Light Brew

*Comics in Media Dept: I was somehow not aware that Jeffrey Brown was directing an animated music video for Death Cab for Cutie, but here it is - basically, it’s a Jeffrey Brown ‘relationship’ vignette set to limited animation. It’s only going to be up online until March 5. The song is Your Heart is an Empty Room, off the 2005 album Plans. This is all in preparation for the release of a dvd titled Directions, due out April 11, which will feature videos for the entire Plans album.

*Most interesting personalized LOCK DOWN reminisces of the day - Neilalien’s impassioned criticism (“One doesn't have to be a self-loathing schadenfreuder Debbie Downer alarmist to be skeptical about labeling such a preventable crappy experience for so many people as an "overwhelming success."), and Evan Dorkin’s report that really, beyond the talk and hype, from the inside the show wasn’t fundamentally different from other cons he’s been to (“The fact that NY actually/finally had a decently-programmed Wizard-style muscular comics show with guests who can put asses in seats and cash in the till seems to have made some people feel like the second coming has arrived, and it brought action figures and Mila Jovovich along with it. But if you've done even only a few shows of some variety, this really wasn't anything out of the ordinary -- except when compared to other NYC shows of this type…”). With all of the talk flying, it’s almost cozy to come across a more standard media Con reaction piece, like this Associated Press fumetti-type thing by Hillary Rhodes and Peter Hamlin, mostly ambling around and being cute but honing in on the decidedly girl-unfriendly vibe that much of this stuff still exudes.

Coffee and Donuts: A Junkyard Cats Comic

This is due in stores tomorrow. It’s $10, b&w, 128 pages, from Top Shelf.

I have not read Max Estes’ debut graphic novel, Hello, Again, so I can’t speak for whether this new book is in line with some sort of consistent tonal or thematic approach or whatnot. What I can say is that whatever the target audience for this particular book might be, I’m not part of it. Actually, I’ve been detecting a certain trend among Top Shelf releases toward the type of book this is - sweet, light, unassuming, much akin to afternoon animated children’s programming (or at least what I remember of that), gentle morals and humorous antics doled out in a very cute universe. I got that feel from Aaron Renier’s Spiral-Bound, from what I’ve read of Andy Runton’s Owly, and from this.

But Spiral-Bound was a detailed, character-laden affair, possessed with a certain vigor of world-building and measures of wit and complexity extended toward the operation of its large cast. I can’t say I was inspired to search out for more of Owly, though I’ll readily admit that the cartooning is solid enough. Coffee and Donuts, on the other hand, and despite its not insignificant page count, hasn’t a fraction of the relative complexity of Spiral Bound, and the cartooning, while hardly deficient, is oddly cramped. There’s never more than two panels per page in this book, most of them confined to small circles adrift in a sea of white space, and Estes tends to pack his character art tightly up in the foreground, giving the impression that one is actually watching these scenes on a series of unmoving television screens, the program shot largely in close-up. The character art itself is fine, somewhat loose with everyone sporting super-stretchy limbs, and Estes’ use of silhouette is fairly elegant - but that doesn’t abrogate the claustrophobic feel that these panels give off, with environments and backgrounds sometimes shoehorned in haphazardly, when there is anything other than tightly-framed characters speaking against toned backdrops.

As for the story, well, I’m not leaving much out when I say it’s about a pair of impoverished cats who, in desperation, attempt to rob an armored car and wind up harassed by a pair of mean criminals who had also planned a heist. This doesn’t actually sound all that ‘cute’ in synopsis form, but that’s the peculiar part of this book - it’s clear that there’s more shaded themes at work, visible out of the corner of the eye, questions of desperation and poverty and morals and the like, but upon any threat of rising to the forefront these things are stamped by the boot of sunny antics, ground down by the steel toe of gentle whimsy. I don’t know if Estes was attempting to contrast ‘darker’ subject matter with pleasant cartoon frolic, but the latter easily overwhelms the former here, leaving the whole thing more tonally puzzling than anything. And needless to say there’s a nice, tidy, just-darling ending, reaffirming the values of true friends and niceness, though I have to say the book ultimately brandishes a rather questionable moral stance, apparently judging people’s acts on whether they’re at-heart ‘bad’ or ‘good’ people rather than what they actually do in specific situations - maybe that’s another fragment of the work’s shadow side, burbling its way to the surface at the last second. As before, it’s just kind of curious.

Given that, I’m not even convinced this is a stellar book for kids - there’s better material out right now, and I’ve mentioned some of it above (it’s not all Top Shelf either - see AiT/Planet-Lar’s three-book Electric Girl series). And while I presume there will be some initial interest among adult readers who instantly appreciate such supercute packages more than myself, I can’t say this is one of the better exhibits out there. I may not be inclined toward such books, but I can gauge relative strengths and weaknesses, and Coffee and Donuts is awfully thin by any measure.


Clap of thunder, clap of hands!

*I summon thee -


Solo #9 (the Scott Hamption issue, and we come down a little ways)

Earth Minds Are Weak #5 (a nice package of minicomics by Justin J. Fox)

Crickets #1 (Sammy Harkham's new series, featuring some fine cartooning indeed)

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #2 (of 4) (coming next week - passable fantasy action lifted up a bit by Ben Templesmith)

And I won't break the circle this time.

*Apparently, Speakeasy has closed down.

*Ah, that Chris Mautner piece on the New York Comic-Con that I mentioned yesterday is now up at The Comics Reporter, which also has one billion (I counted) links to valuable sources of coverage.

*End of the Shopping Trip Dept: Heard this at the Comics Journal board - it has been announced that Hitoshi Ashinano’s much-admired (at least among English-speaking scanlation enthusiasts), long-running manga series Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (Record of a Yokohama Shopping Trip) has ended with Chapter 140, the final one yet to be translated. The series will thus be complete in a total of 14 tankoubon collections, the last one due out in Japan this May. According to readers of the manga anthology Afternoon (YKK’s home base), Ashinano will be beginning a new series at that time. YKK was (and is) an absorbing series, in possession of a delicate, wholly unique atmosphere, mixing quiet contemplation with brushes of sci-fi against the backdrop of an ominous yet soothing post-disaster environmental milieu. Dirk Deppey once aptly put it this way: “…imagine Hayao Miyazaki cartooning John Porcellino stories and, strange as it sounds, you wouldn't be all that far from the truth.” I recommend it once again.

*Well, the best part of my day was spent staring at the same document for three solid hours without getting up, hoping that it would magically become right somehow. Supper was an extra-large coffee, an apple spice donut, and some hard sourdough pretzels. Might as well look ahead to


Coffee and Donuts: A Junkyard Cats Comic: A new graphic novel from Top Shelf by Max Estes, creator of Hello, Again, concerning the lighter-than-air adventures of a pair of dumpster felines who try and knock off an armored car in impoverished desperation, and wind up in all sorts of trouble. I’ll have a full pre-release review up tomorrow; it might appeal to the very young, or those who really love cute-for-cute’s-sake comics, but I’m having trouble coming up with anyone else who might find this worthwhile. More later.

Vampirella: The Morrison & Millar Collection: Jeez - just when I start cracking jokes about the imminent release of Skrull Kill Krew from script team Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, this thing actually decides to come out after having been promised for quite a while. Exhumed from the depths of the mid-to-late ’90s, this project never fails to raise a hearty “…they worked on that?!” from interested listeners, and now you can treasure the whole thing in one delightsome volume. Collecting Vampirella Monthly #1-6 from the Dynamic Duo, plus a Morrison-only story from the Vampirella 25th Anniversary Special (EDIT 2/28 10:43 PM: extremely useful trivia - other stories in that book were written by Warren Ellis and James Robinson) and a Millar-only story from Vampirella Strikes #6, this tome also sports art from the likes of Michael Bair & Kevin Nowlan, Amanda Connor & Jimmy Palmiotti, and Louis Small Jr. I distinctly recall enjoying M&M’s run on The Flash (that’s #130-138) too, another still-uncollected stretch.

Local #4 (of 12): This issue takes place in lovely Missoula, Montana. It involves a pair of estranged brothers, and probably some neat storytelling techniques, if the series continues in the way it’s been going thus far.

Hellboy: Makoma, or, A Tale Told by a Mummy in the New York City Explorers’ Club on August 16, 1993 #2 (of 2): Just love typing out the whole title. This Mike Mignola/Richard Corben collaboration concludes here, with Hellboy still wandering around Africa and participating in some kind of folktale. In a shocking twist, the visuals are really nice.

Untold Tales of the New Universe: Starbrand: The attentive reader will note that February’s I (heart) Marvel affair is actually not quite finished (I (heart) Marvel: Masked Intentions is out this week), but there’s no time for rest in the hard-hitting world of Big Two superhero comics! Already the latest special ‘themed’ line of books is rolling out, a bunch of new stories set in the New Universe, all of it meant to hype up this summer’s Warren Ellis revival of the whole concept. Plus, there’s eventually going to be trade collections of the old New Universe stuff, so we are even teased with that this week via Marvel Milestones: Star Brand and Quasar, a $3.99 pamphlet-format reprint of the debut issue of the original Jim Shooter/John Romita Jr. Star Brand title (do note the differentiation in spelling between this and the new story), plus issue #1 of the Mark Gruenwald-scripted Quasar series, for whatever reason.

Nextwave #2: Getting back to Ellis, though, here’s the next issue of his comedic Marvel book - it actually is pretty funny, though it’s kind of notable (and perhaps to be expected) that Ellis is more prone to laughing at assorted superhero elements and tropes (haw haw haw, Fin Fang Foom looks really stupid and old and he’s wearing dumb pants! STUPID) than any of the recent ‘indy’ superhero humor-type books I can think of (which isn’t all that much, actually) - but then again, one of the bigger targets in this thing is Ellis himself, his familiar characterizations amped up way beyond the point of no return. Tom Spurgeon brought up Howard the Duck in regards to last issue, and god do I need to go over that Essential volume again.

The Punisher MAX #31: Teeth.

Gødland #8: Like clockwork, I tells ya! This issue concerns the secret origins of everything, and thus will prove to be of special interest to the constant reader. Kosmic Trooths (as they said back in the day)!

War Stories Vol. 2: Collecting the remainder of these Garth Ennis-written one-shots, a quartet of tales from 20th century combat situations. It is a bit dismaying that two out of these four stories concern the struggle between a pair of Good Soldiers, one keeping the light of idealism alive and one given over to that killing instinct; actually, all but one of them feature copious sequences of characters standing around and gabbing out their conflicting ideologies for the reader to weigh and digest, and all but one (not the same one though) have pretty much exactly the same narrative structure, screaming violence leading to character drama and climaxing in a cleansing blast of war’s baptismal flame. Still, there’s some points of interest to each of these tales, and the art is great all around, with contributions from Cam Kennedy, Carlos Ezquerra, Gary Erskine (doing much better than was seen in Jack Cross) and David Lloyd (who is especially effective, his misty ink and faded color perfectly illustrating late-night aerial bombings). Not quite as fantastic as they’re sometimes made out to be, but Ennis fans will find value in these stories.


News, Notes, Writings, Muffins, Etc.

*Fascinating. Just today Tom Spurgeon notes in his ‘First Thought of the Day’ (scroll down) that he’s recently had a new variation of a recurring dream involving his finding rare comics at a store - and just today, my new column is up, featuring a description of a recurring dream of my own, involving my finding all of the books I want upon entering a new comics store. I don’t have the perspective Tom refers to, having gotten seriously into searching through stores after the prevalence of reprint books and trades and the like, though the dream is ultimately the same - books I’ve been looking for in an unfamiliar place. Odd.

Anyway, the real focus of this week’s column is the anticipation of my recent trip to The Big City (Philadelphia), which also provided the material for that Harry Potter anecdote yesterday. I wasn’t really on trial for drug trafficking, btw, and Atomic City Comics on scenic South Street is a nice store, indeed bigger on the inside than it looks, with a fair selection. I bought that Negative Burn: The Best From 1993-1998 book for $5 out of the bargain box.

*A pair of stories regarding manga are in my local newspaper today, both bearing the name of blogger and The Comics Journal contributor Christopher Mautner (who has some New York Comic-Con photos up now, and a longer piece coming soon to be posted somewhere). The longer of the pieces, which unfortunately appears to have had a fair portion of its beginning cut off in the online version, focuses on manga and its influence in general, complete with comments from Dirk Deppey, representatives from VIZ and Tokyopop, and various members of the Cedar Cliff Anime Club (aka that anime club that RIOT Comics + Culture proprietor Jason Richards occasionally mentions on his blog). The second, shorter article, focuses on various local comics retailers and the difficulties they encounter through selling manga in competition with chain bookstores and other outlets.

*LOCK DOWN Dept: Well, it seems the New York Comic-Con is going swimmingly, by which I mean upwards of 6,000 people were turned away yesterday due to overcrowding, including pre-paid registrants, and all on-location ticket sales were closed down for today, the final day of the Con. Also, various professionals (Karen Berger, Frank Miller, Patrick McDonnell and others are named in this thread at The Engine) had trouble getting in and around to signings and the like. Be sure you check out some nice analysis from Tom Spurgeon at the above link concerning the likely PR spin surrounding the affair. Keep your eyes peeled for Chris Butcher’s latest updates, check out some official refund documentation on page 2 of the comments to this Newsarama story, enjoy Johanna Draper Carlson’s link round-up (plus an update here), pour over a little anonymous industry insider critique, and feel free to let me know if you have any Con experiences you’d like to share.

*There were, however, a few announcements made at the Con. Apparently one of the bigger ones surrounded some new Batman/Spawn thing, which will be released with an accompanying collectible statue that will somehow tie into the plot, and possibly a limited-edition time machine that will physically whisk the reader back to 1994. Vertigo, however, does have some interesting new things coming up, including a Dean Haspiel-illustrated graphic novel written by Jonathan Ames (The Alcoholic), plus a “visceral” Vietnam War miniseries from artist Cameron Stewart and first-time writer Jason Aaron (The Other Side).

Plus, they screened Art School Confidential, which sounds pleasingly misanthropic and cruel.

Couldn’t find a lot of manga information at the other news sites, but AnimeOnDvd notes that VIZ has made official their (already rather well-known) license of Kazuo Umezo’s seminal ‘70s horror series Drifting Classroom. Meanwhile, Dark Horse has announced via a generalized manga panel that they’ve secured the license to Kazuo Koike’s recent(ish) New Lone Wolf and Cub, with art by Hideki Mori, replacing Goseki Kojima, who died in 2001.

But even more interesting, Dark Horse is also apparently entering into a partnership with Japanese publisher Asuka Shinsha to bring the latter’s Small S quarterly ‘manga illustration magazine’ to the US, hoping to fold some western comics artists into the publication's lineup. Very cool! Hopefully more details will filter out as the NY affair draws to a close.


One day, I will shout LOCK DOWN too.

*I have never been to a comics convention (keep in mind, now - until yesterday I’d also never been inside a Tower Records). I almost went to SPX last year, but I found out late in the game that I had other responsibilities elsewhere. I’m really not convinced that I’m missing any good vibes that won’t immediately be stomped into the dirt by a horde of mitigating factors, and lord oh lord has Chris Butcher’s coverage of the inaugural New York Comic-Con reinforced that viewpoint. Still, it makes for fine reading for you and me, covering everything from panel participation to venue considerations to journalistic behavior. Anyway - excellent, holistic work.

It seems to me from reading all the viewpoints I could find that the best part of the whole thing was 4Kids Entertainment CEO Al Kahn in the ‘heel’ role at the manga panel, apparently noting that he doesn’t care for printed matter at all since, by and large, US children just fucking hate to read. Hisses were audible in the crowd. I think the presentation could have been improved, however, if right after that we suddenly heard the triumphant VIZ Media theme music blaring over the loudspeakers and a VIZ representative (otherwise absent from the proceedings) jumped onto the stage and clobbered Kahn with a folding chair. Also, the con organizers and the fire marshal could then easily have settled their differences - IN A STEEL CAGE!!

Hmmm, maybe I do want to check one of these things out!

*Pre-release review dead ahead, cap’n!

Hatter M: The Looking Glass Wars #2 (of 4)

This miniseries is published by Image, under the Desperado banner, and this new issue will be out on March 8. Let me get out right up front that I’ve not read the first issue. Also, it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t an entirely isolated project of literary twisting - it’s actually something of a self-contained side-story within a universe created by writer Frank Beddor for his prose-format The Looking Glass Wars trilogy, one installment of which has been published thus far (its US release is forthcoming later this year). There are also two more Hatter M miniseries planned after this one, plus an entirely separate comic featuring the universe’s villainous Queen Red, so obviously there’s no lack of multimedia ambition here.

The basic premise of The Looking Glass Wars saga involves the ‘truth’ behind the goings-on of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland - basically, the fanciful cast of that vererable favorite is transported to a fantasy adventure universe, where Alyss Heart, rightful heir to the throne of Wonderland, narrowly escapes a violent coup by the aforementioned Queen and winds up wandering around the 19th century of our world, pursued by her royal protector, Hatter Madigan, who is really not at all insane and can transform his natty headwear into a deadly bladed weapon. The comics series follows Hatter M’s leg of the journey, searching for his lost charge.

Co-written by Liz Cavalier, the comic adopts a familiar action-fantasy posture, the title hero questing about and leaping into action when necessary, hooks springing out of his back and villainous blood flying. There’s an ongoing concern with the magic of Imagination (the capitalization is mine), here a literal, glowing force that many characters want to possess - this particular issue sees Hatter M apparently locating Alyss, who has taken on the role of a magnificent violinist in Budapest, and giving chase when she’s abducted by evil gypsies at the beck and call of even worse forces. It soon becomes clear that Alyss (if that is her) is using her Imagination for dazzling artistic purposes, though the various groups of villains either want to blithely devour it (they’re basically vampires, complete with sunlight-based weaknesses) or utilize it in creating weaponry. “It took some imagination but I found a way to kill you at any hour of the night,” remarks a sinister Baroness, all decked out in red goggles and toting a nasty sun gun. Thus, the comic toys with a few deeper concerns, though its heart really lies with Hatter M’s confrontation with circus freaks and an evil monkey in a fez.

It’s passable stuff from a writing standpoint, unspectacular but not really deficient, somewhat wry and in possession of a workable set of concerns. Fortunately, the art is provided by Ben Templesmith, who tellingly receives first billing on the cover. It’s deserved - while this material isn’t quite as visually strong as the work Templesmith is currently doing on Image’s Fell, it’s still good enough to handily raise the spirits of the whole affair. Surely the vampiric characters hearken back to the artist’s breakthrough work on 30 Days of Night, and his approach here is a little reminiscent of that, with a bit more sketchy looseness in his characters and a certain absence of backgrounds in favor of atmospheric blotches of color (as usual, Templesmith mans his own hues). But his use of light is pretty solid, neatly folding all the Imagination business into a quick, attractive visual signature, wavy musical notes drifting upwards from a violin like electric haze, later matched by the crackle of red rays of killing, bad thinking indeed.

Plenty of art samples here for both issues, so you can see for yourself. This issue is also accompanied by some supplimental prose materials, including stuff written by two of the book's characters, along with Victor Hugo and Jules Verne, further attempting to flesh out the saga's sweep and shore up the Imagination theme. It's nice, but it's Templesmith's efforts that really drag this one up from an unoffended shrug to a brief upward curve of the mouth.


My Return From Wonderful Oz

*Vignette Dept: I had worn my best suit for the big meeting. Twentieth floor of the tall building in the center of the city, casting its mighty shadow down onto the hot dog and egg roll vendors. I had made extra certain that I’d brought enough pens to take plenty of notes, and that my cell phone was turned off so nobody would think I was a twit in the middle of the proceedings. My tie was red and properly wrapped, and I had not spilled my personal pan pizza on my lap at all on the way over. I was ready to make a splash.

The elevator fired me upward. Two minutes ahead of schedule, I bounded into the secretary’s office. I had arrived there even before her, so I looked casual as she walked in, and greeted me.

Hi there!”


She paused.

Has anyone ever told you that you resemble the… ‘Harry Potter’ character?”

I smiled, and told her that yes, I had heard that, and also that I shared my birthday with the character and his creator.

Ha ha, that’s something!” she said.

She went to shuffle her papers, and I turned and gazed out the city below me, through the office’s picture window.

*Aw, c’mon Frank Miller and Jim Lee, this is only neat when it happens in issue #1 and you don’t announce it beforehand via press release. And of course, that famous Shaolin Cowboy sequence was also longer and, er, by Geof Darrow. And it didn’t actually fold out, though I hope Burlyman is making big plans for the trade. Now that I think of it, Darrow would have been a fine artist for All Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder - you can probably draw a line from Miller’s feverish scripting style in Hard Boiled (where I believe a quarter or so of the lead character’s dialogue was “Jiminy Crickets! I gotta reach th’ wife and kids!”) to this new project.

That press release is also notable for being rather vague - is the 6-page foldout going to be subtracted from the 22 pages of story in the issue? Or is the book going to be extra-sized? I wonder if a whole bunch of ads are going to appear on the opposite side of the foldout, if the former option is elected. Still, I do notice that the Dynamic Duo are apparently in the midst of parking the Batmobile, so there’s still hope that my dream of the two of them not getting out of the car until the last issue before the Neal Adams switchover may come true.

Crickets #1

As you know, this is Drawn and Quarterly’s latest pamphlet-format series, a solo showcase for Sammy Harkham, mastermind behind the deservedly beloved Kramers Ergot. ‘Winter’ appears on the cover above the issue number, suggesting a hopeful quarterly release pattern. Right up front (well, on the inside front cover), we’re informed that this particular issue is going to be a little unique - it’s devoted entirely to launching the title’s ongoing serial, Black Death, while subsequent issues will feature standalone stories to augment the presentation of additional chapters.

Also on the inside front cover we get a variety of self-portraits of the author, including visions of him as a werewolf, as a grinning skull, and as ‘buried’ (a squinting pair of eyes, natch) - this and the back page recommendation of Mario Bava’s 1963 filmic horror anthology Black Sabbath (not to be confused with Bava’s 1960 opus Black Sunday, which is very good) suggest an obvious genre influence saturating the outer parameters of the book, and the story fragment on display upon the pages in between seals the deal. It’s way too early to say anything about this story in an overarching sense with very much certainty, but Black Death is at least horror-flavored as it stands, if not straightforwardly a horror comic.

Composed essentially of two sequences, one set in daylight and one at night, this opening salvo introduces us to two strange characters - a mysterious and apparently unkillable man who needs to find a place called Liadi, and a Golem that happens to be sitting around in the forest and latches onto the fellow as a sort-of companion. The first vignette opens with the unstoppable (but far from impenetrable) mystery fellow, pant leg aflame and chest bared, being pursued by swarms of unfriendly arrows (which, amusingly, hardly ever seem to hit the ground), several of them already sticking out of his back, legs, and arms. What’s great about the sequence is how Harkham stages it, almost everything happening in a fixed-view longshot, the technique highly reminiscent of Chester Brown’s in-panel visuals in Louis Riel, though Harkham applies it to an all-out action scene, complete with mighty leaps and narrow escapes. One would expect a notion of detachment, perhaps even ironic distance from the genre trappings of the scenario, to rise from such a visual scheme.

But the results are still disarmingly effective; much of the credit has to go to the creator’s special way with character art - their eyes but simple circles, hands and feet pudgy blobs, yet every movement natural and recognizable human, Harkham’s characters are fine wordless actors thrashing through an airy world, and when Our Hero (?) leaps off a cliff and smacks his face off a tree branch on his way down, it’s a good laugh. That goes double for the wonderful bit of cartooning that introduces the Golem, a snake slithering out of a tree and down the creature’s unfeeling face and torso, apparently reviving him by stimulating his (unseen) forehead word engine. As he proceeds to chase a nearby chicken all around the forest, we get an immediate impression as to the archetypical gentle soul of the dumb, powerful thing. It never speaks a word, but we know what we need to know. Naturally the two meet, one prone to blackouts due to the arrow driven through his left eye, the other unable to say a thing. Both of them appear to accept their odd situation without much question - what else can one do?

In the second sequence, they have presumably become attached to one another (or maybe just one-to-the-other), and wind up attempting to procure food from a pair of traveling mortal folk, to a predictably disastrous result. Violence is always the first reaction to apparent monsters, and some ‘monsters’ just don’t know their own strength anyway. Viewed from a purely plot-evaluative standpoint, the whole issue is actually nothing whatsoever that hasn’t been covered by thousands of iconic scraps of spook media from the past - and yet, one only needs to read through the pregnant declarations and expertly-divvied beats of ‘silence’ that punctuate the conversations between Harkham’s traveling mortal folk to feel that they’re enjoying something individual. Incomplete, yes, and wearing its visual influence on its sleeve (Harkham's prior Poor Sailor, at least in its Kramers Ergot 4 incarnation, also sported plentiful Brown influence in its occasional isolation of panels in a sea of white page) but very much its own worthwhile thing.

I have to wonder if Harkham plans to really push the angle of 'comment on human affairs' that horror works so often seem to traffic in - surely it’d fit right into Harkham’s current body of work, the (arguably) deluded, striving characters-of-little-means in Poor Sailor and Somersaulting (from Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 3) maybe attaining a new, physical impediment in the form of Black Death's abnormal beings. Is Liadi something worth finding? And is there any hope of finding it? That's the intrigue in this story, and I was left eager to see where the author takes it in future installments - even if it's not a totally unique thing, it's original as a work in execution.


The Comics of Independence

*And good times were had by all. This was going to be an exciting double review post also featuring Crickets #1 but then the dog ate my blogging time. Short version: a decent enough introductory chapter to an ongoing horror-flavored serial, with some really excellent panel-to-panel cartooning. More tomorrow. I also really need to get some stuff up on 99 Ways to Tell a Story this weekend…

Earth Minds Are Weak #5

I reviewed the first four of these books, all minicomics by Justin J. Fox of Cliff Face Comics, back when I was writing reviews semi-regularly at Comic Book Galaxy; those issues formed a complete story, and of it I noted “…the execution makes one largely hopeful for the author’s future [rather] than necessarily satisfied with the work at present.” This new ‘issue,’ which is actually a trio of small, thematically-connected booklets tucked away in a red envelope, marks just the clear step forward that one might have hoped to see following the conclusion of that initial serial.

Fox’s progression as a cartoonist is evident from the first and longest of the package’s component parts, I Love You!, a 16-page b&w book, simple folded ’n stapled white paper. A simple bit of narrative play, the story concerns two characters, a male and a female, both of them drawn in an attractive, curvy stick-figure style. The male speaks for the first half of the book, as the female remains (largely) unresponsive, and then the lady takes over after you cross the staples, with the fellow now silent. As one might surmise from the title, the topic is love - more exactly, it’s about the failure of love to connect when we most desire it to. The male is creepily boisterous in his initial declarations of ardor: “I love your puke! Your puke tastes like inside you!” increasing in intensity to “Each drop of my blood is a red tear of love celebration!” All is for naught, and only after the line is crossed does the female begin to feel sweet for him, and by then it’s way too late for the feeling to be mutual anymore.

Simple stuff, but well-done - upon comparison to the oft adorned, sometimes visually cramped Woodringesque symbolic drive of prior issues, the focus on simplicity here is encouraging, with character action nicely expressive, like vivid signatures, and the dialogue lettering quite a bit of fun. And even better is the next item in the package, Good-Bye, a full-color 8-page production on sturdy stock. This one is a dream comic (as Fox himself mentions - plenty of art samples at the same link, by the way), wordless, but clearly connected to the prior piece by virtue of its focus on love gone away. It’s much more somber, drafted in a style more similar to Fox’s prior works, though the use of color neatly sidesteps the muddy quality that the b&w of issues #1-4 sometimes sported. And it’s good use of color, popping nicely, with some interesting use of texture (including half-legible words plastered all over the walls).

The last book included is also the lightest, the 8-page b&w Lincoln isn’t the Awesome, a direct page-by-page response to the initial issue of Carl is the Awesome, a humor comic by fellow Cliff Face artist Marcos Pérez. While most of the humor of Carl revolves around the extreme confidence of its titular dinosaur/beaver protagonist, the laffs here rise from the intense depression of Lincoln, a porcupine creature (and neighbor of Carl) with a twirly barbershop quartet mustache. I guess its maximum appeal is limited to those who’ve read both books, though there’s a few chortles to be extracted from Lincoln’s super-sad dialogue (“My body turns hugs into pain…”), and even the looser art found here shows good progress. And even this ties into the overarching concern, that of dejection and misplaced feelings. Really, Lincoln can be seen as the ‘end’ of this little procession, just as the Valentine-red envelope itself is like the beginning.

Fox is already working on issue #6, another full-color production and a ‘magic’ comic (“designed to affect life itself”); I’ll be looking forward to it. In the meantime, you can spend your two bucks to get this little bag of books, and poke around on all of the blogs and sites linked above - Fox is also a well-spoken critic, as I mentioned in my Galaxy review, and his critique of Black Hole ("I'm afraid, and a little bit ashamed, of a medium that has produced so few great works that this is held in such esteem.") in particular is worth reading.


Bump in the road.

*Chaykin Dept: Hey - five-page preview of the upcoming Hawkgirl #50 is up at Newsarama right now. That’s the debut of sparkling new creative team Walter Simonson (writing) and Howard Chaykin (art). Sketchy skeleton things - nice! Witty comment on page 5 about Hawkman’s silly costume - not too nice. Still, I’m excited. Also up there are bits and pieces of the Kurt Busiek/Butch Guice Aquaman and Will Pfeifer/David Lopez & Alvaro Lopez Catwoman.

Just the other day I noticed that Chaykin was also doing art in the current Superman line crossover/Crisis tie-in epic - the one Graeme referred to as “complete fanboy continuity porn” the other day. I was surprised by just how much Chaykin did, at least in the first part - I figured it’d be kind of a pass-by thing, but he’s got a solid number of pages. Odd seeing him drawing Superman, especially since I’m going over those old American Flagg! issues he wrote and drew, except - ha ha! - for the first twelve, which I don’t own, having been anticipating that bloody hardcover thing for eons now. One of these days.

Solo #9

I suppose it was inevitable that there was going to be a comedown; the level of quality in Solo had been nudged so high that things probably couldn’t maintain themselves for much longer, especially considering that the series is based on giving showcase space to diverse talents, which naturally suggests a good shot at quality varying. It’s frankly still a surprise that quality hasn’t wavered more than it already has, and maybe that’s a credit to editor Mark Chiarello’s ability to marshal especially strong results from an already-impressive roster of artists.

This issue, focusing on Scott Hampton, isn’t especially strong on any level but pure visuals, though that hardly makes it a disaster - it’s more of a return to the likes of issue #2 (the Richard Corben one), where some good visuals buttress unspectacular stories, without even the thematic connecting tissue that made the also occasionally wavy scripting of the Mike Allred and Darwyn Cooke installments pop with technical design fortitude. Actually, this issue lacks even the classic homage focus of Corben’s stretch (something later handled much better by the aforementioned Howard Chaykin in issue #4 anyway); at first I thought Hampton’s cover image of a traveling salesman unsuccessfully hiding a reptilian tale under his coat was signaling the presence of stories about, well, hidden things, about masks and postures - admittedly, two (arguably three) of the stores in here do bear such markings, but then there’s all the other stuff, like the political allegory, and the straight-up chiller, and I have to admit that the book really just comes off as a hodgepodge, a compilation of whatever tickles Hampton’s fancy. And that’s ok - except for that fact that not a lot of the stories are very good, and thus all that pretty art is just left floating around, detached exercises in style. The presence of a three-page 'making-of' art process guide is thus even more pertinent than it'd otherwise be.

Among the ‘hiding’ stories, the stronger one is the book’s obligatory superhero tale, a Batman (and it’s really interesting how many of these artists go for Batman as their superhero pick - maybe something to do with the character’s vaunted ability to support multiple, contrasting-yet-logical philosophies and motivations) short co-written by John Hitchcock, the only story here not scripted solely by Hampton. It’s a pleasant enough, an undemanding and unassuming puft of cotton candy concerning an actor hired to impersonate the Dark Knight at movie openings and public events, the ever-private Batman apparently uninterested in taking legal action against motion picture companies profiting off of his likeness. Anyway, the actor’s young son thinks he really is Batman, and then a crime occurs nearby a ‘personal appearance’ with the actor in costume, and his kid wants him to spring into action, and fortunately the real Batman swoops in and - ah, you can fill it in from here, right? It’s good-looking, with some fine paint work and a great sense of fun to the character art (loved Batman’s big thumbs-up near the end), but utterly unsubstantial.

The other major ‘hiding’ story suffers more, if only because it has more ambition and falls decidedly short. It’s a dark comedy about a popular, aging superhero artist who blows a fuse in his editor’s office and hangs the fellow out the window (the skeleton of the situation is an old DC office anecdote, I believe), and finds himself thereafter blacklisted from the industry. He then hires a pair of slobby fans to pose as hot new talents, a team he’ll groom to be dynamic personalities and provide with all necessary artwork, so long as he gets the lion’s share of the fees. It works, the fresh coat of paint on the public personalities masking the fact that exactly the same art is being produced, but then greed proves to be the undoing of many. I’m sure there’s a genuinely excellent, biting piece of satire hiding in here, a nasty little something about the cult of personality surrounding Hot!! talents, and a knowing tweak of the homage that must be paid to even the most trailblazing artist’s influences, but such concerns are mere surface here. It’s decent surface, with some great single lines (“With just that essential touch of manga!”), but the whole thing swiftly dissolves into mild gags, familiar backstabbing intrigue, and a rushed, nearly inchoate finale (how'd that one character show up again on the next-to-last page?). And even then - lovely monochrome visuals, and beautiful body language humor.

Arguably buying into the ‘hidden’ theme is an adaptation of an actual letter Hampton found tucked away on a train he was riding in the early ’80s, a declaration of love from an inarticulate but hugely emphatic party to an unknown recipient. There’s a lot of text in the story, and Hampton doesn’t really do much with the premise in a sequential sense - it’s mostly just panel after panel of the imagined recipient sitting around and reading the letter. The ‘punchline’ (so to speak) is fairly good, mostly feeding off of the heartbreaking text of the letter itself, but there remains the whiff of the uninspired across all those inky black carriage interiors and station views. And the less said about the book’s political portion, a remarkably silly four-page EC sci-fi homage that somehow surpasses even those subtlety-deprived specimens of social comment in sheer goofy sledgehammer force, the better off we’ll all be. Did I mention the delicious art, this time handled in a Silverheels-reminiscent lacquered pulp manner?

Only in the book’s final story, a nicely eerie horror piece about a vehicle that might be haunted, does the book really shine. Skillfully employing judicious bookend color segments to compliment a misty b&w flashback center, Hampton’s visual skill is finally bolstered by a tricky, satisfying story, an air of mystery and anxiety surrounding every odd happening, dialogue and narration complimenting what we see, words trailing off into a final refrain of repeated images, sudden bursts of taillight hue emerging from the ink. Hampton is a well-respected horror talent, and he certainly lives up to the hype here.

Not a bad way to end it all - it's a strong note for sure. But one does wish that the rest of the book had remained at that level, instead of being mainly a batch of attractive good-tries and fallen-shorts. But then, the bar was set awfully high to start with, and maybe this is just Solo naturally leveling us off.



*So many distractions today. This fine piece of entertainment provides a really apt metaphor - keep on struggling, filling the box a little bit each time, until it’s full enough to climb out of. Then you’re in a new box, and everything starts over. Plus, your computer starts to run slow, and you have to avoid the red explosives for bonus points. That’s my day!

*God, did anything interesting happen at all? I ate a quiche for the first time. It wasn’t very good. Just like that coconut I tried to eat the other day. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected an unadorned coconut to taste great, but god damn I’d never eaten a coconut, and I decided I had to. Of course, only after buying it did I realize that I’d have to break it open, and the walls in my building are pretty thin, so everything I do with even the smallest application of force can be heard by everyone else, and I didn’t want everyone to think I was hammering nails or anything. So I took the coconut out to my car along with my trusty hammer, and I whacked that sucker wide open, hopefully to the amusement of folks passing by. You know what’s kind of sour and distressing? Coconut water. Or maybe it was just that coconut.

*New Links Dept: In case anyone didn’t know yet, John Kricfalusi of The Ren & Stimpy Show and The Ripping Friends fame has a blog, and an awful lot of neat images have been posted already, plus some fine information on various unrealized projects. Of most immediate interest to me is a series of plot descriptions for the long-planned prime-time show, The George Liquor Program, particularly the one where the cast hunts down Osama Bin Laden and various evil terrorists: “When he’s all soft and stupid, they beat the crap out of him and end all wars forever.” Ah, but how will Batman approach the situation?

I remember really enjoying those two Yogi Bear cartoons Kricfalusi did a while back…

*Oh, this is a pretty good game too (at least the demo I downloaded). But then, I like slightly arcade-type puzzle games that give me a headache until I give up and look up the answers, and then I cry. The ‘Kids Alphabet Fun’ levels were pretty much on my plane though.

*Bed. Comics tomorrow.


Say! There are things to buy!

*No funny comments on federal holidays.


Batman: Year 100 #1 (of 4) (Paul Pope - yes)

Supermarket #1 (of 4) (new Brian Wood-written miniseries; Kristian's art looks real nice)

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #2 (of 5)

Donna Mia #1-2 (of an intended 4) (so, Neil Gaiman and a succubus walk into a diner...)

But are the comments ever funny?

*Well, it’s President’s Day here in the US. Hopefully none of you citizens had to urgently mail things out or go to the bank for business or anything, because then you’d be shit out of luck, courtesy of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, grinding the federal machine to a halt from beyond the grave. Yeah! All you have left now is


Crickets #1: The new ongoing pamphlet-format (32-page, two-color) solo series for Kramers Ergot mastermind Sammy Harkham, from Drawn and Quarterly. Sometimes it seems that Harkham’s involvement with Kramers threatens to overshadow his own accomplishments as a cartoonist; that’s not to insinuate that Kramers somehow isn’t the most vital of contemporary large-scale comics anthologies, but just keep in mind that the actual comics of Harkham are often quite good, and healthily varied in their subject matter from the spacious journeying of Poor Sailor (currently available in a handy single volume) to the misplaced teenage dreaming and dawdling of Somersaulting, Harkham’s contribution to Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 3. But these works are joined by a concern over the affairs of those with limited resources, the downcast-by-birth, and this book looks to continue the trend, being the first part of an ongoing serial about various wandering folks, like a man who apparently cannot die and a pair of fellows on a journey to bury a child. The preview up at Tom Spurgeon’s site showcases Harkham’s skill with dialogue tenor and pacing, and I expect the full work will warrant close examination on the reader’s part.

Big Questions #8: Theory and Practice: And speaking of Drawn and Quarterly serials, here’s the latest offering by Anders Nilsen of Dogs and Water renown. Originating as a formalist experimentation-oriented Xeroxed minicomic, D&Q took over publication of this series last issue - this one, coming in at 40 pages, will feature a handy synopsis and character guide for new readers. From what I can gather, the current story follows the philosophical queries (see title) surrounding the everyday affairs of birds and the humans they encounter - I may be only skimming the surface here, as I can’t say I’ve read the tale (which began back in issue #3, I believe). Nilsen and Harkham are currently out on a US/Canada tour with Kevin Huizenga (whose own Or Else #4 ought to be arriving soon from D&Q), and it’s interesting to witness all three of these creators focusing their storytelling talents on short-length stories and serializations, here in a time where the longform original graphic novel is supposed to be attaining dominance over this sector of the comics world - do recall a certain artist’s advice to keep one’s views on ‘graphic novel culture’ free of rigid packaging considerations. Obviously, natural reader access problems arise with a serialization of this sort - how many potential readers even knew prior chapters existed, let alone currently have access to such small print run items? At least this particular issue is acting to alleviate such concerns what with the summaries and the like, and Nilsen’s delicate, expressive renderings are attractive.

Golgo 13 Vol. 1 (of 13): Supergun: Finally out in the Direct Market. Review here. Not the greatest introduction to the much-loved character, but good entertainment nonetheless.

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vol. 1 (of 18): Also finally out in the Direct Market. Review here. More problematic - it’s a really big introduction, and probably not the end of the introduction at that, and you’ll have to wade through some awfully ripe melodramatics. But Urasawa’s suspense instincts are fine, when they have the chance to work, and the story as a whole is much-acclaimed. Not a great volume, but the potential is patent.

Put the Book Back on the Shelf: A Belle & Sebastian Anthology: In celebration (not to mention promotion) of their new album The Life Pursuit, the titular musical outfit becomes the focus of this new Image anthology, 144 full-color pages for $19.99, the stories being inspired by (or adapted from) their songs. Partial contributor list here (and if Image has a complete contributor list packed away on their site and I’ve just been unable to find it, please let me know - if you’re putting out an anthology, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want such a thing available for interested parties to peruse), though you’ll want to know that the tome also sports the comics writing debut of one Mr. Christopher Butcher, of The Beguiling and internet comics commentary fame (he’s switching addresses soon, so I’ll shift this link when the time comes). Reason enough to look into this!

He Done Her Wrong: Oh, this should be neat. It’s a Fantagraphics-released 5 ½” x 8 ½” facsimile edition of a 1930 extended graphic narrative by Milt Gross, a parody of wordless woodcut picture novels, with a heavy cinema silent comedy influence. Gross was a talented columnist and strip/editorial cartoonist in the first half of the 20th century, who also turned his abilities toward animation and writing for radio and the silver screen; from what I’ve seen of his strips (a sample), he’s got an agile and energetic line, and it should be good to see his work without any dialogue. Highly acclaimed by those who’ve read it in various forms over the years - obviously, this $16.95, 256-page softcover intends to lock in the work’s position as an early example of the graphic novel sensibility in comics history. Certainly fans of classic newspaper work will want this.

Zippy: Type “Z” Personality: Zippy Strips 2004-2005: Hey, it’s the new Zippy book, another November-to-November compilation from Fantagraphics. I personally think Zippy reads a lot better in collected form than as an actual daily newspaper strip - not only do the continuing storylines go down better, but the absurdity has a chance to better wash over the reader through the cumulative nature of the book format, divorced from the typical daily breathing room that following a strip requires. Plus, maybe your local papers just don’t carry it. I’m pretty sure there’ll be some nice Bill Griffith annotations too, so you can track the locations of all those architectural oddities.

Solo #9: This time out, the feature artist is Scott Hampton, most recently seen in the Batman: Gotham County Line miniseries, though he’s illustrated everything from The Bible: Eden to the 2003 Wildstorm book The Life Eaters to the early ‘80s pulp-inspired Pacific Comics sci-fi series Silverheels (later an Eclipse graphic novel). I distinctly recall seeing his 1994 Heavy Metal graphic novel The Upturned Stone hyped up a lot in those old Kitchen Sink catalogs - it was collected along with a whole bunch of his other horror stories in the two-volume IDW omnibus series Spookhouse. There’s going to be some horror material in this one too, and hopefully a nice cross-section of Hampton’s visual talents, ranging from sturdy, direct linework to atmospheric paints. Solo is always a great visual showcase, and I don’t expect this one to fall short.

Iron Man: The Inevitable #3 (of 6): More in this very good Joe Casey/Frazer Irving miniseries, a fun, attractive modernization of assorted Iron Man characters and concepts, worth your superhero-reading time. Check out this recent Marc Singer post on this and that other recent Casey-written series, Gødland, for more analysis.

Astonishing X-Men #13: Oh, this is starting back up too. Joss Whedon, John Cassaday, Marvel’s Mightiest Mutants, etc. The first twelve issues rolled along on a steady track from ‘pleasant enough superhero entertainment’ to ‘awful,’ and unfortunately the latter was reached around issue #9, so I can’t say I’m planning to hop back in. Still, here it is, and I’m sure Cassaday’s art will be looking good, especially with that new bi-monthly schedule in place to give him room to breathe.


But really, she's everyone's.

*Oh sure, it’s fun to dig through the friendly back issue boxes and exhume fun little things. Various Jim Woodring-written Aliens miniseries, the Steve Ditko issues of Solar: Man of the Atom - those are great. But sometimes, I hunger for something just a little bit more esoteric, something a step or two farther off the beaten path. Something almost forgotten. Unjustly? As my compulsion to view the odder specimens among the fauna tightens around my throat and singes my tonsils, such evaluation grows hopelessly cloudy.

Donna Mia #1-2 (of an intended 4)

The first ever Donna Mia miniseries was published from 1995 to 1996, one issue for each year, by an outfit known as Dark Fantasy Productions. Each of the two issues has lovely cover art by Michael Kaluta, and exist in standard and deluxe foil editions, the latter type also sporting centerfold posters. The story of the miniseries concernes the origins of the oft-unclothed title character, who is the result of the merger of a 14-year old girl and a succubus from the depths of Hell; the difference having apparently been split, she retains the form of an attractive young woman, though she also has a pair of wings, a forked tail, and cloven hooves that inexplicably resemble high heels. She can hide these extranormal attributes, but only two of them at a time. Men and women find her irresistible, which is fortunate since she needs to feed off of the essence of the living; her every orifice is a portal back to the psychedelic, skin-lined Hell of her prior residence, so the aforementioned essence also nourishes the entirety of her succubae sisters, who are otherwise writhing around in a non-stop marathon of damnable stimulation, orgasm an impossibility. Also: the narrator and audience surrogate character of the story is Neil Gaiman.

No, Gaiman did not write the script. He did not suggest the story. This is not ‘based on an idea by.’ Actually, he had absolutely nothing to do with the series at all. Except, he’s one of the lead characters. And it’s not some thinly-veiled substitute - the narrator of the book is explicitly and definitively identified as noted comic book writer Neil Gaiman.

The book is actually the brainchild of creator/writer/penciler Trevlin Utz; Donna Mia had started out as star of a series of short stories in Dark Fantasy’s flagship horror anthology, the obscurely titled Dark Fantasies. She was eventually cleared for her very own book, four issues intended for the presumed purpose of revealing her origins; at least, that’s the notion I get from examining these issues - as you can tell from above, only half of the miniseries was ever finished. I’m not entirely sure why, though Utz makes reference in issue #2 to production delays preventing completed material from being published, and Dark Fantasy appears to have gone out of the comics business shortly afterward. The writer also credits himself with ‘bothering Neil Gaiman,’ so don’t go thinking he just plopped the Sandman legend in his book out of nowhere. This was, after all, a time of heightened interaction toward independently-inclined comics personalities - around the same time, titles like Cerebus and Rare Bit Fiends were becoming stocked with guest appearances by the characters of other creators, or the creators themselves. And what better ‘hook’ for a new series than the presence (if not creative contribution) of a most notable comics personality?

Thus we have Gaiman, sitting in a diner and clad in sunglasses and leather jacket as the tale opens. He tells us that he’s waiting there to hear a story, one that hasn’t been told since the 15th century; immediately, we see a new utility for casting the tale-crazy Gaiman in the saga, his own yen for folklore offering a certain logic to his position in the story (plus it’s funny, though if we were evaluating matters on solely that level someone like, say, Jim Shooter would have been a measure or two funnier). Donna Mia saunters in, cracks a Death joke, and staves off any initial assumptions as to her lack of sanity by showing off to the future 1602 writer her most prominent attributes - her tail and hooves, though there’s several shots of the unclad rear beneath her dress as well. We are then whisked away into Hell as Donna Mia relates her story to Gaiman - our first glimpse of the inferno is that of a massive wall of flesh, festooned with weird black mountains and spires, the center of the skin opening into a massive tunnel, its rim dotted with teeth and a small city at the lower curve. Soon enough, we spot the Grievous Angel, the self-proclaimed personal Lieutenant of Lucifer, armed with a double-edged spear, a flame-belching blade floating before his lips, a mysterious book (perhaps a rare first edition of Angels & Visitations), and a writhing serpent for a penis.

I expect you might be picking up a certain element of sexual iconography to the Hell of this book. That would not be an incorrect observation, though I stress that this isn’t a purely prurient perdition. There’s a thorough, extremely studied tone to Utz’s vision of torment - witness the inversion of the Kaballistic Tree of Life that accompanies the Grievous Angel at all times, his feet firmly planted upon the sephira of paradise, or the golden tears shed by Lucifer, who vanished forever after the abortion of his rebellion in Heaven, though he rules still. Images of metal piercing flesh mix with classical robes ’n sandals pageantry, all of it strained through the point of view of colorist Eric Olive, who differentiates the zones of human/Gaimankind and cosmic censure by giving the latter a garish, shimmering, almost neon look. By the time we’re in the Cave of Sirens, home to the original incarnation of Our Heroine, the glowing lime and blueberry skin of those frenzied essence-sippers loans an air of exaggeration to everything, in sharp contrast to the heavy realism of the mortal plane. It should be said that Utz’s pencils are largely assured in scenic set-up and extremely detailed in background (only after extended reading does one notice that the arrangement of the booths in the diner in which Gaiman sits forms an inverted cross), though his character art has a certain stiffness, and Donna Mia’s limbs (especially her usually uncovered legs) seem excessively long.

Still, the visual appeal of the book is well beyond that of your typical erotic horror thing; it’s bizarre and often over-the-top, but canny and capable. We do get visions of the fully unclothed title character gazing backward at the charred husk of a man, though then we notice a big smile on his face, and that fact that his pertinent appendage is now but a smoldering heap of ash. As Donna Mia tells her tale, a nearby waitress becomes enchanted, and soon the booth becomes the scene of a furious round of tongue-rasslin’ between woman and succubus and author Neil Gaiman (who merely observes, I hasten to note) - but after that, there’s a few amusing glimpses of the same waitress lurking in the background, casting longing glimpses back at the booth, evidencing a certain wit. It goes a bit toward offsetting the gratuitous butt shots, like the one that closes the first issue as Gaiman is left sitting alone and (informationally) unfulfilled. Ah, but the wordsmith behind Mr. Punch is not dissuaded so easily!

Issue #2 opens with Gaiman taking his hunger for fresh folklore to Donna Mia’s apartment, where he’s immediately confronted by the waitress from issue #1, wearing only a t-shirt, underpants, and a smile. “…Do you want anything?” she asks, as Utz gives us a gaping shot of her posterior. “No. No, I’m fine, thanks,” replies the erstwhile Miracleman writer, a sly grin on his face, and the book verily catapulting itself onto my official retroactive Best of 1996 list. And all of these conversational panels are strategically positioned to cover up the more sensitive areas of four consecutive underlying pages of Our Heroine showering - it’s just that type of book. Eventually the waitress leaves, Donna Mia towels off, and we get back to the story of the great escape from Hell.

The opportunity arrives courtesy of the discovery of a place in Hell where the boundaries between Earth and eternity fray - a Warm Spot. Naturally a fight breaks out over access to this mystical point, and the soon-to-be Donna Mia engages is a kung-fu duel with a sister succubus, high heels/hooves flying, until the advancing party is gutted from stem to stern. “Fuck me!” propositions the immortal (if incapacitated) siren, and then, as logic would dictate, a translucent fetus emerges from her innards, also crying out “Fuck me!” To Our Heroine’s understandable dismay, the fetus then grows to giant-size, its detached umbilical cord attaining sentience and a maw full of teeth. The chase is on, with the future Donna Mia finally managing to hide in a crevice and launch herself hip-high into the fetus’ squishy skull. Unfortunately, a tiny monster was housed in the fetus’s head, and it attaches itself to her leg as she pries herself out. The beastie ascends into the air, and then in a plume of light transforms into - viola! - the Grievous Angel, who informs her that it’s the will of Lucifer that none may leave. Perturbed, Our Heroine dives into the Warm Spot anyway, the story ends, and Gaiman discovers that somebody has jacked his car.

Well, perhaps my car was stolen by agents of darkness. Right now, Beelzebub is cruising the mall parking lot, trying to pick up cheerleaders.”

And thus the miniseries comes to what would prove to be its close. We never do find out what happened to Gaiman’s vehicle, nor what the remaining half of the story held. I presume it’d have documented the succubus’ merger with the young girl, and Donna Mia’s subsequent early adventures, though I’m hoping we’d have also seen Gaiman team up with Dave Sim, the Batman to his Superman, to take on the legions of the damned. It would not be the end of Donna Mia, however - the very next year a brand-new three-issue miniseries, also titled simply Donna Mia, would surface as a launch book for the then-nascent Avatar Press (why yes, there was a variant cover available). Olive had departed by this time, Utz’s b&w pencils growing more and more luxurious and adorned with each issue, and his storytelling becoming more overtly satirical. Avatar would eventually publish expanded versions of the Dark Fantasies shorts (as the two-issue Donna Mia Giant Size), and a heavily compressed one-issue revamp/recycle of the Hell portions of that first Donna Mia mini, under the title Donna Mia Infinity. Neil Gaiman is nowhere to be found in this new presentation.

Also nowhere to be found, at least in regards to the comics world of today, is Utz. In addition to the above, a Donna Mia #0 was released, plus a collection of pinups and a few assorted short stories, and then Utz apparently left the world of sequential art. Behind him was left this utterly bonkers, genuinely unique book, overtly lecherous yet made with more evident care and skill than the average wank pamphlet. Who can tell where such a thing would have gone, given alternate circumstances? I can hardly believe that the thing exists, but here it is, right beside me - I don’t even recall what possessed me to buy it, but I’m glad I did. And while I wish I could provide a succinct summary as to the work’s positive and negative attributes, a neat consumer guide with a grade appended to the close, I cannot - books like this resist such evaluations, as their weird history clings so tightly to their skin, that sometimes one can only marvel at the sheer occurrence of it all.


Or was it Kree Kill Krew?

*First things first - Stephen R. Bissette recently provided some fine Werner Herzog-related linking. What with all the car crashes and shootings going on, who wouldn’t want a peek into Herzog’s secret diaries?

Dear Diary: My girlfriend calls and asks me to a coffee. Her first name is Thea. I do not know her last name. She does not arrive. The gentleman in the shop puts cream in the coffee even when I say, I do not want the cream. I order a sandwich and they give me a chocolate. This is beautiful to me, this chaos in the Starbucks. All is well.”

Much more right here; it tastes great, and is great for you.

*You don’t need me to tell you that Craig Yoe’s new (and NOT SAFE FOR WORK) Arf Lovers blog is awesome - I bet you’ve heard already. Yoe is busy prepping Arf Museum, the second of his Fantagraphics-published books on the crossroads between comics and ‘fine’ art (the first was 2005’s Modern Arf), but there’s a ton of great stuff up on his site right now, including extensive previews of both Arf books and lots of vintage visuals and tasty treats. God, that Charles Bennett stuff…

*Scenes From Real Life Dept: Right down the street from my building, there’s this closed-down store available for rent. I don’t know what the place used to sell, or who has access to it, but the window display is still perfectly open and visible. Currently, it features two mannequins posed in an parlor environment, with chairs and a table set around. One of the dummies is clad in full cowboy gear, hat and chaps and vest and everything, and is seated in a comfortable manner. He is gazing intently at the other, somewhat anatomically correct mannequin, who is standing upright wearing nothing at all but a cowboy hat.

I am unsure as to the purpose of this display; I guess it’s some kind of prank, or maybe a creative means of attracting leasers, or perhaps a test to see if anybody is actually looking into the building anymore. I know I barely noticed it at first while walking home from the coffee shop - I did a fine double-take though, one that would have made Maxwell Smart proud. Maybe I was being filmed. I hope the hidden cameras captured the fascination in my eyes as I tried to read the face of the seated cowboy; from the lump of plastic positioned to suggest the standing hombre’s manhood, one standing out in the street primarily gets the impression that he’s unspectacularly endowed, and I couldn’t decide if the seated party was gazing in subtle disappointment or scrupulous bemusement.

*It had to happen, what with the man’s productivity ever on the rise - finally, this May, buckle up and prepare to surrender your $16.99 for the one, the only, the collected Skrull Kill Krew. Five-issue series, co-written by Grant Morrison in his first work for Marvel in the US, with art from frequent collaborator Steve Yeowell; I’m sure co-writer Mark Millar will bring his fan base along too (or at least the bits that don’t already overlap with Morrison’s). It’s not Morrison’s best - actually, it’s pretty much his worst as far as I’ve read, a hopelessly compromised exercise in muddy satire and half-realized mayhem, bereft of even the misguided ambition that marks the likes of Arkham Asylum. Even the title had to be watered down from the intended Skrull Kill Kult. I’ve always seen Morrison’s solo-written Marvel Boy as a vastly more successful spin on the same superhero stance, philosophically iconoclastic and prone to tweaking the old House of Ideas standards. And certainly the Morrison/Millar team has done better, what with a decent run on The Flash and the highly-regarded Aztek: The Ultimate Man, which I’ve only managed to read bits and pieces of. And hasn’t a trade of their Vampirella run been promised for years now?

I’ll cop to mostly wishing that a nice collection for The New Adventures of Hitler or Bible John might pop out of this ongoing wave of Morrison visibility. I know Fantagraphics put out the US release of Dare in pamphlet format (as part of their Monster Comics line) years back - maybe they’d care to step up to the plate?

X-Statix Presents: Dead Girl #2 (of 5)

Definitely holding up nicely, as we move into the obligatory ‘gathering of the heroes’ sequence in this revival miniseries for the Peter Milligan/Mike Allred mutant thing; Nick Dragotta has been added to the creative mix as co-artist (Marvel’s credits decline to impose on Dragotta and Allred any compartmentalized position such as ‘pencils’ or ‘inks’), and the visuals thus seem a bit more detailed and prone to grotesque little flourishes - as I’ve said before, this actually manages to hearken back to an earlier day in Allred’s own career rather than give one the notion of a wholly new style. There’s also some good sight gags, like the reanimated title heroine’s hot dog fingers, or Doctor Strange ordering a glass of wine in the middle of a grimy dive bar, or Mysterio wearing his life sigil thing in the center of his big bubble helmet; I don’t even know why I find that last one funny, or why I so enjoy Tike’s stylized dot eyes, standing in contrast with everyone else’s piercing orbs, but I do.

It’s probably just the general air of merriment about the series, the sort of book in which Gwen Stacy and various deceased heroines and supporting characters spend their eternal reward attempting to read Ulysses, with a personal touch from James Joyce himself (I was instantly reminded of a comment made at this very site by Richard Baez last December, remarking that the original title would have covered Joyce given ten more issues - well Richard, turns out it was only two). Ah, but this is X-Statix, so there’s nastiness too - apparently, Heaven (or its non-denominational equivalent) is a place where you can easily go mad from the sheer monotony of endless relaxation, or at least become determined to escape back to the living, as has happened with our Tike, resulting in incarceration in the Lower Depths. That’s how it goes in this book, horrid visions of race hate coexisting with jokes about what a shitty protagonist Doctor Strange tends to make.

Nevertheless, the good Doctor is in charge, enlisting the very dead and girlish Dead Girl in rounding up a posse of passed-on characters (ranging from Ant-Man to the Phantom Rider) to hunt down the Pitiful One and his fleet of wrongfully revived villains (and Tike); as a bargaining chip, Strange twice brandishes something fairly useful - the secret formula to getting yourself brought back into living continuity in the Marvel superhero universe, something that the reader is jokingly denied every time, as the scene transitions away before the Doctor can reveal the details. This handily explains the Doctor’s metaphysical (and metafictional) ennui of last issue - who wouldn’t buckle under the strain of such knowledge?! Dead Girl remarks that only the most popular characters seem to escape rightfully back to the realm of the living, and that’s certainly something, though I hope Milligan explores the nature of pure superhero taboo as well - Gwen Stacy has a movie coming out soon, but you don’t see her walking around, since she’s untouchable.

In a way, Milligan is trading off on the sheer kick of seeing certain still-familiar characters walking around; note that Kraven the Hunter and Mysterio don’t ever do anything specific to their characters, because it’s enough to simply see them. This type of shorthand is amusing, though I found myself hungering for something a little more, since we’re already going this far. There’s still three more issues though, and it’s easy to get excited over where things might be going - X-Statix had run out of gas by the end of its life as an ongoing (really, it never recovered from the Princess Di fiasco), but the ensuing rest and expansion of scope has seemed to refresh it. If only all nostalgia could be prompted by strong works in the present.


The title is top-flight too.

*I have decided that what internet columns really need is action action action, three times the action. Thus, this week’s affair features a rocking fight scene as its white-knuckled centerpiece. I also came up with an alternate ending for the piece after I sent it in, to replace the somewhat obscure final line. If you so choose, the shop owner might actually say:

You know, Heroes World would have only had you fight a giant squid.”

It’s up to you, dear reader.

*Ah, advance word on Eddie Campbell's April release The Fate of the Artist is looking good. I can't wait.

*Useful(?) Quotes Dept: As you might have heard on the nightly chat shows or in the morning news, Batman will be fighting terrorists soon (apparently Letterman got hold of it - tonight didn’t have anything, though there were multiple cartoon riot jokes: “If you‘re going to riot over cartoons, why not Marmaduke?”). This has naturally led to much discussion over the intent of the tome’s author. He has discussed related topics in the past:

Comedy can be political or not… [c]omedies can be damn scary; Herblock’s best Washington Post cartoons in the Nixon era were brutal jokes. Much as I love the wild adventure of superheroes, they have a comedic aspect. They’re over the top. Even silly. Using them to jump all over the current political situation is irresistible. Look, we’ve got John Ashcroft as attorney general. You can’t make this shit up.”

I think right now that if I did anything about religion there’d be some kind of Catholic fatwah… [later] …[w]hat I couldn’t stand was that I was all of a sudden hearing the president talk about a crusade. That’s medieval thinking… I don’t think that you can answer religious fundamentalism with the same thing and get a good result… [later still] … I was sick of seeing American flags everywhere. We’ve had this horrible thing happen, and we’ve got to retaliate and we need retribution and we need to solve a global problem. We’re in World War III, and everybody’s standing around thinking that if they put a flag on their bumper they’re doing something.”

I think that the president has done a very, very bad job of explaining things, but the more I research it, the more I think the war with Iraq makes sense - which I didn’t at first think. I see this Bush as a guy who thinks like a street fighter. He’s going into a very bad neighborhood and taking out the biggest bully in order to make the rest of them back off. That’s how I see the psychology… I feel that we’re all in WWIII and it’s an existential war just like WWII was, and it’s one that has to be won. I think how to get there is a totally debatable topic, but I don’t think we can exactly say that if we stop being so mean, Osama bin Laden will like us. The guy’s a psychopath… [s]o I guess I define my position as being a liberal hawk.”

- Frank Miller, discussing his personal politics at length, interviewed by Gary Groth in 2003 for The Comics Journal Library, Volume Two: Frank Miller. Much more where that came from.

I also have the strange feeling that Holy Terror, Batman! is going to sell a number of copies.

*Maybe I wasn’t reading closely enough, but there was no Frank Miller-related news in the new Entertainment Weekly (#865). There were recommendations for the recent storyline in Optic Nerve (oddly, including the not-released issue #11) and the Top Shelf miniseries The Surrogates in the mostly music-oriented Listen to This supplement. Also, future Wanted movie director Timur Bekmambetov’s current film Night Watch got an ‘F’ in the Movies section. This is actually a very rare occurrence among the magazine’s omni-media grading format, though it’s the second one attributed to a film review in a pretty short time (the other: Lars von Trier’s Manderlay, both reviews by Owen Gleiberman).

*And just to make it a Miller trilogy of blips today, I am right now admiring his amusing cover to Archer & Armstrong #1, which was actually not the first issue of the Barry Windsor-Smith-powered series (that would be issue #0). Initially written by Jim Shooter, and launched as part of the 1992 Valiant crossover Unity, Archer & Armstrong would be penciled by Windsor-Smith through issue #12 (with the exception of #9); BWS would also take over the writing beginning with issue #3, though he’s tagged with a ‘story’ credit on issue #2. I mention this because I recently picked up most of Windsor-Smith’s issues on the book, plus his Eternal Warrior stuff (#6-8) and the actual Unity bookend one-shots (which he penciled) for under $10 total - couldn’t resist, as I’d heard very good things about the run. I also scored a copy of the SPX ’97 anthology (I didn’t even know these things went back that far - was this the first one?) for fifty cents, so it was a good haul in sum.


Who knows anymore?

*Oh, waking life. You and your monkeyshines. I can't tell what is what these days. Like this. It's a graphic adventure game based on some very familiar duck characters, though the visual style - in action, it's really quite attractive, I have to admit. I want to say it's downright innovative, though I'm probably wrong - I don't know all that much about the homebrew gaming universe. And I liked the ripped music, maybe because I have fond memories of the Dizzy games. I think you should download it and enjoy.

Supermarket #1 (of 4)

This is a new miniseries from IDW, written by Brian Wood, with art by Kristian - just one word in the credits, so that’s how I’ll say it here. It really is a lovely-looking package, which is great; despite having pioneered the now-standard price point of $3.99 for a full-color pamphlet-format comic, IDW is obviously not content to merely rest on its laurels, preferring instead to attempt a package so lovely, the reader’s eyes will travel away from that tag, lost in the bright reds and greens and blues and yellows of the cover. And the rest of the presentation is just as impressive, even outside of directly story-related material - I believe IDW has standardized content each month to fill some space in the backs of their books, sometimes a communal company-wide letters page, or short fiction. This time it’s a look at IDW’s upcoming adaptation of the Clive Barker book The Great and Secret Show, complete with production art by Gabriel Rodriguez and an interview with script adaptor Chris Ryall; the back cover of the book is also dedicated to an advertisement for that project, offering cohesion of hype. Very canny.

Fortunately, the story itself also looks great. I’ve seen Kristian’s work before in IDW’s Doomed, the b&w horror magazine, but it’s Kristian’s use of color that really catches my eye now, responsive hues which seem to track the trajectory of the single day that this issue represents - soaking neon and blackness in a wee-hours prologue, crisp directness in the early day complimenting (again) the primary greens and reds and blues and yellows, pink skies and golden hour glaze marking the dusk, and once more the saturated artificiality of the city-lit nighttime. I particularly enjoyed the dirtiness of streets and buildings, highways a mess of ink and urban crossroads slick like they’re coated in oil. It obviously helps that Kristian is a very adept visual storyteller; panels tighten their spaces when suspense is needed, and borders overlap (the order of the page layouts duly disrupted) mainly when excitement is present among the characters, jangled nerves via white space. Character designs are slightly reminiscent to me of Ashley Wood’s, with the sharp edges and simplified facial features - lots of thin eyes. It’s really an impressive book visually, and I think a lot of people will come to keep their eye on this artist as a result.

Storywise, not as much of interest is going on. The plot concerns a young woman named Pella, somewhat rebellious child of a decidedly wealthy family, who finds her privileged existence destroyed when her parents are killed, apparently by the Yakuza, and her money is taken away as she gets lost in the titular place, a nickname for a nearby urban sprawl, where nearly anything can be purchased. The book’s gaze is firmly planted on economics, and presumably future issues will explore the workings of commerce’s grip on this particular corner of the world. But for this issue, all of the entertainment for me came from the lead character, a girl so thick into the rhetoric of capitalism’s violence, that she literally starts off her day with a lecture to her parents on the abuses of coffee cultivation after being offered a cup. The character’s situation is then neatly summarized when her tirade is cut off by her own reaction to the stuff: “What is this, Sumatran? S’good.”

Pella, you see, narrates the book in full-on privileged guilt mode, detailing for us all the exploits of the hypocrites that inhabit her protected community, the subtle racism of the local job situation, the rebellion she participates in through spending much of her money on music downloads and slightly less abuse-powered sneakers; she rips off slithery upper-class customers at the (literal) supermarket she works at via charity fraud, but apparently her killer impulses don’t extend to any actual charity work. She’s utterly aware and sick of the environment she lives in, but it’s pertinent that she’s never shown doing anything to divorce her from that situation - in the end, just like she enjoys her coffee, she still goes back to her fine, gated home, her hellion’s attitude apparently confined to the social experiments she conducts at the job she doesn’t need, since ultimately she’s always going to be upper class. “Good thing I’m on Xanax. I’d never survive this commute otherwise.” One of the better bit of business in this issue is that her narration continues going at much the same emotional tenor, even after finding her parents dead, though at least she drops the lecturing, just as she finally finds herself blocked off from her money for real.

It’s always tricky working with a main character that’s really sort of obnoxious; ultimately, some readers are just going to react badly, no matter the skill of the presentation. I thought it was fun, which is fortunate, since the ‘thriller’ elements of this issue struck me as dull, apart from the kick of the visual presentation; we have the sudden discovery of the cash flow being halted, a few confrontations with villains blocking the route of escape, the flight into the city - looks great, but doesn’t really capture my attention, so standard is the set-up. It can work as a skeleton upon which to hang observations and character work, which I presume is the intent here, but there’s no doubt that some readers are going to be turned away, especially if they don’t care for the protagonist, so central is her presence to the writing appeal of this book. At least, though, they’ll have those great visuals to make it all go down smooth - certainly the mix is enough to keep me around for additional issues, to see how things wind up.


The changing mask stays the same.

Batman: Year 100 #1 (of 4)

One of the definite pleasures of following writer/artist Paul Pope’s work arrives via seeing which variation of his visual style he employs with each project. And I don’t mean that in a top-to-bottom transformative sense - Pope does, after all, have one of the most instantly recognizable visual styles around, something swiftly distinguishable from even his close emulators. But there’s more than one means of executing that style in Pope’s catalog of visual attack (excuse the violence, but he is a comics destroyer), though each approach retains the distinguishing features of the author.

For a handy illustration of all this, you need only gaze at examples of old and new material from Pope’s long-running, unfinished epic THB - you’ll need to find the early examples in the form of interview illustration or maybe as reprinted in one of Pope’s later books, as THB #1-5 themselves are extremely difficult to come by today, but that’ll do. The early THB work follows directly in the path of Pope’s other early works, Sin Titulo and The Ballad of Dr. Richardson, presenting the sci-fi action in tight tiers of panels, the action handsome yet restrained. Looking at the later chapters of THB, after Pope had been thoroughly drenched in general manga influence (via a campaign of production for Big Three manga publisher Kodansha, which included the production of an abortive THB variant titled Supertrouble), the integration of various Japanese influences into the style of THB could not be more plain - panels seemed to open up to vast skies and cityscapes, events became greatly decompressed, action became balletic and swooping. Yet the old and the new shared so many traits - so smooth was the integration of fresh influence into Pope’s core style, that it didn’t seem as much ‘influence’ at all as the unlocking of something latent in the artist’s prior style.

Those early issues of THB are long-gone now (and Pope’s never collecting them - it’s been said he wants to redo this early material in his revised THB style for greater visual consistency, and then collect that), but a glance at other recent projects like Heavy Liquid and 100%, Vertigo-published miniseries both, reveals a talent still willing to vary his approach as per the demands of his individual projects, tightening his layouts and thickening his use of dialogue when necessary. Despite their common genre branding as ‘sci-fi’ stories, the constrained arrays of panels in Heavy Liquid, the flight-happy expansiveness of THB, and the environment-saturated, exploding set piece dotted panorama of 100% set them all apart as unique affairs, yet all unmistakably the work of Paul Pope, those glamorous, rustled character designs and chunky sound effects and sharp/rolling backgrounds constant. Pretty much all of this factored into Pope’s semi-recent issue of DC’s Solo (#3), which featured a neat adventure for a certain Boy Wonder, and now we have a full-blown Prestige Format Batman miniseries to hang our hats on.

And much of the fun of this initial chapter lies in witnessing Pope at work - the visual approach here is heavy with action, though clearly positioned as North American superhero-type action, stopping well short of the loop-de-loop sprawl of THB. Thus, the running and grunting and fantastic leaps of this futuristic Batman (and there’s plenty of that) are part of a more crowded page design, movement kept fluid but fundamentally as part of a similar layout schema as the dialogue scenes. The insect-like helmets momentarily sported by Pope’s Federal agents in early pages seem almost like a THB citation, but this is very much its own visual world, and needless to say it’s very accomplished. Pope’s Batman looks pleasingly makeshift, with his heavily laced boots, longish shorts, slightly too-short sleeves, and removable gloves. You’ll believe that ‘Batman’ is a possibility, at least in this particular futuristic Gotham, especially since the title hero is designed so complimentary to the rest of Pope’s cast, an appealingly eccentric batch of designs. There’s the cowboy-costumed Agent Tibble and his mouth full of golden teeth, other agents bald & hook-nosed or dressed as mid-20th century leading men with slicked hair and pencil-thin mustaches and flowers on their jackets. There’s a pair of typically big-featured Pope women, eager to aid Our Hero, plus a classically bushy Detective Gordon and a handsome, coffee-sipping base team operative who literally turns bright red with emotion over the Batman’s apparent return to the Gotham of 2039.

Speaking of which, it’s not just Pope at work here, for better and worse. The aforementioned color is by the ever-reliable Jose Villarrubia, and his hues are perfectly complimentary, dressing Pope’s weathered lines in muddy urban color, with some great bursts of radiance (love those deep red spotlights!). Less effective is the lettering (by Jared K. Fletcher and John Workman), which is unfortunately constrained to typical dialogue balloon fonts, utterly placid and unresponsive to the liveliness of Pope’s lines; it’s especially distracting next to the excellent sound effects, which bloat and tumble with consummate sensitivity toward the action of the page - each element of this work is so uniquely responsive that the very presence of such standard-issue lettering seems like a gross misstep (not that this is a unique problem with DC projects - I’m immediately reminded of some of the ludicrously inappropriate superhero-style sound effects pasted onto the otherwise soothing visuals of Teddy Kristiansen’s issue of Solo).

For those wondering about the plot of the book, well - we can presume that the meat of the story is still ahead of us. Actually, this is one of those cases where if you read none of the pre-release hype and avoid the synopsis on the back cover of the book itself, you’d have a tough time sorting out the running theme of superhero secret identities as a symbol for privacy and individual initiative in a hostile, communal future. Structured around a wounded Batman’s flight through Gotham, the frankly rather familiar plot’s details are filled in modestly - we know there’s been a murder of a Federal operative, Batman was there, and there’s plenty of trouble brewing between the Feds and the administration of Gotham City. And that’s just about all we get as far as big-picture advancement goes; the joy of this first issue comes entirely through the interactions of the characters, and Pope’s tour of his new world, the delight taken in rendering it and making it breathe, not only through visual art but with help from his increasingly adept dialogue, dots of slang mixing into hurried conversation.

One does hope that more of story interest will surface in later issues (and one has no reason not to expect such things), but as far as style-over-substance goes (or better yet: style-as-substance), there’s few better at it than Paul Pope, and he’ll have you believing that his cityscapes and gritty fights are more than worth your $5.99. Like his legend-powered Batman, it’s there and impressive and suddenly gone, but you’ll be delighted at its presence.