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Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Political Comics I'd Like To Read
"I'm sorry Kara, but according to the Techno-Priests of Rao, Kryptonian life begins 0.000287828 seconds after conception. If it makes you feel any better, we can put the baby in a rocket and send it into space after it's born."
"And I know, from personal experience, that children who aren't raised by a mother and a father grow up with deep emotional problems. That's why the Wayne Foundation is proud to donate $5,000,00 dollars to outlaw gay adoption in this state." "But Mr. Wayne, you yourself have adopted a number of teenage boys. Who all look remarkably simi-" "This interview is over!"
"I'm surprised, Mr. Osborn, that a successful businessman such as yourself doesn't see how it's vital that the nation return to the gold standard for it's currency." "You know I'm banging your girl-friend while you're at your 'Paul in 08' meetings, right Parker? You think maybe there's a connection there you're not seeing?"
"Whazzat? How did Stark Industries get awarded a no-bid reconshtruchtion contract in Iraq or Iran or where ever it is? Chertainly not by getting the President druhnk."
"What makes you believe you have sufficent foreign policy experience to be Vice-President Ms. Prince?" "I can see Cuba from Themyscira."
"But, why do we have to move to San Francisco, Professor? Won't FEMA rebuild the mansion after this latest Shi'Ar attack?" "I'm sorry, Scott, but George Bush doesn't care about mutants."
"Doctor Blake...I'm a little confused. You say you want our school district to adopt geology textbooks that claim that earthquakes are 'the shaking of the Midgard serpent'?" "Ja. I vøuld like før yøu tø teach der cøntrøversy."
All Star Superman #9: Man, I never would have seen the death of Superman coming, nor his elevation to godhood. What a completely unexpected twist. Too bad there are no utterly infallible online gossip columns with 100% accuracy records to have given us clues about that... Oh, and I'm sure this will be a permanent and forever change to the Superman status quo, as well.
Batman and the Outsiders #1: Finally, Batman is being written as he was always meant to be written: as a homophobic prick.
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier: After the last two volumes, and the edgy Lost Girls, I think it was quite shocking to discover that this latest volume is a completely sincere and serious examination of the history of British children's television. I had no idea there was a secret connection between the Wombles, Balamory and Danger Mouse. Nor that it was so sinister in nature.
Amory Wars #4: Not only does this book completely justify the oft-mocked and long-neglected genre of "comics based on lyrics", but it completely justifies prog-rock as well!
Scott Pilgrim Vol. 4: Now this was an unexpected change of direction. I don't know, maybe it's me, but based on the previous volumes, I think having Scott realize the vapidity of his hipster lifestyle and become the figurehead of a mass-murdering cult...it's a bit of a darker turn than I think the series needed to go in.
Somehow, as in past years, I somehow talked myself into reviewing every single damn FCBD comic I could get my hand on in advance of the event. This year it was pretty rough going. I think I worked off a couple of centuries in Purgatori if doing this manages to prevent anyone else being accidentally exposed to horrible comics. I usually eschew review scales, finding them overly reductive, but it's pretty much essential for an event of this nature. It's pretty easy to understand, too. Get it means I think it's a good comic and you should check it out. Eh means that it's not a bad comic, but certainly not a great one, but it's free, so what do you care. Avoid means that you're better off socking in the jaw any comic shop clerks who try to hand you a copy.
Activity Book: The phrase from my comics retail days which comes to mind when I attempt to read this is "they tell me it's good, but it's not." I know Lynda Barry has her fans, but this is one of the ugliest objects I've ever handled. I attempted to read it, but it was impossible. If anyone else out there can get through it, more power to you. Avoid
Amazing Spider-Man: It's always nice to see Phil Jimenez art, and Dan Slott is one of the very few writers out there, it seems, who can write an entertaining Spider-Man story without wallowing in emo whininess or character inappropriate mature themes. I'd probably have liked this more, though, if it wasn't quite so plainly set-up for events in the regular Spider-Man books and been a little more self-contained. Also a nuisance: a short preview of a Spider-Man comic by J. Michael Straczynski and Joe Quesada, which in six pages manages to sum up everything I hate about Spider-Man. Get it
Amelia Rules: Hangin' Out: It's a cute, silly, essentially throw-away little incident in the lives of the characters. The Amelia Rules books have been highlights of past FCBD events, but it still feels, slightly, as if the reader's familiarity with these characters is being taken for granted. Get it
Ape Entertainment's Comic Spectacular: The over-all quality of the short stories and samples reprinted here is generally good. Even the works which didn't particularly appeal to me had a recognizable level of quality and craftsmanship to them. There's nothing ground-breaking here, but the works are solidly entertaining. Get it
Arcana Studios Presents: Of the three short previews included here, Kade is by far the worst. Imagine a really horrible D&D campaign devised by a guy with nothing in his wardrobe but Iron Maiden and Dio shirts. This reads like a bad comic adaptation of that. 100 Girls has the feel of coming in at the tail-end of a longer story; I'm clearly meant to have a better idea of who this character is, yet I don't. Clockwork Girl has an appealing art style, but all we see here is seven pages of a mad scientist ranting. Avoid
The Astounding Wolfman #1: I like werewolves, but even I have my limits. Jason Howard's art is blocky and unappealing, and Kirkman manages to write a super-hero origin story that gives us no reason to care about or like the protagonist. In short, it's yet another by-the-numbers Image super-hero title, with just enough of an "edge" to appeal to comic fans who think they're too sophisticated to read Marvel or DC comics, yet still want to read stories about people in tights wrestling with each other. Avoid
Bongo Comics Free-For-All: This is one of the few "sampler style" comics that really works, mostly because we get complete stories. The stories are a bit more kid-orientated than the regular Simpsons and Futurama shows, but are still actually funny, which puts them ahead of the last several seasons of The Simpsons in any case. Get it
Buzzboy/Roboy Red: The Buzz and the 'Bot: Cute, unassuming super-hero comics, very much aimed at younger children. It's a very good kids super-hero comic, in fact, but quite probably a bit too kid-orientated for anyone with their age in the double digits. Get it for kids, Eh for everyone else
Choose Your Weapon: Tokyopop's FCBD contribution is a rather frustrating sample of Korean and American titles, all with rather generic sci-fi and fantasy themes, and mostly rather derivative appearing titles at that. That two of the titles are adaptations of on-line role-playing games doesn't help much either. Some of the art isn't bad, but it's in service to horrible stories. Avoid
Comics 101: There's potential in this collection of articles from various TwoMorrows magazines and books, but it's mostly wasted potential. A brief and reductive history of comic books has been included, but only after several workmanlike and wordy articles on comics art and writing. And, in usual TwoMorrows fashion, the intended audience appears to be people who have been reading comics for several decades. And so while the end result isn't terrible, it's still hardly to be recommended. Eh
Comics Festival: Another brilliant sampling of the cream of the crop of Canadian cartoonists. I don't think there's a single "miss" story in here. Though it's a toss up between "Jett Vector" and "Moster Cops" for my favorite. Darwyn Cooke's featured piece, "The Alex" is particularly haunting and evocative as well. Get it
Comics Genesis: An incredibly uneven compilation of web-comics. There's some good material here, some terrible material here, and a lot of mediocre material here. Eh
Digital Webbing Jam 2007: The E-Man story included here, with nice art by Joe Staton, is a brief recap of the heroes origin, while Fist of Justice is a Byrne-ish super-hero tale which appears to want to be postmodern but can't quite pull it off. There's a surreal gag strip called Punks which was...sort of funny. And then there was yet another damn zombie comic and a "hot" vampire babe comic. Eh
Family Guy/Hack/Slash Flipbook: I want to like Hack/Slash. It's got a tongue firmly in cheek approach to horror that I can appreciate, but it just hasn't clicked for me. Although I did like the implicit criticism of the torture-porn genre of horror. Family Guy manages to be funnier and more original than the show it's based on. But then, that's not hard. Eh
Gumby: An assemblage of talented cartoonists put out a just darn peculiar story of Gumby and Pokey going to the art museum. It's utterly bizarre, in a very, very good way. Get it
Hunter's Moon/Salvador Flipbook: Both of these samples are short on plot, but what we see of Hunter's Moon is a promising start to an intriguing human drama. That lack of plot is a bit of a short-coming, however, because without knowing a little bit more of what's going to happen the the emotionally distant father/rebellious son team here, I can't tell if it's a story I'd want to read or not. Especially given how hard a sell I am on stories about characters with "daddy issues." Salvador has not bad art, but even less plot on display than Hunter's Moon, and so I'm given even less reason to care about it. Eh
Impact University Volume 3: A very straight-forward sample of pages from instruction manuals, done in a (mostly) professional and straight-forward way. Since the whole point of FCBD is for stores and publishers to advertise themselves, it's hard to find fault with this package, but it's still incredibly dull. Eh
Jack the Lantern: Ghosts: This reads like a throw-back to the kinds of material Chaos! Comics used to pump out, only with slightly better art. There's some kind of back-story here, and I know I've read previous FCBD editions of Jack the Lantern comics, but I couldn't honestly tell you what any of those were about, who was in them, or why anything happened. Five minutes after reading this one, I have the same feeling. Avoid
Justice League of America #0: AS the start of a storyline, this issue had faults. As a sampler, offering a wide-ranging look at the past and potential futures of the Justice League, it's not too shabby. The wide range of art styles works remarkably well in this context, helping to unify the book while making each "chapter" more distinctive. Get it
Keenspot Spotlight 2007: More web-comics samples, and if anything the ratio of good/mediocre/bad is tilted more towards the "bad" end of the scale. There's a reason I read hardly any web-comics. Books like this drive home the lesson that I'm not missing anything. Eh
Last Blood: I actually found this to be, if not clever, at least an interesting twist on the over-trod vampire and zombie genres. The art is a little rough, and the writing is more enthusiastic than polished, but the conceit of vampires protecting humans from zombies in order to maintain their food source is at least original. Eh
Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century: Well, this actually feels more like the "real" Legion to me than the regular title DC publishes, if for no other reason than the large amount of time establishing the fact that the members of the Legion are all total jerks. With this book you get nice art from Chynna Clugston, and what appears to be an abbreviated adaptation of the first episode of the Legion cartoon. Get it
Liberty Comics #0: Four short stories of a faux Golden Age character with pedestrian stories and mediocre and inconsistent art. About the only thing of particular interest is an anti-environmental fable, the moral of which "plants have only themselves to blame for not adapting to environmental damage" which I'm still trying to figure out whether I'm meant to take as sincere or ironic. Avoid
Little Archie: Legend of the Lost Lagoon: Hey, how do you make Archie even less appealing? Kiddify it. While it's nice to see Bob Bolling art again, the story is just a bit too twee. I mean, Veronica sees an elf...and it's a two-panel throw-away gag. I'd have much preferred something a bit more comedic in focus, like a standard Archie comic, than a danger and suspense free "adventure" comic. Eh
The Lone Ranger/New Battlestar Galactica: I haven't swallowed the "BSG" kool-aid yet, and this prequel story doesn't do anything to convince me I'm missing out. I do like the Lone Ranger, but I passed on the regular series for looking too much like it was being written for the trade, and while I liked the story well enough, it hasn't convinced me that was a wrong decision either. Eh
Love and Capes #4: Thomas Zahler's super-hero romance comic is cute and unpretentious, and liberally littered with in-jokes for super-hero fans. He has a unique art-style and a good ear for snappy dialogue. About the only problems with the book are sometimes muddy colors and transparent word-balloons which are frequently hard to read. This particular issue's story, about a Superman-type hero's jealousy of a Spider-Man type's popular film is especially fitting given the timing of this year's FCBD. Get it
Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk: What we have here are too inoffensive, continuity-lite approaches to characters in kid-friendly adventures. I'm always skeptical of the appeal of the Marvel Adventures line; they seem to be essentially "dumbed down" versions of the regular comics. In my comics retail experience, kids had a great sense of avoiding material they sensed was talking down to them. But these are certainly more pleasant presentations of these two characters than we've seen in their regular titles for some time. Eh
Mickey Mouse: The Robin Hood Adventure: The Mickey Mouse newspaper strip looks a bit odd to modern eyes, as Mickey's behavior is frequently churlish, if not outright jerkish. It's probably a bit too different from what they expect for kids, but fans of classic comics should enjoy it. A qualified get it
Nexus: A "greatest hits" collection, reprinting more or less random pages from more or less random past issues of Nexus. While it's entirely probably that there were enough Nexus readers a decade ago who still care enough about the property to find some value in a book like this, those people would probably be the only people value in a book like this. The property has laid fallow long enough that a more direct re-introduction to the character was probably warranted. Avoid
Owly: Helping Hands: Owly stories are always a treat, with their appealing art and sentimental stories. They're the best kind of all-ages stories. The short preview of Korgi included here is lovely as well. Get it
Pirates vs. Ninjas #1: I'm continually surprised to see that Antarctic Press is still in business. This book not only features unremarkable anime-inspired art, but the "cashing in on last year's ironic joke" theme smacks of desperation on the "Disco Dazzler" scale. Avoid
Sonic the Hedgehog: Kids love Sonic comics. I know that probably comes as a shock to the average adult comic fan, but trust me, a comic shop well-stocked in Sonic back-issues can blow through them quickly. The story is impenetrable, and the art is really only okay, but I suspect it doesn't matter to the target audience. Eh
The Train was Bang on Time: This preview of Eddie Campbell's The Black Diamond Detective Agency is perhaps a bit too brief, but it does an excellent job of advertising the tone and plot of the graphic novel it's excerpted from. More of a sense of closure would probably have helped in a sampling as brief as this, but what we have here is still a strong introduction. Get it
Transformers Movie Prequel: Now, I'll grant you that it's been about twenty-five years since I really saw a Transformers cartoon or comic, but I don't remember them making as little sense or being quite so ugly as this. It's almost as if the creators are on some level embarrassed by what they're working on, and have forced oddly ill-fitting violent themes onto a children's toy property. Avoid
Umbrella Academy/Pantheon City/Zero Killer: "Inscrutable" would be the word of choice for this Dark Horse comics sampler. The only thing that even resembles a complete story is the Umbrella Academy preview, which spends far too much time trying to establish itself as "kooky" to bother being good. It's the sort of super-hero parody material that hipsters seem to love, but it's been done better, dozens of times. The only redeeming feature is the artwork by Gabriel Ba. The other stories on display, Pantheon City and Zero Killer are throw-backs to the kinds of material Dark Horse used to publish ten years ago. Both have a strong "Comics Greatest World" feel to them. Eh
Unseen Peanuts: This collection of previously unreprinted Peanuts strips is probably going to go down as the best received book this year. Even though it's easy to see why many of these strips haven't been seen since their initial publication, there's still plenty of high-quality material with broad appeal. Get it
Viper Comics Presents Volume Two: Another uneven sampler of forthcoming material. The stories are a tad too brief to really give more than an impression of art and tone, and for myself there's nothing particularly compelling here. The strongest piece is a sample from Sasquatch by "Nicc & Drew." Eh
Virgin Comics Special: Well, the art on these Indian mythology inspired super-hero books is pretty at least, but the writing is uniformly bad and over-dramatic. The only story with any charm is "Walk In" allegedly created by Dave Stewart, but the sample gives no indication of what the story is supposed to be about. Avoid
Wahoo Morris: The "relationship based indie comic" is a well-worn genre, and Taillefer's particular twist, introducing the supernatural and rock bands, is both familiar and sets the work apart. Eh
Whiteout #1: Oni generally does an exceptional job of picking which of their past titles to spotlight for FCBD. Greg Rucka's mystery comic is exceptional, with a strong opening and the choice of location is unique and compelling. Get it
Who Wants to be a Superhero: Dark Horse apparently rushed this out to capitalize on...well, the fact that no one seems to care about this tv show anymore, apparently. Bad art, bad story and yet another example of Dark Horse wasting money on the wrong comics license. Avoid
Wizard How to Draw: Free Comic Book Day Booklet: As opposed to the outright offensive materials Wizard has provided for FCBD in the past, this short sampling of "how to" articles is rather benign. There's not much in the way of sophomoric humor and the typical Wizard obsession with mammaries is absent, save for the rather cheese-cakey cover. It's still far from an essential, or even particularly interesting, offer, unless you happen to be interested in buying any of Wizard's "how to draw" books. Eh
Worlds of Aspen: This makes absolutely no damn sense whatsoever, and the art is pretty uniformly horrible. It's like watching five minute segments of several different soap operas. In Esperanto. Avoid avoid avoid
So, despite my better judgement (I can't stand John Romita Jr's art), and despite knowing from past experience that it won't be worth it, I find myself, slightly, intrigued by the premise of World War Hulk. Maybe it's just me wanting to see the Hulk turn Iron Man into a greasy red and gold smear on the sidewalk, but there you go. Stuff like this helps:
Marvel, apparently unwilling or unable to give me a reason to read about Hercules, have decided to simply make me want to look at pictures of him.
Of course, that DC is putting out stuff like this may also be causing me to look across the aisle, so to speak.
Now, I've joked before about how mannish looking the women Alex Ross draws are, surmising that, unable to find women to pose in the costumes for him, he simply puts them on men instead. I...I think Michael Turner may be doing the same thing. Because that doesn't look, even remotely, like a woman. That looks like a drag queen with two huge, flesh-colored balloons down the front of her unitard, that have slipped down too far because no one explained about double-sided tape to this particular drag queen.
Just to prove to you that I haven't completely shifted my allegiances, here's a dramatic re-enactment of one of my conversations with Mike last week.
Me: "Good day to you, kind merchant. I find myself most uncharacteristically taken with some of the concepts behind this forthcoming World War Hulk bally-hoo, and am most taken indeed with the notion that the casus belli is a catastrophic explosion, which most poetically counterpoints a similar dire event which prompted the recent unpleasantness. Is there, by chance, a chapbook collating the earliest chapters of the contemporary Planet Hulk serial story?" Mike: "No. Marvel wants to make you pay for a deluxe, over-sized hardcover collecting the entire series." Me: "Oh well then. Bollocks to them. They shall not see one of my hard-earned guilders."