GENRE DEJA VU
Tell me if this sounds familiar, comics fans:
I saw AVENUE Q on Broadway last month. For those who aren't familiar with the show that won the Tony in 2004 for Best Musical, let me give you a brief synopsis: It's the story of a new college graduate named Princeton who discovers that a B.A. in English doesn't get you very far. He doesn't have a purpose in life. He's unlucky in love. And, hey, it sucks to be him.
The catch: It's a foul-mouthed musical done with puppets. The actors are running around stage in plain view with puppets on one hand, and the other controlling the arm motions of said characters. Part of the humor comes from the adult situations presented by singing-and-somewhat-dancing puppets. In fact, they look enough like Jim Henson creations that the playbook specifically states that neither Jim Henson nor Sesame Street's creators have anything to do with the show.
Here's where it gets relevant to comics:
During intermission, the woman behind me remarked to her husband, "If it weren't for a couple of things in this show, I'd bring the grandkids to see it."
You know, if it weren't for the murder, swearing, and violence, you could show them DIE HARD, too. If only those women wore more clothes, you could bring them to the strip club to enjoy modern dance. And if only those colorful characters would spout Shakespearian quotations, perhaps I'd enjoy the Teletubbies, too. Or not.
If there are puppets or animation or superheroes, people will always assume it's safe for kids. And they'll get what they deserve. Sadly, those of us who enjoy more adult takes on classically kiddie fare will also get what we don't deserve.
I remember going to see another musical -- SOUTH PARK: BIGGER, LONGER, AND UNCUT -- and sitting in the movie theater a few rows behind a ten year old and her grandfather. They didn't make it past the first song (whose title is too dirty to print here) before he yanked her out of the theater. Do people just not pay attention to little things like ratings, reviews, or the movie's double entendre title?!?
Nobody walked out on AVENUE Q on the night I went, but I bet it happens. There were other people sitting around me who didn't laugh the entire night, and seemed uncomfortable and bored by the whole thing. I don't know what they were thinking.
If you can't make it to a performance of the show in New York or Vegas, check out the soundtrack sometime. "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist," "Schadenfreude," and "The Internet is for Porn" are all instant classics.
Reading through the PREVIEWS catalog is exhausting. It is a nearly thankless task that no other industry asks of its patrons. I think the process is so mind numbing that it hurts the industry as a whole. I know many people don't bother to pick up the doorstopper every month because, hey, DC and Marvel and Image have their listings on-line every month and what else do you need?
The back half of the catalog is a cluttered mess, with full page ads for wretched amateurish looking comics (often in delightful black, white, and muddled gray!) sandwiched between seas of full color cover graphics shrunk down to near-illegibility. Then, you get to the multipage manga listings. If you're not into those, you have a lot of pages to flip through to get past TokyoPop and onto Udon. Just don't skip past Top Shelf and TwoMorrows along the way, nor the other two small companies stuck in the hammock there.
This, of course, leads small publishers to sending out seas of boring press releases that clutter up comic news sites and email boxes. One looks so much like the next that they wind up in the Trash or Junk folders easily enough.
Did you know that Michele Gagne has a new issue of ZED due out in June? I wouldn't blame you if you didn't -- the solicitation rubs up against the spine, and his cute character might get lumped in with the Disney comics by the undiscerning reader. I like and read both sets of books, but I could understand it if someone missed one for the other.
It's not a pretty issue, and it takes an awful lot of reviewers, columnists, and bloggers to sort through it all and pick out highlights. While I encourage each and every one of you to pick up PREVIEWS each month and carefully sort through it and pre-order from it, I can't blame you for not having the patience. So, instead, I beseech of you to go search out all the people on-line who sort through these listings so you don't have to. Maybe they'll help you find the treasure that would have otherwise remained hidden from you.
This month, I'm only going to look at the trade paperbacks and hardcovers that landed on my "Might Have To Buy" list for the month. The list contains about 20 items. I discussed all the Marvel titles last week, so let's stick with everyone else this time.
DC starts out with SUPERMAN/BATMAN Volume 4: VENGEANCE. This is the latest (and last?) hardcover in Jeph Loeb's series. Ed McGuinness is back on art duties for issues #20 - 25 of the popular and oft-delayed book. I've been reading this series in hardcover format all along, which I think has greatly helped my enjoyment of it. Each story arc stands well on its own, and has its own feel thanks to the involvement of a different artist in each arc (McGuinness, Turner, Pacheco). DC has been very consistent with putting out the hardcover collections of the title, too, which is something they've always worked on with Loeb-penned titled. I wonder if that's a contractual obligation of some sort, or just Loeb's stunning brilliance in producing only that kind of work. It's $20 for these 160 color pages.
I wonder what will happen with the 26th issue. That's the one plotted by Loeb's late son, Sam. There's an all-star list of artists lined up, with all proceeds going to charity. Will that show up in the next hardcover? Will that one forever remain a standalone issue beyond collection? Come to think of it, the Pat Lee-drawn seventh issue never showed up in any collection, either. It looks like you had better pre-order your copy of the 26th issue today if you want it. I think it will be a quick sell-out.
SUPERMAN/DOOMSDAY OMNIBUS is a big fat trade paperback with both of Dan Jurgens' follow-up mini-series featuring the character he helped make famous by killing Kal-El. It also has DOOMSDAY ANNUAL #1, ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN #594, and SUPERMAN #175. Those will feature the likes of Jeph Loeb, Gil Kane, Mike Wieringo, Ed McGuinness and more. It's a nice lineup of creative talent, but I know a lot of people are going to question why I'd bother mentioning this book here. After all, isn't the Death of Superman one of those samples of the excesses and everything that was wrong with the comics industry in the early 1990s? Perhaps, but I was a part of it. I was still relatively new to comics, and that stuff still excited me. I'd even argue that "Funeral for a Friend" had some of the best Superman stories I've ever read.
The stories in this trade feature all the follow-up tales that sought to answer the questions left behind long after Superman's death. It was a valiant attempt to weave a story into places that were left as black holes in the original storyline's days. As I recall, they were moderately successful with it, too. Plus, I like Dan Jurgens' art and storytelling sensibilities. For $20, there's plenty of it to go around.
Now, if only we could get his TEEN TITANS work back in print. Jurgens' art combined with George Perez's inks made for one great looking series. I know most people didn't like that series so much, but what can I tell you? I have no deep abiding loyalty to the Wolfman/Perez era of the title. That probably allows me to separate the two eras better.
ASOLUTE KINGDOM COME represents another much-loved milestone of my comic collecting maturation. I was in college when it started up, with a brand new internet connection. I remember how every issue of this series started up multiple threads of adulation and curiosity in the comic book message boards on USENET. I have fond memories of those days, and of the series, itself. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, for just that reason. While Alex Ross' art isn't a guarantee anymore of a book I'd need to read, it was pure magic back then. I'd love to own a copy of this series in this oversized hardcover format, complete with all the annotations, promo art, sketches, and more. It's the complete package for fans of the series. It's due out in mid-July (just a week before the San Diego Comic-Con) for $75.
SILENT DRAGON was a series I chose to "wait for the trade" on. Well, it's finally here, and I'm living up to my word. Andy Diggle and Leinil Francis Yu promise six issues of the Yakuza and some military men and some other stuff. I don't know much about the book, but it sure looks beautiful, and both creators have strong track records. This one is $20.
We move onto the Image listings now, which start with THE WALKING DEAD BOOK ONE HC. When the two-volume hard cover edition came out for Christmas with the first 24 issues in it, I passed. $100 was too rich for my blood. I enjoy the series and like the idea of a hardcover version of it on my bookshelf, but also know I can't buy everything. Thankfully, it seems that my patience is about to be rewarded. Image is releasing the first 12 issues in one hardcover book for just $30, which puts it very much in line with Marvel's price point on its hardcovers. I know it should be even cheaper as a black and white comic, but that's not an issue to me.
THE DROWNERS is a new trade paperback from Nabiel Kanan. The name might not be familiar to you, but he's definitely an artist worth looking out for. A couple of his previous releases (THE BIRTHDAY RIOTS, LOST GIRL) came through NBM, which is why I was so surprised to see the European artist's work show up at Image now. His art style is magnificent, even if I'm at a loss for words on how to describe it. This book collects a four-part mini-series, of which NBM printed at least the first two issues. It's $15 for 112 black and white pages.
On the same page in the solicitations comes FEAR AGENT, Volume 1: RE-IGNITION. It's priced at ten bucks for the first four issues, and is well worth that and more. If you haven't read the series yet, take this chance to jump on. It's fun rootin'-tootin' sci-fi action adventure stuff with plenty of character, grit, and humor. Rick Remender handles the scripts, with Tony Moore drawing, and Lee Loughridge coloring.
Top Cow gives us what they call "Warren Ellis' Greatest Hits" in the form of the DOWN/WARREN ELLIS TPB. It's a real reach for a theme. Simply put, it collects the just-concluded (and long-delayed) DOWN four-parter along with the two-part TALES OF THE WITCHBLADE story Ellis did so many years ago. Sometimes, you need to collect six issues of comics instead of four, I suppose. It'll run you $16 this time.
FLIGHT, VOLUME THREE is coming from Ballantine books this time instead of Image. While it is a featured item and comes listed with a slightly large cover image and yellow highlighted background, there's not much other promotion going on for it. Hey, this is a book from a "real book publisher." They don't bother too much with the direct market. We should be happy it's available directly to comic book shops and shut up, right? Their real market is the mainstream booksellers and libraries. We're a nice bonus.
Distribution aside, this collection of short stories is always a highlight of any year's release schedule, so pre-order it today. Bill Plympton and Becky Cloonan are listed amongst the featured creators. Actually, they're two of the only three listed creators in the solicitation next: another missed opportunity. The comics market is very creator-driven on books like this. Why more aren't named is beyond me.
COMICS AS ART: WE TOLD YOU SO is a new history of Fantagraphics published by, er, Fantagraphics. Tom Spurgeon and Jacob Covey are on the job this time, supported by reams of interviews with the likes of Gary Groth, Todd McFarlane, Stan Lee, Dave Sim, Gilbert Hernandez, and many others. It's promoted as an anecdotal history, which gives me reason to believe that some of the stories from the aforementioned people likely came from interviews previously published in THE COMICS JOURNAL. I believe the issue with McFarlane's interview had a McFarlane cover illustrating Gary Groth post-beheading. (Could you feel the love in that room?) Stan Lee appeared as a carnival barker on his cover. Still, the topic gives the interviewees plenty of material and ammunition to work with. For $20, these 192 pages should be worth reading.
Finally, ROUGH STUFF #1 is TwoMorrow's latest magazine venture, bringing together 100 pages of sketches, preliminaries, layouts, and unused works. The lineup of creators present for this first issue are all artists featured in TwoMorrow's MODERN MASTERS series, which makes me question if this stuff is all-new or just recycled from the backs of those books. For $7, though, it's definitely an idea I'd like to support.
Added together with last week's Marvel stuff, that's over $400 worth of stuff I want to pre-order. It's time to put some thought behind all these books and start hacking and slashing. The biggest question is: Which books would I read within two week's of bringing them home? If the book doesn't pass that test, I think I need to take it off the list.
BITS AND PIECES
- One quick correction from the podcast a couple of weeks ago: Michael Gaydos was the ALIAS artist, and not Alex Maleev. Both were drawing Bendis-penned titles at the same time, but Maleev was the DAREDEVIL artist. That ALIAS OMNIBUS I was referencing is now available in comic shops.
- How nice of Marvel to release ESSENTIAL X-MEN: Volume 7 just a couple of weeks after I reviewed MODERN MASTERS: ARTHUR ADAMS. This latest volume begins with X-MEN ANNUAL #10, illustrated by Adams. As nice as it looks in its original printing (yes, I do own the comic), I think the clear black and white reprint here might be even nicer. I'm impressed by how easy it is to read Adams' art in black and white. I thought it might be more difficult, particularly given how prone he is to adding detail and filling up every blank inch of space on a page. Together with Terry Austin's inks and Tom Orzechowski's lettering, Chris Claremont's script shines. This is a fun, bouncy comic book that's completely self-contained. And, hey, it has the X-Babies!
- I bought MOON KNIGHT #1 because the preview art by David Finch looked so fantastic. While the first few pages were the best-drawn of the bunch, the rest is nothing to sneeze at, either. It's a very very dark book, by the end, but I enjoyed it. I think I might wait for a premiere edition hardcover to read the rest, though. This first issue reads very much like it's paced for the trade. It's a teaser more than a story, unless you count cliched superhero chasing down out of control punks in getaway car to be a stunning story.
Moon Knight appears in this book in a certain state, and I think I'm supposed to know how that state happened. Was it in AVENGERS: DISASSEMBLED? Am I just forgetting something? Or is that part of the story yet to come? I'll find out in six or seven months. The series sounds like it'll be self-contained, so I'm not worried about too many details leaking out.
One thing that did throw me was the opening double page splash. I think it should have been flipped around another way. Instead of a dramatic up shot on a descending hero, he appears to be floating across the page. Mirroring the image would fix it.
- I know nobody is going to start reading Jimmie Robinson's BOMB QUEEN (Image) now that part three of a four-part mini-series has hit the stands. I'm not dumb. Barring a complete meltdown in the fourth part, though, I think I'd recommend it, assuming a trade paperback is released later this year. It's a fun, completely dark-humored book, telling the story of a supervillain who takes over a city with its citizen's tacit approval. Things start to fall apart in the latest issue, which is complete with its own line of naughty language and private bits falling out all over the place. Yeah, it's not for kids, but it is embarrassingly fun. It might even be a good candidate for "guilty pleasure," if I believed in such things.
- One other fun book that you can still pick up from the start today is TRUTH, JUSTIN, AND THE AMERICAN WAY. This is Scott "PVP" Kurtz and Aaron "PS238" Williams riffing on THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, setting a book in the early eighties with as many pop culture references as they could get away with. Plus, the story is set up like a period drama or sit-com might be, complete with credits at the end over a series of still images from previously in the episode. No, it's not the most original thing on the market, but that's not the point of it. It's an indulgent, semi-nostalgic, fun comic.
The real selling point of the comic to me, though, is the artwork by Italian artist Giuseppe Ferrario. I've raged on in this column in the past about how I'd like to see more European artists working in American comics. Specifically, I'd like to see more of the Euro-albums translated into English and published over here. The art has a completely different sensibility, owing to different deadline pressures and larger page sizes. Their books are gorgeous and diverse. Ferrario brings his well-honed art style to America with this book, giving us a bouncy and lively comedy comic with plenty of detail and animation to it. Right now, it's about the closest thing we're going to get to a full-scale Euro-art invasion.
Don't forget about the VandS DVD podcast, while you're at it, looking at each week's new DVD releases.
Various and Sundry continues its link dumps, DVD talk, Thursday Geek Talk, and more.
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