FIRST, A BRIEF VIDEO MESSAGE
Before we get into this week’s reviews, I wanted to point you over to the latest episode of the iFanboy Video Podcast. I was honored to be the special guest co-co-host on their look at the career of Mike Wieringo, including interviews with Tom Brevoort and Todd Dezago along the way. The final video runs 34 minutes, but it’s all solid stuff. Ron, Conor, and Josh went out of their way to include those extra interviews and put together a very nice package celebrating a great body of work.
We talk about all the series Ringo worked on, and I got the chance to show off some of my original art collection and explain just how good a storyteller Ringo was in some very subtle ways. Dezago answers the question of what’s next for TELLOS. Brevoort shares a couple of funny stories from around the Marvel water cooler. And Ron and Conor keep everything moving.
Now you can see, once and for all, why I probably shouldn’t do video.
75 COMICS OF CHRISTMAS
Truth be told, I’ve fallen a bit behind on my comics reading as of late. So for the month of December, I’ve devoted myself to the fine art of reading as many comics as I possibly can, and then mentioning them all here in this column. Some comics will spawn long reviews. Others will inspire a couple of sentences and that’s it. As a bonus, I’ll fill the columns out with stuff I’ve read in recent months without reviewing. This is a review clearing house column for December!
The original goal was to blow through 100 comics by the new year, but that goal may have been a bit high. I’ve dropped that goal to 75 comics now. Let’s see how I do this week:
18. Steve Niles’s Strange Cases #2 (Image): I love this comic. I really do. It’s not high literature and it’s not revolutionary, but it’s a fine read that carries you off into another world for a few minutes and gives you an interesting story (by Dan Wickline) paired with a unique look (artist David Hartman). I normally frown on the style of art in which all the black lines of the art are colored in. It particularly grates on me in J. Scott Campbell’s work. Here, though, it’s a defining element in the artistic style and is used for more than just clever Photoshopping purposes. It’s “the look” and it’s great. This is a book which I think will collect well overseas. I can see a French publisher snapping this thing up in a heart beat.
That said, the book’s not perfect. This issue has an odd T&A quotient in it, as the kick-butt powerful female lead leaps into battle for an upskirt shot followed by a white blouse that unbuttons at the first sight of something suspicious. It’s an odd creative choice, but in a book filled with bloody and gruesome werewolves, I suppose it’s not something the intended audience doesn’t know how to handle.
It’s a 16 page story for $2.50, though the back matter is all ads.
19. Special Forces #1 (Image): This is Kyle Baker’s war comic, though I’m not entirely sure yet what the point of it is. If it’s supposed to be a scathing indictment of the war — which I figured it would be — then it doesn’t go far enough beyond a cartoonish recruitment dramatization. If it’s supposed to be a comedy, it doesn’t go far enough past one page of double entendres between a military recruiter and a gay man. If it’s supposed to be a “War Is Hell” comic, then it’s undermined by the half-measures mentioned above.
In the end, it reads like a Frank Miller script, filled with dozens of short caption boxes of first person narrative over top of art that’s dramatic, violent, and cartoonish all at the same time. Baker’s art is the real star here. For those who’ve grown used to his work in more animation-style endeavors, this is a real wakeup call.
I’ll keep reading because I love Baker’s artwork. I just hope the story catches up to it soon.
20. True Story Swear To God #9 (Image): Tom Beland continues his tale of living in Puerto Rico, as he and Lily move into her sister’s house, deal with their house guest, and confront Tom’s issues with death. It’s dramatic, it’s touching, it’s romantic, it’s everything you’d expect the comic to be. Just don’t expect one neat little tale with a ribbon tied tightly around it at the end. This is a series that rambles on, jumping from point to point. It’s a lot like life that way. Little things keep popping or flaring up, small things take center stage, larger concerns repeat themselves. For me, it’s wonderfully satisfying in a way completely different from the more traditional three act structures of narrative storytelling.
21. The Comics Journal #286 (Fantagraphics): I bought this issue just for the Gail Simone interview. The great thing about time and a little distance is that the truth comes out more easily. Reading about Simone’s early days scripting comics at Marvel is a little like reading about the wild wild west. Simone doesn’t explicitly name names, but if you have the comic books she mentions, you can work those out. Now that there’s a little time behind her and less fear of bridges being burnt, she can speak more freely about the things that happened at Marvel during the Bill Jemas years — everything from the much-lamented NIGHT NURSE non-launch to the DEADPOOL editorial shuffle and her time ghost-writing for the boss. It’s an interesting story. It doesn’t end there, though. She also discusses — as per JOURNAL mandate — her family and her childhood history with comics, and then past it in the other direction to her current DC years.
Simone is charming throughout the interview, often disarming and self-critical. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the interview of those who think they’re either the center of the universe or not worthy of being interviewed and have nothing to say.
There’s a lot more to it than just that, mind you, but I haven’t read that far in just yet. And at $12, I will be reading more to get my money’s worth.
22. Obelix and Co. (Sterling/Orion): I have a hard time reading ASTERIX books without thinking of two other series I enjoyed before discovering it. The first is Carl Barks’ UNCLE SCROOGE, and the second is Sergio Aragones and Mark Evanier’s GROO. To me, they’re all birds of a feather, although at slightly different angles. GROO leans more towards satire and humor. SCROOGE wavers back and forth between grand adventure and short comedy. Asterix remains steady as something in in between the two extremes of Barks’ output, as a comedic adventure. This 23rd volume in the series leans closer to Groo’s stock in trade of social commentary mixed in with real world truisms. Just to mix things up even more, it’s very reminiscent of the classic UNCLE SCROOGE ADVENTURES story, “The Land of Tra-la-la.” That’s the one where bottle caps become money and threaten to ruin an otherwise peaceful village cut off from the rest of the world.
In OBELIX AND CO., Julius Caesar devises a new plan to rid himself of those annoying Gauls in Armorica. A business school graduate plans to destroy the village through economics, creating a false economy which preys upon basic human foibles to pit man against man in the pursuit of greed, no matter how obviously foundationless it may be. The business school kid, Caius Preposterus, in effect, creates a new collectible — the menhir. The simplistic Obelix is his target. And next thing you know, the whole village — minus Asterix and Getafix, of course — are in for a wild ride.
It’s one of the fastest Asterix reads I’ve had so far, and I’m not sure why that is. I haven’t done a scientific assessment of the book, but it does feel a little less wordy. Renee Goscinny stays away from much of the clever punny humor in this book to get at the economic aspect more quickly. There’s a wonderful two page spread in the middle of the book where the plot is revealed to Caesar, but that’s about as wordy as this one gets. The book sticks to the story and every page builds upon the nuttiness of the last, until the whole thing explodes and backfires, of course.
The story in this one is so strong, I’m tempted to name it as the book that I believe anyone curious about Asterix should start with. It’s not quite as humorous as the others as the running gags from the series overall are minimized, but it’s a quick read with a solid story that would be a great introduction to the characters. The satire on the world of collectibles and consumer fads is sharp and immediately appealing to a general audience. And the book is far enough along in the series that Uderzo’s art is fully matured and solid.
23. Marvel Zombies 2 #2 (Marvel, duh): This series is gloriously goofy, though the second issue does slow it down a tad from the first. That issue set all the pieces into motion, from a decapitated Hawkeye head to a band of space-faring universe-destroying Marvel Zombies. Now, Robert Kirkman is attempting to put them all into play in a convincing way, setting up conflicts and arranging events to carry the story along. This is where we see the heart of the book. It’s not in the creepiness, the gruesomeness, or the black humor. It’s in the heart of the heroes and how well they adjust to this new world. Not all of them relish their roles as zombies.
Sean Phillips knows how to draw heroes and he knows how to draw zombies. They’re an off-putting band of people, but they still look good. Phillips can draw, as if we didn’t already know that from SLEEPER and CRIMINAL.
24. Marvel Atlas #1 (ibid): This is an odd duck. It’s the Marvel Universe Handbook to the Planet Earth, going country by country to explain each nation’s super-powered populace, historical locations, and more. The thing is, the book spends as much time on real world locations and history as it does on made-up Marvel lands, like Latveria. It’s an odd mix of historical lessons and Marvel trivia. I admit to being tickled by an entry for Belgium that indicates there’s no known extraterrestrial presence there, before heading into four column inches of real world history for the country. Fascinating, though a bit bizarre.
Kids might just learn something from this, if they ever saw it.
25. Mercenaries #1 (Dynamite): I didn’t realize at first that this was based on a video game. What caught my eye is that Brian Reed wrote it and that the art wasn’t offensive. Sure, it’s not Will Eisner or anything, but it’s fine for what the book is – a team of mercenaries traveling the globe and getting into adventures that inevitably end just as soon as something blows up. The first half of the book is all action, handled well and with a touch of creativity and imagination that wouldn’t likely work in “the real world,” but who cares? It’s cool. (Judging from the commercials I saw for it, this sounds like an apt description for LIVE FREE DIE HARD.) After that, the book grinds to a stop for a two page cut scene, er, I mean “info dump” that explains who the bad guy is and moves us into the story proper.
This isn’t a Can’t Miss title by any means, but feel free to check your brain at the door and enjoy a pleasant little action piece here, if you’re in the mood.
26. Sub-Mariner #6 (Marvel): This wraps up the mini-series, which makes it a very odd spot for me to jump on. But I was in an experimental comics reading mode this week, and so I went with it. The text page explained all that I needed to know, and allowed the writers to jump straight into the story, which has some surprisingly major ramifications in it for Namor’s world. The story from Matt Cherniss and Peter Johnson brings a new concept to the world of the Atlanteans, and one I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.
Also surprising to me was the art of Phil Briones. I liked it a lot, with an anatomical structure that has hints of Brian Hitch to it. Keep an eye on him. I think he might be one to watch in the future.
27. Cable/Deadpool #47 (Marvel): Cable’s not in it, but the fact that Deadpool can still create some funny one-liners turns out not to be surprising once you see Fabian Nicieza’s writing credit. While Joe Kelly defined the character best, it was Nicieza and Rob Liefeld who created him in the first place. This book qualifies as a fun romp, even starting in the middle of the storyline.
Ron Lim is drawing it these days and he also pleasantly surprised me. As much as I loved Lim’s art on SILVER SURFER back in the day and also slightly more recently on Tom DeFalco’s late great RANDY O’DONNELL IS THE MAN series, there hasn’t ever been a major evolution in his style. It’s remained static. I saw some new tricks up Lim’s sleeve in this issue, though, particularly in the first half of the book. I enjoyed that a whole lot.
Also, this book gets the Pipeline Panel of the Week designation, for this entry from page 27.
28. Sensational Spider-Man #41 (Marvel): Remember Speedball? Remember how Joe Quesada screamed for years about how dumb a character he was and how much he wanted to kill him? And then, in CIVIL WAR and its aftermath, something finally got done about the character. He changed from a bouncing teenager to a sadomasochistic freak in bondage gear.
So when Joe Quesada started harping on how he thought Spider-Man’s marriage was a mistake, we all expected to see Mary Jane in bondage gear while Peter Parker beat himself up.
Wait, no. That’s not it.
I don’t know — while this issue makes it appear blindingly obvious that the marriage is about to end, part of me thinks it’s one giant misdirection. It can’t possibly be that comic book writers are so inept that they can’t make a marriage work in a comic book drama, can it? They work all the time in TV serialized dramas, movies, comic strips, and novels. What makes comic books so different that their writers can’t figure out marriage?
I can’t help but think this entire campaign against the marriage has been nothing more than Quesada drumming up the publicity machine and getting fans talking. Next month, Loki will step in and fix it all, the marriage will live on, and my faith in comics writers will be restored.
29. Screw Heaven, When I Die I’m Going To Mars (Dark Horse): I originally wanted to read this collection of Shannon Wheeler’s miscellaneous comic shorts just for having the craziest title of the year. As it turns out, it’s worth the $13 price of admission for the 140+ page black and white collection. Yeah, I don’t agree with some of the more political comics in here, but they’re a small enough portion of the book that they don’t bother me. The commentaries on modern life, romance, and the pains of living creatively more than drown those other parts out.
30. 2 Guns #1 (BOOM! Studios): I’m a little late on this one, as the fourth issue recently came out. This is Steven Grant’s crime book, the first issue of which has more cool twists and turns than a pile of ten average comics. It’s a real roller coaster reading experience, and one I liked a whole lot. Given the events of this issue — of which I only saw one of the twists coming, while another one literally made me gasp audibly — I have no idea where this mini-series is going. I like that. Grant’s dialogue is crisp, with a very natural sound to it that hides the exposition well. Each page is packed pretty densely, but you never get dragged down by it. I can think of a few writers who should study this issue to learn from it.
The art is from Mat Santolouco, with coloring from Popart Studios. The overall style reminds me of what you might see in INVINCIBLE. It’s an open and very brightly colored book, for a genre that’s usually drawn in the shadows. I like that sense of contrast. The characters are immediately recognizable, something too many artists can’t pull off these days without draping their characters in spandex bodysuits.
In the end, this will be a five issue mini-series. It might be too late to jump on board now, so keep an eye out for a collection at some point next year.
And that’s it for another week. I only climbed my way up to #30 this week. I was really hoping to be closer to #40. At this rate, we might have to adjust the projected comic review total downwards to 70 Comics of Christmas. This is starting to sound like a bad “Deal or No Deal” episode, isn’t it?
Eventually, I’ll get it right.
Next week: The 70 (I hope) Comics of Christmas continues!
The Various and Sundry blog finished off “NaBloWriMo” with thoughts on charity overload, the bundle of money Guitar Hero 3 represents for Nintendo, and a pic of the first snowfall of the season.
More than 800 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.
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