I read comics. So should you.

The Stack-4/19/17

In new books, rants, reviews on April 20, 2017 at 11:16 am

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This week in comics: Event season approaches (so that we can all complain about fatigue instead of just, I don’t know, NOT BUYING THOSE BOOKS), Warren Ellis hits us with his writing stick twice in one week, and Image launches some dark number ones (that Garth Ennis kind of dark). But first, I need to clear something up in the new Cave Carson, since it’s all pixelated out:

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Really? You’re going to censor some wang? In a MATURE READERS book? Can we please get past this Puritanical fear of nudity, particularly the double standard of male nudity?

This was a monster Wednesday, not just in terms of quantity, but also quality. I cannot remember the last time I tore through a stack with such ecstatic abandon AND felt so satisfied at the conclusion. This is the week that you should take your family member or friend who is on the fence about comics to your local shop, give them the grand tour, put a floppy in their hands that aligns with their interests, and expand our ranks with fresh blood gently coax them into a lifelong love affair with the medium.

Injection #12 (Warren Ellis, Declan Shalvey, Jordie Bellaire, Fonografiks-Image): The mighty Warren Ellis has a unique skill set in the world of comics, and this is one of those titles where he employs every last razor-sharp tool in his kit. There’s a big, mad idea, wrapped in a teased-out mystery, populated with haggard reimagined archetypes who do not suffer fools gladly, demanding sandwiches and spitting cruel, dry humor as they get down to the business of crafting the future. Brigid Roth is investigating a bizarre stone ring out on a Cornish moor, and its link to the faery world. In this issue there is a genuinely creepy exchange between her and a local professor, as well as a jar containing what could be the sorcerous penis of Rasputin. Enjoy.

The Wild Storm #3 (Warren Ellis, Jon Davis-Hunt, Steve Buccellato, Simon Bowland-DC): There’s a wonderful synergy that can be achieved between the typically dichotomous. You can go on about theoretical science and corporate espionage, and still get in action sequences that blow your damn doors off, and Ellis has been able to achieve this when paired with artists up to the challenge, giants like John Cassaday, Bryan Hitch, and now Jon Davis-Hunt (fresh off of the sadly cancelled Clean Room). Things go boom and ratatattat, but we also get a brilliant four page sequence (featuring a much beloved character from Authority) showing a curious young woman apparently traveling from place to place via electronic screens on devices like phones and billboards. I love the way Ellis is weaving together his version of the Wildstorm universe, and these twenty four issues will go by way too fast.

Letter 44 #32 (Charles Soule, Langdon Foss, Dan Jackson, Crank!-Oni Press): Telling a story about alien life is an enormously difficult task, which I suppose is why so many stories just make them essentially humans that are a different color or part insect or something. Charles Soule is up to the challenge of making his visitors something beyond that in Letter 44: tentacled, featureless beings responsible for entire galaxies of techno-organic creation, with behavior, drives, and hubris that is immediately recognizable, so that we may see just enough of ourselves in them to empathize with their plight. We finally see the event that led to everything in this series, crafted with such mind-melting detail and color that I truly believe that this issue needs some awards heaped upon it.

God Country #4 (Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie, John J. Hill-Image): Emmett has taken his huge talking sword and charged into an aspect of Hell in order to rescue his granddaughter from Balegrim, a powerful being who wants the sword returned to his father. Meanwhile, his son and his daughter-in-law, besieged by the undead, have the kind of argument about faith you can only have when confronted with the impossible. This book is raw emotion and southern swagger, and it is going to not only put Donny Cates on the map, it is going to add a new country to it, adjacent to Jason Aaron’s, I would think.

Redneck #1 (Donny Cates, Lisandro Estherren, Dee Cunniffe, Joe Sabrino-Image): It’s a Donny Cates double feature! What we have here is a family of restless vampires, laying low on the outskirts of an east Texas town, doing a poor job of avoiding getting hunted by the local god-fearing populace. What really made this stand out, apart from Lisandro Estherren’s gritty, brooding artwork, is the turn it takes at the end, communicating the panic one experiences when they get blind drunk and wake to discover that they have torn their life down, and have no recollection of it whatsoever. This one is going to be quite a ride.

Black Hammer #8 (Jeff Lemire, Dean Ormston, Dave Stewart, Todd Klein-Dark Horse): This issue is just jam-packed with tragedy. There are lots of folks out there who are fond of the whole ‘comics will break your heart’ quote, and this right here is a prime example of a story doing just that (though that old chestnut is more about things like creators getting shit on, and how stigmatized the medium is, even to this day). Gail continues to reflect and break down, Lucy investigates the mystery around the town of Rockwood, Mark continues his flirtations, and the ending . . . HOLY SHIT the ending.

Plastic #1 (Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard, Laura Martin, Ed Dukeshire-Image): Sometimes a comic comes along and immediately achieves a certain infamy. You will lend it to your friends as a dare, something to test their limits and talk about later. This is one of those comics. It is SO fucked up. If you too are attracted to things of that sort, I highly recommend getting a copy.

Invincible Iron Man #6 (Brian Michael Bendis, Stefano Caselli, Marte Gracia, VC’s Clayton Cowles-Marvel): Perhaps up to this point you’re still not sure if you are interested in Riri Williams, the super-genius teen who is stepping into Tony Stark’s rocket-powered shoes. I’ll tell you right now, after this issue, you will adore her. You know, unless you’re some hateful, stuck-in-the-past grognard. The way she views Tony’s collection of armor with total fangirl reverence, her banter with everyone around her, her desire to genuinely do good in the world . . . if you don’t connect with that, why the hell are you reading superhero comics in the first place? Also in this issue: The Bendis finally addresses what is to become of Latveria now that Doom has abandoned it, and the Champions make an offer.

Royal City #2 (Jeff Lemire, Steve Wands-Image): Apparently it’s the Warren Ellis, Donny Cates, AND Jeff Lemire double feature this week! Getting back to recommending books to people you know-If someone in your life is addicted to TV dramas, THIS is the book you give them. There’s tons of family tension, a crumbling marriage, debt to local criminals that gets someone roughed up, dealing with middle age and burnout, and just a hint of metaphysical mystery to chew on and speculate about. AND a mixtape list, for all us aging hipsters, as well as the fact that it’s only on issue two, and thus easy to catch up on.

Fighting the ol’ OCD beast can be a challenge for most comic book readers, but it’s a fight worth participating in, and I’ll gladly tell you why, free of charge.

In this blog I have a tendency to dump all over collectors, and collectibles. My point of view is simple: Comic books are an interactive storytelling experience, so to merely regard them as art objects or sources of revenue is crass and hurtful. To attain things merely to attain them, to just engage in an empty Capitalist ritual, is no way to live one’s life. Don’t just give in to being a completionist. Don’t fill in a run of books just to have a complete run. If you don’t like where a story is going, or what is happening to the characters, or you feel that the current roster of creators are a bunch of hacks, then just STOP BUYING THAT BOOK. Fight the urge. Send a clearer impression to your local retailers and the publishers. You vote with your dollar. There’s a giant pool of talent and ideas out there, and our comics should be good ones, so support those that are, and help give the axe to those that are lacking.

I bring this up again and again not only because I constantly see these bad habits, or because people tend to talk a good game about improving the comic book landscape but then let great works die from poor sales, but also because it’s event time again. This week saw the release of Marvel’s Secret Empire #0, and the Batman/Flash Watchmen button crossover with its (FACEPALM) lenticular variant cover, and there’s more stuff like this in the pipe. Now I’ve read these, and actually enjoyed them, but they aren’t essential. Fans love to whine and bitch about ‘event fatigue’, but no one is making you participate. We know the deal by now: There will be core books and spin-offs and crossovers, all built around some neat idea that cannot possibly be sustained throughout this many titles. If you’re not interested, or if you don’t want to move outside of your current list of weeklies, then don’t feel pressured to buy them. Simple. Writers have become quite adept at the unenviable and difficult task of writing a story that stays within its own borders while also massaging in the event material. You’ll be just fine, I assure you.

Well, that’s all for now. Feel free to share my ramblings with others, comment and share your picks, and as always, thank you for reading, and for reading this. Be good, support your local brick and mortar shops, and I’ll see you in seven.

The Stack-4/12/17

In new books, rants, reviews on April 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm

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This week in comics: Science Fiction front and center, Nick Spencer has the American milieu on speed dial, and the bizarre controversy around X-Men Gold #1. But first, one of many reasons I adore Valiant Comics:

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Not only does the comic sound cool, but you have to do two very important things to acquire it: ruin the book this coupon is in, and take it to your local shop. Thanks for driving business to brick and mortar, and for driving collectors insane.

The genre of Science Fiction is stronger than ever, especially in comics, which I largely attribute to a notable handful of visionaries like Warren Ellis, Rick Remender, and the folks at Image, and if that’s your bag then this week was a treat. Some kind of alien treat, served in a space ship. There was sports Sci-Fi (Motor Crush), Fantasy/Sci-Fi twist (Green Valley AND Seven to Eternity), Western/Sci-Fi (Copperhead), and also . . .

Redline #2 (Neal Holman, Clayton McCormack, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Crank!-Oni Press): Redline is probably most accurately described as MILITARY Sci-Fi. The point of view is from the troops on the ground on Mars, caught between corporate warmongers and a mysterious race of aliens. The humor is gloriously inappropriate, the kind of detached and lovingly insulting bonding that you tend to encounter in high-stress situations. Suicide bombers, wild hallucinations, shootouts in strip clubs, or brushes with alien life: It all gets treated with off-color zingers and dick jokes, which does a highly entertaining job of grounding the unbelievable in the unseemly. It’s so good.

Immortal Brothers: The Tale of the Green Knight #1 (Fred Van Lente, Cary Nord, Clayton Henry, Mark Morales, Brian Reber-Valiant): A one-shot about Gilad, Ivar, and Aram, and their version of the events of the Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Oh HELL YES. Faith, of the Harbinger Renegades, is sick in bed, and Archer decides to tell her the story, as Armstrong told it to him, all Princess Bride-style. Heads get lopped, squires get acquired, and the truth about Morgan Le Fey and the Lady of the Lake is uncovered. It’s so well done that you can enjoy this book without any knowledge of the Valiant universe. If that’s the case, you might soon find yourself snapping up back issues of Archer & Armstrong, Faith, and Wrath of the Eternal Warrior, just FYI.

The Unbeatable Squirrel-Girl #19 (Ryan North, Erica Henderson, Rico Renzi, Travis Lanham-Marvel): Doreen is facing down her worst nightmare: A REALLY long villain monologue. It turns out that SPOILERS Melissa Morbeck, who was previously seen as a friend and benefactor, is a big-time baddie, and has been reverse engineering tech that will allow her to control nearly every animal that has come into human contact on Earth. To what end? To rule, and to blame it all on Doctor Doom, since that name carries more weight in the grand scheme of evil things. Can she, Koi Boi, Chipmunk Hunk, and Nancy save the day? Will her new suspicions ruin her friendship with Howard the Duck? Will things work out for Alfredo the Chicken? Read the issue, snort-laugh your butt off, and find out!

The Wicked + The Divine #28 (Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matthew Wilson, Clayton Cowles, Dee Cunniffe-Image): A Great Darkness approaches mankind, and the one force that can stop it, a pantheon of gods reborn into the bodies of various young people, is too busy being assholes to bother. Some are digging up dirt, some are getting their party and orgy on, some are enduring abuse, and some are busy murdering. In a flashback, the one who sought to manipulate these deities is literally weeping for the future. This issue, oddly enough, shares a common thread with the recent Marvel works of Jason Aaron: Gods are in fact not far removed from us, and thus are capable of sucking just as hard as we can.

Godshaper #1 (Simon Spurrier, Jonas Goonface, Colin Bell-Boom! Studios): Speaking of gods, there was a brilliant new entry from Boom this week, all about an alternate version of our world where physics misbehaved, and resulted in human beings getting personal gods do their bidding in exchange for worship. The wrinkle is that not everyone got a god, but instead the ability to manipulate these gods, changing their appearance and power sets. Ennay, a wandering musician, is one of these ‘Godshapers’, and is about to get involved in the shady dealings lurking beneath the latest midwestern shithole he’s journeyed into. There’s nothing out there quite like this comic, a sexy amalgam of Pokemon, Rockabilly, and hobo culture, illustrated with colorful abandon by Jonas Goonface. I highly recommend giving it a read.

Captain America: Sam Wilson #21 (Nick Spencer, Daniel Acuña, Rachelle Rosenberg, VC’s Joe Caramagna-Marvel): SPOILERS Here we are. After twenty issues, Sam has made a decision, informed by everything he’s been through, including the fact that Rage was recently put into a coma for daring to stand up to both the Americops and his criminal past. He’s moving on, returning to his life as Falcon, and passing the shield back to Steve Rogers. If all of this was planned in detail by Nick Spencer, then that cements him as one of the best writers in comics as far as I’m concerned. He’s done nothing less than tell one of the most timely and compelling stories about superhero legacy ever. He has taken the character on a journey that examined race, politics, fandom, and abuse of power, and for as sad as this ending is, and knowing just how bad it’s about to get in the big Secret Empire event, it feels like this is exactly how it needed to happen. Sam needed to feel the shadow of Cap and the disapproval of those fans, he needed to be true to himself and pay a huge price for it, and most importantly, he needed to decide to fight on despite the weight of the world crushing him and those closest to him. This is who he is, and he’s going to do what he thinks is right on his own terms again. No matter how hard he tried, he was never going to fill those boots, but it didn’t stop him from actually trying, and it didn’t stop him from inspiring people along the way. The tragically ironic thing is that those actions make him more worthy of being Captain America than the current version of Steve Rogers, but the extremely vocal opposition will not have it. That’s the world that we and these characters live in now, but if we refuse to give up, it CAN and WILL change.

Moving on, I suppose I should touch on the controversy of the week, involving X-Men Gold #1. The short version is that comics artist Ardian Syaf put references to the Indonesian interpretation of the Quran in the issue, and that these references allude to religious hatred and the current political climate in that area. It was a foolish, self-serving thing to do, and it cost him a career that many of us only dream about. For more in-depth information, I suggest checking out the Tumblr of G. Willow Wilson, writer of books like Ms. Marvel, which can be found here.

Then there’s the after-effects that this little fiasco has caused in the retail and collector’s worlds. I have had my shop’s phone ringing ever since, bombarded with would-be speculators looking to make a buck off of one idiot’s misguided attempts at a statement. The issue is going for upwards of $40 on places like Ebay as I write this, which is a fact that makes me physically ill. That anyone wants to make thirty bucks off of religious animosity is disgusting, and is exactly the kind of bullshit that we do not need. I talk a great deal about how comics are for everyone, and that all are welcome. Let me make an amendment to that. Insensitive scumbags treating it like the nerd stock market can just fuck right off. Speculators, online flippers, unscrupulous retailers and dealers, and anyone else who thinks this is acceptable:

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Allow me to show you the fucking door, amigo.

Thanks for fighting the good fight with me, and thank you for reading comic books. Feel free to share your thoughts and your pulls in the comments. Be good, support your local shops, and I’ll see you in seven.

The Stack-4/5/17

In new books, rants, reviews on April 7, 2017 at 9:41 am

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This week in comics: Wonderful number ones and twos, bracing for more cancellations, and The Bendis shows us just how poorly superheroics and family mix. But first, in the battle of band-inspired books, who wins?

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This?

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Or this?

(Here’s a hint: IT’S FUCKING SLAYER)

Eleanor & the Egret #1 (John Layman, Sam Keith, Ronda Pattison-Aftershock): What do you get when you put the creators of Chew and The Maxx on the same title? You get the quirky story of an art thief and her magical talking bird. You get the full Sam Keith experience, including unconventional page layouts, coloring that pops and swirls, figures clad in flowing fabrics and towering hats, and unnecessary yet charming reminder balloons. You get a book unlike any other on the shelves. Got it? Good.

Shade the Changing Girl #7 (Cecil Castellucci, Marguerite Sauvage, Becky Cloonan, Saida Temofonte-DC/Young Animal): Shade has been living up to its pedigree and potential each month, carving out its own unique path while maintaining a tether to the works of Peter Milligan and company that came before it. This story of an alien that traveled to our planet and found itself in the body of a high school bully has been an inferno of emotion, poetry, and psychedelia, and I really think it all starts to gel in the best possible way with this latest issue. Here we get some much-needed back story on the Avian formerly known as Loma, and where their wanderlust came from, as well as all sorts of parallels they share with the former Shade. After the flashbacks, the issue builds to a moment when those wronged by Megan, the girl Loma now inhabits, get their revenge, and the realization hits that it’s time to outrun the past and see what Earth has to offer. All of this is illustrated beautifully by Marguerite Sauvage, and it’s a feast for the eyes.

Black Cloud #1 (Jason Latour, Ivan Brandon, Greg Hinkle, Matt Wilson, Dee Cunniffe, Aditya Bidikar, Tom Muller-Image): This is my favorite kind of story, for two reasons. First, it’s the kind that is difficult to describe to other people. My recommendation to friends and customers ends up being, “Just read it!” ( I promise this speaks more about the creator’s wild imagination, and less about my laziness and habit of stumbling over my words). Second, it’s a story about the power of stories, so it’s a mysterious little imp of a meta-narrative. It revolves around a woman who is a homeless nobody in our world, staying alive by giving the disenchanted rich a tour through other realms. Beyond that, issue one is a sublimely rendered collection of questions, with answers looming in the distance. Dive right in, you won’t be disappointed.

Champions #7 (Mark Waid, Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, VC’s Clayton Cowles-Marvel): Champions is a book about youth, the good and the bad. Cyclops, Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Spider-Man, and Viv made a decision to form a team of their own, separate from those like The Avengers, with a mission statement full of wide-eyed optimism, social media connection, and solving problems without all the property damage and dead bodies. This particular issue is all about the naivete of that stance, as they deal with getting set up by The Freelancers, a team with a completely mercenary approach and no moral compass. In a final cruel twist, SPOILERS the heroes are confronted with their logo, now trademarked by their enemies and splashed across products that are completely antithetical to what they stand for. The lesson: Be ever vigilant, or evil will totally co-opt your shit.

Extremity #2 (Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer, Rus Wooton-Image): Let me start off by apologizing for not covering issue one of this series. It slipped past my radar, and I did not get to read it until just recently. But when I finally sat down and cracked open a copy, it absolutely rocked my damn world. It’s a Sci-Fi adventure drama, a tale of revenge and tribal warfare, and it lives in a fascinating and fully realized world of massive airships and deadly beasts and terrifying cruelty. I am now a total fanboy for creator Daniel Warren Johnson. His art is stunningly visceral, reminiscent of greats like Paul Pope and Geof Darrow, and it pulls me into each and every page. I can’t recommend this one enough.

Motor Girl #5 (Terry Moore-Abstract Studio): I absolutely adore Terry Moore’s work. From Strangers in Paradise to Rachel Rising and now Motor Girl, you will always find a very human center to whatever madness is happening in the narrative, driven by strong, compelling characters, and a joyfully independent spirit that permeates everything. Case in point: Sam, a former Marine Sergeant who was beaten and tortured by the enemy while deployed, has visions of a big friendly Gorilla who is her only close companion now that she works alone in a junkyard. Her and her employer, a fiery old lady named Libby, are caught in the middle of a bizarre alien visitation and the weapon developer who wants to intercept it. How can you NOT read that? And if you dare to complain that the comic is in black and white I will throw extra ripe durian fruit at you.

It’s time for the Bendis double-trouble feature!

Jessica Jones #7 (Brian Michael Bendis, Michael Gaydos, Matt Hollingsworth, VC’s Cory Petit, David Mack-Marvel) & Spider-Man #15 (Brian Michael Bendis, Szymon Kudranski, Justin Ponsor, VC’s Cory Petit, Patrick Brown-Marvel): I personally enjoy that old chestnut, you may have heard of it somewhere, about great power coming with great responsibility. Superheroing ain’t easy, and that goes double if you still have family and friends in your life that you are putting in harm’s way merely by association. As a family man, I imagine this aspect is often at the forefront of the mind of The Bendis, and why it appears in his work so much. SPOILERS Jessica Jones has lost the trust of her husband by going undercover for S.H.I.E.L.D. and hiding their child from him, and her old habits are creeping in as she tries to cope. Over in Spider-Man, Miles and his father are confronted by Rio, who has finally pieced together that they have been lying to her face about their lives away from home. These resolutions go as you would expect, with forced explanations doing very little to soothe hurt feelings and uncertainty about the future. It’s in these personal and emotional stakes that we most see ourselves, and it’s how we get invested in a story. A long form genre comic that deals only in the escapism aspect will always be the lesser for ignoring that fact. Thanks, Bendis and your amazing art teams, for putting some truth about the human experience up on Front Street.

I covered a bit more than usual this week, and got delayed by storms knocking out my internet, so I’ll just briefly touch on the upcoming end of some of my favorite books, whether due to cancellation, the end of a run, or just the fact that they are only a mini-series. In the next few months we are losing Unfollow, Clean Room, Patsy Walker aka Hellcat, Letter 44, Invincible, God Country, and more. They will be missed, and I look forward to whatever these creators are up to next.

Having said that, remember that you vote with your dollar. Buy the books that mean something to you, especially if they are taking big chances and/or at a publisher that quickly drops the axe once sales hit a certain low. And DO NOT be one of those asshats that drops a title simply because it’s a mini-series. Not every story needs to go for a decade or more. We can all be better about getting the word out, so that great work is recognized and those behind it can make a living. It’s precisely why I own a comic shop, and why I make this blog. Be a one-nerd comics street team. Tell your friends and family. Share on social media. Go to conventions FOR THE ACTUAL COMICS. It’s a small community, in the greater scheme of things, but it cannot be a clubhouse. You’re all welcome, and there’s always room for more.

Be good, support your local shops, and I’ll see you in seven.