's a typically smart and engaging Ellis product, with a very genial pace that welcomes you to the characters and the world with much ease.  Perhaps too much ease to start...  I was getting a little concerned, as 2/3 of the way through this volume, there had been much set-up but only very minor conflict and I was wondering if anything would actually escalate in this trade (but oh, when it escalates... it gets serious).  It's a wonderful read that obviously is just the start of a very long-form story, all of it available on-line, for free.  

I'm still quite stuck with reading physical comics, but my attitude has been changing of late (especially with a device for reading digital works that doesn't make my brain hurt or scream in frustration), so I welcome the challenge of reading the rest of the series, at no cost but my time, especially when the quality is so high.  Ellis genuinely is one of the medium's premiere writers, and I think we know that, but his penchant for creator-owned work and his apparent disinterest in playing with the favored toys of the big two with any ongoing zeal keeps him out of the big spotlight with any regularity.  But looking at his output, from Transmetropolitan, to Global Frequency, to Planetary, to NextWave, to The Authority, to Iron Man, to his Ultimate Galactus trilogy, to Ocean and Orbiter, to Thunderbolts and newUniversal, that's all really, really, really good  (much of it great, some of it classic) stuff.  I think I've avoided his Avatar stuff largely because Avatar has a "house style" to its art I really don't care for (the Juan Jose Ryp effect), and I'm detracted from reading it almost immediately.  

But Freakangels has a bit of a different thing going, almost a manga-style (a little in Paul Duffield's character design, but mostly in the almost cel-animation-like coloring) that is richly detailed but not oppressively so, and very quickly tunes in with Ellis' scripting.  I can tell from this first volume that the remaining six are going to see a writer and artist in sync.  

After I'm done with this series, anyone have any other "must read" web series I should be taking a peek at?  'Cause, you know, I don't have enough to read as is.

Monday, March 18, 2013

365 Comics...77: Captain Carrot And His Amazing Zoo Crew #14 (1983)

I loooved Captain Carrot & Co. when I was a kid.  I only had maybe 6 of the 20 issues of the series, which I'm quite sure came my way after the title was already cancelled, but I was somewhat fixated with it pretty much until I discovered Giffen/DeMatteis' Justice League and Byrne/Ordway's Superman titles on the newsstand.  I was still keen for Carrot's return, up to and until the Final Crisis tie-in "The Final Arc".  That series just didn't seem to recapture the magic of my youth, but I realize now that anthropomorphic funny animal comics are almost exclusively children's fodder.

My Captain Carrot comics were passed down to my step-son a couple of years ago and he seems to have keyed into them in the same way I did at his age.  Next to Tin Tin and Astrix, they're hands down his favourite comics (certainly of those that have come from my old collection).  I do manage to find the odd issue here or there to add to the run (it is about two-thirds complete at this point though they're not that easy to come by... I still don't believe that the Oz-Wonderland War mini-series exists... I've only ever seen the ad for it) but I haven't read most of the additions found in recent years.

Issue 14 I only read about in the letters page (err... Lettuce Page) of issue #18, so it's rather infamous to me, the debut of the Earth-C JLA: the Justa Lotta Animals, animal variants of all the DC heroes:

Super Squirrel
Wonder Rabbit
Green Lambkin
(with cameos from:
The Martian Anteater
Rat Tornado
The Item (the Atom as a tiny elephant)
Stacked Canary (really!?)
Green Sparrow
and my favourite, Firestork

Now in Captain Carrot-world Carrot's alter ego R. Rodney Rabbit is the illustrator of the JLA comic book so this poses a conundrum, which is explained by a visit to the JLA's original writer, Gardner A. Fox, who explains his understanding of the multiverse and the fact that he and Rodney Rabbit must be subconsciously tapping into another reality when writing his "funnybook stories" (a common explanation when breaking the fourth wall like this in comics).

But their actual coming together is the result of the teaming of Carrot's enemy Dr. Hoot and the JLA enemy Feline Faust.  They've hatched a scheme to take over the JLA's home planet Earth C-minus and by scuttling the JLA over to Earth C and keeping them busy with terrorist acts from the likes of Armordillo and Amazoo (splitting off into smaller groups of 3 just like the real JLA).  Once the two super-teams catch wise to the situation they teleport post-haste, hopefully to Earth C-minus (but potentially not).

I'll be blunt, this is some silly reading which I think is what appeals to kids so much and has adults straining to get through.  There's some old-school pre-Crisis fun to be had (and I always loved Scott Shaw!'s cartoons) but at time the script is painful, mostly revolving around the Carrot/ Super Squirrel/ Wonder Rabbit love triangle or Yankee Poodle's mooning over Supes (who comes across like a real dick, seriously... he's more a villain here than Amazoo or Shaggy Dog).  The reduction of the female heroes to lovesick gawkers is really, really sad, to the point where these crude stereotypes make me reconsider whether my kids should be reading this chauvinist Earth-pig material.  My 11-you-old also consumes a lot of Archie so he's already getting a lot of this boy-crazy-girl crap (even today's Archies are still somewhat reductive).

Captain Carrot has returned, sort of, in the pages of Threshold in the New 52, but not as a cartoon super-bunny but as a one-eyed, leather-clad space pirate with a Han Solo complex. Its evident that DC is trying to make a Rocket Raccoon-like breakout character out of a silly property but they should instead try to create a new kids brand which is what he was created for in the first place.

[my favourite part of this issue: the cover illustrations of the creators as Earth C characters:

Scottie Shaw!
E. Nelson Birdwell
Owl Gordon
Duck G. Ordano
Roy Tomcat

Sunday, March 17, 2013

365 Comics...76: Power Girl #3 (2009)

I became a fan of Power Girl back in the late 1980's during her stint with Justice League Europe / International.  She had that nasty, mean alley cat for a pet who was very much an apt familiar for her, Power Girl herself known for being tempermental, feisty and a little wild.
I believe it was Bart Sears who first illustrated Karen as big-chested,  strangely notable during a time when pretty much every super heroine was drawn with ample bosom. As less juvenile artistic heads prevailed Karen retained her cup size, accentuated by a popular "boob widow", both of which have become defining visual characteristics, not quite on par with a Green Lantern Symbol or Superman "S" shield, but actually not that far off either. [Edit: see Shelly's comment in the comments section]
Now that my daughter is getting older an taking an interest in my interests, comics included, I'm looking at the heroines and how they are portrayed, both visually and in- character, and deciding from a completely different perspective whether these characters constitute good role models or not.
In some respects D.C. and Marvel have stepped up their game in recent years, really adapting their female heroes to be equals and in some cases superiors to their male colleagues.  Batwoman has mercifully distanced herself from being a needless female Batman or Bat-familiar and instead forged her own distinct path and  identity.  For Wonder Woman I wish they had left her pants on for the reboot as originally intended, but otherwise she is being written in her own title (and in Batwoman) as good as she ever has been.  From the looks of things Captain Marvel has been positively redesigned and the young Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) is turning into a quick fan favourite.
On the negative side a big minus to Harley Quinn, one of my four-year-old's favorites, who once wore a thoroughly respectable spandex jumpsuit and is now traipsing around in a bustier and thong.  Also, Stephenie Brown, one of my wife's favourites -- whose pre-New 52 Batgirl series will be required reading when she's older -- seems to have been completely written off (a "hands-off" editorial mandate which seems to have extended even to the Young Justice cartoon).
But back to Power Girl.  Pre-New 52, despite her extremely convoluted origins (or perhaps because of them), alongside her rough-and-tumble personality and her curvy and muscular physique I continued to adore her.  And yet somehow I've not read any of the Palmiotti/Gray/Connor series. I believe my intention was to trade wait but I've yet to get around to getting those trades (I think I have the Power Girl story from Legends of the DC Universe of whatever that anthology wasvthat preceded this series). I picked up this issue for half-a-buck and was thoroughly delighted by it, by how strong Palmiotti and Gray's voice for her is and how expressive and beautiful (without being objectifying and leering about it) Connor's Kara is.  But seeing Connor's Power Girl and making a real woman out of her, I find the boob widow (something I was an avid supporter of once) to be quite ridiculous, as is the legless, swimsuit-style cut below the waist which seems explicitly designed to have some ass hanging out.  Even Connor's attempts at reigning the backside in seem unable to avoid it.  Even more so than the boob window I think the swimsuit cut has to be retired auvss the board, from She-Hulk, to Psylocke to Supergirl
The New 52 PG redesign was downright awful, and I see the boob window is back with issue 12 of World's Finest.  Okay, it is kind of classic (and Ryan Sook's wonderful cover far that issue presents on exceptionally modest boob window, esp. compared to Emanuela Lupacchino's cover to the following issue or Amanda Connor's here) , but at least give her some boy shorts... I can't imagine how she's not picking her costume out of her crack all day.  Man, being the parent of a little girl really changes your perspective.
I actually showed this issue to my daughter to see what she thought of it, and after a very quick flipping through she just kind of shrugged, but perked up when I explained that PG was kind of as strong as Superman, and she pointed out a scene where PG used her heat vision like Superman. Even if Power Girl IS Superman's cousin, I do like the thought of her having her own identity apart from him.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

365 Comics...75: Sweet Tooth Vol, 4: Endangered Species (2012)

I commented on Sweet Tooth's brisk pacing in previous 365 Comics entries (#49-51) thinking that reading this series as a monthly would be maddening as each chapter seems so quick to read.  At this point in the series (issues18-25) however I can finally see Lemire settling into the monthly swing as each chapter in this volume seems so much fuller than before and there's more in play as well as more to take in.

Also this volume is larger by two chapters than previous volumes so together it seems a lot more substantial than before. Yet it also is less satisfying somehow.  Where the prior three volumes each had a distinctive arc with a definite beginning/middle/ end, Endangered Species feels more like a segment of an ongoing series and doesn't conclude with a satisfying stopping point.  With two more trades (15 issues) left to go its amazing how, only halfway through the series it feels like we're barrelling towards the end point. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

365 Comics...74: Fairy Quest: Outlaws #2 (2013)

I've never much liked Humberto Ramos' art, which is a lie.  Instead I mean to say I never much liked Humberto Ramos' art in mainstream superhero comics.  He was one of the forebearers paving the way for Manga's broad cartoony influence on the American superhero mainstream, and I just never cottoned to it.  Outside of the severe mismatch of his style with spandex, I actually have always found him to be a tremendous talent. 

I haven't followed his career at all purposefully, but I've definitely seen him around, his work on various Spider-Man projects is almost inescapable (but I've never been Much of a Spidey fan either).  It's nice to finally see his work in a genre that seems especially tailored to his style.

He has worked extensively with Paul Jenkins over the past decade or more, but Fairy Quest may actually be my first exposure to their collaborations.  It's another entry in the "fairy tale shared-universe" conceit made popular by Fables (and later Grimm and Once Upon A Time), wrapped in a Princess Bride-esque narrative framework.  I'm not a big consumer of fairy stories but this is as entertaining as any I've read.  The main quibble is the foot that this was presented as a 2-part mini-series, when, by the end of this issue, it is evident that it is just the start of a bigger story (to be continued in the next mini-series "Fairy Quest: Travelers").

I guess this release structure permits the writer and artist time to work on other projects or take the time they need rather than feel the pressure of an ongoing or bigger mini series but this 2-parter does just feel like a very good looking and well conceived tease.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

365 Comics...73: Batman Incorporated #8 (2013)

I could have gotten away with a digital purchase for $2.99, or waited patiently for the second printing to arrive, whenever that may be, but a first printing for $10 seemed acceptable (considering I was seeing it for $15 - $20 at the Toronto ComicCon this past weekend), so I gobbled it up like Bobby Hill on a Hostess Fruit Pie (RIP King of the Hill and Hostess).
So, I finally got it, and read it, and read it again, and digested it, and I don't feel anything, mainly because I'm too late to that party.  I've already read Batman #18 and Batman and Robin #18, which find Bruce dealing with his grief and loss in the only way Bruce knows how to deal with grief and loss: by beating the living shit out of as many bad guys as he can find.  Bruce is not one to let his emotions run free.  Christ, he bottled up his emotions for more than a decade after his parents dies and became the goddamn Batman as a result.  What do you think he's going to do when his kid dies?  Get depressed?  Batman doesn't get depressed.  No sad Batmans.  Just angry, violent Batmans.

As for this issue... I don't actually feel nothing, but I barely feel anything.  I've seen so many panels and so much discussion of this issue in advance of actually reading it that I feel like I read it already.  Trying to step back from that I feel like Damian's death was telegraphed too much for my liking, as if it were inevitable (which it obviously was, but it didn't have to feel that way), from the cover image to Damian's phrasing when talking to Dick.  Looking upon the letter from Batman and Robin I commented on yesterday, I'm now trying to figure out in the context of this issue if Damian's plan was to fight to the death, or if his expectation was that he was going to return to his mother.  Either way, the kid seemed to know he wasn't going to be around much longer.

As for his death, it was brutal.  Stabbed, shot, arrow-d, Bane-d, and finally run through with a sword, it was a remorseless butchering on Morrison's part, as if to say definitively to the geeks "there's no way this kid's getting out of this one".  It's a comic book death, so there's always a way, it's just going to be way far fetched.

Seeing it now, it's settled in.  The kid's gone.  That sucks.  I hated him sooo much when he showed up that I stopped reading Batman for a while.  Now I hate that he's gone.


[as I finished writing this post I learned of my friend's wife's passing.  Aislinn, I didn't know you well, but I did know you brought Troy so much irreplaceable happiness.  Though it aches now, I know that you will continue to do so in his heart forever.  Rest peacefully.]

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

365 Comics...72: Batman and Robin #18 (2013)

I still haven't read Batman Inc. #8.  Thought the second printing was out this week but my shoppe didn't have it.  But I know Damian is dead and that's a about all you need to know for this ish of B&R.

The silent issue can only really come about when a writer trusts his artist completely.  Pete Tomasi has been working with Pat Gleason for years, first with an extensive run on Green Lantern Corps before taking over B&R.  They're a very solid dynamic duo themselves.  Gleason has become a very formidable artist and this issue really spotlights it, as the writer intended.  The dialogue-free story deals with Bruce Wayne and Batman's grief over the loss of his son, and it takes a cold heart to not let Gleason's powerful and expressive pictures get to you. 

It's a beautiful issue though I found it somewhat undercut by a letter from Damian to his father, the implication being Robin knew his death was a potential outcome of his actions.  To me, however, letter took me out of the emotional visuals I had sunk into because it seemed manipulative on Tomasi's part, unnecessarily so.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

365 Comics...71: Adam Strange #3 (1990)

I thought I should follow-up my look at the first 2/3 of this mini-series (365 Comics #61&62) with a look at the closing chapter where all things come to a head.

Rannagar is in chaos as Sardoth is comatose after Adam's psychedelic Zeta Beam trip went psychotic, the council is literally stabbing each other in the back, Alanna goes into stress-induced labor, the Earthwoman Eve arrives to reveal Adam's infidelity all while an alien armada attacks.

Writer Richard Bruning pulls no punches in this intense and frantic third act.  It's serious about its subject matter and it's characters.  Relationships here are even more complex than Bruning shows, all dealt with surprising maturity and striving to avoid cliches.  The frailty of the Utopian ideal is highlighted as well as the fact that no man is hero to all people, and to some a hero may seem quite the opposite.

This series doesn't distill down to one simple idea, it is a rich exploration of one man searching for identity and trying to understand his life while it all falls apart around him.  Despite the fact that Adam is the center of the book he's not the sole focus as it dives deep into the societal issues that are beyond his control that are the reason everything falls apart.

In not certain that the rather surprising and drastic changes Bruning made in this series sustained in the DCU (Alanna's death during his daughter's birth, Sardath's drastic personality shift, the floating city of Rann lost in space, Eve becoming a resident.  The permanence of the Zeta beam) but I doubt it.  Unfortunate though because it's quite obvious how much Bruning loves the character and he seemed to really be looking to contribute something grand and new to it.

I'm going to hare to pull out the '04 miniseries and the Rann/Thanagar War that followed to see what's up.  In pretty sure Strange turned up in JLA at some point before that too.

Monday, March 11, 2013

365 Comics... 70: Animal Man/Swamp Thing #18 (2013)

Over at <a href="">Thor's Comic Column</a> I cover the end of Rotworld, which really ended last month but concludes here.

The ratings got a bit botched in the publishing though, as I gave Swamp Thing a 3/5 and Animal Man a 3.5/5.

What I didn't get to talk about was Animal Man artist Steve Pugh.  He drew my favourite arc of the original Animal Man series, Flesh and Blood (yes even more than Morrison's run, and I think it is largely due to Pugh's art) and I was so happy to see him return to this run on the character.  Pugh is to me the quintessential Animal Man artist.  I think only Brian Bolland, cover artist on the original series could give him a run for that title.

I'm sad Pugh is leaving the book (or being replaced, I don't know which) but last time he and Animal Man parted ways I didn't see him again for a very long time.  He's just too good an artist to disappear like that.  He needs a bigger spotlight.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

365 Comics...69: Blue Devil #7 (1984)

Blue Devil arrived (and disappeared) just before I started regularly buying comics, but over the years I've picked up a half dozen or so of the later issues in its run and I could tell this would have been a series I would have really keyed into as a pre-teen (in fact my first real exposure to him was a six-part story in Showcase '93, as a late-teen, which made me a fan).  A sort-of precursor to the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League, writers Gary Cohn and Dan Mishkin crafted a book that was a full-out action comedy centered in Hollywood loosely around the less glamourous parts of showbiz.  It became a cult hit, but like any cult hit, it just couldn't sustain, and Blue Devil was gone, but not forgotten, for years.  

After his revival in Showcase '93, he started appearing all over the place, including an almost-star making turn in the Underworld Unleashed event, joining the Justice League, and later the Shadowpact.  Blue Devil returned in the New 52 recently, but in a most generic manner.  I don't know why DC has generally abandoned Dan Cassiday's lighter side (the same reason why Speedball became a sullen cutter, and Blue Beetle was given a heart condition then shot in the head... lighthearted heroes for some reason can't stay that way in the mainstream, some writer always needs to come along and poop in their cornflakes).

Reading this issue, in which Dan Cassiday goes out on a date, his first since becoming Blue Devil, Mishkin and Cohn employ slapstick and wit in equal measure (and independent of the comedy, largely, the Trickster), to interfere with Cassiday's confidence and interrupt his romantic evening.  While it could be over the top silly, somehow the writers make it seem like it's all a natural part of Blue Devil's world.  The character conceit evolved that he actually is a weirdness magnet, so this is as it should be.  

Legendary artist Gil Kane acted as fill-in this issue, and it adds a classiness to the whole affair with his refined style and lack of cartoony sensibility.  A series like this should have an artist like Kane with an established but dynamic style, which works in the face of the typical tendency to go overly broad and cartoony.  I love Gil Kane, such a phenomenal talent... and as heralded as he is, I still think he's underrated.  This issue may not be his strongest work throughout but it does contain a lot of the distinctly amazing Kane perspective, particularly in his close-up panels.

I'd like to see Blue Devil perhaps in the "Entourage-meets-Grimm-meets-" mold.  A supernatural-comedy-actioner, with a bit of a sharper edge and more inside-Hollywood.  There's enough writers working with feet in both the comics and cinema/television field that it should be fairly easy to find someone who could do so.  Not that it would necessarily be a blockbuster (it'd probably do well for an indie, but dicey in the mainstream), but it would return the character back to the roots from which he spawned, just update him for today's genre-hybrid market.  

Saturday, March 9, 2013

365 Comics...68: Action Comics #574 (1985)

Prior to the Crisis reboot of the DCU Superman was getting rather silly, or at least that's what everyone in this issue's letter column was hinting at.  It truly did seem like Supes, more than any other hero, had difficulty adjusting to the times.  I'm not certain that these mid-1980's issues of Action, 24 pages typically split between two or three stories, were all that different than the far-fetched, super-fantastical Superman stories of thirty years prior. 

This issue finds Superman being challenged to a contest of feats by the champion of Krypton's sister planet of Ostok.  It's a dozen and a half pages of super-competition like racing around the world and leaping to the moon, while Jimmy Olson digs to see if something fishy is happening.  Turns out Ostok was decimated by the radiation of from Krypton's destruction and Superman's opponent was making a last ditch attempt at restoring his planet's rep as champions before he died.  Its a sobering conclusion, ending with Superman in tears.  Strong men also cry.

The second feature begins equally sobering with a drought and a field of dead sheep, which somehow manages to segue into a Mxyzptlk story, wherein he forces Metropolis to celebrate the birth of his son forever.

The cover by Eduardo Barreto is a wonderfully sombre represenation of the lead story, but it implies a far more serious tale than what is actually underneath (and Kurt Schaffenberger's pre-silver age style doesn't even compare).  It was a similar complaint in the letter column, that the cover of issue 570 (also by Barreto) was striking but the lead story didn't live up to it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

365 Comics... 67: Sex # 1 (2013)

Well, that title certainly grabs your attention, doesn't it?  It did it's job, getting my attention, and getting me to buy the book, if only to find out whether its contents would live up to the marginally scandaIous title.

Didn't Madonna put out an art book called "Sex" about 20 years ago?

I wouldn't actually have picked up the book for its provocativeness, nor would I have picked it up if I actually knew what it was about.  What sold me was the very striking cover design, perhaps taking a cue from Gaspar Noe title sequences.  The purple hue on the wrap-around cover, featuring the protagonist slouched in an office chair with all sorts of crap blanketing the floor around him, equally suggests debauchery, or perhaps it's only in association with the title.

I was disappointed to learn this was another alt-superhero tale.  A sort of "what if Batman gave up and decided to just try normal life as a billionaire for a change" situation (only Simon Cooke was more of an Iron Man-type hero).  But average life can't measure up to the adrenaline highs of crime fighting so what will Cooke do to fill the void?  Hint: see title.  It transcends what little genre trappings it uses for flavour, and also establishes an interesting environment far its characters to inhabit in Saturn City, a concentrated metropolis with a Singapore feel.  The main players are introduced without much background but the context of their appearance and their carefully crafted dialogue reveal as much as we need to know for now.

It's the brainchild of Joe Casey, but artist Piotr Kowalski is the star.  His figures are good, a sort of Sean Philips/Steve Dillon feel but his architectural details, ever present in Saturn City, are eye catching and utterly fascinating.  The city is a true marvel, perhaps the most visually interesting fictional city Ike sees in some time (that two page spread showing it off is worth staring at for a long while).

Colorist Brad Simpson is an absolute find.  He nails the perfect tone for this story with his magenta-infused color pallette.  I'm not sure what else he's done, but I've taken note and he's already on my superstar colorist list.

Sex also employs Sonia Harris as its graphic designer.  She, quite literally, sold me this book.  In recent years titles that utilise a strong graphic design compliment to the art grab my attention and keep it longer.  I'm not certain where I'm at with the story, but the presentation alone has me for at least another 3 issues.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

365 Comics...66: Heroes For Hire #15 (2007)

There's a new shop here ih Toronto called Kensington Comics.  It's far from your conventional comics retailer.  For starters, there's no new comics, it's all back issues, and those back issues, well, they're dispersed throughout the store in no particular order. 

The store is located in what must have been at one time an apartment space or at least a rented pair of rooms.  It's accessed from the building's side entrance in an alleyway, and you have to walk up a narrow, creaky, twisty stairwell to get to the rooms.  Once at the top of the stairs one sees a narrow hallway literally lined with comics. Thin plastic slats mounted to the wall hold comics about 10 deep and they coat the hallway from floor to ceiling with funnybooks.  In the room immediately to the right are some vintage comic book store tiered fixtures overstuffed with comics.  As well there's three custom made (a nice way of putting it) shelving units newly built and (at time of writing) awaiting stock, although one shelf puzzlingly is well stocked with used denim.  Above all the racks, more slats bursting with comics.

The room at the end of the hall will find the shopkeep, (edit: his name's George) as exceptionally friendIy man (he'Il call you ''Brother" Hulk Hogan style within minutes) watching Movies or TV on his Mac.  This room has more adequate custom shelving, wall to wall, 100 deep with freestanding comics.   Above them, more slats filling the wall space up to the ceiling.  Stepladders are everpresent to get at the high staff (or to hold your finds). Tens of thousands of comics, completely disorganised. The owner even has no idea what is there or where anything might be.  It's like a comic nerd's fantasy -or nightmare - come to life.

Why would anyone shop there I hear you ask?  50 cents a book, or 50 for $20.  That's why.  The owner started buying comics in bulk off collectors for cheap to sell to the kids in his shop.  Then his OCD kicked in and he kept buying.  He's estimated he's got over a million comics now and he really has no interest in them personally.  He likes buying them and selling them.

The experience is addictive, like digging through the 50 cent bins at a comic convention only more cozy.  It's easy to spend 90 minutes there digging and not notice the time pass.  The place is constantly restocking (check the facebook page for updates) so its already in a few short months built a loyal customer base of diggers, and at $0.50 or 50-for-$20 there's next to no risk buying a random book like Heroes For Hire #15.

It's a terrible book (mostly because its the end of a story that relies heavily on understanding the characters, their relationships with one another, and in knowing what came before, but also because it has four different artists within its 20 pages).  It was not a fun Random Read.

But I like that skull cover. That's $0.50 worth right there.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

365 Comics...65: Smallville Season 11 #11

I know I keep bringing it up every month, but that's because every month this book delivers like Dominos.  It's top of the pile now every time it comes out and I read it with a big, dumb, goofy handsome smile on my face.  I genuinely love this book.  I kinda liked the TV show, but I love this.

My brother-in-law is not a comics reader (he's been known to dabble) but he loved Smallville from the get-go, watched every episode unironically, and had a relationship with it no geeks I knew did.  Not quite as enthusiastic as <a href="">this guy</a>, but not too far off.  He was kind of happy when the show was over, he felt somewhat liberated from his fandom.  Two weeks ago I gave him my copies of 1-10 and he cursed me for bringing him back into the fold.  He admitted they were really good and he was surprised by how much he enjoyed them.

I had originally collected the comics for him in the first place as a Christmas gift and continue to be surprised by how much I enjoy it (although I'm now just starting to expect it).

This month: Jay Garrick, more Speed Force talk and name dropping, Otis gets fired, Barbara Gordon returns, more memories from Earth 2, and a Speed force-absorbing super suit courtesy of Dr. Hamilton and STAR Labs. How can you not love this?

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

365 Comics...64: Birds of Prey #39 (2002)

I was a latecomer to Birds of Prey.  Scratch that, I was an early-comer (sigh, yes children make your jokes) to Birds of Prey in its first incarnation as specials and mini-series, but I neglected to hop aboard when it went to ongoing.  I rather ignored it, mostly because about that time I stopped buying comics in favor of trades for a few years.  1999 to about 2002 I didn't abandon comics but I wasn't as into them as I was before (and since...), so by the time I came back to floppies was around the time of the Bruce Wayne: Murderer storyline --within which this issue is part -- which I didn't read and I'm sure I just sighed a big sigh over.

Anyway, it would be three issues later that I would start reading BoP (yes, it was the wicked Power Girl cover from Phil Noto that drew me in, thank you very much) and I only realized that I missed out on something special when I learned that Ted Kord, Blue Beetle: personal hero, was a supporting player in the book.  I love Ted and I was really enjoying the heck out of the series, generally, that is until Chuck Dixon left only a few issues later (or was forced out, I don't recall) and the series kind of tanked it with a rotating cast of writers until Gail Simone came along.  I've always been meaning to go back and pick up the earlier Dixon BoP issues, particularly those with Beetle.

This is a recent acquisition and it opens up beautifully, with Beetle squaring off against Kalibak, of all things.  It's a total fake-out but had me going for a squealing-with-glee second, as it turns out it's all a Danger Room-esque sequence to get Ted back in peak fighting shape.  But something's wrong and Barbara sends him to the doctor.  Ted is one of my favourite heroes because he's always been the most vulnerable.  He's smart, but he's also impulsive and a little selfish.  He's somewhat immature and not always responsible.  He's also not the best at taking care of himself, having put on weight in the Justice League and here having a heart condition.  His death in Countdown to Infinite Crisis was a true heroes death and it doesn't look like his memory is going to be sullied with a rebirth thanks to the New 52.

Anyway, I got off topic.  The remainder of this book has Oracle and Black Canary investigating the whole "Bruce Wayne: Murderer" thing and annoyingly Oracle has to skate around Bruce being Batman with Dinah.  I mean, it's really annoying.  I know at that time in comics Batman's secret identity was not out with the rest of the hero community but it's such a grating plot point in this book.

This was Rick Leonardi's first issue as penciller, and it left much to be desired.  Stiff figure work, inconsistent faces (in one panel Ted looks young, another really old), and awkward angles (one panel makes it look like Barbara's standing over someone she's talking to, and that's not right).  Yet, at the same time there's the odd panel, say, about a dozen of them, that are really fun to look at, dynamic, well structured, interesting.

Anyway, Ted's story has sold me on continuing to find more BoP, which is good because I don't think I'd be keen otherwise.

Monday, March 4, 2013

365 Comics...63: Batman Incorporated #8 (2013)

I haven't read it yet.  I was unable to get to my store until the weekend this past week and with all the advanced hype sellouts happened across the city same day.  Sigh, it's frustrating that I basically need to make it to my shop by lunchtime (or sooner) on a Wednesday if I want to make sure I can pick up my full list of titles for that week.  Of course, I could always have a pull list and playing the game of in-store pre-ordering would eliminate these missed opportunities (and also help the store better predict and order its supply) but my pull list fluctuates based on moods and whims and I don't want to stick the store with extra (or feel my own sense of obligation to buy two more months of a book I don't want).  Let's be clear though, I'm not complaining about my store.  They're good to me, always... and I realize that in some respects comics are a gamble that all fans and shops participate in, with or without aftermarket considerations, and you know, as frustrated as I am to miss Batman Inc. #8, a title  I've supported through since pre-New 52 unlike the rubberneckers who stole my copy from the shelf, I now have a new book to add to my hunting list at inflated eBay speculator prices, or go digital...or wait for (ugh) Second Printing.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

365 Comics...62: Adam Strange #2 (1990)

I love convergence in a story, where multiple threads collide.  This Adam Strange miniseries continues to surprise me with its almost effortless juggling of so many story threads in such a relatively short space.

I also love that this miniseries aims to relaunch the character as a more serious science-fantasy concept (and succeeds), distancing but not completely ignoring the character's high concept roots, nor does it dispense with continuity, still ir corporating Swamp Thing's visit to Rann a half decade earlier.

Richard Brunning puts on a masterclass on revitalizing a character, especially relevant in these reboot /retcon crazy times.  Now, to track down that 3rd issue.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

365 Comics...61: Adam Strange #1 (1990)

Two days ago I was talking about the power of comics to trigger memories in me (365 Comics #59), but in that case I was talking about a book I'd read already as a kid.  With Adam Strange #1, it's a book I never read and yet it still unlocked another dusty old section of the memory bank.  

Up until mid-1990 I was buying all my comics off the newsstand.  I knew there were comic book stores, store that sold old comics or so I thought, but I wasn't really aware of the direct market.  I kind of wondered why, after issue 18, Doom Patrol just disappeared off the shelves, and why most "new format" comics weren't ever on those newsstands.  I had treated comics like magazines.  A title would come out once a month and linger on the shelves until the next issue came out, and if you missed it then you'd hope to encounter it in a "3-for-$x" department store baggie.

Starting art class in the Fall of 1990 I met other comic book geeks (I didn't really know any prior to that, for most of my childhood friends it was just a part of growing up that they had abandoned into their teenage years).  I was informed of the comic book store on the south side, the dirty, smoky used book store with the Porno section which my mother really didn't like taking me into, but I was rather insistent that I needed to go.  I had been there once or twice before when I was younger, but I didn't know what I was walking into then.  I think I was even less prepared as a teen, if that's possible.

It was a Thursday, new comic book day, and my mind was absolutely blown.  Stacks upon stacks of crisp-spined new comics sitting on top of a long cabinet of long boxes, obviously fresh in from the distributor.  I had never seen so many copies of a single comic, never mind dozens of them.  I looked around and there were hundreds of images of comics I had never, ever seen before (and a few I had)... I started to spin.  Why was everything in bags?  What was up with that?

One of the books on sale that I tuned right into was Adam Strange #1... an incredibly attractive cover from the Kubert brothers, a character I only knew through Who's Who and a $4.95 Canadian price tag?  I was an unemployed teenager... my allowance wasn't going to go very far dropping 5 bucks on a single book.  

But that was the start... where comic book interest turned into comic book obsession.

As for Adam Strange, this is a wonderful little book, part of the trend of the late '80's to diverge from adventure and instead dive into character drama and political intrigue.  "The World Of..." Superman books (Smallville, Metropolis, Krypton) and Hawkworld are other notable examples, all of which step back from the superheroic side of the characters and instead explore the workings of these surreal societies and alien civilizations.  

Adam Strange's father-in-law Sardath has figured out how to make Adam Strange's zeta-beam transfer from Earth to Rann permanent.  Now with Adam's wife Alanna expecting their child, this suits Adam just fine, but does it.  Facing saying goodbye to his home world and what family he has remaining, Adam's parental anxieties begin to surface.  Responsibility and being "tied down" permanently have never been his thing, especially given that his existence on both Rann and Earth is always temporary.  Rann is a constant adrenaline high, an adventure, a place where he stands out and makes a difference.  Writer Richard Brunning doesn't spell this all out, but in the subtlety of his script, one understands Adam's panic.  Meanwhile, Rannian civilization is reaching increasing discordance, with Adam and Alanna's baby (the first in 20 cycles) stirring xenophobia in citizens, as is Sardath's insistence that Adam be accepted as a citizen.  

All this, quite literally, drama, is fleshed out beautifully with wonderful lines from Andy Kubert, while Adam Kubert fills in the gaps with lush watercolors making this one ridiculously good looking book.  It's deep science-fantasy that I'm sure as a teen I would have found a little... slow, but it's a very mature (lots of sexual inference) and engaging read.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

365 Comics...60: Blasters Special #1 (1989)

Invasion! still remains one of my all-time favourite event comics.  It was 3 80-page issues released over 3 months which kept the cross-over disruptions to a minimum. It was well conceived and well executed and once it was over it didn't change anything all that drastically... except spawning L.E.G.I.O.N. '89 and Justice League Europe , excellent books both.  The redheaded step-child of Invasion! was Blasters, the series that never happened.

Comics used to "backdoor pilot" series all the time, testing out heroes in team-up books and guest appearances and gauging reaction before deciding to give them their own series.  By the time the 90's ended event comics seemed almost solely designed to launch new series (or reboot entire universes).  Often now though new books pst appear, throwing spaghetti at the wall to see if it sticks, unsure whether or not it's ready.  For a brief time in the '80's it seemed that mini-series were the way to go, but the one-shot or Special seemed to be solely the domain of characters or concepts that couldn't sustain a series, pet projects of writers or editors put out to the public often in desperate hopes of gaining traction.  Pilots, like in television, only sadder in some ways.

Blasters was supposed to be an Invasion! spinoff, you could tell, as these characters were positioned in the miniseries somewhat prominently.  Alas, as Bob Greenberger explains in the editorial midway through the book, its biggest champion, Robert Loren Fleming, had a falling out with DC editorial and left their ranks for a while.This derailed plans and set the title back, but Bob Greenberger was still keen on the idea of exploring these misfit characters. 

Rather than letting a lot of time and effort go to waste, Blasters was allowed this pilot, now with Peter David on board as writer and James Fry on art.  It reads and looks like a now-or-never hastily constructed effort, very loose and playful.  It toys with breaking the fourth wall, ala Ambush Bug or She-Hulk and David seemed to enjoy dropping plenty of gags throughout, including a cheeky reference to the Hitchhikers Guide, spider-aliens eating Pop Tarts, naming spider alien after Spider-Man creative teams,  and playing with comic-book translation conventions.

Blasters obviously didn't make it beyond these pages and to be honest I dont think they ever appeared again.  David knows how to write fun comics but this was a little too light.  I could see the Snapper Carr as mental patient angle working on its own treated with more severity and making the humor a little darker, but here it's barely a thing, a throwaway character hurdle easily overcome.

As well Fry's art is pretty sloppy.  I've seen him do solid work elsewhere around the same tiue period so I kun he's not always as uneven and unappealing as this.

Ah Blasters, we hardly knew ye. Probably for the best.