Friday, September 30, 2005

In Passing...Serenity and floppies

Finally, Joss Whedon's Serenity made its debut in theaters today amid a buzz of great reviews. I saw a matinee because I just couldn't wait. I don't want to say too much about the movie, but God, is it awesome. Whether you're a fan of the show or not, you miss this, you miss out.

Okay, so comics I've read so far this week...
Ultimate Spider-man #83 - The "Warriors" storyline continues with the likes of Black Cat, Elektra, Iron Fist and Moon Knight making appearances, as well as more teen angst with MJ. I really like the direction that Bendis and Bagley are taking this in - great ending!

Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame #4 - Now, Kitty Pryde prejudices aside, this is one damn good comic mini-series. I don't remember an X-Men spin-off mini (in recent history) that has actually gotten a decent treatment, but this one breaks the streak.

New Avengers #11 - Kicking off a new story arc, we are finally introduced to Ronin, the mystery character who has appeared from the cover of the first issue (Marvel's marketing is positively ridiculous). Another great issue. There is just something really cool and fun about the villains who appear in this issue (and one female villain in particular).

I've played plenty of X-Men Legends 2 since I last posted about it (I'm about twelve hours into it), and have fought the likes of Lady Deathstrike, Deadpool, Garrok, Sauron, Omega Red, Abyss and Colossus' brother Mikhail. And I've interacted with Ka-Zar, Shanna the She-Devil, Pyro, the Blob, Angel, Vindicator and Guardian. I moved on from Genosha to the Savage Land to the Weapon X facility. It's fun, but I can really only play a few hours at a time before the fighting gets sort of tedious. It's a fun, twisty plot though. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blankets

Continuing my adventure through the important graphic novels in the alternative world, I've finished Blankets, Craig Thompson's highly-acclaimed book. I know it's the obvious choice, given it's probably the one given most press, but I loved it. It was a thoroughly enjoying read. It was a little sentimental and sappy in some parts, but I think it was a great portrayal of life as an outsider, told from the point-of-view of someone growing up in a very religious Christian household. Full of self-doubt, painful memories and disappointments, I think this is the perfect book for anyone who wants to try out an alternative press book. It's really very easy to get into, the style isn't too far out there, and it's just a really great read. I'm surprised that a lot of people think this book has been so overrated. It may not be the best graphic novel in the history of the medium or anything, but it is one of the better ones and it really fills a void that was there before. It is a damn thick book, but I promise, it goes by really quick and is well worth the effort. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Previews - October '05

Previews has come out once more, so it’s time to do some highlighting of the titles I’m most excited about…

Archaia Studios Press:
~ The Lone and Level Sands HC - I’m a big fan of Archaia’s Artesia, so I’m definitely up for giving this first wave of new titles all a try.

~ Robotika #1 - Sounds like a cool sumarai series. And hey, nice Ryan Sook cover! Check out both the solicitations and interior art here.

Boom! Studios:
~ In the Blood #1 - Steven Niles does werewolves. The PX cover looks awesome - too bad it’s $7. I’ll get the less-than-spectacular (but still cool) cover for $4.

Dark Horse:
~ Serenity TPB - What a beautiful new cover by Adam Hughes! Read my review of the mini here.

DC Comics:
~ Seven Soldiers: The Bulleteer #2 - A follow-up to the Seven Soldiers #0 one-shot. Awesome.

~ Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #2 - The second issue isn’t available until December? Crap. At least not much happened in the first issue…and there’s a new artist (thus the delay)!

~ Fables (volume 6): Homelands - I really liked this storyline. Read my full review here and pick it up!

~ Testament #1 - This new Vertigo series sounds really interesting. Solicitation: “Testament takes place in an unapologetically uncensored Biblical universe, chronicling the grim confrontations between humans and their angry gods.” It’s about “a modern threat that has its roots in ancient stories destined to recur in the modern age.” Controversial-tastic.

~ Y - the Last Man #40 - Another stand-alone issue. I really liked the last stand-alone (as well as the current storyline).

Fantagraphics Books:
~ Ghosts of Hoppers (a Love & Rockets book) - I’m giving Jaime another chance since Patrick says this is one of his better stories.

~ Luba: The Book of Ophelia - The new Gilbert trade! It seems like forever since I read the last Gilbert book. This will be a real treat! I just don’t think I could read these stories as single issues (there’s too much to follow and too many characters), but it reads wonderfully as a collection.

IDW Publishing:
~ Dampyr (volume 8): Coast of Skeletons - A new Dampyr collection is always something to look forward to.

Image:
~ Strange Girl (volume 1): Girl Afraid - I’ve heard some good things about this series, so I want to check this trade out. I was originally going to wait for the Taste of Image anthology to give it a shot, but I’m already getting everything else in the bloody thing.

~ The Walking Dead (volume 1) Deluxe HC - I love this series. This hardcover collects the first twenty-four issues and comes with a really nice slip case.

Marvel:
~ Gravity: Big-City Superhero Digest - I don’t know, it looks like a fun read to me…

~ Marvel Zombies #1 - Robert Kirkman does zombies? What an idea. But this seriously sounds like it could be a lot of fun. I’ll check it out.

~ New Avengers #11 - A Spider-Woman focused story? Yay! And David Finch isn’t drawing it? Yay! Frank Cho is? Oh. But seriously, I really enjoy this series. Bendis is a crafty one.

~ Spider-man/Black Cat: Evil That Men Do #4 & #5 - Well, what do you know, two (or three?) years later, Kevin Smith finishes his story. Well, I’m not buying it. If the writer didn’t care enough to keep enthusiasm in his story, then I’ll pass and read something an artist pours himself into. Like a Kitty Pryde mini-series.

~ Spider-Woman: Origin #1 - Brian Bendis and the one of the Luna Brothers? Sign me up!!

Oni Press:
~ Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness (volume 3) - Ah, yes. More Bryan Lee O’Malley goodness. It’s on to Ramona’s evil ex-boyfriend number three!

Tokyopop:
~ Wild Rock (volume 1) - God, what a hot cover! This Blu boys’ manga may be something I need to check out…

That's it this time around. And I wanted to let you guys know that Patrick will discontinue writing Think About Comics, as his work load is just too much and he needs time to actually read comics. He'll still post from time to time, when he gets the chance, but it will be sparatic at best.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

...Than Never


I just finished Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, both volumes. It's really cool to get a perspective on life such as hers. It's something you just don't see in the comics medium very often. I admit, I cried. I was a big baby by the end of the first volume, but I feel completely rewarded for having read these books. I don't have anything to say about this that hasn't already been said, I'm sure, but I'm happy to report that they were wonderful books that I really feel belong in the canon of comics. I'm trying to read those books right now, those books that are so audibly acclaimed that you can't ignore them, books that transcend the medium and have become part of the literature community at large. I've read Jimmy Corrigan, Love and Rockets, From Hell, Eightball, Lynda Berry, some James Kochalka, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Bone. In my to-read list are now Maus, The Complete Peanuts, American Elf, Watchmen, Blankets, Cerebus and Osama Tezuka's Buddha. I would like to open a comic store focusing on alternative comics and graphic novels in Milwaukee (because it simply needs one!), and I feel I have to have read these books, like it's my responsibility really, to the customer and the medium overall. I still love Marvel and Vertigo and such, but...I need to expand my palette a bit. I've been making baby steps, but if I'm really serious about this, I just need to hit these books now. So, anyways, if anyone has anything to add, feel free!

Monday, September 26, 2005

Better late...

Yes, I finally read the intimidating Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware. I wasn't sure I'd like it, flipping through the pages, but it's really a lot easier to read than you'd think by looking at it. There is some tedious prose to get through that's meant to be kind of tongue-in-cheek that I didn't appreciate as much as most people probably would, but it's just not to my humor. And there are some diagrams that you have to work through, but they're actually kind of fun. The production altogether is beautiful, as Chris Ware is always receiving praise for, but the rest is comics. And that's what I was mostly interested in. About a sixth of the way into the book, I could tell that it was a really honest portrayal of this character, full of very human moments that aren't really emphasized enough. But I loathed the protagonist. I absolutely could not stand this sniveling loser of a character. But as I read on, he became more tolerable and the comic shifted to Jimmy's great grandfather's life, then back again several times and...I don't know, he kind of grew on me. I felt sorry for him, and the situations became more interesting, dealing with racism and that territory that no one talks about that exists between some children and parents - that rage and contempt. But the uncomfortable dialogue between Jimmy and his father whom he finally meets, and the guilt that his great grandfather shows when he loses a tooth - they're just very real and very touching and by the end of the book, I was moved. I also felt a little depressed at the despair that the end made me feel, but there was a glimmer of hope in there too. I wouldn't exactly call Jimmy Corrigan one of my favorite comics ever, but it is very important for its unabashed honesty and story, and the love that went into the production. It really flowed - I read the thing in two days. Any given year, it would have been in my top three of the year, but overall, I doubt it would hit my top ten. But, God, being around the tenth best comic I ever read is damn great - check it out and don't be intimidated!

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Rise of Apocalypse

The sequel to the highly-popular X-Men: Legends RPG came out this week, titled "Rise of Apocalypse," as the X-Men and Brotherhood of Evil Mutants must unite against said threat, on the mutant island of Genosha. The game has pretty much the same play as the original, just different characters to battle and some new ones to play with. I've only played the game for about three hours, and immediately had the option of playing between the following (my team is in bold):
Bishop, Colossus, Cyclops, Gambit, Iceman, Jean Grey, Juggernaut, Magneto, Nightcrawler, Rogue, Scarlet Witch, Storm, Sunfire, Toad and Wolverine. Yes, my team consists of all girls. I'm cool like that. Scarlet Witch is my lead. Gone from the play of the last game are Emma Frost and Psylocke, two characters I sadly used religiously. Magma, who was the main character, is also missing, as are Jubilee and the Beast. There are three characters I haven't unlocked yet. And so far I've battled Grizzly and Zealot, and talked to the likes of Professor Xavier, Beast, Blink, Sabertooth and Mystique.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

In Passing...Manhunter & Runaways

Some comics I didn't get around to doing full-blown reviews of...

Manhunter #14 ended the "Manhunted" four-issue story arc. Kate Spencer juggles her life as a lawyer, a mother, and a vigilante. Doesn't leave room for much free time. In this story, someone is hunting down everyone who has donned the Manhunter name (And there have been plenty. DC just loves the name, I guess). With some help from a former villain tech aid, Kate is able to discover just what the heck is going on and what's up with her gadgets (well, some of them). Marc Andreyko has done a wonderful job on this series, with the perfect mix of drama and superhero action, and a great heroine to keep the series interesting. I'm kind of sad to see that Jesus Saiz isn't doing the next few covers, as he was the reason I even picked up the first issue to skim the pages. Ah, well. The new covers seemed to be alright (tear).

Runaways #8 concluded the two-issue story "Star-crossed." Probably the most underwhelming couple of issues of the entire series thus far. And I really missed the regular artist, Adrian Alphona. Not that Miyazawa's bad. It just gave it a different feel than I'm used to with the series. These issues gave the characters a little time to breathe after their big tussle with a supervillain, and get used to the new member of the team. I liked the appearance of Horde at the beginning of the run, but was rather sad about the ending. I really like that Runaways is constantly changing. It makes for a really interesting book, but I didn't want that to happen! Oh, well. It probably sets up some really neat stuff for later on in the series. And hey - Cloak and Dagger next issue!

In my Netflix queue:
~ Wolf-man double feature
~ Hammer Horror: Brides of Dracula/Curse of the Wolfman
~ Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

Graphic novel I'm in the midst of reading:
Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth ~ Chris Ware (finally)

Last movie I saw in theaters:
The Constant Gardener

Comics I'm reading next week:
~ Black Widow 2 #1
~ Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame #4
~ Lady Snowblood (volume 1)
~ New Avengers #11 (that was fast)
~ Polly and the Pirates #1
~ Ultimate Spider-man #83
And of course, Previews comes out!

Friday, September 23, 2005

Queen & Country

I finally got around to reading the first volume of Greg Rucka's Queen & Country series from Oni Press. Collecting the first four issues of the series, "Operation: Broken Ground" introduces us to the world of espionage and political intrigue behind Britain's Ministry of intelligence. This story examines the repercussions of an assassination in Kosovo by one of their operatives (or "minders"), the resourceful Tara Chace. Flipping throught the book, I wasn't exactly enamored with what I saw, so I put this off for awhile. But upon consuming this work, I was quite impressed with the level of suspense that Rucka created here. He really is a great storyteller, a master of pacing. And he writes the best women characters in comics too, in my opinion. The back of the trade has a few extra goodies as well, including an interlude that bridges the story between issues one and two, drawn by Usagi Yojimbo's Stan Sakai, and some sketches of Tara Chace, including one by Bryan Lee O'Malley of Scott Pilgrim fame.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Exiles: Timebreakers

"Timebreakers" is the eleventh volume of the dimension-hopping Exiles series. In this story, we get the answers to the goings-on behind the scenes with the Timebroker who initially pulled the Exiles from their realities to fix the alternate broken realities. It's what the whole series has been leading toward. In recent issues, the Timebroker's been acting rather off, comrades have disappeared for no reason, etc. But all of these things are explained in a huge, explosive climax where, of course, we see Exiles die, as is kind of the fun of the series. Remember the brutal little Illyana? Yeah, she was my favorite. Sigh. Anyways, this volume also contains the story "Destroy All Monsters," where the world is very Godzilla-like. Giant monsters are constantly appearing, like Fin Fang Foom and Krakoa, the island that walks like a man. It's fun to see big monsters duke it out. This is always one of those series where I'm not really enthused about picking up the next trade, but I really enjoy it when I do. It's just a good fun romp, the latest trade being no exception. I definitely think the series has improved with Tony Bedard's taking over as writer. He continues to thrill and amaze. However, the art has always been rather less than spectacular in this book. Maybe someday Marvel will see fit to throw some good pencillers on the series.

Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle

The debut issue of Seven Soldiers: Mister Miracle #1 (of 4) his stores on Wednesday. First impressions? I didn't like this issue as much as any other issue from the Seven Soldiers saga thus far. I felt really disoriented throughout the issue (which, admittedly may be the whole point since Mister Miracle himself has no idea what's going on), but I was also kind of bored. Pasqual Ferry's art wasn't as strong as the art on the other titles either. There was a panel where a character eats something and blood drips down his chin. I thought he'd taken a bite out of a lighter and bled from it, someone else thought it was a blood-filled chocolate bar. Either way, I had to stop and pause on that panel to try and figure out what it was, whether I was right or not. I have a feeling that people who have read Jack Kirby's New Gods books will get more out of this than I did, as I'm sure there are plenty of winks in there for the fans. But not much happened in this issue. Mister Miracle basically has a few strange encounters. With strange beings. I have faith in Grant Morrison, however. He hasn't failed me yet, so I'm still looking forward to the rest of this mini-series.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New Avengers: The Sentry

You know, I don't care what anyone says about the New Avengers. It is a damn good superhero book. This past storyline focused on the Sentry, and it was a really imaginative story, giving a grand story behind the character and propelling him to the forefront of the series with the other Avengers, meanwhile answering questions like how come nobody knows this guy? Aside from the background of the Sentry, Bendis also introduces the concept of a secret group of the most powerful and influential leaders from different corners of the Marvel universe, gathering from time to time to discuss matters of the utmost importance, such as the Sentry in this story. Among its members are Professor Xavier, Mister Fantastic, Namor, Blackbolt, Doctor Strange and Iron Man. It just made complete sense and was a great idea. Now, Steve McNiven's art in this storyline was phenomenal as well. I've loved McNiven since his work on Meridian, and I'm extremely happy anytime he graces the pages of other comics I read (I bought Marvel Knight's 4 just for his art, and yeah...at least the art was great). I can't be the only one who wishes McNiven were the regular artist of the series. It was a damn shame that Finch did the covers throughout his run. Ah, well. Patrick had mentioned with issue number nine, which I think is one of the best single superhero issues of the year, that Emma Frost's dialogue sounded a bit off, not as sharp as it usually was under the hand of Grant Morrison and Joss Whedon. I could see it with this final issue of the arc, as I was looking for it, but that's a small price to pay for the great story I was just treated to.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Dampyr: Night Tribe

Volume two of the Dampyr trades released by IDW continues the popular European comic, as the half-human/half-vampire dampyr Draka seeks out the vampire master he faced in the last collection, The Devil's Son. This story Night Tribe gives us a little more history behind the characters of Draka and the vampire Tessa, who is aiding them in their pursuit of the powerful, ancient Gorka. We follow these characters' journey through a war-torn nation as civilians are taken advantage of by creatures of the night, and Tessa tries to deny what she is and what she needs to survive. With beautiful art by Majo, the dark, bloody streets of the city this story takes place in come to life amid the terrorists and monsters that use it as a battleground for their own purposes, despite the people that try desperately to survive there. Find out more behind the relationship of Draka's parents and get ready for some blood-soaked, limb-exploding pages.

Mnemovore

Mnemonic (ni-mon’ik) adj. pert. to or assisting the memory. --n. an aid in remembering. --mnemonically, adv. --mnemonics, n.sing. A technique for improving the memory.

Mnemovore (ne-mov’or) n. comic book mini-series created by Hans Rodionoff, Ray Fawkes and Mike Huddleston, published by Vertigo/DC. --v. to scare the crap out of you.

The six issue mini-series Mnemovore is a scary little number, probably the most unnerving comic I’ve read in recent memory. Heh. The story follows Kaley as she recuperates from a skiing accident, whereupon she has trouble remembering things from her past, like say, anybody from it. As the series progresses, we begin to discover that things aren’t exactly what they seem. There’s something there, at the periphery of the story, at the edge of her memory…and that something has been playing with her memory and is creeping into the lives of those around her, making people forget things, making people go a little insane. The series creators do a great job of creating an atmosphere that sets its readers on edge, and make us feel the effects of the memory loss through the book, as we are subjected to shocking revelations, as well as things that happen artistically, like pictures fading or missing, or words absent from word balloons. You’re right there with the character, experiencing the action through your reading. It’s a really disturbing book, really unsettling, and it’s one of the damn finest horror comics out there. I doubt that its puny sales have warranted a trade collection of the book, but this Halloween, do yourself a favor and track down these issues, nestle down in a lonely dark room, and succumb to fear.

Monday, September 19, 2005

My Most Important Comics

I'm going to relate the most important comics in my life, as Patrick did in his last Think About Comics column, wherea I will let you know comics that were influential in my comics reading. I'm not going to list comics important to comics history in general, and will use Patrick's examples of Zap Comix #1 and Action Comics #1, but things that altered the course of my reading personally.

1. Marvel Universe Trading Cards, series 1. No, not a comic obviously, but it was what introduced me to the world in the first place. Several neighborhood friends were collecting these from the local Schinder's and I followed suit like the little lemming I was, soon falling in love with Shadowcat, holding her little purple pet dragon close, prompting me to read her comics.

2. Excalibur #48. This was my very first comic book, introducing me to characters I still have the utmost affection for: Kitty Pryde, Meggan, Captain Britain...god, I loved these comics. I soon collected all of the back issues of the series and followed it religiously. Like Patrick, I was completely ignorant of a comic shipping schedule, so I went to the store constantly looking for a new issue. I remember being sick one time, after issue #55 came out (which I regarded as my favorite comic for a long while) and begged my mom to pick me up the next issue, as I was left on quite the cliffhanger. My mom obliged me and came home with...another issue #55. lol. Oh, well. I loved her for the attempt. After beginning this series, I realized that Kitty had been in X-Men and bought back issues with her first appearance and when she joined the X-Men, yadda yadda yadda. I was thus introduced to the Marvel Universe overall, reading Fantastic Four and Avengers soon after. I also recognized Alan Davis' artwork, though at the time I didn't know who he was or realize that I would recognize him in other comics later on.

3. Wizard: The Comics Magazine. If it weren't for Wizard, I wouldn't have even been aware of other characters outside of Marvel. I knew there was a DC, Image and Dark Horse, and was soon directed by the magazine toward something new. But honestly, while collecting it early on, I was mostly keeping tabs on developments within the X-Men universe, having been totally submerged in that world by then.

4. Meridian #1. Yes, Crossgen's Meridian. Laugh all you want, but from Wizard's promptings, I checked out this series and it released me from my Marvel obsession. The floodgates opened and I delved head-first into the Crossgen universe, as well as DC, Image, Dark Horse... It was here that I first really began to love comics, I think. After Excalibur's cancellation, I was barely collecting X-Men comics and then, out of habit. Crossgen really reinvigorated my excitement about comics. It got me to seek out other types of comics that weren't necessarily superheros, but were sword and sorcery (Artesia), fantasy (Bone) and sci-fi (A Distant Soil). And I was really getting myself deep into the comics industry as a whole, venturing out to the Chicago comic convention and stores that, you know, actually carried comics that weren't Marvel and DC.

5. Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes. Amid this comic awakening, Patrick persuaded me to try my first adult comic in the form of Sandman. It was the first time that I really realized that comics could be written for an adult audience, could actually be intelligent and reflective. From here, I've gone on quite a Vertigo kick, from Midnight, Mass and Lucifer to other lines, like ABC's Promethea by Alan Moore.

6. Love & Rockets: Blood of Palomar. And venturing into adult comics inevitably led me to my first alternative comic. It was the first book I read that was about real people, without fantasy elements, that could really be considered comparable to literature. Since then, I've ventured into the territory of things like From Hell and Lynda Berry.

7. Greg Rucka. Somewhere in all that discovery and excitement, I actually began to seek out comics by specific creators. It seems so strange now to not watch for creators on titles, but there was a time when characters were the end all and be all for me. Greg Rucka was the first such creator that led me to other books. I'd read his Black Widow trade by Marvel, follwed shortly by Elektra, and realized that they were by the same person, and I loved them both! So, from there, I checked out Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia and his Whiteout and Whiteout: Melt series.

7. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. I've gotten into manga quite recently, beginning with Miyazaki's masterpiece. It's another door of comics that been opened for me, leading the way for other great works, like those in Shojo Beat, that gave me a true gift with shojo manga in the form of Ai Yazawa's Nana.

THINK ABOUT COMICS 5

By Pat Markfort

Okay, if all goes according to plan, this should be posted on Monday, September 19th, and I think that Mondays will be the new day for TAC updates from here on out. Maybe. I’m trying hard to incorporate writing this column into my now much busier schedule, and I don’t know that I’m quite there yet, hence the absence of a column for last week. Sorry about that.
In any case, this week I thought I’d present a single feature, one which I hope you’ll enjoy, and one which I’d love to see some of the other comics bloggers work with.

There are certain comic books that have an important status in the history of the comics medium, books such as Action Comics #1, or Zap Comix #1, for example. I’m not going to be talking about those kinds of comics today. I’m going to be talking about comics which have an important status for me. Not necessarily my favorite comics (although some of them are), these comics are the ones which represent specific turning points in my relationship with and understanding of the art form. Also, they’re not all comics, but “My Most Important Comics, Comics Related Publications, and Assorted Ephemera” didn’t have quite the right ring to it.
These are not listed in order of importance, but in (roughly) the order that I encountered them. Enjoy….

My Most Important Comics

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #3 This is the one that started it all, folks. My first comic book. I may have a dim memory of some Flintstones comic books or the like sent to me by my grandparents, but this is the first comic book I sought out and purchased (or, had my parents purchase for me) at an actual comic book store. I was a fan of the cartoon show and action figures, and decided I wanted to have the comic books as well. I have no idea how I knew that there even were TMNT comic books, and I didn’t know any other kids who had read comic books, but somehow I found my way to this issue. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures was published by Archie Comics and based on the animated series, which was of course based on the original, B&W Mirage comic books by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird (more on those below). It began with a three issue mini-series before re-launching as an ongoing, and the mini-series and first four issues of the ongoing adapted scripts from the show. After that, with the fifth issue, the series spun off into it’s own continuity, featuring storylines and characters not featured in either the Mirage comics or the show, although some of the characters originally featured here were eventually enveloped by some of the other incarnations of the franchise. It was really sort of wonderful. At first I didn’t understand that comic books were released on a regular, monthly schedule, so I would constantly hound my parents to take me to the comic book store in the hopes that a new issue would have arrived. And let me tell you, I read the hell out of those comics. Really, these things were in shreds by the time I was through with them, barely retaining the properties of a solid. At one point, I had to send a bunch of them to work with my mom to be re-stapled, they had become so crumbly and tattered. Oh, christ, you know what? Now I really want to track down the entirety of this series and bask in the cuddly glow of nostalgia. Maybe this list was a bad idea…and don’t even get me started on the Mighty Mutanimals

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Books I - IV, by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. This was the series of oversized, color reprints of the original Mirage comic books put out by the now defunct First Comics. Apparently, I was determined to purchase every Turtles comic book not published by the original creators. Actually, I did follow the Mirage comic books that were being released at the time, although much more sporadically than I did the Archie comics or this series of graphic novels. I found these books fascinating, as they presented a darker, more “pure” version of the characters I thought I knew so well. I received many of these as gifts, and my favorite was Book IV, featuring the return of the Shredder. I loved the battle between Leonardo and the Foot Soldiers in the snow. Very cool.

3. Marvel Universe Series 1 Trading Cards - My introduction the world of superhero comic books. I guess something about these caught my eye when I saw them at the register while purchasing the latest TMNT Adventures. For me, these were a wonderful introduction to the Marvel Universe, providing an overview of the history of the characters and events which had shaped it up to that point. I was, frankly, overwhelmed by the sheer number of colorful characters presented on these cards, but I knew I wanted to make them a part of my life. This was also the point at which I was able to convince my friends that comic books were cool. We all bought these cards, and then the comic books upon which they were based. It was a lot of fun. Since that time, I’ve met a lot of other comics fans my age who tell me that these cards were their introduction to comic books, as well. It kind of makes me wonder how much success Marvel would have if they tried something like this today?

4. Fantastic Four #356, By Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan. This was the first place I went after the trading cards. I chose to follow the Fantastic Four because they had the easiest roster to remember. No, really, that was the reason. I got lucky, because this issue was the first of a long and pretty decent run on the title by Tom DeFalco and Paul Ryan, so it was a good jumping on point. What I remember most about reading this series is my naiveté in regards to the “big changes” the creators introduced. Alicia is a Skrull?? Johnny is a fugitive?? Reed Richards is DEAD?!?!? There’s no WAY they can set the reset button on these HUGE, SWEEPING CHANGINGS! NOTHING WILL EVERY BE THE SAME AGAIN!!! Ah, to be young again...

5. Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four, Vol. 1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. One of the best Christmas presents I have ever received, and one of those comics where the memory of reading it is intimately tied with the content of the book. I devoured the entire tome in the basement of my house on Christmas morning. My first exposure to Kirby(!), my first exposure to “old” comic books, and the beginnings of my understanding as to how the style and form of comics had evolved as much as (or more than) the characters.

6. Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, by Les Daniels. This was a book my younger brother received (maybe that same Christmas?), and it formed the basis for my knowledge of comics history. This was where I first understood the difference between the Golden, Silver, and Modern “ages” of comics, where I first heard about people like Frederik Whertham, and where I first began to grasp the significance of what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had done at Marvel in the 1960’s. It was also when I learned that I found the history of comic books as interesting to read about as the comics themselves.

7. Dark Horse Presents #54, by various. This comic book represents the first I purchased, not because of a character, but because of a creator. That would be John Byrne, whose Next Men serial debuts here, and whose work I first became aware of via his run on Fantastic Four. I’m pretty sure the series wouldn’t hold up to my memories of it, but it nevertheless represents a shift in my way of thinking about comics.

8. The Guyver #1, by Yoshiki Takaya. Published by Viz, in a *gasp!* left-to-right, “flipped,” 22-page comic book format. My first manga. Very “superhero-y,” and probably collected in digest format these days, no?

9. The Comics Journal # 243 I purchased a couple of issues before this one, but this is the first that really stands out for me, with an excellent Dylan Horrocks interview. The extent to which The Comics Journal has expanded by understanding of and deepened my appreciation for the comics art form cannot be overstated. I’m really grateful that I finally stumbled across this essential magazine, and am only sorry I didn’t do so sooner.

10. Fear of Comics, by Gilbert Hernandez. I’m pretty sure this is the first graphic novel I purchased based on a Comics Journal review, and it completely fucking blew my mind. Probably the most unlikely introduction the work of Los Bros. Hernandez, this collection of comics from Gilbert’s New Love series nevertheless served as a marvelous introduction to a whole new world of comics, a world of endless possibilities and imagination. I had always said that comic books were capable of achieving the literary and artistic heights of any other medium, and I believed it, but I don’t think I every really understood it until I read Fear of Comics. The discovery of this book was, for me, an EVENT.

There you have it…..the comics which are most “important” to ME. Now, how about YOU?

- Pat Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com

Sunday, September 18, 2005

In passing...9/18

Shojo Beat came out with its fourth issue this week (at least in book stores). I read Absolute Boyfriend, not because it's the greatest manga, but it's a quick read and it's kinda fun. The real treasure in this magazine is of course, Ai Yazawa's Nana. Not much happens in this chapter, but the first Nana (Komatsu) seemed to resemble Miwako from Paradise Kiss a little more than she has.

Ultimate X-Men #63 - Okay, as much as I like Polaris and Kitty, this book is just kind of boring. This is my last issue. Again.

The Pulse #11 - New storyline. Michael Gaydos. Finally. But did we really expect Bendis to get around to a certain event in the first issue of the story arc? Of course not. I really liked the dialogue in this issue, which is a must since that's kind of...all the issue was...

All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder #2 - Batman's off his rocker and has kidnapped a traumatized youngster. What else is their to say? Check out Jog's thoughts on the title.

Fell #1 - I'm a little late on this one, but I think all that's needed to be said about it has been. Warren Ellis once again is a master of setting atmosphere (Templesmith was the perfect choice to illustrate this book), and packed a whole lot of story in a skimpy comic and managed to make it feel like we were reading forty pages worth of material. Ellis did an awesome job and has given us some cool, quirky characters.


Book I'm reading: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

In my Netflix queue:
My Bloody Valentine (yeah, we're starting out horror marathon for Halloween a little early)
Godzilla: King of the Monsters
Lain #2: Knights (still)

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Fables: Homeland

Fables' "Homeland" story arc concluded its five issue run with #41 this past week. I think this has been the best story of the series thus far, on par with the graphic novel Fables: The Last Castle. The series overall, started out weak with an opening story where a Fabletown citizen was murdered, prompting an investigation by Bigby Wolf, but has been putting in some solid stories since then. A few bombs have littered the series here and there, but for the most part, it's been a really good read. Since the beginning of the series, the identity of the Adversary who drove the Fabletown citizens from their homeland has been a mystery, and this "Homeland" storyline is where we find out the back story of what's been going on back in the Homelands and who the Adversary actually is. I guess some people were able to figure out who it was, but I had no idea, not that I'd really put too much thought into it. There are thousands of fables, after all. But besides the enlightenment this story sheds on the history of the characters, we are also treated to plenty of great new characters, my favorite of which is the Snow Queen, a wicked woman who seems to be something of a right hand to the Adversary. Events in this story also followed up on things introduced in Fables: The Last Castle and some other little hints that have been dangled throughout the series. These five issues focus on Boy Blue as he infiltrates the homelands with some mystical weapons and encounters, of course, opposition. I don't know, I'm kind of a dork, but there's something really cool about this secondary, kind of "nobody" character, just letting loose and really kicking ass. I enjoyed it anyway. Yeah, Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham do a stellar job stearing this series in the right direction and man, you just gotta love those James Jean covers.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Uzumaki

Uzumaki is a horror series by manga creator Junji Ito, whose work I'd read before in the form of Tomie, another horror series. Uzumaki means "spiral," which is exactly what this series is about. It's about spirals popping up all over the town of Kurozu-cho. It's one of those horror series that really builds momentum. At first, it has this hint of creeping dread as spirals are noticed here and there, but things quickly pick up as they appear to really curse this town and its inhabitants. It really is a scary read, with its grotesque imagery and over-the-top scares. You can tell by reading this that it's from the same creator as Tomie, the book about the zombie girl, which has the same sort of feel and theatrics. You can also check out about five pages from the book at Amazon if you want a little taste. I've only read the first volume thus far and it seems that there are at least two more out there, of which I have every intention of tracking down.

Lucifer: Children and Monsters

Volume two of the acclaimed Lucifer series is where the series really starts to get good. I wasn't blown away by the first trade by any means and was kind of putting off getting the second installment in place of other trades. I got a nice discount on this trade at the Chicago convention, however, and opted to buy it when it was on sale to give the series another shot. The second trade collects the stories "Children and Monsters" as well as "The House of Windowless Rooms," which consist of Lucifer the comic #5-#13, a good-sized chunk of story. There are three artists on the series throughout this book: Peter Gross, Ryan Kelly and Dean Ormston, all of whom did a fine job. They were each confined to a single arc, which is nice for a story's consistency (which Marvel did at the end of Grant Morrison's run on New X-Men), Ryan Kelly only doing a single issue prequel to the "Children and Monsters" story. I actually liked the story "The House of Windowless" rooms a little better than the "Children and Monsters" story that the trade was named for, for the interesting villains, if anything. In this story, Lucifer travels to the...well, the House of Windowless Rooms, to retrieve his wings. In his absence, he assigns his lover, the demon Mazikeen, to watch over a gateway he has opened, the power of which draws many to it. There is a great battle that Mazikeen partakes in, while Lucifer maneuvers suavely through the delicate politics of the house he visits. In "Children and Monsters," it's Lucifer versus the angels of Heaven. Can't get much grander than that, eh? Of course, there's much more to it than that, but I wouldn't like to spoil anything. Seriously though, this is a great Fantasy book. The only qualm I have is the way the trade is put together, with the covers in a gallery in the back of the book. I got a little confused as to where one story ended and another began. But that certainly isn't the fault of Mike Carey, who writes a kick-ass Lucifer. Check out his Spellbinders series too, which I also loved.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Archaia Studios

Archaia Studios' Artesia is one of my favorite comics on the market presently. I think it's easily the most beautiful comic out there, with the feeling of a grand, epic tale. This being the case, I was of course excited to hear that the creator, Mark Smylie, is expanding his publishing list to include titles by other creators. If these creators share his sensibilities, this would lead to some really amazing stuff (and it's so frustrating to wait two years for a new Artesia trade to hit the market!) The newest addition to the list of titles coming out through Archaia is David Petersen's Mouse Guard: Belly of the Beast, a six issue mini-series. The artwork looks great and...gosh, it's just so darn cute. Anyways, Newsarama just announced this series recently, with some looks at the interior art. You should check it out if you haven't already. Other titles announced to come out through Archaia Press are The Lone and Level Sands graphic novel (A. David Lewis and Marvin Perry Man), Robotika (Alex Sheikman) and Iron Empires: Blood and Iron (Christopher Moeller and Peter Bergting).

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Top 10: The Forty-Niners

Now, I've never actually read Alan Moore's series Top 10 from ABC Comics. However, I don't think there's actually been anything by Alan Moore that I haven't liked, so I, of course, had to give this a shot since people were talking about it with such fervor. Being completely ignorant of the world of Top 10, I went into this with little information and a little apprehension, since I thought that I may be overwhelmed with things from the series and I wouldn't be able to follow it on its own. That wasn't the case however, as this serves as a prequel to the Top 10 series, coming right of World War II, when the superhumans and monsters that were employed by the USA to fight the war were all led into this newly-constructed city, Neopolis. Of course, being a city populated solely by superheros and monsters, things get a little out of hand, as there is a lot of resistance to traditional policing. This story follows two new arrivals to Neopolis, who ride the train into the city together, but ultimately, each have their own separate stories that are told in this novel: Jetlad and Sky Witch. Now, I'm not sure if these characters appear in the actual series Top 10, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they do, and that there were many moments created primarily for followers of that series. It worked perfectly on its own, though, filled with mad Nazi scientists and racial tensions between the superhumans, monsters and machines. I particularly liked Sky Witch's story in this book, and loved the christian superhero, Maiden, who is obviously supposed to be Joan of Arc. This novel feels like a classic story, although it's filled with plenty of original concepts. It just sort of resonates with this breathtaking feeling that it evokes, part of which is due to Gene Ha's beautiful art, no doubt, giving the book a finished, painted look. If you've ever wanted to try Alan Moore's ABC line before and didn't know where to start, I definitely recommend this is a starting point. I guarantee, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Mysteries of Udolpho

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe was quite an undertaking, as it was just under an intimidating 700 pages of tiny print. But this prose novel has been one of the most satisfying experiences in literature. So much so, that it has, in fact, become my favorite book of all time. I was in the midst of my Jane Austin kick when I came to read Northanger Abbey, which is chalk-full of references to this book. In fact, the protagonist of the novel was rather obsessed with the gothic thriller, propelling her into a great fascination for dark castles and mystery. This, of course, caught my attention, as it sounded like a lot of fun. I also discovered, while reading up on the book, that it has an important place in literary history, as it was influential in the rise of romanticism, was important in gothic literature's history, and served to help shape the modern detective novel (all of which the introduction of the Barnes & Noble Books edition of this book serves to explain under the expert hand of Lisa M. Dresner) It was also the very first romance (romance being sentimental and character-driven and, yes, containing a struggle for love to endure) with a female heroine, prompting the likes of Jane Austin and the Bronte sisters to write their masterpieces based on its merits. But it's much more than a romance, as it's also a novel of manners, a mystery, a travelogue, and contains pages of poetry. Modern readers may find some of the details a little tedious, but I honestly thoroughly enjoyed the description of the scenes, and couldn't imagine the book without them. In the novel, Emily St. Aubert evades destruction at the hands of those who mean to use her and does her best to unlock the mysteries surrounding the castle of Udolpho, where she is held against her will. The surprises keep coming in this novel and things don't necessarily end up as you'd expect them to. The story is also constantly in motion, moving from one kind of story to another fluidly, while weaving an intricate mystery over the entire novel. I highly recommend The Mysteries of Udolpho to anyone who likes reading, let alone likes reading novels.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

In passing...

I really like reviewing a full story arc or debut issue of a series, but I thought I would try out a new weekly feature mentioning other titles that are either in the midst of a story, or that I have nothing to really add that hasn't already been said about it via the blogosphere. I will provide a brief reaction, starting with this past week's comics, and I will also relay any miscellaneous thing of importance in my life here. So, without further adieu...In passing...

Ultimate Spider-man #82 - Bendis and Bagley's "Warriors" storyline is shaping up to be really great. Thus far, it's introduced C-List superheros like Iron Fist and Moon Knight to the Utlimate Universe. It's also brought back favorites like Black Cat and Elektra, both of whom have made this story stand out for me. This issue pretty much focuses on the triumphant return of the Black Cat, bequeathing a lot of anxiety onto Peter Parker's shoulders, as he is conflicted between the pain that he's caused Mary Jane in his quest to protect her, and the excitement he feels when fighting alongside the alluring cat.

Seven Soldiers: The Guardian #4 - This concludes the Manhatten Guardian's story in the Seven Soldiers maxi-series (until Seven Soldiers #1), cracking open a large part of the mystery behind what exactly is going on, and tying it to the other series masterfully. This has thus far been my favorite of the Seven Soldiers books, Zatanna being a close second. Grant Morrison can weave one hell of a story.

Y-the Last Man #37 - Following my review of the last stand-alone issue of the Vertigo series, I'm happy to see the story of Yorick unfold with more promise that it has in recent issues. The "Paper Dolls" story that this issue begins follows Yorick as he finally reaches Australia and desperately searches for clues into what has become of his girlfriend in the short time period he has been given to do so. As the cover of the issue and solicitations of the story indicate, Yorick has his picture taken, something that could obviously have some dire consequences, being the last man on Earth. Yeah...love that last page.

The Stardust Kid #2 - I gave this series another issue to shed itself of the stereotypes established in the first comic. Luckily, this issue has ventured into some creative juices, as our villain is given a face and a threat is introduced to actually make the story interesting. It's still nothing spectacular however, and is a far cry from Crossgen's Abadazad series that earned such fan devotion.

Okay, that's it for this week. Patrick's "THINK ABOUT COMICS" column will resume again this next weekend, after his first week of graduate school is behind him.

The next trade I plan to read: "Top Ten: Forty-Niners"
Last CD I bought: "Plans" ~ Deathcab for Cutie
Last movie I saw in theaters: "Broken Flowers"

Gay Horror Films

Hellbent is a little horror film coming to art house theaters very shortly, in time for Halloween. And what sets this apart from other horror films? The protagonists are gay. In fact, the movie presumes to name itself the first gay thriller. Now, I don't know about the rest of you, but growing up, I was a big horror film buff. I loved the Friday the 13th movies and Halloween, etc, but I also loved those Full Moon movies, the direct-to-video horror movies that had titles like Puppetmaster and Subspecies. They were pretty cheesy, but I loved them for it. About five years ago, my love for horror movies was rekindled (as it usually is around Halloween every year) and I rented some Full Moon movies, one of which was the director's cut of Voodoo Academy. Now, if there was ever a gay horror movie before I saw this, I certainly didn't know about it. It was blatantly gay, but didn't come right out and say it, which may be the difference between Hellbent and this type of movie. But guys writhing on their beds in nothing but underwear, massaging themselves like they're having some reeeaally nice dreams, while one guy watches through a peephole, seems pretty gay to me. Oh, yeah, and the scene where a guy in a bathtub is massaged by another guy...uh, yeah. Anyways, it turns out the director of this movie, David Decoteau, has this whole slew of movies that are very gay, but not outright gay, including The Brotherhood series, where he gets lots of shirtless guys together for the sake of the eye candy. So, Hellbent? Maybe it's the first explicitly gay horror movie (where guys actually express their feelings/attraction for one another), but it's certainly not the very first gay horror movie out there. It is, however, refreshing to see that this movie holds no qualms about coming right out and saying what it is, and doesn't beat around the bush like Decoteau tends to do. That's not to say it's going to be any good. It does come from the co-creator of Halloween, however. Anyways, you can judge for yourself. Visit the Hellbent official site and watch the trailer.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Smoke & Mirror

Speakeasy Comics debuted another new comic this past week, Smoke & Mirror, from the writer behind their just-released Of Bitter Souls (Charles William Satterlee). I did not care for Of Bitter Souls, but Smoke & Mirror turned out much better in contrast, though it wasn't one of those debuts that blew my socks off. It was however, a good first issue. Overall, I liked the art. There were none of those panels that I just love in comics, the kind that make you stop and stare and just appreciate that one picture the artist portrayed, but the issue was certainly competently illustrated. The only scenes where things got a little out-of-hand were when Smoke was fighting his nemesis Bludgeon. There were moments where I had to interrupt the flow of the action to figure out exactly what was going on. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the action depicting the past, where Smoke's predocessor fought some bank robbers with his partner, Miss Mirrors. It was retro and really evoked that golden age comic feel for the few pages that the flashback spanned. The present-day Smoke also had a flashback, showing the point at which our hero becomes the hero, where the panels were bordered in curling gray smoke that I though looked really neat. But anyway, the story contained in this issue was very basic, setting up the status quo, introducing us to Smoke, the legacy behind him, and the lawyer that this hero becomes when he takes off his cape and cowl. It serves its purpose however, with a nice opening scene and a narrative that truly makes the experience alike to reading an older comic, when plenty of action was packed into a single issue. I think it also has a lot to do with the old-time style of superhero and the types of villains he fights, the type of life he leads. It had that cheesy feeling of a perfect hero without flaws who does good for the sake of doing good, but it was fun. One thing that stood out as rather poorly executed was the lawyer behind the hero. He delivered a really cheesy, bad speech that reminded me of what someone would think a lawyer would speak like if he watched too many episodes of Law and Order and didn't really catch the cool rhetoric used, so reverted to a high schooler's idea of what a lawyer should sound like. Very boring, very fake. If you want to read an excellent version of the superhero-doubling-as-a-lawyer take, read DC's Manhunter or Marvel's Daredevil. Speakeasy has yet to find its equivalent.

Serenity

Serenity, the three issue mini-series written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, concluded this past week. This series was intended to fill in the gap between events from Whedon's canceled Firefly television show and the upcoming Serenity movie. It's filled with a lot of cool events for someone who's seen the show. I was completely startled when Kalie met one of the men in blue face-to-face, as these villains are vicious and seemingly unstoppable in the television series. However, I'm not exactly sure how someone unfamiliar with the show would have reacted; It's hard to separate myself from something I love so much. I can say, as a fan, that the characters came through in this comic quite accurately. From River to Preacher to Mal, the dialogue and actions seemed to spring from the show itself, kind of bringing me back to this happy time when television was actually good. Will Conrad's pencils certainly contributed to this effect also, portraying these characters with a realism that really finished the job of bringing these characters to life. And in itself, the art was fabulous, depicting action and emotion, as well as just beautiful moments, with attention and love. I admired the alternate covers of the series too, though I know most people detest that sort of thing in comics. It gave all of the characters a chance to shine at the hands of a skilled craftsman. I mean, just look at that Josh Middleton cover of River. That's just awesome. But anyways, I liked the comic. It didn't exactly blow me over with the storyline, but it was a competent story that certainly served to evoke the mood of the franchise, and further excite me for the film at the end of the month.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Comics: Present, Past and Future

Well, tomorrow is another comic shipping day. I will be picking up:
- Fell #1 (why not give it a shot for $2?)
- Serenity #3 (Concluding issue. Only 23 more days until the movie!)
- Seven Soldiers: Guardian #4 (Another soldier's adventures are ending. Well, not really ending per se, since Shining Knight didn't exactly...have an ending.)
- Smoke and Mirrors #1 (Trying out the new Speakeasy series)
- Stardust Kid #2 (Yes, I did not like the first issue, but it's the creators of Abadazad, damn it! I have to give it one more shot.)
- Ultimate Spider-man #82 (I can't wait for Kitty to enter the book with the next arc.)
- Y-the Last Man #37 (Please stay good)

And next week, according to Diamond...
- All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #2
- Fables #41 (more of the Homeland story!)
- Mnemovore #6 (Final issue)
- Pulse #11 (New story - baby time!)
- Ultimate X-Men #63 (Continuing the Magnetic North arc)
And as always, more will probably be added when things are reannounced next week, but that's it for now.

I also wanted to mention that icv2 has archived their top 300 comic and top 100 trade charts. It spans from the present back to May of 2001. It's kind of cool to see what was on top back then opposed to now and how the industry's numbers have strengthened. Back in May 2001, Ultimate X-Men #4 was on top, with less than 98,000 issues sold. If you look at this past July's list, that same book would have placed at #8, with the top book of that month selling 261,000 copies (All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #1). Pretty crazy, huh? As for trades, they only started to have a regular column listing the top sellers in November of 2001, and then, they only listed the top 25. Obviously, the trade market has grown substantially in recent years, but it seems strange that trades used to be so disregarded when they're so integral to the industry today.

Anyways, I thought it would be kind of fun to turn back the clocks a bit and list the top ten comics four years ago, in September of 2001...

1. Origin #1
2. New X-Men #118
3. Uncanny X-Men #398
4. Ultimate X-Men #10
5. X-Treme X-Men #5
6. Amazing Spider-man #35
7. Green Arrow #8
8. Ultimate Spider-man #13
9. Wolverine #168
10. JLA #58

So how do these titles fare presently? Well, obviously, Origin no longer exists, nor does X-Treme X-Men. New X-Men (#2) has been succeeded by Whedon and Cassaday's Astonishing X-Men, which was #5 in July, selling 19,000 more copies than Grant Morrison's work. Uncanny X-Men (or X-Treme X-Men light, as I like to call it) was at #3 in 2001, where it sits at #10 presently, selling 21,000 less copies than it used to sell (right around the same amount as X-Treme X-Men sold, hmmm....) Amazing Spider-man is sitting at #21 nowadays, with 10,000 less copies sold, while Ultimate X-Men is down at #13 with 13,000 less. Green Arrow fell to #57 with 45,000 fewer copies (less than half of what it used to sell, earning the title of biggest loser). Utlimate Spider-man is still selling about the same amount, though it's position has dropped to that of #18, while Wolverine served to gain about 6,000 copies, even though it's only at #19. JLA sells about 20,000 more issues presently than it did back in 2001, and is still sitting at a healthy #12.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Rex Mundi

Rex Mundi (volume 1): The Guardian of the Temple collects the first six issues of the on-going series by Image. This book has a really great premise - it's a mystery set in an alternate-history where the Catholic Church still rules. In this story arc, an ancient scroll in possession of the church is stolen by occult means. The guardian of these scrolls calls on his reliable friend, Dr. Julian Sauniere, to discover what happened to the artifact. Julian is the main character here, always appearing too serious and dark, a completely unidentifiable protagonist for the reader who wasn't already put off by the bland story that's bogged in politics that I had not an inkling of interest in. Now, I actually like politics in fantasies. I was probably the only person on Earth who loved the politics in Star Wars: Episode I, but the politics here were just silly and too superfluously laid out. I mean, I know this bare bones mystery needed some meat to stretch it over six issues, but come on. Add a car chase or something next time. Anyways, the supporting characters of the story are just as two dimensional as the good doctor, and I have no qualms as they are killed off. In fact, I'm happy to see them picked off, as it serves to force something to take place. Ah, and the villain of the story? Could he have even been interesting? No. Of course not. He is an attempt at a creepy, non-speaking assassin, but is a ridiculous short, fat man in a white suit who stirs little fear with his appearance. Now, there was actually a really cool chase sequence in issue six that I was happy with, but even that had to be tainted by the ridiculous finale it was given. It's a competent mystery at best. Read Crossgen's late, great Ruse if you want a good historical mystery.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Ultra: Seven Days

Ultra: Seven Days consists of an eight-issue mini-series by The Luna Brothers, published by Image. It's been in my to-read pile for awhile, and I finally got around to it. But seriously, don't make the same mistake as me and put this off any longer - you have to read this book. This is the best superhero comic I've ever read. Although it's not a traditional superhero book. It's a perfect blend of superhero and drama and comedy. The series takes place in Spring City, where superheros work as kind of police units, but are also treated as celebrities. For the most part, this book examines Pearl Penalosa, the person behind the ubercelebrity Ultra, and her relationship with other superheros, particularly two other gal pals, Aphrodite and Cowgirl. Pearl also faces problems in the romance department as well as with the press. The dialogue in this book is just amazing, as well as all of the characters, who come off as genuine people with distinct personalities that don't fall into stereotypes that often grace the comics of the mainstream. Oh, but that's not all! The Luna Brothers have treated this work with so much love, even the production is spectacular. Included in the trade of this series are the original faux ads that appeared throughout the comics that depicted the celebrity superheros in their sponsor roles. And the cover of each issue is that of a magazine, with tables of content at the beginning of each issue. My favorite little blurb was on issue four: the cover had a little spot for 50Sync: Teen pop's answer to gangsta rap; on the inside: 50Sync: bustin' caps and breakin' hearts. I don't know. I thought it was funny. But each magazine parody is full of these things. The last of the magazine covers is actually a parody of golden age superhero comics, with a first page on the interior (instead of a table of contents) appearing just as a golden age superhero story would appear. Then there are fake articles, where the superheros are interviewed or spotlighted. I tell you, the personalities just come through the pages in these. lol. Anyways, I'm giving this a complete glowing review because I seriously couldn't find a thing wrong with it. The art is beautiful, the storytelling is dynamite. Just read it and try to prove me wrong.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Y-the Last Man

"Y-the Last Man #36" is a stand-alone issue that follows the atrocious "Girl on Girl" story arc. Seriously, the reason I read this one so late was because I almost dropped this book following that story. I decided to give this one more issue a chance and...it's one of the best issues of the series thus far. The series overall has been good. Not great, but good. I think Brian K. Vaughan has the best intentions of making really interesting situations come out of Yorick's adventures. But, for the most part, they're just entertaining at best. There have been a few stories that have really wowed me, but "Girl on Girl" just fell flat into that category of one of the worst stories I've ever read in comics. Vaughan created this story with no interesting situations, with no interesting characters introduced and with surprises that left me rolling my eyes. I did not care what anyone's intentions were whatsoever, and I did not care to have two girls get together just so the nerdy fan boys could go "Whoa! Girl on girl action! Yes!" which seemed the only hook that they could bank on with this crappy story. BREATH OUT. Okay. That being said, I really do like Pia Guerra's art, and when it's put to good use, like in issue 36, I can just marvel at it. This one issue accomplishes more than the last ten issues of the series combined rather simply: it focuses on a character. To be precise, Beth, Yorick's girlfriend in Australia who, up until this point, I didn't care if he ever found but knew that it would be an ongoing plot point. This series would always beg the question, why won't Yorick just screw around with every girl around? They're all more than willing! (Well, until that whole S&M arc where the CIA agent gets him to talk about himself and his past, another great story that focuses on character, whereupon he goes and sleeps with a girl at a church soon after, then...well, tells the captain of the ship in "Girl on Girl" that he has a girlfriend again...whatever) Well, anyway, the reason for his semi-monogamy is this little blonde number, Beth, who is someone I personally warmed up to really quickly. In this simple story, Beth is tied up by aboriginals and forced into a sleep that induces visions. For the most part, we experience Beth's past and get to see her interact with Yorick. Their first meeting: Yorick-"Beth Deville. I had a dream about you last night." Beth-"Excuse me?" Yorick-"Don't worry, it wasn't sexual or anything. I dreamt you were, like, this fucked up super-hero, and you were rescuing me from a giant-" Beth-"Wait, who are you?" Well, I liked it anyway. Not only do we get to see tender moments between the two, but we get to see the moment where Beth's group in Australia gets hit by the plague, as well as a tender little moment between Beth and Yorick's sister Hero. It all works to bring this character, so lately introduced to the series, to a status of importance along with the other characters we've seen for thrity-five issues. And while these memories flash through her mind, she has visions, where things get a little strange. Not only do flashbacks blend in to each other, but images appear, like Yorick's bloody, plague-ridden face. It all culminates into a scenario where Beth is, indeed, saving Yorick from a giant Ampersand, having transformed into a superhero (Just like Yorick's dream when he first introduce himself). Beth is told by yorick that he is alive and she wakes up with this impression. Now, that being said, I'm not sure I sold you on the series based on it's sketchy record, nor do I know if I really want to sell you on it. I know I enjoy it, with times where I love it and times where I loathe it. It's up to you if you want to give it a try in the end. Just don't blame me if it dives back into "Girl on Girl" territory.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous *Spoilers*

Joss Whedon and John Cassaday have concluded their first run on the flagship X-title, Astonishing X-Men, with the amazing Laura Martin on colors (there will be a brief hiatus before they return to the book). The storyline "Dangerous" began really strong with the suicide of a mutant in the danger room and a wounded sentinel crawling to the X-mansion to inflict some damage, whereupon the students were trapped in the danger room with Kitty Pryde. Great start, right? Unfortunately, the build-up to this storyline was better than the payoff. It's a cool concept, having the danger room a mutant itself. It's one of those "why didn't I think of that?" moments. The first battle with the sentient machine was really great too, although that is where the story starts its downhill trek. From there, the plot brings Xavier into it, creating an interesting rift between the students and their mentor that I can't wait to see expanded on. Then the sentinel that killed Genosha is brought into the fray, during which Kitty has to shield the entire team with her power to overcome a disintegrating blast. Like Patrick said, cool moment, cool line. After that, the issue loses its focus a bit and goes off into several different directions. The Beast defeats Danger rather easily, relying on what had failed earlier, instinct. It is primal instinct alone that can beat Danger, as no one can outthink or outmanuever a machine that has been programmed to outhink and outmaneuver them. The Beast, when told by Xavier that the machine is dead, looks back ferociously and bellows "Mine!" Totally creepy. I imagine that since the Beast relied on complete bestial instinct, he kind of degressed into what his namesake implies - a beast, devoid of his humanity and clear thought. This is definitely a subplot I hope to see more of, as the Beast's further evolution into cat-form could certainly be taken for degression into an animal state. But besides introducing new plot threads, this issue has a fairly crappy ending. While Kitty is the hero with her reasoning skills, it's pretty anti-climactic to see the ferocious sentinel flying away to be alone, because he feels bad that he killed millions of people. But, you know what? Going back and rehashing all that stuff kind of brings me to feel that this storyline was pretty cool after all. Sure, it had its flaws and whatnot, but there are some great concepts introduced. Whedon just needs to bring a cool villain into the book next time...speaking of which...yes, that was the Hellfire Club in the last panel. Kitty mentioned in the first issue of the series that Emma represented evil to her because she attacked the X-Men upon their first meeting. And Emma was, of course, at that time, the White Queen of the Hellfire Club, a story that led in to the infamous Dark Phoenix Saga. Now, Joss Whedon's great because Kitty's always been my favorite superhero, and is his. The Hellfire Club, particularly the White Queen, have always stood as my favorite villains, and here he brings them into play. He is just the man. But, enough gushing. I have to agree with Jog's thoughts on Cassaday's art being rather stiff toward the end of the run, particularly the panel where Kitty was thrown at the sentinel. That was just glaringly bad. But, I don't agree with the overall judgment of the series that he gave. Bringing costumes back to the flagship book, restoring formerly dead characters, reintroducing the Hellfire Club...these are all really cool things. And I think Whedon is great at writing A-grade superhero comics. No, it's not as inventive and groundbreaking as Grant Morrison's New X-Men run, but I wouldn't want to see something like that all the time. There's nothing wrong with writing a competent superhero book, especially given that it is easily the best X-title running presently, and previous to Grant Morrison's run, would have been held up as a godsend.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

THINK ABOUT COMICS 4

By Pat Markfort

What Makes A Good Comic Book Store?

I had wanted to review Kevin Huizenga’s Or Else #3 for this week’s column, but my local store, Lost World of Wonders, didn’t have it. It’s possible they ordered a copy and it sold out before I got there (about 40 minutes after they opened), as they had a couple of copies of the first issue. Of course, it’s also possible that these couple of copies of the first issue were all they had ordered, so they didn’t bother with the second and third issues. Hard to say.

It’s frustrating. I spent the car ride back home complaining about the situation with David. We both tend to get pretty annoyed at lousy comic book stores. But, is it fair to call Lost World a lousy store? When we moved here a few months ago, we were actually quite pleased that we were so close to Lost World, as it’s probably the best of the comic book stores we’ve visited here in Milwaukee. It’s a very large, well organized store, divided just about in half, with a huge selection of manga and anime (the latter of which is available for rental in addition to purchase) on one side, and mostly superhero comic books and graphic novels on the other. I say mostly because Lost World pretty clearly does try to maintain a certain presence for “alternative” or “art” comics, as well as young children’s comic books and some comic strip collections in this section. You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding recent issues of Love and Rockets here, for example.

The staff of Lost World is extremely friendly and helpful. I almost always chat a bit about comics with the cashier who rings up my order every Wednesday. They offer a subscription service through the Previews catalogue, with a discount. They are willing to special order comics you may have missed, if they’re available. The store is always packed with enthusiastic customers on Wednesdays, and a generally friendly, bright mood pervades the atmosphere.

Sounds pretty good, right? Well, it is. I think Lost World of Wonders is a good store. Yes, it’s frustrating that the comics I’m most looking forward to in any given week are the ones I’m least likely to find there. Recently, I’ve had to go elsewhere for Michael Kupperman’s Tales Designed to Thrizzle and Hank Ketcham’s Complete Dennis the Manace. I don’t think they had any copies of the Frank King book, Walt and Skeezix, either. And now, Or Else #3. I think it’s a case of a well intentioned but perhaps slightly under skilled and under informed staff. I get the sense that, while philosophically, the proprietors of Lost World believe that they should carry a wide array of material, I think that the knowledge of and enthusiasm for “alternative” or “art” comics is simply not there. Which is a shame. I think it’s more a problem with the entire industry, though. Of course, retailers are part of the industry, aren’t they?

I try to look at it this way: It’s absurd that ANYTHING that falls outside of a SINGLE GENRE or work ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN JAPAN is considered “alternative.” Seriously, apply that situation in your mind to any other medium, and marvel and the absurdity. But, as ridiculous as it is, it is. That’s the way the comic book industry is right now, and most comic book fans seem to be fine with that. A good comic book store, then, should be set up to cater to these fans. The material that they are interested in should be readily available in the store, every week, and the staff of said store should be enthusiastic and knowledgeable about said material, while at the same time providing assistance to those (few) customers who crave something outside the narrowly defined “mainstream.” That’s what a good comic book store should do. Lost World of Wonders is a good comic book store.

But it’s not a great one. A great comic book store is the “alternative” comic’s best friend. A great comic book store realizes that the entire point of the direct market, as it was originally conceived, is to provide an alternative to the “mainstream,” as well as providing a place to buy superhero comics (and please don‘t misunderstand me…..I LOVE superhero comics. And manga. But I love comics more). A great comic book store realizes that it’s not there to simply serve the industry as it exists, but to work to actively change the industry for the better. To broaden the tastes of it’s existing customer base. To give special attention to books which deserve special attention. A great comic book store is staffed by employees who have a great knowledge of and enthusiasm for all types of comics, especially those deserving of great enthusiasm.

Lost World of Wonders is not a great comic book store.

I don’t know that Milwauke has a great comic book store. I know it needs one….but does it want one? The (mostly adult male) customers I observed at Lost World seemed more than content with the material available to them. Perhaps that’s where it has to start. Perhaps these men need to demand something more. Something better. Something worthy of the enthusiasm with which they purchased their weekly assortment of children’s super hero comic books. I’m sure the friendly and helpful Lost World staff would be happy to help them find such material.

If only someone would ask them.

****

Kick-Ass Children’s Super Hero Comic Books I Purchased This Week, and Brief Thoughts on Same:

*Shining Knight #4, by Grant Morrison and Simone Bianchi: This was the best new comic book I read this week. Morrison’s writing and Bianchi’s art blend together in a perfect alchemy, the result of which is a sort of “super hero comics as poetry” approach that works quite nicely. Galahad is a truly frightening antagonist, with Morrison’s trademark guttural moans used to good effect. A great conclusion to a really good series.
Do not reveal the secret of the Shining Knight!

*Astonishing X-Men #12, by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. I keep referring to this as the “season finale.” Best moment: “That all you got… …bub?” I thought the resolution of the conflict with Danger and the Super Sentinel was a bit lame, but I liked the idea behind the rift between Xavier and his X-Men. In fact, it makes Danger seem like a much more interesting character in retrospect. Great last page. I really hope David talks about this comic, as his sensibilities in regards to the X-Men seem to perfectly match Whedon’s.

*JLA: Classifed # 11, by Warren Ellis and Butch Guice: Hideous cover. Much better insides. I like the way Ellis is telling this story. He’s doing a good job of reminding us all of the core concepts which make these iconic characters so appealing. Nice art by Butch Guice. Anyone know how long this story arc is supposed to be?

* New Avengers #9, by Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven, and Mark Morales: Another nice looking comic book hiding behind an ugly cover. Anyone else wish McNiven was the regular artist on this book? Once the fury over Marvel’s obnoxious marketing and promotional efforts for this series have died down, I think people are going to realize it’s a pretty good superhero comic book.

* Astro City: The Dark Age - Book One, # 3, by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson. This was pretty good. I’d sort of fallen away from Astro City but came back for this story arc, originally hinted at in a very early issue of the series. I think it’s pretty obvious where this first chapter is going, but it is only the first chapter in a much larger saga, so hopefully Busiek’s got some tricks up his sleeve. Very well crafted. I especially love Alex Ross’s character designs for this series.

****

Around the Internet:

*A couple of great comic books stores near my old stomping grounds: Big Brain Comics, Dreamhaven.
And in nearby Chi-Town: Quimby’s, Chicago Comics.

*Happy Anniversary Comic Book Galaxy!

* I’m going to ask David to update the Comics-And-More links to include some of my favorite comics related sites, so watch for that.

****

That’s all for this week, folks. I’m hoping to be back next Friday, although my schedule is about to become much busier than it has been, so a late column is not out of the question. I’ll do my best, though.

Thanks so much for reading! Comments are greatly appreciated.

- Pat Markfort
patmarkfort@yahoo.com