Friday, November 30, 2012

Teen Titans #0 (DC)

writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Brett Booth

For the record, although I seem to be writing quite a bit about Scott Lobdell these days, I didn't buy this issue because of Lobdell, but rather to complete the New 52 Zero Month collection of Robin stories.  (Others included Batman and Robin, featuring Damian; Red Hood and the Outlaws, featuring Jason Todd; and Nightwing, featuring Dick Grayson.)

Teen Titans until recently was the only place where Tim Drake could be found in the relaunched DC landscape.  This had to be considered a little shocking, since Tim was the Robin for two decades, and was the first of them to be featured in his own series, not to mention the only founding member of the Geoff Johns relaunch to retain his own book (unlike Superboy and Impulse/Kid Flash).  Although much of my superhero experience has involved the rich lineage of the Boy Wonder, he's always been who I consider to be "my" Robin.

And yet somehow Tim, who'd become Red Robin (a costume originally designed for Kingdom Come and therefore an identity first held by Dick Grayson, and ironically or not next worn by Jason Todd in Countdown to Final Crisis) in his last phase before the New 52, was dropped unceremoniously into a book that really did not have a link to Batman.  Certainly there is precedent for Robin, but not for Tim Drake, so it was always a little shocking to me that this had happened, and yet as part of the streamlining process it was also a little inevitable that his role should change.

The Teen Titans themselves have tended to fluctuate in terms of importance.  In the Wolfman/Perez '80s they were the lifeblood of the company.  Johns shot them back into significance, but in a lot of ways DC has spent a great deal more energy keeping the Justice League relevant, which is fine, although there will always be comic book fans who believe only by engaging the younger reader base will the industry's future be assured.  This may be one of the reasons why the Titans (sometimes called Young Justice) have a continuing role in the cartoon leg of DC's efforts.

Lobdell, meanwhile, took on the youth wing of the New 52, whether that meant Teen Titans, Superboy, or even Red Hood, which in a lot of ways is another Titans book (and in a previous era this would have been more obvious), based largely on his reputation from Generation X.  Because the Titans have such a turbulent publishing history, I didn't have an interest in checking this new incarnation out.  It seemed if anything something for a new generation, moreso than most of the other new books, even though most of its characters are some of my favorites (the same was true for Superboy, though I had a look at its first issue).

All that being said, I finally read an issue because it finally put the spotlight on Tim Drake.  It's interesting to me, someone taking another shot at Tim's early development.  One of the great benefits of comic books is that they're one of the few creative mediums (music is another) that actively encourages revisiting familiar material.  It's a chance to have a fresh look and discover what makes it special all over again.  A Bob Dylan song sounds different when played by Hendrix or U2, but they're all pretty great (here I'm thinking of "All Along the Watchtower," by the way).

The bulk of my experience with Tim comes after he's already become Robin, so the period in which he figures out (or as depicted in this issue, spends a lot of time trying) Batman's secret identity (originally presented in Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying) is pretty fascinating.  In a Brian Bendis comic this would have been the first twenty issues (which is what he did in the initial Ultimate Spider-Man comics and then again with the introduction of Miles Morales).  Tim is such a unique Robin, too, in that his parents at least at the beginning of his story are both alive.  He's driven by different ambitions than any of the others, including Batman himself, and Lobdell does a great job of explaining that.  (It's also worth noting again that Batman #0 includes brief looks at each of the Robins, and as I said when I commented on the issue, Tim stands out.  Bendis should switch to DC and do that.)

While I'm very happy that this issue happened, I also wonder why.  Shouldn't it have been dedicated to the whole team, if not the new members Lobdell has introduced?  Just wondering.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Superman #13 (DC)

writer: Scott Lobdell
artist: Kenneth Rocafort

I've come to have a great appreciation for the talents of Scott Lobdell.  He's been just beyond the mainstream for years, a name fans are familiar with but not someone who has produced a tangible legacy behind him, though he's certainly done notable things.  When I saw that he was apparently one of DC's major acquisitions to help shape the New 52, I was intrigued.  I'd just become acquainted with his work on Generation X (which was the X-Men title at the time), so I saw it as an opportunity to see how well he held up not just historically but as a working writer.

I was impressed from the start.  I stuck primarily with Red Hood and the Outlaws, which was somehow notorious for sexualizing Starfire (even though only in the cartoon everyone was thinking about had she ever not been sexualized since her debut in the '80s).  It was good stuff, and not just because I'd been wanting a series starring Jason Todd for years.  There was also the stellar art of Kenneth Rocafort.

When I saw that the pair had been elevated to Superman, I wasn't thinking that this particular series was getting its third major creative shakeup of the New 52 relaunch.  I was ecstatic that I wasn't the only one to have noticed not just Lobdell's work but the unique chemistry he has with Rocafort, whose work can be called a post-Michael Turner dynamism, very reminiscent of '90s art but a step beyond it, as if someone were finally noticing that it could be taken to another level.  Like the artists who ushered the Image revolution, Rocafort is not just an artist but a storyteller, one of the boldest of his generation.

All that aside, their work so far in Superman has been everything that I hoped it would be.  There is a tad bit of awkwardness involved in this transition process, however.  Lobdell and Rocafort, either by their own initiative or by editorial mandate (something that admittedly has played a role in the preceding administrations, as it were), are going almost directly into a crossover event (also involving Supergirl and Lobdell's own Superboy) involving the latest incarnation of a threat from Krypton's past coming back to haunt the survivors of the present.

But very few readers of this particular probably cared too much about that.  And actually, Lobdell proves that he hasn't let the continuity of previous creators fall by the wayside, as the personal shakeups that have plagued Clark Kent (our erstwhile Superman, in the off chance you didn't know that), famously including a breakup with Lois Lane (less drastic with new continuity than when Spider-Man did the same a few years back, although of course his ex is Mary Jane Watson, not an intrepid reporter).  

As you may or may not have heard, Clark quits the Daily Planet, and in spectacular fashion, with a grand speech about journalistic ethics and ideals that seem to have been abandoned by today's press (though you may be forgiven to be thinking of TV rather than newspaper as you consider his points, as very few people, ah, think of newspapers these days).

It suggests Superman's famous credo: Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

This is the kind of territory Grant Morrison has been visiting in Action Comics, the other ongoing series to chronicle the adventures of the Man of Steel, in which Superman returns to his roots as a social crusader (though not like Joe Straczynski did in the days leading up to the New 52).

Although as far as the action goes, and again this has a lot to do with Rocafort's considerable talent, this may be the first time Superman looks vital in years.  All of this is to say that if you haven't taken this dude seriously in the recent past, you have one less excuse to use.  Two books, two distinctive approaches, and they're both firing on all cylinders.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Reading Comics #84 "Natural Born Morrison"

Most of the comics Grant Morrison does involve intricate plotting and mythologies that he spends years or at least a good number of issues exploring.  Every now and then he does something on a more intimate scale.  Kill Your Boyfriend is one such example of the latter.

Even after entering the mainstream in 1996 with JLA Morrison has continued to explore his interest in more subversive material.  It might be argued that his unique perspective makes Morrison more capable of finding something of worth in a diverse pool of material.  Boyfriend in many ways is very indicative of '90s pop culture.  In the edition I read he provides an afterword in which he actually laments how his story might be overlooked in the rush by filmmakers to copy material that at the time he wrote it was still fresh, indicating Quentin Tarantino as a predecessor.  Yet some of the movies I can think of that were released by 1995, when Boyfriend was originally published, were actually written by Tarantino, Tony Scott's True Romance and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers.  Tarantino himself never quite directed a film of the kind of psychopaths depicted in Boyfriend and these films.

Morrison's interest in the story is exploring the increasingly jaded nature of youth culture and the growing surge of violence they were capable of, which he couldn't have known was only getting started.  The Matrix, for instance, which by some accounts Morrison believes was based on his own Invisibles, was cited as an inspiration for the Columbine killers.

The star of Boyfriend is actually the girlfriend, whose parents don't understand her and life exactly the kind of stifling life she believes she's destined for until she stumbles across a rebel who gives her the excuse to experience the alternative, which quickly turns shockingly violent, not the least with the execution of the title character.  By the end of the graphic novel she and her new friend have been cornered, he's shot dead by law enforcement and she realizes that she never actually crossed the line, that she can still pretend innocence.

Her parents debate her innocence early on, convinced that undergarments somehow will somehow prove it one way or another, the way some people claim the way a woman dresses encourages rape.  She offers a running commentary on her own life, as if she's an outsider looking in, and that's the kind of alienation that the story is about.  The girlfriend (never named, by the way, so I'm not just being lazy) dons a wig at one point, and a little red dress, completely altering her appearance.  Identity, then, is something that is only a perception, or so she believes throughout the experience.  She and her friend run across a hippy collective that is also all about appearances, failing to live up to the ideals the new boyfriend lives on a daily basis.

Morrison collaborates with Philip Bond (they work together again in Vimanarama), who gives the story a lightly comic look, as if it's up to the reader whether any of this should be taken seriously.  Sure, there's a lot of sensationalism and not too many answers.  Boyfriend isn't a statement and it isn't a love story, either, the way the Tarantino screenplays unfold.  It's simply a record of the mood Morrison was feeling and was only starting to develop at the time.

It recognizable material but it's also a sharp left turn from the extremes Boyfriend only skirts.  By the end, Morrison's conclusion confronts the reader with everything that they've experienced thus far and forces them to question it all over again.  That's patent cleverness from a master.

Don't forget that I've constructed a whole page dedicated to Grant Morrison's career.  Have a look at it here.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Marvel Now! Point One (Marvel)

writer: various
artist: various

I don't always read Marvel, but when I do I read the best.

Okay, shameless parody of TV commercials aside, I really don't read Marvel on a regular basis.  I have on occasion, but nothing recently, although I always keep myself abreast of the company's stories.  As DC did last fall, Marvel is relaunching its line, although it's been careful to try and make fine distinctions of the differences, the main one being that the creator runs that have come to an end have been distinguished for years, whether you're talking about Brubaker's Captain America or Brian Michael Bendis' Avengers (all dozen iterations) or Jonathan Hickman's Fantastic Four.

Marvel Now! is mostly a chance to begin some new eras (although one can never say if an era on a character or franchise will actually stick).  This one-shot isn't about such eras, but rather some of the smaller properties getting their chance to shine with this initiative.  The framing sequence is written by Nick Spencer, a writer best known for his Image series Morning Glories but had looked to be one of DC's major new writers just before the New 52 began, but instead subsequently surfaced at Marvel.  Spencer gets to handle another Nick, as in Fury, who used to be a white dude in the regular Marvel canon (it's the Ultimates version that was based on and subsequently portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson) as he interrogates a man who claims to be from the future.  I don't know where that's going, but it's probably the least interesting element of the issue.

The most interesting belongs to Jeph Loeb.  Yeah, I'm a fan of Loeb, which these days is sadly not something every comics fan is saying.  He and frequent collaborator Ed McGuinness handle Nova, who is sort of Marvel's Green Lantern, except Marvel has never really defined Nova very distinctively (fans of the cosmic comics may feel free to disagree).  The one depicted here is very similar to Kyle Rayner, the '90s Green Lantern.  As usual, Loeb has a good feel for character, which is why I like him so much.  If anyone can make me care about Nova, it's Jeph Loeb.

Another cosmic franchise featured in the issue is the Guardians of the Galaxy, soon to be featured in a TV series.  It's one of Brian Michael Bendis' latest projects (he'll soon be as ubiquitous with the X-Men as he was with the Avengers), and "decompression" is clearly still in his vocabulary.  Most of the sample of his work here (dealing with the oft-overlooked Star-Lord) is in the artwork, from Steve McNiven (famous from Civil War and Wolverine: Old Man Logan).

Kieron Gillen previews a new Young Avengers book.  I never understood why Marvel took its sweet time developing Young Avengers projects that weren't written by Allan Heinberg.  At one point, this property was one of the hottest things the company had.  Heinberg, better known as a screenwriter, eventually took long breaks from the Young Avengers (far better than the name suggests), and by the time he came back for Avengers: The Children's Crusade, he'd lost the zeitgeist and fans no longer cared.  The few instances where Marvel attempted something with the team by writers other than Heinberg obviously did not receive the necessary creative commitment.  By the preview, Gillen may have figured out how to correct that.  We'll see.

Matt Fraction, who is one of Marvel's Architects (their term for marque creators) and Mike Allred (famed for his creation Madman) preview an Ant-Man project that both looks incredibly promising and also tonally completely wrong.  It's supposed to be Hank Pym (a founding member of the Avengers and soon to be movie star) being angsty.  There's a lot to say about Allred as an artist.  But angsty is not a term typically applied to him.  So that's certainly an interesting choice.  That book will be FF, which is in no way related to Hickman's FF, which was short for Future Foundation, not Fantastic Four, though it was one and the same property.  (Marvel doesn't like to keep things...simple.)

The biggest revelation of the special is Dennis Hopeless's Forge.  Forge is a typically overlooked member of the X-Men who debuted in the '80s, a tech guy who apparently has become something of a mad genius.  He'll apparently be featured in Cable & X-Force (so obviously it features Cable prominently).  If that series is anywhere near as awesome as the preview, it may be a book that I need to check out.

I always enjoy preview books like this.  Well, I have really fond memories of DC preview books like this (such as Brave New World).  I hoped Marvel would have at least something impressive in this one, or a good suggestion at where the Now! thing was headed.  Mostly it's just a massive relaunch with some new books being tossed out.

I'd say, with Loeb's Nova and the potential of Hopeless's X-Force, and even a new shot at ongoing glory for the Young Avengers, that it was worth my time to have a look.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Justice League #13 (DC)

writer: Geoff Johns
artist: Tony Daniel

I've been saying for some time now that Geoff Johns has more or less used Justice League as his first experience writing a Wonder Woman series, and recent issues have only made that more obvious.  In the preceding issue the most notable thing everyone's favorite Amazon did was kiss Superman, and as a lot of people made a big deal about it, I'd say it was notable indeed.

Yet other issues went to great lengths to explain how another of her relationships, with Steve Trevor, affected the whole team and indeed series, which has continuing consequences with the forthcoming Justice League of America series.

With this issue, Wonder Woman's importance to the series can no longer be overlooked.  Perhaps Johns has been working toward this moment deliberately, as 2013 will feature the "Trinity War" event that features not only Wonder Woman but also Superman and Batman.  Over in her own book, Brian Azzarello has been going for a more mythic approach (which I will be having another look at once the New Gods hit in the near future), but here she's grounded in the real world, struggling to find her way, which is exactly what this issue is all about, how she feels responsible for the creation of one of her most famous foes, Cheetah.

If having one of her signature villains be featured in Justice League isn't evidence enough of what I'm arguing here, then I don't know what to say.  If you've ever wondered if you could find Wonder Woman compelling but had never found a reason before, Geoff Johns has your back.

Tony Daniel, meanwhile, has the front covered beautifully.  In the past I've compared his work to Jim Lee, who just completed his run in the series, especially Daniel's Batman, which he carried over from "Batman R.I.P." to the initial peeling of the Joker's face in Detective Comics #1 at the start of the New 52.  His style seems to have undergone another evolution, though.  It looks fantastic in the issue.

Also included is a preview of Justice League of America, by the way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Happy! #2 (Image)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Darick Robertson

It's important to note that as bad as Nick Sax's day is, it could easily be worse.  Grant Morrison starts the second issue of this mini-series with a strong suggestion that some very bad men had some very bad ideas in store for him, and that it's a good thing that he was lucid enough to escape.

"Lucid" may not be the first word Nick uses to describe himself at the moment.  He escaped mostly thanks to the fact that he's currently being visited by Happy, a magical blue pony that floats in the air and only he can see.  He spends the issue trying to convince himself that Happy is just a delusion, getting himself into some pretty hot water (again) during a card game when Happy calls his bluff.

With this issue, I think I've figured out an interpretation of Happy that might make sense to long-term fans of Morrison.  It's essentially the Bat-Mite story he never got to tell.  Bat-Mite is a curiously of Batman lore, an imp Morrison used during "R.I.P." while the Dark Knight's mind was compromised.  Bat-Mite presents a challenge to any writer who prefers to write a serious Batman (unless you're Grant Morrison) because he's a pretty silly character.

What Happy does is finally explore the dynamic between a character very much set in the world of serious comics, who's gotten himself into a situation he may only be able to survive by relying on the least likely support imaginable.  To someone like Nick Sax, Happy must be something of a nightmare.  Except he's learning to accept this peculiar little friend as an ally.

Darick Robertson has just concluded The Boys along with Garth Ennis.  There was at least one initial episode in my past where I publicly struggled with the existence of The Boys, its nihilistic interpretation of superheroes, and I dragged Robertson's name into my reaction.  At the time I wasn't all that familiar with him.  By the time he participated in 52, which remains my favorite comic book of all-time, I had to reconcile my opinion of his abilities, or rather my previous underestimation of them.  To his fans, of course even questioning it would always have sounded pretty stupid.  The man has an established career on notable books (including Transmetropolitan).  Needless to say his work in Happy! is impeccable, and indeed just Robertson's depiction of Happy makes him an inspired choice, if there are many other readers like myself who thought they knew his instincts.  I'd just like to get that out of the way, in case I've got residual bad karma.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cobra #18 (IDW)

writer: Mike Costa
artist: Antonio Fuso

Much of this issue is dedicated to another of Cobra's patented character studies, this time of Ronin, a character unique to the series.

Linked to Jinx (killed early in the Cobra chronology) and Chameleon (Erika Le Tene), which was actually Ronin's previous identity, this is the first time we spend quality time with her.  Ronin might previously have been described as the chick with the samurai swords who struck an impressive appearance but who otherwise was pretty anonymous.  That's what helps make this another standout issue, although Cobra has been full of them, just one of the many reasons that I still cannot understand why it has never broken out from anything more than cult status.  This has consistently been one of the best comic books in the market.

(It's worth noting that Mike Costa's original writing collaborator, Christos Gage, is referenced in an Easter Egg this issue.)

Anyone looking for additional signs of awesomeness will also take note that the issue also includes the Oktober Guard, the Russian equivalent to G.I. Joe, an element that has only just been introduced to the series.  Anyone concerned when I say "character rich" ought to know that there is plenty of action.  As I said, Ronin was previously known as the ninja, and Cobra clashing with the Guard makes a big splash at the start of the issue.

I cannot possibly recommend this series highly enough.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Reading Comics #83 "Angry Faerie Con!"

I should note that although I am an acknowledged comics aficionado, I had not until this past Saturday been to a comics con.  (For those even more pathetic than me, "con" in this context is short for "convention," although "concave" and "convection" and "conquistador" are also acceptable if wholly inappropriate extrapolations.)

In fact, I had only been to one other con in my life, and that was back in 1996 (possibly 1995) when Star Trek rolled into Portland, ME on the heels of Voyager's launch (there was to be a screening of "Heroes and Demons" as well as an appearance by Robert Picardo, but I didn't get a chance to see either one, though I did snag a Bajoran earring).

Anyway, so I went to my first comics (and toys) con on Saturday, the same day Colorado Springs hosted its annual Veterans Day parade, held at the Clarion Hotel.  It was not exactly San Diego Comic Con or any of the other major circuits.  There were some fan girls who gushed over a creator, but I had no idea who he was.  Otherwise slim pickings by way of celebrity.  Actually, no celebrities.

There were, however, a lot of Star Wars toys, and vendors with white boxes of comics (if I'd thought of it, I might have tried to get some pictures, but I don't think of these things and I don't do lots of pictures anyway, either in my blogs or real life, unless you're my sister's cat and sometimes her dog, which coincidentally on the same weekend turned out to be a really good opportunity to snap more of both).

And a few local creators.  One of them was an artist I used to work with (not creatively, but rather in a bookstore), but it looks like he's still sketching.  I had attempted to collaborate with him artistically, but it didn't work out.

No, there were pretty much two tables with creators sitting behind them, sketching away.  I had a look at both.  I settled on memorializing the experience with Angry Faerie from Scott Springer.  Neither Angry Faerie the website nor its Facebook page acknowledged Springer's appearance at the con, which was kind of disappointing (I guess even for him this was pretty low-key), but there he was, and I walked away with a Ka-Blam graphic novel collection of this web comic covering developments from its Merlin arc.

I checked around, by the way, and I'm pretty sure it's only available when Springer himself has it on display, or perhaps in local shops as well, so I'm plugging something my audience will only be able to enjoy digitally.  Some of you love that sort of thing.

The web comic, then, is about the Anger Faerie, who lives in Bullfinch, where various genre entities exist and have conflict.  Obviously in the story I read the problem was the historical Merlin.  Springer's style art-wise is anime-based, while his storytelling is very contemporary, on par with what I've seen in other web comics.  It's pretty enjoyable, doesn't take itself too seriously, with some fun, clearly defined characters.  It updates three times weekly.

And just to make sure that you don't think I made a mistake, in the strip the main character is known as the Anger Faerie, but the title mostly definitely identifies her as the Angry Faerie.  Just go with it.

The copy of the con edition I picked up was marked #1 of 25 (as in editions, not number of collections), and I picked up the exclusive variant cover, just because I could.

All in all, not a bad way to commemorate the event, and perhaps now that I'm no longer a con virgin, I may even attend more of them, perhaps even invade some of the major ones (in case you don't follow any of my other thousand blogs, I'm something of a big deal these days, penning a Bluewater bio of Russian superstar Mikhail Prokhorov).

As Springer signed in my copy of Angry Faerie, stay angry!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Beyond the Fringe #1 (DC)

writer: Joshua Jackson
artist: Jorge Jimenez

Full disclosure compels me to admit upfront that this comic was published earlier this year, and was originally serialized online last year.

Fine, and let me just also say for the record that I'm glad I finally stumbled into it.  I read DC's initial Fringe comics, based on the cult TV show, but lost track of them a while back.  I've been a fervent fan of the show since it debuted in 2008.  In case you don't know too much about it, Fringe is another ambitious project created by J.J. Abrams (his active involvement ended fairly soon, though), which follows FBI agent Olivia Dunham as she attempts to solve bizarre cases involving science run amok, which leads her to forming unlikely partnerships with Walter Bishop, the eccentric genius who inadvertently caused many of the problems they've since had to clean up, and his son Peter, whom Walter rescued from an alternate reality after his own son died.

Peter is played by Dawson's Creek alum Joshua Jackson, who is indeed the writer of this very comic.  The fact of his integral role in the alternate reality development that played an increasingly expanded role in the show is also central to the story Jackson chose to explore, what happened to Peter after his entered a particularly ominous machine at the end of the third season, which caused plenty of complications in the fourth when the aftermath of this event forced a monumental reconciliation of everything that had come before it.

The biggest concern was that this machine was meant to settle the affairs of the competing realities, with Peter having to choose between them.  In the one he had fallen in love with Olivia.  In the other he was technically a native.  The choice was not as easy as it might have seemed.  In fact, that's the general theme of the whole show, that nothing is as simple as it seems, from the traditional X-Files freak-of-the-week episodes to the subtle maneuvering of Olivia and the two Bishops from season to season as they confronted the wider forces at play.

Jackson's story is like the missing link that the show didn't quite get to explore about its mythology.  Granted a shortened fifth and final season that will explore the Observers who represent the logical end game of trying to manipulate science for personal gain, Fringe didn't quite get to tell this particular tale, including the role of the enigmatic Sam Weiss in the history-spanning saga that Walter initiated.

It's wickedly fascinating, although incredibly dense.  Jackson does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the show (something previous comics did not always do satisfactorily, mostly because they didn't have the proper vision or scope), and is in the right position to offer an authoritative view of the mythology.  If you love Fringe already this is essential.  If you don't know Walter from Walternate, this may serve as an elaborate initiation.  Until this final season Peter has always had to wait for his story to be told properly.  Well, aside from this comic.

Reading Comics #82 "Manny Trembley"

I first became familiar with Manny Trembley's work when I was an active member of the Digital Webbing community.  At the time Trembley was launching a web comic called PX! with Eric A. Anderson.  I followed PX! for years, and was pretty happy when Image started collecting it under its Shadowline/Silver Lining imprint in graphic novel collections (two volumes).  Trembley and Anderson also collaborated on Sam Noir, which Image published directly.

Then PX! went on permanent hiatus, and I wondered if I would ever hear from either of them again.  Flashforward to this year, a few months ago when Anderson announced on his Facebook page that Trembley was launching a Kickstarter campaign for a new project called Martin Monsterman.  It was a little sad to see that the band indeed had broken up, but knowing that either of them was still pursuing the comic book dream was enough to motivate me.

To my surprise, I learned that Trembley was pursuing this new project through his own FishTank imprint, with an aim to creating books for young readers that don't pander to them but rather engage their imagination.

What was more, he had already put out another book earlier this year, Hoss and Feffer.  Naturally I needed to have a look!  A few weeks ago the book arrived in my mail (packaged with previews of Monsterman and Bamboo, which continues Trembley's interest in pandas, which also feature in PX!, which is short for Panda Xpress, so shortened because of the Asian fast food chain with an incredibly similar name).

Here then was the moment of truth.  I had adored PX!, I mean, really adored it.  Could Trembley, on his own, truly live up to these fond memories?

Well yes, as it turns out.  As I don't ordinarily provide artwork on this blog (which may or may not limit its user-friendliness in an age that really likes images with everything, especially its websites, and especially websites dedicated to comic books, and especially websites dedicated to comic books that pretty much leave all the content to images from comic books with a few witty remarks), I can only refer Trembley's style as being very similar to Skottie Young, Eric Shanower's collaborator in his ongoing adaptations of L Frank Baum's Oz stories for Marvel.  I love that stuff, too.  If you don't know that, then I will once again use Bill Watterson as a reference in regards to Mr. Trembley's work.  Watterson, of course, is responsible for the beloved comic strip Calvin + Hobbes.

Where Watterson could sometimes be hopefully cynical and Young whimsically fantastical, Trembley strives for a playful style that allows his work to match the bountiful imagination of his stories, whether or not Anderson is involved.  Hoss and Feffer is a take on the traditional tortoise-and-the-hare tale, superimposed on the video game culture that has absorbed the last few generations of today's youth.

As a first indication of what FishTank will ultimately represent, H&F suggests that Trembley has his finger on the pulse of a child's perspective on the world which is not, as he'd hoped, childish but rather filled with possibility, the way Watterson and Baum and Dr. Seuss represented it.  Much of what we expect from entertainment not in the form of video games seems to be featured in animated movies these days, filled with moral lessons, but Trembley correctly suggests that children don't always want adults to talk down to them.  If strange and bizarre things happen to them, kids are likely to try and figure out what happens next.  That's what Trembley allows to develop, too.

Hoss and Feffer is his initial offering.  It suggests that Manny Trembley is on to something. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Batman Incorporated #4 (DC)

writer: Grant Morrison
artist: Chris Burnham

Those who worry about the continuity issues between the New 52 version of DC and what came before must still have a problem with Batman Incorporated, which in its original incarnation was Grant Morrison's concluding arc in his grand vision of the Dark Knight.  The series relaunched as part of the second wave of the New 52, and as such is about a year behind the average numbering for the publisher's books.

This is fine, because in any incarnation the series has always been the most accessible Batman from Morrison, even if certain elements demand that you know a few things, such as who all those allies are that've been featured in recent issues.  They're actually the manifestation of the title cooperative, formally known as the Club of Heroes but now so mainstream that Batwing has his own book.  Still most of them have only made sporadic appearances, and the focus remains on Batman and his current Robin, who happens to be his son by way of Talia Head, daughter of Ra's al Ghul.  Talia is the main villain in Morrison's endgame, and is reshaping Gotham in much the way Dr. Hurt attempted to in "Batman R.I.P.," but in that instance mostly in the Dark Knight's head.

Robin, Damian Wayne, has reshaped himself into Redbird (as far as I know a name last known in the franchise as Red Robin Tim Drake's one-time version of the famed Batmobile), who's on the cover alongside Wingman (not a reference, sadly, to How I Met Your Mother), one of the several aliases sported by Bruce Wayne in the issue.

The dynamic between the two, whatever they happen to be calling themselves, is something that has proven crucial to Morrison's Batman.  He previously worked on the first incarnation of Batman and Robin (which actually originally featured Damian and the first Robin, Dick Grayson, who is currently known as Nightwing; clearly identity has been pigeon-holed, correctly, as the dominant theme of this franchise), but it hasn't always been obvious that this would be how he ended his run, even though he's made one visit (and will again) to a point in the future where Damian has accepted the mantle of Batman for himself (must-read: Batman #666).

The series will run for twelve issues (Morrison is withdrawing from Action Comics sooner), which makes it almost sad that we have less than a year to go until it's all over.  Some fans are excited by the return of the Joker (in Scott Snyder's latest crossover event, "Death of the Family").  To me, Batman is still defined by Grant Morrison.  This is an issue that will make you dread the end of this era.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Reading Comics #81 "Essential Wolverine Vol. 2 #3"

My concluding look at Essential Wolverine Vol. 2 encompasses the following issues from the collection:

WOLVERINE #s 34-47 (Marvel)

They were published between 1990 and 1991.  A good chunk of the collection, obviously, and like the last installment mostly featuring the talents of writer Larry Hama (best known for his work with G.I. Joe) and Marc Silvestri (co-founder of Image, founder of Top Cow).

As I expected, Hama quickly ditched both the introspective, nuanced approach of predecessor Jo Duffy as well as the Madripoor setting, relocating Wolverine to Canada and a more traditional problem in the supervillain Lady Deathstrike, whose presence dominates the rest of the collection as well as appearances by Alpha Flight's Puck, Sabretooth, Jubilee, and others.  Jubilee might be viewed as an updated attempt from some of the earlier issues to tie Wolverine back in with the X-Men without bringing in the big guns (though Storm visits) but thanks to Generation X and her presence in the animated series from that era, she remains far more identifiable than any New Mutant characters.

Sabretooth becomes the subject of a fairly nebulous attempt to start explaining more of Wolverine's origins when he claims that he's Logan's father.  For anyone who knows what Marvel eventually revealed about those origins (in a story called, appropriately enough, Origin), this may seem fairly ironic, and is another piece of stark contrast to what writers used to think about what lay in the character's past and what it actually became.  I'm not making up this next bit of trivia from an even earlier version: Wolverine at one point was slated to be revealed to be a mutated wolverine.  No kidding.

Hama does not prove to be the most inspired writer.  He immediately starts to make Wolverine more folksy, as if he suddenly became Dan Rather (just imagine...!), which becomes annoying when all the g's go missing, even in the interior monologue captions, a practice Peter David notably does not continue in a fill-in issue.

When Silvestri disappears in #s 44 and 47, it's a bigger tragedy, though.  His fill-ins aren't nearly as dynamic, making it obvious all over again how the extreme talent of the Image creators affected the standards of comic book art, both in good and not-so-good ways.

Wolverine's costume makes a more regular comeback in these issues as well.  Since this is a black-and-white collection, I have to take the cover image as proof that it's the yellow and brown variant, though I guess there are differences enough with the yellow and blue one he might also have sported that there ought to be no mystery about that.

I won't go into detail about the stories in the collection, mostly because the stories are not really worth remembering.  To give one example, for some reason Hama is fascinated with androids (Silvestri, meanwhile, would later create Cyberforce, perhaps by coincidence), though his choice of subjects is questionable, if not in the so-called substitute Wolverine meant to draw the real one out (but sticking around long past that goal) and Elsie Dee, who is a little girl who talks like Kripke from The Big Bang Theory (and is far less endearing).  And as I suggested earlier, Lady Deathstrike sticks around for ages.  Well, at least she got that appearance in X2: X-Men United, played by Kelly Hu, making up for whatever she lacks here.

On the whole, not the least because it features more modern storytelling, my experience with Essential Wolverine Vol. 2  was better than Essential X-Men Vol. 2.  At some point I would got one of these Essential volumes and it won't be the second one.  You know, probably.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Artifacts #10 & Origins (Top Cow)

writer: Ron Marz, Marc Silvestri
artist: Jeremy Haun, Ryan Sook, various

First off, these are not new comic, but since I bought them off racks containing new comics, I figured I'd treat them as such.  Part of the reason for that is that I want to emphasize that Artifacts is a book currently in print that I very much want to support.

It just so happens that I didn't really know that until Top Cow announced a talent contest that will potentially allow a schmuck like me the chance to write the characters in this series.

The comics I found happen to feature Ji Xi.  The one-shot Origins features exactly that, origins for all thirteen bearers of the eponymous totems of power.

I haven't until now come to appreciate Artifacts because I tend to read most of my superhero comics from DC and sometimes Marvel.  For about a decade Image competed pretty heavily in the superhero genre, but now mostly sticks to Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Invincible, two out of three from its earliest days.  Top Cow was one of the studios that more or less spun off from Image, and thus counts as a solo entity, a small publisher in other words.  Most small publishers trying to do superheroes inevitably prove why they're small publishers trying to do superheroes.  Their effort are bush league.

I assumed Top Cow was the same.  Marc Silvestri launched the imprint with Witchblade (in essence the original Artifact), who originally appeared to be just another member of the '90s bad girls craze, mostly because her costume, which was an extension of her Artifact (worn one hand when not fully activated), covered her body just enough not to show private parts.  The short-lived live action TV series that followed was just one indication that she could be more than just another bad girl.

After The Darkness followed and became another successful franchise, Top Cow solidified itself as an imprint.  Some time later, Ron Marz came along and started to expand the concept that had become central to the imprint.  This eventually resulted in Artifacts.

Artifacts #10 was originally #10 of 13 issues.  It became an ongoing series once everyone realized what they had.  Therefore Marz has had the luxury to continue a slow build on everything he's done so far.  This has meant that a character like Ji Xi can sit back while other characters like Tom Judge take the front seat.  Of all the totem bearers, he's still known for possessing the so-called Thirteenth Artifact, because even the artifact doesn't have a name yet, much less a history.  His appearance in this issue is indicative of his role so far, trying to figure out how he fits in, if he's a villain or a hero (because these Artifacts can go both ways).  It may not be the wisest move to try and understand everything that's going on by reading a random issue like this, but it's still plenty of indication of the quality that's gone into the project, and the strong characters who exist.

Origins, again, presents two-page recaps of the major developments worth knowing about the thirteen characters at the heart of the Artifacts franchise.  Aside from Witchblade, the Darkness, and Ji Xi, there's Angelus (the light that counterbalances the dark), Tom Judge (the Rapture), Glorianna Silver (Ember Stone), Michael Finnegan (Glacier Stone), Alina Enstrom (Pandora's Box), Ian Nottingham (Blood Sword), Sabine (Wheel of Shadows), Magdalena (Spear of Destiny)Abby Van Alstine (Heart Stone), and Aphrodite IV (Coin of Solomon).  Angelus (also known as Dani Baptiste, who once served as a replacement Witchblade), is considered one of the big three in the franchise, along with Witchblade (Sara Pezzini) and the Darkness (Jackie Estacado).  The Magdalena and Aphrodite IV are also known elements of the Top Cow landscape.

What's impressive is that Artifacts has successfully transformed the Top Cow catalog into a working mythology.  I'm embarrassed to admit that it's taken me so long to discover it, much less appreciate it, but at least I have.  I'm making it a mission to try and spread the word, not because I have the vague hope of one day hoping to shape it, but because it's worth supporting in its own right.  If you have no working knowledge of it, Origins is a good way to go.  Otherwise pick up a random issue for yourself and see if it catches your fancy, too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

After Earth: Innocence (Dynamite)

writer: Michael Jan Friedman & Robert Greenberger
artist: Beni Lobel

A one-shot based on the upcoming movie After Earth, this was something of a cheat for a reader who likes to combat his image for reading mostly DC comics.  The movie is directed by M. Night Shyamalan, who has been a favorite of mine since his breakthrough 1999 effort The Sixth Sense, which at once catapulted the filmmaker into superstardom and forever linked him to the idea that he's a one-track talent.  Two years ago he attempted to subvert that idea by helming the big screen adaptation The Last Airbender, based on a different Avatar than the one that became one of the biggest box office success stories of all time.  Critics and audiences still seemed to chafe at having a second look at Shyamalan's talents, but I found it to be a refreshing look at a fantasy epic as well as a fresh spin on his instincts (though he does that in all of his films, whether recognized or not).

Anyway, After Earth seems to be a continuation of this, if the Innocence one-shot is any indication.  Innocence itself is a self-contained an highly entertaining look at the overarching concepts behind the film.  I don't know whether to outline those concepts or not, spoilers being such an important part of the Shyamalan mystique (highly exaggerated as it may be).

Okay, here it goes: Earth has to be abandoned, and the society that survives is split into two warring groups that only grudgingly cooperate.  Things get worse when humanity comes under siege from an alien menace that is superior to any weapon yet developed.

That's pretty much it.  The story hinges, however, on the idea of legacies in a more human sense, from generation to generation and father to son.  As I said, the one-shot reads extremely well, especially for something derived from a movie.  Those projects are always hit-or-miss, let alone for ones that haven't even happened yet.  What's even more impressive is that the story makes you care for a high concept and legitimately leaves you wanting more.  There's plenty to tell here.

I could go on, I suppose, especially at how After Earth reflects concepts rarely attributed to Shyamalan but present in all his films, but I'll let you decide if I've begun to change any of your ideas, or if the movie or this comic sounds appealing on their own merits.