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What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – February 2016 selections

by  in Comic News Comment
What I bought, read, or otherwise consumed – February 2016 selections

I wanted to start doing these kinds of posts – where I write about one-shots and complete arcs as well as trades and other stuff – in January, but January is always a busy month for me, so I tend to slack off a bit with my comics writing. So let’s get started with February, shall we?

Mean Girls Club by Ryan Heshka. $5.95, 24 pgs, FC, Nobrow Press.

The first two comics this month are one-shots, and both have things to recommend about them but neither is all that good, either. It’s too bad, because I wanted to like them both, especially because they’re so wacky. Heshka’s comic, which is about the vampiest Fifties girls you can hope to see (they make Betty Rizzo look like a nun), should be awesome, and his art is really wonderful. He captures the spirit of those old Fifties movies in which girls from the wrong side of the tracks “go wild” wonderfully and then amps everything up to eleven, as Pinky, Wendy, Blackie, Wanda, Sweets, and McQualude terrorize a town just for the sheer hell of it, beginning the meeting of their club with “ceremonial insect venom transfusions” before they head into town (after Blackie collapses, possibly from the fish slapping but more likely from all the drugs) to the hospital, where they beat people up and rob them blind before moving on to the town itself, killing at least three people. Heshka draws it all with wonderful archness, using Day-Glo pinks to make everything more lurid and using nice softer colors on, for instance, the girls’ stolen lingerie (they actually turn a truck over to rob it). It’s all very wacky.

So why don’t I like it more? Well, as an art book, it’s fine. But there’s almost no story, and the girls themselves have so little personality that even rooting against them (they are pretty horrible people) isn’t that interesting. There’s nothing terribly exciting about the story, as the girls simply destroy everything in their path and suffer no consequences (Blackie recovers when they simply dump pills down her throat). Even if there isn’t a story, it’s not terribly funny, either, which would make up for the lack of a plot. I guess the founders of the Mean Girls Club, and their matching tight, very short dresses with “F” on one and “U” on the other is mildly amusing, but that’s about the funniest bit in the book. Beyond the very nice art, there’s just no reason to check this book out. It’s quite annoying.

At least I know who Ryan Heshka is now. I might have to look out for some of his other stuff, because he’s a good artist. I just wish he had figured out a better story – or any story – to help that art even a little bit.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Peek! the First by Jason Yungbluth (writer/artist). $5.00, 33 pgs, FC, Death Ray Graphics.

Yungbluth’s Weapon Brown, which was serialized over several years and came out in a collection a couple of years ago, is a terrific comic, as Yungbluth takes Charlie Brown and dozens of other comic strip characters and puts them in a post-apocalyptic setting. It was often vulgar and crass, but the story worked quite well, and the art was stunning. So I was interested to see Yungbluth’s latest venture, which is a collection of strips, including one starring Clarissa, a character from one of his older anthologies. The result is a gorgeous mess, unfortunately, as Yungbluth cranks up the offensiveness at the expense of everything else. I know many, many people find bodily functions inherently funny, but I’m not one of them, although I can deal with potty humor in small doses. In this comic, that’s one of the main style of gags, along with Yungbluth trying to offend as many people as he can. I’m not easily offended, so none of this makes me angry, but the humor is barely existent, and I guess that offends me! There’s a cartoon about Mohammed hanging out with Mickey Mouse that exists just so Yungbluth can draw Mohammed and show that it’s perfectly fine to do so (I agree with him, but I wish the strip had been, you know, funny), and the Clarissa strip, the longest in the book, is interminable, as all we get is that Clarissa might be a horrible person, but it’s okay because so is everyone else in her world. The strips are almost aggressively unfunny, which is just a bummer. Yungbluth frames this all with “the Peeker,” who looks suspiciously like a Marvel character with a similar name but, of course, is just as dumb and awful as the rest of the characters. I guess if you find the spectacle of the Peeker simultaneously puking and shitting in a bizarre infinity symbol, you might find the rest of the book funny. I didn’t, so I didn’t.

It’s too bad, too, because Yungbluth’s art is amazing throughout. He makes a joke about not being featured in Mad, which is too bad because his work would be perfect in that milieu. He shifts styles really well, so we get the quasi-realism of “Eagle Eye,” which only makes the characters freaking out funnier; we get the cartoonishness of “Billy Blueskies, Upbeat Depressive,” which makes his attempt to commit suicide weirder; and the exaggerated cartooning of the Clarissa strip, which is nevertheless in black and white to drive home the crushing depression of Clarissa’s world. Yungbluth’s art is much more subtle than his writing, giving nuance to the jokes that the writing utterly lacks. Clarissa’s angry father, for instance, is a tool whenever he talks, but the way Yungbluth draws him shows us that he’s as much a victim of the system as anyone and that he feels a great deal of pain that no one recognizes his contributions to the company he works for or the family he provides for. If you didn’t look at the art, you’d hate the father because he’s a dick. When you look at the art, you realize that he might be a dick, but he has reasons for it, and they are pretty depressing.

Yungbluth can be a good writer, but perhaps with gag strips, he simply goes for the lowest common denominator or the most obvious parodies. It’s too bad, because the book is really nice-looking. I’m not sure if I’ll pick up the next issue (whenever it shows up), but I’ll have to think about it, because this first issue was a disappointment.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel:

Made to Kill by Adam Christopher. Tor Books, 234 pgs, 2015.

This is a nifty noir tale, set in 1965 Los Angeles, with a hard-boiled private detective, a wise-cracking secretary, gorgeous dames, disappearances, murders, a Commie plot, and enough atmosphere to make you dizzy. Ray, the protagonist, is named after Raymond Chandler, and this is obviously a homage to that gentleman – Christopher pretty much admits it in the “acknowledgements” section of the book. Oh yeah, and Ray is a robot. Because, you know, of course he is.

Christopher writes in the back of the book that Chandler wrote to his agent in 1953 about how much he hated science fiction and then wrote a brief sci-fi vignette to prove how meaningless sci-fi is, but Christopher claims that Chandler was really fishing to see if his agent had any interest in a Raymond Chandler science fiction story. Nothing ever came of it, but Christopher and his editor at Tor jokingly talked of writing a “lost” “Raymond Chandler” science fiction story. Hence, Raymond Electromatic, the last robot on Earth. Yes, it seems that robots were a craze after World War II, but people couldn’t overcome the “uncanny valley” (Christopher doesn’t use the term, but it’s what he means) and robots fell out of fashion (plus, they were taking everyone’s jobs, and people didn’t like that). So they were phased out, but Ray remains. He was created to be a private detective (Ray doesn’t know why), but somewhere along the way, his “secretary,” Ada (who is just a program, although she speaks like an elderly cigarette-smoking dame), decided that they could make more money by killing people. So Ray keeps up the front of being a detective while pursuing a job as a hitman at night. Christopher adds another nice twist, too – every night, Ray’s memory tapes run out of room and are replaced, so he can never remember anything before he “wakes up” in the morning. When he gets a real case early in this book (a woman hires him to find a missing person, but she also knows about Ray’s other life, so she tells him to kill the person when Ray does find him), this becomes a problem, because the mystery quickly becomes deeper than what he usually gets into. Christopher doesn’t fully commit to this idea – Ada can bring him up to speed on what’s going on, and she often does – but it’s still a fairly intriguing plot point.

The case is a typical noir story – a femme fatale shows up in Ray’s office, asks him to find a missing person and then kill him, pays him in gold ingots (which is weird), and disappears. Ray follows the trail and gets caught up in a Communist plot – this is 1965, after all, and a still-living Kennedy is brokering a deal with Cuba, which might make the Soviets grumpy – that also takes him into the heart of the Hollywood glitterati. Christopher’s prose is clipped and brief, not unlike so many great detective writers, and while Ray doesn’t exactly speak like Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, he’s also not a terribly loquacious robot. Christopher has some fun with it, though – Ray doesn’t have facial expressions, obviously, so he often thinks to himself that he’s “posing” in some typical noir way, which makes the book a bit more fun and meta than it would be otherwise. The plot isn’t too complex – Ray follows clues, and things fit together pretty well, as it’s more about his doggedness than any great mental insights that allows him to find out what’s going on – but it does zip along nicely, although the climax is a bit too quick and pat, which is a bit disappointing. Christopher hints around that there’s a lot more about Ada than Ray knows, but it’s clear he wants to write more about these characters, so while this is a complete story (the stuff about Ada are just vague hints), Christopher is obviously planning more books with Ray. Characterization is not really at a premium in this book, as it’s almost all plot, but it’s a good plot, and it’s fun to read.

I just got the hardcover of this, and it’s $25. It’s not quite worth that, but a softcover would be a good read and obviously, if you like digital stuff, it’s probably cheaper than that. It did get me interested in Adam Christopher, though, so I’ll have to keep an eye out for some of his other books. He seems like a writer who knows how to entertain, which is never a bad thing!

First six paragraphs:

Tuesday. Just another beautiful morning in Hollywood, California. The sun came in through the window behind me. It was always sunny. It had been sunny for as long as I could remember.

Which currently was about two hours, ten minutes, and a handful of seconds not worth mentioning.

I sat at the table in the computer room. I was reading the Daily News. Around me Ada clicked and her lights flashed and her tapes spun. We were killing time while we waited for a job to come in. It was August 10, 1965. I knew that was the date because it was printed across the top of the newspaper in a very convenient manner.

There was a headline splashed all the way across the front page and the article that went with it was all about a film called Red Lucky. That got my attention. Movies, even in this town, rarely merited such prime newspaper real estate. I was obliged, I felt, to keep reading just to see what all the hoopla was.

“Listen to this,” I said.

Ada made a sound like she was putting out a cigarette in an ashtray that was in need to emptying, and then the sound was gone. If it had ever been there in the first place.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Conan the Avenger volume 18: The Damned Horde by Fred van Lente (writer), Brian Ching (artist), Michael Atiyeh (colorist), Richard Starkings (letterer), Jimmy Betancourt (letterer), Roxy Polk (assistant editor), Aaron Walker (assistant editor), and Dave Marshall (editor). $19.99, 132 pgs, FC, Dark Horse. Conan created by Robert E. Howard.

Fred van Lente has shown he can write a good Conan story, so this second volume of his and Brian Ching’s series (on which Ching actually does all the artwork, which wasn’t true of volume 17) is a good Conan story. Dark Horse has published over 100 issues of Conan stories since Busiek and Nord re-launched the series, so they know what they’re doing, as well. It’s tough to really write too much about each volume, because unless they’re really terrible or even good but weirdly not very Conan-esque (which was the problem with Brian Wood’s brief run; the stories were quite good, but he didn’t really grasp the “Conanosity” of the character all that well), there’s not much else to say. Van Lente continues the story he began in the first volume, as Conan is now in charge of the palace guards he led to rebellion in volume 17, and he’s trying to find a giant treasure trove. The existence of this trove attracts the attention of Thoth-Amon, Conan’s old enemy, and this makes this tale a bit more important, I suppose, as Conan doesn’t have many recurring villains and Thoth-Amon is the most diabolical of them all. There’s plenty of violence, as Conan gets himself into tight spots and then, of course, gets out of them, and van Lente seems to lean more on Conan’s lust for gold than previous writers (Conan has always been interested in plunder, of course, but he seems to be a bit more blinded by it this time around). Van Lente does bring up the whole “barbarian versus civilization” trope that runs through all Conan stories, but as Conan and his gang are out in the wilderness and their only contact with “civilization” is when they’re attacking a city, Conan doesn’t have much time to bitch about how backstabbing “civilized” people are. It’s good to get away from that every once in a while.

There are some problems and nice points about the arc that make it slightly different from most Conan stories. Van Lente has a good sense of humor, so the arc is slightly – very slightly – funnier than some Conan stories of the past. Conan makes a joke about never getting to bang one of the two HAF sisters he’s been helping throughout, which, given his prodigious appetites and his awesome virility, is quite humorous. Certain parties get dispatched in bloody but humorous manners. But Van Lente or Dark Horse gives away a major plot point in the name of the volume, which is unfortunate, and Conan doesn’t usually need to be rescued by some of the deus-iest of machinas we’ve seen in this series. Ching’s art and Atiyeh’s colors are terrific – Dark Horse has, astonishingly enough, never had a bad artist on this book – although the “flayed one” in the first part of the arc looks remarkably healthy (it’s not like Dark Horse isn’t willing to show gross stuff in their books, but for someone whose skin was flayed off his body, he looks really good). The artists continue to do a good job making Conan look absolutely vital and mature while still making sure that we see this is a younger Conan – he’s still growing, and occasionally he does look young and inexperienced, which is a nice reminder that he kind of is.

I really like the Conan series from Dark Horse, so I’m going to keep getting the volumes. I don’t know how new-reader friendly this is – I mean, it tells a complete story, and the bits that were covered in the earlier volume – the whole deal with Amra’s Bastards, for example – are quickly recapped, so there’s nothing that is too confusing. You could honestly pick up any volume of this series and get a good story that requires very little foreknowledge, even as the entire saga is telling a nifty story. That’s just good comic-booking!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Cyrus Perkins and the Haunted Taxi Cab by Dave Dwonch (writer/letterer/colorist) and Anna Lencioni (artist). $14.99, 96 pgs, FC, Action Lab Comics.

I haven’t read too many Action Lab books – they look okay, but for whatever reason, a lot of them don’t appeal to me – but Cyrus Perkins sounded like a neat book, so I picked up the trade. It’s a straightforward story – Cyrus Perkins drives a haunted taxi cab, duh – but Dwonch tells it well. Cyrus picks up a kid one night who happens to be bleeding from a gunshot wound to the gut. The guy – Michael – dies, but a month later, his ghost shows up in Cyrus’s cab. Michael doesn’t remember anything from before he died, which is convenient, as it allows Cyrus to go sleuthing about his death. Cyrus is having trouble getting over the fact that someone died in his taxi, so the fact that Michael’s ghost shows up doesn’t do much for that. Cyrus decides that the only way he can find some closure – and possibly help Michael move on – is to solve the mystery of Michael’s death. And so he investigates!

The mystery, as weird as it is, doesn’t really matter in this story. In fact, the one clue that Cyrus uses to solve Michael’s murder seems like a huge leap, but that’s okay. The real point of the story (if we exclude the fact that Dwonch wants Cyrus to meet someone, which leads into a new mini-series) is to show us that Cyrus is a good guy and how Michael’s death affects him and pushes him to become heroic. Dwonch does a nice job with that – even before Michael haunts his taxi, he feels like he should do something about the poor kid who died in his back seat, and Dwonch gives us some nice scenes with his girlfriend, who is very supportive of him. Dwonch does a good job showing how people are dealing with Michael’s death, from his mother to his girlfriend, and the writing is nicely done. It’s not a boring book at all – I mean, there’s a murderer out there, and the actual reason for the murder is even stranger than the fact that Michael is haunting Cyrus’s taxi – but it’s also a nice look at how people process grief and how one man can make a difference. So that’s nice.

Lencioni’s art is rough in places, but still quite solid. She’s much better at the characters than the backgrounds, which is fine but occasionally distracting, as her cars look clunky too often and her perspective on the buildings is a bit wonky a few times, but it’s more important that the people look good, and Lencioni does a really nice job with them. She has a bit of a Stacey Lee vibe, which isn’t a bad thing at all, and she does a great job with the various emotions and personalities of the characters. Cyrus is open and friendly, and that helps him as he investigates the crime. His brief encounter with Michael’s girlfriend is terrific, as she goes from fragile to wistful when she remembers Michael to steely when she demands that he find the killer. It’s a short scene, but the way Lencioni draws Hayley (and her sister) is great. Michael, too, is nicely done – when he first gets in the cab, he’s heavy-lidded and pale, which isn’t surprising given that he’s about to die. When his ghost appears, Lencioni draws him wide-eyed and amazed, both at the fact that he’s a ghost and that Cyrus is willing to help him. He has no irises (his eyes are simply white circles), but Lencioni does a really nice job making him expressive. She does an excellent job with body language throughout, as Cyrus and Iris, his girlfriend, are wonderful together, while the seedier characters cower a bit more. It’s charming art, but Lencioni can still get dark when she needs to.

Cyrus Perkins and the Haunted Taxi Cab is a nice little story. It’s deeper than you might think, and it’s a clever mystery in its own right. Action Lab puts out some nice comics – this is one of them!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Grand Romantic by Nate Ruess, Fueled by Ramen, 2015.

Ruess’s first solo album is a bit more romantic – hence the name – than fun.’s two albums (I still haven’t gotten The Format’s albums, so I can’t speak to those), but that doesn’t mean Ruess completely abandons the nastiness that he showed on that band’s albums. In fact, the first (and probably the best) song on the album, “Ahha,” fluctuates wildly between cynicism and romanticism, as Ruess sets up the rest of the album by embracing and then rejecting that cynicism before launching into an unabashed romantic tune, “Nothing Without Love,” which is big and bold and boisterous as the best love songs, with a terrific tuneful piano part backed by thunderous drums. After that, the album dips down in quality a bit, with “Take it Back,” “You Light My Fire,” and “What This World Is Coming To” forming a somewhat dull trio in the middle of the album. There’s nothing terribly wrong with the songs, but they lack the spark of the rest of the disc. Ruess rebounds with “Great Big Storm,” although that’s just to lead into “Moment,” which is the somewhat sentimental song that “Take it Back” wants to be, but it works because Ruess is better at self-pity than he is at plaintive cajoling. “Moment” is a tragic song about the way people can think about love in completely different ways and not see that it’s not really love, and Ruess does a good job with it. Plus, once again the piano is excellent. “It Only Gets Much Worse” is a bit too languid, but Ruess’s vicious lyrics – “I can’t stand to hear you say it hurts when it only gets much worse” – redeem it well. The album ends with “Brightside,” an ethereal, hopeful tune that ends very weirdly, with Ruess almost yelping “Look at you,” which is not a good way to finish.

The album has some nice songs on it, but Ruess doesn’t quite pull it off. He wants to sing songs full of big romanticism, but his voice isn’t quite able to handle that. When you’re singing such romantic songs, it helps to have a rich voice to add depth to the vocals, and Ruess doesn’t have that. He sneers really well, which is why something like “Ahha” works so well, and even his most sincere songs on his previous album, fun.’s Some Nights (which is great), don’t deal in deep emotions like grand love, so he can pull that off. When he sings “Take it Back” or the other bold love songs on the album, it just doesn’t come off as powerful, which it should. It’s nice that Ruess wanted to do something like this, but he doesn’t quite have the baritone to make it sound as good as the decent lyrics and the swelling music demand. “Nothing Without Love” works, sure, but it’s more exuberant than the others, while “Moment” isn’t really a love song, it’s about someone getting sad because what they thought was love wasn’t, which is different than singing about the death of love. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff on the album, but only a few songs really rise above just a decent level. Still, good for Ruess for doing something different!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The Justice League of America: The Silver Age volume 1 by Gardner Fox (writer), Mike Sekowsky (penciller), Carmine Infantino (penciller), Bernard Sachs (inker), Joe Giella (inker), Murphy Anderson (inker), and Scott Nybakken (collection editor). $19.99, 328 pgs, FC, DC.

I’ve mentioned this before, but my wife and I watch a lot of television together, and we always have fun trying to remember where we’ve seen actors before (the Internet is awfully handy in that regard). We also have fun claiming when some actors resemble other actors, calling them “low-rent” versions of other, higher-profile actors. This has nothing to do with their talent, mind you, just that some actors who are better known might not be available because their price is too high. I can’t recall when we started doing it, but the earliest example I can think of is when we saw Scream in 1996, because Skeet Ulrich is totally a low-rent Johnny Depp (not that Wes Craven wanted Depp, who was in his thirties when Scream came out, but Ulrich was 25 or so, so it’s not like Craven definitely needed a teenager). It’s just something we do, because we’re goofy. My point is, is Michael Cho the low-rent Darwyn Cooke? You totally thought that Cooke drew the cover of this collection, didn’t you? Nope, it’s Cho, who’s excellent in his own right, but his art is very reminiscent of Cooke’s. Now, Cooke is still working for DC, of course, so it’s not like they don’t want to pay him, but maybe he’s priced himself out of cover work? Cho hasn’t been drawing comics for too long, and I don’t know how old he is, but he has to be younger than Cooke (who’s going to be 54 this year), so maybe he’s a bit cheaper? I’m just spitballing, and I do dig that cover, but when I see stuff like this, I wonder if Bob Harras or Diane Nelson or Dan DiDio or Jim Lee or Geoff Johns – whoever’s paying the bills at DC – said, “Boy, I’d love to have a nice Silver Agey Darwyn Cooke cover on this collection, but we can’t afford it. Get me Señor Spielbergo instead!” and all his or her little minions scuttle away like Thug Crab.*

Anyway, that’s really neither here nor there. This book, of course, collects the first JLA stories, from the three issues of The Brave and the Bold in which they appeared to issues #1-8 of their own series, with a Mystery in Space issue thrown in for the fun of it (okay, it’s sort-of a sequel to JLA #3, but it’s not totally necessary). The stories are very much of their time, from the fact that in their first appearance (TB&TB #28), we get no explanation of why they have banded together, to the unbelievably “hip” speech patterns of Snapper Carr, to Snapper’s very existence – what the hell is he doing in the Justice League, anyway? Fox does a couple of things all the time – he gets rid of Superman and Batman quite often – Superman, obviously, because he’s too powerful, and Batman because he’s too … cool?, and he splits the team up to handle different aspects of the case. Occasionally, this is taken to ridiculous extremes – in issue #6, the Amos Fortune story, the Flash, Green Arrow, and the Martian Manhunter assist a girl who contacted the League asking them to find gold on her property to ease her grandparents’ golden years, which seems to stretch the definition of “justice,” if you ask me – but it’s a good way to cram a lot of plot into the story and highlight the strength and weaknesses of the team. For all the talk of sexism in comics (and, as Our Dread Lord and Master has shown, there was plenty of it in this era), Fox writes Wonder Woman as just another member of the team – occasionally she is beaten, but she always gets out of things, and she saves the team as much as any of the others do. I suppose because the book doesn’t focus on a single character, Steve Trevor’s bizarre obsession with Diana Prince/Wonder Woman can’t intrude too much, so Fox just shows Wonder Woman kicking butt. It’s kind of refreshing.

Sekowsky was a long-time veteran of comics by the time he started working on JLA, but his art, as far as I can tell, still hadn’t reached his late-Sixties Wonder Woman peak, where it’s really great. It does change a bit over the course of the two years or so that this collection encompasses, as his line work became thicker (unless Sachs’s inking was the cause) and his faces began to reflect more … ethnicity, for lack of a better word. His Wonder Woman run featured beautiful exotic women and thicker, sensuous men, and we see a bit of that here in the later issues, with Doctor Destiny in issue #5 and Amos Fortune in issue #6. It’s fascinating to watch the slow shift in his style, and I hope DC reprints more of this Justice League run, because Sekowsky drew the book for 60 issues or so, and I imagine he continued to develop the style that he used on Wonder Woman.

Obviously, this is more of a nice relic than great comics – they’re certainly not bad stories, but they do have a sameness to them that reflects the pre-collecting mentality, when readers probably didn’t keep their old copies and might not remember plot particulars. Fox does nice work coming up with weird bad guys to challenge the JLA, and he comes up with clever solutions and ways for them to use their powers that are slightly outside the norm, and that’s what makes reading these fun. Except, of course, whenever Snapper opens his mouth. Seriously, Gardner Fox, what the hell were you thinking?

* Of course Thug Crab has a shirt. OF COURSE!!!!!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ (I added half a star for historical significance, because I can!!!!)

Will Eisner’s The Spirit: The New Adventures by lots of cool creators! $24.99, 245 pgs, FC, Dark Horse.

These stories were originally published in 1998 by Denis Kitchen, who convinced Will Eisner to let folk like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, Eddie Campbell, Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, David Lloyd, Paul Chadwick, John Ostrander, Tom Mandrake, and Paul Pope loose on his character, which seems like a pretty good thing to me. So we get eight issues (plus one story from the unpublished ninth issue, which died when Kitchen Sink Press did) of Spirit stories, with Moore and Gibbons providing the entire first issue with three interlocking tales that puts Moore’s love of oldey-tyme comics on full display and gives us a nice, understated origin for the Spirit. Moore also provides a later story (with beautiful art by Daniel Torres) that shows us what happens when one of Eisner’s rules about the Spirit is followed through to its logical conclusion (Moore always likes taking things to their logical conclusion, which is one reason why he’s such a good writer). The rest of the series is taken up by short stories, although Chadwick’s story, for instance, is long enough to fill all of issue #5. They’re typical Spirit stories, in that the writers tend to give us clever twists and turns in the tale, and Denny Colt occasionally has very little to do with their resolution (although he’s more present in the stories than in a lot of Eisner’s originals, as I know that Eisner often ignored his title character). The art is uniformly beautiful, with a lot of excellent artists providing different styles, from the very cartoonish (Dan Burr’s or Gene Fama’s stories) to the more realistic (Chadwick’s or Lloyd’s or Scott Hampton’s, which is beautiful but strangely out-of-place for a Spirit story, it seems to me). It’s just a really nice cross-section of great creators from 1998 doing whatever they want to do on a great creator’s signature character. Why wouldn’t you want to read it?!?!?!?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Rogues! Odd Parenthood #1-5 by El Torres (writer), Nacho Tenorio (penciller), Sergio Mora (inker), Verónica R. López (colorist), Pilar Jaime (color separator), Malaka Studio (letterer), Sandra Molina (editor), Jennifer van Gessel (editor), and Kittie Fish (editor). Back-up story (“The Sun of Trunza”) by Jos (writer), M. Diaz (artist), E. Lovera (colorist), Pilar Jaime (colorist), Sonia Moruno (colorist). $3.99 each, FC, Amigo Comics.

After the somewhat darker tone of the previous mini-series, “The Cold Ship,” Torres eases back a bit with “Odd Parenthood,” even though there’s still plenty of mayhem and violence. The ruler of Gerada, where Bram and the Weasel live, has a baby, which doesn’t make the most ambitious of his concubines (Torres uses “odalisque,” which is a terrific word!) too happy, as she’s not the mother. She conspires to kill the mother and child, but the chief magistrate, Morzon, who’s shown up before, manages to get the child away and delivers him to our two favorite barbarians, knowing that they’ll take care of it because they’re just softies underneath their tough exterior. The spurned odalisque, Malikita, sends mercenaries and wizards after the baby, and the Weasel and Bram have to fight them off while still protecting the baby. Of course, everyone ends up in the palace, where all is revealed and everyone gets pretty much what they deserve.

As I noted, it’s lighter-hearted than “The Cold Ship,” which doesn’t stop Bram from splitting someone’s head open with an axe, for instance (drawn in beautiful graphic detail by Tenorio). Torres has always had fun with the barbarian tropes established by REH and used since then, but that doesn’t mean he skimps on the action and characterization, especially with his two main characters, who continue to reveal their personalities nicely throughout the stories. Torres still pokes fun at some aspects of nerd culture, but it’s always fairly gentle. He gives us a snotty wizard who looks suspiciously like Dr. Strange named Ditkotomous, who gets his power from magic cards instead of studying like his father wants him to. Bram and the Weasel end up at a “gathering” of nerds who want “magic” cards, which are sold by someone named Dleifrag (the creator of Magic: The Gathering cards is Richard Garfield). It’s easy mockery, but it fits in well with the story and Torres doesn’t go too far with it. The plot twists aren’t too amazing, as we know that Bram and the Weasel are going to survive and we’re pretty sure Torres isn’t going to kill an infant, but the plot isn’t as much the point as the humor and the way these characters interact with each other are. Torres goes pretty much non-stop, with our heroes finding themselves in one bad situation after the other, but none are too dire, which means that the humor carries the day. It’s not a bad way to go, especially after we learned quite a bit about the characters in “The Cold Ship” – this feels a bit like a palette cleanser, which is perfectly fine. If Torres continues with Rogues! (and I certainly hope he does), I wouldn’t mind us getting this kind of switching up with every mini-series. We shall see

Tenorio is a solid artist who does a nice job with the less serious tone of this series. He’s not as good as Lolita Aldea, who drew “The Cold Ship,” but that’s okay, because Aldea is stupendous. Tenorio has a slight cartoonish vibe to his art, and he gets to draw fun rock monsters and a hungry chimera and motherly vampires. He draws nice, fluid action scenes and broad, physical humor quite well – the baby vomiting at inopportune times is a running gag in the book, and Torres makes the characters a bit breast-obsessed, so Tenorio gets to draw a lot of men acting like idiots simply because there are scantily-clad (or naked) women standing around. There are some nice comic beats that Tenorio does very well with, and Tenorio does well to make this “barbarian” world look like what we’d expect from reading Conan comics but gets to add weird, humorous touches, as well. The colors are nice, too – there are a lot of earth tones, which makes sense, but López does nice work making some of the cooler colors pop well. It’s a nice-looking book – I assume the coloring is digital, but López and Jaime do a good job keeping most of the colors flat, so we don’t get over-rendering, just some nice shadows and tones.

The back-up story is a silly heist tale, but it does feature Barbara the Barbarian, a tall, buxom warrior who has no time for her two fellow thieves. It’s fun.

Torres has a lot of fun with Rogues!, which is why I hope he continues writing these. Each mini-series stands alone, but he drops in nice callbacks to previous series (Morzon has shown up before, for instance, and Torres makes some vague references to things that have already happened, but nothing that would confuse first-time readers), which is a good way to go. They take a long time to come out (like all of Amigo’s comics!), but they’re very fun and they contain really neat stories. I assume there will be a trade of this (Amigo seems to be getting into the trade business now, which is nice), so look out for it, or just buy the single issues!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel (from issue #5):

The Tithe #5-8 by Matt Hawkins (writer), Rahsan Ekedal (layouter), Phillip Sevy (artist), Jeremy Colwell (colorist), Troy Peteri (letterer), Betsy Gonia (editor), and Ryan Cady (editor). $3.99 for issues #5-7, $5.99 for issue #8, FC, Image.

I noted that when this arc of The Tithe began, I was disappointed that Hawkins went the way he did, with right-wing Protestants pretending to be Muslims and blowing up a Catholic cathedral, a Mormon temple, and a megachurch in order to boost the presidential aspirations of a senator. It was just such a clichéd plot and it smacked a bit of fear on Hawkins’s part, as he didn’t want to foment anger toward Muslims by showing some of them as terrorists. He seems to have a particular axe to grind against Christians, but he writes quite a lot about the abuses of all religions, so while a straightforward “Muslim terrorist” arc might have been just that, too straightforward, the “twist” in this arc felt too familiar and too much like Hawkins backing off because he knows he can get away with disparaging Christians but not Muslims. If you’ve ever read stuff I write, you know I’m an atheist and therefore have no time for any religion, so it’s not like I don’t mind Hawkins bashing right-wing evangelicals, but from a plot standpoint, it was too familiar.

Hawkins does a few nice things with the story – he doesn’t wrap it up as neatly as some of these stories do, which is always nice to see because the good guys don’t always get a clear victory. He continues to do a good job with the characters – the way he handles Campbell’s daughter getting harassed is also a bit clicéd, but he does a good job showing how both Campbell and his wife react to it, because they still have strong feelings about her conversion to Islam. Jimmy and Samantha are knocking boots when the arc begins, but that relationship deteriorates because they need to keep it secret, and Hawkins does a decent job showing how external stresses can take their toll on romance (although there’s a chance for them to reconcile at the end). He ends up tying it together with both his other series, Think Tank and Postal, leading up to a crossover between those books coming up in the near future. It’s not the most ideal situation in the world, but The Tithe doesn’t sell well at all, so if a crossover gets people interested in it, maybe it will save it. We’ll see.

Sevy is a decent artist – not as distinctive as Ekedal, but still pretty good – even though the book is very much a “writer’s comic,” as it’s not the most action-packed one around. In issue #8, Sevy gets to show some action, and he does a nice job with it. The writing on the book isn’t terribly subtle, so Sevy doesn’t really have to do too much with body language or facial expressions – Hawkins deals in big emotions in this comic, so Sevy follows along – but he does well with what he has to do.

This isn’t as good a book as Think Tank (I don’t read Postal), but it’s not bad. The first arc was better, as this one suffers from being a bit by-the-numbers. I’ll probably check out the crossover and see what Hawkins is going to do with that, because it might lead to more stories about these characters, and they’re fairly interesting, so I might have to follow along. Obviously, right now the book is on hiatus, but we’ll see what Hawkins is planning to do with it!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel (from issue #8):

Venture by Jay Faerber (writer), Jamal Igle (artist), Jim Valentino (artist), Steve Walker (artist), James Brown (colorist), Sébastien Laminrand (colorist), and Ray Dillon (letterer). $14.99, 94 pgs, FC, Action Lab Comics.

Back in 2003, Faerber and Igle teamed up for Venture, which lasted only 4 issues (I assume Faerber wanted to do more, but couldn’t). Action Lab, as they’ve done with some other books, republished it in single issues and then brought out the trade, which is nice for Faerber and Igle but still feels weird as the Savage Dragon is referenced in one issue (not by name, but it’s him) and Celeste Noble, from Faerber’s Image series Noble Causes, actually shows up in issue #4 (Faerber loves tying his corner of Image’s superhero universe together, which is why it’s sad that the books don’t sell better, because it’s kind of cool). Venture is yet another nifty spin on superheroes – Faerber is an excellent superhero writer (or at least he has been since the turn of the century), and it’s clear he had more to do, but he couldn’t make the book sell. It ends very ambiguously, which is the only really annoying thing about it – our hero and the reporter who blackmailed him into giving him scoops seem to reach an accord, but before anything else happens, the book ends. It’s a shame. The idea of a superpowered person trying to hide their identity and even the fact that they’re out there superheroing is a nice hook, and when Reggie Baxter, intrepid reporter, discovers his secret identity and blackmails him, there’s some nice added depth to it. Reggie isn’t a complete scumbag, just a guy looking for an edge in a competitive market, and he doesn’t exactly force Joe Campbell (yes, the hero is named Joseph Campbell – Faerber is occasionally not subtle with names) to do things he wasn’t doing already – he just wants him to do it more publicly. Faerber does a good job making Reggie a bit more sympathetic than we might think, and while Joe remains somewhat of a mystery, it’s clear he’s a decent dude. The squabbling between the two of them feels organic, because of course Joe would be grumpy about being blackmailed, while Reggie does have a decent point about Joe being more of a symbol to inspire. Of course, all that gets them is a supervillain attacking simply to become famous, which is presumably another aspect of this story that Faerber would have explored had the series continued. As it is, this is a fascinating brief examination of fame and superheroes, something Faerber did so well with Noble Causes, but because Joe doesn’t really want to be famous and Reggie is a bit seedy, it plays out a bit differently than with the Nobles, who embraced the fame and everything that went with it.

Meanwhile, there’s never a bad time for Igle’s art, even if it’s art from 13 years ago. He has a really nice Oscar Jimenez/Adam Hughes vibe to his style that makes him a superb superhero artist, as his action scenes are wonderfully fluid and his people are attractive without being impossibly gorgeous. He’s also really good at “real-world” stuff, so the setting of the book – Los Angeles – actually looks like southern California, and it gives the book a nice, “fictional” vibe – weird things happen in L.A., so the idea of a superhero doesn’t really faze too many people. Igle’s style fits in well with that, too – the people, as I noted, are attractive, but he’s good at making some of them just a bit too perfect, as if they’re trying hard to break into the entertainment industry. It’s clever because he doesn’t put it front and center, but those kinds of people show up in the backgrounds, and it adds a nice touch to the scenes. Meanwhile, he draws a really terrific giant lizard monster in issue #3, so it’s not all “realistic” stuff! This was right when Igle was getting noticed by the Big Two – he had done some Marvel and DC work before this, but not a lot, and right after this, he went off to DC and became a bigger star, so I wonder if part of the reason Faerber didn’t continue it was because Igle wouldn’t have been able to draw it. He doesn’t draw all of issue #4, so maybe that’s it. Beats me.

Venture isn’t a great comic, but it’s just another example of how good a superhero writer Faerber is, and it fits in nicely with his other Image superhero work (despite it getting published by Action Lab!). It’s a fun read, beautifully illustrated, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

We(l)come Back volume 1: Help, I’m Alive by Christopher Sebela (writer), Jonathan Brandon Sawyer (artist), Claire Roe (artist), Carlos Zamudio (colorist), Juan Manuel Tumburús (colorist), Shawn Aldridge (letterer), Chris Rosa (associate editor), and Eric Harburn (editor). $9.99, 88 pgs, FC, Boom! Studios.

Sebela has written some pretty good stuff in the past, and Welcome Back (the parentheses in the title are supposed to point out that the title has a double meaning – Welcome Back and “We Come Back,” but I don’t feel like writing the parentheses all the time, so I’m not gonna) has a really good high concept – reincarnated warriors fighting a war across millennia, with the soldiers always (seemingly) targeting the same person on the other side. So we get Mali and Tessa, who have fought the same battle thousands of times, but of course, this time it’s different! It’s different because Mali hasn’t “woken up” yet – apparently these reincarnated souls have to be awakened before they remember their past lives – and so she’s managed to carve out a life for herself, even if it’s not the best life. Tessa was woken up early in life, so she’s been preparing for the war for decades, but she couldn’t find Mali until she herself “woke up” – apparently there’s something magical involved, but Sebela leaves it vague – and now she’s coming for her.

This is, quite frankly, a terrific start to the series. It’s a very cool concept, even if it is a bit goofy (I mean, come on, a lot of comics are based on goofy concepts!). Mali has issues with her dead stepfather, whom she believes was a serial killer … until she learns that he too was a soldier, and just that little twist is a nice spin on things, as of course he would look like a serial killer to the unsuspecting world. She learns how to be a soldier very quickly once she “wakes up,” which might stretch credulity a little, but Sebela makes sure it makes sense in the context of the story. She asks the same questions the reader does – as in, what the hell is up with this war? – and while she doesn’t get answers, it’s clear that just by asking the questions, she’s upsetting the status quo. Sebela pulls a neat trick with her stepfather, who of course is reincarnated himself, and it will be interesting – I hope – to see what he does with that going forward. Tessa is a fascinating character, as well, as she’s trained all her life for hunting Mali (Sebela screws up her “awakening” age, as he gives two different ones, but it’s enough to know it’s when she was very young), but she too finds herself wondering exactly what the point is even as she’s telling Mali to just accept it. She also is very protective of Mali – until she tries to kill her, of course – as the reincarnated armies have lower-level members who are trying to move up in the hierarchy, and they think killing Mali will get them there, which Tessa can’t abide. Sebela leads us to a “shocking” twist at the end – he telegraphs it well when you go back and look at the story, but it’s not so obvious that you’ll instantly figure it out – that will lead us to the next arc and the rest of the series, however long it lasts. It’s really well done storytelling, which is always nice to see.

On the art side, it’s a bit disappointing that Sawyer doesn’t draw the entire thing, as his art is phenomenal. He only does issue #1 and parts of issue #2, so I’m not sure what the deal is – he’s working on something with Sebela, so it’s not like they had a falling out. He has a beautiful, detailed style that is a bit James Stokoe-ish and bit Sean Murphy-ish, and his action scenes are superb. He does a great job establishing the main characters – both Mali and Tessa are gorgeous, but Mali is definitely a bit of a mess, but she’s very friendly and everyone likes her, while Tessa is more bad-ass and tough. There’s one scene where a character demonstrates how the reincarnated (“sequels,” Sebela calls them) use the skills they’ve learned over the centuries, and Sawyer draws it really wonderfully (Zamudio’s colors help a great deal with it, too). Roe is a fine artist, too, as her style is a bit looser but not quite as fluid, and she ages Mali a little bit (she’s 26, but Sawyer does make her look younger than that). She has to do a lot of action, too, and it’s pretty good, but not quite as visceral as when Sawyer draws action. One thing that holds Roe back a bit, it seems, is her inking – it looks like her lines are too thin. I’ve poked around her web site a bit, and she’s drawn some beautiful stuff with heavier inks and more spot blacks, and I wonder why she doesn’t do that a bit more here. Time constraints? Beats me, but she does some really nice work – the splash page with the “big reveal” in issue #4 is stunning – and I wonder why her inking isn’t a bit thicker. It’s just a personal preference, but then again, I’m the one writing this!

Roe is continuing on the series (issue #5 is already out), and that’s perfectly fine, and I hope the sales are good enough for Sebela to continue, because the first volume is really good. I know Boom! will raise the price of the next volume, but for 10 bucks, this is not only a terrific story, it’s a good value. Check it out!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Beneath the Skin by Of Monsters and Men, Republic Records, 2015.

I bought the first Of Monsters and Men album on a lark and enjoyed it, so I decided to get the second one, as well. It’s not as good as their first, but that’s possibly because I heard the first one first, and both albums are very similar. There’s a lot of ethereal yet mythic-sounding music, with deep, thunderous drums and eerie keyboards, with some beautiful, haunting lyrics that occasionally don’t make too much sense. That’s okay, though, because the songs are all good, even if none of them really stand out too much. The album gets off to a fairly rollicking start (for the band, that is) with “Crystals”, which has a nice driving drum beat and a nice brass section with crashing cymbals punctuating the chorus. “Human,” which follows it, is even more rousing, with a nice raging guitar part and a terrific bridge: “Cage me like an animal / A crown with gems and gold / Eat me like a cannibal / Chase the neon throne.” The band follows this up with “Hunger,” which is also good but also sounds a bit too much like the first two songs – a nice, rolling beat that leads to a strong brass section with plaintive lyrics – it’s very much like “Crystals,” and that’s part of the problem. “Wolves Without Teeth” is another example of this, as it’s also quite good in a vacuum, but it comes on the heels of three songs before it that sound very similar. Obviously, if you’re not an old person like me and don’t listen to CDs but just random songs, each one of them is fine, but the sameness of them in a row starts to drag them down for me, unfortunately. As I listen to them individually, I hear all the merits of each one, but when I put on the CD and just play it, they start to run together. It’s frustrating.

The middle of the album is more of the same, with “Empire” and “Slow Life” continuing the somewhat faster tempo before “Organs” and “Black Water” slows it down. Each song has things to recommend it – the chorus of “Organs,” for instance: “And I take off my face / Because it reminds me of how it all went wrong / And pull out my tongue / Because it reminds me of how it all went wrong,” is chilling, and sung so quietly that it’s even more frightening. Each grouping of songs has its own little motif, and the final three songs are linked by storms, with “Thousand Eyes” coming on with the low rumble of a storm, with the dark strings giving way to a raspy and scratchy keyboard part and ends with a nice little vocal part, “I am the storm, so wait” that leads into “I of the Storm,” which switches from one perspective (that of the storm) to someone caught in it. The album ends with “We Sink,” another song about the sea and nature taking control. The band is very interested in the intersection of humanity and nature, so it’s not surprising that they tap that vein quite often on this album.

Like I noted, none of the songs are particularly bad (“Black Water” is a bit too slow, but other than that, they’re fine), but they all tend to run together after a while. The songs that form the motif – like the first four, which are a bit more aggressive, and the final three, which are a bit more pensive – don’t really fit as suites, because of the sameness of the styles. Another album I bought recently and which I’ll review below also uses a suite of music, but the songs are dissimilar enough in sound if not in theme so that they form a better overall arc. Individually, these songs are solid, with the music that Of Monsters and Men seems to go for and their beautiful lyrics. That’s why they’ll probably sound better on my iPod, when they come at me individually among different-sounding songs. But unlike some other albums that I own, I probably won’t listen to this CD straight through too often. Is that weird?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Broken Moon volume 1: Welcome to the New Age by Philip Kim (creator), Steve Niles (writer), Nat Jones (artist), Marshall Dillon (letterer), and Holly Interlandi (editor). $14.99, 88 pgs, FC, American Gothic Press.

Steve Niles had been working in comics for a decade before 30 Days of Night, but of course that comic made him a star, and he’s been a reliable horror writer ever since. I like Niles, but I don’t love his work, and one reason is because he really leans heavily on the high concept and not as much on characterization, and while that’s good for an initial shock, it makes his comics, to me, a bit shallow. His work is often entertaining, but it doesn’t resonate with me as much as other writers’. But I buy it when it sounds interesting, and that’s why I picked up Broken Moon. I’m not sure how much Philip Kim, who gets a “creator” credit on this comic, did, but it feels very much like a Niles book, but it’s unfortunately a bit of a lesser one. The high concept is fine – humans colonized the moon, went to war over it, partially destroyed it, which caused a devastation on Earth, killing a great deal of humanity and allowing classic monsters – vampires, werewolves, and creatures from black lagoons – to come out of the shadows. The vampires are trying to pollute the world so much that the sun is permanently blocked out so they can have their run of the place. The humans are trying to stop them, and they enlist other monsters to help. This lets Niles give us an interesting take on werewolves (again, Niles is a clever idea guy, so he often does this) and he introduces us to a demented Dr. Frankenstein and his philosophical monster. Niles spends a good amount of the four issues getting the gang together, so the battle against the vampires is a bit anticlimactic. It does claim to be “volume 1,” but it also ends somewhat definitively, so I assume Niles could come back to it if he wants to – it’s not like the world is saved or anything, as this volume is just one battle.

Niles’s problem is what it always is – he is good with ideas and plots, but weaker on the characters. Neither main human gets a name, and they don’t have much personality, either. They’re a couple, but they don’t interact well with each other, and most of their conversations with the monsters are about furthering the plot. The head werewolf – Rantz – is marginally interesting, while the main Frankenstein’s monster is articulate and thoughtful, but they, too, don’t reveal much of their personalities – Rantz even lets an atrocity go far more easily than we might expect, and while it’s for the good of the cause, it seems like he just moves on really quickly. Because of this, the stakes of the battle seem low – we don’t know much about any of the characters, so the fact that they are fighting for the survival of the planet doesn’t really feel to intense. The book ultimately feels like a way for Niles to throw in all sorts of cool monsters and have them fight. That’s fine, but it’s kind of hollow.

Jones is a decent artist who’s worked with Niles before, but he’s basically Ben Templesmith-lite, and there’s nothing really wrong with that. The book is terribly dark, which is kind of the point, I know, but it does make the action difficult to follow in too many places. Jones does his part by giving the Frankenstein’s monster and Rantz far more nuance than the humans, who are just kind of there. It’s a nice-looking comic – yes, it’s too dark, but the line work is fine – but the art matches the writing in that it’s just reasonably entertaining but doesn’t elevate the subject matter at all.

I shouldn’t give Niles chances, but the guy does have some clever ideas, so it’s frustrating that his work doesn’t quite expand beyond those ideas. I know I’ll be entertained by a Steve Niles comic, but I do hope for more. Broken Moon doesn’t give me that, unfortunately. I live in hope, though!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Chew #51-55 (“The Last Suppers”) by John Layman (writer/letterer), Rob Guillory (artist/colorist), and Taylor Wells (color assistant). $3.50, FC, Image.

One thing Layman has always done well in Chew is tell readers pretty much exactly what’s going to happen, yet still somehow make it surprising. When issue #30 rolled around and the biggest shock of the series occurred, it was telegraphed well yet was still a punch in the gut. Layman swerves a bit in this arc, as we get a cliffhanger in issue #54 that turns out to be a fake-out, but it’s not like he kept us in suspense too long – unless you count the month-long gap between issues. However, when the actual surprise comes later in issue #55, we can see that he pretty much told us what was going to happen, or at least gave us enough clues so we could figure it out. That’s very hard to do, and Layman has gotten very good at it. I’ve often said that I don’t like writers “hiding” information from the readers – I’m willing to forgive it a little, but too often, writers simply lie to readers so that the surprise hits harder, but what Layman does is better – he gives us all the information we need, but the surprise is still pretty surprising. It helps that we know what Savoy is capable of, so all his actions in this arc aren’t out of character for him, even the final act he performs in this arc. The excellent characterization that Layman has done on these characters over 55 issues is what helps make this arc so powerful, because nothing is out of place, yet it still gets us in the gut.

Layman also comes up with yet another villain-of-the-week – a guy who weaponizes carrots – which fits in with the general tone of the comic, as the agents are often battling minor threats while working on the larger arcs, except this time, the guy is even more ineffectual than usual. He provides the issue’s comedy, which it needs, as it’s a distinctly bummer of a comic, for the most part. Layman knows that amidst all the tragedy, sometimes you need to have an armored dude shooting carrots at people.

Guillory does his usual spectacular job, as the action in the book is bone-crunchingly violent and the carrot-shooting dude is sufficiently ridiculous. Savoy’s long monologue (which Layman breaks up with action scenes so it’s not too obvious a info-dump) is accompanied by excellent Guillory drawings of his pained face as he explains why he’s done what he’s done, which leads to the powerful ending, in which a panel that could easily be played for laughs becomes something much more touching. Guillory often exaggerates in his facial expressions, which isn’t surprising because his art is cartoonish, but he doesn’t always do it, and in this issue, when things are a bit more serious, he uses shadows and colors (the eerie reds in this issue are superb) really well to give the emotional beats more impact.

Chew has only one more arc, and Layman has set everything up quite well for a gangbusters final story. He’s often said that he would have shortened the story because of readers’ short attention spans, but I’m glad he didn’t have that idea in the first place, because the way he’s built up the characters over such a long time of this comic means that issues (and arcs) like this hit harder, because we care about the characters. Too many comics these days are full throttle action all the time because the issues are shorter and writers feel the need to get to the major plot points. Even though Chew is a victim of the shortened issues, Layman has been able to get both a lot of action and a lot of characterization into the book, and partly it’s because it’s been going on for 55 issues. Yes, the battle against the “vampire” is important, and finding out the deal with the sky writing is important, but those aren’t the only reasons to read the book. A lot of writers don’t seem to understand that plots are a dime-a-dozen, but good characters make a comic. Layman does, which is why Chew is so good. Dang, I’m going to miss it.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel (from issue #55):

Black Magick #1-5 (“Awakening”) by Greg Rucka (writer), Nicola Scott (artist), Chiara Arena (color assistant), Jodi Wynne (letterer), and Jeanine Schaefer (editor). $3.99, FC, Image.

Black Magick is an ongoing, so I can forgive decompression a bit, but this first arc is very frustrating, as Rucka spends the entire time setting things up. We get two bodies – the guy in the first issue who tried to immolate our hero, Rowan Black, but ended up burning to death himself, and the dude they fish out of the river, who was a horrible person and nobody is too bent out of shape that he’s dead – and we haven’t gotten any movement, really, on their situations. Rucka prides himself on writing “realistic” crime stories, and I get that crime stories often take a while to play out, but this is also a fictional world where magic works, so it’s not like he’s really bound by conventional time frames. We do get some action, which is nice, as in issue #5 Rowan and her pal Alex fight a scary woman from another dimension – sort of – and it’s somewhat exciting and beautifully drawn, but it’s just a teaser to show us that a lot of bad things are coming Rowan’s way. But, shit, we already knew that. It gives Scott a chance to draw a bunch of monsters that looked like they stepped off Universal’s backlot, which is nice, but if that’s what Rucka was leading up to with this arc, it’s a bit disappointing, because, again, we already knew that bad things were coming for Rowan. Just getting confirmation of that isn’t the best pay-off of a five-issue arc.

Rucka does give us a lot of plates, though, and his writing is as compelling as ever. He does a nice job making Portsmouth (which is basically a magical Portland, where Rucka lives) a real-feeling city, right down to the annoying soccer fans (Rucka is obviously a fan of the MLS champion Portland Timbers, as they’ve shown up in two of his recent stories), and the way he sets everything up is certainly interesting. He gives Rowan and the witches a history that stretches back centuries, and I imagine he has a sprawling epic in mind with Black Magick. I appreciate that he’s setting up a lot of things, but it makes these first five issues somewhat frustrating. It’s a fine line to walk between giving too much away and not giving anything, and so far, Rucka seems to be falling on the latter side. But I’m not dropping the book, like I did with Lazarus (another frustrating Rucka comic), so that’s pretty good, right?

Part of it, of course, is because Scott’s art is so amazing. She uses very soft pencils and very few hard inks, and together with the overall light brown coloring, makes Portsmouth look mundane, which makes the splashes of color stand out even more. In issue #5, for instance, a moment of violence is colored vibrantly, so it stands out much better, and Scott has been linking color with the magical world throughout the series, so there are nice moments of color sprinkled everywhere. Scott is a terrific superhero artist, so while this isn’t a superhero comic, she knows how to choreograph and draw a fight scene like we get in issue #5, and it looks great. Her use of softer pencils also lets her add nice texture to the world, so stones look rockier and clothing looks more comfortable than it often does in comics. Plus, she gets to draw a fierce-looking “bad guy” and the aforementioned monsters, so there’s that. Scott is killing it on this book, which makes it easier to deal with Rucka’s somewhat decompressed storytelling.

The trade should be out in April, which seems unusual given that Image is usually cranking out the trades pretty soon after the final issue of the arc comes out, but oh well. It’s a nifty comic, even if it’s frustrating. Take a look!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel (from issue #5):

Straitjacket #1-4 by El Torres (writer), Guillermo Sanna (artist), Malaka Studio (letterer), Jennifer van Gessel (editor), and Kittie Fish (editor). $3.99, BWR, Amigo Comics.

Two of Amigo’s comics finished this month, so huzzah to that – they put out good comics, but they’re often wonky in terms of getting them out on time, so two finishing (relatively) quickly is cause for celebration. Huzzah!

I’ve mentioned this for a few years – ever since I read Torres’s The Veil, which is excellent (and gets name-checked in this series, amusingly enough) – that Torres is the best horror writer in comics right now, and I’m standing by that, as Straitjacket is an excellent comic and extremely creepy to boot. Like the best horror writers, Torres takes situations that are disturbing but not necessarily supernatural and makes them just bizarre enough that we end up questioning just what we saw. In this comic, Alex Wagner could be just a young woman who killed her brother (also, annoyingly enough, named Alex) when they were young and has been confined to asylums ever since, or she could be a person who sacrificed her brother to fight against mysterious monsters who are trying to destroy humanity and she needed someone on the “other side” to battle them there. Obviously, as this is a comic, we believe all the supernatural stuff that happens, but Torres makes sure to show that it could conceivably be all in her mind – like other great horror fiction, the people around Alex don’t see what she’s seeing, unfortunately for her. Torres makes it a mystery, too – the doctor that treats her, Thomas Hayes, is in a wheelchair due a teenage indiscretion, and so he’s saddled with plenty of guilt of his own, and both he and Alex have secrets they’re trying not to divulge. Torres does an excellent job making them both sympathetic, so when things go horribly wrong (and of course they do!), it’s very upsetting. It’s a cool riddle of a book, too, so when Torres reveals what’s what, it makes a lot of sense and also gives us the heebie-jeebies without being too outlandish (if you can accept extra-dimensional creatures trying to invade our reality, that is).

Sanna’s art is excellent, too – the book is drenched in shadows quite a bit, but he also gets the antiseptic nature of the asylum down well, so that the stark whites stand out in relief when placed next to the darker corners. His design for the creatures and for Alex’s brother (see below) is very nice, too, and the very nice use of reds throughout the book is striking when it arrives, occasionally in places you don’t expect it. When he does draw the creatures, he uses rough, scratchy lines, which are contrasted with the thicker, solid lines he uses for the “real” world, and it’s a nice way to do it. He even uses grayscales in some crucial places, which is clever as well, as it draws us in to intimate moments better than the starker black and white would. It’s a beautiful book, even with all the disturbing subject matter, and Sanna does wondrous things with Torres’s script, making the nightmares horrifying while never losing the essential “real-ness” of the setting.

The trade for Straitjacket was solicited in last month’s Previews, I think, and you should get it if you see it. Or you can find the single issues, I suppose. It’s a really great horror comic, and it shows why Torres is a master of the genre!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

One totally Airwolf panel (from issue #4):

Birds of Prey volume 2 by Chuck Dixon (writer), Greg Land (penciller), Nelson DeCastro (penciller), Peter Krause (penciller), Dick Giordano (penciller), Drew Geraci (inker), Mark Propst (inker), Gloria Vasquez (colorist), James Sinclair (colorist), Albert de Guzman (letterer), John Costanza (letterer), Tim Harkins (letterer), and Paul Santos (collection editor). $19.99, 264 pgs, FC, DC. Barbara Gordon created by William Dozier, Julius Schwartz, and Carmine Infantino. Black Canary created by Robert Kanigher and Carmine Infantino. Dick Grayson and Alfred Pennyworth created by Bill Finger, Jerry Robinson, and Bob Kane. Jason Bard created by Frank Robbins. Cheshire created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Pistolera created by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane.

I got the first BoP collection last year but didn’t review it because I suck, but this collection begins with the BoP ongoing and features the first eleven issues plus a special about Cheshire’s bad-girl team, the Ravens, who show up in the ongoing before getting trapped in the past (from which I assume they come back, but not in this collection they don’t!). This is, frankly, a terrific collection – the first one was, too – as Dixon is a very good superhero writer who gets to the point and powers through plots nicely, while still managing to juggle some subplots and some good characterization. He’s an old-school comics writer, in other words, and while some people might not enjoy his politics (he’s the rare conservative comics writer), his leanings seem to inform his writing well, as he really knows how to come up with good bad guys who do vile things so that we just want them to be punched in the face. But his villains are also “realistic,” in that they do things that we know happen in the real world, even if they are a bit comic-booky (what with the wearing of costumes or, you know, being an alien clone), so it’s satisfying when Dinah comes along and does that whole punching in the face. Dixon gives us a fiendish kidnapper who uses his victims to work his “plantations” (Dixon never tells us exactly what he’s growing) and keeps extracting money from their loved ones just so they’ll stay alive; Kobra shows up to salvage a crashed Soviet satellite that somehow has the power to transport people through time; Black Canary tries to get a deposed general out of Markovia so he can stand trial in his native country; and Dinah frees a political prisoner who turns out to be a mad scientist who wanted to experiment on a Guy Gardner clone … which then decides to conquer the world. Yes, they’re ridiculous comic book stories, but because Dixon grounds them in geopolitical realities – Jackie Pamerjanian can operate his plantation because the country is a failed state; a terrorist group like Kobra probably would be interested in Soviet tech; strongmen do try to escape trials in their homelands when they are forced out of office; countries do hold political prisoners, and it’s conceivable that Dinah and Barbara Gordon would try to rescue them – they feel a bit more serious than many superhero stories. Dixon does a very nice job making these fictional countries (Rheelasia, Markovia, Bosqueverde, Koroscova) feel like real places, with their own internal policies that Dinah and Babs ignore or are somewhat ignorant of. It’s a fascinating way to write the stories, because while they’re good guys, Dixon does show that things aren’t always so black and white. Dinah learns this first hand in issue #7, the one-off where she tries to get the general out of Markovia and he tries to explain why he’s not a bad guy. What’s great about the issue is that Dixon doesn’t give us a clear answer – we never know if the general is right about the way his people see him. It’s very clever.

The book is also a lot of fun. I don’t want to go all “back in my day” on you, because the comic only came out in 1999, after all, but Dixon does manage to have a lot of fun with it, plus he gives us an entire issue with absolutely no action whatsoever! Yes, in this collection we get Dinah getting menaced by the Lake Nose Monster – which turns out to be a dinosaur brought forward in time by the Soviet satellite, and while the thing is scary – it could certainly eat Dinah, after all – Dixon keeps it light, as it’s not the focal point of the story, just something that allows him and Land to get a dinosaur into the comic. The subplot with the agents at the Pentagon trying to track down the hacker who keeps breaking into their systems is played both as something serious – I mean, Barbara is committing treason – and light, as the people tracking her down aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. Barbara turns the tables on Batman in a very funny subplot, too. Dinah and Jason Bard flirt excessively in the first story arc, which is always nice to see, and in the final arc, Dixon begins each issue with the Koroscovan Iron Brigade, who become increasingly less menacing as the issues go along. And, of course, even a clone of Guy Gardner is good for some humor, as he’s as obnoxious as the original and has the power to back up the original’s egotism. Issue #8 is the famous issue where Dick Grayson takes Barbara to his circus and eventually gets her on the trapeze, and it’s excellent (it was the #1 choice in Our Dread Lord and Master’s “Greatest Chuck Dixon Stories Ever Told” poll from 2010). Dixon, like so many other DC writers before the 2011 reboot, was really able to use the characters’ history together well, so the fact that Dick and Barbara aren’t a couple but are still able to be intimate with each other makes this an amazingly heartfelt issue. Again, we don’t get issues like this too often anymore – one with literally no action, just two characters we’ve known for a long time enjoying some down time. Of course, those are the issues that everyone seems to love, so of course DC and Marvel don’t do them very much anymore.

I don’t wish to alarm anyone, but Greg Land’s art in this collection is amazing. I hate modern Land as much as the next person with good eyesight, but in case you didn’t know, back when he first started, Land actually drew things, and he was really good. He’s obviously working in the Adam Hughes tradition, but his line work is so fluid and dynamic and his characters are so varied and interesting that it doesn’t matter that he’s styling himself after Hughes (and, let’s be honest, Hughes is awesome, so if you’re going to style yourself after someone, why not him?). A guy I know who spends a lot of time getting sketches at conventions says that these days, Land can’t even sketch something without his photo references, which makes me sad because his art during this time period (I think I first saw it a few years earlier, in 1995, but I could be wrong) is so good. I think when he went off to CrossGen he changed his style to the abomination it is today, which means that even though we owe CrossGen for some good comics, we can also condemn it for ruining Land. But that’s neither here nor there – this is before CrossGen, and Land’s art is excellent. He packs the pages with wonderful details, from the flowers on Jackie Pamerjanian’s balcony to the wonderful Minnesotan wood lodges to the weird Batcave that looks like the backstage of a theater. He doesn’t miss opportunities for cheese/beefcake, as when Dinah and Jason are traipsing through the jungle and their clothes keep getting torn, but it does kind of make sense that their clothes would rip, doesn’t it? He draws an amazingly sexy Dinah, but he’s also very good at translating Dixon’s character moments very well, especially in the aforementioned issue #8, where he nails Barbara’s and Dick’s reaction to what they say to each other (especially wonderful is when Barbara makes a joke about not liking clowns – Land does a marvelous job with both her and Dick going through various emotions in just a few panels). All the women are beautiful, of course, but Land tries to draw them differently, which is appreciated. I can see a bit of his future photo-referencing sneaking into the book, which is too bad, because I guess even then he was moving that way. So sad!

It’s nice that DC is collecting the series, because I know it was a fan-favorite for so long. I never read it, but now I see why! Go get both volumes and enjoy!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Martian Manhunter volume 1: The Epiphany by Rob Williams (writer), Eddy Barrows (penciller), Diogenes Neves (penciller), Eber Ferreira (inker), Marc Deering (inker), Gabe Eltaeb (colorist), Tom Napolitano (letterer), and Jeb Woodard (collections editor). $14.99, 129 pgs, FC, DC. J’onn J’onzz created by Joseph Samachson and Joseph Certa. Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston. Barry Allen created by Robert Kanigher, Carmine Infantino, and John Broome. Cyborg created by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Aquaman created by Mort Weisinger and Paul Norris. Ma’alefa’ak created by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake.

Back when DC did the whole DCYou initiative, I ended up getting all the first issues, because I’m a conscientious comics blogger, damn it! I decided to trade wait them, because DC prices its trades well (this is $15 for 6 issues – $18 in singles – plus the “sneak peek” teaser that DC put out), and Martian Manhunter was one of the best of the bunch, so I was looking forward to this (now that I think of it, I did buy the first arc of Hellblazer, but I’m not sure why – the first issue was good, but so was this, so I’m not sure why I decided to go with single issues for that). I dug the first issue quite a bit, and given that Rob Williams is a very interesting writer, I figured it would turn out well. And so it did, as this is a fairly brilliant comic.

Williams pulls a Swamp Thing-level retcon with regard to J’onn J’onzz, which may or may not annoy people who are really big fans of J’onn … although it doesn’t seem to be something that will fundamentally change the way the character interacts with the world, like Moore’s retcon did, so perhaps Williams was hedging his bets a little. It’s still fairly clever, and while I’m not sure if Williams’s idea about how J’onn’s mind powers work is all that convincing, it’s doesn’t come completely out of the blue, as I seem to recall something like it being done before (I don’t want to be too vague, it’s just that part of the fun of this trade is the mystery of what happens to J’onn). Williams gives us some interesting characters – Mr. Biscuits, who looks a lot like a decrepit J’onn; the Pearl, a thief from Dubai; Daryl Wessel, an FBI agent; and Mould, who is not the ex-lead singer of Hüsker Dü – and then slowly brings them together and reveals how they’re connected. In the meantime, he comes up with an interesting origin for J’onn, one that explains why he’s the “last of his kind” yet other writers keep bringing in other Martians for him to fight (see: Comics, God of All and Ostrander, John). It’s a very exciting comic, full of a lot of moving parts that keeps everything rolling along nicely, and Williams even makes it fun in places, which is always good to see. This can be a horrific comic, but it’s also a superhero story, and Williams balances the action with the creepiness very well. He even does a cool job showing how incredibly powerful J’onn really is, which is something other writers have certainly done before, but it’s still keen to be reminded of. It’s a neat story, and Williams ends it on a good cliffhanger, so now I have to get the next trade!

As I noted when I reviewed the first issue, this is best Barrows art I’ve ever seen – I haven’t seen too much from him, but I never liked it because it seemed to slick. I don’t know what he changed, but it’s really good on this book – the only slick issue is #5, for which Neves provides the pencils over Barrows’s layouts – as Barrows, Ferreira, and Eltaeb give us a wonderfully dynamic J’onn, shapeshifting like mad into a giant dragon, for instance, which is both amazingly fluid and a bit creepy. Barrows lays the pages out really well, as it feels like Williams’s scripts are dense and he needs to get a lot on the page, but the flow of the book is never confusing and some pages, like a terrifying scene on an airplane in issue #6, are really effective. His designs for the Martians are horrifying, which isn’t surprising as they’re evil shapeshifters, but he can also do eerie yet humorous, as Mr. Biscuits’s spindly-legged design shows. He and Ferreira use blacks really well, making this a dark, spooky book in many places, but Eltaeb doesn’t over-render, which is always nice, and he doesn’t overuse dark colors that bleed into the blacks, using lurid reds and brighter greens to contrast with the darkness of the inks. There’s a terrific (almost) full-page splash of Superman, backlit by lightning, that shows off why good digital coloring can make a book look so good – the white isn’t bordered by hard lines, it just blurs into the blackness on Superman’s front, and it’s stunning. The art team also uses a different style for J’onn’s flashbacks, as Barrows uses softer and probably uninked pencils, while Eltaeb mutes the colors just a little to differentiate it from the rest of the book. This is an amazing-looking comic, and it’s nice to see it in service to such a keen story.

With the 735th DC reboot happening soon, who knows if this comic will last, but we’ll see, won’t we? I know there will be at least two trades, and if the second volume is as good as this one, at least that will be a good collection of excellent comics. But hey, DC is making good comics! Who’da thunk it?!?!?

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Feast of Consequences by Fish, Chocolate Frog Record Company, 2013.

I don’t keep track of Marillion’s ex-lead singer as much as I keep track of Marillion, so I didn’t know he had released an album in 2013 until about two years after it happened, which is kind of annoying. Fish isn’t terribly popular on this side of the pond (I doubt he’s that popular in the British Isles, either, but at least that’s where he lives!), so it’s not like I would have heard much, and I don’t visit bands’ web sites all that often. I just assumed Fish had retired from making records, as I could have sworn he said 2007’s 13th Star would be his last. Just like any other singer, though, Fish can’t stay away, so he released Feast of Consequences, and it’s good that he did, because it’s a really good album. It’s as good as 13th Star, which was probably his best album since 1991’s Internal Exile, so it appears that our pal Mr. Dick is going through a late-career renaissance. That’s always nice. Sure, there are some clunkers on the album – Fish loves ballads, which can be great but too often veer toward drippy sentimentality (and when someone like me, who loves sentimentality, says that, you can be sure it’s true!), so one of the two ballads on the album, “Blind to the Beautiful,” is not a very good song, as it’s the worst parts of a love song coupled with treacly environmental sentiment. Fish has always been obsessed with our celebrity culture and what it does to us, and “All Loved Up” is about that, but it’s a not-very-good update on Marillion’s “Incommunicado,” which despite being 29 years old (!!) stills feel fresher.

However, those two songs come early on the album, after the very moody and well-done table setter, “Perfume River,” which is classic Fish in its entirety, with its (sampled) bagpipes, its weird organ, and the terrific paranoid imagery that Fish employs so well. The two duds follow, but Perfume River is strong enough to overcome them until we get to “Feast of Consequences,” which isn’t the greatest song but gets Fish’s environmental message across much better, as it’s Angry Fish and not Sentimental Fish. Then we get to the “suite” of songs in the middle of the album, which are about World War I. Fish learned in 2011 that both his grandfathers served at the Somme – he knew they fought in Europe, but not that they were stationed so close to each other – and he decided to write some songs about the war. So we get five linked songs, each quite different but still similar enough, both lyrically – obviously, they all deal with aspects of the war – and even a bit musically, that they form a nice cluster in the middle of the album. Only one doesn’t work too well – “The Gathering” is the song in the middle, and while its deliberately creepy/cheery music is meant to evoke the naïveté of the beginnings of the war, Fish doesn’t do cheery very well, so the tone is off – he can’t keep the world-weariness out of his voice even when he’s trying to be falsely hopeful. It’s not a bad song, but it’s surrounded by terrifying war songs, so it stands out. We lead into it with the depressing poetry of “High Wood,” which is another classic Fish tune, full of awful imagery and minor keys, and whenever Fish talks in that Scottish accent instead of just singing, you know he’s deadly serious (it doesn’t hurt that he has a great speaking voice). The song becomes a stentorian march toward oblivion, and it takes us to “Crucifix Corner,” which takes the ominous foreshadowing of “High Wood” and makes it come to horrible life, as Fish describes a terrible battle and the consequences of it. After “The Gathering,” we get “Thistle Alley,”, which might be the best song on the album – it has the usual excellent Fish lyrics (the soldiers are “motionless as spiders caught out on a killing floor”) but also adds a heavy, thudding, screeching guitar part that digs into your soul (Robin Boult plays electric guitar on this album; he didn’t on 13th Star, which had some great guitar parts, but I’m not sure if he was playing in Fish’s live band when I saw him in 2008). The suite ends with “The Leaving,” which slows things down a bit with more violins but doesn’t let anyone off the hook. Fish is good at writing anti-war songs, because his imagery is so horrific but he can also be very concrete with so many of them. He gives us a good macro view but never forgets the suffering of the individuals.

The album ends with another ballad, a decent love song called “The Other Side of Me,” and the eerie finale, “The Great Unravelling,” which is about coming together, creating life, and coming apart, over generation after generation. It has some cool lyrics, but once again, Boult does a lot of the heavy lifting, with a twisty, creeping guitar part that builds slowly until it breaks through into a bright, hopeful end that soars us out. It’s pretty keen.

I’ve always been a fan of Fish, even when he was trying his hardest for commercial success back in the early 1990s, but as he got older, he decided to focus more on doing what made him happy, and while he often fell victim to some of his more mawkish tendencies, he was always interesting. I don’t know if each album of his will be his last, but he is 57 years old, so who knows how many more albums he has in him? I’m just glad his most recent two have been so good – it gives me hope that the next one will be, as well!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆


Dang, that’s a lot of stuff this month. When I skipped January, I missed the ending of some cool mini-series (Phonogram is soooooo good, you guys!), but I also didn’t actually get a ton of trades. This month, I didn’t get a ton of single issues that ended mini-series or arcs, but I got a bunch of trades, so there it is. I apologize for the length – you know I go on and on!

Moving on to other things, I want to rant about the blog for a bit. Ever since we moved over to Comic Book Resources, we’ve had to deal with the fact that we’re part of a bigger corporate conglomerate. Now, when I say “corporate,” I’m exaggerating a bit, as CBR is still pretty much Jonah’s baby, and we all love Jonah, because Jonah is awesome. (I’m not saying that because he could fire me – I’m saying it because Jonah really is awesome. He always – ALWAYS – has our backs when creators get huffy with us, and he shields us from some of the more obnoxious things creators say about us – I’m only speaking from personal experience, but I assume he does it for everyone, too. He’s a hell of a nice guy in person, and he’s always willing to discuss something if we have a problem. Again, I’m speaking from my own experience, but why wouldn’t he do that for everyone?) But Jonah still needs to act like a corporation sometimes, and that means raising revenue. So we get the ads on the blog, which I hate. Again, I know they’re necessary, but I still loathe them, and I think they screw up the speed of the blog, too. I know those self-playing videos make commenting difficult, at least for me, because whenever those videos buffer, I can’t type anything. I have a work-around – I can simply type one word, publish it, then go behind the scenes and “edit” my response – but I wonder if it’s as annoying for everyone else. I guess not, as we still get plenty of comments, but man, it pisses me off. I also, as you can tell, love tags. I was so happy to get them back, but now, when I read the blog, I can’t click on them. My cursor simply slides over them, without becoming the little hand that lets you click on links. Is this happening to anyone else? I use my own tags a lot to find stuff on the blog, and while I know not many other writers use them (Brian never does, I don’t think; Greg H. does, but not to the extent I do; G. Kendall has joined the “tag” train – way to go!; and we don’t have many of our old writers writing for us anymore), I still think they’re very useful. So if it’s not just me, I’d like to know. I also can’t see the number of tweets we get about each post anymore. I can still see the number of Facebook likes each post gets, but the tweet button doesn’t have a number next to it. Is this happening to anyone else, too? Again, it’s not the most important thing in the world, but I’m always interested in who’s tweeting about things we write, because I’m interested in who’s reading. Do I just need to change browsers, or is this a blog problem? All these little things make the blog a bit more annoying, and even though I read every post, I get more frustrated leaving comments than I used to, and that’s no good. Is this all just a “me” problem, or is it happening to anyone else?

Out in the comics universe, there’s an interesting article I saw last week about Stan Lee and his legacy. Here’s the link if you’re interested. It’s a long but fascinating article, and although it’s critical of Lee, it’s strangely sympathetic to him, as well, as if he didn’t realize he was denying people their rightful due. Of course, it’s possible that Lee is telling the total truth and Kirby and Ditko are the filthy liars, but it still seems overly sympathetic to Lee given what we know about him. Anyway, it’s pretty neat.

Meanwhile, here’s a too-brief article about diagramming sentences. My sister-in-law posted it on Facebook and wrote about how she remembers doing it. She’s five years younger than I am, and I have no memory of ever learning how to diagram a sentence. I know what it is, of course, but I never learned how. She lived about 75 miles northwest of me growing up, so it’s not like we lived in completely different parts of the country. I went to school in Germany until late in second grade, but I can’t imagine second- or first-graders diagramming sentences, so it’s not like I missed it because I wasn’t in the country. Did anyone diagram sentences in the late 1970s/early 1980s? If so, where were you? Maybe I did learn but it was so traumatic I blotted it from my memory!!!!

I don’t know if you watched John Oliver destroy Donald Trump last night, but you can watch it here. It’s nothing that we don’t know, it’s just that Oliver brings it all together. This is why the media depresses me. Everyone is so concerned about “access” that they never ask any tough questions to anyone, and if they do, they let the people get away with non-answers instead of hounding them to answer the damned questions. I think Clinton is still the best candidate, but I still wish reporters would ask her tough questions and not let her skate instead of writing crap about how “shrill” she sounds. Jesus, who cares what tone she takes – what about the actual words she says?

Anyway, before I rant too much, I’ll finish. I know this is a lot to read, but I hope you find some of it interesting. Have a great day, and I’ll be back soon with the Previews preview. Will there be an interview with Doctor Doom in the middle of the post? Or a Doom-facsimile? You’ll have to wait and see!!!!

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