Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quick Hits 4

Superman #39 (DC)
Geoff Johns concludes his run with a gentle character study replete with his trademark insights.  Sad to see him go, but it's always good to have him visit with the Man of Steel.

Batman #39 (DC)
A cover-stripped and therefore freebie edition because of some issue or another, which nonetheless allowed me to read another installment of "Endgame," in which Batman hopes to discover the Joker's secrets from the Court of Owls, with anemic results, alas.  I keep expecting Scott Snyder to rise to expectations created by his high profile, and he keeps backing off.  Far more intriguing is the James Tynion IV backup featuring an almost-origin of the Joker.  It's clever, how the story unfolds, because at first it really does seem as if we've finally found out who he was and how he came to be, but then of course we find out it's just another of Joker's sadistic jokes, and it may actually be the best thing the Joker has done in the New 52.  Trace the story backward through previous comics (Batman Annual #2), and you've probably got a pretty good standalone collection right there.

Divinity #2 (Valiant)
So I'm becoming something of a Matt Kindt junkie.  I thought this was a standalone mini-series, but apparently it's tied in with Valiant's superheroes.  Still interesting, though.  The whole thing comes from an intriguing angle, a Russian cosmonaut from the '60s inexplicably coming back, without having aged, with extraordinary abilities, having broken the taboo of forming a romantic relationship prior to heading out into space...

MIND MGMT #25-31 (Dark Horse)
Catching up with the series to date leads to a number of fateful encounters (that's the crux of the whole series, really, unraveling the mystery of what happened and in the process leading to a long-in-coming conclusion to something, basically, that's already over).  Like Supreme: Blue Rose, it reminds me of Mike Costa's Cobra.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Reading Comics 155 "Blasts III"

I went sifting through recent back issues again...

Catwoman #27 (DC)
Detective Comics #28 (DC)

I've been obsessed with trying to track down "Gothtopia" issues since Detective Comics #27 was released last year with (among a lot of excellent content) John Layman's kickoff for the arc.  It turned out to be a Scarecrow story, but its look at a hopeful Batman and surrounding family, including Catwoman, who was dubbed Catbird, complete with a costume update mixing in elements of Robin's traditional look (that cover is from the Dodsons).  Either I've been overlooking that one copy of Detective 28 or I don't know, it spontaneously appeared in bins I've been rifling for months now.  Previously, elsewhere, I found the conclusion of the arc, so it's a nice bonus to fill in some of the gaps.

This is the first New 52 Catwoman I've read, and the first Catwoman, really, since the '90s (in the height of the Jim Balent era featuring a costume and anatomy that in hindsight really makes very little sense for the character).  I'm glad I read the Detective issue, too, as it connects all the cerebral dots and may actually be the finest Batman I've read from Layman.

Jim Henson's The Storyteller: Witches #1 (Archaia)

Based on a short-lived TV series the late creator of the Muppets launched in 1988, this is fairy tale storytelling in the manner of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson.  As represented by S.M. Vidaurri, who writes, draws, and letters in an exquisitely imaginative manner, this is an excellent bid to once again expand Henson's legacy.

Vidaurri also happens to present a tale that fits right in the current trend of strong female protagonists in fantasy, featuring a young princess who cleverly solves the riddle of her brother's disappearance and the only way to avoid the curse that had been meant to be leveled against their father.

The page I've reproduced on the left is one of the easier to follow.  Most of the pages require a little more scrutiny than readers are probably used to employing.  Some of the best creative work I've seen in comics.

Larfleeze #8, 9, 10, 11, 12 (DC)

The final five issues of the series that I greedily (finally!) snatched up.  When the series was still being published, for whatever reason I skipped over it month after month.  What a dastardly shame!  But seriously, Larfleeze was likely always a short-term proposition, especially given how its main character by definition plays extremely hard to play with.  Unless you're G'Nort.  Which, by the way, is pronounced "Nort," not "G Nort," which is what idiots like me have been doing for years, even with occasional correction.  G'Nort is infamously the most pathetic Green Lantern ever, and so of course is the other one famously featured in Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis's Bwa-ha-ha League comics (one clue as to the other: "One punch!").

Finally pairing Larfleeze with G'Nort is just one of the brilliant repositioning moves Giffen and DeMatteis make in these final issues.  They also find Larfleeze a bride, Sena the Wanderer, part of a pantheon about as pathetic as everyone else in the series.  Anyone brave enough to tell Larfleeze stories in the future would be wise to keep all three (plus hapless butler Stargrave!).  The key to telling a good Larfleeze story is to keep him in adequate context (*cough* Deadpool writers), which this series nailed.

The art from Scott Kolins rendered the misadventures with all the dignity absolutely no one deserved, by the way.

MIND MGMT #1, 19, 24 (Dark Horse)

You know how you can hear how awesome something is a hundred times, not really pay attention, and then all of a sudden you give it a real chance and you totally get it?

That's what happened here.

Okay, so technically someone pulled a dirty trick, too, perhaps some mind management (that's the title of the series without abbreviation, by the way; honestly not knowing exactly what that was had been one of my main stumbling blocks), when I looked at the letters column in #19 and saw how Matt Kindt have been advocating Roberto Bolano's 2666.  I love that book.  Subsequently, when I see that someone else has discovered its brilliance, and has been actively recommending it, that's an excellent way to get in my good graces.

The three issues I sampled were more than enough to see that MIND MGMT is special indeed.  It's a little like if J.J. Abrams had combined Alias and Lost (Fringe comes close, actually), about a team of government operatives formed in the wake of Franz Ferdinand's assassination, a story ripe for an era where spying has once again gripped the public's imagination (for dubious reasons, alas).  And it's a story that unfolds more quickly than you might think.  The first issue introduces Meru, a desperate writer looking for her last lifeline and finding it in the anniversary of a flight that became known for every passenger suddenly coming down with amnesia.  All except one (the Henry Lyme seen and referenced on the cover of #24 seen above).  At this point you might expect an Orson Welles story, but Kindt quickly produces Lyme, and the story only becomes deeper from there.

And I've only read three issues.  And you want to know the most insane part of this whole thing?  There are only a half dozen issues remaining!  So I've caught the bug just in time, haven't I?  This happened to me with Y: The Last Man, too, only I was able to follow about the last year of that series.
Next time I'm at the shop, I'll be picking up more issues.  And hopefully catching the rest of the series.

Quick Hits 3

 The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #2 and 5 (Valiant)

I headed to my local comics shop with the hope to pick up the complete series, but ended up with just two issues, which is fine in a certain sense, given that one of them directly followed the first issue, which was what hooked me, and the other was the final issue of the mini-series.

In a lot of ways, this was more of a modern take on Vertigo than DC has been doing in the New 52, pulsing with an intrinsic grasp of arcane magic as a workable reality, sort of what Grant Morrison would be doing if he weren't so confrontational in most of his comics.  The writer, of course, is Jen Van Meter.  The covers are pretty great, too, including the one on the left from Travel Forman, while interior artist Roberto De La Torre is equally impressive.

The best news from the last issue is that the title is returning in Death-Defying Doctor Mirage: Second Life, to be eagerly anticipated whenever it appears on the publishing schedule.

And, this:

Mister X: Razed #1 (Dark Horse)
The best thing Dark Horse has been doing is keeping Dean Motter's Mister X alive, not only in reprints but in new comics as well.  This is the first time I catch first-run.  Apparently Motter always wanted to do holiday-themed comics with his famed insomniac architect.  This Christmas-themed issue is a little late (even though I'm a little late reading it myself, it was still late on original release), but still a lot of fun.

Ms. Marvel #13 (Marvel)
Honestly, my interest in the series had been waning.  But this issue has reminded me all over again what makes it great.  Kamala finds a soulmate, perhaps, in more ways than she could have dreamed.  Will the rest of the arc prove otherwise?  We wait with baited breath...

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Digitally Speaking...47 "Evil Inc."

via comiXology
Evil Inc. Monthly #7 (Greystone Inn)
From 2012.

This seems to be a tepid genre satire, in this issue featuring superheroes and movie monsters, taking the form of a web comic and subsequently collected in comic book format.

Except the jokes pull all their punches, and there are odd streaks of sentimentality, such as the opening arc featuring a superhero family with a father and son who can't say they love each other.

I guess the best you could say about Evil Inc. is that it would be ideal reading for a young audience which happens to already know the tropes.  I don't see it appealing to more mature readers except maybe that young audience's parents.  It's like that family movie that probably won't be very popular but still found wide release anyway.

Digitally Speaking...46 "Escape From the Dead"

via comiXology
Escape From the Dead #1 (Grind House)
From 2014.

This is a preview issue for the series, and as such doesn't really get into the story too much, other than generally introducing the main character and suggesting a problem with zombies.  But doesn't everyone?

More notable than the writing is the art, which comes from Cliff Richards, who has done plenty of mainstream work over at DC, which makes it kind of surprising to see him doing something like this.  Clearly a cut above your average indy art talent, Richards easily drives the story along even when you're not sure how much you care about it.

But the best thing about the story itself?  This line.  It's a classic, and includes the leading contender should I ever decide to change the name of this blog:
This mission was a chicken wire canoe from the beginning.

Digitally Speaking...45 "EGOs"

via Image
EGOs #1 (Image)
From 2014.

Sort of the Geoff Johns version of the Legion of Super-Heroes crossed with Firefly.

The writer is Stuart Moore, whom I actually liked a great deal circa One Year Later Firestorm.  His approach to EGOs is pretty interesting, using a narrator with a vested interest much like Saga.  He introduces two generations of a superhero team in the future (I don't particularly like the name of the team, and in conjunction, the title of the series, it must be said), and gradually we learn more about it.  Because the focus isn't really on the team (either generation), you don't have to worry too much if superheroes aren't particularly your thing.  This series is part of the new generation of science fiction comics first and foremost.

(The other thing I don't particularly like is that cover, but the art inside is better.  Also, the logo looks like something Top Cow coughed up.)

Recently I figured out that comiXology's Guided View mode is very much a reader's friend.  As its name suggests, it literally breaks each page into word-directed pieces, so there's far less trouble reading some of the peskier lettering jobs than might otherwise be the case.  The other benefit, which EGOs amply demonstrates, is that sometimes the particular art style of the given series really pops.  Guided View, which is to say, brings out the more sarcastic elements of Moore's script.

Descender #1 (Image)

via Jeff Lemire
writer: Jeff Lemire

artist: Dustin Nguyen

Imagine Independence Day crossed with A.I. Artificial Intelligence crossed with Blade Runner.  Great, now you have a general idea of what Descender is all about.

Jeff Lemire needs little introduction at this point, having become a real force in mainstream and indy comics through various works.  His collaborator for this project (Lemire typically does his own art), however, is all but getting a new introduction with Descender, and this is a very good thing.

I previously knew Dustin Nguyen from his Batman: Streets of Gotham work, but he truly began to stand out with Batman: L'il Gotham.  His use of pastel coloring, combined with his deceptively simple style, was the other big draw of the wonderful character work featured in L'il Gotham.  This is exactly the Nguyen that shows up in Descender.

When I say art is becoming crucial again in comics, you must understand that this is a completely different statement than it would have been in the '90s, during the height of the Image revolution.  There was a decided lack of subtlety, and a curious lack of real art, at that time.  Thanks to Fiona Staples, Tula Lotay, J.H. Williams III and others, art is becoming a big draw again today, art that enhances and complements the focus on writing that became the answer to the '90s boom.  Lemire certainly has the credentials and the chops to back up that half.  It's great to see Nguyen get his shot at a true showcase, because I think that may be the best way to sell Descender.

via Jeff Lemire
And he absolutely nails his big opportunity.  He's already been a favorite of mine.  With this project, I think a lot of other people are going to become fans of Dustin Nguyen.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Quick Hits 2

Here's some more quick hits.

In your face!  (Funnier if you had
had worked with me at Borders.)
Aquaman and the Others #11 (DC)
This is my first issue of the series.  And it's also the last issue of the series.  I can see why.  

Earth 2: World's End #22 (DC)
Based on the preview cards and the same material appearing in all of DC's releases last week for next month's Convergence, I'd say this particular weekly is leading directly into it.  That and the end of this very issue.

Grayson #8 (DC)
This was a great week for ending things, I guess.  Dick's boss in Spyral, Minos, plays his hand.  And totally gets played.  Not brilliant, but probably the best regular issue I've read from the series to date.

The New 52: Futures End #44 (DC)
At some point, Superman officially made his return.  I like that he's back to the t-shirt look.  This is easily the best issue I've read of the series to date.

Saga #26 (Image)
In which Marko becomes a hopeless drug addict?  I know Hamburger K. Vaughan prefers paper correspondence, but here're my answers to the reader survey, results featured this issue: 1) Carter, 2) male, 3) no, 4) Green Lantern, 5) never left the good ol' USofA, 6) absurd (probably), 7) middle-to-late in the pack, 8) Peter Ackroyd's English Music, but to make things less obscure, Dan's Brown's Angels & Demons, 9) I generally support Israel's right to exist, 10) lately it's been cookie dough bites, 11) yeah, 12) no, 13) addicted to comics?, 14) One.org, 15) actually, because I tend to imagine the worst anyone could call me, people don't tend to vocalize it themselves, 16) we'll say it's a many cartoons tie, 17) I had to look up the best novel I've read recently, 18) I don't remember the name of it, but that one I was obsessed with a decade ago, 19) actually, pretty much every day, 20) none, 21) not yet, 22) U2's Songs of Innocence, 23) none, 24) for expansion of your cultural awareness, 25) hopefully for being a good brother, son, and having written a decent story or two.

Supreme: Blue Rose #7 (Image)
The biggest end of the batch and the best by far, this one concludes Warren Ellis's whole statement on the continuing legacy of Supreme by literally writing into the narrative that the poor guy actually waits for reboots.  Classic.
Yes, the title flower is a maguffin.
But a good one.

Digitally Speaking...44 "Dust: Withered Earth"

via Goodreads
Dust: Withered Earth
From 2013.

There's really not much to say about this other than how crude it is.  Crude art.  Crude writing.  Crude storytelling.  Even the use of digital lettering is crude as used in conjunction with the crude art.  It's hard to imagine that anyone thought this was a project in its current state that was worth completing much less releasing.  But people tend to do that a lot.  (Hey, it is easier that way, right?  Sometimes you can forgive creators.  Sometimes you absolutely can't.)  Above and beyond all that, it's a Western, so it should be crude, right?  But crude in Westerns is Deadwood.  This is just inexcusable.  And the worst thing about it is the cover.  Don't judge a book by its cover, right?  That cover looks far too refined for what's to be found within.  But a lot of creators do that, too, right?  

Basically, run far, far away.

Digitally Speaking...43 "Dumbing of Age"

via Goodreads
Dumbing of Age Vol. 1: This Campus is a Friggin' Escher Print
From 2013.

When you're not a fan of a comic strip, or at least previously familiar with it, reading a whole collection can be something of a chore.  And Dumbing of Age isn't even a regular comic strip, but a web comic.  Dun dun duuuun!

What are web comics, you ask?  They're the Internet alternative to those things some people buy newspapers to read, or perhaps even read online, because so many newspapers don't have the good ones (or devote a decent amount of space to reprints of comic strips that aren't even being made anymore.  Some web comics have even gone on to have significant mainstream awareness.  None to the level of comic strips proper, mind you, but Internet famous is still famous (so says an age where YouTube stars boast millions of hits and...no name recognition).  As such, web comics are sometimes collected, and those collections might end up with the same little bits of commentary you'll find in collections for comic strips you, ah, actually heard of.

Anyway, so that's what this is.  It's not even the first iteration of the cartoon's creations as featured therein.  New readers will be completely lost about everyone that devoted fans will take for granted.  And hey, I used to read a bunch of web comics, too, but these things operate like illustrated sitcoms.  Not cartoons.  Not comic books.  Illustrated sitcoms.  Or a whole series of movies like SuperBad, or, basically, the American Pie films.

Dumbing of Age is great fun, until you realize it's not done yet, and it's still being created even as you're realizing it's not done yet just in the collection you're reading.  David Willis jokes about how the previous incarnation compressed so much of the early college experience.  Well, this version's massively decompressed indeed.  It's not bad, but it's a whole commitment.  Are you ready, punk?  Well, are you?

That's the only real obstacle here.  Imagine Scott Pilgrim but with a lot fewer video game references.  Or evil exes.  And no sweet garage bands.  Alas.

And yes, the reference to M.C. Escher in the title is something you would totally have gotten while you were still in school.

Digitally Speaking...42 "Doc Unknown"

via comiXology
Doc Unknown #1 (Believe In)
From 2013.

Sort of Batman: the Animated Series (acknowledged by writer Fabian Rangel Jr. as his chief inspiration) crossed with The Spirit, Doc Unknown is a fairly straightforward affair.  If Atomic Robo could be said to be the essence of science superheroes, Doc Unknown could be considered that same for detective superheroes.

Given that there are in fact so few detective superheroes these days, that Batman himself only occasionally functions that way, and The Spirit only makes sporadic engagements, does that leave Doc Unknown all alone?

Maybe so!

Bottom line is, this is a fine alternative for anyone who's tired of trying to keep up with years and years of continuity.  For all intents and purposes, Doc Unknown stands unique.  It's fast and loose (one second you feel bad for the villain, the next you can forget all about that).  I don't know if subsequent stories explain the hero's uncanny ability to speak with the dead (the issue includes a previous collaboration between the creators that makes it clear it's an idea of theirs that predates this comic), but it certainly seems like the most interesting element to me, and hopefully it's at least a continuing feature.

Digitally Speaking...41 "Diskordia"

via comiXology
Diskordia #1
From 2013.

Somehow this lasted for another ten issues, ending only late last year.  I have no explanation.  I know there's a certain amount of creativity going on here, and a lot of alternative lifestyling, too, a lot of rebellion.  If that sounds like it's worth it to you, then by all means, have a look.  The naked lady with the squid on her head is saying that the cover image is a lie.  A horrible, horrible lie!

But hey, that squid makes a pretty awesome hat.  How come Diskordia is the first time I've ever seen a squid used as a hat?

Digitally Speaking...40 "Detective Honeybear"

via Detective Honeybear
Detective Honeybear #1 (Creator Owned)
From 2013.

Please note, creators of Detective Honeybear: Speech inflections do not generally work in prose.  In an audio/visual medium (you know, film and television), this sort of character trait can work very well indeed.  Who doesn't love Kripke in The Big Bang Theory?

But in prose it's annoying.

Unfortunately, Detective Honeybear's speech inflection is exactly like Kripke's, and it's one of two defining features of the Detective Honeybear comic itself, including the fact that our dear Detective Honeybear is the only character to feature color in an otherwise black and white world.  

We get it.  It's supposed to be cutesy.  But it's not.  And the inflection is the worst idea.  Why cripple an idea that would be cutesy without drawing negative attention to this fact?

Solve that mystery, Detective Honeybear...

Digitally Speaking...39 "Department O"

via Monkey Pipe
Department O #1 (Monkey Pipe)
From 2013.

It's extremely hard to explain what it is, so I'm going to have to explain what it's not.

Department O was not drawn by Brian Churilla.  You know, Brian Churilla, as featured in the pages of The Anchor and The Secret History of D.B. Cooper.  Both great, off-the-wall reads, by the way.  And hey, what's Brian Churilla up to these days, anyway?

Mostly, Department O can be summed up as not being drawn by Brian Churilla because the art does look vaguely like his, at least insofar as it's very hard not to notice.  In fact, in the early pages, it's really the only thing happening at all.

Which makes the whole thing more confusing.  Not because of the art, mind you.  Thank Andrew MacLean for the art, but not for the confusion.  It's not his fault Brian Churilla has worked with equally exceptional writers and he hasn't, at least in the pages of Department O.

If Department O actually explains what Department O is, I must have missed it.  The lettering isn't too great, either, mind you.

Also, Brian Churilla.  Apparently he's been doing a Big Trouble in Little China comic lately, in case you were wondering.

Digitally Speaking...38 "The Demon's Sermon"

via Goodreads
The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts: A Graphic Novel (Shambhala Publications)
From 2013

A graphic novel presentation of Japanese philosophy familiar from Buddhism, concerning making peace by eliminating distinctions, basically.  Or, as Frozen suggested, "let it go."  Accompanied by playful illustrations of the various creatures who convey its ideas, Demon's Sermon, as with any form of philosophy or self-help, will either tell you what you need to know, or it won't.  Or, just maybe, give you a little encouragement along your way.

...So no, this has nothing to do with Ra's al Ghul.

Digitally Speaking...37 "The Delinquents"

via Valiant Universe
The Delinquents #1 (Valiant)
From 2014.

Archer & Armstrong.  Quantum & Woody.  Together.  Except out of those four names, you really only need to know one name:


As in, they totally Deadpooled this series.  "They" as in James Asmus and Fred Van Lente.  Asmus is the writer of Quantum while Van Lente is responsible for Archer.  I actually came away from the Quantum reboot when I sampled it thinking somewhat positively.  But yeah, totally Deadpooled.

It's more disappointing seeing Van Lente in this kind of form.  I know him best from Action Philosophers and the various Hercules comics he did with Greg Pak for Marvel.  Those were funny.  Here, he's, yeah, Deadpooled.

Look, I appreciate hobos just as much as anyone else.  But enough about Asmus and Van Lente.  Ha!  Seriously, though, this is a bunch of nonsense.  And I'm not even sure "Delinquents" was the best term to use for those hobos.  I mean, bozos.  


This may be the real legacy of the great Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Bwa-ha-ha League.  Sad to see.

Digitally Speaking...36 "The Deep"

via Gestalt Comics
The Deep #1 (Gestalt)
From 2013.

For a lot of comics fans, Tom Taylor seemed to come out of nowhere when he succeeded James Robinson as writer of Earth 2.  Thankfully, he does have a secret origin, that may or may not involve fire-eating and doomsday weapons.

And The Deep.

Hey, you know Pixar, right?  It's the animation studio that rewrote all the rules that used to govern animation studios, not just in converting them from being hand-drawn to digital playgrounds, but in their whole mindset.  They became a lot more playful.

Even if every other animation studio does things more or less the Pixar way these days, you can still tell when it's a Pixar movie.  

The Deep is the first time I've seen a Pixar movie done by someone else.  Much less in a comic book rather than in a movie.  Hang around enough aspiring writers and you will see them trying to ape what they see in movies or TV shows (I'm sure it's the same with what they read, too, but our cultural currency split off from the common reading experience long before it happened with TV shows and to a far less extent, movies).  I don't think Taylor set out to do this, but I think the Pixar language itself has permeated popular culture so, ah, deeply at this point, it's not surprising to see something like this happen.

The Deep concerns a family that could very easily be the stars of a Pixar movie (probably one better than The Incredibles, which is a statement I will not continue because it would be an even longer digression than talking about Pixar in general), and Taylor's best move is clearly how well he gets their dynamics, especially the two children, one of whom is trying to teach his fish Jeffrey how to fetch, and the other of whom thinks this is stupid.  That sequence alone is gold.

I totally get in an instant why Taylor became in an instant such a hot commodity.  The only thing that's odd about all this is that The Deep was published by Gestalt rather than, y'know, a company anyone actually knows.  This is the kind of comic book that could very easily help younger readers become fans of the medium.  Instead, most of the typical material for this mission is directly based on known commodities.  

Better lead the job to an oddity.  A good one!  And yes, Tom Taylor.

Digitally Speaking...35 "Death-Defying Doctor Mirage"

via Comic Book Resources
The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1 (Valiant)
From 2014.

Holy crap.

Let me rephrase that: Holy crap, I love this one.  Valiant is home to a lot of wandering superheroes, Doctor Mirage among them.  It's a company specializing in trying to be an alternative to DC and Marvel, and mostly, as has been the story for decades, that's not really a winning cause.  When you're trying to be an alternative, it shows.  

Instead of trying to do its own thing and being an alternative, Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is merely doing its own thing, and yes, it shows.

In a very, very good way.  It's very reminiscent of what Warren Ellis has done in the pages of Supreme: Blue Rose, actually.  Going in, I really had no concept of who or what Doctor Mirage is supposed to be.  In this series at least, it's a woman who happens to be a medium, and she's just been recruited for the case of her life.

Jan Van Meter is a creator I previously admired in the pages of JSA All-Stars for a series of backup features.  I always hoped to catch up with her again, but I didn't expect, somehow, for the circumstances to have found her significantly improving her game like this.  It's just not usual.  Usually, someone stays comfortably at the same creative level.  Let there be no mistake here: Death-Defying Doctor Mirage is Jen Van Meter's ticket to the big time.  

It's a five-issue mini-series, by the way, that concluded earlier this year.  This is incredibly handy.  I'm going to read the rest of it.  With all these digital samples I've been reading, it's been very rare for me to actively want to keep reading.  I've liked some stuff very much that had more material waiting for me.  In this instance, I'm beyond eager to pull the trigger.

Digitally Speaking...34 "Deadpool"

via Launchpad Comics
Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth #1 (Marvel)
From 2009.

Yeah, so, Deadpool.

Deadpool is the embodiment of how mainstream audiences view superheroes these days.  And not just mainstream audiences anymore, it seems, but even comic books fans.  Hence all the success of Harley Quinn.

Deadpool represents the idea of not taking the experience too seriously.  Not in a Batman & Robin kind of way, but much more thoroughly.  Deadpool is the superhero whose face under the mask literally couldn't matter less.  Like Spawn, he's got an ugly, scarred mug.  Unlike Spawn, there's no real reason for that, no deeper story to be explored.  Deadpool is Spider-Man without any of that great responsibility crap.

And in consequence of all that, how you feel about Deadpool probably depends on how you feel about superheroes in general.  And how you read Deadpool should depend on how he's written.  Last year I managed to find Deadpool worth reading.  Fully embraced, he's really no different from Atomic Robo.  He's both a commentary on everything you know and a vehicle that drives itself, even though inherently there's not a lot going on.  What I mean is, taken for what he is, Deadpool practically writes himself.

Unfortunately, Marvel likes Deadpool so much it's willing to do any and everything with him.  And the fact is, Deadpool has limits.  So when I don't like Deadpool, I mean I hate the lazy writers who've been allowed to waste time writing Deadpool stories that are the laziest stories those writers will ever tell.  

I hate lazy writers, by the way.

Merc with a Mouth featured gimmick covers as demonstrated.  And gimmick crossovers, which all lazy Deadpool stories do.  This one with Ka-Zar, Marvel's Tarzan.  There's actually a good Deadpool story in there somewhere, but it's completely buried by lazy Deadpool nonsense.  I've seen good Deadpool nonsense.  This is what happens when a company wants to tell a lot of stories with a character but doesn't really know how to do it, even though it seems obvious.  Deadpool is not Wolverine, who was never Batman.  You can't just tell any old story.  Not with a character this limited.  

And yes, the crazy thing is, Deadpool has no limits.  But in the wrong hands, he's completely limited.  If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read any random Deadpool comic.

Or if you still don't know what I'm talking about, you're Deadpool's target audience.  And why we're exactly flirting with Batman & Robin territory again.  Thanks, fans...

Digitally Speaking...33 "Deadly Class"

via Image
Deadly Class #1 (Image)
From 2014.

The last time I read an issue of this comic, I kind of got what Rick Remender was doing.  But I was also kind of lost.  Deadly Class is not a series you can jump into the middle of, as it turns out.

But when you start at the beginning, you will probably have a much better idea of what it is.

A mix between Mark Millar's Wanted, Grant Morrison's Invisibles, and Brian Michael Bendis's Ultimate Spider-Man, Deadly Class starts out much more grounded in the real world than any of them, detailing the life of a lost youth suffering from suicidal depression at having been left completely behind by the rest of the world.  There's a fair bit of real world details stuck in, specifically Reagan's America (although it's not really a period story otherwise; this could just as easily be set in the present).

Then he's approached by representative of a special school.  Not for mutants.  For students training to become assassins.

And, more or less, the first issue ends.  And suddenly, I wouldn't mind reading more of Deadly Class.  I had this issue in my comiXology cue when I read the other one I've sampled to date sometime last year (#6), but such was my reaction that I didn't feel particularly compelled to seek out more of the story at that point.  

This is something of a personal project for Remender, a comics veteran who lately has done some off-the-wall and yet compelling work with Captain America.  I'd recommend Deadly Class as an ideal way to see how much potential Remender really has.

As for any digital comments, as always I think this is a format that exposes the limits of current lettering capabilities.  In normal mode at comiXology, it's hard to read Deadly Class properly.  This is not a knock against Deadly Class itself, but, as I said, against the whole lettering profession.  You would certainly think, along with all the digital inking and in some cases even art, lettering would not even remotely be a problem today.  But incredibly, it is.  Considering how many psychopaths we have reading comics (and watching things) on tiny devices, I can't imagine how this has not been a problem already addressed and corrected at this point.  Seriously.  

And yeah, this is not a problem one has with physical comics.

Digitally Speaking...32 "Deadhorse"

via Amazon
Deadhorse Vol. 1: Dead Birds (Frankenstein's Daughter)
From 2013.

Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this.  I couldn't really follow the story at all.  It seems to have spontaneously written itself, following an internal logic that leaves the reader behind.  Part of a bundle I got at comiXology, Deadhorse follows a whole trend of somewhat similar comic book storytelling, but is not a particularly good example of it.  But the art is pretty good, even if I personally would imagine it in a slightly more...subdued?...context.

The title refers to Deadhorse, Alaska, but that's about as much as is really relevant, even the concept of the dead birds in the volume's subtitle.  It's like a Jeff Lemire comic done horribly wrong.  

Digitally Speaking...31 "The Dead"

via James Maddox
The Dead #1
From 2014.

Just as most of the comics anyone knows feature the central gimmick of superheroes, most of the rest try to feature their own gimmick.  And with most of them, you can see the little wheels turning in the heads of the creators, trying to come up with a unique gimmick.  Which means, very often, those little wheels are squeaking.  They need some oil.  

Which is to say, the gimmick comes off like a gimmick.  Such is the case with The Dead, an afterlife series about a conception of Heaven that's not particularly religious although it does toss some standard concepts around.  Instead, and I guess I haven't always appreciated this, there's some fairly competent creating going on here.  The art is fine.  The writing is fine.  Given a tossup of the two, I'd choose the art of Jen Hickman over the writing of James Maddox.

Maddox chose a gimmick on top of a gimmick, and is so eager to get to the second gimmick he kind of glosses over the first one.  There's no need for me to talk about the main character, for instance, because he's lost in the mad dash for gimmicks.  And by the way, I'm not saying "gimmick" in an inherently negative way.  But when handled poorly, surely it must be inflected that way, yes?

Everyone gets their own personalized "rooms" in Heaven, their starting points.  The main character in The Dead doesn't get that.  Either Maddox didn't really explain why in the first issue, or I lost a sufficient amount of interest that it didn't end up making a difference one way or another.

And look, when I criticize something, I try and explain why it didn't work for me.  In the case of The Dead, it's because in his rush to be unique, Maddox obscured his intentions.  I always like to say, make sure you know your concept better than your reader.  It doesn't matter how many readers end up actually getting it.  The ones who do will love you for it.  And that's the name of the game, isn't it?  People got Superman.  And now there are superheroes everywhere.  Just like everyone gets the idea of the afterlife.  But you've got to make sure your version has clarity.  Not just magic bottles of alcohol.

Unless that's your thing.  In that instance, The Dead is perhaps a bootlegger's fever dream.  For the rest of us, The Dead is an experiment that will hopefully lead its creators to better things.  

Monday, March 2, 2015

Quick Hits February 2015

Batman and Robin #39 (DC)
Still trying to adjust to the impending status change to Gleason's solo Robin, Son of Batman.  But this was a fun, and far less emotionally heavy issue from the waning days of the Tomasi era.  Damian and Billy Batson.  Need.  To.  Have.  Their own.  Series.

Django/Zorro #4 (Dynamite) 
Wagner has slowly brought Django into the narrative.  Now we're seeing how he fits in to Zorro's grand Arizona adventure.

G.I. Joe: Snake Eyes, Agent of Cobra #2 (IDW) 
Well, now Costa ain't even pretending this is not a direct continuation of his previous Cobra saga.  This is a good thing.

Justice League #39 (DC) 
A rather abrupt end to "The Amazo Virus."  Ever since Citizen Cold, I've been thinking Leonard Snart could easily use a bigger spotlight.  This issue continues that.

Ms. Marvel #12 (Marvel) 
The Loki issue.  Honestly, I've started cooling on this series.

The Multiversity: Mastermen (DC) 
Morrison and Lee keep the Multiversity in high gear.

Red Lanterns #39 (DC) 
Walker is slightly less impressive in his second issue, but is still on-point.

Thor Annual #1 (Marvel) 
CM Punk's story is hilarious, and hilariously aided by Chew artist Rob Guillory.  It's also surprising to see a Raphael Albuquerque cover on a Marvel comic.
And an older issue:

Justice League #23.4 (DC) 
Featuring a direct Forever Evil tie-in and another Flashpoint link-of-sorts.