*Well first of all Pantheon’s collected hardcover edition of David B.’s “Epileptic” is out right now in the major bookstore chains; I don’t think it’s reached the Direct Market yet, but it’s out there, with a copyright date of 2005, so it seems like the old year is already gone and done with. But it can’t be! I haven’t cobbled together some sort of arbitrary and whim-driven Top Something list! I command this year not to end until I am finished blogging! And I’ve ordered the river not to rise another inch!

*These lists can’t help but be kind of suspect; I haven’t even read some of the most prominent releases of 2004. I got a copy of “Locas” for Christmas. Did I read it yet? Ha ha. Hell, “Entertainment Weekly” named “Persepolis 2" their #9 nonfiction book of the year (and oh! to imagine the whimsical ranking criteria of a ‘best nonfiction book’ list). I’ve still not read it. Fantagraphics’ “The Complete Peanuts” also got a nice mention in the ‘books’ section for Best Reissue, and both of EW’s resident film critics placed “The Incredibles” at #3 on their respective Best Film lists. Nothing has stopped all of these people from putting together lists, and I’ve certainly never let common sense get in the way of this site before, so I’ll just throw in everything comics that I’ve read this year. It’s a pretty conservative list, looking over it. There’s a lot of stuff you’ll surely find on some other lists floating around. Collections of older stuff, single issues, unfinished miniseries, original graphic novels; there’s a bit of everything here, but they’re all works that I enjoyed very much, and I’d recommend them to you as well, in case you haven’t quite gotten around to them yet, just as I’ve managed to never find time for certain works this year. But 2005 is a new year, and that’s plenty of time to catch up on books that you missed, and books that I missed as well. And reading good books is what we all like to do. Sooooooooo....


10. Challengers of the Unknown #1-6 (of 6): And why not kick things off with a nice flawed work from writer/artist Howard Chaykin? It’s prone to repetition and overexplanation. The political satire is occasionally shrill and always amped up to the nth degree. The finale seems slightly rushed, and that characters are a little difficult to get behind. But more than any other Big Company book in 2004, “Challengers of the Unknown” demonstrated the power that can derive from the thoughtful interaction of each element of the comics page. Layouts are repeated for page after page, backing up the uniformity of the heroes in the eyes of their elite oppressors, and informing our readings of each carefully positioned panel. Captions repeat the same language over and over, for emphasis and irony. Sound effects are mechanically laid out, sometimes replacing dialogue all together, creating a void in which gunfights swirl and pulse. Even Chaykin’s character art, endowing each figure with a slight air of sameness (save for the uniquely coiffed and costumed villains), works to the advantage of the story’s themes of unity against the untouchable power elite. And there’s a genuine caffeinated buzz behind that story, taking us on a cook’s tour of contemporary conspiracy and extremism, and blasting us off to the secrets of the moon (and this won’t be the last book on this list that reveals such secrets). It’s reminiscent of other Chaykin works, and not entirely successful on its own terms, but it’s a small miracle of intuitive, intelligent, informative design in modern corporate comics, and for that it deserves praise.

9. Street Angel #1-4: Ah, dear old Internet darling. Out of the handful of small(er) press comics that swept through the blog world in 2004, creating chain reactions of praise and boosterism and questionable effects on actual sales, “Street Angel” is perhaps the most satisfying, and richly deserving of a wider audience, so the hell not boost it again? Veering from gory comedy to crackling action to winking absurdity to gallows dumpster fable, this story of the adventures of the world’s greatest homeless skateboarding martial-artist proved remarkably adept at successfully shifting tone and focus, while benefitting from some steep increases in art quality, culminating in the rotten urban vistas of issue #4, their towering proportions mocking the superheroic antics of issues prior. Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca have only improved in visual style along the way, and it’s understandable why “Street Angel” would spur so many sites to spend such time hyping it. It’s the sort of book that you can’t help but feel that everyone would like, if they’d only take the time to give it a whirl.

8. We3 #1-2 (of 3): Handing a trio of cybernetically-enhanced talking housepets enough heavy weaponry to overthrow several dictatorships before their evening feedings may not have been the most logical idea for the military to pursue, but Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely make it all look eminently coherent, at least by its own internal logic. Good intentions, ways of limiting casualties (er, at least our casualties) are dashed upon the rocks as both man and beast succumb to their own limited vision, their own romantic impulses (perhaps delusions), and only a river of grue can come of it. What’s most surprising about this book is how much effect Morrison can extract from some pretty minimal characterizations; the animal protagonists make every line of dialogue count, their personalities and compulsions evident from their limited vocabularies, and their not-quite-free-of-instinctual behavior. What’s less surprising is that Quitely’s art is superb, orchestrating brutal fights and simple escapes with a maximum of aplomb, nimble characters leaping out of panels and simple lunge shown from dozens of perspectives at once. It’s a model for action comics in the 21st century, quick reading but possessed of remarkable depth. And what’s even better, the final issue will actually be coming out in a few weeks (the first one came out in August)! You can’t beat that!

7. Amy and Jordan: I didn’t properly review this Pantheon release, a collection of Mark Beyer’s 1986-1996 alternative weekly strip, chronicling the appalling adventures of the title couple, who only want to get through another day of life in the big city. But catastrophe always seems to catch up with them: hilarious and cruel catastrophe. I found myself reading just a few of these great little gems each night before bed, like passages from the bible, and the atmosphere of archly witty depression and resignation became all the more compelling. Beyer’s art, stuffed with dozens of tiny lines, becomes more appealing the farther on you get; the meat of the strip itself is often packed into small geometric areas of the page, as the panel gutters grow and overwhelm the strip’s visual designs, like the hated walls of the title duo’s apartment closing in to crush them again. This doesn’t sound funny, which is why I was so impressed when it worked so very well. Also sporting one of Chip Kidd’s most eccentric designs, with the outer hardcover forming something of a shell over the book’s ‘true’ softcover, unattached at the spine but glued to the back and wrapped around. This makes the book constantly feel as if it’s going to fall to bits, but it’s really pretty sturdy; in this way, the book design perfectly compliments Beyer’s handcrafted visual style, and shaky, on-the-edge humor world.

6. The Stuff of Dreams #2 (of 3): Robert Crumb gets so much of the attention, but for my money Kim Deitch is the finest storyteller to emerge from the underground scene, and he continues to improve. While each issue of this miniseries mostly stands alone thus far, there’s a constant theme: the historical power behind collectible items, and how they inspire those in the present. Deitch lays out this issue, the only one of the year and the best one yet, like a oft-told tall tale, beginning as a breezy anecdote about Deitch and his wife purchasing silent film memorabilia online, moving into a study of a fictional (but eminently believable) comic strip supplement to a particular lost movie serial, Alias the Cat, and exploding into a full-blown fantasia with molten gold, dirty politics, Henry Ford, mental illness (an all-time favorite Deitch element), furry sex, Waldo the Cat, hippy communes, forbidden romance, and the tenuous dream of peace in the post WWI United States. Deitch’s interests in silent film and vintage animated film intersect quite fully with my own, but I suspect that everyone can enjoy the sheer verve with which this story is related, lavished with Deitch’s rounded cartoon lines. Sure everything from the present to the past to the comics within the comic are drawn in exactly the same style, but in Deitch’s world there’s little border between the authentic and the fantastic, so why let style complicate matters? Get this book from Fantagraphics. Please. It’s one of the more overlooked titles of the year, but its superb material from a master of the form.

5. Kramer’s Ergot 5: A fine anthology, and perhaps the best summary of where alternative and art comics stand in 2004. It's a real snapshot of the area, expanded this year to include some well-seasoned talents like Chris Ware and Gary Panter, joining some of the brightest younger talents od today, like Kevin Huizenga, Marc Bell, Dan Zettwoch, and many more. Lavish, carefully designed, edited by Sammy Harkham, it's among the comics world's premiere (semi)annual releases, and it got there mainly through personal ambition and a very nearly mad devotion to high quality. If there's any vital anthology of vital work from this past year, it's surely this, where even the lesser works shine with enthusiasm and the vigor of experimentation.

4. Seaguy #1-3 (of 3): Without question the best Big Two superhero comic of the year. There was no serious competition. It was met with general audience indifference upon its initial release, of the small number of people who did buy it, quite a lot found it to be baffling, pretentious, masturbatory, or generally incoherent. But no Big Two superhero book has done so much for me as Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart’s three issue wonder, chronicling the adventures of a wetsuit clad superhero neophyte and his talking, flying, smoking fishy pal, as he wanders through a safe world of corporate-controlled adventure and total business oversight. Only on the moon can he glimpse the former wild heart of adventure, but this isn’t a smashing overthrow of the Man type of adventure, this is a mapping. A gauging of how far the control of those in power reach, and it’s pretty damn far. There are many possible readings of this hero’s journey, but one only needs to look at the haste with which so much of Morrison’s work on Marvel’s “New X-Men” was switched back to the status quo to get a certain perspective on the final scenes of “Seaguy”, a marvelously ambiguous conclusion that seems to put all the toys back in the box, but perhaps something has been accomplished anyway. Or perhaps not. If you haven’t already, please do look into the low low priced trade, coming soon, give the story the attention it deserves, and I just know you’ll understand. I’d love to see those projected sequels, but as a statement on both current comics and current society, “Seaguy” is sublime as it stands now.

3. Eightball #23: For those summer days of heated discussion! This book has a special place in the heart of this site; I wasn’t going to start blogging quite as early as I did, but I just couldn’t wait to get in on the discussion of this wonderful new work from Dan Clowes, who continues to promote the single-issue story as seemingly every other creator on his level has moved to larger works and original formal bookstore-ready volumes. So I started up a little early, and then went on vacation leaving the site stagnant for a solid week, setting a precedent that I’ve been working to overcome ever since. But not many commentators or enthusiasts could resist the pull of Clowes’ own superhero book, a total immersion in the disturbed world of young Andy and his best pal. At first Andy is merely super-strong, but soon he can make all of his problems disappear, which is what truly puts him above the humans (making him fully super-human). But he still has to deal with normal folk, who are prone to bouts of conscience and changes of heart, while Andy becomes all the more stiff, all the more unwavering from his path of justice, and he then rises above the humans in mentality as well. There have been political interpretations of this little number, genre interpretations too, but I prefer to see it has a exploration of what it takes to be truly above humanity, with a moving story of relationships thrown in for good measure. I don’t need to tell you that it’s also visually superb, with the year’s best use of color, but you’ve heard so much about this book that I dare say I don’t need to say anything at all. Let it be known that it has not dimmed in my mind, and has not declined in power over time.

2. Babel Vol. 1: It's about language. The language of dreams, the language of memory, the language of television and history, and the language of comics, of which David B. is fluent. Recurring images and simple figures mix with mythical beasts and tableaux of war, as the breakdown of security in the home reflects an epilepsy of the world. I can't wait to dig into "Epileptic", but I really can't wait to see more of this -just-begun work, a comic of abnormal ambition and skill and breadth.

1. You Can’t Get There From Here: Sometimes, I think Jason may as well have vanished after “Hey, Wait...”, his much-acclaimed English-language debut, for all the attention he gets these days. But he’s as good as ever, and this new book, his fifth English translation, was my very favorite of the year. Maybe it’s the sheer simplicity which Jason employs to tell his cracked tale of a Frankenstein’s Monster and his Bride, pages alternating content (dialogue, action, dialogue, action, etc) with mathematical precision, the six-panel grid reigning supreme, and his iconic animal characters remaining seemingly stoic, even in the face of kung-fu and lynch mobs and sexual violence and new love. But Jason, more than any other creator in comics today, can tell you volumes through pure image (the dialogue is minimal here), and simple panel beats. His style is one of pure elegance, and this story is enriched by his handling, ripping from violence to slapstick to final resignation. It’s such a curious tragicomedy, the sort of thing that I can only imagine Jason bringing us, but that’s what I value about him, and his work has given me the most enjoyment in 2004, hence its appearance here. There’s a whole new year to check it out if you haven’t, but Jason will probably have another book out by then, and it might be even better than this one. Keep those eyes peeled.

*Should I talk about movies too? I can hardly remember this year in film; it’s really hazy. I ought to take Will Pfeifer’s lead and just keep a record of everything I see next year...

I liked a whole bunch of movies that I only caught in theaters this year, although they had been released at first in 2003. “Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring” was pretty marvelous work from Ki-duk Kim, who directs and writes and co-stars, crafting a time-jumping fable set on a floating monastery with an elderly monk and his young assistant practicing a fantasy mix of Buddhism and Christianity, complete with invented rituals, the meanings of which we must determine for ourselves. The young assistant goes through all sorts of trials, learns a lot about life, and finally sets out to find penance for his sins in a concluding sequence that struck me as what “The Passion of the Christ” could have accomplished had it not been obsessed with blood-drenched exploitation pomp. This is a ravishing, contemplative, even hypnotic film, and richly rewarding. Also technically a 2003 release was Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “The Return”, a fine little film about two young boys dealing with the sudden reappearance of their long-lost father, who’s been involved in some very shady business. The rough, complex man proceeds to take them on a bonding trip, but it soon becomes apparent that there’s some serious alternate motives at work, complete with a Mystery Box. Oooooooooh! A Mystery Box! But really it’s an allegory for coping with the loss (permanent or otherwise) of a parent, that miraculously transforms even the most hackneyed of set-ups (one of the boys must conquer his inner doubt by overcoming his literal fear of heights) into fascinating visual poetry. Fourteen-year old Ivan Dobronravov delivers a fantastic performance as the younger and more conflicted of the boys. Critics have mentioned the connections between this film and the works of Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian master and my personal favorite film-maker. And indeed, the traditional Tarkovsky elements of the absent father and the symbolism of water and the general tone of contemplation are all present (plus the two boys are named Ivan and Andrei, after the title characters of Tarkovsky’s first two features, “Ivan’s Childhood” and “Andrei Rublev”), but Zvyagintsev uses his admiration this former artist as inspiration for his own unique vision. It’s also quite a bit more immediately appealing to an audience, far more accessible than, say, “The Mirror”, which some feel requires several volumes of reference material and an Internet-ready laptop scattered around the floor as you constantly pause the dvd to cross-reference each onscreen happening. Er, anyway, “The Return” is way cool and you should rent it.

I really enjoyed “Maria Full of Grace”, which Stephen King just named his own favorite film of the year over in “Entertainment Weekly”. Excellent queasy drug mule action, with vibrant characters and a likeably tricky point-of-view. I also liked a lot of the year’s obligatory online picks: “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Shaun of the Dead” largely lived up to their considerable online hype. I also got around to catching “The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou”, and it was interesting to see Wes Anderson expand his visual style to largely natural, outdoor settings, which he counterbalances with plenty of self-evident artificiality, like stop-motion animated fish. It’s more fragmented than average, with a weirdly stilted opening half-hour, and you can easily tell which jokes were added in to provide quick and easy laughs (pretty much everything in the trailer), since they clash considerably with the general tone of blinkered whimsey. But the use of music is as good as ever (I especially loved that “Life on Mars” sequence), and the film has a keen internal logic to its initial randomness. I adored the seeming invulnerability of Bill Murray’s title character, a passive-aggressive flim-flam filmmaker with a secret action hero’s heart, which is pertinant to a movie about the fictions evident in creating movies (and you may have thought it was about hunting sharks). But keep in mind that I’m generally simpatico to Anderson’s design-heavy twee atmosphere. While I suspect that fans of his prior films will enjoy this (though less than before), those who even gently disliked them will possible be pushed over the edge into outright loathing. I’ve already seen some pretty vehemently negative reviews, and that’s in an environment of largely middling reviews to start with.

*Ok, that's enough. Be good this year. See you in 2005!

*EDIT (1/1/05 12:07 AM): I just glanced at (not really) Dick Clark's New Year's (not really) Rocking Eve, and everyone was dancing and whooping in the streets just as the ball dropped and what was blazing on an information crawl behind them all, on the side of a building? Tsunami information, the words TSUNAMI KILLS shining above all of the beautiful camera folk as they slurped their drinks and wore their hats and jumped around.

Fucking 2005.




*Well ok. Can I look at some other new books first? Like real quick? And can I stagger out my Warren Ellis discussion like those Apparat books are doing with their release schedule? Keen.

Garth Ennis’ 303 #2 (of 6)


Quite a lot of action this issue, with a nice little bookend display of pure might from the third party involved in this little international conflict. Our Russian hero is still leading his crew deep into Afghanistan to locate the remains of a downed aircraft, which has something very special on board. He plays some cat-and-mouse games with a cocky British unit, which has the same objective, and there is much focus on tactics and bluffing, as his thought captions helpfully guide us through. It’s still a cross between Ennis’ longtime fascination with military tactics and the hyper-pumped gore of “The Punisher MAX”, complete with a tough-as-nails aging haunted hero. It’s executed quite well, although artist Jacen Burrows’ character images continue to blend into one another; two of the British soldiers in particular look almost exactly the same, save for hair color, and then they suddenly have the same hair color (perhaps colorist Greg Waller got as mixed up as me?), unless there’s a third identical soldier with brown hair that I’m confusing these possible blonde twins with. As you can tell, it gets confusing, especially when two of the similar soldiers are communicating via radio from different locations. Burrows’ gore also lack a certain definition; in one panel he depicts an exploding soldier as little more than a huge bleeding mass of freshly ground beef flying through the air, with little immediately identifying characteristics. Waller also has a tendency to simply drench everything in deep red, even when characters’ stomachs are falling out, which overwhelms the level of definition. Oh, you haven’t eaten or anything, right?

Given the emphasis on tactics for most of this issue, the opening and closing sequences stand out as something of a counterpoint, as the US rides in with a fleet of heavily armed Apache helicopters and simply bomb and shoot everything in sight. They succeed rather quickly in this regard, blasting the hell out of countless civilians in a nearby village (not a book for those seeking the subtle; at one point a young mother is splattered in the face with her wailing child’s entrails) and simply shooting the British forces to bits, despite Our Hero’s respect and admiration for their tactics. But perhaps his time of carefully planned assault is drawing to a close, another victory of careless brute force. Obviously this issue can be read as a critique of the Most Recent War that the US is fighting (seriously, how can it not?) but maybe it all relates back to the protagonist of this story, maybe the last representative of a certain killer breed.

Tom Strong #30


Alan Moore again receives a special credit for ‘inspiration and oversight’ in this final part of Ed Brubaker and Duncan Fegredo’s arc on this ABC title, titled “The Terrible True Life of Tom Strong”, but it might as well be called “Tom vs. the Terror of the Retcon!”. It’s fitting, as the story seems to be acting as a sort of commentary on Moore’s own career path through comics; it’s a thoughtful approach, though the precise mechanics of it aren’t terribly original, and the result is plainly the best storyline this book has seen since Moore’s own departure from the writer’s position.

Tom Strong is trapped in a ‘realistic’ version of Millennium City, believing that his name is Tom Samson and that he has a dead-end factory job and an icy wife, and that he’s well past fifty years of age and having dreams of adventure as Tom Strong. At first, the story strings us along for a bit as Tom rediscovers his powers, becomes suspicious of the world that he’s experiencing, and sets out to recover the truth. All very simple and perfectly predictable. But then Brubaker reveals something of a box inside the box, as the ‘truth’ Tom discovers isn’t quite what he’d expected.

What we find is a very “Miracleman” type of Dark origin story for Tom, purporting to be the true facts behind the silly fantasies of every other issue of the title. Tom’s memories are even activated by accidently invoking a prominent word from the past (‘Attabar Teru’ rather than ‘Kimota’). He wasn’t raised on a sort of fantasy island, he was part of a top secret military experiment! His fantasy life was implanted, inspired by a bunch of stupid old pulp magazines! Solomon was the name of the ape that was brutally experimented to death before him! The Stronghold is really the site of the obscene project! Dhaula and Tesla, inspired by the wife and kid of the base’s Negro cleaning man, were implanted in his mind as a way of controlling his young adult emotional and sexual urges! Yes! It’s all so very realistic and gritty and quite over-the-top! It’s also very much in the vein of oh so many Dark superhero projects that arrived hot on the heels of Moore’s own work on so many prominent books in the 80's (and later... maybe there were a few mindwipes thrown in). But Tom does not explode into rage or embark on a deconstruction of the genre or (more typically) just glower and fight hastily updated villains bloodily. He begins to reason. And he reaches the conclusion that these new revelations must also be fake, just as fake as the depressing life he’d led just a few pages prior, because plugging delightful superhero elements into a Dark setting and endeavoring to (over)explain everything away as a construct to cover titanically monstrous experimentation isn’t Dark or Gritty or Realistic at all. It’s just really fucking stupid, completely absurd, and exactly as inherently silly as many ‘classic’ superhero tropes, just plunged into denial. “The skies were always gray, the politicians were all liars, the people lived in loneliness and fear. There was no sense of adventure... no place like that could actually exist... outside the mind of a madman that is,” muses Tom, and with that the Gritty world ceases to exist and Tom is returned to the presumably more honest superhero universe that he usually inhabits. A foul villain had planned this little retcon as a means of shattering Tom’s spirit (or something... it’s never really stated why exactly he’s gone through all the trouble); he gets a sock in the kisser. The parallels to Moore’s own evolving approach to superhero work are plainly apparent (to be completely fair, I’ve also heard that some of this ground is covered in Grant Morrison’s “Flex Mentallo”, though in a much more detailed fashion, and wouldn’t it be great to see Morrison do an issue of “Tom Strong” but fat chance of that).

This storyline has a strange effect; upon the first read, it’s genuinely involving, tapping a surprising amount of emotional power from the many prior issues of this title that depict Tom as a generally unstoppable hyper-capable individual (he weeps quite a lot throughout this arc). You’ve got to sort of admire Brubaker’s knack for twisting typical “Tom Strong” elements into Gritty alternatives. And yet, when the book is done, the story suddenly seems genuinely funny. Not in an unintentional style either; you notice how carefully absurd the retcon as applied here can be; it’s just atrocity after atrocity, with no optimistic element left uncovered, and it comes off as sly, deadpan parody, but only upon a second reading. Duncan Fegredo’s art continues to impress, with much of the book rendered in a light, wrinkly lines, a style highly reminiscent of Guy Davis; the later action scenes are full-bodied and bold. Again, there’s some great use of Tom’s larger-then-average word balloons, another element of the book attentively exploited. I know the book hasn’t quite been up its past level since Moore left, but these two issues have been quite good, and I think it’s worth coming back if only to pick them up. It’s a canny tribute to (and even a loving critique of) the book’s venerable co-creator, and if any of the post-Moore stories deserve attention it’s this one.

Iron Man #2

SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST!!! Yes dear readers, it’s time for more pulse pounding character discussion about Iron Man’s motives, as Tony Stark tries to lead his corporation away from military application of his technologies, which is perhaps impossible in our modern times. Then he visits an aging hippie friend who expounds upon the connections between psychedelic drugs and the human body as a computer’s operating system, with added chat about the capricious nature of successful technology and scientific discovery in the Marvel Universe, with an overriding focus upon the inevitable future and possible present of the United States as a ‘post-political corporate conglomerate’ and the necessity of moral-technical innovators as the heralds of the necessary path through oncoming days. I wonder what the old-school “Iron Man” fans think of this? Everything is helpfully intercut with a surprisingly gory rampage of the arc’s semi-super-soldier villain through a Houston FBI office, his fist going through people’s skulls, flame explicitly devouring bystanders’ flesh, and the results of a gun being thrown at somebody at a very high speed. RATED ‘PSR’ FOR PAINFULLY SAVAGE RAMPAGE!!!

Avi Granov does much better work with the violence than with the conversation, where his characters still look molded from soft rubber. But his streams and wires of blood splash in artfully swooping lines, and he does nice work with the bouncing of bullets off of impregnable skin. But Ellis seems far more interested in the ideas behind Iron Man than with Iron Man actually flying off to do immediate battle. I do like this book; it’s the best of Ellis’ current Marvel work, and a genuinely ambitious attempt to engage with the themes that have followed behind the title character, often kept hidden from sight. One third of the way into the initial arc, much of that engagement has involved watching characters sitting around and talking about themselves and each other, but there is promise held for the future.

*I also finally got around to reading Richard Corben’s issue of “Solo” (that’s #2) and there’s not too much to say. The artist shows off his different styles, including some neat molded work, and Corben’s way with dialogue is sort of charming (lots and lots of direct statements of intent, very utilitarian) although the plots are largely ultra-predictable twist stories, with the notible exception of the John Arcudi scripted Spectre short, which nicely captures a creepy, classical vibe, with almost a Golden Age type of direct exploration of the title character’s powers and mission. It’s a lot of nice art, but maybe the $5 cover price is a little too much for what’s mainly light-as-air storytelling.


Genre and Reinvention

*I was walking to the comics shop the other day, and it was snowing pretty hard. People were already beginning to avoid driving through the city, I could tell, as the streets had become lonely. About halfway through I passed by a stocky man wearing a ski mask with an open umbrella thrown capriciously over his shoulder, like a Victorian noblewoman out for a Spring’s stroll through the gardens. He said hello as I passed by, and I sort of waved to him. It’s crazy people you see walking the streets in this weather. Like comics fans.

*My retailer hadn’t quite finished putting the new comics out today when I arrived, so I started rattling books off the top of my head. I still forgot a bunch, but that’s ok.

I asked for “Adam Strange”.

Yeah, here you go. We don’t really order this much. Nobody wants it. But the three or four people who buy it all love it.”

I got a few more, and he pulled out some new trades that had just come in, which he hadn’t put on the shelves yet, books that he thought I’d like. I’d forgotten that Marc Bell has a new book out from Drawn and Quarterly, “The Stacks”. Looks more like an art book than a comic though. I picked it up, and I reminded myself to track down his Fantagraphics book, “Worn Tuff Elbow”.

I like a lot of these D and Q guys,” said the retailer, “But nobody buys ‘em either.”

He packed up my comics and I left. I later noticed that he had slipped a copy of the infamous Free Comic Book Day giveaway item “Christa Shermot’s 100% GUARANTEED How-To Manual For Getting ANYONE to Read Comic Books!!!”. You know. The one where pages and pages were nothing but endless word balloons and featured that rocking comparison chart (“If you like - Dinotopia... Ask your retailer for - Ka-Zar”). Maybe he’s trying to mess with my mind.

*I was accosted by some jittery fellow on the walk back.

Yougotaquarterhowaboutadollaryougotafewdollersforaguy?” he asked.

Judging from the gradually increasing request for a donation, I though for a moment that I was about to be the victim of the most inept mugging the city had ever seen, considering that we were right by the snowy street and people were milling around the bus stop. I handed him a bit of change.

Youyouyougotanythingelse?” he asked.

No,” I said firmly, “That’s all.”

OkmanmerryChristmas!” he replied as he walked away.

Quit City #1 (of 1)

The latest release in Warren Ellis’ Apparat line of one-shots, each of them covering a different area of classic pulp tradition. The imprint’s first release, “Frank Ironwine”, explored the Detective Drama, and the next two, “Simon Spector” and “Angel Stomp Future” will respectively hit the Weird Vigilante and Science Fiction generes, if my guesses are correct. I originally had no idea what “Quit City” would be. As it turns out, we have a Daredevil Aviator story, except we really don’t.

Emma Pierson has returned to her hometown in California after abandoning her position with Aeropiratika, an elite group of pilots who defend the free world from terrorism and perform dangerous rescues. She wanders around town and meets up with old friends, all of whom can’t believe that she’d leave her media superstar life of action to return to this dead-end town. But there are dark secrets in regards to her ex-boyfriend behind both her return and her initial reasons for joining Aeropiratika. Somewhat familiar dark secrets, and melodramatic. Rather soap operatic really. But dark secrets nonetheless.

This is basically a story about bad relationships, and the things that motivate people to change their life. The key forces behind these themes are purely reality-grounded. The only way in which the daredevil aero-antics factor in is as background dressing and as a nebulous symbol for an enriching life outside of the environs in which you grew. The story is slightly reminiscent of an “Astro City” character short, in which superpowers would barely factor in with a story about Real People, save for as convenient plot impetus. The meat of the plot here could appear in pretty much any genre, with the requisite elements plugged into the appropriate slots. Or you could just strip out any fantastic material and the comic would still function as a ‘real mainstream’ type of comic, I suppose. And it’s not that I’m opposed to stories told in realistic settings with fantastical elements thrown in as a minor symbol or attraction, but this sort of thing usually appears somewhere in the middle of a series of stories. Why execute a one-shot in this way?

Ellis’ ever-helpful essay in the back provides the answers: essentially, Ellis sees the aviator hero genre as archaic. The Apparat line of books is an attempt to imagine classic pulp genres as they’d appear today, with the benefit of half a century of (imagined) development behind them in the comics form. To Ellis, the only way to suitably do such a thing with the aviator hero genre is to “driv[e] it all the distance into contemporary fiction, not even acknowledging the action scene that the postmodern action story drops in to serve the form.” In this way, Ellis hopes to put the form under “a kind of interrogation.” But what information is gathered from this interrogation? Nothing much that hasn’t been seen in any dozen other tales that relegate genre elements to background dressing in the interests of telling ‘human’ stories. Perhaps this is the point of Ellis’ experiment: that the modern expression of the archaic genre is its subsumption into ‘contemporary fiction’, which in this case appears to mean ‘relationship dramas about the human urge to escape’. I personally believe that ‘genre’ work is an aspect of contemporary fiction as it is; so long as it is used in contemporary times and happens to be fictional, at least. In this way genre elements, even older genre elements, can serve as an aspect of the stories of the current times. But Ellis appears to be saying that the dominance of the ‘genre’ element must be extinguished before the story can transition to... well what? In effect, another genre; the fragments of the old are collected by the new, but one is swapped for the other in whole.

Ellis claims that “the romance has gone away” in regards to the genre (he even takes a shot at Howard Chaykin’s 1987 “Blackhawk” revival, calling it “beautifully illustrated but fairly incoherent”) and thus the machinery of adventure fiction must be thrown into reverse, but I don’t quite agree. Ellis’ own throwaway background details in the story suggest an airborne anti-terrorist squad, perhaps using their prowess to defuse sensitive situations. The novelty of flight itself may be dimmed, yes, but the appeal of skilled flight is not so limited as to be negligible, at least as I see it. “Quit City” simply declares the genre ineffective (perhaps it Quits on it) and tells a different story, or at least that’s what appears to be happening given the one-shot nature of the project and Ellis’ own stated intent. Before I looked at the essay I’d simply thought that Ellis was telling a ‘downtime’ story, the sort of character piece that often shows up as a part of many ongoing runs of different comics, across genres. Really, instead of a rejection or a revision of the aviator hero genre, the comic itself can be viewed as one of several legitimate (and well-worn) paths through the genre itself, rather than the necessary replacement that Ellis seems to think is warranted.

It certainly doesn’t help for the story that we’re given to be so bland. “Frank Ironwine” also had a pretty familiar plot, but the genuinely subversive spirit that Ellis channeled into the proceedings managed to offset the effect. Here we have the heroine chatting with her friends for pages, (with everyone occasionally lapsing into British terminology despite their Californian upbringing, unless folks out on the west coast refer to a snipped out newspaper article as a ‘cutting’ and use phrases like ‘set light’ for igniting fires?), and finally confronting the ghosts of her past. And I mean she literally sees the pertinent figure from her past as a ghost and has an argument with it and even sets fire (or perhaps 'sets light') to stuff, thus symbolizing her triumph over The Past. Genre or contemporary fiction or whatever you call it, it’s thuddingly blunt and cliched.

Also in the essay, Ellis praises artist Laurenn McCubbin as only one of two artists working in comics who do ‘realism’ right (the other is Eddie Campbell). I personally found her character art to be highly reminiscent of Tony Harris, currently of “Ex Machina”, and sharing in Harris’ flaws, mainly stiffness in pose and a tendency to over-exaggerate facial expressions to the point of distraction. Background art has an appealingly simple flair, though, and McCubbin pulls off an interesting design technique, which I only noticed upon my second review: a map of the city appears as a dominant image on the first page, and then becomes a presence in the panel gutters of most of the rest of the book, until the lead character’s big triumph, after which the map image vanishes, representing the breaking of the past’s grip. A subtle, compelling technique. The plot itself could have used more subtlety, and maybe have become more compelling through it.


I am a forgetful fellow.

*Well, today I spent time picking up books that I'd forgotten about, like the new issues of "Black Widow" and "Ojo". This is the second time I've forgotten to pick up "Ojo", which is odd since I generally like the book, erratic art quality aside; it just never sticks in my mind. Strange that books I'd like seem to get lost in my hasty scannings of the rack, especially when I'm rushed.

Rushed like today, for instance. I already have to run again, but tomorrow will be quieter. The new issue of "Astonishing X-Men" was decent, even a bit better than average for the title. It was good to see Scott trying to do something with his mandate to 'act like superheroes'. And what better way to do it than get into a Silver Age style monster fight, even stepping on other teams' toes in the process (the Fantastic Four, a team perhaps more expected to battle giant beasts). There's also some plot twists, which might prove to be interesting, although the larger alternate world plot still fails to capture my attention. Saving alternate futures is like eating breakfast to the X-Men after all, and this particular bowl of Frosted Flakes isn't that much more interesting than the last. Still, far from a bad book, quite far.

Gar. That's it for now.



*It's the past and the future this time! Since the holly jolly Christmas season has drugged and kidnapped my free time, I'm just going to combine two similarly-titled features into one!

*First, there's LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS:

Metal Hurlant #14, Ocean #3 (of 6)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (the comics adaptation, with the movie itself thrown in for good measure)

JLA Classified #2, The Goon #10, Hunter-Killer #0

Stoker’s Dracula #2 (of 4) (with some Christmas tinsel thrown around)

And after that, you can look at:


Concrete: The Human Dilemma #1 (of 6): I’ve never read a “Concrete” story. I’ve held the early “Complete Concrete” collection in my hands and considered getting it, but not yet. Maybe I’ll pick up this new miniseries and try to get my bearings, and work backwards from there. It’s clearly a much-loved series, and it looks like something I’d get into. This arc involves the title character becoming a spokesperson for a population control program, and much hand-wringing and brooding is expected, properties for which this title is renowned.

Garth Ennis’ 303 #2 (of 6): Well, look what the cat dragged in! It’s the latest issue of Avatar’s ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not The Punisher’ as set in the Middle East. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it; I actually can’t imagine why a “Punisher MAX” fan wouldn’t be into this book, as based on issue #1, which came out long ago so maybe everyone forgot. But now it’s here, and... and... oh! Oh! What’s that I see?!

Warren Ellis’ Quit City #1 (of 1): The second of Ellis’ one-shot Apparat books, the first of which was the above average “Frank Ironwine”. This one has art by Laurenn McCubbin of “Rent Girl” and “XXX LiveNudeGirls” fame. I shouldn’t be joking about these books; it’s probably a lot better that Avatar’s staggering their releases rather than plopping them all onto the market at once, although I’m unsure as to if this is an intentional business move or if stuff is just late. If it’s the latter, it looks like the non-Avatar regulars have won the deadline derby, eh?

Adam Strange #4 (of 8): I’m getting a wee bit nervous upon hearing news that this book is expected to provide some kind of set-up for DC’s upcoming Event thing. I like it enough now as a great-looking old-school cliffhanger-laden sci-fi throwback book, and I really hope it retains such flavor should it come into collision with the scowling, blue-bathed Jim Lee/Alex Ross Batman bearing somebody’s (Nightwing’s) corpse as heroes united look on in shock and dismay. Keep them fingers crossed!

Tom Strong #30: Ed Brubaker and Duncan Fegredo’s arc, reaching its conclusion this issue, is probably the strongest of the post-Moore stories on this book, a familiar but well-done plugging-in of Tom into a more ‘realistic’ world. Fegredo’s art has been a particular standout, shifting between glossy action and quiet simplicity with ease.

What If Aunt May had Died Instead of Uncle Ben?

What If Dr. Doom had Become The Thing?

What If General Ross had Eaten Corn Pops Instead of Cookie Crisp Last Friday?

What If The Avengers All Got Killed and Stuff and Other People Joined Them?

What If Karen Page was the Earliest Born Child in Her Family, Thus Making Her the ‘First Page’?

What If Magneto had Formed Styx With Professor X?

These six out of seven planned books ("What If the Humor Book that was Planned for This Week Was On Diamond’s Release List"?), momentarily reviving Marvel’s old “What If” property. Too bad about the humor book. I’d make a joke about Kevin Smith, one of the contributing writers, but that’s so old that the book itself is doing the same gag. It looks like it’s late, so I guess the joke is really on the readers, much like those miniseries that Smith ditched. Ha ha! The books that do arrive will probably be good fun for fans of the creative teams and/or story arcs involved, and easily ignorable for everyone else. Just like “What If” in general, only without the benefit of tracking Marvel’s particular interests in their characters across the years, like you can do by peering through a varied stack of real “What If” books.

Ultimate Nightmare #4 (of 5): In celebration of this oft-delayed issue of Warren Ellis’ Ultimate Universe miniseries (which is now the first of a series of miniseries), I will be reviewing the whole story up until now, but I’ll be doing it on Wednesday. And very slowly. I will write many panels about scenery and technology. Fun.

Ultimate Fantastic Four #14: Hell, I guess I’ll go over this too, since I recently managed to buy Ellis’ entire runs thus far on this book and “Ultimate Nightmare” for less than fifteen bucks total. Therefore, I am a fully accredited master of Warren Ellis’ current marvel works, like these two and...

Iron Man #2: Making it a Warren Ellis and “What If” team-up week, brought to you by the letter ‘W’ and the number ‘3', which is the number of dollars this book now costs, as Diamond wants us all to note. I can now confidently say that this is the best of Ellis’ trio of Marvel books, even only one issue in, although the art is not my cup of tea. But it’s a better-than-expected exploration of the title character’s psyche, and I hope it goes interesting places.

That was way too much Warren Ellis, all things considered.


Other popular areas of concern:

*I took advantage of a deal at the local video gaming emporium and purchased the first two “Ratchet and Clank” games for the PS2 for $30 of my holiday money, just to further feed my desire for platform gaming (although these games are a bit more shooting-oriented than average). My younger sister got the new “Sly Cooper” epic, which supposedly has some pretty seamless integration of individual ‘stages’ into the larger game world. I just finished with the first “Jak and Daxter” and I was pleased with the level of thought and logic that went into attuning each new stage to the overall story and atmosphere of the game. Not that there’s ever any doubt that there’s plenty of individual levels to clear, but the levels largely have pertinent reasons to exist for exploration, aside from merely being present in a video game. I’m not sure why I find such efforts at level integration to be admirable; a game is a game, and levels need only exist to be played, at their core. I think it’s part of the polish of presentation, and an ongoing effort to keep the platformer as close to a seamless experience in a coherent world as possible. Some platformers continue to draw attention to themselves as games consisting of individual levels (see: anything with a hub and multiple open and closed doors scattered around the place), but it seems that the current vogue in such games is still inclined toward the ‘seamless’. Of course, having not too much money, I don’t have the latest “Jak and Daxter” or “Ratchet and Clank” to play, although I’ve read enough about their gameplay mechanics to gather a reasonable notion of where they’re moving toward.

Wouldn’t a platform game based around the art of Jim Woodring or Kim Deitch be the greatest thing ever? The graphics technology is present to pull it off, and I’d really like to see some of those distinct designs brought to life in breathing worlds; I think it’d be a great idea. Of course, I also think it’s be a great idea to have a “Grand Theft Auto” type game as built around the mechanics of silent comedy, with your character sneaking into saloons and hanging from clock-towers and inhabiting a large Jazz Age world of burly cops and runaway trains. That would be great! And I’d also like a baby brother made of emeralds.

*I’d never seen the Marx Brothers’ “The Cocoanuts” before; it’s their earliest surviving film as a group (“Humor Risk”, an allegedly disastrous silent short featuring the Brothers, is presumed lost). Made in 1929 as a full talkie; the technology wasn’t quite up to speed, so there’s plenty of long still shots with minimal angle changes, even for elaborate dance numbers. It’s pretty much a filmed record of one of the big Broadway hits for the Brothers, and there’s very little in the way of cinematic touches. But a virtual front-row seat to a Marx Brothers show isn’t that bad a deal, and the Irving Berlin tunes are pretty good. I saw it on the new Universal disc (as opposed to the old Image release, which apparently has similar print quality), and there’s some pretty big drops in image quality throughout; I guess certain scenes could only be derived from sub-par materials. The Universal disc is part of a box set collecting all of the early Paramount features, with some awfully skimpy extras, especially compared to the Warner box for the later features (excluding the semi-official “Love Happy”, which Lion’s Gate has released in a new extended edition, and the negligible “The Story of Mankind”, which nobody is hustling to release). And bafflingly, the liner notes booklet in the Universal set is attached to the box itself; it cannot be removed separately, so you have to cradle the entire box in your lap just to read the chapter listings or whatever. Very odd choice.


Knock Knock Knock

*It was about as late as I’d expected last night when the Krampus broke down my door.

Another light Christmas?” I asked the tall, one-hoofed demonic figure.

Nah. It’s ok. Got a couple families out in Austria or thereabouts; they’re keeping the faith.”

I offered the Krampus some of my Special Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog, packed with brandy and rum and just a whisper of genuine eggnog content.

You sound pretty good...” I began.

I’m great... really. I got to crack a couple whelps with my switch. It’s nice new birch. Thank God a couple parents still listen to St. Nikolaus. Still believe in the value of good punishment...”

He was beginning to rave, I could tell. He grabbed my bottle and snaked his long pointed tongue down the neck.

Fucking Santa. Fucking cola sipping polar bear petting fucking reindeer nose glowing fat son of a bitch.”

Hey,” I interrupted, “Take it easy...”

Aw... aw never mind. Here, I brought you a present.”

Oh! Oh thank you Krampus!” I exclaimed! “It’s the perfect holiday gift! It’s...”

Stoker’s Dracula #2 (of 4)

Quite a lovely book this is, a continuing abberation in Marvel’s increasingly conservative pamphlet publishing schedule. It’s a no-ads b&w literary adaptation, albeit of the ever-popular “Dracula” by Bram Stoker. Portions originally appeared in various Marvel monster magazines in the mid-70's, like “Dracula Lives!” and “Legion of Monsters”. The script is by veteran scribe Roy Thomas and the stately, shadowed art is by Dick Giordano, bringing just a bit of period Marvel style to glam Lucy Westenra, her heavy eye-shadow and straight flowing locks looking ready to storm the hottest discotheque in Whitby. She’s an engaging presence on the page, and Giordano handles her uncertain reaction to the poison advances of the infamous Count with care. Mina Murray, in contrast, barely registers except as a helpful paragon of virtue and fidelity, although this is Lucy’s portion of the story, and the book is well-paced to contain the focus on her, just as the initial issue focused entirely on Jonathan Harker’s imprisonment in Castle Dracula. Considering that the story was not originally intended as a stand-alone comics miniseries, we can only view this careful containment of character arcs as a happy accident of structure, perhaps pressed along by editorial guidance.

This issue is where the original material runs out, and Thomas and Giordano have produced brand-new material to continue (and ultimately conclude) the adaptation through the end of this issue and the entirety of the next two. There’s little variation in Giordano’s style between the new and vintage material; his figures may seem slightly more rounded, with subtler shading around the edges, but this is only discernible upon close examination. There is otherwise a very smooth transition between the old and the new; certainly Thomas’ script offers no major variations in approach to the newer material. The story adapts quite neatly to comics right from the beginning, with the document-based format of Stoker’s prose plugging into the character narration style of captioned comics storytelling very calmly, though the results occasionally seem wordy. But a good balance between dialogue and captions is struck; the result is a satisfyingly substantial read.

Marvel has also thrown in some of the original ‘The Story Thus Far’ pages from the original magazine serializations, which recycled certain panels and captions with a bit of new narration. Unfortunately, the images are presented at three or four to a page, which makes them extremely difficult to read without putting the book to your nose and squinting. It was a nice thought, but page constraints have robbed it of utility. Being of a far more recent vintage than Marvel’s recent Golden Age book of reprints, the 70's material is reproduced clearly, and the transition to contemporary work has no opportunity to offer a leap in reading quality, which is fortunate. In general, this continues to be a fine presentation of a slightly old-fashioned but highly skilled adaptation of a much-influential work. I’m onboard until the end.

So what did you get today giftwise?” slurred the Krampus.

Lots of great stuff. I got the more recent Werner Herzog box set, the non-Kinski one, with the Bruno S. Films and some of the wacky documentaries. I also got that “More Treasures From American Film Archives” box, which has all sorts of awesome stuff, like the earliest surviving sound film from 1894, which had this guy playing a violin into a gigantic receiving horn while two stoic mustachioed men dance together off to the side. It kind of looks like a scene out of Herzog, actually...”

Yeah. So what’s going on now?”

Like, now?”

Yeah, now while you’re typing this, not now while you’re talking to me. Right now I mean.”

Well, my brother is playing his guitar for everyone in the other room. My little cousin was trying to read my Dracula review and I helped her with a few words (I scrolled down past the profanities so they were hidden beyond the top of the monitor). It’s dark already, but it’s not late. It’s nice. It’s a very nice time.”


"Say. Maybe I should, like, join them?"

But the Krampus was already gone, and so was my bottle, as well as the liquor cabinet entire.

So I stopped typing this, here, now, late in the afternoon.

And Merry Whatever It Is to You too.

(And for more delightful info on the Krampus, go look at the Monte Beauchamp edited Fantagraphics release “The Devil in Design: The Krampus Postcards”, which I will never stop plugging ever)


Santa had better not wake me up too early tomorrow morning with his cookie munching chimney jive.

*It's funny; on Christmas Day itself I'll actually have time to post stuff since all I'll be doing is sitting at home all day. Today, however, I'll be in the car with my family, touring relatives' homes and churches, some of which we'll just be passing by as we wave our handkerchiefs and beam. I should look into getting a sack of penny candy to throw out the window (a bit at a time, not the whole sack; I may hurt a passing child on a bike) so it'll be like a real one car holiday parade. So have a happy Christmas Eve if that's your thing, or just have a happy day in general.

(And in case you missed it, seeing as how I just squeaked out yesterday's post before the stroke of midnight, there's some reviews and comics foofery just a bit below this...)


YES! I got this posted before midnight! Now I won't turn to stone.

*No, really! I had no clue that taking a seasonal job on my vacation would dominate my Christmas time! Seriously! I also like sticking foil gum wrappers into electrical sockets! I thought it would open the doorway to adventure, but it didn’t.

JLA Classified #2

I think art team Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines are the problem here. There’s a certain lack of clarity in this issue; when Batman and his faithful robotic faux-JLA swoop into battle it’s sort of difficult to tell where they’re coming from (I know it’s a Bat-Plane, but the perspectives are constantly skewed), or especially how the wicked Super-Gorilla Grodd has spotted them. I later noticed that it’s because they’re all standing outside, but the Bat-Plane is depicted soaring through the rain, while rain is rarely depicted falling on Grodd or his mysterious ally, so my sense of environment had become confused (it doesn’t help that there’s no establishing panel to orient us). Fight scenes are also chaotic: in one instance, Batman lands a nice kick to Grodd’s face. We then cut to other members of Batman’s robo-JLA getting trounced by the mind-controlled forces of the Ultra-Marine Corps. One particular Ultra-Marine then freezes everything in the area, and we get a panel of Batman backing away as an obscured figure (I suppose a JLA robot) shatters in the foreground, although nobody but Grodd has been pictured standing by Batman before. In the next panel, Batman is not backing away, but towering over the fallen Grodd, with no evidence of a shattered JLA robot around. I had to go over these two pages twice because on my first read I had very little idea of what the hell was going on (I really wish a had a working scanner or something so I could whip up some nice images for you all; it’s story pages 17-18 for the record). Somebody on the art team (the letterer?) even makes a really basic error early in the issue. We are glimpsing at somebody writing in a journal. The perspectives are skewed, so all of the page is not in the panel. However, in one panel, the writing is perfectly laid out so that all of the written words are contained in what portions of the page can be seen, despite the fact that logically such writing would leave large portions of the page (the parts which we cannot see) blank. It’s ‘writing for the reader’ so to speak. A nitpick? Sure, but I tend to fixate on little gaffes like this that could be easily avoided; it distracts me.

And it’s not to say that this issue is totally without style or skill; the JLA is wonderfully introduced through a series of tiny panels featuring extreme close-ups of readily identifiable portions of their bodies and costumes. This fits in very smoothly with writer Grant Morrison’s idea of the miniature universe in which the JLA are visiting as an analogue for our own ‘real’ world. These icons are thus very much larger-than-life (why, they can barely fit in the panels), and the notion of our little non-super reading world existing as a tiny universe within a grand universe of mighty heroes and cosmic battles is an awfully fun one. And it’s also not to say that a good “JLA” story can’t thrive with slightly dodgy art (I’m of the opinion that many of the ‘big’ stories on Morrison’s initial run succeeded in spite of Howard Porter).

But on the “JLA” scale, this one doesn’t rank very high. It has some nice ideas, but with one issue to go it isn’t quite coming together into much of anything interesting, even from a superhero pop fun standpoint. I’m sort of wondering what Grodd’s ally is up to, yes, but most of this story just isn’t keeping my attention. Maybe the Ultra-Marines are a little too bland. Maybe the conflict with Grodd is too typical, too uninteresting. And maybe the art is dietracting me too much. If anyone’s prone to last-issue saves it’s Morrison, so I’m not going to jump to conclusions, but as of now this arc is going in the ‘weaker’ column, and its probably the least effective work Morrison’s put out on this most recent hot streak of creative productivity.

The Goon #10

Well that’s something. Not only is this special Christmas issue here just a few days before the holiday, it’s also one of this book’s irregular no-ads specials. Furthermore, it’s a largely straight adaptation of “A Christmas Carol”, which various members of the regular Goon cast filling the familiar roles, their individual appearances fitting into Dickens’ characterizations often eerily well. Quite a bit of the dialogue appears to be taken directly from Dickens’ work, although there are moments where the personalities of the individual Goon characters break through, often in connection with the plot abridgements necessary to plugging the story into 21 comics pages. But an awful lot of the book is a pretty serious translation, and a good one at that. It helps that Eric Powell draws nearly the entire issue in his soft pastel style (which only occasionally pops up in the course of the average story in this book), with each page washed in a light sepia tone. It’s very handsome looking, and effectively used in service of genuine suspense (the page in which Marley first appears is a fine one).

There’s also an 11-page back-up prose story by Thomas Lennon of “The State” and “Reno 9-11" fame, with spot illustrations by Powell. It’s not very funny, I’m sorry to say, with Franky and friends hunting for a lost boxcar filled with expensive ladies’ footwear, and encountering all sorts of trouble. Transferred to comics with Powell’s pacing and art, it might have faired better, as Dickens does earlier in this issue. The comics portions of “The Goon” continue to defy expectation, and while sometimes Powell’s ambition seems to be looking out a bit farther than he can reach, the experiment pays off this time.

Hunter-Killer #0

Hey,” said the shop owner, “You want a ‘Hunter-Killer’?”

Oh... that’s the new quarter book, right?” I replied.

Nah, we’re just giving them away now.”

Oh. Alright. Free. Sure.”

And that’s how I wound up with the hot new preview book from Top Cow, with Mark Waid on the script and Top Cow founder Marc Silvestri handling the pencils (along with no less than two inkers for its twelve story pages). The book also features some early character sketches and a very short essay in which Waid tries to sell the book as a parable for our War on Terror society. But mostly it reads just like countless other X-Men style superhero comics. There’s these genetics-based super-powered individuals known as ‘Super-Sapiens’ running around, and the titular Hunter-Killer organization works to track them down when they go rogue. Led by Samantha, a woman so devoted to her duty that she thinks nothing of standing around at a stakeout on a November evening wearing little more than... it's either a multicolor spandex one-piece or a swimsuit with a particularly low-riding pair of spandex pants; there appears to be a dispute between the colors on the cover and interior of the book. Thanks to a corny but kinda fun bit of narrative misdirection, we then meet a typical brooding Silvestri bad-ass tough guy who’s also looking out for Super-Sapiens, for his own mystery purposes, I’m sure. He fights a scary monster, and the Hunter-Killers all comment on how much of a brooding bad-ass tough guy he is. Then we cut to another Super-Sapien, who’s living peacefully with his parents, and that’s it. The supplementary features in the book indicate that he’s the protagonist, so I’m sure his loving family is not long for this world or something.

I’m not much of a Top Cow fan, so while I can’t definitively say that the book offers absolutely nothing new, I can say that it’s a very standard-issue superhero book by any measure. The art offers exactly what you’d expect: rippling muscles and balloon breasts and slimy demonic beasts. I guess if you like this particular style, Silvestri has managed to nail it down over the years; there’s no lack of clarity at least, and the story flows smoothly enough. Waid’s script hits those superhero notes without much difficulty. There’s little that’s immediately deficient about the writing, save for the total absence of anything not intimately familiar to even the casual superhero fan. It was a nice freebie, but I’m not gonna start shelling out for this stuff.

Really the most interesting parts were the ads for other Top Cow books. “Witchblade” is up to issue #80??? Somebody has to be buying all this stuff; I keep forgetting that “Spawn” is still being released too. Maybe that’s the real value of these quarter previews; they’re not selling me on the upcoming book, but they do let me know that these sorts of comics are alive and well, and they give me just enough of a peek inside that it’ll hold me for another few years.


Evening Special Posting Supreme

*You cannot stop the march of contests! Contests will crush your skull to paste and burn your farm to ash! BeaucoupKevin has the latest: an opportunity to win yourself a copy of Antony Johnston and Brett Weldele’s “Julius” book from Oni, an update of Shakespeare’s tragedy to contemporary London. You must provide, in 35 words or less, your favorite comics moment from 2004. Contest ends on December 30th. Go to it!

*The Comics Journal message board never fails to deliver. Just the other day I wondered why Melinda Gebbie’s face was constantly obscured or hidden in a short story collected in the recent “American Splendor: Our Movie Year” book, and (like magic!) artist Ed Piskor appeared and noted that he (apparently) had no reference material from which to draw. Instant satisfaction on that board, every time!

*Superman v. The Abominable Snowman is going to be the comics event of 2005 (or possibly 2006). Morrison lays out some of his upcoming “All-Star Superman” 12-issue arc here. (Found at about twenty million other blogs and message boards and aren’t you glad you saw it here too yes you are)

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (movie AND comics adaptation)


I’ve not read any of the Daniel Handler (henceforth referred to by his pen-name Lemony Snicket) books from which these works are adapted from, so keep in mind that I have no idea how anything relates back to the source material in terms of tone, fidelity, etc. I first read the comics adaptation, a 38-page color story written by Frank Pittarese with art by Sam Hiti of “End Times (Tiempos Finales)” fame. It’s included (and indeed takes up most of the space) in a publication titled *deep breath* “Nick Mag Presents Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events Official Movie Magazine”. To be honest, Hiti was pretty much the only reason I picked the damn thing up. I was able to follow the plot along well enough, but the story is pretty closely tied to the movie’s script (or at least some version thereof; parts of the climax are slightly different from what is seen in the film) and Hiti is left with little room to employ the visual flourish he displayed in “End Times”. Now I seriously doubt that Nickelodeon was going to let Hiti directly transmogrify Snicket’s books into a 100-page theologically bejeweled fight sequence, but the story here is so closely wed to the film’s own presentation (aside from the silly caption-based narrative with Count Olaf giving ‘his version’ of events) that there’s little for Hiti to do but recreate sequences from the film in generally the same fashion as they appear onscreen; one nice departure arrives with the leech attack scene, in which Hiti employs a swirling cloud of tiny beasties in a more effective manner than the film. Unfortunately, Hiti is still trapped in tiny panels, robbing his art of some of its impact. Hiti also draws the Orphans’ faces in a curious way; they constantly appear to be gently smirking or grinning, no matter what sort of awful catastrophes they happen to be facing. One is left with the feeling that a better work could very well come of this, but not under the constraints imposed.

There’s also quite a loss of plot detail, some of it fairly important, although this doesn’t quite come out until you see the film itself, which I did just the other day as part of a delightful Holiday Family Togetherness Outing, since nothing says togetherness than sitting in the dark and staring at the screen for prolonged periods of time. I’m still not completely sure what to think of the film; it’s the sort of movie that doesn’t really fall behind in a lot of areas, but still leaves you unfulfilled. Jim Carrey is instantly the most prominent area of trouble. Count Olaf is the sort of character that seems to play to Carrey’s strengths as a performer, given the character’s overtly theatrical nature, with that vital core of darkness. But Carrey (as he does in so many roles) simply throttles the character into something that vaguely reminds the viewer of, well, every other character Carrey has ever played, particularly the mean ones, although the lethal Count is a bit meaner than most (Michel Gondry deserves a medal for managing to get Carrey to avoid 99% of his traditional tics and routines in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”). And it’s not that Carrey being Carrey is necessarily bad for a role, it’s just pretty bad for this role, which really could have used a slightly subtler touch. Carrey simply dominates to distraction.

Yes, distractions. The film looks decent, although it indulges in an awful lot of the Tim Burton circa “Beetlejuice” style production design that somebody at some point in the past must have enshrined as the uniform Big Studio look of dark whimsy. There’s at least a dozen Cute Baby reaction shots of the youngest Orphan, complete with subtitles for what her gurgles and coos are ‘saying’. The ending is positively ruthless in its efforts to jerk those tears, although events are left in a nicely uncertain position. The spirit of the film, however, proclaiming that long-suffering and oft ignored children can survive the hate and/or ignorance of world through intelligence and friendship is a sweet one. I liked the framing sequence shadow play cum narration of Jude Law as author Lemony Snicket, tapping out in his books in a large abandoned clock tower (after I write my best-selling series of children's book I'm going to demand to be played by a rambunctious animated puppy with the voice of a Casio keyboard in the film version). The intentionally jerky stop-motion animated opening was gorgeous. I understand that there’s a lot of books in the series, so it’s fine that the spyglass society subplot is left semi-unresolved (the movie also infers that Snicket himself is a member of the society, or that he’s possibly the male orphan as an adult; I’m guessing this is also part of the books). Given the episodic nature of the storytelling (it’s based on no less than three of Snicket’s books), the film holds together fairly impressively as a single unit.

It’s just that the distractions serve to mute enough of the film’s impact that I was left kind of uncertain. It wasn’t a bad film, just mildly underwhelming. Much in the way that the comics adaptation seems like a better comic unable to break free, one can almost glimpse through the curtains of unexplored option to see a much more interesting film unspooling inside.


I had a lot more free time before I went on holiday 'vacation'...


*Look at all of this stuff. I can’t buy it all. Hard cuts will have to be made and there'll be tears.

Bipolar #5: One of my local retailers, a bright fellow, decided that in addition to his stock of the new Alternative Comics version of issue #1 of this continuing series by Tomar and Asaf Hanuka (with writing contributions from Etgar Keret), he’d pick up a copy of each of the other three issues, in case the curious buyer would like to quickly obtain more. Or in case a buyer (let’s call him... me) has heard an awful lot about this series of short stories and just wants the whole thing really quickly. So now I’m the proud owner of issues #1-4 of this, and look! It’s the all-new issue #5! I’ll read them all together I think.

Black Hole #12 (of 12): Of course, if you’ve been following this series for the past decade I’m sure this final issue will be the comic of the week for you. Pantheon will be putting out a collected edition at some point in 2005 as part of their ‘Year of Things Fantagraphics Published in Part or in Serialization Before Us’. Be sure to check out “Acme Novelty Library” (collects Ware’s two ‘Big Book of Jokes’ issues), “Ice Haven” (an expanded version of "Eightball" #22), and the collected “Epileptic” (Fanta only got half of it out in the US)! Ah, the magic of lots of money. Still, if you’ve waited this long for this issue, why wait longer?

Solo #2: Richard Corben! Western, sci-fi, fantasy, action, and The Spectre (with Jim Arcudi on the script for that one)! It’ll be just like one of those old underground horror anthologies, only from a massive corporation and probably with content restrictions. But leaving Corben mostly to his own devices still sounds like a great idea to me.

JLA: Classified #2: Grant Morrison continues his stridently non-gritty Batman adventure, although I hope this issue’s pacing won’t be quite as frantic. Crazy to be claiming such things these days, but there you go.

Joe R. Lansdale’s By Bizarre Hands # 6 (of 6): Two tales of terror this issue! Totally reprehensible entertainment! I’m not ashamed to admit I generally liked this series, no sir! Say, where’s those other three Warren Ellis books? No sign of them yet!

Ojo #4 (of 5): Seems like just the other week that issue #3 came out. The art has been looking increasingly rushed and sketchy, especially in one particular portion of last issue which looked almost like a quickly inked pencil rough. The characters are still fairly involving; it’s really Sam Kieth’s best writing work in a long time, and his work usually suffers from their scripts rather from the visuals, so it’s quite a departure...

The Goon #10: Holy shit! An honest-to-god Christmas issue of an ongoing series that really does arrive the week of Christmas! That’s more than enough to impress me already, and I’m sure the Christmas Carol riff this issue will be funny. But still, no delays or anything!

Stoker’s Dracula #2 (of 4): Halloween never has to end either though, with this continuation of Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano’s comics adaptation of the Stoker novel. This issue we start getting into all-new material, since the original 1974 attempt at completing the project petered out under halfway through. A deluxe 48-page b&w no-ads package, and I though issue #1 was a lot of fun.

Astonishing X-Men #7: As is this book, returning for its second arc after a wee little break. I do like the book, although I’m not really as high on it as some other readers are. It’s basically an attractive reheating of most of the classic X-Tropes, which I think has also been a criticism of Grant Morrison and Joe Casey’s runs, although I’d Morrison did the best job of actually delving into the classic X-Stuff in an effort to explore them and comment thereon. This, however, feels like a really smooth homage, an adoring, utterly devoted homage, and executed with skill, but bearing almost nothing to make you think about these old tales in a new way. You get a pleasant buzz, and then it’s gone, and that is all. Anyway, this issue we get a meeting with the Fantastic Four, just in time to step on the toes of that miniseries that just started.

Black Widow #4 (of 6): I wonder if Natasha will spend any time this issue pondering the subtle exploitations of women in the masculine world while sauntering around in her underwear or a tiny dress or something? Well, at least Parlov and Sienkiewicz draw her in a nice, semi-realistic fashion.

Art of Usagi Yojimbo: Speaking of beloved comics that I’ve never gotten into. Stan Sakai has an awful lot of devout fans, and this 20th Anniversary volume will probably delight them; I certainly liked the “Sin City” and “Hellboy” books that Dark Horse has released along the same lines, so fans can safely expect quality.


Three cheers for last week's books!

*EDIT (12/22/04, 12:16 AM): Uh-oh! Look what I forgot! LAST WEEK'S REVIEWS!!!

A Story About Collectin’!, Redbird Vol. 1 #1, VS. (Redbird 1.5), Insomnia, Horace (a rather large batch of minicomics reviews!)

Shaolin Cowboy #1 Vol. 54

The Return of Shadowhawk #1 (of 1)

Ok. I'm going to tie a string around my finger...

*It’s reviews like this that provide my motive for not actually purchasing books like “Identity Crisis” and simply following the action on the Internet. Quite a lot of reviews have boiled down to “Gosh that was stupid,” but rarely with this much wit. Enjoy!

*OMG LATEST CONTEST: Mike is giving away a copy of the latest "Swamp Thing" trade, because he is the Internet King of Swamp Thing. You must e-mail him and tell him why you want the book, but you must do it in less than 25 words. I bet a nice piece of "Swamp Thing" flash-fiction will go a long way...

*I finished buying and reading the things that were out last week, and bought a lot of other things out of the Special Box of Value, but today we’ll just look at things you’ll have a risk of finding without much inquiry.

Metal Hurlant #14

Well, I was quite wrong: “Lucha Libre” is returning in issue #15, not this one. On the plus side, Jean-Pierre Dionnet’s recommendations column is back, highlighting more comics and illustration and ephemera books that everyone might be interested in. The early 20th century illustration review “Images” looks particularly neat (site here); I must have run into this before in one of Bud Plant’s catalogs. It looks great, but individual issues (now up to 44 pages) are awfully pricey at $20 (in the US) after postage, though they’re all limited editions of 2000 and I’m sure the reproduction quality is high. The two black and while annuals at $25 are over 100 pages, and probably a better deal. I may look into one of those.

Elsewhere in the issue, Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis’ “The Zombies that Ate the World” features romantic tension, as Freddie the Belgian pines for Maggie, who’s infatuated with a hipster musician who’s decided to kill himself on stage to become a zombie (which, as we all know, is much cooler than being alive these days). It looks like only emergency amateur brain surgery (with a little help from Communism) can win the day for our beloved non-heroes. The characters are distinctly awful individuals, the exploration of a post-zombie society is wholly flippant, and there’s no sight of a deeper theme, but it’s brisk, energetic fun, and Davis is one of my personal favorites these days. Even the other continuing serial, Stefano Raffaele’s “Fragile”, manages to be fairly entertaining this time around. Semi-zombies Alan and Lynn are very much in love, despite missing arms and pallid complexions. The two encounter a lovely lady with a secret and unfortunate connection to Alan’s past, but all is naturally not what it seems. Everyone learns a nice lesson about respecting others’ differences and someone puts a fist through the back of a zombie’s skull. Above average for the serial.

There’s also a special prologue for Adrian A. Cruz and Marc Riou’s “Seed” (which has just recently debuted in France). Cruz is apparently a new writer, but that doesn’t quite excuse the typical plot, using the trials and ultimate death of the young female lead as fuel for characterization between a pair of hazily defined men (presumable the hero and villain of the main story). You see, some time ago an errant Demon fathered a whole slew of superhuman children around the globe; now those kids are reaching maturity and the sinister Talbot, himself one of the Seeds, wants to recruit them all into an army to conquer the lowly humans or something sufficiently reminiscent of Magneto. His pal Solomon is uncertain about the whole deal, and has fallen in love with the lovely (and unaware) Victoria. But Talbot has no time for such games, and orchestrates the unlocking of Victoria’s powers, in effect forcing her to kill all of her best friends. She gets really mad at this, and spends a year tracking Talbot, who lures her into a huge library, and Victoria, who loves books, can’t bring herself to unleash her still-uncontrollable power and destroy all that knowledge. So Talbot stabs her to death and Solomon is like really pissed because Talbot just totally killed his chick and that’s the end. Riou’s art is pretty decent, reminiscent of David Lloyd in its use of hard black lines and heavy shadow, but its not doing much to elevate this far too typical sort of plot.

As for the one-offs, there’s two cool little stories and one less accomplished bit. Jim Alexander and Gerald Parel present an Old West tale of a seemingly superhuman surgeon whose amazing abilities have bestowed a type of immortality on the residents of the town, which quickly becomes the shootout capital of the US once word gets out. Jim Macdonald and D-Pi (illustrator and album cover artist) craft a tale of a heroin addict who discovers that he gains a secret power when he overdoses. He then uses his amazing abilities to score more drugs. But drugs are bad, kids. Don’t do them. Finally, Stephane Levallois offers, well, pretty much the first thing that still springs to mind when you think of “Metal Hurlant”: a dark future where machines have gone mad and an epic war and a Chosen Hero. Only this time it’s all over in 8 pages. And if you can’t guess the twist ending about three pages in you’ll have to go to comics summer school.

So there’s only two particularly weak entries this issue, and the rest range from highly enjoyable to at least pleasantly distracting. It’s a lot of stuff, and generally amusing stuff for a low price, which a high level of visual polish across the board (even the weaker stories here at least look quite good). And you’d think that a thick, glossy, low-priced collection of genre material would be selling better than this, but that’s the mystery of the Direct Market.

Ocean #3 (of 6)

Some interesting material this issue, as Weapons Inspector Kane investigates the mysterious Jupiter outpost of the monolithic Doors Corporation. Most Doors employees have long since had their free will overridden to transform their brains into repositories for mandatory corporate memorandums and tasks, downloaded directly into their brains by the Station Manager, who himself is receiving orders downloaded from a more prominent outpost’s authority, and so on and so on. It’s a fun idea, and naturally things are starting to go wrong, which only makes such ideas even more fun, provided that everything advances in an interesting way (at least as based on what information we’ve been given). It seems that certain parties are planning to take a stand in favor of the Free Market, regardless of the danger posed to anyone; after all, what are a few lives in space compared to a cutting-edge source of weapons technology? The comments on ‘past policy’ were by far my favorites, and its kept well-obscured as to how far back this particular plot goes. Sure there’s a rescue that relies on total dumb luck (unless the rescuers were somehow being signaled, which might be the case if you read into what happens, although this is never directly suggested in the dialogue or art), but its mostly a very fun issue, probably the best of the series thus far, and it even does a decent job of advancing the plot while exploring the book’s world. Nice work.


You did NOT just spend nine dollars on six pages of Chris Ware?!

*Jesus Christ. Of course not. I spend five dollars on four pages and read the rest on the stand.

Yes, it’s time once again for all the cool newsstand publications to put out some new Ware work and the crazy fans will get the crazy fever, like they always do. This time around we’ve got a four-page “Situation Comedy” short in “The New Yorker” (the new Winter Fiction issue) and a two-page layered display in the latest “Esquire” (with George Clooney on the cover). Both are drawn in the bubble-bodied style as first seen by many on the cover of Ware’s issue of “McSweeney’s”. There may be other things in these magazines, but don’t hold me to it.

The “New Yorker” piece is a full-color adventure for Dick Public, an average upper middle-class suburban guy who’s naturally seething with jealousy and resentment toward every success of his neighbors. On a quest to gather enough cash to purchase a salmon-colored Mercury-Lincoln Priapus X-1 just like his next-door chum/rival, he runs into a hated nerd from his high school days who’s become a successful fine artist by filling in the upper right corners of huge white canvasses with sketches of cars and penises. Will Dick choose to confront the sins of his youth? No.

It’s one of Ware weaker recent pieces; while it manages some momentarily amusing and subtle comparisons between the title character’s absent-minded sketches and his former torture pal’s culturally-anointed ‘respectable’ Art, there’s still not much to the story that the veteran Ware fan hasn’t seen done. It’s like a less immediately pathetic passive-aggressive collector mentality as seen in “Rusty Brown” crossed with the unfulfilling mass commercialism of “Tales of Tomorrow”, only with less visual lyricism, and topped off with a huge dialogue dump that pontificates on the necessary connections between the abused and the abuser in translating the former’s experiences to art. Actually, there’s far more text in this story than average for Ware; perhaps he began to chafe under space constraints? Still, the visual appeal remains high (I liked the use of shifting background colors in the concluding confrontations, not to mention the shifting space between the characters) and there’s some good low-down gags, like the vehicle in the background of the car dealership that’s literally a penis on wheels (ooh, relating back to the artist character’s work… nice one Chris).

The untitled “Esquire” piece, also in color, is much funnier if highly similar in tone to that “McSweeney’s” cover. It’s a series of diagonal strips, many of them laying atop each other and obscuring portions of whatever’s beneath. The Quixotic life of the comics artist is portrayed on the lower levels as Ware himself leads us through his day on top, showing us all of the wonderful things that cartoonists can do with themselves, like masturbating to Internet pornography (there’s also a wanking gag in the “New Yorker” strip… perhaps Ware is responding to his critics). I sort of wish I bought this one, but I figured that I might find something else I’d like in “The New Yorker”. I’m not familiar at all with “Esquire”.

Oh what am I saying. I’m going to buy it. Then I’ll have them both. I’m sick. I need help


Here's the post where I catch up on everything.

*Hey folks, you hear about that guy writing some "Iron Man" book and stuff? Wow, it's like... yeah... he's writing it.

*The freshness date on solicitations commentary is totally past. You're going to pour this carton of commentary into your glass and there's going to be chunks in it. Big chunks. You might as well start making commentary cheese out of it and take it down to the Farmer's Market of Commentary up in Commentary County and trade it for a bushel of apricots (not commentary apricots, those are poison).


-Marvel is way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way way too cool to have their solicitations on this list so I therefore am too cool to look for them OH I AM TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL SMOKING IN THE BOYS ROOM THAT LANGUAGE IS OUT OF LINE SON DETENTION.

Dark Horse

-New "Sock Monkey"!!! "That Darn Yarn" is a fresh hardcover ($7.95 for 40 pages) adventure for Tony Millionaire's beloved epic hero. This time around, he unravels from reality at the same point as he's created. I've still not bought the last hardcover (BAD ME) but this stuff is always worth reading.

-Eric Powell is starting a new miniseries, "Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities". It's not really coming out in March but Dark Horse decided to mention it in the latest solicitation for "The Goon". Good use of limited space A+!

-The Katsuhiro Otomo scripted "Hipira: The Little Vampire" is getting a US release; it's a 48-page children's book with art by frequent Otomo anime background artist and "Steamboy" art director Shinji Kimura. Probably going to look great; I think it might be a picture book rather than a comic, but I can't find any info.


-Really, that guy on the cover of "DC Countdown"? The one Batman's holding? Never looked like anyone but Nightwing to me. I first looked at the cover and thought "Oh. Nightwing. Things are shaken up now." I had to be told that his identity was supposed to be a mystery. It may very well not be Nightwing at all, but it sure looks like him to me, and it's tough to even speculate on the mystery because now 'Nightwing' is not leaving my head. Squatter's rights and all. I did love this part of the solicitation: "It’s a project that will resonate for months to come..." Wow! Entire months?! That's pretty good for recent Big storylines. I like honesty A+!

-"Seven Soldiers"! Wheeeeee!

-"100%"!!! Triple wheeeeee! If you missed this amazing sci-fi romance comic by Paul Pope you really owe it to yourself to check this long-awaited collected edition out. It seemed like every new issue tried to top the last in amazing visual set-pieces, with plenty of detailed world-building tidbits and vibrant, rounded characters. Olde-tyme Pope fans will note the presence of little bits from the abandoned "Smoke Navigator" graphic novel as partially glimpsed in "Buzz Buzz Comics Magazine" and I know I heard somebody (Pope himself?) mention that ideas from an aborted "Escapo" story also made their way in, so there's quite a few creative ties to Pope's past, although the book always feels like its own story. I seriously can't recommend this book enough.


-"Flaming Carrot" #2: "Flaming Carrot solves the mystery of the pygmies in the woods who are constructing a giant ear out of French bread. The newswoman, who Flaming Carrot seduces in the last issue to avert bad press and character assassination, goes into a jealous rage when she learns of his upcoming date with a two-headed woman. The singing zombie runs amok and kills a man in a computerized dog suit. Also, Flaming Carrot pops some bubble wrap."


-"Flight" is getting a second volume, which is good. I never got around to picking up the first one, but a big anthology for new creators from someone in the front of Previews is never a bad idea, though I see some more established talents like Jeff Smith and Doug Tennapel are participating this time around.

-Oh, so Image is also reviving "Negative Burn" besides doing that Best Of collection? That's something; now Image has two irregular anthology books. Interesting batch of talents, like Kurt Busiek, Zander Cannon, Evan Dorkin, Erik Larsen, Brian Bolland, Bob Burden... might be pretty cool. Fantagraphics is going to have two anthology series as well. I like the damn things, but maybe the new "Kramer's Ergot" just has me flying high...

-Shadowhawk is in a new revival of Jim Valentino's "The Pact", except it's an all new line-up, with each issue by a different creator. Sorry, I just love tracking Shadowhawk's progress. It's liek birdwatching except I don't need to let the shameful rays of the sun strike my delicate skin.


-Looks like Mike Allred's "The Golden Plates" is now officially a 12-issue series. That archeological evidence in the back had better blow my mind I'm holding you to this, solicitation!

-New three issue "Robocop: War Party" book from Avatar, by Steven Grant and Carlos Ferreira. I wonder if the Frank Miller book will be finished by then? I noticed a special Victory cover being offered for the last issue. Is the 'Victory' in question getting the series finished before the fucking heat death of the sun? There's also "303" issue #6 (of 6). Issue #2 has yet to show. And hey, issue #4 (of 4) of "Alan Moore's Hypothetical Lizard". I guess that could be done. Hypothetically. Is the novella this is based on really "one of Alan Moore's greatest works"? I will take Avatar's word for it A+!

-Oh awesome! Jeff Smith is putting out a third slipcase for the rest of the "Bone" trades! Now my shelf will look nice and sensible, provided that Smith lets me purchase the slipcase alone, since I already have all the books...

-Fantagraphics dips into the manga pool with a best-of compilation of Tori Miki's wordless humor comic "Anywhere But Here". Nice.

-The "Popbot Reader" does not appear to have anything along the lines of analysis or examination from what I can gather; rather, there's an image gallery, a new story, and a feature on the making of a Popbot statue. Well, I guess it is something you read...

-Speakeasy Comics is putting out the first volume of "Yoshitaka Amano's Hero", a book I recall hearing about long long ago. I think it was supposed to be a multimedia project, with the comic as one part of a tapestry of stuff. I'm a sucker for Amano's art (Wolverine never looked as pretty as he did in that one book!) so I'm keeping my eyes peeled.

*I need to catch up on memes too. Here's one I got from Johnny.

1. Grab the nearest book.

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

5. Don't search around and look for the "coolest" book you can find. Do what's actually next to you.

"He's a clever one, that bad guy!" from the closest book near me here in my parents' house, where I am for the holidays, "Dave Barry Talks Back". He is talking about how his dog is stupid and barks a lot. My dog barks a lot too but only becasue he knows that he needs to protect me.


*You want Dave from Yet Another Comics Blog to spend his money. If ten valued souls send $25 to the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, Dave will donate a matching $250 by himself. Dave's right, it's just like an NPR pledge drive. Can I be Garrison Keillor? I once walked into this comic shop, a really heavy gaming place with all of these kids gaming away in the back, and they were blasting "A Prairie Home Companion" over the speakers. It was so cool I couldn't speak. But yes, this is a good idea (the donations) and you should check it out.

*Johanna is giving away a copy of Top Shelf's "Owly". Your task is to secure an image of a cute owl and transmit it to Johanna by Christmas Eve. I keep running into copies of "Owly" around various shops, and it looks sweet. You can now win it. Go forth.

*I think this catches me all up, except for all of the things I said I'm going to do back in September or something which I'll get to eventually. I know I'm still missing...

*Oh right.

"Identity Crisis" #7.