Monday, May 20, 2013
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Daniel Sampere & Carlos Rodriguez
For someone who is so sweet, Gail Simone creates some seriously creepy characters. The new issue of Batgirl introduces a new incarnation of the Ventriloquist, a character who belongs up there with Secret Six's Junior in the annals of creepy villains. An amoral sociopath, we see a flashback of the Ventriloquist's as a little girl poison an entire birthday party and kill the party clown to get his dummy. And she gets crazier from there! Simone has added an excellent new villain, one that fits well into Gotham's air of madness. Meanwhile, Barbara is not doing well in dealing with the "death" of her own psychotic family member, her brother James, who she thought she killed last issue. The issue is framed with Barbara bursting into her shrink's office and we see how the death of James has affected her, and how it has affected her time as Batgirl. Simone put Barbara through the ringer, and her sadness radiates off each page, making your heart break, and even moreso if you've read the new issue of Suicide Squad and know she's beating herself up for a death that didn't occur. Simone keeps her subplots simmering as well, with Jim Gordon raging against Batgirl for killing his son, Knightfall and her cronies up to their usual no good, and Ricky, the street kid who Barbara sort of has a date with, prepares for his night out. Simone does her usual tremendous job of balancing action with these character bits, and this remains one of the jewels of the Bat Family and the New 52 as a whole.
Story: Bill Willingham
Art: Mark Buckingham
Over ten years into Fables, and Bill Willingham is still pulling the rugs out from under his readers. The end of the Snow White arc has snow confronting Prince Brandish in a duel for her freedom. It's a great duel, with Snow showing her prowess, and while the end is what you'd expect, the ramifications of it will be felt for years to come. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the issue, or is trade waiting, but a major player in the series from the first issue is out of play for the time being, if not forever. Still, the star of the issue is Snow, who shows all her strengths, her physical, mental and emotional ones, once more proving she is quite possibly the strongest person in all of Fabletown. The subplot with Beast and the Lady of the Lake dancing around the "betrothal" between the Blue Fairy and Gepetto continues, and is made more interesting from the standpoint of the narration by Ambrose, the son of Snow and Bigby Wolf. As the series is now narrated by Ambrose's histories, written many years in the future, there are tantalizing hints of things to come, but they are all just out of reach, making this reader want more, yet grounded in Ambrose's emotional investment as well, keeping them from being nothing more than vague prophecy. The issue ends with this arc catching up the very end of "Cubs in Toyland," the previous arc which ended in something of a flashforward. The future remains a thing with many mysteries for the Fables cast, and those mysteries are what keep us coming back month after month.
Story: Cullen Bunn
Art: Joelle Jones
The first two issues of Cullen Bunn's Weird Viking series Helhiem were solid stories, setting up the world the series inhabits and introducing the players. Issue three, this week's new issue, is the issue that feels to me like the one that gets the series main action started. Rikard, noble Viking hero turned into shambling Frankenstein's Monster-esque creature, has confronted the witch he was created to destroy, and now knows the truth: Bera, the witch who he loved, is no less a monster than any of the other things in the dark. Rikard faces down the demons sent by Groa, the demon witch, and we see the exact limits of his undead might, which are pretty darn extreme. In a scene directly reminiscent of a scene from the classic 1930s Frankenstein film, we are introduced to another player in the series, Kadlin, whose entire village was slaughtered in the war between the witches. By issue's end, Rikard has an even more monstrous appearance and a new goal in his unlife. And while Bunn's story is excellent as ever, it's Joelle Jones's art that steals the show this issue. The fight between Rikard and the demons and beautiful, or as beautiful as bloody combat can be, and the character deigns continue to impress. What really impresses me is how Rikard can look so monstrous, yet still have such humanity in his face; you can see the pain and betrayal that he has experienced, and you feel for him. With Sixth Gun coming to an end, I'm glad that this title has come along to give me my monthly dose of Cullen Bunn weird history.
Make Good Art
Words: Neil Gaiman
Design: Chip Kidd
Last year, Neil Gaiman gave the commencement speech at Philadelphia's University of the Arts. I saw a recording of the speech then, and it was tremendously moving. Gaiman talks about what he ahd learned over his years as a writer, what he would have done differently, and gives some very sage advice. When I saw it was being published, I thought that this was going to rank up there with Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go as a graduation gift, especially for anyone who is hoping to make a career in the arts, something I know a little about. And when I got my hands on a copy of the book this week, I was even more pleased. While not a comic or graphic novel, Chip Kidd, graphic designer extraordinaire, has taken Gaiman's speech and done amazing visual things with the words. The little volume is beautiful, with words zigging and zagging, color changing for emphasis, all to accentuate Gaiman's words. If you're ever feeling down about what you're trying to do in life, or if you're trying to start a new endeavor, this is the perfect little book to read to give you that push to go out and, well, Make Good Art.
Friday, May 17, 2013
Robert Kirkman is probably one of the best known writers in comics right now, and his best known works skew in an adult vein. The Walking Dead is a horror comic of epic and intimate proportions at the same time, doused in large quantities if gore. Invincible is a superhero book that has its own share of gore, and its discussions of many topics are frank enough to make some people sensitive about letting kids anywhere near it. But Kirkman writes another monthly, one I've reviewed one or two times, but I'd like to spotlight today, since it is a great, fun, all-ages comic with the best name of any comic on the racks: Super Dinosaur.
Derek Dynamo pretty much has the life that every ten year old dreams of. He's a genius inventor himself, and the son of world famous genius inventor Dr. Dexter Dynamo. He doesn't go to school, but is tutored and spends most of his days inventing and saving the world. He's got a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but at heart he's a really good kid who's trying to do the right thing. And best of all, his best friend is a dinosaur. A genetically altered, armor wearing, Tyrannosaurus Rex named Super Dinosaur who can talk, play video games, and help you kick the butt of any villain out there. What more could you ask for?
Hailing from a Inner Earth, a secret lost world deep within the Earth's core, discovered by Dr. Dexter Dynamo and his former colleague turned rival Max Maximus, Super Dinosaur (SD for short) was an experiment by Maximus to create and intelligent dinosaur, which succeeded, but as it turned out, SD wanted nothing to do with Maximus's mad plans, and sided with the Dynamos when Maximus's plan to use DynOre (or Maxinite, as Maximus calls it), a powerful ore only found in Inner Earth, to take over the world. Now, Derek and SD fight Maximus and his Dino-Men, as well as all manner of creatures the traditional military aren't equipped to deal with. It's an adventure a day if you're Derek Dynamo.
Super Dinosaur does a tremendous job of crafting an action adventure comic with heart that can be read by anyone. Sure there's action, and Derek and SD fight some real villains. There is a sense of high stakes throughout the series. But never does it cross the line into being something dark or too scary (frankly, I think as you become an adult, you do forget just how resilient kids are when it comes to what's scary, but that's another discussion). All of Kirkman's trademark characterization and worldbuilding is on display. In early interviews, Kirkman compared what he wanted to do with this book as being like, "a Pixar movie on paper," and he has succeeded. It has the same blend of elements that makes Pixar the success it is; smart writing that never talks down to its audience and plots that pull you right in.
The core of the series really is the friendship between Derek and SD. There are plenty of other characters, but the interaction between the two leads is one of the best friendships in comics. Neither Derek nor SD are normal, and they share a world that few other kids would understand. They understand each other, and have that simple shorthand that all best friends share. The relationship is easy and perfectly natural. There are problems, of course, especially when new people are tossed into the mix, but in the end, Derek and SD always have each others' backs. And that kind of friendship is perfect for a comic for all ages, it's something any kid who has a best friend can relate to, and can see themselves in.
Derek's relationship with his father, Dexter, is also central to the action of the series. When the series began, it seemed Dexter's mind was slipping away. He couldn't finish any projects, and was seemingly getting distracted by small things, requiring Derek to secretly finish the work so the world and the military, who provide all of the Dynamo's funding, wouldn't know what was going on. Derek so clearly loves his father, and was doing his best to help him. As the series progresses, and Dexter realizes what Derek has been doing for him, the scenes between father and son are touching. Recent issues have further shown the strength of their father/son bond with a plot involving the fate of Derek's mother, and the fact that Dexter will do anything to get his family back together. Dexter doesn't fall into the sci-fi cliche of the scientist who has no time for his family and is dedicated to his mistress, science. He loves his son and wants to have a life with him, and with his foster son, SD as well.
The opening arc of the series introduced new characters into the Dynamo Dome, the home of the Dynamos and SD that serves as both living space and lab, and these new characters caused a lot of the non-superhero conflict in the book for the first two arcs. The Kingstons are a pair of engineers who were hired to help out Dr. Dynamo, and came to live at the Dome with their two daughters, Erin and Erica. While Erin took to the new living situation well, and quickly befriended Derek, Erica wanted to go back home to where her friends and old life were. This caused problems in the Kingston family, as well as some more fantastic issues as Erica inadvertently led the Dynamo family's archnemesis, Max Maximus, to the Dynamo Dome, but also caused friction between SD and Derek, as SD thought that Derek was replacing him as his best friend with Erin. Again, these are all very human reaction, especially among kids, and Kirkman uses them well. Even in a world with intelligent dinosaurs and hidden civilizations, feelings can still get hurt.
Aside from our heroes and their supporting cast, Kirkman has created a great tapestry of villains to menace them. Max Maximus serves as the major villain, the Dr. Doom to Dexter Dynamo's Reed Richards, an archetypal mad scientist prone to monologuing and a superiority complex. Maximus has created many Dino-Men, some who remain loyal to him, and some who have their own plan, including a female three horned dinosaur with an axe named Tricerachops, possibly the greatest name in the history of comics. Squidious is a squid man who controls an undersea army. The Exile seemed to be an alien invader, or possibly another of Maximus's experiments before being revealed to be from a race of lizard men who live hidden in Inner Earth, hiding from the dinosaurs.
The art for the series is provided by Jason Howard, who worked with Kirkman before on the criminally under-rated Astounding Wolf-Man (werewolf superhero? That's got Matt written all over it). Howard's art is kinetic, with an amazing sense of motion. He draws the heck out of the crazy, big screen fight scenes that fill the book. I have never seen anyone draw such a great variety of armored dinosaur, and he draws excellent backgrounds and crazy tech.
Super Dinosaur is a comic that seems like the product of a child's joyful and wild imagination. Dinosaurs, super science, and a childhood friendship combine into a wonderful story about what it means to have a family and friends, and about kicking the butts of evil dinosaurs. It's great for any kid, or the kid inside us all.
There are currently three trades of Super Dinosaur, all of which are in print and available at your local comic shop. New issues come out from Image Comics.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Archer & Armstrong #0
Story: Fred Van Lente
Art: Clayton Henry
Archer & Armstrong has been one of the most consistently enjoyable titles out there since its debut, and after two very solid arcs, including the return of my favorite Valiant character, the Eternal Warrior, we take a step back and get to see a story of the Anni-Padda brothers in ancient Ur. Armstrong is telling Archer the epic of Gilgamesh, only this is the real version, where Gilgamesh and Enkidu are the Anni-Paddas. We get a really good feeling about who each of these men were, and how they interacted as brothers. It's especially important to really spend time with Ivar, the eldest brother, and the one who we've seen the least of. It's a fun, action story, with hints of the Valiant universe, including a cameo from Spider Aliens, and more about the origin of The Boo, the mystical artifact that was the maguffin on the first arc, but nothing that detracts from this as a perfect one off. Van Lente has done an excellent job of making the first issue of each arc a perfect jumping on point, and this issue works just as well, with a framing sequence featuring our title characters, as well as the main story. Clayton Henry returns to the series with this issue, and while I enjoyed Emanuela Lupacchino's work, it's great to see him back. His Armstrong especially has such vitality, radiates such joy (and melancholy), that it seems to jump right off the page. If you've never tried a Valiant Comic before, this is a great place for you to start.
Story: Scott Snyder/ James Tynion IV
Art: Greg Capullo/ Alex Maleev
The two part reinvention of Clayface for the New 52 wraps up in this second part of this Batman story, and it's as exciting as the first. It feels perfectly like an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, with a great action piece to it, as well as a simple, smart solution to the problem at hand. The new version of Clayface is interesting, with his slightly modified powers, and adds a little pathos to the character without taking away anything from him (a problem I've had with a few of the new 52 reinventions). There's a wonderful nod to the DC Animated Universe, with the appearance of prototype armor that won't be financially feasible for twenty years, a time when a young man named Terry McGinnis might become a Batman beyond what Bruce has been able to do. It was interesting to see Bruce and Lucius Fox tossed into a deadly situation together, and see Lucius look like he has no idea of Bruce's other identity. I believe Lucius (like Jim Gordon) knows Batman's identity, and just keeps it to himself on principle that if Bruce wants to tell him, he will. It seems Lucius here really doesn't know; whether that is a New 52 continuity tweak or just Lucius being very coy it up to the reader. The final scene, of Bruce and Alfred viewing recordings of Damian together, is touching and heartbreaking; there is no way this Batman is the cold and unfeeling man that so many writers portray him as. In the back up, Batman and Superman fight a magic creature, and Bruce talks to a spirit about how he fells about Superman, and I really like the fact that the current writers do view the two as real friends, not Miller-esque adversaries with a common cause. The final panels are especially fun, as Superman gets a little taste of what Jim Gordon is used to getting.
Batman and Red Hood #20
Story: Peter J. Tomasi
Art: Patrick Gleason & Cliff Richards
Batman continues his quest through the five stage of grief, and who better to accompany him through rage than the Batman family with the most anger issues of his own, Red Hood. What starts out as Bruce inviting Jason along on a raid of a camp of assassins turns into a much darker fight as Bruce bring Jason back to the site of his death to try to determine the secrets of his resurrection to use it to revive Damian. What begins as the two of them bonding and talking about trust turns into a fist fight, as they both let vent the anger they hold inside on each other. In Gotham, we also get to see a little bit more of Carrie Kelly, who again shows her pluck by standing up to the taciturn Bruce. Both Alfred and Titus, Damian's dog, take a liking to her, and it looks like Carrie is here to stay, which is a good thing, as she is one of the best additions to the Batman cast in many years (or re-addition, I suppose, if you count her appearances in Dark Knight Returns). Patrick Gleason does his usual excellent job on art, with a little pinch hit from Cliff Richards. I've been a fan of Richards since his long run on Dark Horse's original Buffy: The Vampire Slayer title, and I like seeing his work on more high profile titles. I want to team of Tomasi and Gleason on this book as long as possible, but if they need any more fill in work, I hope Richards is at the top of the speed dial.
Suicide Squad #20
Story: Ales Kot
Art: Patrick Zircher
Wow. The Suicide Squad series from the 80s is one of my favorite series ever, with the brilliant John Ostrander, Kim Yale, and a series of amazing artists crafting some of the best, most human stories I've ever read. Since it's return in the New 52, it has been a series I have wanted to like far more than one I actually have. But the difference one issue can make! New writer Ales Kot comes in and spends the issue reintroducing readers to the cast, getting into their heads. Amanda Waller sits with a mysterious figure who is analyzing each of the current members of the Squad, giving her the keys to their psychologies. Some of the things hinted at in the early parts of the run are finally paid off. While I'm not in love with the idea that Waller can resurrect members of the Squad at will (I feel it takes away the feeling of danger and the unexpected that was central to the original run), I like how Kot handles it here. And the big reveal of who Waller's new Squad member is? Well, I was worried this character was going to be overused, especially after how heavily he was used in another title for some time, but this new life he's been given is perfect. I don't want to spoil the end, but needless to say, I'm intrigued. Patrick Zircher's art is the best on this title so far, and I hope he sticks around for a while; inconsistent art has been another thing that has seriously hurt Suicide Squad since its return. This is a great jumping on point for new readers, and I would suggest everyone who's been tempted before to give it a shot.
Friday, May 10, 2013
Novels based on popular comic book properties vary in quality as widely as the comics themselves. Many of them are fairly simple stories, not really trying to reinvent the wheel, and just trying to capture the feel of the comics; these can be well written, but aren't doing anything special. What I feel these writers miss is the simple fact that the novel is a different format, and thus plays by different rules. Without the visual component, a novel has to be more introspective, allowing the reader more inside the character. Also, with the novels taking place outside continuity, writers have more latitude to make changes and take characters down different paths. There have been some very successful comic book novels; Peter David's Incredible Hulk: What Savage Beast comes to mind, exploring plots I felt he had wanted to work into his comic run but would have changed the Hulk too greatly. Author Tracy Hickman's Wayne of Gotham is another interesting comic book character novel, and one I feel succeeds in the main.
Wayne of Gotham is set in the present, but casts Batman's origins firmly in a specific time, with the death of his parents happening in 1971, thus establishing this Batman as the aging crusader. This isn't the always young crusader, but an aging man who is hanging onto his quest. The novel was released early last year, shortly before The Dark Knight Rises, and I wonder how much that movie influenced the decision to publish a novel that is another last Bruce Wayne story, although it ends in a very different manner than the film. There are distinct similarities between the two: Bruce is a recluse in both pieces, having hidden from Gotham. But in Hickman's world, this is to dedicate more time to his crusade as Batman, versus Nolan's where he seems to have given up.
Hickman's Bruce Wayne is a man who has decided that the world doesn't need Bruce Wayne. He spends all his time refining his crime fighting equipment and hasn't been seen outside the Manor in years. His relationship with Alfred has grown strained as well, with Bruce feeling like the loyal retainer is more judgemental than he has right to be, and as the novel progresses this strain grows as Bruce feels that Alfred is hiding something from him. I feel like Batman's one, inviolate relationship is the one he has with Alfred, that he is Bruce's father figure, and that their trust is something that cannot break. But I realize this isn't the DC Universe, and that showing the splintering is a good indicator of how far Bruce has gone, and how much he has changed.
The highlight of the novel for me was the fact that it is as much the story of Thomas Wayne as it is of his son. The novel flashes between the present, as Batman investigates strange crimes that seem connected to his father's past, and to 1958, when a young Thomas Wayne returns to Gotham from medical school and his own crusades, as well as his relationship with Martha Kane, the girl who lives in the next mansion over. The Waynes have rarely been given much of a personality; they serve instead as an ideal in the mind of their son. The relationship between fathers and their children, and how we look at the generation before us, is one of the central themes of the novel: Bruce learning about the humanity of his father; Thomas's tenuous relationship with his father, Patrick; Lew Moxon, the young man who wants out of "the family business" and his father, Gotham mobster Julius Moxon, Alfred and his father Jarvis, and one final relationship that only becomes clear at the end of the novel.
The actual case Batman in investigating is a very interesting mystery. Hickman understands that Batman is the world's greatest detective, and provides a trail of clues and false leads for Batman to follow throughout. Respected Gotham citizens are suddenly committing crimes; the supercriminals of Gotham are acting out of character; and someone seems to know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. A mysterious woman appears on the grounds of Wayne Manor, seeming to know something about Thomas Wayne's past. It's a dizzying maze of a case that happily plays out in a logical manner.
Hickman's knowledge of the Batman universe is vast. He's either a fan on par with someone like, well, me, or did a tremendous amount of research. He uses villains as obscure as Spellbinder and Ventriloquist right next to classic foes like The Joker and Scarecrow. When he uses the Moxon's, it includes appearances by Mallory Moxon, the daughter of silver age villain Lew, who was created by Ed Brubaker in the early 00s. There are even references to Thomas Wayne's two sons, which references the apocryphal Boomerang Killer story that evolved into the twist at the end of Scott Snyder's Court of Owls storyline. The universe is an interesting combination of both comic and movie, as it does feature a Joker far more resembling Heath Ledger's take on the character, with makeup and long hair, as well as his personality as the avatar of chaos. While these are different takes on the universe, Hickman merges them into a coherent world of his own craft.
Part of the novel that gave me pause was the idea that there was more to the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne than simply a mugging gone wrong. This is an idea that has worked its way into many different incarnations of the Batman mythos, and the use of Lew Moxon, the man who hired Joe Chill to kill Thomas Wayne in pre-Crisis DC continuity immediately tosses up red flags that we're in for this sort of revision. In the "real" DC Comics universe, I prefer the killings to be just random murders; it gives Batman's quest that quixotic drive, that crime itself is what he is fighting, not one man. But here, it works and makes sense with the history that Hickman has built.
The book isn't without its flaws. Part of Hickman's interpretation of Batman is as the "gadget god" as he was described under Grant Morrison. While Batman has his gadgets, and they're an integral part of who he is and what he does, this Batman seems to rely on them as a crutch at times. The long descriptions of how his night vision, reactive armor bat suit, and sonar devices feel a bit superfluous, but that is my biggest complaint, so that's a minor quibble in a good book.
In the end, Wayne of Gotham is about Batman, his father, and his city. It's about what we leave behind, and how we must atone for what we have done in the past. It's a story that has rsonance for anyone who has ever had to learn a harsh truth about a family member you thought you knew. It's smart, well written, and embraces everything Batman.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Story: Sean E. Williams
Art: Stephen Sadowski
One of the best parts of Bill Willingham's Fables world is the variety of stories and settings available for writers and artists willing to take the leap. This new arc of Fairest, the spinoff spotlighting the strong female cast of Fables, "The Return of the Maharaja," takes readers into a new land, Indu, the source of myth and legend of India, and introduces a new beauty, Nalayani, string, confident, and a demon with a bow. When her village is attacked by monsters, she goes to meet the new maharaja and ask his help. Along the way she befriends and loses a jackal, fights hyenas and thugs, and more than proves her mettle.The identity of the new mahraja is not hard to determine for any long time Fables reader, especially since he's slapped right on the cover, but it's still a great last page reveal. I'm expecting a romantic comedy-esque journey across Indu, with Prince Charming attempting to add another beautiful bride to his resume, and I won't be disappointed if that's what I get, but Fables and it's attendant books do a good job of twisting expectations, so I'm expecting a twist or two. I am also excited that Stephen Sadowski is doing art for this arc; he's an artist I haven't seen a lot, but everything I've ever seen his do has been gorgeous. He draws beautiful princesses with the same skill as he draws wild dogs, so I'm curious to see what writer Sean E. Williams throws at him over the course of the arc.
The Movement #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Freddie Williams II
The advertisements for DC's new title, The Movement, made it seem to be about an Occupy protest with superpowers. There is a touch of that, but the book is about a lot more than that, something far more global. It's about the little guy standing up to corruption. Coral City is a new addition to DC's vaunted pantheon of fictional cities, and it's clearly a city more akin to gritty Gotham than shiny Metropolis. The comic opens with a pair of dirty cops attempting to extort a couple of teenagers, and do a lot worse to the female one, before a group of masked individuals stop them. We meet a captain at their precinct who is the typical, "good cop in a dirty town," and the police are called to a body, the most recent victim of the "Cornea Killer," a murderer who removes the eyes of his victims. Meanwhile, a young man enters a church and seems to become possessed by a demon. Finally all these plots come together as we meet the Movement, a group of metas who protect the Tweens, the blocks of Coral City the police ignore. They are entirely new characters, which is exciting in the landscape of mostly reimagined characters that is the New 52, and I got a good vibe of who each of them are, from team leader and psychic Virtue, to the poor possessed young man, Burden. As opposed to so many issue ones in recent years that are so setup heavy that nothing happens, and it won't be until issue six before anything really does, this felt like a full comic that fully establishes its premise. Gail Simone is one of comics' best character driven writers, and that is clearly on display in this introductory issue. With interesting designs from Freddie Williams II and a whole new city for Simone to make her own, I see a lot of potential in this series.
Suicide Risk #1
Story: Mike Carey
Art: Elena Casagrande
There's an old adage that the tale is in the telling. To me, that has always meant that the story itself is only as good as the teller, and that an old story can be reawakened by a new twist and a new writer. I think Mike Carey's new book from BOOM! Studios, Suicide Risk, is a good example of this. The world overrun by superhumans with no conscience isn't exactly the newest concept out there, but Carey gives it a good spin. He makes his point of view character a cop sick of seeing his friends killed by rogue superhumans, and after his partner is maimed in a supervillain attack, he decides to do something about it. He goes and tries to get himself powers. This seems to go horribly wrong, but since this is more than a one shot, I have to imagine he's going to get better. Leo Winters, series protagonist, is a good guy in a world gone mad, and I'm curious to see exactly how much this series becomes about how power corrupts, as the first issue has hinted that even the superhumans who started out as heroes have gone bad after time. There's a nice mystery as well about how people receive powers and what the whole origin of the powers, adding a layer of depth to the series. Artist Elena Casagrande has a nice style, and does a good job of designing a whole world of superhumans in one issue, along with building Leo, his family, and his friends. A solid first issue, I'm always a fan of Mike Carey, and it looks like this is another success.
Friday, May 3, 2013
So, yes indeed, it's the most wonderful time of the year again! No, not Christmas; it's Geek Christmas, better known as Free Comic Book Day! Just in case you've been living under a rock, or are new to this whole comic book thing, once a year, this year being tomorrow, May 4th, the various comic company's provide special comics to retailers at a drastically reduced price to give out to the reading public for free. Most put their best foot forward and give out some very cool new product. An international promotion, just about every good comic book retailer takes part in the event. It's usually a really festive day, with all sorts of promotions, costumes, and just a sense of the community that I've talked about before and is the hallmark of a good comic shop.
I will, as I am most years, be spending my Free Comic Book Day at my comic shop, Dewey's Comic City, in Madison, NJ, where we'll not only be giving out tons of free comics, but having a bunch of great events, including an artist's alley with free sketches, additional giveaways, and an appearance by the 501st Legion, the Star Wars costume guild (because remember, it's also international Star Wars day, May the Fourth be with you!). I'd love to see everyone there, so go to THIS LINK to get some details about what we're doing.
But as cool as the artists, costumes, and other giveaways are, what this day really is about is the comics. And so I now provide you with the books I am most excited about in:
MATT'S GUIDE TO FREE COMICS 2013
The highlight of pretty much every FCBD for me since the inception of this series has been the new offering from Brian Clevenger and Scott Wegener's awesomely incredible Atomic Robo. Usually FCBD means a new confrontation between Robo and his archnemesis, the confused and firearms loving Dr. Dinosaur. But since this year's Robo mini is Dr. Dinosaur centric, we instead get Robo fighting a big robot. And if you know Robo, you know how well all that is going to go. If you've never read Robo before, this is a great one shot to give you the flavor of the series, so why not try out one of the best comics on the rack?
I've written a lot about Princeless, especially lately, since the second mini-series has begun, so you know I'm excited for a new short featuring Adrienne, Bedelia, and Sparky. But just as exciting is the debut of Molly Danger, a new comic with a similar flavor as Princeless, but this time about a young woman superhero. From Jamal Igle, a great talent and one of the nicest guys I've ever met in the comic book industry, the first Molly Danger graphic novel will be coming out in July, but this will give you a great feel for what kind of fun action Igle has planned for us.
Star Wars/Captain Midnight/Avatar
A Star Wars inclusion for FCBD has been an annual tradition since the first year, sometimes with new material, sometimes with reprint. This year, I'm happy to say we get an original short from Brian Wood, who has been doing great work on the monthly title, set right in the heart of the Classic Trilogy, featuring Boba Fett and Darth Vader. Also, get a short with classic pulp hero Captain Midnight, whose Dark Horse Presents serial was one of my favorite in recent issues and who will be getting his own series shortly. And on the flip side of the flip book, check out a new story from the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender. I have to admit to not being familiar with Avatar very well, so I might have to read this to get a little more in the know.
For the past few years, Oni Press has debuted a series on FCBD. The most successful of these is the excellent weird western, The Sixth Gun, and I was a big fan of last year's offering, Bad Medicine, as well. This year we get The Strangers, a conspiracy, spy book with a great sixties feel. Pitching new projects to the widest audience possible is one of the great benefits of FCBD, and I love how Oni embraces it, so I'll always try out their new issue ones.
I wrote this book up as today's recommended reading, but I figured I'd just toss it on here too. It's a reprint of the first issue of a fun all ages series about a cat named Scratch who can some his other eight lives to help him. It's cute, action packed, and a lot of fun.
The Walking Dead
If you're a fan of either the phenomenon that is the TV show, or a fan of the comic, you should definitely check out this year's Walking Dead free comic. Featuring short stories that have rarely if ever been reprinted, there's a story about Michonne (originally published in Playboy and then in the Michonne Special), The Governor (from a CBLDF benefit book and then the Governor Special), Morgan (from an Image Comics holiday special and then only in the giant Walking Dead Omnibus Vol.1) and a brand new Tyrese story that writer Robert Kirkman says he has no plans to reprint. A great way to get a little backstory on some of The Walking Dead's best characters.
There are plenty of other comics, of course. Two each from Marvel and DC (One all ages, one regular), a couple from Valiant and Dynamite, and pretty much any other company you can imagine. I implore you to try something new and different, even if it's not one of the ones I talked about above.
With a price point like this, there's no better time to see if a new and different comic is something you might love.
Thursday, May 2, 2013
I think I might have made this apology once or twice before, but it bears repeating. When I do these recommended readings, if the comic isn't something I've just read, I do my best to reread it, or at least to do some serious internet research if at all possible. Well there isn't a ton on the net about this week's recommendation, and I was not able to dig out my copies due to, well, life getting in the way. But still, I wanted to make sure to get this recommendation in, with Free Comic Book Day upon us, so bear with what might be a bit vaguer in places than I'd like, but will talk about the heart of a fun all ages series.
I'm a cat person. This doesn't mean I don't like dogs (which some people assume), it's just that I like the independence and down right befuddling weirdness that is a good cat. So when I saw a supernatural/sci-fi all ages comic with a cat protagonist, I thought this might be something right up my alley. And boy was I right. Scratch 9, by Rob M. Worley and Jason T. Kruse, is a charming, exciting adventure about a nine cats fighting for good, only they all happen to be the same cat; after all cats have nine lives, and you can't expect them all to be the same.
The main protagonist of the series is Scratch, a modern day housecat. Scratch is pretty much like a normal cat, if "normal" can ever be applied to any cat. He hunts his owner, he likes to play, and he doesn't like baths. When Penelope, the girl who owns Scratch, tries to give him a batch, Scratch runs out, and is captured by a man gathering strays for a company called The Corporation for Research into the Ultimate Extension of Logevity. You know no company with the initials CRUEL is up to any good. Scratch is experimented on by Dr. Schrodinger (which is a clever little pun that gave me a chuckle), and is given the ability to summon any of his eight other lives to aid him when he needs them.
Over the course of the four issue mini-series, we meet all eight of the other cats Scratch has been (or will be), and both the designs and the concepts behind them are delightfully clever; each are introduced with a little text box explaining their background and special skills. There's Beeslebohm, a magician's cat who is a master of illusion. Ichirou is a master of martial arts. N3KO is a cyborg cat from the future. And that's just three (four if you count Scratch)! There are five other magical, science fictiony, or just plain cool cats who you'll meet over the course of the series. Each cat has a different personality, and interact with Scratch differently, but they all help him find his bravery to do what must be done.
The animals do talk, but to each other, not to people. We're in a world where the animals are only semi-anthropomorphized. We're not in a Mickey Mouse world, where the animals wear clothes and go to work. We're more in a Lady and the Tramp setting, where the animals may speak among themselves but don't get everything that makes the human world what it is. This of course, leads to some comedy, seeing Scratch and company trying to figure their way through human sized traps and trying to understand all the aspects of the world around them.
The core theme of Scratch 9 is friendship and loyalty. After being captured by CRUEL, Scratch meets some of the other prisoners, including another cat, a chicken, and a hyperactive squirrel, and befriends them. After the accident gives Scratch his powers, he is able to escape, but decides he has to go back and save his new friends. And when Penelope stumbles into Dr. Schrodinger's clutches while trying to find Scratch, Scratch has to go back and save her as well, deciding if he can be a housepet or if his chance to run free is more important. I'm a sucker for a story about a kid and his or her pet, and so the affection and love between Penelope and Sratch is the heart at the center of Scratch 9.
Aside from being action packed and heartwarming, Scratch 9 is also delightfully funny. There's plenty of little jokes that grown-ups can pick up on; like all the best all ages comics, Scratch 9 works on multiple levels. The Schrodinger's cat joke is just the start. Any time there is anything to be acronymed, it's best to check it out, because odds are the acronym is going to be something with some humor in it. And the supporting cast of other animals are a wacky bunch, who add some levity to the scenes after all the action of Scratch and his eight other selves fighting Dr. Schrodinger and his Grizzbots (yup, robo-bears. What doesn't this comic have?)
Jason T. Kruse's art has a charm that matches the writing. It's dynamic, full of action, and just cartoony enough to make the animals expressive. Trying to find the perfect middle ground between animals who are basically just people with slightly altered features and the more limited expressions you can get from the face of a real world animal can be tricky, but Kruse hits the mark. I also once again want to comment on how great the designs were on all of Scratch's other selves. They are each such unique designs, and they are a vibrant part of the world that he and Worley have created.
So, there's Scratch 9. You've got a magical cat, a heart warming story, and some good laughs. Is there really anything more that you could wish for? Oh right, how about Saturday, on Free Comic Book Day (that's May 4th, folks) you can get a copy of Scratch 9 #1 for free at your local comic shop! Yes indeed, new publisher of Scratch, Hermes Press, is making Scratch 9 #1 one of it's FCBD offerings. So if I've piqued your interest, check it out. It'll be more than worth the price of admission, trust me.
Scratch 9 was collected in a trade, called Pet Projects, by it's original publisher, APE, but has since lapsed out of print. I can only imagine Hermes will release a new edition shortly, sometime around the July debuting new Scratch miniseries, Cat Tails, a series that will feature one story each for all of Scratch's incarnations. The first issue is available for pre-order in this month's Previews.