Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I’ve mentioned at other times that weekly reviews take me a long time, and this year, when I’m trying to do daily posts that are a bit more involved than the ones I did in 2012, they’re even more time-consuming. At the beginning of the year, I had about 45 days of buffer for the Year of the Artist, but I tried to do reviews at the same time, and my buffer quickly disappeared. I got it back up to two weeks, but then I went to San Diego and it shrank again. Currently I’m about five days ahead, and I’m trying to get back to a month – we’ll see how that goes! But I did get some free comics in San Diego and through the mail, and when I get free stuff, I really want to review them, so I figured I’d try doing a review post with some stuff about my actual time at the convention thrown in. That should be fun, shouldn’t it? So away we go, with a comic that I actually bought at my comics shoppe. That’s just how I roll!
Horror is always hard to get right, because too often in movies it means things leaping out and freaking us out (which is a temporary thing at best) or, in both movies and comics, just a lot of gore. The best horror comics I’ve read in the past few years – El Torres’s and Gabriel Hernandez’s The Veil and The Suicide Forest – have nothing “jumping” out and no gore, but they are terrific, and John Lees seems to understand that in And Then Emily Was Gone. There’s a good bit of gore, actually – someone hammers someone else to death – but there’s also that creeping sense of unreality that the best horror brings to the table. So there’s a character who builds a box and puts something in it, something that he fears drove him mad. Well, that’s not good. Meanwhile, the person who hammers the other to death is joined by a lifelong friend, and they have a pleasant banter that feels really weird as it surrounds the moment where the aforementioned hammering takes place. And the main character, Greg Hellinger, was once a policeman, but now he’s tormented by the fact that he sees monsters everywhere. A girl named Fiona, who lives in the Orkneys, comes to visit him, pleading with him to help her find her friend Emily, who she believes was taken by Bonnie Shaw, a monster out of folklore who steals children. Greg agrees to help Fiona because from the moment he met her, he stopped seeing monsters, but of course, there are plenty of monsters already in this story. Lees picks a great setting – an isolated, chilly island – and gives us weird, compelling characters and a creepy mystery. What else do you need?
Meanwhile, Laurie’s intricate, off-kilter art and Wilson’s muted coloring also help the atmosphere very well. Laurie’s characters look beaten up by life, and they all have distinctive looks, from Greg’s large nose to Fiona’s wistful innocence to Vin’s raffish weirdness. Laurie uses a lot of hatching to make this world look rough and scabby, making these people look even more hopeless against the ravages of fate and life. Laurie’s Bonnie Shaw is superb, too – we see him in only two panels, but one is a close-up, and his black pearl eyes, his wide, toothy grin, the body hair on his shirtless torso, and even his wide belt buckle make him a horrifying monster/child molester, which presumably will come into play here (I don’t want to try to figure out Lees’s story, but it seems like that’s implied in this issue). Laurie’s monsters are twisted and bizarre, and of course, the fact that there’s a very human monster in the story does not escape my attention, as Laurie makes it clear that the monsters Greg sees don’t seem to do much, just hang out. It’s not traditionally beautiful artwork, but it has an odd charm, and it fits Lees’s story very well.
I read somewhere on-line that retailers on this side of the Atlantic have a hard time re-ordering this series, because it’s coming from an indie publisher and it’s British (Scottish, even, if we want to be more specific), but if you find a copy, give it a look. It’s a strong start to what I hope is a good horror comic, because while I don’t like horror movies, I do enjoy a good horror comic, and they’re few and far between, unfortunately.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I hadn’t been to the San Diego Con since 2011, when the wife and I took our kids and stayed in a beach house with my parents. A few years ago, my nephew began to get interested in Star Wars comics, and I mentioned to my sister that if he wanted to, I could take him to Comic-Con because kids 12 and under are free. She thought that was a good idea, and we began to make plans to visit. He turned 12 in January, so I told her it would have to be in 2013 or 2014. She couldn’t swing it last year, so we made plans for this year. Once again, we decided to get a beach house and stay the entire week. My sister and her kids had never been to San Diego, and there’s plenty to do in town even if you’re not going to Comic-Con. My parents decided to join us, as we had never done a vacation with the entire family, as my parents live in Pennsylvania and my sister lives in Virginia, so getting together is always difficult. We rented a house in Mission Beach, which is always neat, and we drove there on Saturday, 19 July. The next day we hit the beach, and I managed to get my younger daughter to brave the waves a bit, and she had a lot of fun once she realized she should probably keep her mouth closed so she didn’t swallow a ton of salt water. My older daughter, naturally, wanted to watch television the entire time, and as she saw a lot of the sights in 2011, we indulged her. My younger daughter and her cousin, who’s a year older than she, are thick as thieves when they get together, so they had a grand old time. The kids went to the U.S.S. Midway with my sister and my parents, and they went to Sea World with my sister and my wife (notice I’m not going to any of these places – I was happy to stay at home and hang out with my older daughter). Mia, my older daughter, actually went to Sea World for a while, where she behaved … poorly. It was but a precursor!
Those were the first few days in San Diego. We walked to a bar (walking to bars is awesome!), went to Anthony’s Fish Grotto for dinner (all the kids, oddly enough, really like seafood), and spent some time at Belmont Amusement Park on the beach. Then came Wednesday, and the con began in earnest!!!
Apparently The Atomic Yeti is on hiatus, which is a shame, because this first issue is very intriguing and the art is really good. This first issue, unfortunately, doesn’t feature a lot of action, because after a brief teaser at the beginning, we get a lot of backstory, but the introduction of the characters is handled well. Cooney’s writing comes close to cliché at times, but he manages to make the three main characters interesting despite that. The main male character, Lane Decker, writes for a tabloid, and he’s tasked by his editor to find out if reports of a radioactive Yeti in deepest, darkest Russia are true. Lane doesn’t want to go, but in the early parts of the book, it’s made clear to him that print journalism is almost dead and he’s lucky to still have a job, so he better nut up and mosey on to the tundra. He stops off to get dumped by his long-time girlfriend and visit his comatose friend, where we find out that Lane plagiarized his friend’s work and that’s one reason why he has a job. We also learn that something odd happened to both of them, which presumably put the friend – Gordon – in a coma. So Lane is a bit of a mess. On the plane to Russia, he meets Sydney Greene, a paparazza for the network that just bought Lane’s tabloid, and Cannon Prince, who’s going to act as a “videographer” and might as well have “first to die” stamped on his forehead. They get to Russia, where the locals aren’t happy to see them because they think the Americans are just there to mock them. Meanwhile, Lane doesn’t understand why they’re investigating something that happened in 1959. But then, Cooney introduces another character, whose identity I won’t spoil, that causes them all to re-evaluate what they think they know. Which is standard operating procedure for something like this, but it’s done pretty well on Cooney’s part. With stories like these, it helps to know the characters better so if and when they start dying, we actually care about the deaths, and while Lane isn’t the nicest person, Cooney does some good work making him complex, and while he doesn’t spend as much time with Sydney and Cannon, we still get a pretty good sense of them.
Himes does really nice work with the art. On the early pages, he uses a lot of rough smearing to show a blizzard as the doomed Russians run through the snow, presumably with the radioactive Bigfoot close on their heels. In the present, Himes sticks to fairly standard pencil and ink, but he packs each page with a lot of panels, and visually, the book is full of information. He’s really good at the interactions between the characters – when Rebekah, Lane’s girlfriend, dumps him, we can go through all the emotions both of them are feeling almost without reading the words, because Himes does such a nice job with it. The comic is laid out landscape-style, and weirdly enough, that seems to help when the three Americans get to Russia, because it feels more cramped in the bleak Russian winter, and the landscape format seems to crush them all into a small jeep, for instance, or a somewhat seedy restaurant. When Himes uses the entire width of the page, he’s able to show more, but he usually only uses half the page, which makes it feel like the sky is crushing down, turning the wide-open tundra into an oppressive prison. I’m not sure if that’s the effect Himes was going for, but he definitely achieves it.
I guess Cooney was running a Kickstarter to get the entire thing published, but it didn’t do well so he shut it down. That’s too bad – based on this snippet of the whole, this seems like a pretty interesting comic, and it would be nice to see more of it. I picked it up at San Diego but didn’t get a chance to meet Cooney, who was away from the booth when I got it and I wasn’t able to get back around there, so I couldn’t ask him more about it. But it’s a neat comic, and if Cooney and Himes ever want to continue with it, I’d be happy to give them some ducats.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I’m not entirely sure what the purpose of these “100th Anniversary” comics is. I know the reasoning – Marvel is just pretending that these comics are being published in 2061, but with the “sliding time scale” we see in comics, so it’s not like anyone has aged at all. But why are they doing it? The comics exist in kind of a vacuum – this one, for instance, ends on a cliffhanger that we’ll never see and springs from events we’ll never read about. Paul O’Brien eviscerated the X-Men special, which sounded like it needed to be eviscerated. The only – the only – reason to do these kinds of things is to get creators who don’t usually play in the Marvel playground and let them go nuts. For the X-Men, Marvel got Robin Furth and Jason Masters, two names that don’t exactly set the world on fire. I mean, Masters is okay, but neither of them is, to pull a name completely at random who could do a single issue X-Men comic if you threw enough money at them, Frank Miller (Miller would probably spit on Marvel’s money, but what the hell, right?). With the Avengers, however, Marvel did something right: They threw money at James Stokoe, who gave us this bittersweet issue. “Bittersweet” because it’s awesome, but it’s the only Stokoe Avengers comic we’re ever likely to get.
I mean, it’s Stokoe doing what Stokoe does, which is draw insanely detailed cityscapes where everything has gone to shit. It has a giant Stark tower that turns out to actually be Tony Stark. It has a black, mohawked Dr. Strange. Rogue is in it. Beta Ray Bill is in it. Mole Man “the Third” is in it. There’s a shit-ton of fighting, until Dr. Strange comes up with a solution to the Moloids’ problem that is sheer elegance in its simplicity. And it ends with Captain America in a psychedelic, watermelon-filled Negative Zone. Yep.
I’m not saying Stokoe’s profile is so much higher than Furth’s and Masters’s. I’m saying that Stokoe can take this concept and make it absolutely insane, with no repercussions. It sounds like Furth tried to actually do something serious in the X-Men comic, and I’m sure Masters’s sturdy superhero art looked fine. But Stokoe goes balls-to-the-wall, which is what something like this needs. In fact, most superhero comics need something like this. I’m not saying I want all the comics I read to be like this, but superhero comics, as I’ve often argued, need to embrace the absurdity of superheroes a bit more often, and good artists can do that without making them look stupid, like too many movies with awful CGI do. A watermelon-filled Negative Zone would look dumb on screen, but it’s perfect here. DC and, to a lesser extent, Marvel are too concerned with keeping a tight rein on continuity, so we don’t usually get stuff like this. But I’ll tell you – even though I knew this was a one-shot and would not be followed up on, the fact that we’re not getting a Stokoe “Cap in the watermelon-filled Negative Zone” issue after this one is probably one of the biggest disappointments of the year, comics-wise. DAMN YOU, STOKOE!!!!!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
“Preview Night” at San Diego Comic-Con is a misnomer these days and should be done away with. Just start the con at 6 p.m. on Wednesday and stop jerking our chain, because this monster is going to take over the entire week eventually, so why not embrace it? On Wednesday night, I went down to the CBR yacht (THE YACHT!), which was different from the CBR yacht three years ago, because I presume Jonah is not unlike Michael Bay and he goes through yachts like Bay goes through untalented starlets. I picked up my media pass and headed off to the con. It. Was. Packed. Already! I’ll put it this way: in early June, I went to the Phoenix con, which had its biggest year yet, with something like 75,000 attendees. I swear, Preview Night felt more crowded than Saturday at the Phoenix con. Sheesh! I wandered around a bit, not realizing that I should have been more diligent at saying hello to people as I would be saddled with children (willingly, mind you) for the next two days. I still managed to say hello to Larry Young, the grand poobah of AiT/Planet Lar, who’s always good to check in with. He was speaking to Steven Grant, and he asked Grant to sign a copy of Badlands, which he promptly gave to me. The fact that I already own Badlands bothered Larry not at all! I also happened to stop by the Boom! Studio booth, where I picked up a Lumberjanes tote bag and T-shirt. The T-shirt was for my daughter, but the tote bad is all mine!!!!
After that, I met my wife and sister, and we headed back over to the yacht for Jonah’s traditional pre-con bash. It’s always fun saying hello to Jonah, even though I tend to raise his blood pressure (THROUGH NO FAULT OF MY OWN!!!!). The brilliant Sonia Harris was on the yacht, too, and she instantly became the most popular person on the boat, because Sonia is hilarious. She’s always elusive at con time, so it was great to see her. The next day, it was time to dive into the abyss!!!!
As Layman and Guillory continue to bask in the financial windfall of Chew (Layman just bought an actual droid, for crying out loud), you would think the temptation to phone it in would begin to seep into their creation, and it would just become a shell of its former self. I mean, Layman is the laziest bastard on the planet, and while Guillory needs to keep drawing well so he can buy natty hats (oh, I guess his second child needs stuff, too), at this point I imagine he could Photoshop in pictures of Robert Kirkman for 90% of the art in Chew and no one would notice. That’s how awesome Chew has been over the course of its history. Luckily for us, the creators are still killing it on the book, even on ridiculous throwaways starring Poyo, which are simply exercises for Layman to throw any and every idea he can think of at the wall and force Guillory to draw it. So this time, Poyo ends up in a fantasy world where giant vegetables come to life and Poyo, along with dozens of heroes from other dimensions, has to defeat the evil Groceryomancer. Yes, it’s silly, but remember that Poyo is, you know, a chicken, and it becomes less so … or at least it fits in with the general vibe of the comic. This issue is just an excuse for Layman to make bad puns and for Guillory to draw giant murderous vegetables. In that regard, it’s a huge success! It’s also a handy way for you to check out the series without worrying about the larger story. If you like the groan-inducing puns (“Gourd of the Rings!”) and the wonderful, cartoony artwork, you’ll like the main series. Of course, you should already be reading it!
I’m also going to crow a little, because I contributed a crucial, I think, idea to the book. I won’t say what it is, but Layman seemed to appreciate it, unless he had already thought of it and was just stroking my ego. That would be just like him, the bastard.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Eight Herbs Mtn. by Ben Costa (writer/artist). $3.00, 41 pgs, BW, Iron Crotch University Press.
I’ve reviewed two volumes of Ben Costa’s webcomic, Pang the Wandering Shaolin Monk, and I liked them both, so it was nice to meet him at the convention and pick up this slim volume showing Pang’s “origin story,” for lack of a better term. It’s more humorous than the regular series, as it takes place before all the horrible stuff that happens to Pang in the main series, so Costa can riff on things like the Karate Kid (see below) – the book is a bit anachronistic, but it’s all fun, so it’s not a big deal. Costa’s art is a bit rougher than in the main series, probably because this is in black and white, but he still does a nice job with the shading and the facial expressions. We get a nice sense of the community of monks and the various cliques and rivalries within it. The story plays out a bit predictably, but it’s all about the journey, and it’s interesting to see Pang slowly come into his own. If you haven’t read the main comic yet, you should, but if you want a taste, this is a good place to start. Check it out!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I happened to see Vince Riley’s booth at the con, and I checked out his book, Native Drums, and immediately snapped up all four issues. The final issue is, if I recall correctly (sorry, I heard a lot of stuff), being worked on, but I’m not sure if the creators know when it will show up. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for it!
Native Drums isn’t a great comic, but it is entertaining, which is always a good thing. Riley, I guess, worked in video games, and you can kind of tell – there’s some “first-person shooter” drawings in this book, and the whole idea (I don’t know who had it) – mysterious young woman roaming across a desert landscape shooting at mysterious bad guys – kind of screams “video game.” Paschall puts us in a future where things have gotten worse but don’t seem to have fallen apart completely, and gives us Agent m17, the young lady on the cover, who is on some sort of mission in East Africa when she happens across some bad dudes who are doing some bad things to a couple. She kills the bad dudes, but the couple’s daughter needs assistance, so m17 takes her with her, much to the chagrin of her superiors. She meets a few allies on the road, meets a few bad guys, gets severely injured (luckily, she’s very hard to kill), and is confronted with the mystery of who she is and what she’s really doing. It’s fairly standard action/adventure stuff, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, as Paschall does a pretty good job at balancing between not telling us enough and telling us too much. The pace of the book works well, so that each issue gives us a little more while still keeping up the action. There’s probably a template for how to write this kind of story somewhere, and while Paschall follows it quite closely, the template does work, so the book zips along nicely.
Riley’s art is good, and it’s also interesting to track his progress. The issues came out over a course of five years, so of course there’s going to be some development, and reading them all at once is fascinating. Early on (in issue #1), he appears to be using his paint brush more often, which works well to create a desert atmosphere but doesn’t work as well with more detailed backgrounds. His figure work is stiffer than it would be later, which isn’t surprising, and his m17 seems more manga-fied than she would be in later issues. This manga influence – larger eyes, a wider mouth, slightly chubby cheeks – makes her look younger than she probably is, and as the series moves on, m17 definitely seems to age a bit. By issue #2, Riley is still coloring the book with paint, but he’s using bolder lines, too, giving m17 a tougher look and filling in backgrounds a bit better. He never completely loses the manga style – Amani, the girl m17 rescues, always looks like she stepped out of an anime – but he tempers it to an extent. A good deal of issue #4 takes place in a bunker with lots of machines, and Riley’s harder line works well for that. He also begins to use more hatching to show emotions on the characters’ faces, which he gets better at as the series moves on. The book has a consistent and nice look to it, but it’s also pretty neat to see how Riley changes as it goes along.
I’m keen to see how the book wraps up, as I’m pretty sure Riley said it was just the five issues. It’s a labor of love, which means it might take a while, but I’ll keep an eye out for it. Maybe the next time I see Riley at a convention, he’ll have issue #5!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
On Thursday I took four (4) children to the convention by myself. BY MYSELF!!!! Why, you might ask, would I do such a crazy thing? Well, as I noted, my nephew has gotten interested in comics, and my daughter likes some of them (Magic Trixie and Scary Godmother by Jill Thompson, and now Lumberjanes, are her favorites), and my older daughter loves crowds, so I figured I’d get it all out of the way at once! It wasn’t super-crowded on Thursday, and I thought I’d only stay with them for an hour or two before they got bored and wanted to leave. They were very well behaved (well, except for my older daughter, but I’ll come back to her), and they picked up some comics. My nephew got a Star Wars trade, and I got my daughter and my niece all four issues of Lumberjanes, signed by Grace Ellis, one of the writers. I also bought Norah the second volume of Princeless, which she got signed by the artist, Emily Martin (she already owned the first one). I also got her the first two trades of Eric Shanower and Skottie Young’s Oz books, which he graciously signed. I got my niece an Oz book, too, so her comics corruption continues apace! We wandered around looking for stuff – both Norah and my niece wanted those big-headed vinyl figurines – you know the ones – and my nephew wanted to see some of the video games. The biggest problem was my older daughter. Mia is about to turn 12, and we think she’s old enough to understand that she’s different from other people, and it’s pissing her off a little. She doesn’t talk about her feelings, because we’re pretty sure she doesn’t quite understand them, so she just gets pissed off. One thing she has gotten very good at is moving around in her wheelchair, and she does not like it when other people – usually her father – try to stop her from going wherever she damn well pleases in her chair. So when we were moving at the convention, she was fine. She used to reach out and grab people as we walked by (she’s been to San Diego before), but this time she simply stuck out her hand and used the back to brush people out of the way, as if she were royalty and the peasants needed to clear a path. When we stopped, however, which was often (even if we weren’t looking at things, it’s a crowded convention that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of constant movement), she would grab the wheel of her chair and try to move and then, failing that (as I was holding the chair’s handles), she would turn around and dig at my hand with her fingernails. I should have known better – usually I keep to her left side, as that’s the side she doesn’t use, so when she turns to her right, she wouldn’t find me there – but occasionally, I forgot to move, and she got me pretty good, drawing blood a few times. She would also grab at people walking by, which was embarrassing to me (she grabbed a poor woman’s boob pretty hard one time, and I apologized profusely) but also a little hilarious. If she grabbed someone while they weren’t looking, often they would turn around to see what happened (as you do). When they saw it was an adorable girl in a wheelchair, more often than not they would apologize to me. I get that you want to be sensitive, but she grabbed you! Don’t apologize – let me apologize for my evil daughter! This is how children, even ones with brain damage, manipulate us.
I went back on Friday with my nephew, who didn’t get to sample some of the video games that he wanted because of the aforementioned evil daughter not wanting to stop ever. Plus, even Norah and my niece probably wouldn’t have enjoyed standing in line while he waited to play Super Smash Bros. He got to play that and some Lego game, and all was well in the universe. I’m glad he got to go to the convention before someone would have to pay for him, and even though he’s a typical 12-year-old boy (i.e., a bit sullen), he did say he enjoyed himself quite a bit. So that was nice.
I bought Night Stalker, another comic below, and some Fillbach Brothers comics from First, which is next to Larry Young’s AiT/Planet Lar empire. Fun Fact: Every time I’m around Larry’s booth, I convince a total stranger to buy Scurvy Dogs, because it’s just that good, and this year, I did it again, telling the podcaster from Physics Central (more on them below), Calla Cofield (she was interviewing Larry about Astronauts in Trouble), to pick it up. I always guarantee that they will love it, and no one has ever sent me an angry email telling me I suck, so everyone must love Scurvy Dogs. It’s SCIENCE!!!!
Anyway, I got Night Stalker, and it’s just not very good. It’s too bad, but that’s the way it is. It’s about a demon hunter hunting demons, like you do, but in this case, she’s also a demon. Of course, being a female, she is presented as a smoking hot woman, unlike the ugly male demons throughout the book, but that’s the way it is. Demons have been escaping Hell and coming to Earth, and Dyana has been sent to send them back. The twist is that she might have to travel through time to do this, which allows Miller, the artist, to draw her in period outfits – in this issue, she goes back to the 1970s, so we get what a 1970s pastiche. This is a long comic, so we get three big action scenes, as Dyana defeats one demon, meets up with a hot friend of hers who tells her about her particular fight, and then Dyana goes back in time to the 1970s and fights another demon. Harding doesn’t do a lot of characterization, but he does have his characters talk in tough-chick clichés and groan-inducing threatening dialogue. Despite its length, we don’t know anything about the characters by the time it ends except that Dyana seems to enjoy getting whipped when she does something wrong (unless Miller shouldn’t have made her smiling in those scenes). It’s all very melodramatic, but if that’s your thing, that’s your thing, I guess.
Miller doesn’t help much, unfortunately. The art is very “early Image knock-off,” as if this book was drawn in 1995 by Roger Cruz or Tony Daniel back when they were trying hard to be Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri. It’s very slick, with that digital sheen and over-rendering you get on a book like this, as colorist Paul Little goes a bit nuts with the tones. Miller piles muscles on top of muscles for the demons, while Dyana and her friend are stereotypically slinky, thin, and large-chested. His action scenes are chaotic, which can be good, but too often in this book they’re illegible, as things happen with no relation to previous panels, while the bodies in the panels contort in ridiculous ways. It’s a shame – this isn’t the best idea for a comic, but it could work with better writing and art. Unfortunately, neither aspects of the comic are all that good.
I hate not finding good things about seriously indie comics, because I know they’re done with more passion than a lot of stuff for the Big Two, but Night Stalker is not for me at all. I guess its target audience is 14-year-old boys, who might like it. I’m not a 14-year-old boy, nor do I act like one, so I’m just not that impressed with this. Oh well.
Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I spoke to Pj Perez in San Diego, where he was hanging out with the creative team of this book, so it was nice to meet them, too. Then, this week, I received issue #3 of San Hannibal in the mail, which was also quite neat. Avery heads out of town to an exclusive estate in the mountains, where rich dudes are doing weird things. He discovers some crucial clues in his search for Savannah Loy, but then things go to crap, and the book gets really, really weird. I don’t even want to try to describe it, because it’s so weird. Avery is captured by the bad guys, and then that woman on the cover in the rabbit mask (yes, it’s a rabbit mask) drugs him and talks to him about what’s going on, which of course makes no sense. It’s utterly bizarre, but that’s okay, because it’s the middle of the series and I’m sure it will all shake out. While the story takes its weird turn, Schkade and Snavlin kick total ass on the art. Schkade creates some very odd rooms through which our characters walk, and on one page, he tilts the panels and becomes much more abstract, so Avery doesn’t even know what he’s seeing. Either he or Snavlin shifts the register so that the penciled blue lines show up as ghost images, which makes the scene even more hallucinatory. Snavlin, meanwhile, takes the yellow base palette and adds more blues and pinks (each issue of the series adds more colors – the first issue was all pink, the second mostly blue with some pink, and this begins with mostly yellow but pink and blue becoming much more prevalent by the end), some in rough, thick stripes that bleed across the page, which also adds to the bizarre effect. It’s a nice-looking book in any case, but the few pages where the creators do this (and, to top it all off, Snavlin stops using colors on Avery, who stands out as a black-and-white wraith in this riot of colors) are tremendous. It takes the book in an odd new direction, which hews closely to some of the clues we’ve seen but also opens up some strange new avenues. I still don’t know what’s going on, which is always a cool feeling when you’re reading a detective story, as long as Schkade can stick the landing!
San Hannibal started strong and has gotten stronger. You’re missing out if you’re not reading it!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
The next comic I bought at the First booth was actually published by First, and it’s more clever than Night Stalker, which is nice. The creators, Matt and John Yuan and Stephen Stern, were at the booth, and I had a nice conversation with them. The idea of Serving Supes is interesting – Cheech and Clive O’Huang, thinly-veiled stand-ins for the Yuans, are process servers who only serve superhumans, which is a niche market, to say the least. Obviously, it’s a comedy, and Stern and M. Yuan do a pretty good job with some obvious humor – Cheech and Clive are clueless that one of their co-workers is a lesbian, which leads to some goofy comments (see below). If you’re clever enough to come up with some superhero parodies – like the Ocelot in this issue – you’re probably going to have a vein or two to mine, and we get that here. Yes, Clive and Cheech are morons. But they’re good-hearted morons, and they’re harmless. Stern and M. Yuan want to have some fun, and they do. Meanwhile, J. Yuan’s art works for the book, too. He has a good cartoony style that allows him to exaggerate some of the sillier stuff while coming close enough to seriousness to make some of the more subtle humor (there’s not a lot of subtle humor, but there’s some) work pretty well. There’s nothing too challenging about the artwork, but it’s not bad.
I don’t know if the Yuans and Stern are planning more of the series, because it seems like the joke might wear thin after a while. Serving Supes is a fun if slight comic, and it might be fun to see a little more of it. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
A representative of Physics Central handed this to me as I passed by (she handed me a bunch of stuff, actually), so I figured I’d review it. It’s kind of review-proof, because I think it’s meant more to be a teaching tool than a good story, and it’s not a very good story. Spectra is a teenager who can turn into a laser (yes, it’s true!), and she gets into problems that can only be solved by physics. PHYSICS!!!! So in this issue, we get a mechanic – a Quantum Mechanic – who only exists, it seems, when you observe her, and who happens to make cars exhibit the properties of quantum particles, meaning Spectra’s mini-van can be in two places at once. This causes some amount of consternation among Spectra’s mother, so Spectra and the Quantum Mechanic, along with some of Spectra’s friends, figure out a way to fix the problem … using PHYSICS!!!!
The writing is kind of dull, as Thompson is a Ph.D. in physics but not a very good writer. She tries to make the book interesting, but with only 14 pages and a lot of science to cram in, it’s a losing battle. Johnson is very basic, with somewhat dull pencil work and some Photoshopping, but she gets the basic ideas across. Neither the writing nor the art is going to dazzle anyone, but again, I’m not sure if that’s the point. Physics Central is all about making physics more accessible, and the creators accomplish that here. Any entertainment value is secondary.
I can’t really recommend this comic, but I can’t say it’s terrible because it does what it sets out to do. As an educational tool, I think it would help some people who think physics is terribly boring (those people, by the way, are incorrect). As a good comic, it falls somewhat short.
One totally Airwolf panel:
I stopped by the Asylum Press booth and spoke for a few minutes to Frank Forte, who runs thing over there. Steve Mannion publishes most of his work through Asylum, and I’m a big fan of Mannion’s, so we talked about him for a while. Forte handed me this comic, which came out in 2000, plus the Warlash books below. If you know anything about Mannion, you know that this features Wally Wood-esque artwork, with lots of wonderfully healthy and scantily-clad women and giant bohunk dudes. Brownhole Jones and Sea-Goin’ Lil are the two main characters, but they’re not as much characters as vehicles to get us to islands full of dinosaurs, giant robots, and other weird stuff. Mannion’s short stories are full of wacky hijinks, with gorgeous artwork and paper-thin plots and characters. Mannion has way too much fun with the artwork, and his women, while buxom, aren’t waiting around for men, but doing all sorts of pirate shenanigans themselves. Part of the reason I love Mannion’s work is because, while his stories are so slight, he’s a wonderful artist who, you can tell, has a blast creating all this chaos. This is a nice chunk of crazy comics, and if you can find it, it’s a nice addition to Mannion’s bibliography.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I don’t want to alarm anyone, but I actually had to work at this Comic-Con. This is the sixth time I’ve gone to the con, and in each of the previous years, The Grand Poobah didn’t assign me any panels to cover. This year, however, he did. Why? NO MAN CAN SAY!!!!
So I had to cover a panel on which John Romita, Jr., Nicola Scott, and Lee Bermejo were talking about their art process, and then I covered a panel in which IDW and their digital partners discussed what they were going to be publishing in the near future. Obviously, based on what I’m doing this year, I was more interested in the art panel, but they were both pretty good. I tend to avoid panels at cons because I just don’t care that much. I can always talk to artists on the con floor, I don’t care about stuff that’s coming out until it actually, you know, comes out, and I’m not terribly wowed by celebrities. But I don’t have anything morally against panels, and I was perfectly happy to cover them – every year I’ve gone to San Diego, I’ve told Jonah I’m happy to cover a panel, but for whatever reason, he decided not to take me up on it.
There was one problem – I didn’t know how I would record the panels. I don’t own a phone clever enough to record conversations. My cell phone is old-school – it makes phone calls, texts (when I got a new phone, I told my wife to find me one with an actual keyboard, not a virtual one, so that’s what I have!), and takes very, very crappy photos. It does nothing else! What was I to do? Well, three years ago, when I was living with my parents while my daughter was at her rehab clinic, I asked my dad if he had a recording device. It turns out he had a tape recorder from years before, which was too awesome for words. I took it with me just in case I ever needed it, and I took it to San Diego with me because I wasn’t sure how I was going to record the panels. I know I could have used my wife’s smart phone, but I wasn’t sure if she’d want to part with that sucker! Of course, I didn’t have tapes, so I went on a quest!
On the Monday before the convention, I hit the road. I drove to the nearest Staples and looked around. No luck. I asked a dude, who was probably no more than 21 years old, if they sold cassette tapes. I even told him I knew it was an asinine question, but I asked anyway! Showing remarkable restraint, he didn’t throw me out of the store on my ass, but he didn’t think they had any, and they didn’t. So I drove over to Radio Shack and asked one of the workers, a girl who was probably no more than 21 years old, if she had any cassette tapes. Without missing a beat, she said “Sure!” Apparently, Radio Shack still sells cassette tapes! I picked up a few and took them back to the house. I tried to record the conversations in the living room, but when I played it back (the batteries still worked, which surprised me), I got nothing but static. My triumphant quest to find cassette tapes had turned to ashes. ASHES!!!!!
So I needed to use my wife’s phone. I don’t know how she managed to live without it! It worked perfectly fine, but I’m bummed I couldn’t roll into the panels with a tape recorder that had to be at least 15 years old, if not 25. That would have been cool. The panels were fine – Romita, Scott, and Bermejo all drew something, and they all talked about a lot of cool things, while the IDW one … was okay. When we type up our accounts of the panels, we’re supposed to make them interesting, and while the titles that IDW is publishing sound okay – they’re partners with Lion Forge, Darby Pop, and Comics Experience, to name a few – the panel just wasn’t that exciting, which means my write-up just isn’t that exciting. I won’t link to it, but it’s on the Mothership right now (the other one hasn’t been posted yet), so if you want to seek it out, feel free. I’m a bit bummed about it, because I would have loved to write dazzling panel coverage, but it just wasn’t the kind of panel that lent itself to dazzling write-ups. Nathan Fillion should have stopped by. That would have jazzed things up a bit!
Super! #5 by Zachary Dolan and Justin Piatt and some other people, probably. I’m going to guess it’s $2.99, it’s FC, and it’s from Unlikely Heroes Studios.
A few weeks ago, Justin Piatt was nice enough to send me a digital copy of Super! #5, and he also let me know he’d be at San Diego with copies of the collection of the first five issues. I planned to stop by and buy a copy … but I forgot. As you might have guessed from this post, I was so busy that by the time Saturday rolled around and I had some time to myself, I just forgot to find him. Yes, I suck. Then, I was trying to load the copy of Super! he sent me, and it’s just … slow. The reason I don’t know the creators beyond Piatt and Dolan is because the final few pages refuse to load. Why? Well, my computer sucks is probably a good reason. My computer is about seven years old, and it’s probably rife with all sorts of weird crap you pick up from surfing the ‘net for seven years. So it’s very slow, and despite the fact that I downloaded AdBlock, I still get pop-up ads, and it kicks me off the Internet occasionally for no reason, and unless it’s on YouTube, I can’t watch videos (or the aforementioned kicking off the Internet happens). I just need a new computer. I’ll get one soon enough, but for now, I think it’s my shitty PC that’s not allowing the entire issue to load. I think I’m only missing one page, and I don’t even think it’s a story page – I assume it has the credits on it. So there’s that. But let’s talk about the issue!
I mentioned when this first came out that it felt a little too similar to “funny superhero” books of the past like the Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League, which wasn’t necessarily a criticism, just an acknowledgement that I hoped Piatt and Dolan would do something more with it than that. Since then, the book has gotten better, as the creators keep adding to the universe of Super!, with new characters showing up and new plots coming out. It’s still very funny, the characters are all very foul-mouthed, but maybe it’s because I’ve gotten to know the characters a little better, I think the humor works a little better. In this issue, we return to Paula and Adam, whom we met in issue #1, when we learned that she’s a superhero and he’s a supervillain, even though neither of them knows the other’s secret. In this issue, we follow Adam instead of Paula, as he goes off and does his villain stuff before meeting Paula and her stepmother for lunch. Of course, there’s the whole “Will he get there in time?” factor, as his villain scheme doesn’t quite go off as planned. Meanwhile, Dolan and Piatt continue to do a nice job with the personalities of the characters – they’re all funnier than real people, but they’re funny in different ways, which helps distinguish them and make the script zing quite a bit. As with the other issues, Piatt and Dolan also think about how these superpowered people would act and interact with each other – yes, they’d punch each other a lot, but they’d also insult each other, especially if some of them were wildly immature. We also get a “super sub-culture,” in which people find abandoned stuff and try to become villains (or heroes, I suppose, but villains are more fun) themselves. The book began as more of a parody of superhero stories, but over the course of five issues (granted, I haven’t read issue #4), it’s evolved into both a parody, a very good superhero book in its own right, and a pretty interesting commentary on superheroes. That’s pretty impressive.
As always, Dolan’s artwork (inked, probably, by Laurie Foster) is very clean, very detailed, and very nice-looking. As I noted in the first issue, it’s a bit too clean for me to love it, but the sheer breadth of what he’s called upon to draw is impressive, as he needs to be good at a lot of action with a lot of moving parts (which he is) and he also needs to be good at body language and expressions for the more comedic aspects of the book, which is something he’s decent at but could improve. It’s still a very nice-looking comic, as Dolan lays the pages out really well and doesn’t cut any corners. I imagine it takes him a while to do each book, but that just makes it more fun when it does show up!
Apparently the trade of the first five issues goes on sale at the beginning of October. I’ll be getting one, and you should probably get one too. This has turned into a pretty damned good comic!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I guess this is supposed to be some kind of re-imagining of Liefeld’s Supreme, but I didn’t read that back in the day (I do own the Alan Moore stuff, but still haven’t read it), and I’m not exactly sure if this is supposed to be connected to it at all. It certainly doesn’t seem like it’s connected, and while it’s a strange comic, it’s not one that feels strange because I didn’t read 20-year-old issues but one that feels strange because it’s a Warren Ellis comic. Diane Dane is hired by Darius Drax, the “most famous secret man” in the world, or perhaps the “most secret famous man,” to find an object and to find out who a certain man is. That’s about it, but of course there’s all sorts of weird Ellisian stuff going on that will come into play later but right now just seems odd. As with most writers I trust, I just go with it when it comes to Ellis, confident that he knows what he’s doing.
Lotay’s art is very nice, too. She creates some haunting characters, from “Enigma” to the red-haired woman to Diane’s bodyguard (see below). She has a nice, dreamy style on this book, which fits the tone very well, and while it’s obvious she is still learning a bit about the movement of characters, it doesn’t come into play in this issue, so it’s not detrimental to the art. Her coloring of the issue is tremendous. She uses what appears to be streaks of crayon across many of the pages – not enough to distract from the sequential storytelling, but enough to place a gauzy barrier between the reader and the action – and she places some of the coloring off-register, especially the cityscapes, which add to the dreaminess of the entire issue. Some of the coloring – the birds, for instance – are amazingly delicate, while she’s good at some of the more brutal stuff, including the blood splatter in the “adventure serial” that shows up in the middle of the book. I first saw Lotay’s work a few years ago in the Thought Bubble Anthology, and she was pretty good then. She’s just gotten better since.
As always with Ellis, one wonders how long he plans to be on this book. It has the feeling of a long mystery, so let’s hope it’s a while. More Ellis in our lives is always a good thing!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Warlash: Dark Noir #1-3. “Phlegm Fatale” by Frank Forte (writer/artist); “Wormwar” by Frank Forte (writer) and Szymon Kudranski (artist), “The Demon” by Frank Forte (writer/colorist) and Marcin Ponomarew (artist/colorist); “Grubbs” by Frank Forte (writer) and Steve Mannion (artist); “Enter: The Bladeviper” by Frank Forte (storier), Royal McGraw (storier/writer), and J. C. Wong (artist); “The Transformation of Eduard Yan” by Frank Forte (writer/colorist) and Nenad Gucunja (artist); “A Touch of Deadly” by Frank Forte (writer/letterer) and Szymon Kudranski (artist); “Rockets Red Scare” by Frank Forte (artist) and Royal McGraw (writer/letterer). $3.95 (issue #1), $2.95 (issues #2-3), 48, 42, and 44 pgs, respectively, FC/BW, Asylum Press.
As I mentioned above, Frank Forte gave me the three issues of Warlash: Dark Noir, which came out in 2008-2009. They star his character, Warlash, who’s kind of a Judge Dredd character – he is extremely serious, he never takes his costume off, we never see his face, and he’s very Manichean when it comes to justice. He also lives in Pittsburgh, which I found extremely charming. And I’m from eastern Pennsylvania, and we hate those sheep-shagging Westerners! They might as well be Ohioans and marry their cousins!
Where was I? Oh yeah, Warlash. Well, the issues are mixed bags, as you might expect, but they’re still fun to read. These are creators simply going nuts with this character fighting all sorts of things like giant worm-like creatures, demons from Hell, diseased creeps, genetically altered creatures, insane drug addicts, mad bombers, and all other sorts of scum of the earth. The stories don’t do much more than set up a threat and have Warlash take care of them, but because the book is set in the future, Forte and his collaborators can comment on the social situation, much like Judge Dredd stories often do. The commentary isn’t terribly subtle, but it’s not meant to be. Meanwhile, Warlash carves his swath through the bad guys. There are some pretty good artists on display here, although only Mannion is really stellar. Forte’s own art (see below) is quite good, as his cartoony style makes his gross story even grosser. Kudranski, I guess, has gone onto some DC work, but his sloppy, overly-rendered style is not my thing, and it’s not great here. J.C. Wong’s painted work is vaguely reminiscent of Simon Bisley, and Gucunja’s exaggerated, creepy work fits his drug addict-who-becomes-a-monster story very well. While the stories aren’t great, they are entertaining, and the variety of art styles is cool to see.
I appreciate Forte giving me these comics, because I always like getting free comics, naturally, but I also like seeing such a neat variety of weird stuff that’s out there. And hey, Asylum also had this at their booth:
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Wicked Vibes #2. All stories are written by Dillon Hallen; art by Carl Steinhagen (“Schlock Cola”), Stevie Weishan (“Circuit Beach”), Richie Murry (“Bugged Out”), Waza Loo (“The Atomic Aftermath Adventures of Dimwit & Cackles”), Silas Haglund (“Eclipsed Horizons”), and David Mueller (“Wolfden of Sin”). $4.00, 52 pgs, BW, Fizz Comics.
A little over a year ago, Dillon Hallen sent me the first issue of Wicked Vibes, his DIY comic that features a bunch of horror-esque stories. Now he sent me the second issue, which was swell of him. Thanks, sir!
I haven’t dragged out the first issue of Wicked Vibes to compare (it’s an anthology, so there’s not much carryover – one story sort-of follows one that was in issue #1, but you don’t need to have read the first one to read this one), but this felt a bit better. Issue #1 was solid, but for some reason, I enjoyed this one a bit more. There are a couple of weird love stories – “Circuit Beach” and “Eclipsed Horizons” – that aren’t really horror, and they help break up the gorier tales that pepper the book. The first story is a parody of a Hulk tale, as a high school student drinks some soda that turns him into a monster. Of course, things go horribly wrong. Steinhagen’s brash work is a good fit for the story, as he’s quite good at gore. My favorite art in the book comes from Waza Loo, who draws a two-page story about a post-apocalyptic duo who … well, they act like a post-apocalyptic duo. Waza Loo (Sarah Kennedy) is a very good artist, and I have to track down more of her work. The recurring character – a homeless dude who fights vampires – is back, this time killing werewolves who happen to be strippers. Of course they are! Murry’s story, which he draws in a wonderful, Kim Deitch-type style, is only three pages, but it has a fun, Twilight-Zone twist to it.
None of these stories are going to change your life, obviously, but the book is a nice showcase for talent that you’re not going to see in bigger comics. Hallen might not be the best writer – in both of these books, the stories aren’t really long enough to tell – but he has a fertile imagination that gives us some creepy and fun stories. The artists are all rough but quite good, and it’s neat to see their different takes on the weirdness coming out of Hallen’s brain. You can contact Hallen at email@example.com. He’d be happy to send you a copy!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
On Saturday, I finally got to wander around by myself at the convention, and, as I mentioned above, I did miss some people I’d wanted to say hello to. I said hello to Richard Starkings, because it’s always fun to chat with Richard, and he told me that my wife and sister were far more charming than I was (they met him at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund party on Thursday night), which is, after all, true. I talked to Joe Casey for a while and to Steven Seagle for longer, and it’s always nice to catch up with those dudes. I bought a bunch of comics. I saw Molly Quinn chatting with friends a few feet away from me, but she was the only celebrity I saw (remember, I don’t go to panels). I got three Faith Erin Hicks books signed by Faith Erin Hicks, because Faith Erin Hicks is awesome. I talked to James Heffron, who’s a fairly decent writer, and he told me he was running a Kickstarter for his graphic novel, Gangs of Camelot, which was fully funded a few days ago and now I feel crappy for not finishing this post earlier so you could back it if you were interested. I had a good time. On Saturday night we stayed in Old Town San Diego (we rented our house in Mission Beach from Saturday to Saturday) and on Sunday, we drove home through the desert. A good time was had by all!
It’s been so long since I wrote one of these columns that I feel I should rant about other stuff, but then I’d rant about Ferguson and no one wants to hear that. I did have a nice conversation with David Brothers at the con, and I mentioned how fascinating his writing on race is. I said this to him, and I’ll say it again: I rarely, if ever, write about racism and sexism, because I’m not black and I’m not a woman. Brothers is an excellent writer, especially when he writes about race in comics, and our very own Kelly Thompson is an excellent writer about women in comics. I don’t agree with everything they write, but I do love reading their perspectives (and not just theirs, but they spring to mind because they’re my favorites). I know the country is fucked up. I don’t have much else to say about it, and I think rich white people should probably shut up about the situation in Missouri.
But let’s go old-school and check out the Ten Most Recent Songs On My iPod (Which Is Always On Shuffle)!
1. “Hustler” – Journey (1977) “Money’s no good to me ’cause lovin’s my game”
2. “Only If For A Night” – Florence + the Machine (2011) “And the only solution was to stand and fight, and my body was bruised and I was set alight”
3. “The Tower” – Ice T (1991) “A fool tried to sweat me actin’ like he was hard, I stuck him twice in the neck and left him dead in the yard”
4. “Fade Away (I Don’t Want To)” – Chumbawamba (2005) “We think that the power is in our hands ’cause we’re holding the remote control”
5. “Motherlode” – King Swamp (1989) “In the market place, how we’re bought and sold”
6. “I Do Not Hook Up” – Kelly Clarkson (2009) “This may not last but this is now”
7. “Down And Out” – Genesis (1978) “The drinks are on me, be my guest; smoke a cigar? take the best”
8. “Stars of Warburton” – Midnight Oil (1990) “We got our pipe dreams, they went up in smoke dreams”
9. “Principal’s Office” – Young MC (1989) “Forget class, I’m a shoot some ball, with the late pass I got no trouble at all, but then the nurse walks up and says what do you know”
10. “Rich Woman” – Robert Plant and Alison Krauss (2007) “She give me a Cadillac, a diamond ring; she told me daddy don’t you worry ’bout a thing”
And yes, I will throw some Totally Random Lyrics at you!
“I’m the blade
You’re the knife
I’m the weight
You’re the kite
They were right when they said we should never meet our heroes
When they bowed at their feet, in the end it wasn’t me”
This is from an album I got recently which I absolutely love. I know that doesn’t help, but I thought I’d say something about it anyway!
So that’s what’s what these days. I’m sorry I can’t do more weekly reviews, but that’s just the way it is! I’m bummed that I haven’t been able to rave about The Wicked + The Divine, for instance, or tell you to go buy Westward (issue #8 comes out tomorrow!), or get into whether The Fade Out (first issue comes out tomorrow!) is any good. But when I have more time, I’ll get back into it. I just don’t have that time right now. So have a great day, and go read some cool comics!
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