On the stands and otherwise.

*So let’s say you happened to peek at my Best of 2005 list back when I linked to it Monday night. You verified that, yes indeed, Epileptic was my #1 book of the year, and then your eyes drifted over the rest of it. What’s this at #3? Paper Rad, B.J. and da Dogs? What the hell is that?

Don’t sweat it! You’re not the first to ask me! It’s a beautiful, deluxe collection of comics and artworks by Ben Jones and the art collective he belongs to, Paper Rad (siblings Jacob and Jessica Ciocci round out the group - they also have a dvd out!). It’s a fine book, filled with “good laughs, compelling personalities, and a winning sense of aesthetic purpose, as if the act of creating art is not merely fun and healthy, but vital to human spirituality and the very order of the cosmos.” So I said in my piece. Tom Spurgeon also praised Jones’ work in particular as “beautiful, intuitive comics stories… shorn of all pretension” in his own Top 50 of 2005 (the book landed at #19).

I’ve not seen a copy of the book in any comics store. I ordered mine directly from PictureBox Inc. I wasn’t sure if Diamond had ever carried it, or if PictureBox honcho Dan Nadel (also author of Art out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969 and co-editor of the new magazine Comics Comics) had even submitted it for distribution.

The answers can now be seen at the Comics Comics blog - it apparently wasn’t submitted to Diamond upon publication, but it later was, and the book - along with everything else PictureBox submitted for distribution - was rejected for release.

On the grounds of low quality, from what Nadel’s quoting.

Yep, according to selections from Diamond’s rejection forms as provided to Nadel, Ben Jones’ writing is “not up to comic industry standards.” Interested in Frank Santoro’s Incanto, maybe after reading Derik Badman’s laudatory review (“Like a spell it is magical, dreamlike, and affective, and reading it fills me with delight at the imagery.”)? Diamond, from what Nadel has provided of their notice, thinks the art is “too rough.” And never mind the brand-new teaming of Jones and Santoro, the 12-issue pamphlet-format miniseries Cold Heat - “The format you have chosen for your title is unpopular with collectors and retailers.” But… what about readers?!

Ok, ok - cheap shot. I know.

Hey, Diamond can reject any damn thing it wants. It can even speak in terms of what the industry (that galumphing mass of uniformity, I guess!) holds to standard. I’m just letting everyone here know where some of these acclaimed books can be found, and where they cannot. The links above will guide your hand, dear reader.

DCU: Brave New World


Once upon a time, there was an 80-page comic book called DCU: Brave New World. It was only one dollar, and served to acquaint readers to a quintet of upcoming miniseries and a single fresh ongoing book via six 11-page stories by the new creative teams. And bring back the Monitor in a four-page framing sequence. And then I got a copy and reviewed it, and stopped writing in the past tense for a few paragraphs.

Framing Sequence I: The Monitor’s clockwork orange of a satellite headquarters appears out of nowhere and smashes a plain vanilla satellite in Earth’s orbit. There are many captions about how huge Infinite Crisis was and how awesome upcoming storylines are going to be, and the pillars of creation may yet again shake and all that, but nothing on who’s paying for that satellite. Actually I hope all of the Monitor’s future appearances involve his breaking expensive things - that would be a neat character tic. Keep him away from the Wayne family china!

Martian Manhunter: This is awful. I mean that in several ways. It's already not a good sign when I initially can't even figure out what's happening on the first three pages of an 11-page story. Not in a 'the story is dropping me right into the action!' way, but a 'bad staging, lousy perspectives, poor compositional choices' manner, and the resolution as to what's happening on the last two pages is hopelessly muddled by earlier visual shortcuts and a jarring, jumpy set of flashbacks-within-flashbacks. That's just the page-to-page mechanics. I have no idea how much of this story is relying on the reader's prior knowledge of DCU happenings to bolster the premise, but once you think about it you've got a loser either way - if I'm expected to know about the Martian Manhunter's recent exploits to take anything out of the story, then it's a pretty lousy introduction to a new series to put in a sampler pamphlet. And if the story is meant to stand alone, it simply doesn't work; there's a badly-mounted chase, a hastily executed projection of the character's basic backstory, a rash of speechmaking without anything at all in the story to support its revelations in an emotional sense, and a new costume, I guess. I don't care. And I don't see how anyone not already invested in the Martian Manhunter could care. Maybe that says it all.

OMAC: This is no great shakes either, but at least Renato Guedes' art and color offer the proceedings a few good panels of heavy realist posing - the slightly stiff postures, overacted character expressions, and bleached colors bring to my mind Tony Harris' work on Ex Machina, though Guedes doesn't have quite as good a grip on the illusion-of-movement demands of action-stocked storytelling, his chase sequences kind of flat. Still, he does add as much as he could to Bruce Jones' script, which is distracting enough in its dialogue's drifting from awkward urban patois ("Kick it, we don't have much time!") to stolid superhero declarations ("They don't care about innocents!") in the same character, never mind the slapdash plotting (a great way to escape a fleet of flying robots: run around a parking garage hoping to find someone who just happened to leave their keys in the ignition!) and a general feeling of nothing gained or said whatsoever. The cherry on top is the ending, revealing that everything we've seen was just a narcotics-induced reverie - not a bad Just Say No message, if staying off the shit means avoiding stories like these for another eight issues. Awesome visual detail with that smooch, though.

Uncle Sam & the Freedom Fighters: Written by Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray, from ideas and concepts by Grant Morrison. Nice that Morrison is getting credit for his famous notebooks of revision - I wonder if that'll hold for the entirety of the upcoming eight-issue series? I'll have to check that on the stands, as this stuff doesn't look very good - if I gaze really hard, I can sort of make out a loud, goofy superhero satire on current events, maybe a lighter corrective to Marvel's Civil War, but there's no denying that this material is shrill and preachy, with a pretty blonde Blüdhaven survivor making eloquent statements about some War on Terror conflict while a fat, balding, smirking guy in a truck makes vaguely racist comments and mutters "There ought to be a draft" before throwing out his young passenger in retaliation for standing up to his views. Thank goodness our young friend meets up with Uncle Sam, who's all ready to go to war against Father Time, who's busy stripping away the civil liberties of those he cannot control. We know this because a character tells us point-blank, by the way. Also featuring art by Daniel Acuña that might have looked nice had the murky coloring not obscured it.

The Creeper: I did not expect this one to be the best of the lot - shows what I know. With Steve Niles on the script (and given the concept) I’d expected something along the lines of a horror-tinged superhero book, probably spiced with campy humor. Penciller Justiniano, inker Walden Wong, and colorist Chris Chuckry certainly manage to whip up the sort of sweaty, fangs-and-brimstone atmosphere I tend to associate with the writer’s projects from IDW and the like. Imagine my surprise to find a witty, clever little superhero story, lively and quick and complete - everything you need to know about the Creeper is right in here, his appeal is duly conveyed, the creative team’s overarching concept is ably transmitted, all in the form of a nice beginning-middle-end superhero tale. Basically, the story is about the Steve Ditko-created Jack Ryder, now a nasty television news pundit, a sort of liberal Sean Hannity, hosting the aptly-titled ‘You Are WRONG,’ while zipping around having fun as the cackling yellow-skinned crusader who teaches him the value of responsibility. He must prevent a senator’s assassination, escape from the all-seeing world media’s eye in time to transform, and throw the law off his tail by becoming his own personal J. Jonah Jameson, his audience rapt before his every word. Good fun, almost certainly a solid enough concept to fill out the oncoming six-issue miniseries.

The All-New Atom: This, on the other hand, seemed like the best bet going in, if only from the weight of the names on it. Written by Gail Simone, from ideas & concepts by busy Grant Morrison, with pencils by John Byrne, who does still know how to provide some pleasing action visuals for my money (he’s inked by Trevor Scott). It's still a strong introduction, much better in execution to the prior Morrison concept provided, but it'll have to settle for second best. The Atom (all-new!) is now a college boy, thrust through all manner of sci-fi troubles to test out the latest campus inventions by a troupe of eccentric professors - Our Hero ends up foiling a nefarious plot by a bunch of sub-microscopic invaders who're trying to mind-control the President's beloved dog Duster. Plenty of energetic talk of the Doughnut Model of time, and hard-light energy, and the Scottish: "It's filthy the way they prance about, sans restraining garments about the nethers." Actually, the tone of this one retains more than a whisper of a certain Scotsman's zip, though writer Simone offers plenty of playful flavoring of her own, adorning the dialogue via footnote with helpful quotes from noted historical personalities, fictional and otherwise. If any of these stores had to be made an ongoing series, I'm pretty glad it's this one. Nice start.

Trials of Shazam!: And you can't have Grant Morrison present in the background of almost a third of the book without triggering certain feelings upon the arrival of artist Howard Porter. He was the primary penciller for Morrison's JLA, and I always found his curiously modeled visuals to be more distracting than pleasurable. But a glimpse at this upcoming 12-issue miniseries reveals a very different Porter, a man of smoother lines and rich, painterly hues (he provides all visual input save for lettering). I'm not sure how such a lacquered approach might have worked in the past, but it seems fitting for this new project, looking at the Captain Marvel family from a certain mythic standpoint. Of course, writer Judd Winick doesn't provide any information beyond the most basic of setup - we get a summary of past events, then the same shadowed premise stretched out over the viewpoints of three characters. To be continued! It might be crap, but at least the art's looking fitting from here.

Framing Sequence II: The Monitor addresses the reader for a page, assuring them that there’s a “great danger” on the horizon. Then there’s a double-page splash of four additional Monitors, power-walking in circles, glaring accusingly at one another, pointing to lights, and maybe sending interdimensional YouTube links to the Watcher (that one has his back turned). Collectively, they are called - logically enough - the Monitors. And then the satellite base transforms into a disco and the Monitors debut their new music single, though that part occurred after I closed the book and shut my eyes.