Monday, October 08, 2018

Old Comics Teach Boys How to Be Men

Everyone knows Golden Age Comics can be, to be kind, inappropriate.  Have you ever wondered how the Silverage stacked up?  Well wonder no more because I'm about to tell you.

The book, Sarge Steel #1, from Charlton Comics, published December 1964.

The question, what to do when a woman is crying?  See the panel below...




So, what could you do?  Hug her to sooth her?  Talk to her calmly until she isn't frightened?

NOPE!  WRONG ON BOTH COUNTS!




And now you know how to deal with crying women!

Oh my on my how times have changed.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

The Place Holder

So, today was my day to post and... I'm way behind.

Why?  Lots of reasons but one of them was the fact that I was in Cali this week. 

And if you were convinced that Cali is it's own unique little corner of the universe, check out this sign.  It seems like an ordinary sign sign you would see in any ol'parking lot.



BUT, upon closer inspection you will notice that my car, and the fact that I need to drive the car to work are equivalent to a pack of cigarettes?  Oh my.  A close up in case you can't see it...

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Goodbye, Norm

I learned that artist/writer Norm Breyfogle passed away six days ago on September the 24th. He was fifty-eight years old. It's been a tough week in part because it broke my heart. His art was an extremely important part of my comic book consumption throughout middle school and high school. This was the second time I was given sad news about him, and the only thing I can possibly hope for is that he found peace.

Breyfogle is probably best known for his run with the Batman family characters. He worked on Detective Comics, Batman, and helped launch The Shadow of the Bat title. Breyfogle co-created characters like Ventriloquist, Anarchy, Victor Zsasz, Jeremiah Arkham, Amygdala, and Ratcatcher. Probably his most important creation along the way was his co-creation of Ultraverse's flagship character Prime. He worked on lots of different comics including having a run on Archie Comics in 2008.


The most influential part of his contribution to the Batman mythos (in my opinion) was not the co-creation of some of the previously mentioned characters, but his redesign of the Robin costume given to Tim Drake. It remains my favorite and arguably inspires every version of Robin's costume since. I can't even look at Damian's horrible redesign without thinking that Breyfogle's original design and Tim Drake wore it better.

I loved remembering Breyfogle and his art, but it was bittersweet receiving the news of his death. I like to remember him and look through his art, but I'm sad he's gone. After working on a Batman Beyond Unlimited digital comic in 2012-2013 (which was collected in print), I thought he was going to have a resurgence drawing mainstream comics again. His work on Batman Beyond was pure joy and I adored it.

In 2014 Breyfogle suffered a stroke which left him paralyzed on his left side. He drew with his left hand, and although he did recover movement, he couldn't draw anymore. I can't imagine what it is like to have what you love taken away from you like that. He was pretty honest and upfront about it and chronicled his struggles online through social media. He seemed a kind and gracious creator and I knew he was trying to get into writing comics because he could no longer draw them. They say he died of natural causes, but I still think fifty-eight is way too young and he was gone too soon.

After Breyfogle's health issues in 2014, DC Comics put out a hardback of Legends of the Dark Knight: Norm Breyfogle Vol. 1. DC did this in part to help him financially, but it is truly a wonderful edition to anyone's Batman collection. A second volume will be coming this November. I own the first one and will be buying the second, and I'm hoping to track down the collection of his Batman Beyond Unlimited series as well.

 I recently discovered they also put out a Batman Black & White statue based on Norm's illustrations. I tried to see about buying one, but it is backordered. Maybe I'll get lucky at some point and pick one up. It's pretty cool looking and I think it would do my geeky home justice.

I realize that sometimes people we never meet still impact us and leave something behind that touches our souls along the way. Thank you Norm for your art, man. I always hated Batman's blue and gray costume, but never when you drew it. Your version was the only acceptable one as far as I was concerned. May you be at peace knowing you left behind so many fantastic comics.

Goodbye, Norm.

-SJD

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fantastic Four: Behold...Galactus! OHC -- A Review

Wow, this week really has gotten away from me.  My plans on getting my stuff ready for the 2018 Baltimore Comic-Con (#bcc2018) next weekend epicly (why is this not a word?) failed yesterday.  However, we've got all my daughter's supplies and she's working on fanart to sell.  (See some examples on her FB page.)  So feel free to come by the Who's Mannz  Artist Alley table (A-135) to look at (and hopefully buy) her wares or talk to me about comics.  We got her some business cards and I thought about getting one for myself as a Comics And blogger. : )  We'll be there all three days, Sept 28-30 and Lord willing I'll have an interim update next Saturday just before our next blogger's post on Sunday morning.

Now in case you haven't noticed, something about the blog page is broken (or at least when I look at it).  Gone is the search field and the listing of posts by year.  However, there is a workaround.  If you go to an old post where those fields are still shown, then obviously you can still use them.  So, I'm putting this link here of a post from 2013, which is good background to the upcoming Superior Octopus series coming out.

Enough of this preamble stuff (consider it my warm-up exercise), let talk about the World's Greatest Comic Magazine PRESENTATION:  The Fantastic Four: Behold...Galactus! Over-sized Hardcover (OHC).  In this instance "World's Greatest" is not hyperbole. It. is. simply. beyond. belief.  It's AWESOME to the highest degree (no pun intended) and gives you a never-before-EVER uncanny reading experience like no other.  It's so good that I bought two more copies and had them shipped to friends as surprise gifts. (I wish I could've bought even more.)  This was helped by the outrageously inexpensive price  -- $25 the first week  (50% off) at www.instocktrades.com and afterwards about $29 (40%).  Unfortunately, I think it is already sold out there, but if you can get it for the $50 cover price it is still more than worth it.  $100 wouldn't be too much either. [Just checked - only $38 on amazon.]  The concept is simple: Let's reprint some of the best Galactus stories at a Galactus size.  And Galactus-size it is, the book is nearly two-feet tall!  Bigger than any Omnibus, Treasury Edition, and Artist Edition I've seen.


I had my eye on this book from its first announcement in Previews.  I knew it was going to be great, but I couldn't conceive of the unexpected ways. Find out more after the break:


Sunday, September 16, 2018

Kill or Be Killed




Yeah, I know. Another Image book. What can I say? They publish a lot of good stuff.

Kill Or Be Killed #1 

This one was easy to spot, being another Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips work. Elizabeth Breitweiser worked with Phillips on the art, having first joined with them for Fatale. As always with this team it’s great looking work.

 

Of course Brubaker and Phillips are deservedly well known for their noir work in Criminal, Fatale, and The Fade Out. Kill or Be Killed certainly follows in that vein in tenor and appearance. The back matter also includes great writing about noir films, most often by Kim Morgan. These essays are worth reading on their own.

 

But Kill or Be Killed is a book that uses the form of noir to examine consciousness. It never once uses that term, but that’s what it is. What is reality? Kill or Be Killed leaves the reader wondering.

 

Kill Or Be Killed #10Lead character and narrator Dylan has a history of suicide attempts, self medication, and complicated romantic relationships. His father, a talented but frustrated illustrator, was a suicide when Dylan was young. His father’s sexually charged horror illustrations were porn in the woods to young Dylan and his friends.

 

When the story opens Dylan is a serial killer targeting people who are unsavory, whether child molesters, Russian mobsters, or American oligarchs. Taking a nonlinear narrative approach that parallels Dylan’s own mental process, Kill or Be Killed jumps around to fill out Dylan’s story that includes girlfriends Kira and Daisy, roommate Mason, dealer Rex, and detective Lily.

 

Throughout the story the reader is pressed to determine how reliable Dylan is as a narrator. Is his perspective what’s really happening? Is it an adverse reaction to harms to his mind? Is he suffering from an organic brain problem? Better yet, the question includes whether Dylan is morally and ethically right in his actions even if he is unreliable as to why he he’s taking those actions.

Kill Or Be Killed #15Brubaker, Phillips and Breitweiser don't tell the reader whether to believe Dylan or whether his actions are justified.  They weave a complex story that's full of questions, as well as a lot of violence and a little bit of sex.  The reader can take the surface joys of sex and violence as sufficient entertainment, or the reader can have the added enjoyment of thinking about what is consciousness, reality, and morality/ethics, and who decides any of those for anyone but themselves.

 

Coincidentally I was recently in a group discussion about consciousness in the philosophical sense. This book, which concluded at 20 issues, fell right in with that discussion, certainly as much so as the Force from Star Wars that owes its genesis to Jung and which was a part of the group discussion.

I should also mention the covers.  A small sampling here shows several of them.  Different arcs within the story merited a different theme to the covers.  The opening arc all had the dark background like the first issue.  In the middle there was a run of orange and the demon that Dylan says is his impetus.  No detail is too small for this creative team to use in telling the story.

 

Kill or Be Killed is an excellent read, full of tension like any great noir story, that has the addition of an insightful look at what is reality, who can be believed in telling a story, and the uncertainty that is life.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Public Domain and Gwandanaland Comics


So I started drawing a blank for what I wanted to talk about this week. Lately I have been immersed in Gwandanaland Comics. They are a small company who specializes in reprinting material that is in the public domain. I have included a few pictures of the collections that I have ordered. I have sent two collections onto fellow contributor Lee for his enjoyment after I read them.

As this is all public domain material so anyone can essentially work with the material. Many companies have in fact obtain copies of the material and cleaned up the pages and published them as hard cover collections. Often recoloring the books.  While a great way to enjoy these comics it also takes away from the book having that feel of being the actual comic. Especially the coloring as it is way better in many collections, which is both a good thing and is like colorization of old black and white films is a bad thing. Something is lost and gained at the same time.

This format has the feel of almost sitting down and reading the comic itself. Every page is not always crystal clear, but it has been great fun for me to read books and material I have never heard of before and no one else would ever have collected this material. Even better they can create almost any collection that you want within limits. Take the Jane Martin War Nurse collection. I was not interested in all of it, I was more interested later in the series as the art and stories got better. I learned at that point that two different female artists worked on the series. I have also learned some female writers did comics but used a male name for purposes of publication.  It becomes a history lesson as well as entertainment.
Often when possible the collections will include the ads from the comics. The ads from the 40’s and 50’s are almost as entertaining as the comic themselves.  Dated to be sure, but also a reflection of the way society viewed itself at that time.

What was very cool is that they produced an artist edition version on Nyoka the Jungle Girl. I own the art for the full seven pages and found a local person who was able to produce high quality scans of the pages. I sent the scans to Gwandanland Comics and they produced a book with the color pages and the original art plus some extras to make the book big enough to publish.

Lance is the central contact point and he is cordial friendly and very helpful in explaining options. You can buy the books on Amazon or pay them direct – cheaper but slower mailing time. They only produce books when ordered as they have a huge catalog to choose from and are constantly adding material. Recently they had to delete material as they found some material that appeared to be public domain was in fact copyrighted.  I asked about how they could publish all the Charlton material they publish when DC had purchased Charlton characters. I was told Charlton published their material without a copyright. While the characters are owned by DC the Charlton material is public domain.

There is such a wide variety of material. Some is dated and some of the writing and art are weak, but there is also an amazing amount of beautiful art and fascinating stories. A lot is pure fun and enjoyment. It gets crazy at time as before the comic code the companies were pushing the envelope. Gwandanaland has a series of collections call Wertham’s Weapons that publish most of the comics that were referenced in the infamous Seduction of the Innocent.

The material here has captured most of my reading time at this point. It has the plus of telling complete stories often in eight pages. You can easily see how it might be expanded into 20 pages or more but I sometimes enjoy not having every comic book story I read be a Homeric epic.


Sunday, September 02, 2018

DC Universe Streaming

I've been debating whether or not to pull the trigger on pre-ordering the new DC Universe service that will start on September 15th. There are many pros and cons to pre-ordering and I can't seem to make up my mind. In case you are in a similar state, I thought I'd share what I've learned about this digital endeavor and maybe we can make up our minds together by the end of it.


It is no secret I love DC Comics if not the direction the company has taken in the Dan Didio era. I think Rebirth was a success while the Nu52 was a failure. (I don't care what the numbers might have said, at least, in the beginning.) The DC Universe digital service seems perfect for a fan like me. So why am I hesitant?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy and More!


Review: Ninjago: The Dark Island Trilogy, written by Greg Farshtey and illustrated by Paul Lee

Story 4/5 stars
Recommended age: 3 and up

I had no idea Lego Ninjago even existed until I had a kid. I was vaguely aware that the Lego stuff was way cooler than when I was younger (Batman space shuttle, enough said) but I didn’t know much about the stories the Lego company owned. I’ve now be immersed in the Lego movie world, Ninjago, and Next Knights. Ninjago is by far my favorite. The TV show is surprisingly well done with compelling storylines. I mean this show has not only grown and changed over time (the characters grow up, they have dynamic relationships, the writers are not afraid to seriously shake up the status quo…) but the plots have been fantastic. 


The original storyline (basic chosen one type story) was okay but the following plot when one of the main characters sacrificed himself to save his friends was very well done and fairly deep for a kid-oriented show. The current episodes have managed to take what could be a very dark theme (one of the main characters is systematically broken down and made to think he has lost most everything but he finds a way to keep fighting and is now running an underground resistance) and still make the show completely appropriate for a 5 year old. On top of all of this the show has changed with the times. Nya, the main girl character, went from being a side character to a pretty cool self-made hero, to a full member of the ninja team. While Lego hasn’t completely succeeded in integrating solid female characters in their shows they have made a strong effort and continue to improve.

Now don’t confuse this with the Ninjago movie from last year. While cute it is a very different story and universe than the main Ninjago stuff and I just consider it an elseworld of sorts.

So, what does this have to do with comic books? Ninjago is one of the only Lego stories that also has a comic book version. The graphic novels follow the same timeline as the TV show but usually have side stories that there wasn’t time to tell during the course of the TV season. They are all written by Greg Farshtey (the artists vary) and generally they are so-so in quality as the author is constrained to mini stories that could easily have taken place in the same timeline as the show. My son adores them and they are hands down his favorite comic books because he knows enough of the context of the story that he can generally tell what is going on even though they are mostly above his reading level at the moment. I’m genuinely sad that they haven’t put out new graphic novels for 3 seasons.

The books I am reviewing today are the only stand-alone Ninjago comic book material. The Dark Island Trilogy was written to take place right after season 6 of the TV show and before the TV special: Day of the Departed.

First, the good.

The Dark Island Trilogy story is okay but it too broken up into odd segments to really come together. The start to the story was strong with two of the characters investigating a mystery that leads them to the Dark Island (a location from the early days of Ninjago that definitely deserved further exploration). The characters come under attack from an unknown group and just manage to leave a message for the ninja to find warning them to stay away. Of course, they don’t, and that’s how the ninja and Sensei Wu end up on the Dark Island.

The strong points of the story have to do with the characters struggling against their own demons and it was interesting to read about overcoming inner weakness. This is a good talking point with my son as well and we always discuss the first rule of being a ninja: ninja never quit.

The final battle of the book was laid out well, especially giving a chance for Master Wu to shine a bit more as the ninja’s teacher is often shunted to the side of the story.

The art was nice here as well. Occasionally Lego hires artists who are less experienced and it was nice to see they kept the same solid artist for the entire trilogy.

Now the bad

The big reveal of the big bad guy and his plot to “take over the world” falls a bit flat. Honestly how many bad people out there actually want to rule the entire world? It is a bit silly.

My son and I both liked reading a brand new Ninjago story but it was annoying to have the main plotline constantly interrupted by journal entries written by “Sensei Wu”. They were somewhat insightful but did not hold my son’s interest as he just wanted to know what happened next. If they had been less disruptive to the flow of the plot it would have been more interesting.

Finally, there seemed to be a lot of buildup going into finding out what happened to a missing character (Kai, my son’s favorite ninja) but when you finally get to his story it was disappointing and no where near as involved as the other characters’ struggles on the island.

Bottom line: B+

          Overall, entertaining for Ninjago fans but it is not what I’d use to introduce anyone to the franchise. Also, it can be expensive to get ahold of as it is out of print and Lego never published it in a different format from the original hardcovers. Still, my son got a big kick out of it so I don’t have any regrets from spending the time to hunt down less expensive copies.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Books you missed... Jughead Vol 1

Have you ever noticed that people have a default comic book genre?  I'm convinced that people, when they want a good read, naturally gravitate towards one specific genre.  For example, Jim loves crime noir, Matthew loves nostalgia and has a soft spot for every book from the 80s, and Thomm just love confrontation.  I meant, a spirited discussion about people's inability to use gramar correctly.

My default comic genre is always humor.  From Carl Barks Ducks to Groo to Squirrel Girl, if a comic has a good joke there's a chance I've read it.  EXCEPT for Archie books.  For some reason, I've never been an Archie fan.  But, when Archie relaunched their entire line a couple of years ago I knew I had to give it a try!  Which is why.... this week, I want to talk about Jughead Vol 1 tpb collecting issues 1-6, written by Chip Zdarsky with art by Erica Henderson.

Don't worry if you've never read a Jughead comic, the first issue quickly set the stage by introducing all the main characters and the plot.  Riverdale H.S. has a new principal and according to Jughead he's turning everyone's favorite high school into a training school for spies!  Or is Jughead just dreaming it and if it's true, how will Jughead avoid detention?

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Batman #53 by Tom King and Lee Weeks -- A Review

With the third chapter of their third Batman story together, Tom King and Lee Weeks have unequivocally established themselves as one of the greatest Batman creative teams.  Top 10, Top 20, Top 40?  It doesn't matter what their rank is, because that would be debatable; the fact remains that the achievement has been reached (if it hadn't been already with just the Elmer Fudd story).  I will layout my case to support this bold claim below (after the break) in my SPOILER-FILLED Review: 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

There's still time to SUPPORT The Middle Age HC Collection Kickstarter Project

I've been following Steve Conley's The Middle Age award-nominating, weekly web-comic since the beginning.  Following and backing as a monthly Patreon supporter.  This community of fans help fund Steve to find the time to produce the best series work of his career!  If he gets more supporters then he'll be able to do two strips a week, rather than just one. It takes time to create those detailed images with the lavish colors and funny/punny jokes.  Steve usually provides current status updates and bonus features for his supporters too.


Early this year, Steve launched a super successful Kickstarter button campaign. I proudly wear the King Waddlebottom one on my jean jacket (seen above), along with two ApologetiX pins. ApologetiX, the Christian parody-band just released an awesome new single (She's Got Cooties/Dumb Questions) that I've listened to over 45 times this week at work (I just didn't get tired of it).  Now, Steve is in the midst of another Kickstarter campaign to compile his first few chapters into a glorious larger-sized hardcover (for all our middle-age eyes).  There are also a ton of cool stretch goals unlocking as we speak.  For one we're going to get a Waddlebottom solo story (and if enough people pitch in, we'll get a printed copy).

So please check it out here:


Hey, and if you just want to enjoy the series for FREE you can always do that too.  Just follow Steve on Facebook.

And although Thom Zahler's Kickstarter collection for his (SHOULD have been award-nominating [I nominated it for a Ringo]) web-comic: Warning Label is over. I posted about it a few months back.  You can now order the book directly from his store.
 #warninglabelks

See after the break for Steve's inks over a Godzilla pencilled commission the late-Herb Trimpe drew for me:

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 18 -- A Review

Wow, I just finished the 18th Fantastic Four Marvel Masterworks volume and in record time.  Perhaps, I consumed it a tad too fast, but I've got to ride this FF interest wave for as long as I can.  You know, before something else comes up and takes its place.  Pity my poor stacks of unread new comics; they just can't compete.  While it wasn't quite the masterpiece volume 17 was, which I posted about this past Sunday, it was still good and contains some classic moments in FF history.

This volume covers Fantastic Four issues #192 thru #203 and also includes the 12th and 13th annuals from 1977 and 1978, respectively.  A brief (maybe) recap follows (after the break):

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Volume 17 -- A Review and Celebration

This past Wednesday, 2018 August 09, marked the 57th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1 hitting the stands.  To celebrate, Marvel, after a publishing hiatus of the series, released the much anticipated Fantastic Four #1 (2018).  While I won't go into the details here (since Jim's copy probably isn't in the mail yet and it's not the focus of this post), I liked it and the ending of the first story actually left me slightly verklempt.  Plus, Scottie Young's Impossible Man one-page feature was really nice to see too (for reasons soon to be revealed).

You see, the new relaunch already had a positive effect on me since it influenced what I took to read on my second week of Summer Vacation: Marvel Masterworks (MMW) Fantastic Four Volume 17, which covers issues #176 thru #191.  And I actually had time to read the entire thing while staying at my Aunt's (formerly my Grandmother's) house in Kansas that has been in the family over 65 years.  Of all the Fantastic Four tales I could have picked, why might you ask, did I pick this collection?  Simple, it contains my first issues from 1977 and includes some stellar storytelling by Roy Thomas, the late great Len Wein and George Perez with Joe Sinnott among others.  Find out more after the break...

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Exceptionalism


And taking a sharp turn from two weeks ago's kid friendly recommendation I’m recommending two limited run books that are very adult. One is just beginning it’s run while the other has just finished.

 

Mirka Andolfo’s Unnatural, published by Image, is just starting its twelve issue run. That makes it new to readers of English, but it was originally published in Italian in 2016 and has been published in several other languages since. But I am an American and suck at other languages, so it’s new to me. Chances are it’s new to you, too.

 

Unnatural #1 Cover A Regular Mirka Andolfo Cover (Limit 1 Per Customer)

Unnatural features rather sexy anthropomorphic animals that have had some reviewers and interviewers compare it to the wonderful and explicit Omaha the Cat Dancer by Reed Waller and Kate Worley. Andolfo doesn’t think the comparison holds beyond the sexy and anthropomorphism, and so far I tend to agree.

 

Leslie is a literal pig and the lead. Where sex between species was common and inconsequential in Omaha, it’s forbidden in Unnatural. After one issue we don’t know why, but in this world there are two great sins. One is sex outside of your species. The other is same sex relationships. Both interfere with the government mandate for procreation of the many species.

 

Leslie has two big problems in this life. She’s fantasizing in detail, and with increasing frequency, about sex with a wolf. She’s also just turned twenty-five and is unmarried. The former she can keep to herself, though she has shared with her roommate, but the latter means the government can now pick a spouse from within her species for her. And that’s where the first issue ends.

 

The book has the always reliable hook of sex, but like Omaha, there’s a lot below that surface. It’s a story about race, sexism, homophobia, and fascism disguised as religiously sanctioned truths. In other words, perfect for our time in America. I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes.

Just ended is the five issue run of Mat Johnson’s and Warren Pleece’s Incognegro: Renaissance, published by Dark Horse under its Berger Books line. This is a prequel to their Incognegro graphic novel that saw Zane Pinchback, reporter for the The New Holland Herald, pass as white in the Jim Crow South to write about lynching.

 



 

This story takes us back to Zane as a cub reporter, broom closet for an office and all, who pushes to pursue the story of the death of an up and coming black writer at a party celebrating the publication of a once great white writer’s first book in many years, with the assistance of the now dead young writer. As you might surmise, this one is set in the Harlem Renaissance.

 

Issues of race are forefront, of course, but homophobia, sexism, police corruption, and corporate malfeasance appear as well. We learn how Zane learned to pass in the later story. We learn about the presumptions of white supremacy and white privilege. We learn how often those are willing to briefly turn a friendly face to others as long as others serve them but will abandon them, not in a pinch (heh) but as soon as it’s convenient.

 

These are two very different books, but they effectively and entertainingly delve into the never ending issues that keep America from greatness, have always kept America from greatness, and now threaten to drown America in mediocrity at best, and perennial poverty of empathy and economics more likely.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Three Great Books and Goodbye to Steve Ditko


My reading of comics is somewhat sporadic. I have a ton of new comics to read, old collections I want to re-read, regular books and various news articles. What this means is that it is often that I’m reading something which is old news in the comic book world. Still I finished three series recently that deserve mention. Doctor Star by Jeff Lemire and Max Firuma, Grass Kings by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins and Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. All were complete stories with a beginning, middle and an end. In addition to that I also don’t want my column to miss out mentioning the death of Steve Ditko. So let’s take them one at a time.

First off is Doctor Star. Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormistad have created what is an analogous version of the DCU with Black Hammer. From that series Jeff has spun off some mini-series and one was Doctor Star. Written by Jeff Lemire and brought to life by artist Max Fiumara and colorist Dave Stewart. It is a story about making choices, being heroic, being a father and being a husband. Jeff pays homage to the DC Starman series by naming Doctor Star James Robinson. It is a story that interlaces adventure and heroics with Greek tragedy.  The story is one that draws on the familiarity of knowing DC super heroes but ultimately, I believe can be read without any prior knowledge. It is more of an Easter egg type thing as it adds to the enjoyment if you know it, but you are not missing anything if you do not know it.  The choices our hero makes are done for good and altruistic reasons. As a hero and with the instinct to help others you would find it hard to blame him. Sadly, those choices cause untold pain and heartbreak to his family. The ending is both sad and wonderfully touching. If I was the type to tear up, this story would have made me do it. I’m being purposely vague about details because I want to encourage any reader to go out and buy this book or I’m sure a forthcoming trade.

Second up is Grass Kings by Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins. The story is about a group of people who have decided to live off the grid. Inside of this setting Matt has built a story about the loss of a child and wrapped it up in a fantastically well-done murder mystery. What is so surprising about the series is that I never even felt like it was a murder mystery the whole time because the character development was so well done that I got wrapped up in knowing the players.  You really don’t need to know anything else about the story other then it is a complete story. It does leave room for future stories about the Kingdom. Matt is at the top of his game the last few years and basically if Matt is writing it, I’m at least trying it. I’d be greatly remiss if I failed to mention the art. Tyler Jenkins painted art is gorgeous. It takes Matt’s story to a whole new level and fits the story to a “T”. I loved the work so much I purchased a page from the series (seen here). The best part about this page it is absolutely the page I wanted.

Third is Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. Now Cullen is a writer who I am beginning to enjoy more and more but only his independent work. Cullen and Tyler tell a story over 30 plus issues of a young girl who discovers she is a witch and how she handles her origins and everything about Harrow County. I loved the ending as it wrapped up everything in great fashion. Over the course of the story we meet many “Haints”, supernatural creators of all shapes and sizes. We meet Emmy, the main character, family, friends and extended family. You often wonder if she will make it out alive and in one way she ---- no, no spoilers. I will add that the skinless boy was one of my favorite characters in the series. Highly recommended, seek out the trade paperbacks and buy Volume 1, if you like that you will love the rest.
All three of these writers are gentleman who have been in the industry for a decent amount of time. All 3 have held jobs or still hold jobs at the big two, but all 3 shine the brightest with their creator owned work. For me the prospect of stories having a begging middle and an end is a major plus.  At this point in time I would say Jeff, Matt and Cullen are 3 of the top writers in comic books, with Tom King as another great story teller.

Finally, a quick tribute to the man, the myth, the legend Steve Ditko who died recently, reportedly alone as that was how he lived most of the last few decades of his life. Best known for Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, but the litany of characters he created include The Question, Mr. A, Static, Hawk & Dove, the Creeper and many more. That doesn’t include all the villains he created. Steve was a follower of the Objectivism Philosophy of Ayn Rand, which helps explain his very black and white view of many situations. Still he was the writer and artist for perhaps one of the best comic book stories every done, Amazing Spider-Man #31-33, the original run. The two-page spread shown here are images forever locked in my memory. The life lesson I took from that book as a young child was you must do the right thing no matter the personal cost. I have tried to live up to that ideal most of my life and have fallen short, but I have also often achieved that goal. My personal philosophy has been better to die with my principals then to live with them compromised. Steve’s future work is often over looked and criticized by many.  Personally, as I read more of his writings and his later books he raises interesting questions and things worth pondering. Whether one agrees or disagrees his viewpoints are at least worth considering.  Steve Ditko was a one of kind talent whose work will live on achieving him some level of immortality.


Sunday, July 22, 2018

Review: CatStronauts Mission Moon


written and illustrated by Drew Brockington

Story 4/5 stars

Recommended age: All ages!!! Best for reading with your kid(s) or independent readers up to middle school



As a space geek I am always attempting to show my son how the awesomeness of everything space. This means I have dragged him to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum twice in the 5 years he’s been around (we do not live near DC), taken him to a local Planetarium, made him watch Apollo 13 with me, gone with him to the Kennedy Space Center (I tear up every time I see space shuttle Atlantis), and generally geeked out on all things space. Finally, I was gratified to hear he told his teacher he wants to build rockets when he grows up – previous future jobs have included Batman, the Doctor, and Lego builder.

In all seriousness I don’t actually care what he does when he grows up as long as her sticks with the morals he’s learned from Star Trek TNG and comic books. Oh, and as long as he can generally support himself because I don’t want him living in the basement when he’s 35 or whatever. Still, I was pretty excited that he’s been on a rocket building career kick the past month or so and I found this great all ages comic book, CatStronauts, to work with his interests.



First, the good.

This book was a lot of fun. The art is appealing and accessible. My son easily followed the plot and really liked the various characters (especially Waffles, the pilot, and Blanket, the robotics expert). The book had easy to understand jokes for a young kid and was still entertaining for me to read – because it let me geek out on space stuff! My son has even quoted the story and told other people about it so I know he really enjoyed it.

The characters are cute. Waffles is always hungry leading to some mischief and Blanket is building a robot during training without permission. Major Meowser is a pretty straight forward mission commander, and Pom Pom doesn't get much of a chance to shine in this book but I hope the characters will become more developed in the other stories. 

I loved the premise of the story as well. The cats have to return to the moon to build a device that will help provide energy to the Earth so all the power doesn’t go out forever. All the mission training the CatStronauts go through was decently researched. The launch and trip to the moon (and back) were based on fairly accurate information from the Apollo missions. Basically, I was super excited to have such a fun and kid friendly way to teach Henry about the moon missions.

The story also includes problems with the mission somewhat reminiscent of the Apollo 13 mission (along with problem solving strategies). My son's favorite page is below. For whatever reason Waffles saying "prepare for lunch" cracked him up over a few days.



Now, the bad

Not a whole heck of a lot!

My only complaint is none of the astronaut characters appear to be lady cats. However, the head of mission control is a lady cat so that's cool. Also, you can only tell because the ladies have visible eyelashes so who knows, maybe I'm mistaken and Pom Pom the mission specialist is a lady cat. It's a minor quibble.

Beyond that, it’s not really a book most adults would enjoy reading more than once unless they want some very light reading. However, if you want a fun, entertaining, and even somewhat educational book to read with your kid(s) -or a book for maybe up to middle school for an independent reader – this is an exceptional choice. We will definitely be purchasing other books in this series. The next one up is about the CatStronauts going to Mars - I am super excited!

Bottom line: A+

Sunday, July 15, 2018

RIP DCEU 2013-2018 (What a Missed Opportunity)


The latest information (sparse as it is) coming from Warner Bros and industry insiders is that they have decided to forego the DC Extended Universe in lieu of the disastrous reception of the Justice League film. They will still put out singular franchise films, but are stepping away from the crossover films. This means that Aquaman will still come out the end of 2018 and will feature Jason Momoa. Wonder Woman 2, now titled WW84, is currently being filmed with the original director Patty Jenkins and actors Gal Godot and Chris Pine returning. Shazam is slated for release next year, and currently a Gotham City Sirens movie and The Batman are at various stages of development. Flash keeps being rumored to start all of the time, but at this point, I'll believe it when I see it, much like Ben Affleck's return to the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. And then, there's the Joker. (More on him later.)

Could Warner decide to change their minds? Sure. One thing is clear: they don't have a real game plan. There is no Kevin Feige at the helm. Zack Snyder was the closest thing they had and gave him the keys to the kingdom without much oversight, and then they were surprised when the product was met with divided fans and critical backlash. I blame WB/DC more than I do Snyder. From the first film in the DCEU - Man of Steel - they have been reactionary to the market of superhero films, to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films, and to Marvel's success. Event their decisions during Justice League's notorious reshoots and subsequent replanning stink of being reactionary. The plan is to react. They react when something is good (The fans love Wonder Woman! We have to make it less grim and gritty! Fix it with reshoots!), and they react when something is bad (there are currently no plans for more Justice League, and they were originally going to use Flash's film to soft reboot the DCEU, but now it is unclear what they are doing with that film). 

I'm a little disappointed that instead of righting the ship, so to speak, they've opted for a more singular film success plan which is arguably what they should have done in the first place. MoS kinda did it, but then they immediately jumped to BvS which was like a 2 1/2 hour trailer for an expanded universe done in an incredibly juvenile way. And I say that as someone who sort of liked it. I liked many scenes in the film, but the overall narrative doesn't work and the characterizations of the main leads are often forced down the viewers throats while asking for huge leaps of logic and absolving characters for being, well, stupid. 


I'm a huge fan of DC characters, probably moreso than Marvel, and I can't help but feel like they wanted the success of Marvel without putting in the work. Even with that being the case, we're getting Aquaman (early buzz on the film is that it is good), WW84, and Shazam. I have high hopes for all. I also remember telling friends a year or more ago that, "Wouldn't it be funny if the Superman and Batman in the DCEU weren't done right but Wonder Woman and Aquaman were?" I'm afraid that after the release of Aquaman, I might realize I was a prophet. A seer. I honestly didn't want to be right after I said it. It was a joke. Why can't they all be great?

DC Entertainment President Diane Nelson (I believe she has either relinquished this position or will soon) stated recently, "there's no insistence upon an overall story line or interconnectivity in that universe." That's a nice way of saying it doesn't all take place in the same universe like Marvel does it. Justice League seems to have killed the DCEU. (I still haven't seen it.) If it had been awesome, you can bet they would have stuck with it. This idea that the films don't need to connect was proven this past week when the Joker origin film was announced

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Erased by Kei Sanbe

This week I wanted to talk about something a little different from our normal topics.  Don't get me wrong, I'm still going to talk about sequential art but it's not American sequential art.  This week I read Erased volumes 1-4 by Kei Sanbe.  Why? The first reason is because the four volumes are the complete series.  I knew up front that I was going to get a story with a beginning, middle, and more importantly an ending.  Far to many series don't have any type of ending and it wears me out.  The second reason is that Yen Press collected the story in four oversized (for manga reprints) hardcovers.  I'm a sucker for deluxe collections so this was an easy buy for me.

So, was it worth it?  Yes it was!

The story revolves around Satoru, a struggling manga artist who is emotionally lost and can't seem to find anything to fill the voids in his life.   To complicate things, he periodically has "revivals" which cause him to go back in time 3-5 minutes to avert some accident.  An early incident has him reviving back 5 minutes to prevent a young boy from being hit by a car.  During one such event, he encounters the serial killer who terrorized his town as a child.  In order to prevent the killer from murdering his friends, Satoru travels back to his days in elementary school in an attempt to stop the murderous spree before it ever starts!

The story is a simple riff on "if you could do it again what would you do differently?" with the added twist of a serial killer.  The events of the past are the driving force for the two-thirds of the story.   It's a masterfully executed game of cat and mouse between our hero, now a 10 year old boy, and the unknown serial killer with periodic forays into the present to see how or if things are changing.  This part of the story quickly sucks you in and the pages fly by.  The last third is all set in the present day after our hero discovers the killers identity.  While entertaining it's not nearly as exciting as the first part and it becomes a little bit of a slog to the ending.

It's not quite fair or accurate to say the last third is a slog because, to be honest, I'm a lazy reader.  There's an aspect to the series in which Sanbe explored the emotional voids in the various characters lives.  Each of the main characters was damaged in some way and had trouble connecting with others and/or finding meaning in their own lives.  While, I really enjoyed the cat-mouse aspects of the book, I just "read" the emotionally insightful stuff.  The last third really brings the emotional conclusion to the story.  Our hero grows (bleh) and his growth makes other people better (double bleh). 

Don't get me wrong, I recognized it and realized it was being executed brilliantly but it's not my cup of tea.  So, yes, there's some interesting emotional explorations in the book that I shouldn't really comment on. 

Overall, this is a highly enjoyable series and if you're willing to analyze the emotional stuff it's even better than that!




   

Sunday, July 01, 2018

HOW COMICS WORK by Dave Gibbons and Tim Pilcher -- A Review


Sometimes writing for this blog can be like Mission Impossible.  Jim will forward an e-mail he's received inviting anyone of us to review something by somebody.  You know "your assignment, if you choose to accept it" type of thing. There is no pressure and it's totally on us as to whether we participate -- he just throws out the contact information.  I've rarely (if ever) taken the gig.  I mean, this reinvigorated blogging exercise is just for fun, an extracurricular activity to our already busy lives and National Debt sized comic book reading backlog.  It would have to be something really special for me to commit to completely reading and reviewing the product. This time, it was a no-brainer for me to accept, like a "must-have" impulse purchase (such as the $10 Space: 1999 Eagle seen in one of my recent "Shelf Expressions" posts), and I responded immediately (beating out Lee).  Boy, am I glad I did.  Not only was the experience thoroughly enjoyable, but it had an unexpected side-effect...it ENHANCED my comic book reading!!!

The press release for How Comics Work, which was nominated for (and I predict will win) a 2018 Eisner award, stated that it "is everything you need to know to get started creating great comic books."  That statement is definitely true, but it is also woefully incomplete as this book operates on multiple levels.  Do you want to make comics?  Read this book.  Do you want to learn about one of the great comic creator's thought-processes on some of the most critically acclaimed stories (like Watchmen)? Read this book.  Do you want feast your eyes on some original artwork?  Read this book.  Do you want to be turned on to other cool comics and their creators? Read this book.  Do you want to get more out of reading comics?  Read this book.  I'm not exaggerating.  This book is TERRIFIC and it bares repeated readings, whether to master a comic creating aspect or study the generous array of examples throughout (although some might need some additional magnification).

[See the rest of the review after the break]

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Lazarus

The story of a genetically engineered warrior and her growing disillusion is the anchor to the story and makes it well worth the read in and of itself.  Forever Carlyle, in the 5 years of the publication of the story so far, has grown from a tool of her Family by interactions with others also bred as warriors for their Families and her own investigations.  Though still a warrior for her Family, she knows how and what she is but has yet to determine her place in the world.

I've posted about this book previously, but the times require mentioning it again.  Greg Rucka and Michael Lark's master work, which started long prior to the regime seizing power, has proved prescient.
Lazarus, Vol. 1: Family


Lazarus: X+66 #4 (Of 6)Where Rucka and Lark have excelled is creating the world in which Forever exists.  Taking the corporate control of our world to a logical but not implausible extreme, they posit that corporations controlled by Families have taken control of the world and carved it into fiefdoms reminiscent of feudal Europe.  Governments no longer exist.  Administrative functions of government exist but are subservient to whatever family controls the territory.  Those who provide useful service to a Family are Serfs. These are "skilled" workers or police/military.  They have a modicum of economic security, though are always less than Family and in danger of losing everything they have at the whim or disastrous decision of Family.  The vast majority of the world's population is Waste.  Low skilled and simply unneeded by Family to protect and promote Family interests, they eek out an existence and hope to develop, in some way, skills that the Family might consider useful.


Like feudal Europe and life in our own regime, competence is subservient to sucking up.  Skills can get a person from Waste to Serf, but everything else is subject to someone above being stroked.  No civil service or even a lame ass human resources.  Who you know is how you go.  And that's at the better operated Family of Carlyle.  Other Families are even more capricious and wont to simply kill those of lesser value.


Lazarus: Sourcebook Collection, Vol. 1 TPRucka and Lark have grown the world of their story from a focus on Forever.  Even the earliest issues of the book contained large amounts of back matter that expanded on the world and expounded on Rucka's sources and influences in our own world in creating this world.  An entire series, X+66, was devoted to the stories of other characters in the Lazarus world, and there have been at least 3 Sourcebook books that go into detail on the workings and world of an entire Family.


In North America, the continent is controlled by 2 warring families, Carlyle and Houck.  In the beginning of the story the warring is cold, jockeying for position within the umbrella of Family influence in parts of the world, but before long there's direct combat that pits all the Families for or against one another based on alliance with either Carlyle or Houck.


Interestingly, both family heads are men who are preternaturally old.  Carlyle has extended his lifespan through genetics.  Houck has done the same through drugs.  Each has devolved his outlook to his Family so that Carlyle's warrior, or Lazarus, is a creation of genetics while Houck uses a drug fueled army as his primary means of war.  Not that Carlyle doesn't have an army.  It has a very well trained army, including an elite corps that works with its Lazarus.


The research that has gone into creating this world has resulted in a fantastically detailed depiction of a technologically advanced feudal world that mirrors the ever increasing power of corporations in our own world.  The fact that we're now subject to the whims of a failed businessperson and celebrity game show host is right in keeping with how the Lazarus world is at war because old white men had to assuage their egos by creating enemies and killing them.  In many ways it's depressing to read Lazarus, but as a cautionary tale it's extremely effective.  It's always been a good time to read Lazarus, but there's no better time than now.