Greetings! Welcome back to the big column. First, this week’s Best Shots extras . . .
The Eternals #1 (Marvel; review by Troy)
Skaar: Son of Hulk #1 (Marvel; review by Troy)
Meanwhile, at ShotgunReviews.com: In the latest episode of Shots in the Dark, the Shots crew dissects the Lost finale, which was just chock-full of all manner of tasty nuggets. Is Ben good or bad? How many toes does Richard have? And what was up with that damn frozen donkey wheel??! The crew also delivers an in-depth review of the new Mario Kart Wii. In our regular articles, Charl looks at the death of [i]PiQ[/i].
And now, reviews . . .
Captain Britain and MI13 #2
Writer: Paul Cornell
Art: Leonard Kirk with Jesse Delperdang and Brian Reber
From: Marvel Comics
Review by: Lucas Siegel
Best. New. Series. Of. 2008. I’m just calling it, right now. This book is so good, I re-read it to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating, and no, I really enjoyed it that much!
I usually find myself talking writing first, so I’m going to change it up here and delve into the art side first. The art is vibrant and exciting. It’s simple at the right points and complex when it needs to be. Faces (even Skrull faces) are individual and expressive. The layouts vary between the standard and completely unconventional. There is a stable of artists who are defining comic art for the 21st century, and I fully believe Leonard Kirk is among them. His team has put together a comic here where the art serves and drives the story 100% of the time. That’s rare, and it is exceptional for it.
I never thought I would care this much about foreign characters. Hell, the pompousness and bravado of these people is starting to convince me that England is really the focal point of the whole world. Not just magic, but the whole world. I feel like this is something so wholly different from anything I’ve read in awhile, especially in the Marvel Universe. It is definitely a book, team, and country unto its own, focusing on magic and destiny, but it simultaneously is firmly entrenched in the Marvel U, making it that much more fun. I feel like this Avalon, these Faerie, are the same that exist in Vertigo’s Books of Magick and in Gargoyles and all the other pop culture uses of this British mysticism. It convinces me that all worlds truly can meet, all worlds from all storytellers; really, it engages me much the same way the “Dark Tower” series of novels did the first time I read them, and that is high, high praise.
Paul Cornell started a book in the midst of a crossover. Yet, he’s done what many can not, and managed to make it an entertaining story that can be told on its own. I have no doubt this story would hold up just as well if the greater Secret Invasion did not exist. The fact that it does helps to establish the shared universe, and only helps my enjoyment. I’m calling it after only two issues: Best New Series of 2008, Captain Britain and MI13. I never would’ve guessed I’d be saying that if you asked me two months ago.
Writer: Kurt Busiek and Fabian Nicieza
Art: Mark Bagley, Art Thibert, Pete Pantazis and Tom Dernick, Wayne Faucher, Allen Passalaqua
From: DC Comics
Review By: Lucas Siegel
Class is in session, folks. After a good try and a terrible disaster, DC has begun a masterful weekly series. Now, it’s very very early in the game (1/26th, to be exact), but so far it looks like Busiek, Bagley, Nicieza and friends are putting on a clinic.
The story picks up soon after issue #1, this time actually showing the title characters being struck individually, then coming together after. The back half introduces us to Graak and Konvikt for the first time all over again. That is to say, now we see them in the present, and rumbling with John Stewart of the Green Lantern Corps. This simultaneous-event-story-telling is working wonderfully so far, and I hope it continues, but not at the suffering of either half of the story. The danger of one story needing to go faster than the other is present, but with Busiek co-plotting the second stories with Nicieza, that is diminished.
Mark Bagley, how much Marvel must miss you. It can be argued that some of the slower artists (not naming any names) produce a different type and even a different class of art. However, it’s very hard to think of anyone as a “favorite” when I get to see what Bagley can do two weeks in a row, with no signs of stopping. This art is just as clear, polished, and exciting as what some artists take two months to put out. The second team we’ve seen on the backups did a comparably great job. The style was similar enough to make the whole book feel cohesive and not take me out of the story once, even at the obvious break.
I’m known around these parts as MCB (Marvel Care Bear), with good reason. While I’ve been slowly but surely delving into the DCU, it just hasn’t excited me the same way my familiar books from that other universe do. Final Crisis #1 left me less than thrilled, and a bit confused (and a bit bored), so I was really nervous about reading this book. Trinity, however, has me excited about the DCU, and excited about the feature characters in a way I didn’t think possible. I’m thoroughly impressed, and very excited to get to read more of this every single week.
Pilot Season: Lady Pendragon
From: Top Cow Productions
Written by: Matt Hawkins
Reviewed by Tim Janson
After the successful Pilot Season project from last year, Top Cow is back with another round of pilot comics. Six different pilot issues will be released and fans will get to vote on their favorites. The two receiving the most votes will get their own title. First up is Lady Pendragon, originally created in 1996 by Matt Hawkins and published by Image Comics. Lady Pendragon is a modern take on the Arthurian mythos and the book begins with a summary of the events that took place in the original series. Jennifer Drake, a writer of historical fiction, finds that ancient tablets written in Latin tell the same story as her books. A sword found fused to a stone on Mars, is removed by Jennifer, bringing forth an age of magic to the world as well as enemies Morganna and Mordred.
The result is a world thrown into chaos with legendary beasts of myth roaming the planet and the world’s power structure thrown into complete disarray. Even the magician Merlin appears to advise Jennifer. The sword she pulled was not Excalibur, but Caliburn, one of three mystical blades. Wielding both Excalibur and Caliburn, Lady Pendragon slew Mordred and Morganna went into hiding.
The story now picks up five years later as man has regained control in the world and outlawed sorcery, hunting down the mythical monsters. Jennifer is now public enemy #1 in much of the world’s eyes. Fighter jets battle dragons over the skies and Jennifer has found new allies from a land called Avalon. Now, modern warfare battles sorcery in the ultimate battle with the fate of the world in the balance.
Lady Pendragon provides an interesting mix of Arthurian legend, sorcery, and modern technology. These forces collide as each struggles for supremacy. Hawkins seems to have relished a return to the character he created over a decade ago with a new and vibrant enthusiasm. Much of the book was told in flashbacks but this was all necessary to establish the characters and events for those that had not read the series previously. Eru’s art has an alchemical look to it that works perfectly with the subject matter. The color palette in particular exudes a sense of magic and sorcery. I was quite pleased with the Pilot Season books from 2007 and it appears that the 2008 titles are getting off to a solid start with Lady Pendragon.
LOCAL#12, “The House that Megan Built”
Written by Brian Wood
Art by Ryan Kelly
Published by Oni Press
Review by Sarah Jaffe
Local is done.
Sure, there will be a gorgeous collected edition in the not-too-distant future and I can look forward to having it on my shelf.
But somehow this is the one book that I almost don’t want to read all at once. I think its sporadic publication, though it might have made sales less steady, worked well with its subject matter. After all, it’s not written in tight chronological order, and most of the stories have very little to do with the ones that came before. Megan isn’t the same person each time we see her, so it makes sense that I would be different too when I get to visit her each time.
And now I don’t get to visit her anymore.
Megan’s settled down—I still haven’t. Maybe that’s why I love this book so much—more than any other comic I’ve ever read, I see myself in it. I know what it’s like to go from place to place and not call any one of them home. I know what it’s like to not know the answer to the question, “Where are you from?”
And I know what it’s like to have ghosts of missed opportunities following at every turn. We all do. Maybe we haven’t all moved around as much as Megan, but we’ve all made mistakes and done things that we can’t explain, loved people that were bad for us and left people that were good for us.
Megan isn’t a superhero or even a hero. She’s just a girl living her life, and each Local was a little glimpse into that life at a pivotal moment. Wood and Kelly didn’t seek to explain everything or answer every question, just to tell a story of a person, no more or less screwed up than any of us.
Local #12 wasn’t what I expected, though I don’t know what I did expect. But like a great movie, the conclusion is both completely surprising and the only way it could possibly have ended. It didn’t offer easy answers, but it did offer the kind of clarity that only comes with growing up and growing comfortable with yourself, as screwed up as you may be.
And Local was everything I could want in a comic. It was a journey through one girl’s life. (And how do these two men get being a young woman as well as they do?) It was a trip across America and into Canada and back again and a meditation on love, freedom, family, and what’s really important in life. Most of all, it’s nice to see a story about a woman that doesn’t end with her finding the Right Man.
Picking up a comic with color after putting this one down made the colors look extraneous, a little too much. That’s a credit to Ryan Kelly’s art, that at once feels spare and impossibly detailed, and perfectly complete in black and white.
On my more political days I would say that DMZ is Wood’s best work, but Local hits home for me in a way that comics usually don’t. They’re usually escapism with an occasional knife in the heart. This one isn’t, even though its lead character is constantly trying to escape herself. By following her throughout each attempt, though, Wood and Kelly make you confront the things you can’t escape from.
I will truly miss Local.
Batman Confidential #18
Story by Fabian Nicieza
Art by Kevin Maguire
Published by DC Comics
Review by Lan Pitts
This is the second issue of this particular arc and I can only imagine where I can go from here. The first page is a splash of a very naked Barbara Gordon concealing her body with her Batgirl costume. If you are unfamiliar with Kevin Maguire's style, this and the previous issue really tell a story by itself. The way he draws facial expressions are legendary and the combined with the words and narrations are just comedy gold.
By the way, if you're wondering why Batgirl is naked, it's because in the last issue she chased Catwoman to a hedonist club where clothing is frowned upon. OH no! Where most writers could easily perv it up here, the dialogue, written spot-on by Fabian Nicieza, is tongue-in-cheek and had me chuckling over and over again.
While Batgirl wanders around the club looking for Catwoman, she uses her detective skills and deduces who Catwoman is (the brunette with the scars on her back, because she "doesn't sound like a blonde"). A girl-fight ensues and Batgirl gets the notebook back that Catwoman stole in [I]Batman Confidential[/i] #17. There is an incident at the end of the issue that will make them team up to get to the bottom of the mystery of the notebook.
The story and art mesh incredibly well. There's a saying that "every comic, is somebody's FIRST comic." These issues would be ideal for just about anyone as a gift for a person just getting into comics.
With the hype of The Dark Knight and "Batman: R.I.P.", this could be Batman's biggest year in a long time...but, we forget sometimes how his supporting cast can be just as entertaining. I don't think Batgirl has been this well-written since Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon collaborated on "Batgirl: Year One". I, for one, cannot wait for the rest of the issues to come out. This arc proves, comics can, in fact, be for kids...or at least 13+ and that not all members of the Bat Family are so brooding.
Writers: L. Neil Smith and Rex F. May
Artist: Scott Bieser
From: Big Head Press
Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco
Alternative history stories can always be reduced to a “What if…?”, the basic unit of such stories. In Roswell, Texas, the latest collaboration between science-fiction novelist L. Neil Smith and comics artist Scott Bieser, that “What if…” is “What if the battle of the Alamo went better for Texas, and the Lone Star State never got around to joining the U.S.?”
From that starting point, Smith and co-writer Rex F. “Baloo” May drastically redraw the map of North America, and thus the politics of the world and the personalities of many of its players, until the year 1947 is practically unrecognizable (but still somewhat familiar). Not unlike the way your subconscious might take the raw material of the events of your day, and reorganize it into a new shape while you’re dreaming that night.
A Texas air militia pilot shoots down a UFO that crash-lands in Roswell, Texas (there is no New Mexico), disgorging alien corpses on private ranch land. Texas President Charles A. Lindbergh sends his best friend Wild Bill Bear to secretly recover the contents of the crash before anyone else can.
He’s aided by just three Texas Rangers: Malcolm Little-not-X, a Meir Kahane who never talks religion or politics, and an analogue to white supremacist George Lincoln Rockwell. In our world, these guys probably wouldn’t have been able to sit at the same table, but here they’re the three amigos.
As it turns out, there are a lot of other parties interested in the flying saucer. There’s U.S. agents Eliot Ness and British exile T. E. Lawrence (Here Lawrence of Albania, not Arabia); Ambrose Bierce’s muckraking journalist/adventurer daughter Amber-Rose Bierce; The Franco-Mexican Empire’s Madame Joilot-Curie and her military accompaniment; Vatican Secret Service agent Karol Wojtyla (Better known as Pope John Paul II); and The Republic of California’s President for Life Walt Disney sends his general Marion Mitchell Morrison (that’s John Wayne to us) with a contingent of soldiers from the “Third-and-a-half Reich” (Britain having conquered Germany by this point).
The dozens of characters introduced, the book then becomes a seven-way chase across this bigger, bolder Texas to reach the prize, but the pace of the narrative never seems too hurried. Smith, May and Bieser take their time on the details of this alternate world, drawing attention to comic strips in the newspaper, the food on the plates, the vehicles people drive, the laws and culture of this Texas, and scores of history in-jokes many readers (like me) will likely need to keep Wikipedia open to get all of (In this respect, it reads a little like a League of Extraordinary Gentleman, only one using real historical figures instead of fictional ones).
Our protagonists are Bear and the Texas Rangers, but Smith never stoops to villainizing anyone (despite the broad parody of the anonymous French-Mexican and British/German soldiers), making for a rather cordial contest that, by the truly bizarre climax, takes on something of a party atmosphere.
As in The Probability Broach, former Texans Smith and Bieser have a discernable agenda, but they manage to get it across while providing an entertaining story in a fully realized world that’s fun to hang out in. In Broach, it was the virtues of a capital-L Libertarian political worldview. Here, it’s the virtues of an idealized Texan way of life—the one Davy Crockett and Sam Houston might have wished for their descendents—wherein independence, self-reliance and a healthy, libertarian skepticism of authority attracts the best and brightest from around the world.
And, come to think of it, beyond the world.
Out Of Picture Vol. 2
From: Villard Books
Review by J. Caleb Mozzocco
The first volume of Out Of Picture was an odd book—an anthology of short comics pieces by a group of artists with careers in the animation field (Specifically, Blue Sky Studios, responsible for Robots and the Ice Age stories). Like most anthologies, it was a mixed bag, with some great stories, some good stories, some not-very-good stories and even a few terrible ones, with the specific readers’ specific tastes likely playing a large role in dictating which stories they’d assign which designation.
I liked some of them quite a bit, but there was definitely an odd tension to the book. The format—an over-sized 9-by-12 trade paperback with a huge back section of sketches—and the production values seemed to belong to a more consistent and polished group of stories.
But the first Out Of Picture collection must have found its readership and sold fairly well, as its only been six months, and a second volume is ready to go.
The format’s the same, as is the mixed level of quality, but this book as a whole is much better. There are more great stories and good ones, and fewer not-very-good and hardly any terrible ones.
In each, the artwork is superior, and that’s never the problem, even with the worst of the lot. The fourteen creators, each of whom write and draw their own short stories in their entirety, are all clearly great artists, both at the design level and at rendering.
Not all of them are great writers or necessarily great cartoonists, however, which accounts for the not-very-good and the terrible ones. These are, in essence, storyboards for non-existent animated works presented as comics, a potentially problematic situation as, for all the similarities between animation and comics, there’s still a wide, wide gulf.
There are two pieces that are perhaps meant to be experimentally, but just read like nonsense (albeit, well drawn nonsense). Another isn’t even a comics piece, but illustrated prose, as in a kids book.
Of course, there are some great ones too, which help tilt the scales quite a bit.
I particularly liked a few of the semi-mythical but casual stories. Andrea Blasich presents a silent story featuring some beautifully drawn elephants that works as a silent fable about differences of appearance (like skin color), for example, and Willie Real’s “Plane Food” tackles the topic of where airplane food comes from, riffing on the gremlin-on-the-plane-wing scene from The Twilight Zone and punning on the term “fly-fishing.”
There are also some that read like paper, comic strip versions of classic cartoons, like Jason Sadler’s “Sub Plotter,” in which moving those little model ships around a naval map actually effects what’s going on in the ocean, rather than vice versa and Lizette Vega’s “Crawdaddyo,” in which a trio of Disney-esque alligators pursue a series of snacks.
Imagine a Flight collection with fewer stories but more space on the page, and you’re on the right track. Flight boasts a better ratio of good-to-bad contributions still, but with this second volume of OOP, the distance is definitely lessening. At this rate, a third volume might just end up being can’t-miss.
The Complete Peanuts 1967 - 1968
Written by Charles Schulz
Art: Charles Schulz
Review by Tim Janson
Fantagraphics continues its wonderful series of Peanuts comic strips collections with the latest 326 page, hardcover volume that covers the years 1967 – 1968. This era represents the peak of Schulz’ creative genius as well as the peak of popularity for the strip. It was in this era that Schulz mixed social commentary into his strips so skillfully that he was able to get his messages across without being preachy and without offending anyone. By now Schulz cast was basically set with all the longtime stalwarts that people remember. The strips from this era would also be incorporated into many of the beloved animated specials such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”
True to form, the two years of Halloween strips in this collection find Linus again pinning his hopes on the arrival of the Great Pumpkin. In 1967 Linus manages to drag Snoopy into the pumpkin patch to be disappointed yet again. The only surprise they receive is one of Woodstock’s hippie bird friends. The following year, Linus’s annual wait is sunk when is babysitting grandmother demands that he come in the house and “stop that Great Pumpkin nonsense.” The Christmas holidays would bring more Peanuts traditions including Charlie’s little sister Sally writing her annual letter to Santa Claus and Snoopy as the World War One flying ace once again dueling in the skies with the Red Baron.
It was these annual storylines that readers loved. It was comforting to see Charlie Brown’s baseball team struggle through another season each Spring, and to see him futilely try and kick the football each Fall. Spring also meant the arrival of the Easter Beagle, passing out eggs to the kids, and Summer meant another year at Summer camp for Charlie Brown. And of course, Lucy is always ready to dole out advise at her Psychiatric booth. In one extended storyline, Charlie Brown trades Snoopy to Peppermint Patty for five other players. When his friends ask him how he could trade his own dog, he realizes his error and tears up the contract.
The amazing thing about Peanuts is that Schulz was very careful not to insert to many concepts into the strip that could cause it to become dated. There is the occasional reference to people and events from the period such as Snoopy comparing his slapshot to Bobby Orr’s, but those are few and far between. These strips are still very much relevant today as they were forty years ago.
Action Comics #866 (DC Comics; review by Rev. O.J. Flow) I am not sure that, had I the opportunity to mastermind Action Comics, I would change one thing. Geoff Johns and Gary Frank may very well be producing the Man of Steel book I've always wanted since I started reading the character's books over 30 years ago. And just in time, too, since All-Star Superman is one issue away from becoming a distant memory. And it's funny, since Johns & Co. decided to basically (re)introduce a couple of supporting characters that Grant Morrison had fun with in that All Star universe. Here I was anxious to see what was going to come about with the long overdue return of Superman's #2 adversary, and they actually entertained me more, for this chapter of "Brainiac" at least, with the post-Crisis introduction of the boorish sports editor Steve Lombard and the return of saucy Cat Grant to the Daily Planet. I doubt that their presence has any particular relevance to the overall Brainiac story, but it's excellent to have them back in the fold. Johns and Frank's rendering of every character is note perfect. Also getting this latest epic off to a good start is a surprise appearance by a couple of super-baddies seen recently in this very book, but how they are featured is epic and wonderfully derivative of classic Kryptonian lore. One item worth mentioning is that this issue's cover has the Final Crisis tie-in label "Sightings," but darn if I can tell what about this issue has got implications in the bigger DCU picture. The quick glimpse we get of Ma and Pa Kent, perhaps? Stay tuned, folks. I know I'm anxiously awaiting the next few chapters as things are off to a tremendous start.
Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #15 (DC Comics; by Caleb) I fully expected Bart Allen to return to DC Comics at some point, but I didn’t expect to see him do so here, in the Johnny DC al-ages LOSH title. In the far-flung future, Bouncing Boy and Triplicate Girl visit a virtual reality arcade, and end up getting sucked into a VR world inhabited by a big-haired, big-footed speedster in red and white who introduces himself as Bart Allen. He never calls himself Impulse, but it’s a technicality; artist Robert Atkins draws him like Impulse, and writer Jake Black portrays him as his old lighthearted, impulsive self. As good as it is to see him again, Black and Atkins’ story is pretty mediocre; as a thirtysomething, I’m clearly outside of the target audience for this book, but the best the Johnny DC comics transcend the for kids’ eyes only vibe and can still prove entertaining; this one doesn’t really do so.
Angel: After the Fall #8 (IDW; by Troy): The flashbacks wrap up this issue with an unconventional bit focusing on civilians, a look at Gwen as things went south, and Gunn’s story. The most “important” to the larger storyline would be the Gunn segment, as it answers a few questions and primes the audience for the rejoining of the present that will occur in issue #9. This arc has been an interesting approach, but I look forward to seeing the plot regain its forward momentum. Credit’s due to Brian Lynch for capturing the Whedon voice.
Booster Gold #10 (DC; by Troy): This continues to be one of the best super-hero books that DC puts out. Its unabashed embrace of the DCU’s mythos, coupled with its blend of time-tripping action and humor, makes it a monthly must-read. The Time Stealers battle the JLI as things race toward a surprising conclusion. The best bit in terms of pure fun is Skeets-as-action-hero, though the whole thing is a good time.
Cable #4 (Marvel; by Lucas): I am an unabashed Cable fan. I own every issue of New Mutants, X-Force, and his minis and original ongoing, along with the recently concluded team-up series. Because of this, I find myself granting the character’s adventures more than a few of the proverbial grains of salt when reading them. That said, this isn’t a terrible comic book, but it’s far from good. 4 issues of the least epic chase scene in the history of chase scenes have already been too much, and mercifully the last panel says, “concluded next issue.” This issue was probably the best of the #4, with some neat interaction between Nate and Sam Guthrie, and a cool future-history of ‘ole Cannonball, but ultimately, I find myself not caring at all about this baby anymore. Bishop likewise is so focused on his mission that he’s quickly becoming paper-thin, a one-trick pony, one-dimensional, and other cliché colloquialisms. The snapshots style of art showed some vast improvements and action-ability this time around; I think Olivetti has just gotten comfortable with the characters and might start having more fun (though I do wonder if this style of art can stay monthly for very long). I still have high hopes for this book, and for my man Cable, and I see the hints of promise. Maybe the last chapter of this arc will just blow me away, and arc 2 will keep it up. A fan of time-displaced super-powered soldiers can dream, can’t he?
SPECIAL SUBSECTION: MoCCA 2008 Pellet Reviews by Michael C. Lorah
American Terrorist (Wave Blue World) – Nice linework by Andy MacDonald here. The storytelling’s clear, except for a few blonde guys in the beginning who are hard to tell apart, and he does a nice job capturing the reality of a high school setting. It’s hard to gauge the script, by Tyler and Wendy Chin-Tanner. Their terrorist characters aren’t developed sufficiently in this 14-page preview to give a clear agenda, nor is the writers’ intent made apparent. The dialogue works fairly well, however, and I think it’ll be worth watching for the eventual full-length American Terrorist. It may be a miss, but there’s something here that I hope to see fleshed out properly.
Curse of the Wendigo (BQE Press) – Chris Brimacombe’s short story isn’t without some charms. The storytelling works and he frames some panels in interesting ways. He captures a spooky, unnerving quality in frontier life, as well. Unfortunately, the dialogue is slightly wooden, and the character designs need improving. The overly muscled characters seem out of place in a horror story and in a historical, outdoor setting.
Bat-Manga promo (Pantheon) – Chip Kidd’s behind this look at that 1966 Batman craze in Japan. Reading right to left, as traditional manga, the ten-page commercial Pantheon was giving away at MoCCA is filled with Batman manga and other amazing collectibles, including pictures of the Batman Cessna and the Batman Tank, various other promotional artwork used in Japan, and the most hilarious advertisement/Robin costume ever. I can’t wait for the real book now!
My Brain is Hanging Upside Down promo (Pantheon) – The teaser for David Heatley’s first full-length book is packed with information, squeezing more into six pages than most books do into a hundred. Each page has several short strips, all working together thematically, to capture the essence of part of Heatley’s life – his relationship with his father, all the black people he’s known, various youthful sexual encounters. It’s blunt, without any deep insights, but the combined punch of the multitude of strips paints a compelling portrait.
Sorry (I Know Joe Kimpel) – This entertaining book contains four engaging stories, done in various styles, including a humorous mermaid-love-gone-wrong tale, a twisted story of following the wrong examples of your friends, a childhood playground incident, and an inky impressionist piece. Nothing quite Earth-shattering here, but it’s intriguing, good fun.
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