Issue #51

So what's going on in the world today? Let's see...

  • Biggest recent event in comics: Joe Quesada starts his own website...
  • Biggest recent event in culture: AMERICAN IDOL concludes tonight (Fox, 8 PM)
  • Biggest recent event in politics: Attorney General John Ashcroft is even lying to his own secret court so much that they won't cooperate with him anymore.

  • Biggest recent event in my career: I finally did the edit on the MASTER OF THE OBVIOUS collection and turned it over to Larry Young, who's losing what little hair he has left trying to figure out what to do with a 414 page, 232,000+ word manuscript.

In other words, forget it, Jake. It's Labor Day. On to the reviews:

[Atomspherics]It's unfortunate that SIGNS is doing such good box office, because Warren Ellis and Ken Meyer Jr.'s ATMOSPHERICS (Avatar Press, 9 Triumph Dr., Urbana IL 61802; $5.95) is a much creepier and more effective stroll through the same territory, as a policeman tries to help a woman sort out truth from fiction following a supposed UFO encounter. Or is she simply insane? And is that what he really wants? Warren's focus is, fittingly, sharp and surgical, Meyer's wash art is tremendously effective, and the ending is truly creepy. Great job. I'd love to see a sequel.

WALKIE TALKIE #4 (Nate Powell, 7205 Geronimo, N. Little Rock AR 72116) features the conclusion of Nate Powell's "Satellite Worlds." I don't recall if I ever saw the first half, but it doesn't matter. The story works perfectly fine without it. Unfortunately it's a story that can't be described without giving it all away. Powell writes very well but the real star here is the Sam Kieth-inflected artwork, which is really strong. A talent to watch.

Last week I raved up Christian Read's part in DIGGSVILLE #1, and here he is back in THE WATCH Vol.2 #5 ($2.95 US). More "mainstream" than last week's piece, this issue features the first day on the job for a woman working security in a world where superhumans carry on a separatist movement. A smidge overwritten, it's one of the better post-superhero books out there, and Read has a flair for subtle characterization. He's somewhat undermined by Stewart McKenny's artwork, which – I don't know how else to say this – is just too mundane to carry the story effectively. (Andrew Phillips, who draws the wraparound, is better suited to the material.) Nice cover by Nicola Scott, and, as THE WATCH has a pretty interesting concept for this sort of thing, it wouldn't take too much work to make it about the best post-superhero book out there, especially if Read keeps the startling endings coming. Worth checking out.

I always wanted to work with Kerry Gammill back in the old Marvel days and really thought, with the right book, Kerry could've been one of the really hot artists. Then he just sort of vanished, and I haven't heard his name in years. Until KERRY GAMMILL'S DRAWING MONSTERS & HEROES FOR FILM & COMICS (Vanguard Productions, 59-A Philhower Rd, Lebanon NJ 08833; $15.95). A bit portfolio, a bit instruction manual, a bit autobiography, Kerry covers a lot of ground, presents a lot of art, and gives a pretty good description of the freelancer's life. A little something for everyone, and a good case study for would-be professionals. Read it and learn.

Daniel Cooney's VALENTINE #7 (Red Eye Press, 1117 22nd St Suite #3, Sacramento CA 95816; $3.50) is the story of a retired hitwoman haunted by dreams and driven by the desire to escape her past. It's almost professional. Cooney (who also drew, with inking by Peter Palmiotti) gets a little too in your face with much of the exposition, and just as the unusual character study starts going strong it bogs down the "action" part of the story where secondary characters suddenly turn out to have deep secrets; I'd like to have seen the two aspects better integrated. Maybe in part two...

BLACK TIDE (Image Comics, 1071 N Batavia Suite A, Orange CA 92867; $2.95@) is one of those epic fantasy-cum-superhero comics where everyone uses swords, hi-tech and energy blasts, and talks like a surfer or a B-movie villain. I read #s 3 and 4 and can't make heads nor tails of it. It pretty much looks like what you think of when someone says "Image comic."

Andrew Foley's THE TOKEN GOBLIN: THE ART OF THE MATTER (#615, 300 Meredith Rd NE, Calgary AB Canada T2E 7A8; $1) is a genre-in-a-blender mini-comic about a murder investigation in a world where magic is industrialized and has made art redundant, to the annoyance of artists. Nicely done, culminating in a clever bit of deductive logic.

[True Story Swear To God]Then there's Tom Beland's TRUE STORY SWEAR TO GOD (Box 9020278, Old San Juan Station, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00902; $2.25@) which seems to have started out as a black and white comic, become a newspaper strip in The Vallejo Times-Herald, the Napa Valley Register and San Juan Magazine, then reincarnated as a mini-comic. Or something like that. Beland's got a breezy style, oozing with humanity, and he talks about such simple things in a hugely entertaining way. Lots of fun, and the story of his romance damn well better be true, because it's too unbelievable for someone to make up. Aces stuff all around.

ODDGOD is a strange little anthology spotlighting the talents of James Callahan, Joel Priddy and others. Callahan's vignette, "Snoitcartsid," of a man undergoing a nervous breakdown, is interestingly drawn and builds to... well... nothing, really. Give him some more room and an ending, and let's see what he's got. Jesse Bausch and Forrest Young's "Defined As..." will be a godsend for those who still miss CYBERELLA but, with rudimentary characterization and kinda chunky art, will likely please few others. Art that doesn't quite click also hinders Patrick Godfrey's horror-crime story, "Pretty On The Outside," which treads a lot of HELLBLAZER territory in a very small space; the hero could've used more set-up so his miraculous escape didn't seem so deus ex machine. Joel Priddy's style is just as appealing on "action fun adventure" as it was on PULPATOON PILGRIMAGE (AdHouse Books, 1224 Greycourt Ave, Richmond VA 23227-4042; $12.95), and the story, a compressed parody of hard-boiled pulp clichés, is just as baffling. The issue ends with RS Paulette & Reilly Brown's more serious thriller, "Flashbacks," which, storywise, is the most accomplished in the book, with a loser trying to turn his fortunes around with a crime job. All in all, there's talent here, but nothing very satisfying.

FASTER THAN LIGHT (One-Shot Comics) is a mini-comic by Paul Edwards and Kristian Horn, a somewhat fantastic tale about a kid and his dog playing superhero that shifts between the kid's fantasies and his reality. I can't say I care much for the art, which is mostly distortion to no particular purpose, but the story's fairly interesting, as reality brings the kid down hard. The cover indicates they have a whole series mapped out, so here's my advice: draw better and get producing.

Steampunk and manga collide to good effect in Lea Hernandez' CATHEDRAL CHILD (Cyberosia Publishing LLC, 8 Richardson Terrace, Somerville MA 02145-2536; $10.95), a refreshingly simple graphic novel brimming with ideas and great characters. At the turn of the 19th century, entrepreneurs try to build a huge, steamdriven thinking machine, and inadvertently unleash something far stranger, as two starcrossed lovers fight hard to stay together. Excellent.

There aren't that many places actively progressive about comics today, which is why PopImage remains an important drum-beater. If you've never had the urge to tie up bandwidth checking them out but still want to know what all the activist hoopla is about, check out POPIMAGE VOL 1: THE TIME OF CHANGE (Cyberosia Publishing LLC, 8 Richardson Terrace, Somerville MA 02145-2536; $14.95), which collects in hard print a couple hundred pages of rants, articles, essays, reviews and a ton of industry figure interviews from three years of the website, and while some of it remains infuriating, and in some of its conclusions more than a little sobering, it's also must reading for those looking to hone a critical approach to the medium and the industry. Worth every penny, whether you agree with them or not.

Once upon a time, Warren Ellis started collecting oddball tidbits from the web – nutso conspiracy theories, UFO stories, crazed private religions, apocalyptic prophecies, you name it – and at some point organized them into what amounted to an illustrated essay for Avatar Press. Jacen Burrows provided the slick illustrations, and what could've been a bland recitation in someone else's hands becomes a creepy, threatening deconstruction of reality in Warren's. Lacking almost every narrative element we generally associate with comics, BAD WORLD was one of the best mini-series of the past five years. Now Avatar (9 Triumph Dr., Urbana IL 61802; $10.95) has collected all three issues into trade paperback, and all I can say is don't miss it. It's proof that, whatever you think the world is, it's a far stranger place than that.

I'm reviewed out...

Coming up on the new TV season. There are actually a couple things that might be worth checking out this year, like the new Michael Mann series. Or am I just getting soft in my old age? Find out over the next few weeks.

Don't forget: my classic crime graphic novel, BADLANDS, has been reissued by AiT/PlanetLar Books ($12.95; ISBN 0-9709360-8-7; STAR code 16194), along with the companion BADLANDS: THE UNPRODUCED SCREENPLAY ($9.95; ISBN 1-932051-00-7;STAR code 16194). Order them through your local comics shop or via Amazon.

Those wishing to comment should leave messages on the Permanent Damage Message Board. You can also e-mail but the chances of a reply are next to nil these days, given my workload, though I do read all my e-mail as long as it's not trying to sell me something. IMPORTANT: Because a lot of people apparently list it in their e-address books, this account has gotten a slew of virus-laden messages lately. They're no real threat but dealing with them eats up time I don't really have, to the extent I can no longer accept unsolicited e-mail with attachments. If you want to send something via attachment (say, art samples) ask me first. If I say okay, then send. Unsolicited e-mail with attachments will be wiped from the server without being read. You can also leave messages for me and have discussions on other topics at my Delphi forum, GRAPHIC VIOLENCE. Please don't ask me how to break into the business, or who to submit work to. The answers to those questions are too mercurial for even me to keep up with.

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I'm reviewing comics sent to me – I may not like them but certainly I'll mention them – at Steven Grant c/o Permanent Damage, 2657 Windmill Pkwy #194, Henderson NV 89074, so send 'em if you want 'em mentioned, since I can't review them unless I see them. Some people have been sending press releases and cover proofs and things like that, which I enjoy getting, but I really can't do anything with them, sorry. Full comics only, though they can be photocopies rather than the published version. Make sure you include contact information for readers who want to order your book.

If you want to know something about me, you can probably find the answer at Steven Grant's Alleged Fictions. Be warned that this site is functionally dead – I've switched to a different server and am prepping a new page – but it's still up and the backstory details are still germane even if the news page is a bit dated.

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