What I bought - 6 November 2013

On the road, when I met people, I asked them always about the past. Only in this way could the present become comprehensible. (Robert Kaplan, from Balkan Ghosts)

Catalyst Comix #5 (of 9) by Joe Casey (writer), Ulises Farinas (artist, "Agents of Change"), Paul Maybury (artist, "Amazing Grace"), Dan McDaid (artist, "The Ballad of Frank Wells"), Brad Simpson (colorist), Rus Wooton (letterer), and Brendan Wright (editor). $2.99, 28 pgs, FC, Dark Horse. Amazing Grace, Frank Wells, and Agents of Change created by Barbara Kesel.

One thing you can tell when you're reading Casey's comics is how much the dude loves comics. I mean, yes, we all love comics, and many writers do too, but with Casey, you get the feeling that he's sitting there on the SoCal beach, with his ubiquitous sunglasses on, counting all his ducats from the cartoon work while bouncing bikini-clad girls run by and wonder who that dashing dude is, and he's typing every single line of his scripts with a maniacal smile on his face because he can't believe he gets to do this shit. Plus, you get the feeling from his comics (and, of course, from his back matter) that he loves comics that are, you know, comics. A lot of writers, even really good writers, write comics as if they're prose with some nice pictures, or even worse, as if they're movies. Fuck that noise, says Casey. He writes comics that are COMICS!, and even if they contain some cinematic elements (his two other current books, The Bounce and Sex, could probably work as movies pretty well, although Lars von Trier might have to make Sex), they are resistant to adaptation. Something like Catalyst Comix, which works to varying degrees, is both a tribute to and an update of old-style comic book writing, with Casey's heavy-handed Stan Lee/Jack Kirby narration clashing against a very self-conscious kind of patter, which is just an update of Lee's "hep" slang that always feels just enough out of date to be square. I don't know if Casey is trying to be slightly out-of-date or if he's fallen into Lee's trap of trying to keep up with the culture, but it's pretty damned funny and entertaining. If Casey isn't doing quite what he claimed he was doing in earlier issues, when he (to paraphrase, because I don't have the issues in front of me) claimed to be pushing the boundaries of superhero comics outward, he's still doing what he always does, which is distilling the essence of comicbooks (as he likes to call them) and getting to the core of what makes them work. This is a ridiculous comic. That's part of what makes it so entertaining.

Casey's artistic collaborators make the book interesting, too. Maybury gives us a weird Amazing Grace, one with a big sexy booty but thick, masculine eyebrows, all wrapped around a symbolically innocent, freckled face. Grace's sexuality, which is on constant display and is central to the plot of her story, becomes something far more ambivalent than we might expect and causes undercurrents of both homoeroticism and even pedophilia, which makes Mr. Seaver's interest in her more layered than we might expect. Mr. Seaver, with his blocky face and well-tailored suit, is irresistible to women, but Grace has not succumbed. Maybury takes this plot point from Casey and turns it into a stranger dance than we think it will be, especially when we get a splash page like we do in this issue, which is a parody of old romance comics. Mr. Seaver thinks to himself that Grace can never find out about his "secret life," and although Casey explains what that secret life is, the idea of closeted sexuality has already been introduced, and Maybury's somewhat androgynous/underage rendition of Grace makes it more explicit. Farinas, perhaps by design and perhaps not, continues this strange dichotomy in the Agents of Change story. When Wolfhunter is sent to an alternate universe, he's confronted by versions of himself that appear slightly androgynous, from a Prince analog to a dude with a semi-bare chest and really tight pants. Meanwhile, it's perhaps not a coincidence that Ruby, the most innocent of the group, ends up being the most dangerous. Finally, McDaid skips the subtleties and goes straight for the sex, as the Flood attacks Frank Wells mainly, it seems, so she can make out with him. I can't say how explicit Casey is with these cues or if I'm reading way too much into this, but Catalyst Comix has been oozing with sex, as much as the far-more-explicit Sex has been, and Casey's collaborators, by making this a much brighter and superheroic comic than Piotr Kowalski makes Sex, are able to be a bit more subtle about it. It's rather interesting.

I'm not sure if there's anything more to Catalyst Comix than just Casey and his artists mind-fucking with us, but it's still pretty keen. That's all that matters, surely!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Detective Comics #25 ("Whistleblower's Blues"/"Troubled Waters") by Jason Fabok (artist, "Blues"), Jared K. Fletcher (letterer, "Blues"), John Layman (writer), Jorge Lucas (artist, "Waters"), Dave McCaig (colorist, "Waters"), Tomeu Morey (colorist, "Blues"), Dezi Sienty (letterer, "Waters") Katie Kubert (associate editor), and Mike Marts (editor). $3.99, 28 pgs, FC, DC. Batman and Jim Gordon created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Harvey Bullock created by Archie Goodwin. Commissioner Loeb created by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli. Roman Sionis created by Doug Moench and Tom Mandrake. Man-Bat and Francine Langstrom created by Frank Robbins and Neal Adams.

Jason Fabok likes rain, man. I mean, it's Gotham, so the weather is always weirdly shitty and it's always nighttime (is Gotham in Alaska?), but damn, it's been raining a lot since Fabok started drawing the book. Fabok draws everything digitally, so maybe it's so damned easy to add streaks of light that he just can't help himself. As I've noted, he's a decent artist, although his weakness seems to be displaying characters' emotions that are in line with what's happening around them. His Batman, for instance, always looks like he's about to take a massive dump, which isn't really what you want from the Dark Caped Knight Crusader. I've also noted that Fabok is slightly better with characters who don't wear a big bat mask, so this issue, which features Batman in one (1) panel, ought to work well for Fabok. But maybe he's not confident in his abilities. Or maybe he grew up watching so many David Fincher movies that he thinks rain is just so damned dramatic it needs to be added into every outdoor scene. Beats me. It's not quite as annoying in comics as it is in movies, because in most movies, rain makes things almost invisible, and it's really annoying (I'm pretty sure it's done to hide some of the obvious computer-generated effects, but that doesn't make it right), and that's not too big a problem in comics, but it's still odd. The combination of Fabok's digital pencils and Morey's digital colors can make certain things very neat - lambent light, for instance - but digital artists tend to add far too many creases to clothing, and I wonder if rain helps make this more credible, because of course the water is going to soak into clothing and make it look more creased! Whatever the reason, I wish Fabok would use less rain.

Oh, and Harvey Bullock is thin and looks like a fucking model. That's really obnoxious. He doesn't have to be fat, as this takes place "six years ago," but he shouldn't look like he's ready to hit a club in Ibiza. I mean, really.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

East of West #7 by Nick Dragotta (artist), Jonathan Hickman (writer), Frank Martin (colorist), and Rus Wooton (letterer). $3.50, 20 pgs, FC, Image.

East of West has probably been the best new series of the year, and what's most impressive about it is what's not really impressive about most of Hickman's Marvel work: East of West takes chances and has consequences. When I reviewed the first issue, I wondered why, if you like Hickman, you would rather read his Marvel work where he doesn't own the characters when he's doing almost the exact same thing on this book but he does own the characters, so he can do what he wants with them? Now that I've read the first half of his Fantastic Four run, which was snoozingly pedestrian, I'm even more convinced that if you're not happy with his world-building on the Avengers books (and I might be in the minority on this, but I don't know how the book sells), you should check out East of West (or Manhattan Projects, which is also very good). The second page of this comic presents us with a terrifying image of a man with a giant monster growing out of his arm (because of something that happened last issue). It's a creepy image, but then Hickman goes back and shows us who the man is, what he means to the Horsemen, and what they plan to do about it. The way Hickman leads us to the final page feels inevitable, but because he's so good at epic statements, Ezra Orion's mantra when asked a question takes on more significance each time he speaks it, and we see what is required of him, and it's terrible. Hickman couldn't do something like this at Marvel, because even if he did, it would feel false in the world of No Consequences. Superheroes can do too much, and even if he could introduce horror like we get in this issue into the Marvel Universe, there would always be an escape clause. Ezra Orion is alone, and his despair and the triumph of those around him hit harder because we know he's totally alone, no matter what anyone says to him. This is why I like Hickman. He takes the epic and makes it personal, which is harder than it looks.

Dragotta, naturally, is tremendous, as is Martin. There's a panel in this comic where War is going to slice the monster arm off. He stands to the left of the panel, with a contemptuous sneer on his face, holding a flaming sword. In the foreground is Ezra and his monster arm, and Dragotta silhouettes the tentacles of the arm and most of Ezra's face. His teeth, however, are bared against what he thinks will be an agonizing cut. War is always red, but Martin splashes yellows and oranges into the flame of the sword, which makes War's red more lurid. Dragotta's heavy inking etches War with black, making his sneer even crueler. He seems to be helping Ezra, but he enjoys it far too much. It's an amazing panel in a gorgeously drawn comic.

Yeah, East of West is pretty damned good. You know it's true!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Fatale #18 by Elizabeth Breitweiser (colorist), Ed Brubaker (writer), and Sean Phillips (artist). $3.50, 26 pgs, FC, Image.

Brubillips takes that issue of Sandman where the ex-goddess stripper dances and things go wrong and cranks it up to 11, as Josephine's influence is felt even outside the small area where she's dancing. It's quite well done, as our creators go even darker than Gaiman and Thompson did - with Sandman, it was mostly Gaiman's words, but Phillips is brutal in the sequence, not only with the nekkidness (of which there is plenty), but with the way the dance affects others, too. There are also those pages when Lance and Josephine begin to remember things, and Phillips nails it, especially Josephine's, as the horror she's put aside comes roaring back.

Brubaker keeps the wheels turning, and while it's compelling, I can't help wonder if Josephine should have the same effect on women that she does on men. Obviously, that would mean the conflict in this issue would be non-existent, but it might be an interesting turn. I know no writer wants to hear what should be done, especially from a punk-ass reviewer like me, but the thing that's bothered me about Fatale throughout is how helpless the men are in the face of Josephine's powers. It always seems like it would be more interesting if not every male or if females were affected. But that's just me. Mostly, this issue slowly builds to the climactic scene, and Brubaker's terse narration and Phillips's amazing pencil work make it incredibly gripping. After Breitweiser's stunning coloring on Velvet a few weeks back, it's a bit unfortunate to see her succumb to the orange/blue complement cliché, but that seems to work a bit better in comics than it does in movies, so it's not too bad. Still, she's done much better work.

Fatale keeps keeping on, and it's always enjoyable. So that's nice.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight #2 (of 8) ("Bee Vixens from Mars Part Two") by Alex De Campi (writer/letterer), Chris Peterson (artist), Nolan Woodard (colorist), Ian Tucker (assistant editor), and Brendan Wright (editor). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

Grindhouse will apparently feature short stories, as this one comes to an end and next issue begins a brand new one. That's cool, though, because de Campi is obviously going for that vibe, and she wants to hit us with unbelievably wacky shit and move on before we can think about it too much. Two-issue stories are fun; you get just enough character development so that you care about the characters, but nothing is decompressed. That assumes the writer knows what they're doing, and de Campi is a pretty good one, so while these characters are definitely just plot devices, she does get some more out of them than you might expect. In the first issue, the sexytimes scenes were incredibly sexy and awfully creepy, and de Campi inexplicably brings racism into this issue, which is just weird. But it adds just enough anger to Garcia's back story that her reaction to the bee aliens isn't just rage - it's focused rage. Then, of course, she gets to shoot a lot of them and splatter the entire comic with blood, which Peterson draws with relish.

The whole thing is insane, naturally, from Garcia being able to call her motorcycle (or, I guess, her chopper, and did I forget something from issue #1 or how did she do that?) to Jimmy's unfortunate predicament to de Campi putting Garcia in a situation where she conveniently has to take her shirt off. I mean, the whole point is that it's nuts, so if you just accept that, you'll have fun. Peterson's rough artwork is fine, as subtlety is not really called for in this comic. He sells the horror well, and that's what we want.

For $3.99, I'm not sure if this is the best value, and I don't know if Dark Horse plans a well-priced $20-trade for all 8 issues. I like it in this format, because it feels like this is how it should be read - in short, violent bursts, leaving you almost breathless with the sheer audacity of the insanity inherent in the story. But I can understand why you wouldn't want to plunk down 4 bucks for it. It's something to keep in mind, unfortunately.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Morning Glories #34 by Joe Eisma (artist), Paul Little (colorist), Johnny Lowe (letterer), and Nick Spencer (writer). $3.50, 24 pgs, FC, Image.

I still like Morning Glories quite a bit, and I love that poor Joe Eisma is still drawing every single damned page even though Spencer has decided to ship this sucker twice a month (have some pity on Eisma, Mr. Spencer!), but it has settled down a little. Maybe it's the annoying "liner notes" by "Professor Matthew Meylikhov" at the back of each issue, dissecting each issue before I've even had a chance to ruminate on what I just read, or maybe it's something else. After several issues a while back where so much weird shit happened that made absolutely no sense, Spencer has really slammed on the brakes recently to catch everyone up, and while it's probably necessary, it makes me feel like the pendulum has swung too far. I mean, we're not really learning much of anything, yet the pace has slowed considerably. At one point what's-his-name - you know, that guy - goes meta on us and says, "Look, in any long-form mystery story, what's the biggest reason everything keeps getting worse? It's 'cause nobody talks to each other, right?" He wants to talk to everyone, but Jun shuts him down, because the group is "past the time for words, this requires action." To me, that sounds like a big "fuck-you" to the readers, who would probably like a big sit-down between everyone where they tell exactly what they know. As I've often said, I don't really care if I don't know what's going on in Morning Glories, because I trust that Spencer knows, and when it's all said and done, the story will make sense. But that applies when things are happening, and while Jade does some things in this issue, it's a lot of people standing around agonizing about things (and measuring dicks) without really telling us anything. Spencer has done this before, but it's usually when other things are going on. Here, he teases us with knowledge, and then Jun pisses all over it by saying the time for words has passed.

Sigh. I doubt if I will stop reading Morning Glories, unless it really starts to drag, but I hope Spencer doesn't do more of this. If you're going to slow the book down, at least make the dialogue more interesting. Although Jade does get to freak out (see below), so there's that.

Poor Joe Eisma. Someone give him a Devil Dog if you see him. The dude probably needs to eat something!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Rogues! #5 ("The Cleansing Part III"/"Lumpur and Flea") by Diego Galindo (artist, "Cleansing"), Mario Larra (shiny pretty jewels, "Lumpur and Flea"), Malaka Studio (letterer), Ivan Sarnago (writer/artist, "Lumpur and Flea"), and El Torres (writer, "Cleansing"). $3.99, 24 pgs, FC, Amigo Comics.

I've always been a bit worried about Amigo Comics, because it was launched, it seems, so that El Torres could write stories he wanted to and hire Spanish artists who weren't getting a ton of work in the States. That's great, and I certainly want to support the venture, mainly because I like Torres's writing, but man, their scheduling is shot all to hell, and I really hope they don't go under because of it. Rogues! has come out (very sporadically), but the other title I wanted to buy, The Westwood Witches, has only shipped one issue (unless I missed one, which would suck) and has run into artist problems of some kind. In a statement in the back of this issue, Torres notes that the international nature of the comics' creation has made it problematic, too. I'm sure it's frustrating for him, and it's frustrating for readers, too. Unfortunately, frustration for readers usually turns into apathy, and then no one buys the comics.

That's too bad, because The Westwood Witches #1 was a pretty keen comic, and Rogues! has been enjoyable since its launch. In this issue, for instance, Bram and the Weasel are forced to lead a squad of thieves into the palace to pay their debt to the thieves' guild. They're told they're going in for an assassination, but they don't realize it's to kill a woman and her children. That won't sit well with them, and I'm sure next issue they will dispense some rough justice. The fun of the issue comes from the group that Bram and the Weasel have to lead into the palace. You see them there on the cover, and they're parodies of various characters - Wolverine, Brother Voodoo (he's even called "Brother Drumm"), Conan, among others. Torres makes them all super-serious, naturally, and some of them are dispatched in very humorous ways. The pokes at the various characters are a bit obvious, but that's part of what makes them fun. Torres is pretty good at showing how deadly serious can be funny but also scary, as the characters are on their killing mission and they don't care that they're tasked to kill a woman and children. So Torres uses it to his advantage.

Meanwhile, Galindo's heavily rendered art doesn't quite work when the action starts, but as this is a humor comic as much as it is an action one, and Galindo does a nice job with the characters' reactions, which is often where the humor lies. When Bram and the Weasel figure out where the guild has taken them, Galindo does a nice job with their incredulous faces. When Night Cat is insulting the Weasel, Galindo uses the exact same drawing in six consecutive panels, altering only the Weasel's reactions to what the Night Cat is saying. Then, on the very next page, he does the same thing from Bram when Monyan the Barbarian starts talking to him. The fact that Bram is eating a sandwich on what appears to be Wonder bread is a nice touch, too. Galindo does nice work with the characters throughout, which helps with the pacing of Torres's jokes. It sells the whole thing well.

It's frustrating waiting for Amigo's comics to come out, because they've been pretty good so far. Let's hope Torres can sort out the scheduling and things pick up. They deserve a chance!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Super! #2 by Zachary Dolan (writer/penciler), Laurie Foster (inker), Tara Kappel (art assistant), Ludwig Olimba (color assistant), Everardo Orozco (colorist), and Justin Piatt (writer/letterer). $2.99, 24 pgs, FC, Unlikely Heroes Studios.

I enjoyed the first issue of Super! but didn't love it, but Justin Piatt was nice enough to send me issue #2, which came out (I think) last week. I completely forgot to write about it, but I imagine you can still find it at finer comics stores nation-wide!

I liked this issue a lot more than issue #1, which was a pleasant surprise. I wonder if the gargantuan length of Super! #1 worked against it, even though I'm usually in favor of extra-large first issues. We did get a nice look at Blitz, which was nice, but Piatt and Dolan tried to pack so much into the issue that it was a bit overwhelming and the jokes didn't always land. This book is fairly compressed, so even this more normal-sized issue feels packed. I felt like the creators were trying a bit too hard with issue #1, even though I appreciated the effort.

This issue, however, is more tightly focused. Fire Ant (The Furious Fire Ant, that is) narrates this issue, and Dolan and Piatt stay on Max Archer's team of heroes (of which Blitz is a member) and their general ineptitude, following them to an awards ceremony for Archer that goes horribly wrong. Even though they spend a good amount of the issue fighting Baron Blizzard, which turns out very bad for them, and only then do they head to the awards ceremony, because the writers concentrate on this small group of heroes, the book moves along more smoothly than issue #1. The jokes don't feel quite as forced, either - issue #1 was funny, sure, but it definitely felt like Piatt and Dolan were trying hard to make it so, and that can work against a humor book. Fire Ant is a better narrator than Blitz, because he's more of a douchebag, so his caustic remarks hit harder, and Dolan and Piatt have done a nice job giving Archer an excellent pompous, Tony Stark-crossed-with-Alec Baldwin-in-Malice kind of personality, so when he argues with his personal assistant, it comes off as both funny and obnoxious, but not too obnoxious. The writers also remind us of Blitz's romantic relationship, which will obviously come into play in future issues. It's nice that they check in.

I'm still not in love with Dolan's artwork, as it's still a bit too early Image for me, but it is growing on me ever so slightly, mainly because it fits the tone of the book so well. Orozco's colors are also a big draw - in an age of drab superhero comics, the colors in this book pop so nicely and really make this scream SUPERHEROES!!!! Dolan, however, does make sure that he and Piatt can fit so much on every page, and his storytelling is quite good. He also has a really nice full-page spread of the People's Champions with a simple but very cool layout, and the awards ceremony scenes are pure genius, as Dolan drops in too many sci-fi cameos to mention. I can count 15 without breaking a sweat, and I know there are far more that I don't recognize. It's the kind of humor I'd like to see more of from this book, because it presents a nice contrast to the swearing-filled dialogue, which, yes, is funny but is also a bit crass. More than one kind of humor will make the book even better.

It was very cool of Piatt to send this to me, and I'm glad the book has improved. When a second issue is better, it can make the first one look better in retrospect, because you can see some things you didn't when you had only one issue to work with. So that's pretty keen.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Tales from Lost Vegas by Steve Benton (artist), Austin Blodgett (artist), Daniel Blodgett (artist), Ed Hawkins (writer), Hi-Fi Design (additional colors), Kenneth Lamug (artist), Pj Perez (additional colors/letterer), and Jska Priebe (artist). $4.99, 44 pgs, FC, Pop! Goes the Icon.

Speaking of comics I received in the mail, Pj Perez, the mad genius behind Pop! Goes the Icon, sent this sucker to me last week, so I'm going to give it some press! How about that!

Perez and his company are generally represented by creative talent from Las Vegas, and their comics often are set there, which is kind of cool. There's nothing uniquely "Vegas" about this comic (sure, Howard Hughes is in it, but that doesn't necessarily mean it has to be set in Vegas), but just the fact that it takes place there is neat, because it's not New York or Los Angeles. Hawkins tells a story about three teenagers who discover a vast tunnel system underneath the city. He begins the book with some strange construction projects, overseen by Hughes, in the 1960s. Obviously, this is connected to the tunnels, and the three kids - Samantha, Amy, and Caiden - stumble upon something weird down there. And it's not just the giant cyborg ants.

The story is rather silly, but that's okay - this is definitely "all-ages," and while it's entertaining, it's not surprising that Hawkins doesn't really go too far into the weird stuff in the tunnels. What he does very well is get the personalities of the kids down - Samantha is a girly girl who doesn't want to go into the tunnels because she doesn't want to ruin her shoes; Amy is the tomboy who convinces Samantha to go; Caiden is the nerd who knows how to open locks, so the girls take him along to open the giant vault door that leads into the tunnels. Hawkins gives us perfectly plausible kids - they're different from each other, sure, but they're not so different that they're mean to each other, and over the course of the comic, he shows how their unique skills help them through the problems they encounter. Samantha, for instance, is repulsed by the giant cyborg ants until her more stereotypically "girly" nature takes over and she becomes their champion. Caiden quotes Wikipedia when he gets nervous, which is goofy but something that feels "real." Amy is tougher than the other two, but she also doesn't always think things through. Hawkins gets a nice dynamic going between the three of them, which helps with the inherent silliness of the actual plot.

The artists are all rather raw, but that's okay, because they all have storytelling skills. Honestly, the biggest problem I have with the art is that the styles are all pretty different, so the shifts are disorienting. The only "good" shift is when Benton is drawing, because his part is set in the past. The other three simply pick up where the previous artist left off, and it's somewhat sudden. Lamug's kids, for instance, look far older than Priebe's, and they're much more cherubic when Priebe draws them. Blodgett's villain is more menacing than Lamug's, but luckily, Blodgett draws him almost exclusively. I certainly don't mind the different artists, but the way they're haphazardly used is a bit strange.

I'm always happy to see one of Perez's comics in the mail, because they're almost always entertaining and you can really tell how much effort everyone puts into them. If you check out his web site, you can find this and the other comics he publishes. That is, if you're interested!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Ten Grand #5 by Troy Peteri (letterer), C. P. Smith (artist), and J. Michael Straczynski (writer). $2.99, 22 pgs, FC, Image.

I haven't been so enamored of Ten Grand that I can't live without it, but this issue is probably my last. It's not a bad comic, but it does cost money, and occasionally you need to make choices. If Ben Templesmith was drawing it, I would probably think about it more, but I am not a fan of C. P. Smith's computer-generated cartooning, so yeah, I'm out. I really don't even want to write about the art, it's so not for me. But I will say that JMS needs to get off this "Just do it" schtick he occasionally slips into his comics. The rant issue was by far the worst one of Midnight Nation (which didn't even end particularly well, but it ended better than that issue), and in this issue, JMS again states that if people aren't satisfied with their lives, they need to get off their asses and change. It sounds like good advice, but it's still condescending. It's a fairly juvenile philosophy to have, because as you do things in life, you accumulate responsibilities that, if you were to simply chuck it all, as JMS suggests, would make you a douchebag. I make no secret of the fact that I don't like Arizona (especially Phoenix). It's too right-wing, too bland, and too furshlugginer hot (even the winters aren't great, because there's no variety). But I still live here, and I'm reasonably happy, but I can't just leave because of responsibilities we have. Until recently, our house was worth less than what we paid for it, so we couldn't just sell it. We have two kids in school, and if we left, we'd have to find a school district that we feel is a good one. We need health insurance, obviously, and my older daughter needs access to good therapists. So if we were to move, one of us would need to have a job to go to. That doesn't mean we're not trying to leave Arizona, it just means that we can't just drop everything and leave, because we have responsibilities. People confront their situations and make hard decisions every day, but because they're not as dramatic as fiction, JMS thinks they're just coasting through life. I've never liked the way he's phrased his tenet - it's certainly not a bad idea, but he espouses it in the most juvenile way possible.

Anyway, I'm done with Ten Grand. It was okay with Templesmith, but it slides toward the low end of mediocrity without him. I usually cull my pull list around the beginning of the year, so I'll start a bit early. Huzzah!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Trillium #4 (of eight) ("Entropy") by Jeff Lemire (writer/artist/colorist), Carlos M. Mangual (letterer), José Villarrubia (colorist), Sara Miller (assistant editor), and Mark Doyle (editor). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, DC/Vertigo.

Trillium has been a pleasant surprise (well, not too much of a surprise - Lemire is a good creator, after all, but this is kind of out of his wheelhouse), and it's hard not to compare it to that other sci-fi romance that gets so much acclaim. Only four issues in, and I'm much more impressed with this comic than that one, because Lemire is much more committed to the science fiction aspect of this comic, what with the time traveling and death of humanity and strange creatures and magic flowers and such, plus the two leads, who haven't quite fallen in love yet, are much more compelling as two culture-clashed lovers. William and Nika are from such different places that they almost can't communicate, yet at the moment when they need each other the most, they instinctively reach out for each other. The final few pages of this issue, which is when the two leads become closer, are really well done, as they both suddenly realize that they're alone and they don't know what to do about it. It's a tremendous moment. Lemire has also tried to create a science fiction story where the characters are alien, at least to each other, so that Nika and the people from her time don't know what's going on with William and the people from his time, and the lack of communication could doom everyone. Unlike that other comic, this feels like many strange cultures interacting with each other rather than a bunch of regular human beings who happen to have horns or wings. I know I shouldn't slag on that other comic while reviewing this one, but it's impressive how Lemire manages to tread a lot of the same ground but does it so much better. Sure, it's not perfect - the idea of aboriginal tribes being so much more in tune with the universe is a tired cliché - but it's still pretty darned good.

Yeah, I've never quite gotten on board with that other comic. Can you tell?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Über #7 by Digikore Studios (colorist), Kieron Gillen (writer), Kurt Hathaway (letterer), Caanan White (penciler), and Keith Williams (inker). $3.99, 22 pgs, FC, Avatar Press.

The way comics get published is endlessly fascinating to me, mainly because it's often shrouded in mystery. Comics isn't a big enough industry for journalists to care enough about the nuts and bolts of the business, so we don't get tell-all books about current (or at least relatively contemporary) comics getting made. Sure, books are coming out about the historical roots of the business, but I wonder if the industry is so small that creators don't want to talk about any behind-the-scenes stuff because they fear they'll piss off the wrong person. I mean, Alan Moore doesn't give a shit, so he talks all he wants, but whether you're on his side or not, he's just one point of view, and the Big Two rarely respond to his broadsides with anything more that PR-friendly pablum. Most creators won't go on the record about anything, which I totally understand. It's also hard to find out why exactly certain comics get published. I've heard a bit of the backroom stuff, but it's always off the record. You might be wondering what this has to do with Über. I'm just wondering why it's not an Image book. If it were, I would imagine it would sell better, but maybe not. Gillen has a good relationship with the people at Image, and his latest comic, Three, is published by Image. Über has been around a while, and maybe his cachet wasn't as developed a few years ago, even though he had published a comic through Image for some years. I know that Avatar wanted him to work for them, so maybe he felt he owed them, or maybe this was an idea that William Christensen, Avatar's EIC, had batted around with him a few years ago. Gillen is very candid in the back of this comic, and perhaps he's even more so in the giant hardcover that was released of the first story arc (which has almost as much back matter as it does story pages). I can't keep track of everything that everyone says or writes about comics. I'm just curious, because when Warren Ellis made Avatar "legitimate" back in 1999 with Strange Kiss, Image wasn't really the place for ultra-violent and/or ultra-nekkid comics, but that's certainly changed now. I also don't really know if this book would sell better if it were at Image. Perhaps it sells just fine. But it's still fascinating to me how certain comics get chosen by certain publishers, and why some get rejected.

Anyway, Gillen and White have diverted to Okinawa for the past two issues, and the story was really all about finding the brother of Patrick O'Connor, the superhuman who died in battle in the first arc. Eammon O'Connor is a bit shell-shocked from seeing some of his friends' heads explode right in front of him, but he's right enough to wonder what's going on. Apparently he's going to be the next superhuman soldier. Good for him!

I've said this before with regard to a lot of comics in the digital age, and I'll say it again: this issue isn't necessarily improved by the digital coloring. Avatar manages to get quite a few good artists to work on their books, but it seems like they think all the art needs heavy blacks and lots of gradation to work, and I don't think it does. The best-looking Avatar books are often the ones in black and white, and White's raw pencils are quite good, so I wonder if this book would also look better without coloring. It's not that it's terrible, but you lose quite a bit of the roughness when you start coloring comics digitally, unless you're taking your time and are at the top of the game. I wonder what this book would look like if only the blood and the superhumans' weird blue power were colored. That might be an interesting contrast. White certainly gets the violence down, but the book still looks a bit too slick to be a gritty war comic. The giant hardcover has White's pencils in the extra stuff, so I might have to see if I can flip through it the next time I'm at a convention.

Über is an odd book. It's pretty good, but I wonder if it's not getting a lot of press (at least around the part of the comics blogaxy that I read) because it's an Avatar book. That would be too bad if it's true, because it's worth a look.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

All Star Western volume 3: The Black Diamond Probability by Mike Atiyeh (colorist), Justin Gray (writer), Moritat (artist), Jimmy Palmiotti (writer), Phil Winslade (artist/colorist), and Rowena Yow (editor). $16.99, 151 pgs, FC, DC.

Is this the best DCnU book? So far, it's definitely in the top 2-3.

Quantum and Woody! volume 1: The World's Worst Superhero Team by James Asmus (writer), Jordie Bellaire (colorist), Tom Fowler (artist), Dave Lanphear (letterer), Jody LeHeup (editor), Alejandro Arbona (editor), and Warren Simons (executive editor). $9.99, 125 pgs, FC, Valiant.

Tom Fowler's art on this book looks very cool. I'm keen to see if the script is as good.

The Spider volume 2: The Businessman from Hell by Vinicius Andrade (colorist), Simon Bowland (letterer), Antonio Lima (inker), David Liss (writer), Alexandre Palomaro (inker), Ivan Rodriguez (artist), and Raul Sidharta (colorist). $19.99, 132 pgs, FC, Dynamite Entertainment.

I know this is one of Greg Hatcher's current faves, but while I didn't hate the first volume, I didn't love it, either. It's a different artist on this arc, so who knows if that will make any difference. Volume 1 was good enough for me to be curious about Volume 2, though, so I guess that's not bad!


If you're not friends with me on Facebook (and why not? shame on you!), you might not know that I grew my beard again, and then shaved it. I kept it for almost six months, but it was getting to a point where I'd actually have to take care of it, and I didn't want to, so I just took it all off. However, I did it in stages, because it was fun. So here is the Shavening:

I was considering growing it again but shaving the chin and more of the cheeks so that I'd have a Civil War-era handlebar, but I decided against it. Maybe someday. I will say that I got several compliments from dudes who were very impressed with the beard. That was fun.

I don't have songs from my iPod, as our new van has XM Radio complimentary for a year, and that's just bad news for me, especially once I discovered Hair Nation. My god, the hair metal!!!! So I thought I'd do a Top Ten list, because those are always fun. I decided to list my Top Ten Favorite Non-American, Non-British Movies. Obviously, movie-making is very international, but these are movies that are basically directed by people who aren't Americans or Brits. However, I decided to count other English-speaking countries, just not the U.S. or the U.K. This is primarily because my viewing of totally non-English movies is woefully incomplete. So, in alphabetical order, here they are:

1. Before the Rain (Macedonia, dir. Milčo Mančhevski, star. Katrin Cartlidge and Rade Šerbedžija, 1994) gives us three different stories, all dealing with the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The stories are loosely connected and the time line loops back on itself, and all three are very powerful tales about how war changes people. The divine Ms. Cartlidge stars as a woman torn between her husband and the charismatic war photographer played by Šerbedžija (in one of those rare movies where he's not a Euro-trash bad guy), while in a different story, a monk tries to help a young girl who has become a refugee. In the third, Šerbedžija realizes that people he's lived next to for years are suddenly the enemy. It's a beautiful movie, but it's also rather depressing, as you might imagine.

2. Gallipoli (Australia, dir. Peter Weir, star. Mel Gibson and Mark Lee, 1981) is a terrific war saga that you know is not going to end well, but it's still riveting. Gibson is excellent (he might be a despicable human being, but he's a very good actor) and Lee is very good, too, as they play young Aussies who enlist in the army and end up in Turkey, where things get ugly. While it plays like a typical war movie, the relationship between Gibson and Lee anchors the movie, and the final minutes are as tense as you're going to get. Weir is a superb director, and this is one of his great movies.

3. Heavenly Creatures (New Zealand, dir. Peter Jackson, star. Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynsky, 1994) was a revelation for someone like me, who had seen Jackson's Bad Taste and didn't love it (it's not terrible, but it's not great) and who had absolutely hated Meet the Feebles, still one of the worst movies I've ever seen. Heavenly Creatures seemed like it was made by a completely different person. Winslet and Lynsky, both in their first movie, are amazing as isolated teenagers who create a beautiful fantasy world to escape their reality, fall in love, and eventually conspire to kill Lynsky's mother. Jackson blends realism with fantasy better than he does in any other of his movies, including The Lovely Bones. It's a disturbing movie on so many levels, and Winslet and Lynsky are phenomenal.

4. Hero (China, dir. Zhang Yimuo, star. Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Chueng, and Zhang Ziyi, 2002) is better, I think, than Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, even though the latter film stars Michelle Yeoh, who's totally awesome. Jet Li visits the first Qin emperor to explain how he killed the three assassins sent to kill the ruler, and his tale changes as he adds more details. The acting is superb, but the direction is absolutely stunning, as Zhang uses different colors in each flashback to influence the mood and amazing set pieces for the action scenes. It's a tremendous story impeccably filmed.

5. Once Were Warriors (New Zealand, dir. Lee Tamahori, star. Rena Owen and Temuera Morrison, 1994) is a phenomenal film about a Maori family living in poverty. Morrison, who plays Jake, the father, is unbelievable in the role, as he terrorizes his family but also falls deeper into alcoholic depression because he's lost his way, while Owen is also amazing as Beth, the mother, who goes toe-to-toe with Jake to protect her children from his rages. It gets the tiniest bit mawkish at the end, but it's still a brilliant movie.

6. Pan's Labyrinth (Mexico, dir. Guillermo del Toro, star. Ivana Baquero and Sergi López, 2006) freaked me right the hell out. Much like Peter Jackson in Heavenly Creatures, del Toro does an amazing job blending the fantasy with the gritty reality of the Spanish Civil War. Del Toro's fable is pretty dark, too, which makes it so impressive that he's able to make parts of it so beautiful. I haven't seen everything he's directed, but it's by far the best movie by him that I've seen.

7. The Princess and the Warrior (Germany, dir. Tom Tykwer, star. Franka Potente and Bruno Fürmann, 2000) is Tykwer's follow-up to Run Lola Run (also an excellent movie), and it also stars Potente, who was involved with the director at the time. Potente plays a nurse and Fürmann a criminal, and the movie brings them together in a horrible accident caused during a crime, in which Potente is severely injured but Fürmann ends up saving her life as he's hiding from the police. They begin a romance that's complicated by Fürmann's criminal activity and his desire to keep away from the woman whose life he saved, and the movie gets more and more surreal as it goes on. It's an amazing movie that sells the romance very well but doesn't shy away from the horrible circumstances surrounding the couple.

8. Proof (Australia, dir. Jocelyn Moorhouse, star. Hugo Weaving, Russell Crowe, and Geneviève Picot, 1991) is a fascinating movie, as Weaving plays a blind photographer named Martin who trusts no one because he was convinced as a child that his mother was lying to him about what was going on in the world. His housekeeper, Celia, has an obsessive crush on him, but he's cruel to her so she's mean-spirited right back. He uses photographs to "see" the world, writing their descriptions down in Braille and keeping them in a book. He meets Andy (Crowe), whose descriptions are so vivid that he wants Andy to describe all his photos. Celia becomes jealous and seduces Andy, and then the lying starts. It's an amazingly tense movie, held up by the superb performances of the three leads, and it's one of those movies you can use to prove that Crowe actually can act when he's not being a bloated gasbag.

9. A Pure Formality (France/Italy, dir. Giuseppe Tornatore, star. Gérard Depardieu and Roman Polanski, 1994) is a film I've recommended to others, but no one seems to like it as much as I do. Tornatore gives us a bottle episode, basically, as a reclusive writer (Depardieu) is brought to a police station in the middle of the night, where an Inspector (Polanski) interrogates him about a strange murder. That's it. However, Depardieu and Polanski are very good, and the story has some excellent twists and turns. Maybe I'm crazy, but I still love this movie.

10. The Sweet Hereafter (Canada, dir. Atom Egoyan, star. Ian Holm and Sarah Polley, 1997) is Atom Egoyan's follow-up to Exotica, which is almost as good as this movie. Holm plays a lawyer who arrives in a small town in British Columbia to file a lawsuit in a bus accident that killed many schoolchildren. Polley is tremendous as a girl paralyzed in the accident whose testimony will be crucial to the suit but who has secrets of her own. It's a gripping movie about the way secrets can fester and tear apart communities, and it's hauntingly beautiful. Egoyan has gone a bit off the deep end recently, but he can make a mean movie.

You'll notice most of these are relatively recent, none older than 1981 and most from the past 20 years. That's just the way it is - I started getting really interested in movies in the late 1980s, and since my kids were born, I haven't been able to go to as many, so my prime movie-watching years were, say, 1986-2002. I'm sure I missed some, but those are the ones I thought of. I mean, I could go on - The Road Warrior, District 9, Broken English, Supercop, Irma Vep, Kung Fu Hustle - but I won't. Sound off about some of your favorites!

I hope everyone has a nice weekend. Enjoy the beautiful weather! (It's 75° and sunny everywhere, right?)

Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze Danny Ketch
Ghost Rider War: Two Riders Just Fought to the Death - Which One Survived?

More in Comics