And what's happened to Tuesday?!

*My birthday ate it. But then it puked out my latest column. The topic this week is Marshal Law, that of the newly-announced Top Shelf omnibus, although I mostly focus on the initial Fear and Loathing trade collection. Hope it kicks off your August in style.



What's happened to Monday?!

*It'd probably be handier to move these features up, if I'm going to be posting in the evening, huh?


Batman #666

Chance in Hell (new Gilbert Hernandez graphic novel - very nice)


Column #2: Wish You Were Here

short reviews: superheroes (Black Summer #1, The Immortal Iron Fist #7, All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #6)

short reviews: women in love with hairy things (Tank Girl: The Gifting #2, Multiple Warheads #1)

short reviews: belly-quaking surprises (Warren Ellis' Crécy, Speak of the Devil #1)

all at The Savage Critics!

*Smaller this week. Your wallet will coo.


Johnny Ryan’s XXX Scumbag Party: A new collection of gentle whimsies from the Nickelodeon Magazine contributor, originally published as Angry Youth Comix #6-10, with some extra odds and ends tossed in. Gives a nice summary of Ryan's range, with two-page stories and gag panels rubbing up against longer pieces. In b&w and color, $18.95 from Fantagraphics.

Uptight #2: And, from the same publisher, we've got the next low-priced ($2.50) issue of Jordan Crane's one-man anthology, featuring a new chapter of the title's ongoing serial, a new story featuring characters from Crane's The Clouds Above, and a third, unrelated short. Only 20 pages in total, and the stories will probably run onto the back cover - kind of a reverse Ignatz, and a noble effort. Crane is generally worth reading, regardless of format.

Goodnight, Irene: I don't know a damn thing about this, save that it's a new, $14.95 Last Gasp collection of Carol Lay's romance comic parodies from her old 1987-91 Fantagraphics/Rip Off Press series Good Girls. But Lay is an energetic cartoonist with fine humor instincts, and the preview art looks neat.

The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends: Your very odd publication for the week - a 128-page, $11.95 Moonstone Books production, written by no less than Bryan Talbot, devoted entirely to sharing catchy anecdotes about your favorite comics professionals. Illustrations by Hunt Emerson. Hell, I'll flip through it if it's on the stands.

Mushishi Vol. 2: Oh yeah, this one's now on the Del Rey slow train of two volumes per year, knocked back from its original quarterly schedule. The Japanese collections are already up to vol. 8, so it's not like there's a lack of material out there... something tells me the English-language vol. 1 didn't light the charts on fire. That's too bad, because this is a damned inventive parade of natural wonders and dangers and the magic of perception, neatly packed into self-contained tales. The first R1 dvd volume of the much-acclaimed, extremely faithful television anime adaptation (titled Mushi-Shi) is also out this week, so maybe a wider audience awaits there.

Eden: It’s an Endless World! Vol. 8: Not dead yet. Since I ought to put something else in this space, I'll note that some stores seem to think they're getting the new Golgo 13 and The Drifting Classroom volumes this week, although neither are on Diamond's list. Keep an eye out.

Gødland: Celestial Edition: Just a big ol' $34.99 hardcover, collecting the first 12 issues with 40 pages of supplemental materials. No more, no less! Image also has the first Elephantmen hardcover out for $24.99, scooping up issues #1-7.

Inanna’s Tears #1 (of 5): An Archaia Studios hardcopy edition of writer Rob Vollmar's and artist mpMann's Modern Tales web serial, set in ancient Sumer and exploring notions of religion and power. Check out this preview.

Garth Ennis’ Chronicles of Wormwood #6 (of 6): The world-breaking finale to Ennis' romp around Christianity. Laffs and God.

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #7 (of 7): Also ending, and just about on time! Or, at least close enough to on time that it counts as the same thing these days.

Wisdom: Rudiments of Wisdom: Oh, I liked this Marvel MAX miniseries when it was serialized, even though the MAX banner is pretty much a ploy to make everything more expensive, and there's an art team switch two chapters in that you'll regret by the end (both of these things were arguably necessary to keep the series afloat, mind you). But Paul Cornell's script is surprisingly deft in its explorations of British myth and culture, as confronted by people whose job it is to punch the bad parts into submission. Kind of a brainier, moodier younger cousin to Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., very much overlooked during its initial release. If not this $21.99 collection, there's always the bargain bins...

World War Hulk #3 (of 5): In this issue, Hulk learns the value of arbitration as an efficient alternative to the costly 'smash' process of dispute resolution. But will Dr. Strange's cunning maneuver our poor hero into the unpredictable vapor realm of... mediation?! Insist on a binding contract, Hulk!

The Punisher MAX #50: Double-sized special issue, kicking off the new storyline, featuring the return of Barracuda, and sporting a rare feature for this series: special guest art for one chapter only! And it's Howard Chaykin, who's looking very much in his element. Interesting that this series would suddenly brush visual consistency away for a moment - I wonder if this storyline's regular artist (Goran Parlov) got caught up in the Barracuda spinoff miniseries he was drawing? I've always presumed that writer Garth Ennis works far enough ahead with his scripts that different art teams can work on different storylines at the same time, thus preventing delays or last-second switches... of course, the book's also never had a spinoff. Anyway, if any ongoing Marvel series has earned my trust, it's this one, and I'm hardly going to complain about the presence of Chaykin.

Hey: Chaykin's drawing Wolverine now?! And Blade cohort Marc Guggenheim is writing it as a follow-up to Civil War?? Man, since Wolverine's Civil War guest appearance in Blade involved the two of them teaming up to fight a vampire version of the Yellow Kid, I'm really hoping this new tale sees Logan tracking down one Augustus J. Mutt, true assassin of Captain America. It'll score better reviews than the last storyline...



Every chance, taken.

*Best manga news out of San Diego? Yes, yes - I know Dark Horse teamed up with CLAMP to produce a simultaneous-release US/Japan/Korea thingy for 2009, which I’m sure will be simply delightful for the 37 abbreviated volumes it’ll run prior to the artists getting sick of it and doing something else. But really, there was even better news to surface -

Del Rey licenses Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues!!

I read some scanlations of this one, and it’s very good stuff. Kind of a fantasy spin on the life of bluesman Robert Johnson, with bizarre sights and run-ins with historical characters. Fascinating, well-observed take on distinctly American subject matter. It’s still being serialized in Kodansha’s Afternoon anthology, with three collected volumes released thus far. I suspect a fourth may be due soon, given that the most recent one was published in mid-2006. I also suspect Del Rey may be planning a slow rollout, given that there isn’t all that much material to release… but still, it’s licensed!

*Looks like I’m turning into a short review posting addict, because I put yet another batch up at the Savage Critics. But I have a very coherent plan! My Gilbert Hernandez review over there nicely complements what you’re about to read:

Chance in Hell

This is an original hardcover release from Fantagraphics, 120 b&w pages of story for $16.95. It should be out in two weeks or so.

It’s the second in an ongoing series of projects from writer/artist Gilbert Hernandez, ‘adapting’ to comics a bunch of the disreputable films his Love and Rockets character Fritz appeared in throughout her in-story career. So, it’s fiction-within-fiction, though no L&R knowledge is necessary. The first of these things actually appeared in comics stores this past Wednesday, as Dark Horse began a pamphlet-format serialization of Hernandez’s Speak of the Devil, which will ultimately wind up being just as long as the present book. Why these projects are being spread out over multiple publishers and formats is unknown to me; an additional 21 possible ‘films’ to adapt are suggested in poster form as soon as the Fantagraphics book is opened, so maybe Hernandez simply wants to keep multiple projects in front of readers.

One thing instantly noteworthy about Chance in Hell is that Hernandez does not illustrate the front portion of the dust jacket - that task is handed to Rick Altergott (of Doofus fame), who whips up a perfectly sleazy pulp novel painting which, fittingly, doesn’t quite synch with the book’s actual content. But that’s not the only bit of misdirection in store. You might go in to this book expecting exploitation thrills -- and you’ll get them, in a way -- but Hernandez is interested in bringing to comics not just grimy movies, but the sort of grimy movies that used their grime as leverage to explore bold filmmaking techniques. Make no mistake: this is an uncompromising Gilbert Hernandez work, stuffed with enigmatic flourishes and surreal story turns, and buzzing with the feel of a master storyteller nudging pressure points of the form.

Hardly any sequence in this book lasts for longer than three pages. We are sometimes granted audience to only fragments of conversations, which blend into successive fragments for emphatic or ironic effect. The book is divided into three unofficial chapters, each occurring in its own time period, set apart by establishing splash panels. Hernandez employs further establishing panels early in each chapter, to give us a loose grasp of the environment each chapter occurs in, but he quickly cuts us loose. Discreet locations snap back and forth without warning, sometimes mid-page. Attention must be paid.

We are aware of time passing in-chapter, though we never know quite how much - a conversation on panel three might lead directly to a later-that-day conversation in panel four, although it’s possible that panel four actually takes place weeks later, or weeks before. Though guiding us generally from point A to point B, Hernandez untethers us from strict chronology, forcing us to accept individual events as unique passages, rather than simple bits of progression toward the goal of chapter’s (and book’s) end. Elementary, I know.

But Hernandez’s story is well-suited to extract maximum power from this type of presentation. The book as a whole charts the life trajectory of a girl/woman called Empress. The first chapter covers her childhood in a horrible shantytown erected in a garbage dump. Every adult (or near-adult) male she meets she calls “My daddy,” while her real daddy is nowhere to be found. She meets a few nice people, but they're not always nice for long, and individual survival always has primacy. Urges too.

Young girls and boys are raped constantly, often by people who otherwise act as de facto family. Violence is common, ranging from deadly theft to the constant obliteration of a fence that surrounds a perpetually malfunctioning bit of equipment from the nearby city - items of sophistication can’t be hidden from the disenfranchised and feral, you see, just as a strange, well-kept man can't be made to keep out of the dump. There is no love lost between the dump and the city, but a particularly outrageous skirmish (featuring such exploitable elements as a man’s sexual equipment shot to pulp) results in young Empress being taken away to that very alleged haven of civilization.

The remaining two chapters chart Empress’ adolescence and adulthood in the city. As a moody young woman, she finds herself torn between her (unauthorized) adopted father, a philosophizing elitist and poetry editor, and a charismatic young pimp, whose ferocity is a barely-altered translation of the dump’s sex and violence to a ‘civilized’ setting. It is here where Hernandez’s whiplash transitions build to a frenzy of oppositions and associations between poles of behavior, the father and the pimp carrying the iconic charge of the city and the dump, order and chaos, while still remaining vivid characters. It’s no good vs. evil, however, as Empress’ daddy becomes intertwined with the primal urge for sexual satisfaction (Fritz ‘plays’ one of the prostitutes, for the record - one can easily imagine her scenes and the violent bits making up much of the movie’s trailer), just as the girl’s prior daddies also served as sexual exploiters.

A cruel confrontation ensues, a string of exclamation points at the end of a dancing, singing sentence. Just as in his story, Hernandez's approach to building his pages forces the delicate to interact with the blunt. On one page, sex workers bind Empress’ daddy and cover his weeping face with a mask. On the next, there are three wordless panels of he and Empress staring at fine art, then Empress moving to stare out a window. On the third page, the sex act (or maybe another sex act) is over, the mask and collar come off, and the man dresses, satisfied, speaking of being unable to distinguish good poetry from bad, but ready to try something new. Such a simple, effortless construct, but it’s very nearly breathtaking in its emotional and aesthetic impact.

The third chapter sees Empress married to an ambitious prosecutor, who’s in the middle of a big case involving a child murderer. Those opposing poles again, complete with the added kick of capital punishment as the ultimate in civilized violence, and the return of the first chapter’s ‘fence’ motif as protection from a literal bog of quicksand. As you might guess from that, Hernandez absolutely overloads the book with metaphors for its final movement, as the action leaps into outright hallucination, Empress interacting with her prior selves from earlier chapters, any notion of reality dissolving away, and settings drifting back toward the beginning. And I wouldn't dare spoil the final page, which is likely to leave readers scratching their heads or possibly flinging the book across the room, in the manner of Roger Corman's alleged fit upon reading the finale to the script for Monte Hellman's Cockfighter. That's life in pictures.

But let's not underestimate Hernandez's skill as an entertainer. This is a very approachable work, energetic enough to prompt horror and build suspense, even as it makes its demands of the reader. The drawings are as fine as ever, starting out chunky and black, with the backgrounds of the dump little more than blobs and gashes of ink. The city is a little finer, but not by much, as reflecting its place in Hernandez's pocket universe. Tiny, revealing moments abound, and the broader segments pulse with the beauty of good trash. I know I tend to get evangelical with Gilbert Hernandez, even his failures carrying so much interest for me, but he keeps feeding me ammo. This is a fine comic. Do not deprive yourself.



*Hey, I hear they got the guys who did Marvel Boy to make some big DC comic next year. That's cool.

*Batches of reviews: superheroes, and spunky young women & their boyfriend animals. Popular groups.


Batman hits the ghosts of our past.

*Oh my god - PictureBox’s new Artist Books & Zines shopping page. But there’s amazing stuff all over their new site, including a lot of limited, imported and exclusive items. Wouldn’t you like to eat off a unique Gary Panter plate?

*Psst! Comics Comics #3 also now available for online order! Only $2.95! It will take your troubles away.

Batman #666

I liked the "After Grant Morrison" on the cover.

If I was 12, I'd have liked everything about this comic more than any other Batman comic ever. I liked it as an adult too. It's seriously one of the best evocations of the bad ol' early Image style I've seen that still manages to sort of hold itself together as a story - it's also, fittingly, the only issue of the Morrison run where Andy Kubert has seemed entirely appropriate, although I'd have rathered if Grant could have somehow borrowed Jim Lee from the other Batman book. Comparisons to Morrison's superficially-similar New X-Men storyline Here Comes Tomorrow are easy, what with the doomy future setting and the... vintage art style and all, but this is actually a much more interesting thing.

Despite the jokey one-off hellish future setting (for issue #666, ho ho), I suggest reading this together with the last two issues, since it follows up directly on some of the ideas from those present-day stories. And I'm not just talking story ideas, although Bruce's issue #665 mention of the three alternate versions of himself is obviously important. But far more vital is his mention that "I was sure they were hallucinations, cautionary tales, visions of what I might have become in other lives." Sure enough, this issue's future depicts a Batman who's sold his soul to the devil, but which Batman is it? The maniac villain of the piece, or Batman's errant son Damian, who's taken up the cowl and gotten very extreme, in a very '90s, somewhat Knightfall manner.

If Morrison's run on this book seems to be about Batman trying to wipe away the past and move forward, only to be constantly haunted by stuff from years ago that he can't quite get rid of, these last few issues come off a lot like a dark version of what Morrison's doing with DC's other big icon on All Star Superman: pitting him against visions of himself. Hell, it even fits in the Joker's self-conscious awareness of all his prior characterizations from that infamous prose issue, as only the madman can see the whole picture behind the universe, and cruelly throw away everything just to be new. Batman doesn't have it as easy as Superman; his visions are all bad, including a gun-toting nut (like the earliest incarnation of the character), a drugged-out he-man (very Bane - maybe it's a symbol of the Azrael version?), and a devilish force of ruin.

Indeed, Damian (god, that fucking name) surely brings a type of ruin to Gotham, at least as we can presume Morrison sees it - he's the greatest cheater, so sure that he can never equal a real Batman that he booby-traps every single major building in Gotham, just in case he might happen to have to fight a villain indoors. He snaps necks with his fist! Covers himself in blood! Rips a guy's guts open and twists his head and sets him on fire and throws him out a skyscraper and skewers him on a pointy thing!!! Yow!

Like, I think it's supposed to be both fun and revolting at the same time. A nightmare and a party at the same time, playing off cherished notions of 'Batman' and what would be ugly for him to do. I don't cherish Batman as much as Morrison does, so I thought it leaned heavily toward fun, but I admit Batman would get pretty grating if this is what he'd really be like all the time. Is it all a criticism of where the genre is going? Maybe, in that the genre chases nostalgia for too few years ago. It's a bad dream, steeped in a bad past, which, like Dick Hyacinth muses, more people enjoyed at the time than they'd care to admit. This is Morrison's caution, a big, Satanic pigging out on cotton candy, one that'll hopefully leave us all a little sick by the end.

I could have eaten it forever, when I was a kid.

Prelim Post for Thursday

*I'll have a bigger post up later today, but holy smokes -

First Second to publish Paul Pope's THB as a four-volume set of books in 2009!

So, judging from the press release, it seems Pope has actually finished the story (or will finish it in the next year or so), and now all 1200 pages are due, now in color, with an oversized deluxe b&w edition also available (likely for a ton of cash). The whole set will be known as Total THB, and it sounds like it's all coming out at once. I dunno about the color - THB eventually became Pope's most profoundly manga-influenced English work, and I kind of prefer the idea of it showing up in thick b&w paperbacks, but at this point I won't sneeze at any completion of the project. Did Pope really re-draw all the early chapters too? The press release is silent.

Also of Pope note - his two-volume Battling Boy series for First Second will be out in 2008, and it seems both volumes will appear at the same time (unless I'm misreading 'simultaneous')... odd.


Gah! Hide the children!

*It's the newest installment of My Life is Choked with Comics! This time the topic is the pamphlet format, and the comic in question is Gipi's Ignatz series Wish You Were Here. I also talk a little about Marvel's The New Invaders from a few years back, but that's mostly a vehicle for jokes about huffing fumes. Also included are one billion helpful links. Hope you enjoy it.



Let's see...

*How can I do this?


The Blot (very cool book from Tom Neely, worth checking out)

Notes for a War Story (Gipi, upcoming from First Second)


Column #1: Rogan Gosh

short reviews (Justice League of America #11, Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil #4, The Brave and the Bold #5, The Order #1)

at The Savage Critics!

That looks like it works.

*Quite a lot of opportunities to spend the money -


PulpHope: The Art of Paul Pope: Finally! From AdHouse comes the book that no Pope fan will want to be without, a fat 224-page softcover collection of art and essays, somewhat reminiscent of the artist’s old magazine releases but much more retrospective. Theory! Manga! Sex! So much more, and well worth the $29.95, judging from my flippings at MoCCA. Good.

24seven Vol. 2: Don’t ask me how it’s only $19.99, but this lavish, full-color, 200-page Ivan Brandon-edited Image anthology, a sibling project to the on-hiatus NYC Mech (which Brandon co-created), is back for another round. Plenty of robots in gritty settings, and a whole lot of polished, energetic visuals. Ashley Wood, Gene Ha, Frazier Irving, Adam Hughes, Ben Templesmith, Michael Avon Oeming, Fábio Moon, Gabriel Bá, and many more.

Gon Vol. 1: Many will fondly recall Masashi Tanaka's wordless, gorgeous prehistoric slapstick stories from the old days of Paradox Press, and now DC's reprinting it for the 21st century manga market under its CMX label, right-to-left, at a scant $5.99 per 148-page volume. Probably a great way to get to know the stuff, if you haven't.

Little Nemo in Slumberland Vol. 1 (of 2): Speaking of reprints, the stuff collected in this particular volume has been reprinted in a number of formats from a variety of sources, but folks without access to those (and $49.95 to spend) will want a look at Checker’s 288-page, 9” x 12.5” hardcover project. More interestingly, the second volume promises to compile creator Winsor McCay’s 1924-26 revival of the strip, which has not been so well-covered by reprints, so keep an eye on that.

Speak of the Devil #1 (of 6): Easy to overlook in a big week like this, but don’t do it, because you’ll miss the new b&w Dark Horse miniseries from Gilbert Hernandez, concerning a peeping tom and the discoveries she makes. And that would be catastrophic. More Beto to be found this week in Love and Rockets Vol. 2 #20, from Fantagraphics, which is also prepping the imminent release of his new graphic novel, Chance in Hell. The man is busy.

Multiple Warhedz #1: A 48-page Oni-published comic from Brandon Graham, whose Tokyopop book King City is one of those hugely-acclaimed things I’ve never physically seen a copy of, but I trust it’s probably good. Admirers of that will be interested in this, though it’ll be my first dip.

The Black Diamond #3 (of 6): More action(?) from Larry Young’s and Jon Proctor’s highway that’s way up high.

Angry Youth Comix #13: Good-natured rib-ticklers from Johnny Ryan, no synopsis necessary.

Hellboy: Darkness Calls #4 (of 6): Maybe this isn’t entirely appropriate for this entry, but god the last B.P.R.D. miniseries (Garden of Souls) was really neat. A fine little twist on the old ‘secret origin’ story, with a nice little message tucked away - maybe it’s better for people to change so drastically that they’re not ‘themselves’ anymore, because maybe the original was awful shit. A nice companion theme indeed to the prior miniseries’ declaration that in a world of marvels and wonders, maybe dying and staying that way is a preferable luxury. And that final issue swordfight was… basically what I desire from a Hellboy-related comic. Just saying. Anyhow, here’s the new issue of the parent series, which is also good.

Batman #666: Special Satanic Future issue! Damian (possibly named as such specifically for this issue) leaps into battle to save to Gotham of 2022 or so. Last Andy Kubert issue for a while.

The Immortal Iron Fist #7: Ah, it’s one of those ‘get the whole story!’ weeks where the first collected edition (The Immortal Iron Fist Vol. 1: The Last Iron Fist Story, $19.95 hardcover) pops up at the same time as the first uncollected issue, which is going to be a standalone tale of that female pirate Iron Fist from one of the flashbacks. Sequence artists Travel Foreman & Derek Fridolfs handle all the visuals this time. We’re moving next into that trusty shōnen manga standby, the fighting tournament, and it should be fertile ground for writers Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction.

Tank Girl: The Gifting #2 (of 4): I was kind of wowed, kind of distressed by the vivid combination of writer Alan Martin and artist Ashley Wood on the first issue of this - I wonder how I’ll feel for the rest of the series, since Wood is now doing only colors and finishes to 2000 AD veteran Rufus Dayglo’s breakdowns. Another interesting permutation, maybe.

Warren Ellis’ Crécy


Black Summer #1 (of 7)


Doktor Sleepless #1: Hey, remember back when Avatar had the license to all those New Line horror properties, and they’d occasionally wind up dumping all their new issues on the market in the same week? Well, we’re all in for a blast from the past tomorrow as just about all of Ellis’ gestating Avatar projects either debut or quasi-debut on the very same day. Warren Ellis’ Crécy is a 48-page b&w one-shot, hailing from an apparently stalled attempt to create a second wave of Ellis’ Apparat books. It details the famed 14th century battle in which grossly outnumbered English forces defeated the looming French by throwing down chivalry and relying upon the mighty blood potential of weaponry. So, perfect Ellis subject matter, with lush-looking art by Raulo Caceres. Black Summer #1 is the ‘official’ first issue of Ellis’ new color superhero thing, with Juan Jose Ryp on art, although issue #0 was actually the start of the story so I hope you bought that. And the color, ongoing Doktor Sleepless is… something Avatar is trying very, very hard to sell as Transmetropolitan 2, with a mad scientist conducting pirate radio broadcasts while planning to revolutionize the world, I think. Art by Ivan Rodriguez. Collect them all! I do believe the prose novel, Crooked Little Vein, is also in bookstores this week.

Alan Moore’s Hypothetical Lizard: Oh, Avatar also has a $14.99 trade ready for one of its Moore prose adaptations, this time his 1988 novella A Hypothetical Lizard, which was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. As always, Antony Johnston handles the sequential adaptation. I bought this in pamphlet form across the typically epic Avatar serialization process - initial artist Lorenzo Lorente was replaced after one chapter by Sebastian Fiumara, which I’m sure didn’t help things speed-wise, and will not benefit the work as a single unit. Still, Moore’s tale of jealous emotional transformation/destruction in a mystic brothel does have a sickly eye for sad detail, and it rolls along at a brisk pace with some sturdy visuals. Plus, the original prose will also be included, for comparison junkies.

Alan Moore: Wild Worlds: But if it’s the Moore of superheroes you want, Wildstorm’s got a 320-page color brick of stuff for you, at the low price of $19.99. I caution you, you’ll most certainly be getting what you pay for: the dire 1996 Spawn/WildC.A.T.s, which is in all likelihood the very worst extended-length comic Moore has ever written, the nondescript 1997-98 magic-related Voodoo: Dancing in the Dark, and the somewhat fun 1999-2000 Jim Baikie teaming Deathblow Byblows, created right before the blessed birth of America’s Best Comics. Maybe you should save up for Alan Moore: The Complete WildC.A.T.s, a somewhat sturdier compilation of work (Travis Charest!) that’s due in two weeks.

All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #6: Holy shit, this was speed. Also, from DC’s solicitation: “Plus, Black Canary isn't the only one of Gotham's fairer sex to be aroused into action by the Dark Knight's war on crime!” Oh DC-chan…


Nothing but a link for today.

*It is a nice one, though. Altogether fine artist J.H. Williams III popped up on Barbelith a few days ago to link up his new site (which seems to have crashed, no doubt in anticipation of the tidal wave of hits coming its way from a link on this site), and the thread eventually turned into an easygoing Q&A session on projects and processes. I particularly recommend this post, demonstrating that Williams is possibly the most thoughtful artist working in the front of Previews, as well as the most skilled. Can't wait for that Batman storyline to begin next month!


It Was the War of the Fringes

Notes for a War Story

This will be one of the first releases of First Second’s fourth wave of books, hitting the shelves in a few weeks. Yes, it’s already time!

It’s from writer/artist Gipi (full name: Gianni Alfonso Pacinotti), a 128-page monochrome color softcover for $16.95, deluxe hardcover also available. The First Second schedule, in case you were wondering, calls for this and Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams in August, Nick Abadzis’ Laika in September, and two sequels for October, Lat’s Town Boy, the follow-up to Kampung Boy, and Emmanuel Guibert’s & Joann Sfar’s Sardine in Outer Space Vol. 4, which I believe is the last of the series produced with Sfar’s participation.

You’ll also recall First Second having released a prior Gipi book, Garage Band, last wave. Fantagraphics & Coconino Press have released two of his shorter works as part of their Ignatz line under the blanket title of Wish You Were Here - The Innocents and They Found the Car.

That’s all there is for Gipi in English, but even among those four works there’s some obvious continuing concerns - every one of these stories focuses on groups of male friends, often from the perspective of a primary or narrating character made to somehow confront their past, examining the camaraderie that builds between them as a means of reacting to or avoiding tremulous outside forces. Familial bonds are always important, especially those between boys and father figures. There is always some element of crime involved, with the individual’s relationship with the paternalistic structures of law and society essentially made a child-parent interaction writ large.

And Notes for a War Story represents the largest writing of those themes and motifs yet seen from Gipi in English. Originally published in 2004, it’s probably his most acclaimed work, having won no less than the Grand Prix at Angoulême in 2006, among other honors. It certainly focuses on the most traditionally ‘important’ subject: the wartime experience. But it’s also very much one of a piece with the rest of the Gipi catalogue (as seen thus far), filled with a longing for stable houses that transcends the immediate possibility of literal houses actually exploding.

The story concerns three boys: sensitive narrator Giuliano, who comes from a monied and educated background, excitable Christian, abandoned and passed through orphanages and never valued, and Stefano, dubbed “Little Killer” by his friends, who watched his own father fall from a high window and insists he didn’t feel a thing. The trio wanders through their unnamed country as war rages, sometimes around them. At first they try to peddle stolen items to folks holed up in the still-standing villages, but they quickly fall in with Felix, a charismatic militia operative who offers a new way of life to the boys: shaking down debtors, running shady items to shadier people, waving guns around and wearing slick clothes, and waltzing into towns like they own the place. Hell, in war, they practically do. There’s money, adventure, and family. But, inevitably, each boy’s life experiences come to inform their future path.

Despite its punchy subject matter, this is actually a slightly dryer work than Garage Band, prone to long spells of conversation, and largely cautious of depicting the violence inherent to the subject matter. Instead of wispy, varied color, everything in this book is rendered in an oily dull green, save for certain panels where all shading drops out to leave Gipi’s line art nude. But it’s fitting, in the obvious way - while the boys of Garage Band may have known trouble of various stripes, it’s nothing compared to the bleak world these kids have to face.

Indeed, perhaps the greatest of the book’s strengths is that it does not hesitate from depicting the life of crime and violence as maybe what is genuinely the best deal some of these boys could realistically hope for. Gipi never romanticizes the brutish deeds that these kids engage in, but he also posits that people who have been pushed to the fringes of society can achieve a temporary state of thriving when war comes to rip away the parental guidance of law and order. In steps someone like Felix, a new type of father, and surely a more interesting and immediately caring one than what some of the boys have ever known.

As such, poor Giuliano is set apart in more ways than merely his status as narrator. He suffers a recurring dream of his friends confronting him in headless form, accusing him of not really being like them. And its true that Giuliano has something to gain from the restoration of order, in that his biological parents have money and have raised him with respect for social niceties. Yet he also craves adventure and life experience as his country explodes around him, all while he doubts if this war is really ‘his’ - there is no such question with his friends, because war has offered them a place to thrive, if only as cogs in a machine of exploitation.

It is this conflict, one of class and parentage and money, that drives the book through its episodic system of encounters and chats, and Gipi refuses to paint any party as totally right, even through murder itself. Christian desperately tries to save a cottage from detonation, since it reminds him of his ideal of a ‘home.’ Stefano mimics Felix’s mannerisms in doing violence, because he truly is Little Killer to his quasi-father’s Big Killer. Giuliano drifts through it all, eventually reaching the prospect of putting his experiences into a narrative (the book’s title is duly explained), and finding out how prophetic his dreams can be. Nothing is fully resolved, though, since a war's end can only signal the continuing lives of those not rendered casualties.

It’s a low-key book, but filled with fine, observational character moments, and all the vivid cartooning you’ve come to expect from Gipi (the usual meaty First Second preview is here), with none of the too-pat narrative wrapping that marred Garage Band - maybe a subject this big couldn't stand any sort of neat resolution. Those who wished there’d been a little more context for Garage Band, however, will be pleased to know that First Second translator Alexis Siegel has provided a short Afterword, detailing some of the historical inspirations behind the work, as well as providing a good deal of thematic analysis. Just make sure you don't flip over to it first - this is a work you'll want to mull over on your own, in its abstract state of children with guns in burning places, anywhere.


Everything is spilled out.

The Blot

Don’t read this review just yet. Go to the book’s official page first.

There. Wasn’t that something? Just the kind of image I like to hook me on a new project.

I’m not sure if this book is available through Diamond yet. It’s a $14.95 softcover, 192 pages in b&w and color, quite beautifully designed and produced, and published by I Will Destroy You of Los Angeles, which I believe is headed by the book’s writer/artist, Tom Neely.

The Blot is Neely’s first longform comics project, though he’s had extensive experience in painting, illustration and animation, not to mention short sequential works for magazines and anthologies. As a result, this is an extremely polished, assured ‘debut,’ with excellent character art strongly reminiscent of Floyd Gottfredson (ah, a man after my heart!) and various animation pioneers. It’s not a wordless book, but you can probably count the individual lines of dialogue on your fingers; the emphasis of reading is thus thrown directly on Neely’s panel-to-panel storytelling, and he proves himself to be highly capable, carefully contorting time to provide the work with the maximum creepy, lyrical appeal, while keeping humorous chases and gags bouncing. It’s very much an animation-informed style, but it makes fine use of the expanding/contracting properties of the comics form.

It’s also the perfect approach for the book’s heavily metaphorical story; while Gottfredson also dealt with a famous Blot, Neely’s is more of a psychological/creative affliction, one embodied in perhaps the ultimate comics symbol of distress - a mighty spatter of spilled ink. The book opens with your basic early 20th century style cartoon everyman rising from bed, only to encounter many troubles with the aforementioned Blot, a staining, absorbing, mutating ocean of ink that leaps off of newsprint, saps backgrounds from pages, and, in the book’s primary creepy visual motif, spews forth from characters’ eyes and mouths. Our Hero hardly stands a chance of escape, and soon resorts to wearing a long hat over his face to keep the stuff, now inhabiting his body, from getting out. But then he meets a woman, who shows him that the affliction can be used for wonderful creation as well as destruction. And things are good, temporarily.

There are no shortage of striking graphic techniques on display in the book - opposing splash panels boldly contrast black with white, all-black chapter breaks serve (sometimes literally) as the all-powerful presence of the Blot, and hundreds of identical heads swarm around to convey the stultifying ways of society, only parting to form a vague heart shape around Our Hero and the woman, a small and uncertain oasis of attraction in the crowded world. Sometimes, Neely is more blunt - at one point, a literal mask (representing a different cartoon style, and even carrying a different lettering font) is worn to demonstrate a character’s deliberate use of cruel feelings. Color is very occasionally deployed for moments of special impact, but Blot black is dominant, and soon all the black of the pages carries the charge of symbolism - it’s that kind of absorbent book.

It’s also the type of book that never spells anything out, but I think Neely’s general drive is clear enough. The book was apparently inspired by a series of illustrations he completed over the years (check out the Art section at the above link), and I get the feeling that much of the book is explicitly about the creative process, and the seething feelings that can inhabit artists, often to distraction and personal obliteration. The Blot as ink, and all that. Some images are more potent than others in this regard - the protagonist soars through the air with his head fully ensconced in a seething pool of ink, above the heads of everyone else. He builds a house with the ink, and creates beauty. But his talents can’t stop the march of time, and the private desires of others. It’s a worrying, downcast work on the whole, suspicious of both material accomplishment and interpersonal dynamics, resolute that all an artist can really hope to do is create something so much more beautiful than themselves, that it will stand apart from the black and white of human living.

A very rich book, this. I strongly recommend it. It’s quite easy to buy directly from the author, at the link above. Hell, here it is again. Let it in, spread it around.


Week 1, Half 2

*My first batch of short reviews are up at The Savage Critics! I think late Tuesday/early Wednesday for the weekly column and late Friday/early Saturday for the short reviews will be the official thing for now.

*Completely Random News Dept: Apparently, Mike Allred is drawing a new story featuring Fletcher Hanks' (public domain) Stardust the Super Wizard, whom all readers of the excellent I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! collection from Fantagraphics have come to know and fear. That's... something. Joe Keatinge is writing.

It's all part of a very ambitious-sounding new effort from Image that Erik Larsen is masterminding, called The Next Issue Project. It will be an ongoing anthology of 'next issues' of actual public doman Golden Age comics series, printed in oversized Golden Age dimensions, featuring artists from all over the place providing new spins on actual public domain Golden Age characters. So, the first one will be a new issue of Fantastic Comics, and the next will be a new issue of Crack Comics, and so on. Lots of great folks are attached, like Kyle Baker, Bill Sienkiewicz, Howard Chaykin, Ashley Wood... many more at the above link. Launches in December. This will be worth keeping an eye on. (found at NYC Mech)

*Ok, less links, more reviews tomorrow. No skip days in linkville.


Well, I didn't say every post would be spot on time.

*Oh Dear Dept: I really do need to save money. My vehicle isn’t going to last forever. I have student loans to pay off. I would like one day to build a submarine and post comics reviews from the Arctic Ocean. All of these things involve money, and I ought to focus on piling some up.

And then ,inevitably, things appear. Like this.

Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents, a half-decade in the making, 528-page monster hardcover from Stephen Thrower, one of my very favorite writers on horror & exploitation films, and FAB Press, one of the finest English-language publishers of deluxe books on trash. There’s a 25,000 word history of US horror-exploitation films from the early ‘60s to he rise of the ‘80s slashers! Essays on dozens of mad, obscure filmmakers! A jaw-slackening 120 reviews of crazy fucking movies, some of which are apparently annotated by people involved in the works themselves!

God, this looks nice. It also looks like it’s going to cost a cool $76.06 to import from the UK, and that’s after FAB’s online discount shaves almost $25 off the cover price. I notice that US retailers like Amazon have it down to below $45, but they also haven't gotten their stock in (and the book's been out since late May). Fuck! I already spent enough money importing that dandy-looking Rian Hughes omnibus Yesterday’s Tomorrows, which is just now swimming across the Atlantic to greet me. But this book… you’re going to want to consider it if you’re interested in nasty American cinema. Strongly consider it.

*By they way, Brack, I certainly hope you’re proud of yourself. Ever since you pointed out at Dick Hyacinth’s that Yotsuba&! is serialized in a magazine known for its moé appeal (Dengeki Daioh - note that the title of writer/artist Kiyohiko Azuma’s prior project, Azumanga Daioh is a translation-unfriendly pun on both the creator’s name and the title of the magazine), I haven’t been able to even look at the new vol. 4 without contemplating the implications of the book’s concept.

I mean, yes, sometimes I also stare at beams of light through the window for an hour (hence the lateness of this post), but you don’t need to set me off like that!

Anyway, consider this. The contemporary anime/manga incarnation of a moé-baiting work generally features an emphasis on cute, funny, struggling, spotless, nigh-infantilized female characters, primed to spark warm and caring, possibly quasi-sexual paternalistic burbles in an adult male audience. Was it Miyazaki that once remarked that moé is like wanting a girl for a pet? Anyone have a link to an exact quote? Anyway, the objective is to rouse a protectionist fantasy about a particular fandom-detailed female ideal, reality stripped from the equation save for genre formula’s requisite nods toward such. Or, that’s certainly how it seems to me in the modern incarnation of the type of work this stuff grows in.

In this way, the curious particulars of Yotsuba&!’s concept make a certain sense. Yotsuba, the delightful little sprite, is not the biological child of Koiwai, the adult male - he simply found her, without having to go through the mess of interacting with an adult woman or engaging in sexual congress. He can delight in the zany cutie’s endearing and pure-hearted antics without a care beyond the work directly in front of him, perhaps so as to not spoil his status as stand-in for the reader. He is caring, but goofy, and loves to play, as well as slack - the alien elements of this setup need no in-plot explanation, as they are nods toward the stimulation of the moé impulse, that which requires no logic at all.

I can’t get this reading out of my head. Of course, I have to say that it only really applies to the series’ concept. Beyond setup, Yotsuba&! actually takes pains to mine humor from the grounded everyday realities of dealing with a young child, complete with misguided impulses like the kid barging into a friend’s home to mooch food, or revealing a little secret she doesn’t grasp the importance of. These aren’t melodramatic troubles, just basic ones - the stuff of relatable everyday affairs. This keen grasp of familial dynamics extends to the neighbors, all of them dynamically rendered, and actually sort of sabotages the cloying effect I get from a lot of moé bait. It’s fantasy, of a type, but fantasy presented in a way that deliberately undercuts the fantastic, forcing it into subtext. Subverting it, maybe.

God, I am reading very deeply into Yotsuba&! here. Maybe I should go to bed. I can dream of having money! That sounds good.



*Ok! The virgin edition of My Life is Choked with Comics, my new weekly thing, is now up. The book is Rogan Gosh. Let's see if it all sinks to the bottom of the page quickly, and if I need to change my day of posting for the future. Hope you like the stuff.



Deepest Thoughts

*Gosh, Wednesday is maybe not a good idea to debut this Savage Critics thing. I mean, the whole day's going to be buried in posts about new comics, right? I suspect that's so. Hmmm... if there's a review up tomorrow morning, you'll know I waited.


Well, I wasn't even here much of last week, so there was

a bunch of short reviews (Injury Comics #1, Madman Atomic Comics #3, and Action Comics #851)


The Programme #1 (of 12)

*I didn't expect there to be so much stuff.


The Comics Journal #284: Not to denigrate the very excellent Roger Langridge, who's the latest feature interview subject (excerpt here), but I think the big attraction this time around is a suite of color comics from Frederick Opper, creator of Happy Hooligan. Career overview included! Also: a talk with Gene Yang of American Born Chinese (excerpt here). I do believe I only have a wee lil' review in this issue, of Gabriella Giandelli's Ignatz series Interiorae. Plenty of other stuff in there, don't you sweat.


The Ganzfeld 5: Japanada!: From PictureBox comes the big fifth volume of this Dan Nadel-edited color extravaganza of comics and illustration. Actually, this particular edition marks something of a departure for The Ganzfeld, in that it's devoted entirely to visuals and stories from various artists, with only short introductory pieces provided for context. Its 196 pages are split between Japanese and Canadian artists, as the title suggests. Of special note is some excellent English lettering by David Heatley on a trio of Shigeru Sugiura stories, although be aware that the Japan section is light on the sequentials. Still: King Terry!! Also, there's a nearly 30-page batch of Mark Connery comics in the Canada section that had me laughing forever. Only $29.95. You'll like it.

Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz: A deluxe exercise in reconstitution from writer/artist Peter Kuper, mixing sepia-toned works from the past (dating from 1993 onward) into a new narrative starring the author's alter ego. Fantasy autobio in 208 pages. Hardcover, $19.95, from Crown Publishers. Kuper clearly knows his way around the form, so this is probably worth flipping through.

Intersections: This should be something - a 'conversation sketchbook' passed via mail between artists Duncan Fegredo and Sean Phillips, in which the artists took turns drawing and painting in a book. The result is 96 pages, and published by Image. Will be pretty.

Flight Vol. 4: I don't think much of anything needs to be said about this new edition of the visually resplendent anthology, so I'll just point you to the sprawling preview page, containing a full list of folks involved.

Madman Gargantua!: Oh, here's that 852-page brick of every solo Madman comic ever released (The Atomics not included!). Only $125, although if you're rolling that high you might as well dump out the extra $25 for the signed limited edition, eh?

Gødland #19: A new issue is always welcome, and this week also has the third trade collection,
Gødland Vol. 3: Proto-Plastic Party. Man, there's a bunch of stuff out this week.

Monster Attack Network: New from AiT/Planet Lar, writers Marc Bernardin & Adam Freemen (also of Wildstorm's current miniseries The Highwaymen, issue #2 of which is also out this week) and artist Nima Sorat. Monsters and attacks. Review soon.

The Programme #1 (of 12): Fairly striking new Wildstorm miniseries from writer Peter Milligan and artist CP Smith (noteworthy colors by Jonny Rench too). Review here. War is in the air. Give it a flip.

Army@Love #5: Additional war for the comics stands.

All-Flash #1: In which writer Mark Waid presses down on the lever and flushes the series' prior incarnation down, down, down. Assists by artists Karl Kerschl, Ian Churchill & Norm Rapmund, Manuel Garcia, Joe Bennet & Ruy Jose, and new regular artist Daniel Acuña. If ya love that Waid, see also The Brave and the Bold #5.

Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil #4 (of 4): Confession - the cheesy political satire kind of managed to unbalance things badly for me last issue, drawing attention away from writer/artist Jeff Smith's excellent grasp of childlike dream logic and making the whole thing seem heavy-handed. Still, the ending will be worth looking at.

Warren Ellis' Blackgas 2 #3 (of 3): I've read that this will be the last of Ellis' Italian-seasoned zombie comics, and it's indeed probably about time to wrap it up, although these are generally good little shock-gore books. Expect nasty fates and a lack of hope. Artist Max Fiumara will soon be seen teamed up with Peter Milligan on DC's Infinity Inc. series, and it'll be something to witness how his gnarled style will interact with whatever direction Milligan plans to go in.

The Order #1: Speaking of new superhero ongoings, here's the debut issue of the Matt Fraction/Barry Kitson series that used to be called something that nobody can say anymore without acid raining from Heaven. I was kind of pulling for The ___________ as the official title, since that's what Marvel's website had it listed as for a long while. Fill in your own legally touchy brand! Out of the ashes of Civil War - The Disney Starbucks!! Featuring attractive, carefully managed superhero expendables; the premise seems like a continuity-aware X-Statix, which could be quite good or otherwise. I trust in Fraction. In other Marvel news, Stuart Immonen takes charge of the art in Ultimate Spider-Man, and the 2002 Brian K. Vaughn/Kyle Hotz MAX miniseries The Hood gets a hardcover collection, presumably on the increasing value of Vaughn's name. The astral form of Jemas nods silently.

Justice League of America #11: This is the penultimate issue of writer Brad Meltzer's run on the series, which I don't believe I've read since issue #2 or so. I'm back for this standalone issue, though, since I really want to see what guest artist Gene Ha will bring to the big-time superhero blockbuster table.

Space Pinchy: This is only on here because I like the title. It's some 18+ 3-D cheesecake thingy from Tony Takezaki, the guy who did the AD Police manga. It was supposed to be a pamphlet-format miniseries back in early 2006, but now Dark Horse is blowing it out at $15.95 for 224 full-color pages. Finally, Space Pinchy may find its audience. "Here! Are you all right, Lady Pinchy?"

World War Hulk #2 (of 5): I wonder if Hulk met up with Lady Pinchy in his journey across the sea of stars... sounds like a good idea for an issue of World War Hulk: Front Line, or possibly World War Hulk: Gamma Corps. I think Pinchy's more 'news' than 'gamma,' myself. That joke probably didn't make any sense, and that would be because I've entirely forgotten what Gamma Corps is supposed to be about. I'm only reading the main book here. It's pretty good, by the way! Greg Pak seems to have a nice grasp on the mix of silliness and gravitas necessary to make a gigantic Hulk fight series pop - it might be the best Summer Event follow-up to Civil War that Marvel could have managed. But yeah, I'm keeping away from those tie-ins and offshoots...



More Future War

*There is shocking news about the state of the world today underneath this post. But right now, we have a little something about a comic that's coming soon. The usual Tuesday features will be up in the afternoon.

The Programme #1 (of 12)

Strange that I should just mention Rogan Gosh earlier today, since this Wednesday brings us the newest non-work-for-hire project by writer Peter Milligan, this time from Wildstorm. As you can guess, it's not part of the proper Wildstorm universe, although it does allow the studio to play a role it's sometimes cast in: Vertigo with superheroes. See also Ex Machina, and especially The Winter Men, a still-unfinished series this little number does bear a passing resemblance to. When is that final issue of The Winter Men coming out? And would I cry if I knew the answer?

But while The Programme is indeed concerned with secret superhumans from the USSR, it's not so much concerned with world-weary dialogues and detailed settings - rather, Milligan favors jarring shifts in time and place, and bizarre flights of possible madness, not unfamiliar territory. This opening issue provides a splintered introduction to the book's world, in which the United States is already having enough trouble with a nasty war of liberation in sandy Talibstan (I am now imagining Wildstorm and Vertigo editors having long, liquor-soaked arguments over whether this or Army@Love has the best fake Middle East), only to have a mysterious Soviet-era superhuman pop up and wipe the troops' bones clean with amazing power. Meanwhile, an American bar owner and former folk singer suffers anxiety fits over his he-man sexual prowess and secret lust for combat. It all fits in to nasty shit that went down in the Nazi experiments of WWII, and (one presumes) later Soviet struggles in the desert.

I couldn't say this is a very original setup, but the particulars are sometimes striking. CP Smith and (colorist) Jonny Rench provide the book with a truly godforsaken visual feel - nearly every setting is drenched in its own vomitous hue, all the better for careful spotting of moods in-sequence and painful whips from color to color when strange energies are used. Check out this preview, and note how icky green is initially used to signify the weird battle occurring outside the windows, and how it ultimately overwhelms the toasted rust of the soldiers as doom draws near. You'll also notice that faces are rarely glimpsed without a cloak of shadow on top - this technique is used throughout the issue as a means of forcing human characters to behave visually as mere elements of omnious settings or extensions of uneasy moods. When faces are 'fully' glimpsed, there's usually a touch of red or some strange shift in hue used to emphasize moments of particular emotion.

Thus, the book's visual style is both heavily realist, yet distinctly playful, even witty, in its expressive use of color. Smith's page layouts favor stacked wide panels of variable height, giving the work an oppressive sense of pressing down, then relaxing. It matches Milligan's script nicely - while there's little that's terribly new to this onrushing battle, there's a potent undercurrent of evil wish-fulfillment, as if the world has been aching to give the US another grand Soviet foe to save it from the nebulous threat of terrorism. In comes a fellow tossing mushroom clouds around, and suddenly a nation's sleeping super-morality begins to wake to an old-fashioned clash of the superpowers, even if it can't quite parse out the dreams and the waking yet. But the book's too-smooth visual slips from past to present silently imply that war was always a bit quixotic, even in 'simpler' times.

A good spin on the subject matter for an introductory issue, with skilled hands behind it. Give it a look - a long Wildstorm series like this one will need a hit of fast attention, and this one deserves a shot at survival.

Back and not so tired.

*I've felt for a while that my site was getting... sleepy.

Which is to be expected, to some extent. For one, I'd started this site when I was still a student, and had a bit of free time to throw around. These days I'm working full-time, which has sapped both my free time and my writing/thinking energy, leading to a few too many paradigm-shifting posts in which I announce that I am about to drive somewhere, or go to sleep, or some such nonsense. Also, I've been working through this site for three years now, so it's inevitable that I've fallen into certain ways of doing things - some of these procedures have kept me going at a regular frequency, but they leave the echo of mundanity. To me.

Hence! A fourth year bifurcation!

You've probably heard by now that I'm participating in a new group blog - The Savage Critics! It's an updated version of the review site based out of Brian Hibbs' Comix Experience retail store of San Francisco. There's already a whole bunch of posts up, complete with a handy icon-based guide to all participating writers. There's going to be a lot of good stuff up there, and I'm very happy to be included along with everyone.

But, what will I be doing?

Two things.

First off, I'm going to try and restart a weekly feature thing. Longtime readers will recall that I somehow managed to write a weekly online column for Komikwerks.com from January 28, 2005 to April 14, 2006 - it was an amorphous thing, spilled in no particular direction, flavored with industry punditry and occasionally scented with noxious literary perfume. I still really like a few of them, and Komikwerks has kindly kept them all archived, if you want to use the pull-down list and click around.

My Savage Critics thing will be nothing like that. Instead, I plan to take a different book/series/issue/story from somewhere in my collection, something not particularly new, and just go through what strikes me as interesting about it. I've already got a lot of choices to go through, so I'll probably keep it up for a while. First book up is Rogan Gosh, and you can expect the post sometime later this week. It's a new site (well, at least a substantially different version of an old site in terms of organization), so it may take a few weeks for posts to settle into rythms, but I'm thinking the feature will run on Wednesday mornings. Just like I did with my old column, my corresponding blog post will be little more than a link to the new stuff at the other site.

Secondly, I'll also be making one or two posts of short reviews per week at the Savage Critics site. These posts will be different from the review posts on this site in several ways. First off, they will only concern comics pamphlets released that week to Direct Market stores, unless Brian wants to do a special feature or something. I'm also taking a vow of temperance, so absolutely none of those short reviews will be over 300 words in length. Hopefully, this will get me back into examining recent pamphlets at a good clip. I will continue to review anything and everything, at whatever length seems right, on this site. All books sent to me for the purposes of review will continue to be reviewed on this site. This site will continue to run at its usual clip of six or seven days a week, although one of those days will now be taken up by a link to Savage Critic feature stuff.

I'm pretty excited about all this. It's already gotten me eager and ready to write more, although I guess we'll see how much my pep keeps up after a few months of posting, eh?

*Fuck. I want to do a review, but nobody wants a review of their comic buried under a stack of site news. How about I post this right now, and post the review on top after I finish it? Great idea, me! Always glad to speak out loud as I type. They all love me at my day job.



*...or, it will be tomorrow, on June 14. Thank you, thank you, thank you all for reading. In honor of this event, I will bask in silence until either Monday evening or Tuesday morning.

And maybe when I'm back, there'll be something new to observe. Just a passing thought.

I'll will see you all when the weekend is through.


Comics… across time!

*Every notable expert in the world has acknowledged me as Emperor of Time, and for good reason - I shall now review comics from across the ages!


Injury Comics #1: Well, ok. So it debuted at MoCCA and simply hasn’t shown up in Diamond-serviced comics stores yet. I didn’t say I was the best Emperor of Time. You’ll want to check this out when you’ve got access - series mastermind Ted May has maybe had the least exposure of the USS Catastrophe crew, but he’s a very funny cartoonist with a lively style conductive of both stripped-down fisticuffs and winsome vulnerability.

Both modes are served well in here - of the two feature stories (both previewed here), Panama Red (writing by Jeff Wilson, art by May) provides plenty of comedic high school pothead autobiography, with all the foolishness and paranoia such stories entail, while From Manleau’s Personal Battle Log: Your Bleeding Face (story and breakdowns by May, finishes by Jason Robards) sees the tough-talking (albeit reflective) cyborg declare all-out war on the Barnyard Animals by kicking the ass of senior regular The Fighting Cock, who bellows lines like “And I’m gonna elect you governor of the state of pain by a margin of two votes!” while raising his fists. All that and The Perils of Heracles, the comic strip that demands participation by YOU. It’s a good capsule of May’s various talents, and I recommend you keep it in mind for when it becomes available near you (or through Buenaventura’s store).


Madman Atomic Comics #3: You know, I suspect that if Mike Allred had simply titled this series Journey into Mike’s Super-Groovy Stream of Consciousness (featuring Madman), there wouldn’t be nearly as many of the puzzled reactions I’ve seen. Having a creator-owned superhero comic carries with it the freedom of doing whatever you damn well please with it, but there remain lingering expectations, particularly after the series has been running for a while.

Still, I remain glad Allred is taking the path he’s chosen. This issue, for instance, is a pulse-pounding purification ritual of sorts, in which Merry Mike metafictionally manifests the entire story as Madman’s journey into confrontation with ever-shifting personal and interpersonal views of his ‘self,’ with the art shifting in nearly every panel to mimic the many dozens of artists that have inspired Allred’s visual approach; as such, Frank Einstein’s effort to “burn out all the fiction that’s been seeded in [his] subconscious” doubles as Mike Allred’s working through of the patchwork of influence, so as to arrive at a purer, personal visual state. Right on the page! In front of your eyes!

It’s really kind of a jaw-dropping bit of interplay between creator and character (the character being physically based on the creator, I remind you), executed with consummate visual skill. Even a ‘Meanwhile’ sequence set in the real world is designed with the panels shaped as each letter in the word MEANWHILE, each in-panel composition molded to most effectively adapt to its border. The immediate downside is that the storytelling seems even more gangly than usual, with Allred drawing bits of conversation between Madman and his fictional superhero idol/spirit guide/alternate consciousness Mr. Excitement out to better reflect what’s going on in-homage. This on top of the fact that the conversation itself remains an extended analysis of the nature of introspective objectivity, a costumed superhero thinking aloud about thinking about things, while he inadvertently shifts his body into seemingly every superhero or non-superhero-as-superhero that ever meant anything to his creator, who’s also a extra-fictional manifestation of him. Got it?

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s obviously a chance that readers hoping to see Madman crack quirky quips while tangling with villains will find this entirely fucking intolerable, although I should note that Madman does indeed seem to break his way through to the real-this-time-really-real world at the end of the issue. But I love pouring through tangled, ultra-personal sequential knits of this sort, particularly when I’m a devotee of the artist. Here, Allred’s character’s (so, Allred’s) ruminations are front and center, the superhero genre, a place where some 'distance' from properties is very much the norm, temporarily incarnated as the thought-rhythms of the super-self, by a man who won’t keep himself at all removed from his costumed creations.


Action Comics #851: Last week being the past, don't ya know. This is part 4 of 5 (previously 6) of the Geoff Johns/Richard Donner-scripted Last Son storyline, which you’ll recall began in issue #844. The story will now end in Action Comics Annual #11, rather than an issue of the regular series. There have been problems.

This issue is also notable, however, as being available in a special partial 3-D edition (at a buck more than the regular edition’s $2.99), with DC happily playing up artist Adam Kubert’s involvement in a process pioneered for the medium by his father, Joe Kubert. Ray Zone handles the special effects, which are explained in-story as a perception effect of Superman’s wandering through the Phantom Zone, where he’s become trapped at this point in the plot. Note that the 3-D stops about halfway through.

The process (glasses included) is actually pretty impressive, when taken in isolation, so long as pages are kept in ‘full’ 3-D; unfortunately, some of the book tries to meld 3-D portions of the page with standard Dave Stewart-colored art, to achy effect. Moreover, the red and blue glasses play havoc with reading the never-3-D lettering, and I found it extremely difficult to actually experience the book as a cohesive work - I’d read it properly, suffering through viewing the art without the glasses on, then view the art on its own. Cute gimmick, but by segmenting the reading experience in that way, the comic ensures the process can only ever work as a gimmick - tellingly, my favorite recent use of ‘glasses required’ 3-D in a comic was on that crucial Zatanna page of Seven Soldiers #1, where the effect was so subtle that the 3-D acted more as an Easter Egg than anything (though entirely plot-appropriate!).

Meanwhile, the story itself kind of spins its wheels while things fly up toward the surface of the panels, and then quickly lurches toward its conclusion in immediately readable form. Plenty of Super-angst, and the expected uneasy Geoff Johns mix of doe-eyed Silver Age appreciation and jarring contemporary superhero ‘grit’ - the All-New Superman Revenge Squad debuts, while the treat of sexual violence against Lois Lane is duly forwarded by General Zod and his goggles. Competent stuff, slickly-rendered in the 2-D bits, but it all feels decidedly inconsequential. Which does create an interesting problem: which version to recommend? The 3-D one basically forces you to divvy up your reading, approaching the story as a gimmick object more than anything. I expect the 2-D one will seem overextended and empty without the special effects. Really, my recommendation is to just buy a better superhero comic.





All Star Superman #8

Also, an anime review of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society, plowing farther into colons than anything seen before.

Not much else, since the holiday made everything longer last week.

*And now -


Comics Comics #3: Or, at least Diamond has an item called simply “Comics Comics” listed for $2.95. I will presume it’s the latest issue of this fine newspaper of comics information and festivity, now ready for the Direct Market to kiss it with its tongue. Reviews of new publications, like Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics! Frank Santoro makes the case for Ronin as Frank Miller’s finest hour! Sammy Harkham chats with Guy Davis, and they draw the cover together! Kim Deitch editorializes! My name appears in print again, much to the consternation of English letters! It’s a scientifically proven fact that a copy of Comics Comics can heal a multitude of diseases if pressed against the offending portion of the body, though it’s gotta be a sick body part, not just offending. I sure hope this item isn’t actually something else!


Dee Vee 2007: Ohh, a new 48-page volume of the ten-year old Australian comics anthology, presenting tales of "spiteful romance" for a mere $4.95. Full(?) list of folks here, featuring Eddie Campbell and Jeffrey Brown and many more.

Spent: The new hardcover collection of Joe Matt’s infamous ‘Joe Matt masturbates a lot’ storyline from Peepshow. Drawn and Quarterly brings it to you, for $19.95. I reviewed the final issue of the storyline here. It’s all addiction, all rationalization. I rather enjoyed it, but opinions have been very mixed.

Martha Washington Dies: No plot summary necessary, I don’t think. From writer Frank Miller and artist Dave Gibbons, a simple 24-page one-shot that wraps up the saga, in anticipation for a big fat book later on that’ll collect the whole thing. The preview hints at a relatively restrained finale, albeit packed with desperate war against barbarians that have torn down all the churches… will Freedom prevail?! Only $3.50, true believers.

Ashley Wood’s 48 Nude Girls: I expect this to provide what it says on the label too.

Jack Kirby’s Silver Star: You might have seen TwoMorrows’ b&w softcover Graphite Edition of the material last year - note that this is a new hardcover edition from Image, with fully remastered coloring. Silver Star began life as an illustrated screenplay Kirby wrote in the ‘70s, which he adapted to comics form as a six-issue Pacific Comics series in 1983-84, one of his final original works. Interest in the King really seems to be picking up - also this week, Marvel has the Devil Dinosaur by Jack Kirby Omnibus out for $29.99, compiling the nine-issue entirety of Kirby’s 1978 Moon-Boy starring vehicle. Enthusiasts’ shelves shall buckle.

Ramayan 3392 A.D. Vol. 1: Of Virgin Comics' various ongoing series, this is the one I liked the most, writer Shamik Dasgupta's and (primary) artist Abhishek Singh's sci-fi retelling of the legend of Rama, which had action comic oddness to burn, and a midnight glow that reminded me of something that might prompt me to pluck an issue of Heavy Metal off the rack. I presume this collects the entire series thus far, as the book is relaunching later this month with Ron Martz as story consultant and writer of a back-up strip to be illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming. Also of note from Virgin this week are Weston Cage & Nicholas Cage's Voodoo Child #1, actually written by Mike Carey, with art by Dean Hyrapiet, and India Authentic #3: Indra - The King of Gods, from writer Saurav Mohapatra and artist... somebody not listed at Virgin's site.

Nexus #99: I’ll level with you - I don’t think I’ve ever read a full issue of Mike Baron’s and Steve Rude’s much-loved brainchild, returning this week from a decade’s hiatus, and I have absolutely no idea what’s going on the story or anything. I just know it’s a four part monthly storyline starting up here, from RudeDude Productions, and faithful readers will want to know. The art will probably be very nice.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vol. 9 (of 18): Hey, hey whoa… a little quick for this one to be getting out, huh? These VIZ books for older readers that nobody wants (except when they do) usually travel in packs. My hopes were up for the rest of them to follow along. Anyway - this.

Madman Atomic Comics #3: Floyd Gottfredson homage in the preview art = issue is obviously going to be great. I shouldn’t be giving away these juicy critic tips, but my guidance councilors always told me I had no sense of discretion. Pricks.

BPRD: Garden of Souls #5 (of 5): Oh, Guy Davis draws this! Read all about him in this week’s… ok.

Green Arrow: Year One #1 (of 6): Notable for Andy Diggle and Jock. Look.

Blade #11: Penultimate issue! Please battle hard for justice, Blade!

Punisher War Journal #9: You too, Frank! America!

Clubbing: This is the third Minx book, which they really seem to be rolling out at a steady clip. From writer Andi Watson and artist Josh Howard. Murder and mystery with a London club kid, glossary of terms included (really). Incidentally, I do think DC announced some other publishing line the other day, some kind of... computer comics, maybe sold on floppy disks and distributed through junior high school classroom catalogs. I don't know, maybe the internet is talking about it.



Might I recommend the sidebar?

*Sorry for the lack of stuff today, but this whole week is going to be pretty shit as far as posts go. I'll have my usual feature up Tuesday afternoon, and I hope I can squeeze in a review or two in the next few days, but I'm gonna be without internet altogether from Friday through Monday. Reliable service will resume afterward. Hey, it's almost been three years of this place (that would be Saturday) - things always do get quiet around the birthday. Maybe something slightly louder will pop up a little ways after...


Late Sunday

*Good Quotes Dept:

For me this is a volume almost as important as the New Testament or the Koran.”

- Jeet Heer, on The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, still one of the absolute finest starting points in a study of early American strips, and easily found online for under $10. Be sure to read the whole interview (conducted by Tom Spurgeon) - not only will you learn how Vladimir Nabokov helped inspire Drawn & Quarterly’s Walt and Skeezix series, but you’ll be unable to get the dream of a Kevin Huizenga-designed Complete Floyd Gottfredson collection out of your head.

*Odd sight of the day: one of my local chain bookstores had one of the trade collections of Urotsukidoji stocked in the manga section. No shrinkwrap. Good ol’ fashioned hardcore funnybook pornography, that. I can tell why the place is a hit with the teenagers!

Urotsukidoji is a noteworthy series, mind you; originally created in 1986 by writer/artist Toshio Maeda, it was quickly recognized as one of the landmark works of manga filth, and ground zero for the still-notorious ‘nasty tentacle’ style, which Maeda devised as a means of circumventing content regulations that forbade the depiction of actual human genitals. The work’s 1987-89 anime OVA adaptation garnered infamy the world over, especially in an edited movie compilation version titled Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend. It got so big, and so controversial, they say it almost killed English-language anime fandom, especially in the UK, by mere association. For more detailed anime-focused information (and bonus spicy pictures) I commend you to Teleport City.

But we’re talking about manga at the bookstore. It’s actually not the presence of porno that surprised me -- I've seen compilations of Tijuana Bibles and dvds full of ‘80s theatrical porn trailers in chain bookstores -- but the fact that CPM Manga’s release of the title is over half a decade old at this point. Doing a little checking around, it seems that the volume present in the bookstore (Vol. 2) is either the only one in print, or at least the only one readily available from online sellers for shipping. Could this be a result of their recent(ish) financial troubles? I’m not very bright with the ins and outs of bookstore acquisitions, so could somebody possibly help me out with this?

I really do love Maeda’s art, by the way. Kind of mainstream ‘80s shōnen, but mixed with the sort of stolid American influence that Ryoichi Ikegami displays; indeed, Maeda cites the likes of Neal Adams, Gil Kane, Joe Kubert and Bernie Wrightson as influences. Er, note that the images at that link aren’t good examples of the stuff in the book - Urotsukidoji is very sooty and sweaty and wildly over-rendered… it really looks dirty. Like, you can sense it’s pornographic before anyone takes their pants off. I admire that.

*Speaking of anime:

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Solid State Society

This was just released to R1 dvd this past week, and I believe it’s also airing on the Sci-Fi Channel in the US. Stand Alone Complex is the television anime wing of the Ghost in the Shell franchise, and Solid State Society is its newest installment, a feature-length film that debuted on pay television in late 2006 and hit R2 dvd about two months later. As always, Kenji Kamiyama directs, also contributing to the writing and storyboards.

This is the first of the Stand Alone Complex stories I’ve seen, and I was a little struck by the creative team’s decision to devote it to the ‘Puppetmaster’ storyline, which also served as the lynchpin for Masamune Shirow’s original manga, as well as the basis for Mamoru Oshii’s initial theatrical film; all three of these incarnations of the story exist on discreet timelines, and need not reflect one another at all. But then, I suppose the Puppetmaster concept provides the completion of GitS’ man-machine themes, and it wouldn’t quite be the same thing without that type of development.

Anyway, the Solid State Society team smartly tosses out virtually all of the original plot(s), retaining only the most basic beats of the original manga’s progression, mixing in some concepts from the GitS2 manga, and even (loosely) adapting a sniper action sequence from the GitS1.5 manga, while building a completely new plot around everything. It’s a typically labyrinthine GitS story, chock-full of erased memories and vigorous typing on keyboards and secret political agendas and cyborgs firing weapons at one another in between bouts of brow-furrowing. It presumes some familiarity with character backgrounds and the interpersonal dynamics at work, but is otherwise accessible to neophytes.

There’s also several images, lines of dialogue and character designs that are obviously meant to evoke memories of Oshii’s original film, but Kamiyama is a far more straightforward director, focused on keeping the storytelling clean and the suspense attractive. At times the film’s style feels slightly impersonal, like… well, a made-for-television movie, but there’s no doubt it’s a far peppier and thrill-driven thing than any of the theatrical films, with no lack of polish or narrative sophistication.

But really, the main thing that separates Kamiyama’s film from Oshii’s for me is its multiplicity of themes. While Oshii conjured a rhapsodic, melancholy piece, primarily about the existential plight of humans turning into machines, Kamiyama tosses out all sorts of heavy comments on international terrorism, Japan’s aging population and declining birthrate, racial nationalism, the indoctrination of children as ‘good’ servants of the state, the concept of parentage in a computerized society, the concept of loneliness in the same - there’s no lack of heady stuff in here, all of it crunched down as neatly as possible into a technological thriller framework. If anything, this is the smoothest mix of thematic depth and vivid storytelling I’ve seen from the franchise, and I expect some viewers will find its sense of balance especially pleasing. I was entertained a good deal, though I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t miss the uncompromising lyricism Oshii brings to the table.


It's Friday night, so all I've got is another invaluable anime link post.

*One upcoming television show I'm very much interested in is Ghost Hound, the big 20th anniversary project from beloved animation studio Production I.G. With a title like that you'd think I.G. mainstay Mamoru Oshii would be all over it, but the actual list of head talents is no less impressive for his absence - the director is Ryutaro Nakamura of Serial Experiments Lain and Kino's Journey (aka Kino no Tabi), the writer is his sometimes collaborator Chiaki J. Konaka, who's also worked on shows like Texhnolyze and The Big O, and it's all based on stuff created by Masamune Shirow, proud papa of multimedia franchises such as Ghost in the Shell, Dominion, and Appleseed, in case you've forgotten.

A nice headlining crew. Glaring lack of Yoshitoshi ABe, of course, but I guess Shirow's filling his role already. I'm looking forward to it.

Well, maybe I should say I'm still looking forward to it, since I.G. just released the first teaser to the show's official page (blue PLAY buttons, bottom left corner), and it's... kind of terrible. Not that a teaser will ever tell you much of substance, but this thing completely failed me as a taste of what's to come. The emphasis is on Mariko Oka's unimpressive character designs, as a moé type of girl slowly blinks her jewel eyes in bed while PVC-looking youths stare at things and walk around, possibly encountering menacing computer graphics of a shadowy nature and fuzzy video horror images that already seemed derivative before I graduated college. Not much appeal in that, but I'd be silly to presume that a creative team this strong won't have something good to bring to the table.


Ok, really short review for real this time...

*Only time for one.

All Star Superman #8

You know, against the odds, I think this might be one of my favorite issues of the series. And I really don't understand how writer Grant Morrison can keep hitting on the same 'Superman confronts himself and his mortality' motif over and over and over in seemingly every issue, yet still somehow keep it all interesting, but he damn sure manages. Chronicling Superman's attempts to escape the sinking world of the Bizarros despite his rapidly fading strength and the general oddness surrounding him, this is the most leisurely-paced issue of the series since the Lois-centered issue #2, and will possibly test the patience of readers hungry for action and/or one million ideas per second; the overload of Bizarro language, while funny, certainly started to test me by the end.

But man, Zibarro turned out to be a fucking peach of a character, the biggest reversal in a whole world of them - while beloved Superman came to Earth as an aberration from humanity in terms of power, learning goodness from the people, Zibarro exists on the Bizarro World as an aberration in terms of consciousness, and learns only sadness from people who utterly despise him. Thus, while Superman is greater than man by name, and a creature of two identities, Zibarro's name only indicates a halfway mixed-up Bizarro, seemingly both Clark Kent and Superman at the same time. As always, do pay attention to Frank Quitely's character art, as it tends to tell the same story in an entirely different way that nonetheless coheres with the whole. And Superman's goodness cannot be stopped - while I can't say I've read every Superman comic ever made, I'll go out on a limb and say that nobody's ever sold the moral aspect of the concept quite as well as Morrison has. Fittingly, the dying man shows his weaker aspect sweetness and support while struggling to save himself. He even reads the errant Kent's writing (excellent dialogue there)!

I dunno. It's loaded with cheesy jokes and ambling whimsy, but it completely manages to convey the personal depths that campy Silver Age superheroics might reveal in the reader as echos of individual longings - if anything, this series is a broadcast of Grant Morrison's readings of old Superman comics, and many of them all at once with bits and pieces swapped and matched, with all of the tender anxieties he might instill in those readings added directly into the mix instead of kept inside his head. As a result, it's not only an especially personal spin on a long-lived corporate superhero property, but an emotional scanning of a very specific and emphatically admired portion of the timeline.

This issue has a little extra room for detail, and I found its particulars affecting. You may be different.


Happy Colorful Explosion Day, United States of America!

*I save all the regular features for one day, so they'll all have a friend to play with.


Fox Bunny Funny (new from Andy Hartzell & Top Shelf, effective wordless tale of the Self and the Other - you'll get the title pun when you read it)

The Black Diamond #1-2 (of 6) (a new Ait/Planet Lar miniseries about high-speed action... or is it?)

Apollo's Song (new English-language Osamu Tezuka from Vertical - learn how the boys of Japan got their comics-format sex ed in 1970)

And, a very, very fresh review of the very recent television anime series Paranoia Agent, by which I mean the show came out in 2004.

*You know what's patriotic? Buying things.


Silverfish: A new original b&w graphic novel from writer/artist David Lapham, working again in his crime thriller element. Plenty of secret agendas and lurid violence, from the looks of it. Also from Vertigo this week, there’s Faker #1 (of 6), a new Mike Carey-written miniseries about repressed memories and mysterious disappearances in a college setting. The art is by Jock, which will sell a few copies on its own.

Buddha Vol. 8 (of 8): Jetavana: I just reviewed Vertical’s most recent Osamu Tezuka release, Apollo’s Song, yesterday (in case you didn’t find the link on the top of this page), and now tomorrow brings us the completion of their softcover release of Tezuka’s acclaimed historical/spiritual series. Go get it.

Dragon Head Vol. 7 (of 10): On the other hand, if I was to participate in the current ‘list the manga series you dropped’ game… well, I might not list this, but I’d certainly make a lot of excuses about how I’ll totally catch up on it someday.

The Collected normalman: Meanwhile, here’s your flashback omnibus of the week. For only $19.99, you can own all 432 b&w pages of Image founder Jim Valentino’s parodic series about an entirely non-super man trapped in a world of marvelous powers. Ain’t the New Golden Age something?

All Star Superman #8: Concluding the Bizarro World storyline, as Superman struggles to find a way off Bizarro Earth and save the day. Feel free to expect plenty of modern Sliver Age antics, although if you’re hungry for authentic old-school Superman family nonsense, DC’s also got The Amazing Transformations of Jimmy Olsen out this week, a $14.95, 192-page compilation of classic ‘50s and ‘60s Jimmy stories, with a shared metamorphosis motif.

Following Cerebus #10: In which the magazine about Cerebus (and whatever Cerebus’ creative team thinks might be neat) returns after a 10 month break. In case you’re interested, the circumstances that led to the delay have been posted to the Dave Sim blogandmail website, along with a short preview of some of the new issue’s content.

The Black Diamond #2 (of 6): Ait/Planet Lar’s action(?) series continues. I reviewed the whole series this far the other day. Repeat links are the best links!

The Punisher MAX #49: Concluding yet another solid storyline in Marvel’s most spookily consistent series. Well, unless writer Garth Ennis screws up the finale, which I doubt he will - his endings in this series tend to be the most excellent parts. The next storyline will be a bit different, in that it’ll open with a special one-issue guest artist (Howard Chaykin!) and then move into what I presume will be a regular artist (the very fine Goran Parlov). Speaking of endings, this week also concludes the far sillier spin-off miniseries The Punisher Presents: Barracuda, featuring the aforementioned Mr. Parlov, and the primary antagonist for the proper series’ new storyline.

Garth Ennis’ Chronicles of Wormwood #5 (of 6): But if it’s a relatively subdued, thoughtful/dirty/spiritual Ennis you’re after, Avatar has a speedy release of the latest issue in this increasingly interesting Jacen Burrows-illustrated series.

Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born #6 (of 7): I think everyone online has been mildly surprised with this series’ performance - despite a suspicious lack of internet buzz surrounding its debut -- complete with huffing and harrumphing about some would make it a point to not buy into the hype -- it appears to be chugging along with very steady sales to the Direct Market through Diamond, and there’s no doubt that giving artists Jae Lee and Richard Isanove that generous head start has benefited the book’s scheduling. Plus, it’s one of the only pamphlet-format comics I ever see stacked along with the bookshelf-ready material out in the proper book aisles at chain bookstores (thanks, Stephen King connection!), so I have to imagine sales are even stronger than estimated (and they’re estimated at north of 130,000 as of issue #4). It’s probably one of the biggest-selling pamphlets around these days, all things considered, even though it’s somehow slipped through the cracks of much of the online comics discussion.

So how can a book be an instant financial smash and a ‘sleeper’ at the same time, loaded with high-profile connections yet rarely spoken of? Trick of the internet, folks. Maybe we’d like to pretend that gaps in the online conversation equate to gaps in readership interest, but clearly that’s not always true. Might as well brace yourself for the lingering presence of sequels - I can’t imagine this not running through its planned total of 30 or so issues across a series of miniseries at this point.