Sunday, March 27, 2016

Rebirth of... cool?

Much of the lineup for the latest of the seemingly annual soft relaunches of the DCU was announced at Wondercon today.  Unfortunately, for some of the things DC got right there's a whole lot they got wrong.

Let's start with the good:

Talent: Joe Orlando (Supergirl) , Tom King (Batman and Batman Rebirth), Scott Snyder (All-Star Batman), Gene Yang (New Superman), Tim Seeley (Nightwing), Peter J Tomasi and Patrick Gleason (Superman) are all sticking around.
New Talent: Hope Larson (Batgirl), Julie and Shawna Benson with Clare Roe (Batgirl and the Birds of Prey)
Returning Talent: Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott (Wonder Woman), Marcus To (Nightwing), Rafael Albuquerque (Batgirl), Phil Jimenez and artist Emanuela Lupacchino (Superwoman) and Christopher FUCKING PRIEST!!! (Deathstroke)

These are all exciting names of important and talented creators (though can you guess which one I`m most excited about).

Returning Characters with Returning Creators: Blue Beetle (Ted and Jaime as written by Keith Giffen, ok, I`m in)
Wonder Women by Greg Rucka and Nicola Scott.  As it should be. From the early 90's through to the start of the New 52 there was exactly one essential run of Wonder Woman stories, and they were written by Rucka.  The Azzarello/Chiang run that launched the New 52 would be the next.  With Rucka back and Scott on board, I guess this means that Black Magic is on hiatus then?

Returning Numbering: Action Comics and Detective Comics will go back to its original numbering.  I like this. But at the same time I know it's because both are barrelling towards huge monumental numbers and they will get some big press when they do .  I think Action, returning at #957 and especially at a twice monthly rate will hit 1000 next year and Detective, returning at #934 the year after.

$2.99 price point: $3.99 has been a bitter pill and with the Canadian dollar sucking the average comic is now $5.  $2.99 makes their books genuinely more attractive.

And now the bad

Twice Monthly comics: either they weren't paying attention to Eric Stephenson's ComicsPRO speech, or they're actively giving him the finger.  With at least 16 titles reportedly going twice monthly, DC's looking to cannibalize the audience.  It's probably their means to justify the $2.99 price point... instead of making $4 once a month they're making $6 off the same person by going twice a month. To quote Stephenson about why this is bad:

And if you are a publisher trying to shore up your numbers by releasing more than one issue of a single title a month: Stop.

It makes it next to impossible for retailers to accurately track sales, it puts undue pressure on even your most loyal fans, and it deprives writers and artists of the ability to do their best work. In fact, it all but robs artists of the ability to establish the kind of multi-issue runs that define long and illustrious careers.
I want to see a Wonder Woman run by Rucka and Scott...not by Rucka, Scott and Liam Sharp.  Sharp is a fine illustrator, but there's no cohesiveness to having alternating artists on the same story.  It's a concession I'll hesitantly make for a weekly book, but just think about how messed up those trades are going to be.

The old DCU is still alive: Don't get me wrong, I think that the New 52 was a bomb... a huge misstep by the company.  It yielded huge short-term gains, and equally huge long-term losses.  But you know what, stick to your guns DC.  Fix what's wrong and move forward.  Don't flounder and start looking back again.  Convergence was a ruddy mess.  In theory it could have provided closure or a portal back to a beloved time/run, but it mucked that up.  And by bringing Superman and the Titans of old forward into the new DC Universe, you're undoing the entire conceit of making the New 52 a simpler place for new readers.  You already have a Superman.  If you want him to work like he used to, then guide the story that way.  Having multiple Supermen or Titans in the same world is problematic at best.

Narrow Focus: So how much of Rebirth is focusing on new characters?  Super Sons, Superwoman, New Superman
A few. 
How many new characters are not Superman or Batman or Wonder Woman related? 
None.  Even the new "Outlaws" in Red Hood and the Outlaws are Bizarro and Artemis.
"New Superman"?
Yep, another Superman.  So there's old DCU Superman, New DCU Superman, and now what looks like a Superman from China.  Not that there can't be a Chinese Superman, but having multiple Supermen, multiple, Super women, multiple Superboys on the same planet is massively diluting the brand.  Of course, Superwoman and New Superman could be set on an alternate Earth.  I could see Superwoman being a stab at Spider-Gwen-type knockoff (but with Jimenez and Luppacino on board it could be worthwhile).
I imagine a lot of this increased Super-focus is based off of wishful thinking and hopeful goodwill around Batman V Superman: DoJ but they obviously weren't paying attention to Warner Brothers completely throwing the Superman brand under the bus.

Dumb stories: Okay, I trust Steve Orlando is a good storyteller, but Cyborg Superman is Supergirl's father.  Oy.  Pass.

So much for not letting the movies dictate the comics: A while back Dan DiDio was making it a thing about how DC was going to lead the storytelling and not react to the movies and multimedia, and shape their publishing output as a Marvel does.  Well, "Rebirth" takes a crap all over that idea.  Just look at Suicide Squad, with Jim Lee on rotating art duties, and a lineup that mirrors...oh, the cinematic version.  Yeah.

Tunnel Vision: There's nothing different here.  There are some intriguing titles and creators, but overall it's Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Justice League and associates and little outside that.  Reading down the list of announced titles a couple dozen times and it feels so homogeneous.  Where is the daring... where are the Squirrel Girls or Karnaks... the outthere takes on old things.  Where are the risks.  This is like when Marvel did everything Avengers back in 2011.  It was all Avengers all the time, and it was dull.  This is dull.


Bottom Line:

Some of these things do interest me.  The old fanboy is really, really keen to see Blue Beetle.  That Keith Giffen is writing a BB title that features (somehow) both Jaime Reyes (who I love) AND Ted Kord (who I also love) hits all the right notes.

I'm just giddy with the fact that Christopher Priest is back writing comics.  He is an incredible talent who has had a famously shit time getting his dues in the industry.  Deathstroke isn't my preferred character to see him write (nor a character I've given two poops about since the mid-90's) but knowing Priest he's going to deliver something different and meaningful for Slade, provide DC editorial get out of his way.

Do you get the sense that I'm excited for Rucka and Scott on Wonder Woman?  I really, really am.

These are probably the only three books I'm going to read from Rebirth.  I may poke around Superwoman and Birds of Prey.  I think Batman is in good hands but I'm giving him a rest.  The wife will be picking up Nightwing and is happy Tim Seeley is carrying over from Grayson (plus Marcus To on rotating art duty is a good match for the character). 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Catching up on comics with CGraig: Kanan #10-12

(Marvel, 2016)

I said much of what I want to say about Kanan in my "forgotten but not gone" Star Wars review posted on this site back in January, but at the same time, now that the series has come to a close, I have a few more thoughts.

Foremost, the Rebels framing sequence for the final storyline didn't work for me at all.  It felt altogether unnecessary and the forced connection between the now and the flashback didn't really have meaningful connection. 

"after Sohn" we know the source image
Mark Brooks references here? A striking piece
Though I imagine this was intended as a finite run (if not from the onset, then at least by the end of the first arc I'm sure the powers that be at Lucasfilm and Marvel thought their Star Wars comics effort was probably better spent elsewhere) it still felt like Weisman still had a more complex backstory for Kanan/Caleb that he had to concentrate and close out early. 

I like that this series acts as a bridge between the Clone Wars cartoon and Rebels, and does so quite effectively.  It feels more like Clone Wars than Rebels for sure.  My initial reservation that it wasn't enough like Rebels can actually be put aside, as I like the Clone Wars feel more, and would've appreciated further bridging between the two series.  Again, the idea of a Rebels anthology still strikes me as the more appropriate idea, showing the Clone Wars back story of each of the latter series' protagonists.

I can't say that I'll miss Kanan as a series, as I felt it did the job it needed to do, but I do hope there's more Rebels comics long as they have purpose as well.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Secret Wars Hardcover

(Marvel, 2016)

I don't think I could have done it.  I don't think I could have read Secret Wars as it came out over the past year, with all the delays and whatnot.  I absolutely absorbed this hardcover in two days (with a huge break to plow through Daredevil Season 2), so I don't think I really could have waited so patiently month (or months) between issues.  I admit though, I think having the month-by-month allowed the reader more time to invest in the Secret Wars Battleworld, and delve into all the various tie-in series that presented new and unique perspectives on familiar Marvel Universe characters and scenarios (I read and enjoyed Civil War, Thors, and Weirdworld quite immensely, thank you) and the same can't really be said about plowing through the consolidated hardcover.  When I had the break (in between issues 4 and 5, watching Daredevil Season 2 in one butt-numbing sitting) I did consider seeking out more of the Battleworld books, just to dive into things a bit more.  Particularly I was wondering if there was a Spider-Man one, since Miles Morales seemed to have some importance to the story, but in the end it was rather limited to making a place for him in the redefined Marvel U.

Ah, this Battleworld Checklist has the answers... or's incomplete and definitely not updated. I need to read Ultimate End, methinks.  This is dangerous though, as now that I start poking, I start thinking about all the different tie-ins and whether I shouldn't just go read them all.  They trigger in me the whole "dead universe" fascination and make me want to go explore the Battleworld, a dead universe that lasted about 10 months but still managed to produce well over 100 issues of content.  Crazy bones.


I did indeed love Secret Wars, but then I've loved every ounce of Hickman's Marvel run.  From his Ultimates/Ultimate Hawkeye, to S.H.I.E.L.D. to Fantastic Four and FF to his dense Avengers/New Avengers run (plus Infinity), it's all freaking amazing.  And that it all loops back in on itself, without cannibalizing itself, is astounding.  Every piece fits, even if they aren't always essential.  I love this, it's what makes these long-term superhero universes so special, these type of unique storytelling opportunities.
Simone Bianchi's pencils for the image that was parsed across the variant covers for issues 1-8

The fact is, Secret Wars is the summation of both Hickman's Avengers run, which is where the universes colliding was happening, and his Fantastic Four run which built up the FF into a very large family indeed (not just a group of four).  What starts off as almost the Marvel version of Crisis on Infinite Earths ends in a mano-y-mano showdown between Reed Richards and Dr. Doom, and being a swansong for the Fantastic Four (for now at least, as the company needs to ride out its annoyance with Fox owning the film rights to the characters).  It seems so right that it goes from this massive scale to something so small as Doom's petty rivalry, and Hickman's resolution is both sweet and ingenious.  It's not the end of anything, really (except maybe the Ultimate Universe), and it's chalk full of new beginnings.

I've read almost all of Hickman's work for Marvel in trade (save for his Ultimates and S.H.I.E.L.D, the latter of which I'm still waiting for its completion), so it only made sense to wait for the Secret Wars trade.  As happened I could never wait for the actual paperback of any of the FF or Avengers stuff, so ditto for Secret Wars... all hardcover all the time.   I enjoyed this so much, I'm keen to dive back into the Hickman Ultimates and Fantastic Four again, and just plow right through all of it once more, but that would imply I didn't have other things stacked up to catch up on...

Catching up on comics with CGraig: Transformers Versus G.I. Joe #9-11

(IDW, 2015-2016)

More licensed comic book goodness to dive into.  Since I mentioned it in the Samurai Jack post, I thought I should catch up on it.

I've been wondering how long this series would (or could) last from day one.  I had suspected that with last year's full-length Free Comic Book Day zero-issue this would be a brief mini-series, of your typical four-issue variety.  Yet, issue four came and yet the story continued rolling on, each issue progressively tearing down sacred cows and pushing the story beyond safety and conventions.  With each issue writer/illustrator Tom Scioli and co-writer John Barber put together one of the wildest rides on the comic book stands, delivering a title that bathes in nostalgia but refuses to live there.  I mean, the depths of the history of these two toyline-derived universes that Scioli and Barber plumb is astounding, not just looking at toy shelves, but taking in decades of comic book and animation history to reference and coming out the other end with something that feels completely different, and yet true to what's come before... it's a remarkable feat.

Scioli channels the masters of the 60's - Kirby, Steranko, Ditko, Kane and more - though doesn't rest there.  He frequently pulls from cinema but even more relies upon his imagination to construct just epic pages and panels.  All the while the storytelling is the most eclectically paced I've seen.  It's rather staccato in nature, little snippets of scenes, characters flow in and out, sometimes disappearing for multiple issues before returning, plus Scioli and Barber are not afraid to kill anyone off...anyone at all.  When the first batch of Joes are gunned down early on, one wasn't quite ready for had to be a dream, just as the Autobots, the good guys of the Transformers world, were still the bad guys to the Joes for quite some time.  It all felt wrong, and yet Barber and Scioli persisted.  Eventually the Autobots and Joes had their unifying moment, but not in time to stop the nefarious Cobra/Decepticon plan which resulted in the annihilation of Earth! (No shit!)  It's not played for a dream or anything other than the final fate of mankind, and it'd be deliciously bleak if it weren't so excessively over-the-top.

Issue #9 is the best issue of the series, if only because it's the most cohesive and coherent.  It takes place in humanity's deep past where the Gaels were at odds with the Vikings, looking for any edge.  A Transformers ship had crash landed on Earth centuries prior, and in this historic land, their remains are worshipped as gods by a snake clan.  The Gaels steal from these gods to help them in their war against the Vikings, their anachronistic technology giving them and edge up on their enemies, but also cursing them.  This story is largely that of Destro's ancestry but touches upon many things Joe, Cobra, and Transformer in brilliant ways.  It's also a solo effort from Scioli, though Barber still joins him for the post-issue commentary.  It's a side-step from the regular story, adding little to the actual onging story, but it pads out Joe history with epic storytelling in such a manner it never actually gets.

Issues 10 and 11 return to the ongoing form, but as it gets deeper into the series, Scioli seems to be more focused on pushing his limits, creating some utterly daft sequences that just look remarkable, and sometimes utterly ridiculous, though never anything less than entertaining.

There's only two issues left in run it's been announced this week, just as I was beginning to think this could go on without any apparent end.  As Scioli and Barber thin out the herd of characters on all sides, they delve deeper into character-focused storytelling (like issue 11's focus on Falcon), and there's still so much more to tell.  I'm curious as to how all this will pan out...annihilation I imagine, but I guess we'll see.

Parenting 101: Spider-Woman #5

Adding a baby/child to a superhero comic book series is always problematic.  Superhero stories are meant to be timeless, in a sense, as the heroes don't age, or they age very slowly.  But throw a child into the mix and suddenly you have a benchmark against which events happen.  Invariably a child ages (because babies tend to offer limited storytelling possibilities) thus so too does the hero.  The drama in child rearing is largely one of the progression of parenting.  As a baby develops into a proper little person, they develop personality, quirks and ticks, mannerisms sometimes adopted from the parent and sometimes manifesting on their own.  As entertainment, watching a child grow, and how a parent responds to its growth is a natural source of drama and comedy, sometimes even terror and suspense, stories that TV and movies, novels and plays have been utilizing for years.  Comic books, particularly mainstream superhero ones, largely avoid it for the reasons above, but Spider-Woman is braving these waters, and issue 5 is perhaps the most on-the-nose tribute to being a new parent.  The first three pages find Jessica Drew spouting off about the challenges, emotional fatigue and trauma that come with being a new parent.  Dennis Hopeless nails it so completely and concisely... and brilliantly I might add. Javier Rodriguez nails the details, the way Jess holds the baby, the mess, the spit-up on her shirt, the unkempt, bleary-eyed appearance...picking things up with your toes....  Yup.  Parenthood.  It kind of sucks.  But it gets better.

But I absolutely connected with what Jess says in the first panel of the third page:
My wife can surely tell you about how often I would wake her up in the middle of the night in a cold panic rifling through the sheets looking for our daughter.  We never once even co-slept with her and yet this was a recurring panic dream of mine.  The fact that Hopeless (via Jess) is mentioning it makes me wonder if this is a common phenomenon.  I look forward to the letter column in a couple issues to see if there are others who had similar experiences.

Just brilliant stuff.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Samurai Jack #20

(2015, IDW)

Some licensed comics are born from nostalgia, or from commerce, from brand recognition, or from trademark perpetuation.   Most licensed comics are, in fact.  But every so often there comes a licensed comic that is a real passion project for its creator(s) and thus transcends just being a mere extension of a TV, movie, or toy property, instead becoming a fair extension of it.  Sometimes it even goes so far as being essential, and on rare occasions even transcends the source. 

There are many examples: Steve Rude's Space Ghost one-shot in the late 1980's; Evan Dorkin's Bill and Ted's run for Marvel in the early 1990's; Ryan North's Adventure Time comics; the still-going Scioli/Barber Transformers vs. G.I. Joe; and this all too briefly-lived Samurai Jack series written by Jim Zub and (mostly) illustrated by Andy Suriano.

Both my kids (7 years apart) became entranced by our DVD copies of Samurai Jack at a very young age.  The simplicity of story structure, often minimal dialogue to parse, along with clean, striking visuals and a hefty dose of emotional outbursts make it very attractive and interesting to kids at that age (and the appreciation just gets deeper as you get older with it).  It's a rare show that preaches persistence in the face of loss or disappointment (the kids might not take the message to heart though). Samurai Jack's four seasons never felt complete.  It's not that it needed to continue on forever (and I don't know if I could handle Jack's continual heartbreak for too much longer) but it was (and remains) utterly unique, and completely transfixing that it certainly hadn't reached the point where it was getting old.

DC, around the end of the 90's, toyed with Samurai Jack comics, mostly within the pages of their Cartoon Network anthology series and never with much more than a work-for-hire feel.  There was no passion.  Zub and Suriano bring both passion and appreciation of the TV series to their pages. 
It can't transcend the show, for Jack's, sound design, use of motion, and vocal performances are so integral to its being.  But on the page Suriano replicate the way the show would break apart its screen into dynamic, distinctive comic-like panels.  But in every way Suriano didn't just emulate the show, he brought himself into it.  Character designs were just slightly off model with a bit of the artist's flair, and he managed to create and design entirely new environments that felt like they belonged to Aku's mad future.

This last issue is a love letter to the show, with the title, "Mako the Scribe" a tribute to the late voice actor of Aku.  Phil Lamarr (voice of Jack) gets a character too (as does Suriano).  The issue acts as coda to both the comic and TV series without bringing a direct ending, instead flashing to Jack's future where he's a much different man fighting foe a much different purpose.  None of this run had Genndy Tartakovski's input but I hope when the series returns next year and Tartakovski eventually gives it it's deserved finale that it runs pretty much exactly like this. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

In "Yes, just...effing...YES!" news...

I picked up a copy of All-New Classic Captain Canuck #0 today (or rather I had someone pick it up for me) not realizing that it was just a collection reprinting the Ed Brisson-written back-up features from the first six modern Captain Canuck issues released by Chapter House.  I have to say I was a might disappointed until I turned to the inside back page to discover...this:

They're publishing Danny Zabbal's Sorcery (now retitled Life, Death and Sorcery because it's unlikely someone hasn't already done a comic or have "Sorcery" trademarked) as a quarterly series.  This is absolutely THE best news.  After picking up a copy of the first volume that Zabbal self-published I couldn't help but rave about it (that is actually my quote in the ad there).  I wanted more instantly, or at the very least some guarantee that Zabbal would continue this brilliantly written and illustrated time-travel fantasy-drama.  Now we know Zabbal can continue, and even if I have to wait until the end of the year for new material I'll still buy the republished material because I earnestly loved it so much.

This is the best news.  It truly is.  I'm so happy for Danny, but even happier for me who gets to read this stuff.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Letter 44 #20-21 & 23

(2015-2016, Oni Press)

Until yesterday, the last issue I read of Letter 44 was #17.  Somehow along the way in my habitual Wednesday pick-up I wound up missing a couple issues (full disclosure: for much of the past 5 months my wife has been doing the weekly pull based on my pull list...upon which I most likely overlooked the book shipping that week).  As the pile of comics beside the bed -- read and unread -- grew, I lost track of exactly which issues I was missing, and even which issues I had actually read.  What hits home about this though, is that I didn't seem to care enough to check.

I generally like Letter 44, it's got some fun ideas, and Charles Soule hasn't yet disappointed me with his writing (though I should state that most of the books I've read which he wrote were either mini-series or prematurely cancelled)...but for all the intrigue in the story I realized in reading these last three issues that I really don't care at all about the characters...any of them.  Perhaps it's just my staccato reading habits with the book and that I've not had a chance to really invest in them, but the longer the series runs the less appealing the characters seem, and the less interested I am in them.

I've been wrestling with Alberto JimĂ©nez Alburquerque's art from the beginning.  A website with a free preview of issue one some time ago had many comments from people were complaining about Alburquerque's art, calling it terrible.  I just assumed they were reacting to his character designs, which is clearly his style.  I don't like harshly criticizing someone's art when it's clearly their style, that doesn't appeal to me not their storytelling aptitude, but I've been finding his figures and their emoting to be overblown and hyper exaggerated to the detriment of the book.  His characters aren't badly designed, but they are bad actors, melodramatic to a fault.

Ryan Kelly subs in on art for issue 21, which is a flashback issue delving into the pasts of some of those characters I really don't care about.  Kelly adapts his style in small ways to try and match Alburquerque's, and it's almost a seamless transition (Dan Jackson's glossy colours provide even more consistency) save for the fact that Kelly's characters move and react much more naturalistically.

I still have that urge, the "what happens next" urge.  Soule does a great job at propulsive storytelling.  Issue 23 leaves President Blades with the task of selecting 666 survivors of the destruction of Earth, and clearly former President Bush...err Carroll will make sure he is in that group (or manipulates control of it).  Perhaps I'll go digital on this...I don't think I need to keep it around.

she's the real Sarah Wayne Callies of the piece