JUST COMICS AND MORE #1
When I first got involved in comics fandom, the internet was in its relative infancy. Amateur Press Alliances (APAs) and fanzines were still the order of the day. Not web pages. Not message boards. Not e-mail or gopher or archie or veronica or USENET or finger. (Pardon me for feeling old; I bet half the people reading this have no idea what half those items are anymore.)
Magazines were still pretty prevalent. Without the worry of the immediate deadline of the web, news could come out on its own, and often was disseminated in drips and drabs. The Comics Buyer's Guide had a weekly deadline, but by the time the postal service finished mangling your copy and throwing it across multiple backrooms of local postal offices, it could easily be three weeks before you got your copy. The news of the day had probably been updated already.
COMICS INTERVIEW, COMICS SCENE, AMAZING HEROES, and all the rest were right there. They had news, reviews, and previews. And it was all remarkable stuff.
Well, the internet seems to have superseded all that now, coupled with the smaller audience for comics. APA participation is dropping off. Fanzines are now web sites. Why bother printing stuff off, photocopying, and paying mailing costs when you could just post it on a web page somewhere and not wait for the USPS to push it through?
JUST COMICS AND MORE #1 arrived in my mailbox a few weeks ago. It should be out on your local comics shops shelves by now. It's not much more than a glorified fanzine, but it does have that same kind of energy and excitement that those fan efforts ten years ago showed. The magazine is in standard comic book format, 32 glossy (and heavy) black and white pages long. Each page, generally-speaking, is an essay from a different author on a different topic. There are mini-reviews with Dwayne McDuffie, Shannon Wheeler, and Jim Valentino. There are explorations of long-term continuity problems, Sergio Aragones' varied output, and the changing face of Image. There are reviews of LONE WOLF AND CUB, V.I.P., the Spider-Man CD, THUNDERBOLTS (a harsh one, but well-reasoned), THE AUTHORITY, and more. You get a look at the history of the Bizarro character, the X-Men movie, discussion of the scientific background of the Hulk, and where the worlds of wrestling and comic books collide. (I didn't say I agreed with all the essays. But they are there.)
It's just like an old-fashioned fanzine, but distributed as a comic book through your local comic shops. You can order it through PREVIEWS. Look in the Magazine section.
For all the fun stuff in the issue, there are still blatant signs that this is an amateur production. The cover and centerfold poster are both Photoshop composites. The layouts are often distracting. I've said it here before in reference to WIZARD, but it goes double for this magazine: There's nothing wrong with black letters on white backgrounds. You don't need to put distracting images behind the letters in an attempt to make things look cool. The magazine looks terribly busy all over the place. The images are behind the columns, to the left of the columns, to the right, and all around. Columns are rarely straight. I suspect more than one person laid this out. Headline fonts are varied from page to page, and sometimes inside of each headline you'll get two or more different fonts.
I'd like to see the magazine's layout simplified. Images are nice and you don't necessarily have to stick everything to a grid format if you don't want. However, I think it would improve the readability of the magazine to calm it down a lot.
JUST COMICS AND MORE will not replace WIZARD for you, nor CBG, or COMICS SCENE 2000. It's not meant to. It's a nice little supplement to all of those things. This is just a series of opinionated articles that any diverse fan of comics might be interested in. Yes, coverage tends to lean more towards the mainstream comics, but there is also coverage of some offbeat series and indy comics along the way. It just leans more toward the WIZARD audience than THE COMICS JOURNAL.
Here's the kicker - the magazine is $1.50. That's right; the magazine is half the price of most comics these days and will most likely have something for everyone reading this column. You can find more information at its web site. The magazine lists a www.justcomicsandmore.com, but that doesn't seem to be active. A quick Google search provided the link you see first.
NOT QUITE TIMELY REVIEWS
CAPTAIN AMERICA #35 is the first confrontation between Cap and Protocide, who was designed to be the ultimate Cap-killer. There are also a lot of little subplots and character bits strewn through the issue. Thus, you have one of the inherent weaknesses of the monthly comic book. You end up with issues that might not necessarily stand up strongly on their own. The stories contained in the individual issue don't have any sort of thematic link. It's the whole "serial" mode of comics. Lots of things are always happening at the same time. Let the chips fall where they may. There are, however, a couple of nicely staged action sequences at the beginning and end of the issue.
Walden Wong fills in for Art Thibert on inking duties over Dan Jurgens' pencils. I don't think Wong's inking works nearly as well as Thibert's. Characters' faces, in particular, often look unfinished and uncomfortable. There's also certain lack of detail when dealing with backgrounds that really distracted me.
Carlos Barberi draws SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL #106, under the script of Mark Schultz. Barberi will be taking over IMPULSE shortly, which is where he belongs, quite honestly. His style is derived from Humberto Ramos' and so the IMPULSE assignment is fitting. The only problem is that his art isn't quite as polished. The cover presents an awkward Superman to start. Superman's right hand is pointing out towards the reader, but it's the same size as his left, which is more in the background. In addition, Superman's head seems a bit off-center, to say the least.
Oh, well, at least there aren't any foreign countries filing grievances over this issue. I suppose things are looking up for Team Superman. But I hear the next Superman annual will take place in Belgium, since the country is too small for anyone to notice their flag. Besides, most people would just mistake it for the German flag, anyway. ::duck grin run::
SAM AND TWITCH #14 is a self-contained dialogue issue. Nothing really happens. OK, that's a bit overstated, but when you're done reading the issue, you'll realize that there wasn't one bit of action in it at all. Not one bit of physical confrontation. There's not even much in the way of verbal arguments, just some petty sparring back and forth. It's a rather sedate issue, but entertaining all the same. Brian Bendis has made his name as being a great dialogue writer, and this issue just serves to prove that.
The issue is split in half. The first half brings Sam and Twitch to the scene of a rather odd murder, with a dead body lying shot against a wall and some eggs thrown on top for good measure. His live-in girlfriend sits silent off at the side. In the meantime, Sam and Twitch talk about those weird antiquated laws you often see long e-mails passed around about.
They arrive at the crime scene, interview some people, make an arrest and drive away. Everything is amazingly underplayed, yet it works in the end. You get the humdrum "all in a day's work" feeling that you have to imagine most cops get. To us, it might be romantic or thrilling or adventurous to be investigating a murder. If HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREETS showed us nothing else, it's that it's often just the opposite, and these cops are just normal people, who get just as bored and frustrated in their jobs as all the rest of us who work in offices.
The second half of the book flashes back to the events before the murder. The deceased and his best friend have a nine-page conversation on a rooftop. And that conversation ties in to his death.
If Bendis weren't so captivating with his dialogue writing, this book would have been a boring mess. Thankfully, he's not.
On the other hand, the book is still too damned dark and printed on too glossy a paper to be read without severe eyestrain. Look at the cover scan next to this review, for example. I could barely get any detail from the cover to show up.
(Clayton Crain and Jonathan Glapion provide the art inside the issue. Their style fits the style of the series so far. There's nothing amazingly breakthrough about it. It just blends in well with the series house style. I imagine a lot of that might come from Bendis' layouts.)
I finally got around to reading BERLIN #1 by Jason Lutes (published by Drawn and Quarterly) this weekend. (CBR Head Honcho Jonah Weiland convinced me to give an issue a try back at the San Diego Con.) I think the series is up to issue six by now. It's an interesting book. It's set in Germany, 1928. The first issue tells the story or two strangers meeting in a train - one's an American journalist working in Berlin, while the other is a German woman, visiting the city for the first time. Not much happens in the first issue. This seems to be the book meant to set up the series and get us interested in the characters. There's some wonderful architectural detail of the city drawn in, as well as an obvious amount of research that went into examining the period, without resulting in a load of exposition to show off the fact. I was most interested in the traffic lights that were operated by hand. That was a neat bit of business, and one I have just never really thought about before.
Lutes' black and white art is expressive, as well as technically interesting. There's a nice sense of humor, too, which comes through especially on the last few pages. I'll let you know what I think again when I get a few issues further ahead, but right now I'd have to say there's not much here to dislike. Give it a shot if you're looking for a period piece.
WILDCATS #15 is part two of "Serial Boxes," as some lunatic mass murderer continues his killing spree down the east coast. It's 22 pages of characters sitting around and talking. Not one fistfight. Not much rampant destruction. (Ladytron bursts into Oracle's offices as one point, but that's as close as it comes.) Not one costume. This is Joe Casey's skewed look at Jim Lee's super-powered team that's no longer a team. This is Sean Phillips drawing normal humans who just happen to have super-powers underneath the surface.
Believe it or not, it makes for gripping reading. I remember Mark Waid saying that he'd like to write a comic with a bunch of character sitting around a table and talking, but that he never thought it would sell. I'd buy it. I like the idea of the writing challenge. (But more on that in this Friday's Pipeline2.)
OK, that's the third review I've written this week in praise of a book that features nothing but characters sitting around and talking. So let's get to some action, shall we?
Thank goodness for Chuck Dixon. I actually had to dig through a few more comics before I found something with lots of action.
ROBIN #82 is a lot of teenagers talking to each other. Of course, this being a Chuck Dixon book, one conversation happens as two of them are racing down the track at school. Another section of monologue is contained in captions as the Spoiler tracks down someone into a dark city alley, where no doubt she'll have a fight on her hands. Oh, but Robin does break up an attempted theft of a safe in the opening - by waiting around until the hoodlums are too tired to fight back.
ARGH! Even Chuck Dixon can't write a lot of action for me this week. (But Pete Woods and Jesse Delperdang do a good job of drawing everyone in.)
No, wait, he can: BIRDS OF PREY #23 brings the Black Canary into the lair of Gorilla Grodd, where she and several fellow super-powered beings take on a town full of apes. There's action aplenty, talking gorillas, and everything else your action-craved heart could ask for. Butch Guice does an absolutely beautiful job on the art. Can't complain about anything. He should never let anyone else ink his stuff. It's too beautiful when he handles art duties solo, even if it means having an occasional fill-in issue.
BATMAN GOTHAM KNIGHTS #9 surprised me a whole lot. Credit goes to Devin Grayson and artists Roger Robinson and John Floyd for that. Grayson seems to be writing the same kind of plots that Chuck Dixon would be likely to write. There's a strong and dramatic opening. There are a couple or three strong beats of action. There's a sly sense of machismo humor running through the book. But Grayson adds in the psychological undertones and deconstruction of the characters along the way. It's interesting to read an analytical psych profile of Batman as we see him in action, and the action always complements that. It works out really well.
There's a page in the book, though, that made my jaw drop, and I don't want to give it away for fear of spoiling the story. And I'm sure the next issue will reverse what seemingly happen. But the pacing and layout is such that you never really get the chance to see it coming. That's one surprise that was really well done.
UPDATE AND UPCOMING
Some upsetting news in the same vein: Stelfreeze won't be drawing the next part in this story. He only drew that one part. He's done with it.
Be sure to come back on Friday for Pipeline2. In effect, it's part two of this column. I've got more reviews in the hopper for you, including looks at JLA: THE SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-HEROES and LONE WOLF AND CUB. For those of you wanting to know why LW&C is printed so small, come back here on Friday. I went straight to Dark Horse to find out.