I read comics. So should you.

The Stack-6/14 & 6/21/17

In new books, reviews on June 22, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bong, everybody! So yeah, you COULD go and see YET ANOTHER pandering, garbled mess of a Transformers movie this weekend, OR you can hear me out for a minute and learn about all of the amazing comic books that came out recently, and spend your hard-earned energon on those instead, thus making the world a better place. If Transformers 5 had a poor showing at the box office, perhaps Hollywood would get the message that we’re tired of formulaic shit. With comics sales on the rise, perhaps we’ll just continue to get more of them, and their creators won’t need to rely on Patreon to make ends meet. Some win-win food for thought, free of charge.

laststack

Let’s start with last week’s books, which I failed to cover in a timely fashion because, despite having played every single Persona game, I am still terrible at time management. More accurately, the little time I had left after playing Persona 5 for far too long was not managed well. I am merely mortal, folks, and my hobbies are many. Okay, before this goes from digression to full blown video game review, let’s get to the comics.

Cinema Purgatorio #10 (Alan Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Garth Ennis, Raulo Caceres, Max Brooks, Gabriel Andrade, Keiron Gillen, Nahuel Lopez, Christos Gage, Kurt Hathaway-Avatar Press): Look, I know the arguments. Many of you have Alan Moore burnout. They just announced a Watchmen reboot TV show. You’re tired of his name being used as comic book cool kid currency. Perhaps you don’t like just how often sexual assault shows up in his work. Just bear with me for a moment, and trust in your old pal Jared. He won’t steer you wrong, even when he talks in the third person like a total wanker. This book is REALLY good. All of the work in it is strong, and it contains one of my favorite Moore stories, which goes right up there with Promethea and Miracleman. We see from the point of view of the main character that they are trapped in a purgatory consisting of an old movie house, one which shows films that are familiar, but also bizarre. Moore uses this as his platform to dissect the malicious underbelly of Hollywood and other studios responsible for the cartoons, movies, and news reels of yesteryear. This latest installment is pure inspired brilliance. In it we’re subjected to a children’s film starring precocious, sleuthing scamps who, appropriately enough, are investigating a cursed cinema. The kids’ aunt mentions that movies played there skip, are missing frames, and that sometimes a hair will get caught in the gate of the projector. Soon after, those things happen to the very film these kids are IN, only from their perspective that manifests as time jumps and an otherworldly centipede demon. Things go from innocence to horror so quickly that it is genuinely jarring. You can say a lot about Alan Moore, but you cannot say that he has lost his ability to layer a unique story, and deliver it with real impact.

Winnebago Graveyard #1 (Steve Niles, Alison Sampson, Stephane Paitreau, Aditya Bidikar-Image): Steve Niles is one of comicdom’s great horror writers, responsible for fan favorites like 30 Days of Night and Criminal Macabre. In his latest, a miniseries about a family taking a road trip that goes horribly awry, he combines some of the great horror movie tropes like creepy carnivals and small town death cults into something uniquely unnerving. What really makes it all gel so well is the sketchy, atmospheric look of Alison Sampson’s artwork. I keep paging through and finding new details.

Secret Empire #4 (Nick Spencer, Leinil Francis Yu, Gerry Alanguilan, Sunny Gho, Rod Reis, Joshua Cassara, Rachelle Rosenberg, VC’s Travis Lanham-Marvel): Just a quick word or two on this issue. There is some new, messed-up fusion of Hank Pym and Ultron that lives in Alaska, and it is my new favorite thing in the Marvel Universe. That is all.

Green Valley #9 (Max Landis, Giuseppe Camuncoli, Cliff Rathburn, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, Pat Brosseau-Image): The exploits of the Knights of Kelodia come to an end in this oversized final issue, and it’s a surprisingly happy end for our heroes, having overcome a time-travelling criminal from the future and his pet dinosaurs. I’m eager to see more from everyone involved with this title. It was a beautifully constructed little crowd pleaser.

Bug! The Adventures of Forager #2 (Lee Allred, Michael Allred, Laura Allred, Nate Piekos of Blambot-DC/Young Animal): The Allred family are unique in the comics world for many reasons, but after reading another issue of Bug! two things stand out most to me: They have a genuine reverence for the classics, and they communicate that love with a carefree, adventurous spirit that you can’t help but smile at. If I didn’t hate garbage words like ‘wholesome’ so much, I’d use it to describe this. It’s fun but never too cheesy. It’s like your dad showing you his comic collection, if your dad had a brief flirtation with psychedelics and a proper love of Jack Kirby. Set in World War Two, this month’s journey has appearances from The Losers, Sandman, Blue Beetle, and lots of abominable snowmen.

Bitch Planet Triple Feature #1 (Cheryl Lynn Eaton, Maria Fröhlich, Andrew Aydin, Joanna Estep, Conley Lyons, Craig Yeung, Marco D’Alfonso-Image): One thing I believe that we need a lot more of in comics are rebellious political voices. I mean that. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro’s Bitch Planet has been leading the charge, telling the story of a prison planet exclusively for women who will not submit to the will of men, and doing it with a middle finger planted firmly in your face the whole time. The Triple Feature lets some other creative teams add to this world, showing what perceived transgressions can get a woman, in an already bad set of circumstances, with the deck stacked against her, arrested, banished, and confined. Each tale is disturbingly familiar, but ends in a defiant awakening for the main character. And just like in the core title, there are some really thought-provoking essays included at the end.

Thisstack

Moving on to the current week. It just MIGHT be my favorite of 2017 so far. It was a magical rainbow of genre, tone, and nudity, like a swinger party sponsored by Skittles. Now that that awkward simile is out of my system, let’s take a look at the highlights.

Shirtless Bear-Fighter #1 (Jody Leheup, Sebastian Girner, Nil Vendrell, Mike Spicer, Dave Lanphear-Image): The following sentence is entirely true: This comic book is about a man with a huge dong who loves flapjacks and punching bears. If that doesn’t sell you on the book, I don’t think anything will. Inspired lunacy in the spirit of recent Image greats like Chew and God Hates Astronauts.

Nick Fury #3 (James Robinson, Aco, Hugo Petrus, Rachelle Rosenberg, Travis Lanham-Marvel): This book is an absolute work of art. I obsessively study each issue, because they are a perfect storm of story and art, form and flash. It’s a straightforward spy thriller at its core, but that simple framework allows the penciller, inker, and colorist to craft a mesmerizing sensory overload on each page. It’s bold, and it’s enchanting, like the man himself.

Royal City #4 (Jeff Lemire, Steve Wands-Image): This was a gut punch right in the feels. If you too are a struggling creative person who bailed on your hometown as soon as you possibly could, and are now staring down the barrel of forty, trying to formulate a plan for your third act, you will probably weep like a baby after reading this.

God Country #6 (Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Jason Wordie, Dee Cunniffe, John J. Hill-Image): Speaking of crying, in this final issue Donny Cates and company totally stick the landing in this tale of fathers and sons and giant magic swords. It beautifully conveys how precious and brief human lives are, and how they transcend and become immortal through story and memory, though not in a saccharine way. These characters are Texas boys, after all.

The Mighty Thor #20 (Jason Aaron, Russell Dauterman, Matthew Wilson, Valerio Schiti, Veronica Gandini, VC’s Joe Sabino-Marvel): Now let’s stop being mopey and move on to– ah crap, time for more crying. SPOILERS Jane, trying to explain herself to the Odinson, collapses on the ground, possibly succumbing at last to her cancer, and it occurs just as the realm of Nidavellir is attacked, with Muspelheim Firefly Riders burning a camp of elf refugees. Volstagg of the Warriors Three has children with him during the attack, and they die in his arms. In a daze, he goes to Old Asgard and discovers the hammer of Ultimate Thor, calling to him. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a new War Thor. SHIT IS ON.

Plastic #3 (Doug Wagner, Daniel Hillyard, Laura Martin, Ed Dukeshire-Image): Okay, we need to have a brief discussion about this book, since we’re in Downerland at the moment. I think it may have crossed a line. I know how that sounds. It is, after all, a book about a guy brutally killing others who have wronged his sex doll. But wow, there is some absolutely repugnant sexual assault in this issue. And while the woman involved survives it, and even asks to join Edwyn on his bloody quest for revenge, it just feels like too much. It feels lurid, and too easily dismissed. If you’ve read it too and want to exchange notes, please do so, because this one really bugs me.

Crosswind #1 (Cat Staggs, Gail Simone, Simon Bowland-Image): And that brings us to Gail Simone’s newest book, in what I’m ashamed to say is my worst segue ever. It too involves a woman who, while not physically attacked, is harassed and belittled to the point where it will fill you with rage just reading about it. But then the twist hits, and you get the suspicion that all this is building to what can only be described as Grade A motherfucking comeuppance. SPOILERS It would appear that this browbeaten housewife has just switched bodies with a man so stone cold that he shot his childhood friend dead just to keep his boss happy. It’s the ‘Freaky Friday’ body swap trope, but I’m completely confident that there’s much more in store than just a couple of fish out of water.

Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (Chip Zdarsky, Adam Kubert, Jordie Bellaire-Marvel): Let’s end back on a fun and silly note, shall we? Cool. So even if you only possess a passing knowledge of modern Marvel comics, you know that there are a buttload of Spider-People running around, including multiple versions of Spider-Man. Among them of course is the original Peter Parker, primarily over in The Amazing Spider-Man. That’s where all the drama happens, and that’s fine, but too often it feels like something is missing. That something is Spidey’s trademark wisecracks, quips, and put downs. Where did they go? Fear not, because Chip Zdarsky is here with a new Spectacular title, chock full of web-swinging and joke-slinging, and plenty of verbal and physical sparring with folks like The Human Torch, Ant-Man, and Ironheart. It’s goofy and gleeful, and I suspect it is exactly what folks will be looking for after going to see Homecoming next month.

Okay, it’s time for me to shoosh my face and get some sleep. Thanks for reading comics, and for reading this. Feel free to comment, share, and follow me on various social media spots at the links below. Don’t forget to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you crazy kids in seven.

The Stack-6/7/17

In new books, rants, reviews on June 8, 2017 at 7:46 pm

stack10

This week in comics: A trio of comics dealing with the consequences of pursuing vengeance, Shade helps us come to terms with our impending decrepitude, and a boring hetero cis dude for some reason feels compelled to talk about how Iceman tackles coming out as a gay superhero. But first, it’s time to play, ‘What lame-ass stunt are collectors hoarding this week?’:

batcat

This. It’s this utter nonsense right here. Now I think our heroes should be allowed to be happy, but this is so out of character for Bats.

There wasn’t a whole lot of levity in this week’s pile, and that’s fine. Just because your granny still calls them ‘funnybooks’ does not mean that they have to be a constant chucklefest. Within the pages of the incredibly strong number ones and assorted ongoing storylines, shit did indeed get real. And it was oh so good. Let’s take a closer look.

Victor LaValle’s Destroyer #1 (Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, Joana Lafuente, Jim Campbell-Boom! Studios): You have to be cautious and respectful when building upon a classic story, and you have to possess a clear purpose, or it’s just more lazy fanfic. LaValle understands this, and his vision for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein brings its characters into the modern world in clever and heartbreaking ways, while keeping true to the themes of conquering death and exploring the darker side of humanity. The monster, up until now exiled in Antarctica, is suddenly and violently reunited with us, and the remaining scientists aware of his existence are attempting to mobilize to greet him. History repeats itself, but with shiny new technology, and the added tragedy of race relations and gun violence in America. UPDATE: I realize this book is two weeks old, but Diamond shorted me and I only just got it now. It made such an impact that I just had to add it to the official stack anyway.

Extremity #4 (Daniel Warren Johnson, Mike Spicer, Rus Wooton-Image): I don’t know how they do it. This series is a story of bloody revenge, dressed in a world of fantastic post-apocalyptic tribalism, and it manages to be completely fresh and engaging despite how familiar those concepts are in modern fiction. I suspect it’s primarily because the human (and even not-so-human) emotion on display is genuinely complex, warts and all. It hits the heart as hard as the lush, kinetic artwork hits the eyeballs. And if that is too touchy-feely for you, I’ll have you know that there’s badass airships, giant spider creatures, and lots of punching, too.

Spider-Man #17 (Brian Michael Bendis, Oscar Bazaldua, Justin Ponsor, VC’s Cory Petit-Marvel): Miles has been struggling with a lot lately. Ever since receiving the vision that showed him killing Captain America during the last Civil War event, he’s been worried that he’ll snap and go too far. He’s had a crisis of confidence, and it has only gotten worse since he beat up everyone in a bar while pursuing a purse snatcher. SPOILERS After seeing his friend Bombshell hospitalized from an encounter with Hammerhead, rage takes over and he foolishly puts himself in a very dangerous situation–one which could cost him his life. I always enjoy storylines that remind us that superheroing is, even for those with special powers, insanely stupid and dangerous business. You can bitch about grim and gritty™ all you like; without stakes that we can relate to, there’s no story, and no reason to engage with it.

Shade the Changing Girl #9 (Cecil Castellucci, Marley Zarcone, Ande Parks, Kelly Fitzpatrick, Saida Temofonte-DC/Young Animal): Have I mentioned before that this book is brilliant? I did? Several times? Well, it is. There’s so much to chew on in each issue, regardless of whether you’re a new reader or an old fart like me who considers the Milligan run their prized possession. Speaking of the elderly, in this issue Shade delves deeper into Gotham City, attending a concert featuring her favorite Earth band, The Sonic Booms. The problem is, in her excitement, she forgot how long transmissions from our planet take to reach her home of Meta. The Booms are well beyond their prime, and so are all of their human fans. Not satisfied with this revelation, she uses her madness powers to try to help everyone recapture those glory days, if only briefly. Then, it’s on to the next adventure. Ah, youth…

The Unsound #1 (Cullen Bunn, Jack T. Cole, Jim Campbell-Boom! Studios): This one gets filed under ‘Things You Don’t See Much in Comics and There’s Probably a Very Good Reason For That’. The thing in this case is madness. Many of the best horror stories focus on it, and that’s understandable, since there isn’t much that’s more terrifying than learning that your senses and intellect, the very things that read and interpret the world around you, are possibly unreliable, and may actually be turning against you. It can be hard to communicate that feeling convincingly, in any kind of narrative, but this creative team has nailed it. There’s page after page of images that will elicit the following reactions: “Well that’s not right”, “What the hell am I looking at?”, and “NOPE NOPE NOPE”. Asylums have not been this unsettling since they let Grant Morrison play in Arkham.

Iceman #1 (Sina Grace, Alessandro Vitti, Rachelle Rosenberg, VC’s Joe Sabino-Marvel): Okay, I need to preface this review with full disclosure. What you’re about to read is written by a heterosexual man whose understanding of being homosexual comes from friends, a mishmash of entertainment that runs the gamut from insultingly uninformed to explicit and enlightening, and the Babadook. What I’m getting at is that while I’m not qualified to speak about this with anything close to authority or experience, I’m an ally who is doing his best, and I mean no disrespect or harm. Okay, on we go.

Bobby Drake, the mutant known as Iceman, has recently met his younger self (X-Men are always involved in wacky time displacement crap that makes little to no sense), and it sparked a profound, live-changing epiphany. Bobby is gay, and he’s not sure what to do with that knowledge. He isn’t ready to share this with his family, since they are still not handling his life as a superhero very well. He wants to get out there and date, but his day-to-day is utter chaos, and besides, teaching and training the kids at The Xavier Institute is a full time job. Those lame dad jokes aren’t going to tell themselves.

The thing about this issue, and again, this is just the two cents from someone on the outside, is that Bobby and his struggle feel very true-to-life. He isn’t presented as a stereotype, and he’s allowed plenty of room to just do his thing. Alone in his room, trying to think up a description of himself for a dating site, or talking to himself outside a hospital after the adrenaline from a fight spins down, he takes a look at his situation and arrives at the conclusion that most of us do, from any walk of life:

*shrug*

That does it for this week. As always, thanks for reading, and for reading comics. You can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at the links below, and feel free to comment, complain, and share. Don’t forget to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you in seven.

 

The Stack-5/31/17

In art, new books, rants, reviews on June 1, 2017 at 1:04 pm

stack9

This week in comics: Saga returns, with some of its darkest humor yet, Jeff Lemire ends his remarkable run on Moon Knight, and I come clean regarding my feelings about Rob Liefeld and his body of work. But first, before it gets too late, I’d like to congratulate this year’s Eisner Award nominees (The full list can be found here):

eisner_header

Fifth Wednesdays are unusual little beasties. They tend to be filled with annuals, books that don’t have a hard monthly release date, and other outcasts that don’t get much love normally. This time around there was a fair amount of storyline endings and changing of creative teams, which lent a bittersweet feel to things. Change is in the air. Let’s get into it.

Saga #43 (Fiona Staples, Brian K. Vaughan, Fonografiks-Image): The crew on this book wastes no time whatsoever; From the opening splash page you’ll be alternately laughing and gasping. It’s a truly admirable thing they shoot for: to address big issues like women’s reproductive freedom and health, and perception of the transgender community, but to do so with a lighter overall tone, presenting it with dark, inappropriate humor. This special jumping-on point story was only twenty-five cents, so there’s very little risk involved in discovering if this fan favorite phenom is your sort of jam. Believe me, you’ll know pretty much right away, not unlike with the very first issue.

Moon Knight #14 (Jeff Lemire, Greg Smallwood, Jordie Bellaire, VC’s Cory Petit-Marvel): Time for the final showdown, between Marc Spector/Steven Grant/Jake Lockley and Khonshu/human madness. It’s a satisfying, cathartic conclusion, balancing acceptance and peace with a remaining sense of ambiguity. Take note, comics creators: this run has been a master class on craft, blending theme and content with pacing, panel usage, color, and general art style. These fourteen issues, along with titles like The Vision, are some of the best that Marvel has offered up in recent memory, and show that it’s coming from the fringes of the company, from talent unfettered by event continuity and business-as-usual guidelines.

Motor Girl #6 (Terry Moore-Abstract Studio): There’s not really another comic out there right now like this one. Terry Moore always has that symbiosis of big ideas and down-to-earth drama in his work, and his latest is no exception. There’s a wild backdrop of alien abduction and experimentation here, while in the foreground the heart of the book is the struggle of a woman deeply wounded in combat overseas, carving out a life beyond the armed forces, guided by an imaginary gorilla. It vacillates in tone from silly to disturbing, similar to something like Twin Peaks. This issue reveals to us how Sam got hurt, and it’s profoundly heartbreaking.

Doctor Strange #21 (Dennis Hopeless, Niko Henrichon, VC’s Cory Petit-Marvel): Here we have a comic with not one, but TWO aspects that bring me outside of my comfort zone. First, it’s an event tie-in, getting us caught up with what is happening now that Strange and many other New York-based heroes are trapped in a Darkforce bubble created by the higher ups at Hydra, from back in the zero issue of Secret Empire. Second, we have a new creative team guiding the ship in writer Dennis Hopeless and artist Niko Henrichon. The verdict? It’s really good. Hopeless covers a lot of ground here, and does it with all of the aplomb he showed making his recent run on Spider-Woman so good, and Henrichron brings his full crayon box of demonic texture and color to the party. It’s good to see that this will remain a quality flagship title going forward.

So recently, a friend of mine shared a post that announced Rob Liefeld as Wizard World Philadelphia’s first ever Hall of Legends ceremony guest. He did this knowing that it would get some sort of angry, eye-rolley reaction from me. And it did. But let’s rewind a bit and explain, just in case you haven’t already chosen a side in this ongoing debate.

Twenty-five years ago, Rob Liefeld, along with some other hotshot superhero comic artists of the era, left Marvel and founded their own company, Image Comics, soon finding themselves awash in cash and notoriety in our small corner of the world. As their chosen name implied, this solidified the importance of the art over other aspects in a comic book’s creation, a notion that prevailed until after the industry pulled itself from the wreckage of the collector’s boom, and focus shifted to writers.

So WHO exactly IS Rob Liefeld? Well, chances are you’ve seen his work here or there. He rose to fame drawing many of Marvel’s mutant characters, creating a bunch of his own that have endured to this day, and then taking that formula over to his own publishing company with books like Youngblood and Supreme. He’s the guy who created Deadpool, a character now fully out there in the world thanks in no small part to the recent Ryan Reynolds movie, though there’s a whole argument behind just how original this character really is, and if Liefeld deserves any real credit for it, since other writers crafted the mercenary’s personality more into what is known and loved today.

He is a highly contentious and divisive figure in the comic book community, and it really all comes to down to this: His artistic methodology, endlessly dissected and copied, is the single best example we have for style over fundamentals. Rob loves what he loves. A child of the 80’s, he adores the action films of that period, and action in general. He loves giant, menacing weapons, cheesy one-liners, and big, bulging dudes. This informs his approach to genre comic book making. It’s action all the time, fights and gore and empty shells pouring onto smoky ruins. He has no time for subtlety. Everything is, like the namesake of his own studio, EXTREME. This is rendered on the page as a series of sharp, kinetic hatch lines and impractical (and sometimes downright impossible) poses, the details of the characters always taking precedence over the any detail in the background. It looks like this:

Liefeldcaptainamerica

And this:

liefeldcover

As you can see, very little time is spent on the basics: anatomy, composition, line weight and shadow, storytelling, etc. Here’s where fans and critics break off into two camps. You either prize what he achieves through glossy embellishment and excitement, or you see it as hollow and ignorant, nothing more than a popcorn movie on a piece of Bristol board. Both sides have their points, and we’re all certainly free to make up our own minds and enjoy what we please. It’s really about a perception of high art versus low art, and personal aesthetics.

And that brings it back to what I think about this guy, and the fact that he is being honored at a comic book convention (really more of a pop culture convention these days) nearby. I’m sure you can figure out where I land on this if you’ve been reading my blog. And look, I try very hard not to make it personal. I’ve seen Rob around, and I’ve heard his interviews. He’s a very pleasant, positive, and grateful fellow by most accounts. So I just focus on his work. I DO NOT like it. I’m a substance guy. I’m more of the nerdy, scholarly type of fan, and I’m big on always working towards improvement. Rob’s work is kind of stuck in amber, a frozen moment in time that is uniquely his. An embodiment of all of the stuff he treasures, and he’s not alone in his sensibilities. It’s just not for me. I love to see a variety of styles in the medium, but not at the expense of craft and form and content. You CAN do both. I’d wish him all the best, but he’s rich and has a legion of loyal fans, so he needs my well-wishing about as much as Cable needs a place to keep his car keys (got in the obligatory pouch joke-ZING!).

So that’s that. Thanks for reading, and for reading comics. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram at the links below, and feel free to comment and share. Be sure to support your local shops, be good, and I’ll see you in seven.